Tess Morgan expected the call, had been expecting it for the last ten years. For some reason, she thought it would be nighttime, the ringing of her phone ripping her from sleep. Instead, her phone buzzed on the corner of her desk in the middle of an ordinary Wednesday work day. She barely noticed it, wrapped up in prepping a laptop for the new hire. When it buzzed again—angry and insistent—she glanced at it.
Her mother, Marie’s, number lit the screen.
She wondered if other people got that stomach clenching burst of panic whenever their mother called. Or if it was only people who had heroin addicted brothers.
She answered, “Hey, Mom.”
As her mother’s words tumbled over her—Josh, hospital, overdose—she sat numbly at her desk.
“Is everything OK?” Rish, one of the IT staff who worked for her, asked softly. “Tess?”
“My brother’s dead.” Did she say the words or were they still in her head? Judging from the look on Rish’s face, she said them aloud. He stood suddenly and rushed toward her desk. They had been co-workers for four years. In all the time she knew him, he never panicked. Not when the department was inundated with calls. Not when the CEO sent a virus to everyone in his contacts list. Not even when his wife called him in the middle of his lunch to tell him she had gone into labor. But, now, he panicked.
Rish said something, his words distant and foggy. He grabbed at her desk phone, punched in numbers. “Laura, it’s Rish. Something happened to Tess’s brother.” He hung up the phone. Said to Tess, “Laura’s on her way.”
Laura DeWitt, her best friend and an accountant at the marketing firm where they both worked. Yes, calling Laura was a good idea. She would know what to do. Because in that moment Tess couldn’t do anything more than sit in her chair and blink.
She stared at Rish while he asked her questions, but the words couldn’t penetrate her numb brain. He wanted something from her. Think, she tried to order herself. You’re scaring him.
The part of her that worried about everyone else leapt to life. He needed an affirmation she was OK. She nodded. Rish handed her a bottle of water. Oh. He just wanted to know if she was thirsty. Opening the bottle, taking a long sip, it gave her something to do instead of stare.
Laura burst into the room. Her office was on a different floor on the other side of the building. Her chest heaved as she took in sharp inhalations. She ran here, Tess realized.
Laura never ran. She liked swimming. Was captain of the swim team in high school two years in a row. She was the one who made Tess join when they were freshman so they could get out of taking PE.
“Tess? It’s fine, Rish, can you give us a minute?” Rish took the opportunity for escape and barreled out of the room. Laura dropped down next to Tess’s chair. Her corkscrew curls surrounded her face in a springy deep brown halo. Her rich ochre face, usually bright and dewy, was tense and lined.
She had on a new lip color. A matte purple that only Laura would be adventurous enough to try. Tess couldn’t remember the last time she wore make-up. Was it a date with Dale? Oh no. She had to tell Dale. They hadn’t even been together for six months. It was worse than figuring out what to get someone for Christmas when you were newly dating. To tell him her brother died or not tell him.
Said something about her relationship if her first instinct was to not call him.
Back to Laura’s purple lips. They moved while she talked to Tess, but she couldn’t understand the words. It was a pretty color. Maybe she should wear more lipstick.
You’re distracting yourself so you don’t have to think, her brain told her right before it went fuzzy. It’s a survival instinct.
Laura took the phone Tess hadn’t realized she clenched in her hand and set it on the desk. No more distractions. She asked, gently, “What happened?”
Josh and Tess, the Morgan twins. Did you keep your twin status after your other half died? Was she still a Morgan twin?