A knock registers in my dreams before it registers in my reality. A key turns in the lock and I am wide awake.
“Get dressed.” Cindi sounds hoarse. What time is it? 2:10 am – excellent. The door clicks into place and I rise, dress, wash my face.
I’m the last to arrive. Stipple rests on the floor, long and yet diminished. Pye and E sit at the table, hands wrapped around mugs. Cindi bangs around at the kitchen counter. Why am I here?
“I put the casserole in the oven,” Cindi says to E. Then to the rest of us, “Table. Now.”
I’ve never seen Cindi like this before – joyless and harsh. I sit and with much grumbling Stipple joins us. E pushes her mug away.
“We have had a bit of a rough start,” E says. I look at the other faces, hoping someone else will be the first to laugh caustically. No one does.
“What, exactly, has been rough for you, Evelyn?” Stipple moves to the edge of his seat and I think of a cat about to pounce.
“Well, first, as you are aware, I lost both my husband and my son.”
“That was before all this,” he says without compassion. “What have you sacrificed since this ridiculous charade began?” His voice shakes. I consider whether I’ll be collateral damage soon.
“Have I not kept you safe, under the radar, and fed?”
“You!” Stipple stands, paces. “With my money!”
“You asked me, no – begged me to take care of your company!” Now Evelyn stands. “I have managed to make you money while keeping everything afloat! Why? Because you want to play ruffian!”
I almost, terribly, giggle. E is much less scary when she uses words like ruffian. Pye kicks me below the table.
“Enough!” Cindi screams.
A knock sounds then, “You alright, Miss Cindi?” She crosses to the door and opens it the smallest crack. The disembodied voice of the night security guard suggests he look around.
“Thank you. You always watch over us so well,” Cindi says in a honeyed manner. “I really am fine. No worries. Go back to your crossword.” She lightly shuts the door and turns on us.
“No shouting. In fact, no talking at all.” Her deathly quiet unnerves me. “The past is done. We have work to do.”