View From Heaven

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic

Chapter 13 (v.1) - Chapter 12

Submitted: March 26, 2008

Reads: 119

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Submitted: March 26, 2008



Chapter 12

She was astonishingly beautiful, as William said. But beauty was not everything. Beauty had this penalty—it came too readily, came too completely. It stilled life—froze it. One forgot the little agitations; the flush, the pallor, some queer distortion, some light or shadow, which made the face unrecognisable for a moment and yet added a quality one saw for ever after. It was simpler to smooth that all out under the cover of beauty.

Beauty. Cecily fixated on the word, disregarding the rather bleak picture Virginia intended to paint. Her thoughts had strayed completely from the context.

Cecily hadn’t felt this beautiful for even five minutes in her adult life and she had gone weeks now with this lovely new sensation. She could barely suppress a smile as she thumbed through the worn and dog-eared pages of The Lighthouse, disregarding as usual the fact that her break was technically over minutes ago.

Her eyes growing weary, she lowered the old book and instead scanned the assortment of minks and heavy wools squeezed together on coat rails creaking under the weight of their loads. Though it was only the first week of November, the holidays had already arrived in the premature but pleasant fashion of typical downtown Chicago. Just now specks of white light danced on the walls as her manager, Karl, struggled with a string of icicle lights on the restaurant’s awning near the window. Cecily smiled contentedly at the cheerful way they danced about her, illuminating the darkness. Any other year and she may have been summoning her inner Ebenezer. But, hallelujah, this year might just be different.

She marked the place where she had left off with a solitary dried, long-stem rose. There were six others exactly like it housed in a vase on her kitchen table and she’d accrued them over the past week, one rose for each day of the week since that first much unexpected night of passion.

Suffice it to say Cecily might have easily been sitting here today wallowing in the deepest regret, tearing out her hair and gnashing her teeth, cursing the day she recommitted the unforgivable sin with a man and received her well-earned reward. Jamie had never given her the chance. He’d been there in the morning when she woke. He’d made the visit to her mother’s home as promised flashing her secretive glances and smiles all the while as if to say, boy if your mom only knew the position we were in thirty-six hours ago. He’d returned to Maggiali’s every lunch hour every day of that week, flower in hand. He wouldn’t leave her alone until she agreed to let him take her out to a formal dinner.

So, just like that, in what seemed a matter of moments, Cecily’s love life was back on the map. It was a very odd feeling, but she attributed that to her total lack of romance for the past few years. In many ways the last two weeks had been a time of relearning the ropes of a relationship, but she couldn’t think of anyone else she would rather have as her guide.

She knew it could be months before she came to truly know the new Jamie, but this much she was sure of: he was a man she could trust. Truly.


Cecily winced at the summons which came in a loud whisper. Her girlfriend’s voice was growing to feel like daggers shooting into her ears.

“No. No. No, no, no, NO! Gina, for the last time! I cannot and will not disclose to you the size, weight, length, circumference, girth, color, shape, smell or taste of Jamie’s penis!”

At this exact moment an older woman appeared in the coat room; she stopped dead in her tracks at the doorway, shooting the other two women an appalled look before scurrying for her coat and dashing back into the restaurant in a huff.

Cecily winced as Gina came towards her, hands waving in the air.

“It’s not that!” She hissed. There was a look of concern on her face. “There’s a man here…not Jamie…who’s asking for you.”

“Another man. I…”

“I’ve never met him before, but I’m pretty sure from the way you’ve described him, it’s your brother. Table ten.”

Cecily’s stomach turned. She shot up quickly, mindlessly tossing aside her precious book and rose onto the floor, and moved to spy into the dining room, praying Gina had somehow made a silly mistake. She groaned aloud the moment she saw the figure sitting at the table near the door. He wore a ridiculous gray pin striped suit—wrinkles visible from her vantage point, which hung so haphazardly on his thin frame it seemed to mock him. He sat hunched over the white linen table cloth, hands clasped, staring blankly into the glass of water someone had actually bothered to pour him.

As she stalked in his direction, the features of his face became more pronounced. His skin was a sickly pale in contrast to his dark brown hair which was matted and greasy, and most likely hadn’t seen a comb for days. The unruly stubble on his cheeks, coupled with the purplish half-moons under his eyes gave him an exceedingly gaunt appearance. He wore a quite pinched expression on his face as if he was battling to hide some sort of physical pain.

The picture was a pathetic one, but he was certainly not going to win any of her sympathy tonight.

Reaching table ten, she rested a hand on the back of one of the chairs and bent over slightly in Ben’s direction to promote the appearance she was simply serving another patron, and to disassociate herself with the man in front of her. The fiery look she handed her brother, however, betrayed her.

“What the hell do you want?” she practically snarled under her breath.

Ben, who had received his sister with a sort of twisted, but toothless smile, ducked strangely as if to dodge the venom shot at him with her words.

“Wow. Is that how you greet all your customers? I thought you were supposed to spout off the specials and hand me a wine list.” That same, cocky smirk contorted his lips, but she noticed that he was having some difficulty bringing himself to look her in the eye.

Instead he reached for the menu in front of him and unfolded it, scanning its contents.

“Actually, I was thinking I’d just order some dessert tonight.”

“You’re not in my section. I’ll have to go find your waitress,” Cecily replied bitterly.

Ben tossed his menu aside and sighed deeply.

“Well, then I guess I’ll cut to the chase.”

Cecily surveyed the area immediately around them and found several people already looking on in disgust at this man who was so clearly not of their caliber. Her face flushed with humiliation, but she darted into a seat beside him, eager to send him away at the earliest possible moment.

“What do you want?”

Ben crossed his arms defensively in front of him with an agitated look.

“I just came to borrow a cup of sugar. What the hell do you think I want?”

“How much?” she returned just as rudely.

Her brother suddenly found his place settings much more pleasing to the eye.

“Five hundred,” he mumbled.

Cecily couldn’t help but laugh out loud as she slapped a hand to her head.

“Five…Ben, that’s almost more than I make in a week. Why in God’s name…”

Some color finally made its way into his pallid cheeks.

“It’s just so I can pay my rent, and the rest is for food, all right? I lost my job.”

“Oh well, that’s a surprise. These bastards must not let you get wasted on the clock either, huh? People are such tight asses these days.”

Ben sunk dejectedly into his chair under the weight of his sister’s harsh sarcasm. Cecily focused on the face of a random woman over his shoulder, willing herself not to feel an ounce of pity for the man in front of her who shared her blood.

“It wasn’t my fault,” he finally answered. Cecily flashed him an incredulous look. “It was a temp job,” he added in a rushed manner that made her question his honesty. “It ended sooner than it was supposed to.”

There was a strained silence between them while Cecily sorted out her jumbled thoughts. She was the older one, the one who made smart choices in life unlike her brother. Though he filled her with an anger that at times was almost uncontainable, she wasn’t about to bust her lid in a public place—her work place. It was her place to keep her cool, to show some real maturity.

“I cannot give you this money,” she stated slowly and deliberately, tapping her fingers on the table with each word for reinforcement. “Five hundred dollars is a lot of money.”

Ben fell suddenly into a brief coughing fit and wiped at a runny nose. Though he still refused to bring his eyes to hers, she could see they were glazed and practically lifeless. He looked ill. How could she not help but feel the hollow pang in her stomach at the sight of her brother. She had loved him more than anything at one time. He had brought out the maternal tendencies in her from a young age. She was the one to put the Band-Aids on his cuts, and sing him back to sleep when he was afraid of the dark. There was still a part of her that yearned to reach out to him in this way.

“I am your sister. I am barely making it on my own as it is. Plain and simple: I don’t have the money to give. Here’s what I can give you,” Cecily continued pointedly after a moment, as if addressing an irrational child. “Pay off what’s left of your rent and move in with mom. She’s got an extra room, she’s got food. God, Ben, she just wants to see you again.”

Before she had even finished her thought, the younger man crossed his arms even tighter around his body, pushed out his lower lip, and shook his head slowly from side to side like an obstinate little boy in response.

“Christ!” she whispered loudly, tossing her hands in the air. So much for keeping her cool. “You know, I’d blame it on pride. But, I’m not quite sure what you have left to be proud about. Other twenty-one year olds would give anything to be living off their parents again, but you refuse your own mother’s offers for help because the next time you screw up royally—and that’s any day now—you’ll still have at least one excuse. Just admit it.”

Cecily watched Ben closing off quickly again. The unnatural smile—one that did a poor job of hiding the pain behind his eyes—had returned to his face.

“You really think you’ve got me pegged, huh? Well thanks, Oprah, but you can spare me the sermon.”

He took a long pull from the crystal clear water in his glass before pushing back his chair, appearing ready to leave. Cecily shot up before he had the chance. Reaching into her apron full of tips from the night, she pulled out the most generous—a crisp fifty dollar bill—and tossed it onto the table.

“Here. Take it. I would tell you to go buy yourself some groceries, but seeing as you’ll have to pass a liquor store the minute you get out of here, I guess it’s pretty useless advice.”

Her brother stood up slowly, his jaw twitching as he gazed down at the money through squinted eyes. For a moment she believed he wouldn’t take it; the idea of him returning to the icy streets with nothing in his pockets made her heart sink into her stomach. However, to her great relief, he snatched up the large bill greedily and was gone without another word.

Tidying the practically unused table her brother had occupied only a moment before, Cecily fought the misty feeling creeping up under her eyelids. By the time she attended to her next customers four minutes later, she was wearing the brightest smile she was physically capable of producing.

She would be damned if she was going to let her brother ruin the biggest bout of pre-holiday cheer she had managed since Santa Claus had been real. Damned.

Ben re-emerged from Maggiali’s onto the street snorting hot breath through his nostrils; he was fuming not only as a result of his rather sour encounter with his sister, but on account every single person in that place who had made him feel unwelcome with their disgusted stares and whispers of dismay. Who the hell were they that they could treat him as if he were some disease invading their presence?

When and how had he allowed himself to sink so low that he was now nothing more than the scum on their feet?

Going to zip up his thin, worn coat against the downright cold night, he noticed his hands were shaking quite violently. Withdrawal was a bitch. No matter how much he might detest the thought of a drink on any given day, his body always had other plans. It started with cotton-mouth. His tongue became a parched, sandpapery parcel behind his teeth which even a gallon of water could not saturate. Then came the sweating; pouring, uncontrollable perspiration. Finally, he got the shakes.

The hand trembles signified his physical need for another drug, however. It had been days since his last cigarette. Lowering his head to avoid any confrontations with other pedestrians, he trudged right past the whole sale liquor store Cecily had so viciously predicted would be his prize for her charity and swung on over to a Madison Avenue convenience store.

He was in such a stupor at the moment, he hardly knew what escaped his lips to the cashier, but it was not long before he returned to the street with three packs of Marlboro lights, a cheap new lighter in his pockets and five more dollars than when he had first entered the store.

It was getting late now and traffic—both on the streets and walkways, was dissipating. Ben traveled down to the Madison Street Bridge where he fished out a cig and his lighter and took the first gratifying drag, letting the smoke linger in his lungs until they burned.

Already feeling himself growing calmer, the young man rested his elbows on the tarnished railing of the bridge and cast his eyes into the gentle ripples of the Chicago River below him. The water was a flowing sheet of atramentous black, disrupted only by the pale watery street lights reflected on its surface. In the still of the cold, windless night, he could hear it flowing quietly, lapping at the walls which contained it. From his bird’s eye view, it appeared bottomless, though he knew it wasn’t any more than a couple dozen feet deep. Without removing his eyes from the river, he brought the cigarette back over the sidewalk and flicked away the ash from the end of it, not daring to disrupt the peaceful, seemingly perfect watercourse below his feet.

The virtual void it represented in the darkness transformed it into a blank slate on which the faces of the patrons from the Ontario restaurant—their narrowed eyes and repulsed expressions— appeared vividly. He could not shake them from his mind.

Well, truth be told, it was not exactly those arrogant, self-righteous pricks who had gotten his goat. He may be growing thinner by the day, but his skin was still as thick. He was never one to be fazed by the opinions of some asshole strangers. It was the fact that among those faces—those unkind, utterly superior faces—was his own sister’s; looking upon him as if a six foot cock roach had just disgraced her presence.

When had the girl he had once considered his best friend become one of those people they used to make fun of together? He knew at some point his sister would not and could not provide him financial assistance any longer. He knew that what he asked of her was outlandish and unreasonable. However, he never expected that his closest family member—the only family member he made an effort to keep any remote contact with—could be so condescending and unforgiving, as if he was of no consequence to her. He was almost disappointed in Cecily.

Ben nearly laughed out loud at the thought as he put the half smoked cigarette back to his lips.

He was disappointed in her. The practical sociopath with a criminal record was disappointed in the squeaky clean woman who worked her ass off fifty hours a week to make an honest living.

What it came down to was that neither Manning sibling had fulfilled the lifestyles they had once envisioned for each other. Cecily had not envisioned an alcoholic brother who lied and stole to meet his needs while shunning the concern and attempts at support from his family and friends, and found the joys of life in a bottle or a blunt. Ben had not envisioned a sister who dealt with pressure and adversity by cowering in a corner, had reverted to the security level of a thirteen-year-old girl, and worked full time as a waitress while only ever talking up a storm about what she intended to really do with her life.

The past few days had not been what the young man had expected for himself either. He had slaved away at that shit job for two weeks, and just when he thought he was going to receive his reward, everything came crashing down in an instant.

Was it a reminder that the things he did to fuck up his life years ago—such as getting himself locked up in prison with a nut job like Vargas—would always come back to haunt him? Perhaps just his luck, or worse yet, his destiny? Whatever the cause, Ben understood now better than ever the futility in attempting to make anything of himself. His life must have been one fated for failure in order to make room for the success of others in the world; and from now on he was going to live it accordingly.

Finishing his cigarette and tossing it silently onto the cement below him, Ben took one final gaze into the vacant black river below him. For a moment he imagined hoisting himself over the rail and dropping to the very depths of the freezing water, never re-emerging at its surface, disappearing from the world forever. It was nothing he was actually keen on trying. It would require some actual effort—actually climbing over the rail and jumping; with his luck he’d probably just land on top of a passing steamer, and there was no way in hell he would waste the three packs of fresh cigarettes he had just “purchased”.

But what if he really went through with it? Would anyone miss him? Would anyone notice? Well, of course, his mother and sister would notice at some point, but perhaps they would be relieved that he had done away with himself and taken with him the burden he had laid.

Winter had set itself upon the city prematurely. It had to snow any day now, he thought. Pushing himself back onto his feet, Ben turned and began the long trek back to the other side of the city nursing his right flank which now throbbed with pain day and night.

It had been another wasted trip searching for some hope, but that didn’t matter much now. Perhaps he would never make it home tonight; perhaps he would just walk right back to that liquor store and drink himself into unconsciousness. After all, it was what was expected of him these days; why try to break the mold he fit so well?

© Copyright 2018 Megan Maydell. All rights reserved.


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