Dennis limped out of bed at dawn and reached for the invitation on his dresser. He had no idea what the bride’s name was and could not remember the last time he saw Alex, the buttoned-up groom who hardly resembled the Portlandians he knew—the socialists with braided beards and cool kids with custom fixed gears. Alex, the spreadsheet wiz with letters after his name who fled the bubble of Californian paradise for the torrents of the Pacific Northwest. Do accountants chase after jobs with better tax breaks, Dennis wondered as he splashed water on his face and stroked his thinning crown. Not that he particularly cared about Alex’s career. At this point Dennis only knew that Alex was making six figures, while he was planning on telling all who asked that he was on sabbatical, or in early retirement, or basking in the shoal of a summer vacation. Anything but unemployed, summarily fired. He bristled when anyone mentioned the latter, because it was true. All conversations regarding professions or happiness were to be avoided.

The flight was two hours from departure. When he booked it, he resolved to take the subway to JFK, nurse his bank account. Hunched on the platform with a rolling suitcase, he held out a sliver of hope that he would miss the plane, that he would drop his wallet along the way and be turned away by the baggage police. Awaiting him was a jovial cast of alumni from the Ted Williams High School Class of ‘99—the women (nee girls) from the yearbook committee with their dimple-chinned husbands and swaddled infants in giant carriages, the boys (not yet men) he had sparred with in canyons wearing one red glove, their bare hands smelling of skunky weed and hot sauce. After moving away he became a ghost in the cloud, never sharing a photograph or plugging a cause with the click of a finger. Other than his friend Paul, there was only Alex’s twin sister, Abby, an amorous bluff. Awful taste in men, he recalled. Shallow meatheads and strip club enthusiasts. Men that had what he lacked: the audacity of machismo.

He had known the twins since they were in preschool, catching pollywogs in mason jars at an unfishable pond. They were embarrassed when he asked why their parents were so much paler than they were, and it was Abby who showed him a map and pointed to Korea. The boys were on the swim team together, where Alex anchored the four-man relay with a formidable crawl stroke, Abby always on the risers, clapping softly. After practices, Dennis would hold Alex underwater and watch him struggle, his arms better suited for Greco-Roman wrestling than lap lanes. He regretted being a punk, punishing Alex for his sister’s coquettish games. When they were seventeen, she teased him with her virginity, resting her skinny hand on his thigh in the back of a charter bus as it wound its way back from Big Bear. Those hands, so varicose and alien, prematurely geriatric, already on the way to the grave. She was too careless to realize she destroyed him every time she called him Denny, or mentioned their pact to get married if all else failed. That was his death knell, being the mark of an illegitimate backup plan.

 

His estimate was slightly off, and when he arrived at the airport, the boarding had already begun. As he ran through the terminal, he dodged a mobile phone kiosk and gawked at the upmarket retailers that had insinuated themselves into the veins of decency. He was panting when he made it to the desk, where a representative was glued to a computer screen.

“I need to get on that plane,” Dennis said, low and short of breath.

“You’re in luck. The co-pilot is late. I’ll let you in.”

Dennis looked at the man’s name tag. “Thank you, Andrew. I’m going to call Altitude and tell them to give you a raise.”

“Oh, stop,” Andrew said with a flip of his wrist. “But I’m going to have to check your bag. It’s a full flight.” Dennis sighed and handed over his luggage.

Squeezing into a window seat, he pulled down the arm rest as the towhead next to him furiously tapped a game screen. The plane was on the tarmac, engines and turbines revving, but it wasn’t leaving the jetway, only throttling and bobbing like a giant massage chair set to Extreme. Whenever he thought they were preparing to depart, he pushed up the shade with his knuckle and pulled it back down. Still no progress. He was rarely late for engagements, but this would be an exception. Alex probably wouldn’t even notice if he skipped the wedding, and Abby would forgive him, if she cared at all. They last saw each other at a bonfire on the beach, a birthday for [Enter Name Here]. That was six or seven years ago, actual intervals having lost their significance. She had broken off an engagement with one of her frat dicks and was particularly fragile, slugging a bottle of Malibu rum, sallow-cheeked and gaunt, the tips of her witchy fingers pruned. They waded in the high tide together, cuffs rolled up to the knees. She told him she was done with men, ready to move on to women, a chance she had missed in college, when she was terrified of what her sorority sisters would say. Dennis put his arm around her waist tentatively, recognizing that it might seem like he was trying to rescue her, a subtle form of entrapment. That wasn’t his intention. He wanted to entice her without a clause. Kissing her then would seem like a sleazy concession.

Lately he had been flogging himself for his arrested approach to dating, his demand for control. The women he tended to see were often willing to bend or compromise, though they only knew part of the deal. There were strict policies and term limits, a year at most. When that point approached, usually after a fling turned into regular nights together, he found excuses to become scarce—extended visits to Baltimore, chronic fatigue, evening classes—and he hoped that these would hint at his priorities. Of cardinal importance was the refusal to acknowledge that he had a girlfriend or partner; a rule without much rationale. His most recent affair had come close to being an undeniable relationship, but as the deadline neared, he convinced himself that Miranda the Librarian was a clinger, that her need for a daily communication was excessive and symptomatic. Consequently, she and every other woman he had been with resented him, the confirmation coming from mutual confidantes. With Abby, he thought he could be renewed.

Of course, there was still the issue of getting to Portland. After thirty minutes of waiting, the captain bellowed from the cockpit, seemingly ambivalent to the cabin’s unease. He said they were third in line and would be moving shortly; he appreciated their patience. The passengers grumbled in chorus and Dennis’s head pulsed, as if a field mouse were burrowing through his ear canal, seeking escape. He reached into his pocket and twisted open an orange plastic bottle. The label warned that the pills caused drowsiness (Do not operate heavy machinery), an indication of their preferred recreational use. He scooped out two and dropped them on his tongue, then smirked at the absurdity of being-in-this-together. He was down before they left the ground.

 

– – –

 

Dennis awoke as the plane made its initial descent, the Columbia River coming into focus. The throbbing pain in his head was replaced by deafness and fog, like watching a grainy silent film. The kid next to him was still plugged into his machine, his face several inches closer to the animated violence. Dennis wanted to pull the headphones out of his ears and tell him to read a book, or anything at all for that matter.

He turned on his phone as they were landing and saw a message from Paul: I HAVE TO BE AT THE CHURCH EARLY. TAKE A CAB TO THE PEARL DISTRICT. The next message to pop up was more promising: I HEARD YOU’RE GOING TO BE AT THE WEDDING! CAN’T WAIT TO SEE YOU!!! LOVE, ABBY. Overexcited statements were always a disappointment, filler for substance, but he could excuse this one, as he held out a modicum of optimism.

            The plane jolted to a halt and he rushed up to the front, only to be caught behind the stewardess—a term he still used both facetiously and habitually—and the khaki-loafer crowd. Once free of traffic, he followed the signs to retrieve his luggage. The carousel began to rotate as soon he found the one with his flight number, and he watched the bags trickle down a slide and onto the scratched silver plates. He thanked the Patron Saint of Baggage Claim as his popped out of the flap-door, as he always assumed it would end up somewhere in the Midwest, though this had never happened.

The wheels rattled as he scooted to the bathroom to change. He had only packed an extra pair of socks and underwear and a boxy charcoal suit, his lone piece of formal wear, purchased and tailored at a sketchy bargain basement under the towering shadow of the Chrysler Building. The suit had creases all over, not just where the legs had been hastily folded over the hanger. He would not be impressing Abby with his fashion sense, that was certain. He would have to rely on his occasional wit, the few bon mots he reserved for velvet-walled lounges and obscene holiday parties (clink). Cocktails, was there anything less subtle? At least Abby could look past his appearance, a fringe benefit of knowing someone when their self-worth was mediated by pockmarks and orthodontistry. “Shit,” he said to himself. “I’m doing it again.” This was exactly the sort of loathsome drivel that Dr. Chopra had cautioned him against. That cognitive whirlpool, always eddying into an abyss of ego-strangling and indifference, apathy at best. He wouldn’t be seeing the good doctor any time soon though, thanks to his insurance-lessness.

He practiced his mantra—keep it to pleasantries—while standing at the curb before a motley line of taxis, every color of the spectrum except indigo. Lucky Rides, Frendly Drivers (sic), Eastern Car Service. New concern: were any of these hustlers regulated? He dragged his busted valise over to a yellow sedan and before he could say anything the hack was opening the trunk; unnecessary given the size of his gear.

“How much is a ride to the Pearl District?” Dennis muttered, suddenly losing all of the confidence he had gained living in New York for a decade.

“About forty bucks. Come on, man. I’ve been waiting three hours for this fare.” A bit of an exaggeration, Dennis thought, as the cabbie slipped into the driver’s seat, bejeweled fingers on the steering wheel.

            Breathe and go with it. Minimal banter and you’ll be there before the processional. Or maybe you won’t. Be zen.

Dennis stepped in and wiped a sweaty palm on the vinyl as the cabbie punched the meter and turned on the news. A journalist was covering the bombings in Gaza, death toll over a thousand. Beyond tragic. Too heavy for a Saturday.

“Would you mind changing the station? Anything else,” Dennis said. The cabbie glanced in the mirror, obviously dissatisfied with the request.

“You don’t want to know what’s going on in the world? These are my people.” His pride sounded aggressive.

“I’m following it. It’s just that I’m going to a wedding and I need something more upbeat. I mean, I would prefer something upbeat.” There was that look again.

The driver hit a preset and reggaeton blared from the speakers. Dennis grimaced. Window-smashing bass, all low-end and sirens as they came to an on-ramp. I’ve made it this far, he thought, sinking into the vinyl.

 

– – –

 

WHERE ARE YOU??? WE’RE ALREADY AT THE CHURCH, a message from Paul said. Now he was getting into the punctuation thing. Dennis realized he hadn’t responded to either message, a rare oversight. Chalk it up to cloudiness, a lack of oxygen, congested airspace. I AM ALMOST THERE; IN A CAB, he replied. Then he took a minute to think about his text to Abby. After considering the oblique, he opted for the direct: I CAN’T WAIT TO SEE YOU, TOO. He wondered if he should have sounded more excited, because he was, in his understated way. He wanted to drag her off stage and into the chapel. Better yet, throw her on the mattress of her hotel room, ball up his chintzy suit, and toss it in a corner.

When they reached the church, the steps were empty and the hulking doors were closed. If he opened them he would look like Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate, crashing the wedding like a maniac. Funny, but entirely inappropriate. Fortunately there was another entrance, a less imposing one on the side of the building. So he missed the processional—big deal. What mattered was that he had made it. That he was present. The last row was preferable anyway. Leaving his suitcase by the door and settling into a pew, he gazed ahead; not to the altar, but to the curved lines of the wedding party. The groomsmen were stoic, Beefeaters. With a wince he remembered receiving an email inviting him to Tahoe for the bachelor’s last fling. Whoops, didn’t reply to that one. He was too busy making plans with the unemployment office.  

On the other end were the bridesmaids, all in pink, silk sashes and updos. And third from the left was Abby. Her head was turned to the altar, so all he could tell was that her breasts were larger, filling out the satin bust. He wanted to see the expression on her face, the sharpness of her chin. For some reason that had always turned him on. She may not have been the most beautiful up there—the maid of honor was a knockout—but she stood out from the rest, actually listening to the priest’s Spanish-inflected sermon about immutable bonds.

Dennis read the program card and was unsurprised to see that the couple had chosen the standard package of passages and hymns: Corinthians, “Ave Maria,” a reading from the book of—Stop, you’re doing it again. Who was he to judge? A curmudgeon before he turned thirty, the smart-ass who probably couldn’t afford a marriage even if he wanted one. Belittling the happiness of others wouldn’t get him anywhere. He folded his hands in his lap with the intention of showing respect. The guy next to him obviously didn’t care, tweeting to his X number of followers. Something about being a Jew in a Catholic church. Hilarious. Sacred, meet profane. But who knows, maybe that was just the latest trend, debated over in the comments section of Truebliss.com. It reminded him of that kid on the plane, that single-minded obliviousness. That inability to put-that-damn-thing-down. The screen fixation that would eventually become more prevalent than Major Depression, Page 1 of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. And then, usurping illness, the apex of normalcy. We, too, will be computers.

 

After the priest’s final words, the pouring of the unity sand, the polite making-out and hand-holding, the patter on the church steps, the flock made its way across the street and into a converted warehouse, orchids dressing the foyer. It was an elegant space. Wide open, minimalist décor, white tablecloths. Tasteful. A line was already forming at the bar and the hors d’ouevres were being circulated—grilled asparagus tartines with ricotta and chili lime shrimp skewers. The year before it was all retro irony, pigs in a blanket and deviled eggs.

Dennis surveyed the list of table assignments and found his name. Abby was slated to be seated with the rest of the bridesmaids. It should be easy enough to get her away from them, he thought, Iowans she had likely met for the first time at the shower. She usually avoided frivolous chatter, a trait he admired, but before he could steal her away, he had to endure his own. The string of long-time-no-sees had to begin somewhere.

“There’s the man. Denzel Washington, in the flesh. How have you been, brother?” Dennis cringed. He had almost forgotten the nickname, bestowed upon the whitest boy alive.

“Hey, Chris. It’s good to see you.”

“Looks like things are getting kind of dicey up top.” He motioned to Dennis’s hairline.

“Thanks for noticing.” Dennis was turning his attention to the entrance. He imagined the poses and postures of the wedding party’s photo shoot—interlocked arms, joyous leaps in the air.

“So, all the way from New York, huh? That’s great. You must be loving it. I’ve gotta get out there. I could probably swing it this fall if you’ll be around. Come on, tell me, what has Mr. Washington been up to?”

Just. Let. It. Go.

“I’ve been doing some policy work and government relations for a research institute. They focus on kidney and liver cancer, primarily,” he said. A slight taraddidle, as his only work with the government pertained to processing and submitting federal forms.

“That sounds pretty impressive. I’m still at the bank, but I’m an assistant branch manager now.”

Dennis thought it was funny that Chris referred to the bank in general terms, as if this was common knowledge.

“Movin’ on up,” Dennis said, trying to act sincere. He was saved by the arrival of the wedding party, the requisite applause.

“Will you excuse me for a minute? I have to say hello to Paul. I was supposed to meet him earlier.”

“No problem. We’ll catch up later.” Dennis was sure this wouldn’t happen.

 

He greeted Paul with a hug. Though they only spoke on the phone a couple times a year, he felt closer to him than almost anyone in New York.

“I seriously thought you weren’t going to make it. Then I saw you creep in through the back door.”

“Yeah, it was a hassle getting here. I should have come as a hologram.”

“I’m sure Alex will be glad you’re here. And Abby seemed like she was excited to see you when I talked to her at the rehearsal dinner.” This was the best second-hand news he had received since being forwarded an email from an ex-coworker that said he had a sexy beard.

“I should congratulate them,” Dennis said. “Where are they?”

“They’re taking some pictures together, I think. Weird twin stuff. Let’s get a drink.”

The stamp of weird twin stuff and outrageous accusations began in grammar school. Catty pre-teens claimed that Abby would sneak away from their indoor campouts to sleep in Alex’s bedroom. Abby’s defense was that she had insomnia, that she would venture out to the lots of future tract homes so she could be alone. The allegations escalated in high school, when a teammate of Alex said he caught them both shirtless in his car after a meet. But the prosecution was unreliable, and the rumor died when he was caught in his own scandal, with his pants down in front of (gasp) another boy. Dennis never believed these stories, because in his mind Abby was too demure, and Alex was too boring.

 

Abby slipped in while Dennis was standing in line, luggage still in hand, waiting to order a Kentucky Mule—signature cocktails being another fad that year. She grabbed his hips from behind and tickled. When he turned around, he finally got to see her up close. That chin he loved was as cute as ever. Her cheeks were lightly blushed, pinkish lipstick complementing the dress.

“You look amazing,” he said, pulling her in and giving her a peck.

“You’re such a gentleman. I know I’ve gotten fatter.” She held him at arms length and gave him an honest look. “I’ve missed you, Denny.”

“That’s good to hear. Because you’re the real reason I came.” He felt sappy saying this, but wanted her to know the truth.

“Such a charmer,” she said.

“Enough gushing. What do you want to drink? Appletini?” he joked.

“Gross. A vodka tonic will be fine. Let’s go sit at your table. I don’t want to listen to those hussies talk about what they would do better.”

Abby cinched her arm through his and sipped her drink as they headed to the table. Dennis thought this was a good sign, a subtle flirtation, a claim of ownership. He would gladly be paraded around like a trophy wife, off limits to the desperate bachelorettes. As they sat down, he pushed his suitcase under the table.

“Did you bring any party favors?” Abby asked with a grin.

“What? Like coke? Are you into that now?”

“Only on special occasions.”

“I never would have guessed.”
Abby shrugged. “So?”

“Why would I get on a plane with drugs? I’ve got my stress relievers, but I wouldn’t recommend those. Unless you want to fall asleep.”

“I want to see,” she said, batting her eyes.

“Another time. As the mature adult here, I’m going to put these away. We’re not in college anymore.”

Dennis unzipped the outer pocket of his suitcase and tucked in the medicine bottle he always carried.

“I saw that,” she said, squinting.

He took a sip of his drink and steered away from the topic.

“This is a nice place. Your brother and his wife thought of everything.”

“I guess. She was kind of obsessive with the details. She even told Alex to make a spreadsheet estimating how much each of his friends would drink. Consumption per hour. That was the headline. It had a ratings scale, from teetotaler to lush.”

“Impressive. I wonder where I fell.”

“Probably on the heavy end,” she said, swirling her glass.

“Bottoms up.”

They toasted and watched the guests mingle. Everyone else was on the other end of the room, snacking on appetizers and laughing. The DJ was playing Motown and country—an odd mix, Dennis thought. Abby drained her vodka and popped the champagne in the center of the table. He could tell she was ready to get wrecked.

“I’m losing my little Al-bear,” she said, her glimmer beginning to drip. “He’s hundreds of miles away and didn’t even come back for the holidays last year.”

“I think that’s pretty normal. Especially if her family is in Iowa.”

“Do you know why our parents named him Alex?” she said, clearly distracted.

“Because they were fans of Alexander the Great? Appreciated Alex Chilton?”

“Who’s that?”

“A musician. He wrote—never mind. It doesn’t matter.”

“Not even close.”

“Okay. Why?”

“They weren’t sure if he was going to be a girl or a boy.”

“Really? Can’t the doctor tell that from the sonogram?”

“Technology wasn’t as smart back then, I guess. Anyway, you’re missing the point.”

“Which is?” He rolled his wrist.

“That we were in the womb together. That we’re, like, basically the same person, with slightly different bodies. Sometimes I think our eggs were stuck together. We can read each others minds, you know. And now—” She sniffled, cracking. “That’s all going to be over. He’s all hers.”

Abby took a swig from the champagne bottle and nearly dropped it. Clamping her lips, she looked towards the bride, who Dennis could now identify as a Katie. He didn’t know how to respond or comfort her. While he felt empathy, he thought anything he said would come out wrong.

“I wonder what he sees in her. She’s just there, you know? From what I’ve gathered, she likes two things: horses and pilates. That’s it.”

“So she’s simple,” he said. “Nothing wrong with that.”

“You don’t get it,” she said, setting down her glass. “I can’t explain right now. I need to talk to Alex.”

“Abby, hold on.” But she was already getting up, hiking her dress and making her way across the room.

 

Once she was gone, the table started to fill up with relatives he didn’t know, and a hostess was calling them to the buffet. Dennis crammed his plate with soul food—brisket, collared greens, and mac-n-cheese—and shoveled it into his maw. Halfway through his meal, the clinking of crystal began. Alex and his bride heeded to the crowd with gentle smacks, reminders that they were meant for each other, that they would be inseparable. The maid of honor echoed this as she gave a tearful yet droning book report on her friendship with Katie, punctuated by mundane details about Catechism and invisible ink, and culminating in the match conceived by an Internet algorithm. Dennis was on the veranda getting some air while the best man cordially roasted his former roommate (spoiler alert: Alex wore nipple rings when he was a freshman). The bride’s uncle gave him a lecture on college football rivalries, the dominance of the Iowa Hawkeyes. Dennis nodded politely and shook the man’s hand, returning to the gala after the lights had dimmed, as the bride was weeping in her father’s arms. This part of the ritual always confused him: the daughter’s lament, the belated coming-of-age. He peered across the room and saw the bridesmaids dabbing their contacts, but he couldn’t locate Abby. The speeches must have been too much for her to bear, he thought. When she reappeared, he noticed her stagger. He waited until the DJ slowed the tempo so he could talk to her.

“Would you like to dance?” he said, extending his hand. Her makeup had smeared and she was trying to hold it together. She said yes and let a ball of tissues fall to the ground.

“Is everything all right?” he asked, escorting her to the floor.

“I’m fine, I’m fine,” was all she could manage.

“Listen. If you want to leave early, I’ll walk you back to your hotel.”  He knew this could be misinterpreted, but he was attempting to be chivalrous. She wasn’t a random drunk girl at last call, and he was worried that some of the bachelors would see her that way.

“Where’sssssss the cake? We need to say goodbye, tomorrow.” She was slurring rather heavily. Dennis propped her up as they swayed to the Righteous Brothers, “Unchained Melody.” Her eyes were droopy and she gave him a dazed smile.

“You’re the best,” she said. “Do you know that? My favorite.”

“I think that’s an overstatement, but I accept your praise.” He was too steady for this. If he had taken shots with the boys or downed another Mule, he might have found it more endearing. All he could feel was the gravity of her weight, her forehead on his shoulder. And when she said, “Fuck, me,” under her breath, he wasn’t sure if this was a request or a surrender.

The song ended with a quavering note and Abby kissed his neck. “I need to go to the bathroom,” she said. “Wait for me.” She was reciting the lyrics, even if she didn’t realize it, and it crushed him, because he knew he could only be her pawn.

 

He sat at his assigned table and counted the heads of the leftovers. The parquet floor was nearly full, everybody dancing to Michael Jackson and Madonna and a handful of club jams he couldn’t identify, the low brow chart toppers. Listening to the processed clamor was like being pounded by gorilla, yet everyone else seemed to enjoy the vulgarity. He wasn’t sure if he was out of touch with the contemporary, a living diorama, or if he was averse to pleasure. After downing a couple glasses of Brut, with no sign of Abby, he became antsy. He took off his jacket, loosened his tie, and rolled up the sleeves of his chafing shirt. He had decided it was time to take her back to the hotel, save her from potential embarrassment, save himself from further interrogations. As he passed his old acquaintances, they patted him on the back and tried to lure him into a circle on the dance floor. Even if he were in the mood, he wouldn’t have joined. He resented the circle, the clumsy headspins and half-assed flares. He bit his tongue as he headed to the hallway and felt a spurt of blood, a side effect of his incipient fury. He touched the tip as he knocked on the bathroom door, waiting for it to pool. Nobody answered, but he could hear the raised voices of women on the prowl, so he stepped inside.

“Is Abby here?” he asked, staying close to the exit.

“Abby who?” someone said with a laugh. Another screamed, “Get out!” from the stall. The women’s room was like a foreign country. One with a hierarchy rather than a queue.

“Has anyone seen her recently?” he said louder. His hand was on the knob, fidgeting.

“No! Why are you even in here? Pervert!”

“Screw you,” he said, slamming the door.

This was exactly why the doctor had given him the quick fix, and now he couldn’t even get a refill. Dennis rubbed his face and inhaled, sick of the whole charade. He thought of turning around right there and heading to the airport. He had slept in one before and would do it again. But he needed to find Abby, even though he knew he would be holding back her hair rather than unclasping her bra.

Down the hall, the entrance to the stairwell was ajar, leading him to assume the waiters were using it for smoke breaks and lodging complaints. Abby went through periods of chain smoking Parliaments, storing them in her glove box. She said she liked to bite the recessed filters and save the cartons for posterity. Dennis paused on the landing at the top of the stairs and sniffed. It did smell, but less of tobacco than a musty cellar or a grandmother’s garage. He called her name and said, “Let’s get out of here,” but again there was no response. While the rest of the building had been cleaned and remodeled, the stairwell was dismal, a reminder that the owners only needed to show their guests the front of the house, or wherever the party would be.

He held his breath until he reached the bottom, his knees buckling on the last step, where he saw Abby slumped against the wall. She looked like an abandoned doll, her head kinked to the side and straightened hair draped over her breast, shoes missing. Dennis knelt and put his hand on her thigh. When he shook her, her body keeled on its own. She was no longer the emaciated girl on the beach, or the girl he saved a seat for. She was bruised, her skin loose and soft.

Dennis thought of her mother, a bearish Texan with a perm like a yellow cloud. He had seen her upstairs, but hadn’t complimented her on raising a fine young man. She was probably ecstatic and hysterical, well in her cups. Her preference for Alex was obvious. She spoiled him with affection and Abby got the leftovers. When the twins turned sixteen, he got used Volvo and Abby rode shotgun. She had a hardline curfew and he had leeway. That used to piss Dennis off. For all her flaws, she deserved better.

Now, laying her down, Dennis listened to her chest, but he only heard whirs and clangs coming from the basement. He opened her mouth and blew, tasting the champagne vapors and fresh layer of raspberry lipstick. He pressed and pounded her chest without any rhythm, forgetting the method. With his ear to her heart, he looked back at the stairs. His hands trembled as he picked up the orange bottle with his name on it, wishing he had been its carrier. He wanted to reach into her throat and pull out whatever was in there, but he didn’t know how. He was useless to her. All he could do was curl up beside her and rest his hand on her small, deflated hump.