“Your last client? I vetted him. You know that.” Her tone was bored, annoyed.
“Just do it, Millie. Look up his birth records.”
The line crackled as I walked towards the door back into the hospital. I needed a caffeine drip, stat.
“Mia, you’re not making any sense. His birth records?”
“And what do you expect me to find?”
I laughed. A full-on piggy snort, hyena chuckle, all over body heave. A variety of medical professionals who passed me in the hall looked at me like I’d just sprouted wings and told them I was a fairy. I didn’t care. Delirium was not a fair-weather friend these days, and I figured these folks dealt in enough mental illness to offer a cold shoulder as they passed.
“You’re going to find that Maxwell Cunningham’s mother’s name is Meryl Colgrove. His father, Jackson Cunningham.”
“What! This must be some type of joke. That can’t be. He’s lying to you. Someone’s lying to you.” The dread and shock in her voice was believable. At least she wasn’t in on her sister’s depravity.
“Yeah, Meryl up and left her son when he was a year old. Three years later, she married Pops, and a year after that, she had me.”
I wasn’t planning on going through the fucked up family tree, but she’d pushed every last one of my buttons defending the one woman who didn’t deserve it.
“It’s not possible. I’d have known…” she said on a gasp.
Once I made it to the cafeteria, I shuffled to the coffeemaker, plunked in the fifty-five cents, and shoved a paper cup under the spout. The coffee was wretched, but it helped keep me awake. Well, it did for about an hour, and then I’d make my zombie walk back over to the machine once more. This was another one of those routines I repeated several times a day.
I took a deep breath and planted my forehead against the machine as it whirred to life, spilling out the coffee. The buzz and hum felt good against my aching head. “Believe it. It gets worse, though.”
“Mia, no.” She sobbed, sniffed, and hiccupped into the line. Frankly, at that point, I didn’t care. I’d been through more shit the past couple weeks than any normal person should. She needed to share this burden of truth.
“Maxwell Cunningham. Not only is he our brother, he’s Maddy’s biological brother from both parents. You know what that means, Millie? Huh?” My voice rose, the anger and defeat controlling every word. “That means your sister cheated on my dad. She had an affair with Jackson Cunningham a decade after they had their first child, and she got pregnant with Maddy. That lowlife bitch passed off Maddy as Pops’s child, and she never bothered to come clean. That’s the type of woman your sister is. Learn to live with it. I sure as hell have.”
I clicked the phone off, grabbed my cup, and sucked down the entire thing in one go. The coffee was hot enough to burn my tongue, obliterating every taste bud in its wake. Not that I cared. Pain would give me something else to focus on besides the absolute dire straits my father was in.
Pulling out a dollar bill from my pocket, I fed it into the machine, added ten cents, and put my now empty cup on one side and a cup for Maddy on the other. Again, I pressed my forehead against the whirring, which lasted longer. For a minute, I succumbed to the blackness.
“Jesus Christ, sugar, come here,” came the sweetest sound, next to my Wes’s voice, before I was turned around and hauled into the massive arms of the man I’ve now come to know as my brother.
“Max,” I choked into his chest. I gripped onto his back and let the tears fall. They came fast and furious. Like a torrential downpour they fell, soaking Max’s black Henley, but he just held on tighter. For the first time since I received that call, I felt safe. Protected. “Thank you. Thank you for coming,” I said between sobs.