One time we didn’t eat for two days. I was twelve and not old enough to work, and Maddy was seven. We’d gone through all the food in the house, including the dry and canned stuff. After two full days had passed with nothing to eat, I was desperate. So I walked down to the main drag to an overly busy casino buffet and loaded my tote up with rolls and pieces of chicken when people weren’t looking. I made sure I stood real close to a family that had other kids, and no one was the wiser. I slipped out of the buffet, and Maddy and I ate for three days on what I’d pilfered until Pops came back from his binge and filled the house with food again. I did that several more times over the years when it got bad. The answer to Max’s statement before would be a resounding no. Pops likely wouldn’t have noticed we were hurting, tired, or any of that. He’d known me a month and Maddy a week and could already see what we needed.
Led by an overbearing brother, Maddy and I let him drag us across the street to the hotel with the plush two-bedroom suite he’d secured for us a week ago, a suite that hadn’t been slept in once. We’d only used it for showering, and not enough if the rank smell that filled the space was anything to go by. Max flicked on the air and sat on the bed. You two, showers, now.” He pointed at Maddy and me. Then he picked up the phone. “Yeah, I’d like…uh hold up. You two like burgers?”
My mouth actually watered at the idea of a meaty, cheesy burger. For days I’d lost my appetite. The same went for actually having eaten anything remotely close to a meal. It had been a strict diet consisting of coffee, Snickers bars, and trail mix, and that was when I could force myself to choke down something. Oh, Maddy’s new perfect mother-in-law-to-be had come bearing food every day, but I hadn’t been able to bring myself to partake. Pops wasn’t eating. Why should I? Now, a good few pounds lighter and a stomach eating itself, I knew I was no good to anyone like this.
“Burgers are fine, Max, thank you,” I answered, and Mads simply nodded. I could tell from her gait and the slump in her frame that she was losing her grip and the weight of everything was starting to show.
Since it was a two-bedroom suite, there were two bathrooms. I showered in one, Mads in the other. When I exited, a man’s T-shirt and a clean pair of boxer shorts sat on the vanity. It didn’t even dawn on me to think of pajamas and I definitely hadn’t packed any. I shuffled my way into the living area where Maddy sat, hands around a giant burger. She too wore a T-shirt and a pair of boxer shorts.
“Twinsies,” I joked, and Maddy almost choked on her burger when she giggled.
“Had to give you guys something to wear. You ain’t got nothin’ for bedclothes. What have you been wearing to sleep in?”
I gazed at the window, basically anywhere else in the room, to avoid the question.
Maddy went the route of honesty. “Max, we’ve been holding down the fort at the hospital.”
His head jerked back, and he gripped his knees. “You mean you haven’t slept in a bed since you left the ranch?”
Maddy, God love her, did not catch on to the warning hitch in his voice. “Nope. Most nights, I nod off on the love seat in there and Mia on the chair.”
His gaze cut to mine. “You’ve been sleepin’ in a chair for a week?” He pointed to me. “And you must have contorted into a pretzel to fit your length into a love seat,” he directed at Maddy. “For Christ’s sake, no wonder you two look like death warmed over. Where the hell are your men in all this?” He scowled deep and gripped his knees tighter.
“Good fucking question,” I mumbled around a salty French fry. It was the perfect crispness, salt to grease ratio, and potato awesomeness. After inhaling at least ten of them, I picked up the burger.