Fiction Contemporary

Susan didn’t expect to see her brother that day. She was polishing the final draft of her novel, deep into the story, when the phone rang.

“Hi Pumpkin. Guess who.”

She didn’t have to guess. No one called her Pumpkin-except Bruce.

She swallowed hard, feeling like her throat was closing off.

“Cat got your tongue?” Bruce’s voice was honey-warm just like on it was TV and in the movies.

She struggled to keep her voice smooth. “Just surprised to hear from you.”

“Oh, common. Why would you be surprised to hear from you big-little brother?”

It was an old joke. Although Bruce was four years younger than Susan, his six foot- six inch frame towered over her five foot-two inch body.

Before Susan could reply, Bruce cut in. “I’m in Charlotte. My GPS is misbehaving and I’m totally lost. How about giving me some good directions to your place.”

“In Charlotte. Why?” 

“Just finished a pilot for a new series-shot on Hilton Head Island. Thought I’d pop over to see my big sister.

Wrong, wrong, wrong. Nobody “popped over” from Hilton Head to Charlotte. It was at least a five hour trip.

“Susan, you still there?”

“Sure, sure, sure. What’s your location now.”

“Intersection of Park Road and East Boulevard. I’ve been around some dumb traffic circle at least three times. Always end up back here.

“You’re close.” She rattled off the directions.and sank back in her chair, breathing hard. He really was close. She had little time to prepare-to comb her hair- to slap on makeup-to tidy the house. Why hadn’t she done that makeover she had been promising herself? What would he think when he saw her? She bit her lip. Why did she care what he thought of her?

He breezed in the door as if he were making his entrance on Bruce Handles Everything, his weekly TV series.

“Pumpkin!He lifted her off her feet in a bear hug.

She struggled free and stood back, taking him in.

He had grown even more handsome if that were possible. How long had it been? Two years? Three?

When Bruce hit it big, he made it clear that his family was in the rearview mirror. Susan’s stomach clenched as she remembered the magazine and newspaper articles, the appearances on TV talk shows, the tell-all autobiography, surely ghost written. Bruce was not a writer. She, Susan, was the writer and she had never thrown her family under the bus like he had.

He leaned against her kitchen counter, thumbs catching the pockets of his jeans-they must have cost a fortune the way they hugged his body-custom made she was sure.

His hair, warm brown with blond accents, was swept back from his face. His china blue eyes sparkled with a hint of amusement.

What was she going to do with him? What passed for her guest room was also her writing studio. She had stacks of manuscripts and magazines containing her stories piled all over the place. He seemed to read her mind.

“Relax. I’ve booked myself at the Ritz Carlton. Just one night and I’m gone.”

His face grew serious. He looked even more handsome.

“Look. I know I’ve been a rotter. I want to make it up to the family-starting with you.”

She couldn’t help herself. Her body relaxed. She felt a smile tickle the corners of her lips.

“There you go. Not so hard is it?”

He paced from one corner of her tiny living room to the other.

“I want to do something nice for you. Take you to the finest restaurant in town. Got any suggestions?”

She wanted to turn him down, but… She had always wanted to go to The Victorian. It was supposed to be the best restaurant in Charlotte with the highest prices. Could she get in at this late hour. Not her, but Bruce probably could, even dressed in jeans. For Bruce Butler all things were possible.

That honey voice again on the phone.

“I’m just in town for one night and I hear your tops. Kind of dressed casual. Maybe you can hide me in a corner. The restaurant would make room if they could come in an hour. 

Bruce settled onto the sofa while she rushed through a shower thankful that her pixie hairdo need nothing but a scrunch.

Her one good dress would have to do.

When she returned to the living room, Bruce gave a wolf whistle, some things never changed.

“Your chariot awaits, my lady.”

A few of her neighbors appeared to be out for an evening stroll while actually checking out the Aston Martin parked in her driveway. Ice blue, sleek and smooth, looking like it was in motion even standing still.

The restaurant was in an old house. The decor was amazing, the service extraordinary. The food too much-too rich-too many courses and way too expensive. Still Susan felt like queen, getting all this attention. She noticed the waitstaff giving sidelong glances. Must think I’m his date. Let them.

Her mind drifted as she rehearsed the line she had conjured in the shower.

“I don’t know what your up to, but it’s not going to work this time.”

All of the previous letdowns rolled through her mind like an advancing tide. The times he invited her to the studio, but forgot to leave a pass. His offer to lend her money to buy her house that evaporated when he, himself, purchased an ocean front mansion. Everything he wanted to do, to be, to own way more important than her.

“Hey, Pumpkin. I know I said I’d take you to that writer’s do and let you show me off, but I got to meet some guys about my show."

And those books and articles. Exaggerating his childhood woes had made him a darling with women.

Now he wanted to breeze into town and make up for everything with a fancy dinner.

The waiter approached with the bill on a silver tray. Bruce waived him away. He took her hand.

“You’ve got very right to be pissed at me. Everything happened so fast. I got too rich, too famous, too…

“Too much of an asshole,” Susan said, her voice low.

His eyes got a far away look. “Yeah, guess that’s one way of looking at it.”

He reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a check. 

“I won’t tell you how much this is for, but it’s a lot of money. I thought if I laid this down on the table, I’d be able to buy my way back. You’re right, I am an asshole."

He folded the check and handed it to her.

“Don’t look at it. Just take it and put in your purse. Open it when you get home.”

His blue eyes clouded over. “I won’t expect anything in return. Call it a downpayment for all the pain I caused.”

He signaled to the waiter.

Something realigned in Susan’s head. He could be bullshitting, probably was, after all he was an actor. Still…What good did it do for her to shut him out? Anger was like acid. It caused more damage to the vessel that held it than to the target.

She pushed the check back toward him. “I never wanted your money."

She sighed and straightened her shoulders. "You know- I’ve always wanted to see the rooms at the Ritz. Bet you’ve got a well-stocked minibar.

That lazy smile, that honey voice. “Well my lady how about we check it out.

July 05, 2021 20:09

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Link Arneson
18:56 Jul 12, 2021

Good characterization, I felt like I really knew Susan and Bruce. Interesting premise. Money does change people.


Elaine St. Anne
19:46 Jul 13, 2021

Thank you for reading. I'm happy you felt you knew the characters


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