"'You're looking skinny like a model with your eyes all painted black'," Owen said into her ear. She smiled and pressed her nose against the foggy cab window.
"'If you promise to stay conscious I will try and do the same,'" she said.
"Those aren't the words that come next," he said.
"Well, I'm just warning you that Marla might have divorce on the brain so she may just clock us over the head with some heavy stuff. Also, she'll offer you chicken. Do not eat it. Stick with the side dishes but mercy on your gastrointestinal tract if you eat that chicken. Drier than a menopausal woman."
"Do not eat chicken. Got it. Maybe I'll stick to drink."
"That could be a better call." Quinn grumbled. "Oh God. We're here."
"If you're good, I'll let you take me dancing," he said.
"Let's go, let's go."
The elevator broken, they arrived at the apartment five minutes late. Marla ushered them inside. Her hair fell out of her bun, curls framing her face like wild vines. Her apartment was half-unpacked, tape and cardboard strewn across the floor like makeshift tiles.
"Sit, sit!" she said, pointing to a small glass-mosaicked table behind a tall stack of boxes. "Sorry about the mess. I'll have dinner in a couple of minutes." Rings of eyeliner narrowed her blood-shot eyes. Owen and Quinn exchanged glances.
"Are you feeling all right? Do you need help?" Quinn said. "Did something happen?"
"The apartment smells great. Sandalwood and cotton?" Owen said.
"Oh, no. I don't keep candles usually. It's probably the dead lilac and sherry wine I've left lying around," she said, swatting her hair and darting her eyes around the room as if a guest herself. "Make yourself comfortable. I-I'll let you know when dinner's ready."
"Owen, you said you needed to use the restroom. I'll show you, okay?" Quinn said.
Hesitating, he nodded. "Sure…"
She took his arm and led him out down a hallway. They stood alone in the dark corridor.
"Does Marla look high to you right now?" she whispered.
"Is degeneracy a genetic problem in your family?" he replied.
"Owen, I'm serious. Marla actually looks like a bag lady. I don't know what the hell she's going on about. I'm afraid she'll fall asleep in her dinner and drown in whipped potato."
"What a way to go," he said. "Talk to her. I'll just keep myself busy peeing for half an hour or so."
Quinn found Marla in the kitchen with blood all over a chopping board of carrots and celery. "Oh fuck! Marla! What is… What happened?"
Marla looked up at her with glazed eyes. "The blood? Oh. Yes. You're right. I'll have to start over. Can't put much use to bloody produce, can you?"
Quinn pulled her sister away from the cutting board and grasped her wrists to inspect her hand. A series of parallel cuts oozed bright blood on her index and middle fingers. She took a roll of nearby paper towels and bandaged her sister's hand even as the blood continued to spread fast like water.
"I saw Rick today. Patrick. I saw him. I gave him the dog. I gave him Jasper because he loves him so much; he loves that fucking dog so much. We had lunch and he was happy and I was happy. And then we shook hands and I came home," Marla settled limp into her sister's arms. "Jesus. Being married is hard enough but getting divorced? Quinn, I'd rather be shot in the head than go through it again. But I've said that before, haven't I? Ha-ha. Funny, funny."
"Marla, did you take any…pills earlier? We're going to the hospital. Your fucking hands! Jesus! Come on, can you stand up? Owen!"
"You know, you're right. I did have some Xanax earlier and I completely forgot and drank some wine. How stupid of me. I'm sorry. It just completely slipped my mind."
"Owen, would you call an ambulance? Marla's nearly chopped her fingers off and I think she's about to black out. How much Xanax have you had?"
"I'm not sure, really. Just what was left in the bottle. Quinn, would you give me a glass of water? I have some severe dry mouth right now. Yikes. It's like I've been walking through the desert."
Quinn groaned and gently placed her sister against the counter and filled a glass. "Here, don't sleep or anything, okay?" She checked the stove and oven and took two smoking pans off their burners. Owen walked into the kitchen a firm frown set on his face.
"Quinn, I called the hospital. Paramedics will be here soon. Should we try to move her?"
"I-I don't know. Marla, how are you feeling?"
"Tired. So, so tired… Owen, I'm so sorry about this. I really just… here we go again, again with the bad impression. First I get you drunk at my poor sister's and now here I am making you call me to the hospital. An awful hostess. I'm so sorry."
"No, no," he said. "You're wonderful. It's just been a hard day for you. We would've come another night if you'd told us you felt under the weather."
Marla laughed an unseemly laugh. "Good God. You… You idiot."
Quinn stared at Marla with a frown. "Marla—"
"No, no. I'm sorry. I mean... I don't mean anything. I'm sorry. What was I saying?"
Owen crouched by Marla and pressed a hand to her cheek. "You're tired, Marla. That's all. You're tired. Don't worry about dinner. It's fine." He readjusted the paper towels on her shaking hands, her skin papery and thin.
They leapt at the sudden banging at the front door.
"I'll go with her, okay? Call your parents. I'll meet you there," Owen said, touching Quinn's shoulder. Paramedics swept in after he opened the door. After a frantic question and answer, Quinn watched everyone file out of the apartment. She flinched as she heard her sister's unintelligible screams, the hallway door slam, and then silence. She sat on the floor and sighed, rubbing her temples. She saw flashes of light crowding her vision and then the slow throb began at her temple. She fished out her cellphone and dialed her parents though she only managed to reach their answering machine.
"Hi Mom," she said. "It's Quinn. I-I'm just calling from Marla's. We had dinner. The chicken… um… the chicken was awful like always. She's doing well I think. I have to go actually but I just thought I'd let you know how things are going with your darling children. We really are doing okay. I dunno why you worry so much about us. Anyway, I'll talk to you later, Mom. Love you. Bye."
She found Owen in the hospital waiting room with the remnants of a crushed vending machine coffee.
"Hey," she said. "How is she?"
"She's just sleeping now. She fainted and they didn't know how much Xanax and alcohol she'd had so they pumped her stomach. Doctor says her fingers need a couple of stitches but no nerve damage or anything. They want to keep her here for a couple of days, get her a psych eval. All the good stuff."
"I'm so sorry," she said. "I-I couldn't have told you what horrible shape she was in. I feel like an idiot. I didn't even know she was having such a time… God. I don't even know where we go from here."
"How'd your parents take the news?"
"What news?" she said seating herself next to him.
"You didn't tell them?"
"No. I didn't want to worry them. They have enough to worry about without news from their two angels of death."
"Do you think she'll be okay?"
"I don't know. I've been so wrapped up in my business lately that I haven't even bothered to ask her about how she's been. Clearly I did not choose a good time to neglect her."
"It's not your fault, Quinn. You didn't know. She's an adult. She probably just had a hard day, you know? The kind of day so bad that only liquid charcoal can really clear you out."
She sighed. "I'm so sorry. I wish I could have rewound this whole night. I usually like to be wined and dined before I get fucked like this."
He laughed. "Good thing I'm here then. Do you want to get dinner? It's not like you'll be able to see her til tomorrow anyway."
"No, I'm still a little squeamish from all that blood. Can I take you dancing?"
"Sure. It'll be fun. We can go back to Marla's, clean up the murder scene, take our shoes off, dance under 60 watt lights in our underwear. It'll be like the lingerie-zombie prom I never had."
He laughed. "I have to warn you, Quinn. I'm… I'm a fantastic dancer."
"Really? Well, well then."
When they returned to Marla's apartment, they flicked on the lights and turned on the television to the evening news. She wiped off the counters and swept the floors to a soundtrack recounting the day's nightmares: a man attacked in a parking lot, rain in the forecast, limbs torn off in Afghanistan, a slew of unresolved robberies, skyrocketing pollen levels in Sonoma County, California. Owen threw away the unused cardboard boxes and accumulating rubbish between the two rooms. Two of the ceiling lights shut off. The remaining light was a lamp that managed only a dim glow, its weak flicker like the ineffectual lighthouse presaging a ship crash. A cold draft whistled through the apartment after Quinn rolled open the windows.
She walked down the hall again and looked in her sister's bedroom. In contrast to the other rooms, the bedroom was pristine. The sheets crisp and undisturbed. A neat pile of laundry stacked on the nightstand. She drew sharp breaths when she pulled open the drawers to find fistfuls of empty orange prescription bottles. After dumping the drawer's contents into the trashcan and disposing of the medications, she sat on her sister's bed and waited for her heartbeat to leave her throat.
"Hey, Quinn, are you in there?" Owen said. "I finished in the living room if you want to relax for a bit." He peeked his head into the room. "Quinn? Hello?"
"Yeah, sorry. Give me a sec."
They went to the living room together. The cardboard boxes had been isolated to the back of the room behind the couch. The floors seemed empty. The TV blathered on about quilted toilet paper. Owen had shut the window and turned the heat on. They took off their coats and shirts. She walked over to where he stood and wrapped her arms around him.
"You're a good guy, you know that?"
"I do." He kissed her head and rested his hand on her lower back.
"I'm serious," she said.
"I know you are. What were you mulling over in there, Cupcake?"
"What do you think?"
"Well, what about her?"
"She really fucking scared me today, Owen. Marla. She's the one who has her shit together, you know? I mean, except for the divorce but none of us ever thought she'd take it like this. She's our family's Margaret Thatcher."
"Free market advocate?"
Quinn looked at Owen with a small smile. "You know what I mean. She's always been the Iron Lady. She once told our mother to stop crying at our grandmother's funeral because it was embarrassing. She was nine then."
"Well… Divorce isn't like anything else, Quinn. I mean, I've never been through one but it's gotta be worse than people let on. Can you imagine it? One day that dream goes up in smoke. I think it's gotta be worse than having your husband or wife die. At least if they die, you know they didn't leave you by choice. But divorce? It's gotta be excruciating. And your poor sister. She's done it twice."
"I've never seen her like this."
"She has you. She has your parents. Friends. That high power business job of hers won't help much but she's probably got some vacation time to ride this out."
Quinn hugged Owen tightly. He hummed in her ear. They swayed back and forth to the television.
"I'm not all that impressed by your dancing," she said.
"Not at all impressed."
"Huh. Well, this is news to me."
They stopped their slow sway and backed away from each other.
"What'd I do this time?"
"I think I just fell in love with you just now."
She blushed and peered at him through her lashes. "What? Just now?"
"It took you forever."
"Not as long as you think," he said.
"Owen, your heart is bleeding all over my shirt."
"Is that why you're turning so red?"
"I'm not red."
"You're practically crimson."
"Stop it. I am not."
She covered her face with her hands, feeling herself turn an even brighter red once she felt the heat against her fingers.
"Don't be embarrassed," he whispered.
"Ugh, I hate you, Owen," she said. "You always make me so weird. I can't do this right now. Can we take a five minute break?"
"Seriously?" he said.
"What? I can't take a break?"
He scowled. "You're unbelievable."
"Well, I'm sorry! I feel a little weird getting gushy and moon-eyed in my sister's apartment given what happened to her today!"
"God fucking forbid someone inconvenience you or tell you how they're feeling."
"Don't you think it's weird?"
"No, Quinn. I mean, clearly I empathize with your sister but for god sake, could you at least try not to ruin every nice moment that comes your way? Don't you deserve to be happy for a minute?"
"I'm not going to say it."
"It's always one step forward, two steps back with you. You really are an angel of death. Amazing. I'm stunned. Fine. Take a break. Do whatever you feel like you need to do. You know what? I can't do this either. I'm going home. Christ!"
Quinn watched him get half-way across the room when suddenly he stopped midstride and turned back towards her.
"You know what?" he said. "No."
"No. This stupid tantrum thing you do, this has to stop. It's always the same thing with you. You freeze up, I storm away, and then we go through this passive-aggressive dance until we kiss and make up. You don't get to keep calling all the shots. Tell me you love me."
"Don't be like this."
"You can't make someone love you."
"I don't have to. I just want you to tell me you do."
"Well, fuck you, I'm not saying it."
He grabbed her by her shoulder and pushed her toward the wall. "Quinn."
"Owen, stop it."
He loosened his grip and backed away. "Why is this always a zero-sum game to you? What have I ever done to really hurt you?"
"Nothing," she said.
"Quinn, I love you."
"You make me look like a fucking idiot all the goddamn time. Being with you is an endless, pride-swallowing nightmare."
"I'm going to say it one last time, Quinn."
He pressed his forehead against hers and closed his eyes. She felt his soft breath against her lips as he repeated himself. "I love you," he said.