Not thrilled with this one, but... oh well.
The lights shining on the stage seemed hot enough to make the devil sweat, but Luke was frozen still. He stood, holding the sword in one hand, holding the fake wound dripping blood down his waist with the other hand. He couldn’t believe this. He’d done this scene 100 times before; how could he forget the lines now? He looked over at Cindy for help, but she was hunched over a chair drawing her character’s last breath. He turned toward Eric, but he just stared back, waiting for Luke to continue. He looked like he was fighting a smile. Figures - he would find this funny. He knew it was something about poison. “The poison... the sword...” Aw, screw the lines, thought Luke. It was time to get off the stage, and fast. He raised his sword, took a stumbling step forward, and shoved the sword into Eric’s heart.
Eric grabbed his chest, “O, yet defend me, friends! I am but hurt.”
Luke dropped his sword and fell to one knee. From across the stage, he heard a whisper, “The cup, you moron!” Crap! He struggled back to his feet, lifted a cup from a table and forced Eric to drink the grape juice. He fell back to his knees, clutching the wound in his side. He was supposed to say something here. He was supposed to say a lot of somethings here. He fell to his side and slowed his breathing. He was dead. And his director was going to kill him.
From her seat in the audience, Rebecca fought back her tears. He’d done it again. Every time he had a chance, he ruined it.
“Professor Morgan?” Rebecca looked up at the students standing in the aisle next to her.
“Why would the director choose to leave out the final lines like that?”
Rebecca shook here head as she gathered her purse and jacket and stood to leave. “I don’t think he did, Josh, but we’ll talk about it in class tomorrow.”
The phone ringing woke Rebecca from her sleep. She looked at the clock - 2:45. She picked up the phone and spoke into the receiver, “This better be important.”
“I got fired Rebecca.”
“No kidding. What did you expect was going to happen, Luke?”
“Well, he could’ve given me another chance!”
“That was your other chance. You can’t blow the final scene of one of the most famous plays in the world and expect to be let off easy.” She heard a sigh on the other end. “Luke, what happened? I saw you perform that part perfectly last year.”
“Yeah, but it was my first time back after I’d been sick. I was nervous.”
Rebecca rolled her eyes. “Sick” was three months in rehab.
“It had been a long time since I’d done it.”
“What do you mean ‘It’d been a long time’? What about rehearsals?”
“Aw, I knew the part. And the director knew me; it was okay.”
“If the director really knew you, nothing would’ve been okay. Are you saying you skipped rehearsals?”
“Not all of them. But Chris got this sweet deal on a boat and-”
“Luke! How stupid can you be? How stupid can the director be? I can’t believe he let you go on tonight.”
“Well, the understudy was sick...”
Rebecca stood up and walked towards the bathroom to get some aspirin, then headed to the kitchen. She put the phone on speaker and began to make some toast.
“Luke. You have to stop doing this. You’re twenty-eight years old and you’ve never had a job over three months.”
“No, I’ve got it together this time, Rebecca. Chris told me about this company-”
“You need to stay away from Chris.”
“He’s my friend, Rebecca. And it’s not up to you to run my life.”
“Fine. It’s late, Luke. I’m sorry you lost your job, but I still have mine. I have a 9 o’clock class in the morning, so I have to go.
“Rebecca, wait. Can I crash with you tonight? I was rooming with one of the actors, but I couldn’t get the rent together last month, and now... well, I just need a place for a couple of days, that’s all.”
Rebecca closed her eyes. The aspirin wasn’t helping yet. “I’m sorry, Luke. Not this time.”
“What? You’re joking, right?”
“I can’t keep saving your butt. You’re going to have to do it on your own this time.”
“Where do you expect me to go? You know I can’t afford a hotel right now.”
“It’s not my problem, Luke.”
“Not your problem? Of course it is. I’m your brother and you’re just gonna leave me out in the street to die.”
“Don’t be so dramatic. You’ll find a place. What about Chris? If he’s such a good friend?”
“Thought you wanted me to stay away from him? Can’t have it both ways, you know. C’mon Rebecca. I’ll make you pancakes in the morning. Remember how we’d make them into shapes and stuff. We can catch up... laugh and talk and stuff. It’ll be like old times.”
“Luke, I have a class in the morning.”
“Well, we’ll do lunch or something. C’mon. I miss my big sister. You know I love you.”
“Fine. Fine, Luke. Try to be quiet when you come in, please. I’m going back to bed.” She hung up the phone before he could reply. Why did she always give in to him like that? She knew she was just enabling him, but he was right. Where else was he going to go? She couldn’t just give up on him.
When Luke got to Rebecca’s house, he discovered the sofa bed was already made up for him and there was a clean towel and washcloth folded neatly on the corner of the sink. She treated him too well, and he knew it. He figured he kind of deserved it, though. He was only fourteen when both parents died in a car crash. She was already twenty-five, living on her own, and catching lucky breaks on the stock market. She had a good job as an English professor, was rich, and didn’t have anybody else she needed to support. Why shouldn’t she help him out? He was trying as hard as he could to make things work, and it was the least she could do, every now and then. Lately though, she’d been less willing and eager. It used to be that he could just turn on the brotherly charm, push the right buttons, and she’d write him a check, give him a place to stay, find him a job, anything he asked. He worried that she was starting to say no too often.
It was after 12:30 in the afternoon when he woke up. There was a note on the counter from Rebecca saying she had a break between 1:30 and 2:45 if he wanted to do lunch. He called her cell phone and left a message, saying he’d meet her at the usual café at 1:30.
Rebecca waited at the café until 2:30 before ordering her sandwich and eating it on the way back to campus. She opened her phone again. No missed calls, no new voice mails, just four unanswered calls to Luke. That boy better be lying in a- she caught herself before letting the thought continue. She’d never forgive herself if he really were in trouble. She went through the rest of her classes before calling again. There was still no answer. She stopped at the grocery store on the way home to pick up some groceries and a salad. Lord knew the boy didn’t eat right on his own; he was at least going to eat healthy when he was with her.
Before Rebecca even opened the door, she could hear the music pounding from inside. Oh, Lord, she sighed. When she entered the house, she was greeted by four men she’d never met, a few guys and girls she’d seen once or twice, Chris, and Luke, all of whom were drunk. Beer cans and bottles were littered across the floor, pizza boxes were stacked up on the coffee table, an overturned slice of pizza was resting on the recliner. Rebecca closed her eyes, not wanting to see the rest of the mess.
“Hey sis! How’s it going?” Rebecca didn’t answer. She turned toward the kitchen, took two steps, stopped, and turned back around.
“Luke, turn the music off and get these people out of my house right now.”
“Now!” At the sight of Rebecca’s anger, a few people had already started sneaking out the door, but some of the more brave – or stupid – ones were still lounging on the couch. Luke looked over at them and shrugged.
“I can’t be a bad host. We’re gonna watch the game tonight; this is just the pre-game party.”
Rebecca shoved the grocery bag into Luke’s hand, spun on her heel and stormed towards the couch. “You get out of my house right now. The party’s over; the game’s been cancelled. Out! Before I call the cops.” In a few minutes, Rebecca was left standing in the middle of the living room, glaring at Luke. From the corner of her eye, she could see that Chris was still there, but everyone else had left. “Clean up the mess, Luke.”
“Yeah, I will. Gonna watch the game first.”
“No, you’re going to clean it up now or you’re going to have to find someplace else to watch the game... and sleep tonight. Damn it, Luke, we’ve talked about this before. If you’re going to stay here, you have to show some respect and you have to look for a job.
“Give me a break, Becca. I haven’t even been here a day; it takes time to look for a job. Hey, maybe you can talk to that manager-guy you know...”
“You have three weeks to find a job, on your own, or you’re out. And,” she looked pointedly at the dirty bum on her couch, “Chris and the rest of your friends are not welcome here. Dinner will be ready in forty minutes; have this place cleaned up by then.”
Luke placed an empty box on top of the pizza slice on the chair and sat down, throwing his leg over the arm of the chair. He watched his sister storm out of the room and heard Chris give a low whistle. “Dude, that bitch thinks she’s your mom or something.”
“You let her talk to you like that? You’re an adult, dude. Stand up to her; fight back.”
“Yeah, maybe I should.” Luke stood up to go talk to her, but ended up falling into the coffee table. Chris laughed and opened another beer.
“Yeah, man. Break her table; that’s fighting back.” Neither said anything for a while, but then Chris spoke up again. “You know, if that bitch were dead, all this would be yours.”
Luke walked into the kitchen where Rebecca was cutting chicken for dinner. She could smell the alcohol on him. “Well, I’m glad all that money for rehab was well-spent.”
“Aw, it’s just a party, Becca. I’m not falling off the wagon or anything.” She raised an eyebrow at him, but kept cutting. Luke reached into the refrigerator for the last six-pack, and Rebecca peeked around the corner to look into the living room.
“Luke! The place is still a wreck and Chris is still here. What is going on?”
“Well, we’ve been talking about it-”
“Chris and I.”
“Well, I don’t think you have any right to tell me what to do anymore.”
“Any right?” Rebecca slammed the knife down on the cutting board. “Any right? I gave you a home for eight years, I paid your way through college until you flunked out, I’ve given you more money that I count with no expectations of you paying it back, and now you’re staying in my home again, rent-free. I have plenty of right. I’m not telling you how to live your life, Luke. I’m telling you rules for behavior in my house. If you don’t want to follow them, you can leave.” She picked the knife back up and returned to making dinner.
“Look, you can’t kick me on the street. Mom and dad expected you to take care of me.”
“You’re not a kid anymore, Luke. I’ve done my duty.”
“Is that all I was to you? A duty?”
“That’s not what I meant and you know it. You were my baby brother and I loved you. I still love you. The problem is, you still can’t do anything on your own. You’re still a baby.”
“I’m twenty-eight years old!” Their voices began to escalate until Chris could hear every word from the living room. “I’m a grown man.”
“Then act like it! I’m not going to keep bailing you out of trouble. From now on, if you want to act like a baby-”
“I told you, I’m not a baby.”
“Fine, you’re not a baby. If you want to keep acting like a loser, be my guest, but don’t expect me to keep bailing you out.” Luke rounded the corner and grabbed the knife from Rebecca’s hand.
“I’m not a loser!” He lowered his voice to a whisper and pointed the knife at her. I’m not a loser, Rebecca. I’m not a baby; I’m not a screw-up.” Rebecca glanced from the knife to the glazed look in his eyes and took a step backwards. She knew Luke wasn’t a bad person, but alcohol had always had a violent effect on him. She took another step back; Luke took one step forward. She stepped again, and he stepped again.
“Luke, c’mon now. Put the knife down. Go watch your game; I’ll bring you dinner when it’s ready. Okay? We’ll talk about this later when you sober up a bit, alright?”
“Stop talking down to me like that! You’re patronizing me now. I told you; I’m not a baby!”
“No, no you’re not! I’m sorry I treated you like one. I won’t do it again.” Luke lowered the knife, but wasn’t through making his point. He leaned forward, attempting to look large and menacing. He moved to take one more step, but instead bumped into the corner of the counter and fell sideways. He didn’t even realize he’d lost the knife, but when he recovered his balance and went to set the knife on the counter, he realized it was no longer in his hand. Then he heard the gasps. He looked up and saw Rebecca, shock on her face and blood on her chest. She looked down at the bloody knife on the floor and then back at Luke.
“Luke...” She began to fall and Luke reached out to catch her, sinking to the floor with her in his arms.
“Becca - no, Becca. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to.”
“I know you didn’t.” She slowly reached up and wiped the tears from his face. He lifted her up and held her body close to his chest.
“I’m sorry. I don’t know what to do. Becca, what do I do?”
“I can’t help you this time, Luke. I’m sorry.”
“Becca, please. I’m so sorry. I fell. I’m sorry...”
“Remember that line you were looking for? It’s ‘The point envenomed too! Then venom, to thy work.’” Luke nodded and cried, not really understanding. “I love you baby brother.” The last words were barely audible before she stopped breathing. Luke choked out a sob and buried his head in her hair.
“I love you, too. I’m so sorry.” He sat on the kitchen floor, cradling her lifeless body. He heard the front door open and close as Chris left. He heard the sirens getting closer and the door being broken in. He felt them pulling him off her and heard them discussing the situation. Words like “dead,” “murder,” “drunk,” ‘silent,” and “attorney” filled his head.
“Sir? Sir!” Luke looked up at the police officer placing handcuffs on him. “Do you understand these rights as I have read them to you?” Luke nodded as he watched her sheet-covered body being carried by on a stretcher.
“Help her,” he whispered.
"Ain't nobody can help her now, buddy." Luke nodded. There was no one left to help him now either.