All In (Full Tilt Book 2)(4)

By: Emma Scott


Three hours of solid study made me feel a little better. About my tests anyway. I closed up my textbooks and laptop, and hid them away in a drawer in case Oscar and Dena dropped by. They always asked a million fucking questions about me going to back to UNLV for an MBA degree, and I didn’t want to talk about it. It was stupid anyway. As if a dumb degree could make anything better.

My cell phone rang as I started to head out for work at Vegas Ink, my mother’s number on the display. Right on time.

“Hey, Ma.”

“Hello, darling. I’m sorry to bother you.”

“You’re not bothering me, Ma. You never are.”

“I just wanted to see how you’re doing.”

She called every day. Rarely with any real purpose or news to impart, usually just to touch base with the only son she had left. When I saw her in person, she literally touched base: her hand floating toward me whenever I was in reach. I couldn’t blame her—I did the same to Jonah every day after his CAV diagnosis.

“Dear?”

I jerked out of my thoughts. “Sorry, Ma. What was that?”

“I was asking if you’d heard from Kacey?”

“Still nothing. I’m sure she’s fine,” I added, like I would fucking know after I let her slip away.

You had one job here. Half a job.

“I wish she’d at least call,” Mom said with false lightness, “I wonder where she’s gone off to?”

I rubbed my hand over the dull ache in my chest. “I have to get to work, Ma. If I hear anything from Kacey, I’ll let you know.”

“All right, dear.”

Realizing I was barely giving her sixty seconds of my time, I asked, “What are you and Dad up to?”

“Oh, nothing much,” she said. God, if she didn’t always sound like she was perpetually on the verge of tears. “We’d like to have you, Oscar, and Dena over for dinner Sunday.”

“Sure, sounds good,” I said, gritting my teeth. Once a month or so we rallied together, mostly because we felt we should. Our duty to old memories and better times.

It sucked.

The dinners were torture, filled with stilted, stiff conversation, haunted by Kacey’s laughter and Jonah’s voice. No matter how loud we tried to talk or laugh over it, their love affair lingered like the light from one of Jonah’s glass lamps. Not even Oscar could lighten the mood. His gigantic personality had been tamped down and Dena’s smile was heavy now.

My mother still cooked, but often she let pots boil over while she stared into space. She’d lost weight. So had Dad. His eyes followed my mother constantly, but rarely looked at me. He hardly spoke to me, either. We’d never been close, but Jonah always bridged our gap. Without him, an abyss lay between me and my father. A distance neither of us made an effort to close.

Goddammit, Jonah, come back and fix all this because I fucking can’t.

“I’ll let Oscar and Dena know,” I told my mom. My glance flickered to the front door, the car keys jangling in my hand.

“How are your studies going?”

“Fine. Big tests coming up.”

“I’m so proud of you, Theo. I think it’s wonderful what you’re doing. In another year, when you have your degree, just think of what doors will open for you.”

“Thanks, Ma,” I said, trying not to sound as irritated as I felt. Mom’s pride in me sounded good on the surface, but she wasn’t entirely sold on me opening up a tattoo shop either. She was more supportive than Dad by a mile, but I didn’t hold any illusions she was eager to see me spend the money Jonah willed me on a place with loud music and ‘colorful characters’, where I’d draw flaming skulls and roses all day long.

“Oh, Theo dear, would you mind stopping by the store this afternoon? I’m out of milk and eggs.”

I clenched my jaw. I couldn’t go after work or I’d never make it to class on time. I’d have to go now, swing by my parents’ house, then go to work. Late.

“Dad’s working again today?” I asked tightly.

“Yes.” She sighed. “You know how he is lately.”

“Yeah, I know.” I rubbed my hands over my eyes. “I’ll hit the store before work. Be there in thirty.”