A Short Story by JannaTWrites:
Cory Humboldt knew that on the outside, he was the epitome of the American Dream. At forty-six years old, it was a well-crafted image that he had spent the better part of his life building. He owned a house and two cars. He had a loving wife, one dog, one cat and 2.5 kids. Well, two children with the third due to be born in three months.
In his office, Cory whittled his unread emails down to eighteen. He was deleting an online seminar advertisement when his phone rang. Make that seventeen messages to go.
“There’s a visitor at the front desk waiting to see you.”
Cory checked his desk clock: 8:07 AM. “Mr. Yamachi isn’t supposed to be here until nine-thirty.”
“It’s not Mr. Yamachi,” Susan whispered.
“Tell whoever it is to schedule an appointment. My time is valuable.”
“She told me you would say that.”
“Really?” Cory asked, not bothering to conceal his annoyance.
Susan sighed. “She wanted me to tell you to get your tail out here right now or you’d be sorry, young man.”
“Geez. I’ll be there in a minute.” Cory slammed the phone down on its cradle, mumbling to himself. As he stomped down the hallway, he practiced the deep breaths and exhales that his therapist had taught him. By the time he reached the front desk, his bubbling anger had dissipated into a fog of resentment.
In the lobby, he saw a woman sitting in a leather wing chair wearing a snug-fitting jade dress, black pumps and a smirk on her barely wrinkled face. He wasn’t about to tell her that her neck couldn’t keep a secret. “Mother,” he said in a crisp tone.
“Hi, dear. I’m sorry to bother you at work, but I’m worried about Kevin.”
Cory stiffened. “I told you not to ever talk about him in public,” he said in a hushed voice. He shot a glance at Susan, who shifted her eyes down, feigning interest in papers on her desk.
“Please.” She grabbed his hands and her tear-filled hazel eyes begged him to listen.
He couldn’t bring himself to tell her to go. Her eyes may have been the last remaining genuine parts of her body; untouched by botox or surgery. They were the one bond he still had with his mother. He slid his hands out of her grasp. “Fine. Follow me.”
Cory led her out of the lobby. The Chanel perfume cloud and the echo of her clicking footsteps on the tile behind him signaled that she kept his pace. He made a mental note to ask his therapist why he still caved to his mother. Down a long hallway, he made a quick left. He flipped on the lights in a small conference room and gestured for her to enter. He followed her in and latched the door behind him. She sat in the high-backed chair at the head of the table.
To maintain some of his power, Cory chose the chair at the other end of the ten-foot long table. He ignored the look from his mother. He suspected it was meant to be a raised eyebrow, only her eyebrow didn’t raise – her eyes just opened wider.
“Well, what’s so important?”
“You know Kevin thinks the world of you-“
“He barely knows me. He was six when I moved out.” Cory folded his arms across his chest. “That’s what happens when there’s a thirteen year age difference between siblings.”
“We didn’t plan it that way.” She looked down at her hands clasped on the table.
“Yeah, I know. He was the menopausal gift from God.”
“You don’t have to be sarcastic.”
“I just get tired of you acting like we’re best friends or something.”
“You may have heard that Kevin is back in jail.” She looked at Cory, but when he didn’t respond, she continued. “He seems really depressed. I’m scared he’s going to die there.”
Cory laughed. “Don’t you think you’re being dramatic? He knows the ins and outs of jail; he’s an old pro.”
His mother shook her head. “This is different.”
“What’d he do this time?”
“He’s accused of…” she took a deep breath and exhaled. “Murder.”
“So what does this have to do with me?”
“When he called me last night, he begged me to get you to go see him. He wants to patch things up with you. I think you should see him now, if you can get away.”
“There’s nothing to patch up,” Cory said.
“Not this time, mother. Kevin is dead to me.”
She gasped. “Don’t. Please don’t say that.” She began to cry.
Cory closed his eyes and turned away. He couldn’t allow his mother to guilt him into reconciliation.
“I know he almost bankrupt you when he stole your identity, but you’ve more than recovered. Why can’t you let it go?”
“You don’t understand,” Cory said through clenched teeth. He concentrated on deep breathing and slow exhales. His therapist insisted it reduced angry outbursts, but he wasn’t so sure.
“I want to understand.” His mother stood up and walked toward Cory, sliding into the seat next to him and took his hand in hers. “Your anger is poison.”
He pulled his hand away. “I’m sorry. You need to go.”
Cory felt awful because his mother looked stunned, as if he’d just slapped her, but knowing the truth about Kevin would devastate her. His mother could never know that his dad – her husband – died because of Kevin. Witness accounts produced a sketch of one of the perpetrators who looked a lot like Kevin’s buddy, Rojo. The way Kevin practically spent his twenty-five percent share of the insurance money before he got it was another sign. Cory knew it, but he couldn’t prove it.
His mother walked to the door. When she reached it, she paused and turned around, “I wish you’d consider talking to him, before it’s too late.” She let herself out and headed down the narrow hallway to the lobby.
Cory watched her leave and wondered if dad’s life insurance bought her calf enhancements, too. How did I let myself become the keeper of dirty family secrets? He wondered.
At one-thirty, Cory returned to the office after his solo lunch at Sassie’s, the best burger place in Scottsdale. The waitresses in low-cut t-shirts didn’t hurt, either. He thought about the conversation with his mother and decided he would visit his brother after work. Not for reconciliation, but to free the poison and save himself.
“Good afternoon, Susan,” he said to the receptionist as he strode past the front desk.
She held up her hand. “Cory, wait.”
He backed up a couple steps. “What’s up?”
“A call came for you while you were at lunch. I think it was your mother.”
“Did she say what she wanted?”
“No. She started crying before I could offer to take a message.”
Cory’s heart dropped and settled on the half-pound burger he just ate. “Thanks. I’ll give her a call in my office.”
Susan nodded, her forehead creased with concern.
Cory tried three times before his fingers pressed the correct sequence of numbers.
“Cory!” His mother answered on the second ring.
“Did you try to call me?”
“Kevin’s dead!” She blurted and then burst into tears.
Cory exhaled a sigh and rested his forehead in his hand. His mother’s words, before it’s too late, echoed in his mind. Now he worried that the unburdened secret would tear at his insides, eroding his soul to a bitter shell. He felt a burn in his throat and decided that if regret had a taste, it would be cheeseburger with extra onions and fries.