His father didn’t speak again, however, which was a tremendous relief: between the heat, the alarm, the unwanted banter, and of course, his killer headache, Billy’s brain simmered.
The trip from Little Rock to Rock Hill had taken two days, including the overnight at Aunt Julie’s. Billy hadn’t minded; he liked driving. The journey had been pain-free until two hours past Nashville, when simple neck tension graduated to his current full-fledged pounder. Prior to these unwelcome migraines, BK rarely suffered headaches, never being incapacitated by one. These new ones, however, crippled.
In the coolness of the manor’s interior, he realized how warm and unwell he really felt. Billy massaged his temples, staying motionless on the overstuffed couch, easing back from the edge of nausea, letting the vented air cool him off. I think I need to stay like this forever. Five minutes later his phone vibrated. Though he was pretty sure he’d cheated the barf fairy, he moved carefully, fishing the phone from his pocket, placing it between his ankles so he could read it while slouched over. He blanched. It was a text from Mandy.
New house killin it?_
Love lots! Your girlfriend_
Even if it was Mandy, he was in no mood to talk. Raising his head above his knees, he thumbed a response, “Yes,” then dropped it again.
The phone vibrated a second time—this time voice. Billy grimaced, but tapped the ACCEPT CALL icon.
“Don’t want to talk now, girlfriend.”
. . .
Perhaps he’d been too abrupt?
“I’m not your girlfriend, Billy, I’m your momma.”
“Yes, it’s me,” Sarah answered. “Why are you so snappy? You and Amanda fightin’ again?”
“Sorry, Mom. No, we ain’t fightin’.” He loved his mother, but the pain and the nausea made it a struggle to be pleasant. “When did you start likin’ her, anyway?”
Sarah ignored the question. “Are you takin’ your medication?”
“You’ve taken it today? Once this mornin’, and you’ll take one tonight?”
This was a double lie.
“BK, it’s important you take it. You want rid of those headaches, right? That young doctor may be a foreigner but he’s no quack. You need to take it, Sweetie-pie. I’m worried ‘bout you.”
“Ain’t worryin’ what mommas do?”
“Don’t sass me, Billy,” she said, but he could hear the Arkansas grin through the phone—one that, despite the migraine, matched his own.
“Sorry, Mom, but I feel fine. Oh, and please tell me I didn’t inherit Dad’s taste—you should see the house.” Billy recalled the mismatched windows and the hideous trim as he eyed odd artwork hanging in the foyer. “Towards the end, Dad must a’ been losing his marbles.”
“Yes, so you just keep yours, but never mind that. How was stayin’ at Auntie J’s? Did you apologize for the short notice?”
“And the cats?”
“The cats are great, ‘cept the one with three legs. It died.”
“Oh, that’s so sad!”
“She kinda went on and on about it.”
“She loved Lucky Puff, Billy. Puffy was her special cat.”
“Lucky Puff got run over by a vet in a wheelchair, Momma. Wouldn’t call that lucky.” Aunt Julie had found the badly injured cat during the previous year’s Veteran’s Day parade, nursing it back to health. The wheelchair being the cause of the cat’s woes? Conjecture on Billy’s part.
“Well, that kitty was fortunate Auntie J found her when she did, ‘cause that woman just loves the world’s cats.”
“Yes, and half of ‘em live in her house. Seriously, Mom, it smells like an ammonia factory.”
Well, you certainly inherited your father’s sense of humor, Sarah thought. She loved her son enough to change the subject before he brought up his pet Aunt Julie theory: Auntie J saved on funeral expenses by burying Uncle Mickey—her handyman husband—in the basement under three tons of cat litter. That way, he’d keep being handy.
“Didja talk about anythin’ besides cats?”
“Just how budget Dad’s service was.”
“I don’t know why she’s complainin’, she didn’t pay for it.”
Neither did we, thought Billy.
Excerpt of the first chapter of horror-fantasy novel 22 Dutch Road