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Hold My Breath(5)

By´╝ÜGinger Scott

“Oh there’s a line, all right. And I’m constantly standing in it,” I say. He laughs out hard, but since he doesn’t turn around, I don’t bother to smile. I wasn’t joking.

Curtis holds the door open near the end of the hallway, and my uncle and I walk in front of him into the wood-paneled room that smells of old towels and chlorine. The carpet is a green mesh, made for wet feet and cheap maintenance.

“It ain’t much, I know, but it’s still better then you all trying to rent something for a couple months. Just didn’t make sense to me,” Curtis says while I survey every piece of the place I’ll call home for the next several weeks.

“Oh, it’ll work just fine. Thanks for putting us up,” my uncle says, reaching his hand forward and gripping Curtis’s for a tight squeeze.

“Well…I guess I’ll let you get settled. Keys are on the dresser. They work on the main door and this one,” he says, jiggling the knob for the small apartment door in his right hand.

I hold them up and nod in acknowledgement, then push the keys into my pocket. I look toward Curtis, but not directly in the eyes. His gaze stops short too, and we both stare into a nothingness between us for a few seconds before he breaks the silence.

“Right, well…I guess I’ll see you bright and early tomorrow. We hit the lanes at five,” he says, and with a quick wink, he turns and pulls the door to a close behind him. I push it the rest of the way in until I hear it click, but something about the way my hand looks against the grain of the door holds me in my spot. I am literally swimming in memories, and even the good ones—like the way my hand looks right here, right now—feel like gravity pulling me down from my insides.

“I think you should take the bedroom,” my uncle begins, but I cut him off.

“I’m good on the couch,” I say, lifting the golden cushions and tossing them on the floor before pulling up on the bed frame. “It folds out, and I…I’ve slept on it before.”

It’s actually the last place I want to try to close my eyes and sleep, but my uncle is in his sixties, and I’m not making him sleep on something that I know will have him crooked and unable to stand by morning.

“I’m sure,” I say when I see his concerned expression. I lift his bag and carry it to the small bedroom, setting it on the twin bed pushed up against the wall. Honestly, when he sees this room, he won’t feel like he got the better end of something. He just got the other end.

Our eyes meet as he moves into the room, and he chuckles at the tight fit. I nod and let my chest shake with a laugh, too.

“I guess I’ll unpack then. I’m going to need to set up the desk with my tools if I want to get anything done while we’re here…oh damn. I think my toolbox is still in the car,” he says, patting his hands in search of the keys.

I pull them from my pocket, along with the ones for our room, and tell him, “I got it.”

“Thanks, Will,” he says, unzipping the top of his travel bag.

I leave my uncle to his things and run down to the car, grabbing his small toolbox from the backseat floor. My uncle brought a few special projects with him to stay busy and keep up with his business while we’re here in Indiana. Just a few antiques he’s been trying to get working again—one a wrist watch, one a pocket. He didn’t need to come, but I didn’t fight him very hard when he insisted. He’s the only family I have left, which means I’m also it for him. We’re a healthy kind of codependent, I think, because we definitely need each other. He’s also the only person who saw me at my worst, and I feel a little less like I’ll fall with him around.

When I come back inside, I lock the front door and flip out the lights. The sun is setting, and for the first time in days, I feel like maybe, just maybe, I’ll close my eyes and find a few minutes of actual sleep. I tuck my uncle’s tools under one arm and take the steps two at a time, but I halt when I see the opened door opposite my temporary home. It isn’t fully opened, and there isn’t a light on, but I know for certain that it was closed when I ran outside.

“Uncle Duncan?” I say, pushing the door lightly. I hear papers spill onto the floor a second before my palm finds the light switch on the wall. She’s nothing but wild hair buried under her hands as she crouches down in front of the desk. She lets go of head, and soon her hands are rushing to gather spilled papers around her feet. I set my uncle’s tools down and hurry to help her.

“I got it,” she bites out.

I stand with the few pages I managed to pick up before she stopped me.