I slide out from between the tangled sheets, carefully, so I don’t disturb Barbi. I always get up first. That way she doesn’t run into Renée.
The sun’s up, has been up for an hour or so. It was the crows that woke me. Goddamn birds. I eye the coffeepot, but we’ve got a less-than-cordial relationship so I decide to leave that to Barbi. Unless I get really desperate.
Instead, I duck out onto the balcony. There’s a chaise here and a couple of chairs. I tip over an empty flowerpot and retrieve my cigarettes. It’s easier to leave them here than to always be searching my coat pockets. Plus, Barbi swears she can smell them even through the packaging.
I don’t have a lighter, but I don’t need one. I let the cigarette hang from the corner of my mouth as I settle on the chaise and then pinch the end. It lights with a faint puff of smoke and I take a long, grateful drag.
I like having these early morning moments to myself. It’s just about the only time I feel comfortable in my own skin. Don’t get me wrong – it’s not Barbi’s fault. It’s just something I gotta work through.
I think about that for a while. I’ve kinda lost track of who’s inside my skin at any given time. At first it was happenstance – me falling for Barbi, and Barbi falling for Ken. I never intended it to stick. I never expected her to stick around. And then it was easier to just be Ken – carry that public face over into our private lives. Until she found out about Renée.
Renée’s a public face too, if I’m being honest. Sure, that’s the name I was born with, but Renée’s all swagger and nerve. She’d never be sitting out here, alone on the balcony, having a smoke and feeling sorry for herself. She be in that bed making sure Barbi woke up in the most pleasant way possible, freely and in the bright of the sun. If Barbi weren’t in love with Ken.
And then there’s Renie. Barbi’s never met Renie. It’s what my mother calls me. Renie’s the one that grew up too fast, when mom checked out. Renie’s the one that cleaned up the bottles and washed the empty glasses. Renie’s the one who stepped up and took care of little Jo and big brother Peter, and who nursed a grudge for fifteen years. Then it turned out it was not plain alcoholism, it was Alzheimer’s, and she wasn’t drinking to forget, she was drinking to remember. And Renie did the right thing and let them take our mother away when she needed me most.
I’m not sure what happened to Renie. At some point she just slipped away. She’s still there, buried deep inside, only maybe not so deep, y’know what I mean? I feel like she’s peeking through, now and then, and I really don’t know how I feel about that.
“Ken?” Barbi calls out sleepily. I hear her through the open bedroom window.
“Yeah, baby,” I answer. She knows my routine.
“You wanna put on the coffee?”
I don’t, but that’s what she needs from me right now. I put out the cigarette and go inside.
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