Evangeline stepped into the Palace restaurant and surveyed the room, her fašade was one of confident cool but her heart was racing at the thought of running into anyone who would quiz her about John and their breakup. She was counting on the ten days she was out of town with Nora, getting Riley into rehab in California and Matthew eased into camp life, being enough for the gossip and curiosity to have run its course. Her spine stiffened as she saw Michael heading toward her with a determined look on his face; no time to pretend she hadn’t seen him and make a quick exit. Besides, she hoped the friendship they were developing wasn’t contingent on her place in John’s life.
“Finally, you’re back!” Michael said as he swooped her up into an affectionate, hard hug, “Now maybe John can get back to whatever passes for normal and happy for him. He’s missed you, not that he’s likely to tell you how much!” Beaming at her he added, “I’ve missed you, too, but bro has not been fun to be around lately and he’s taking it out on everyone.”
Noting the look of confusion in her chocolate eyes Michael leaned back slightly from their embrace and really looked at her. “I haven’t seen your brother,” Van murmured, “and I don’t expect to see him beyond professionally.”
“What are you talking about? What’s wrong? Don’t tell me you and John got into a disagreement already?”
“What are YOU talking about, Michael? We broke up; I ended things with John before I left on vacation. He didn’t tell you?”
“Are you…, no I can see you’re for real on this,” Michael said as he ran his fingers through his hair and pulled a chair out for Evangeline to sit down. “Damn, I can’t believe John said nothing to me. Well, I guess I can, he doesn’t want it to be true so he’s wishing it away.”
Seeing Michael do one of John’s endearing trademark gestures pushed Evangeline back to the days of running her fingers through John’s thick hair, tugging on the ends and teasing him about being well, kind of vain about his hair. Inwardly shaking herself Van came back to the present, “I can’t speak to why John hasn’t told you or anyone I guess. But we’re most definitely over; I want more than he’s capable of giving to me and why should he change for me? It’ll be better this way.”
Looking thoughtfully at her Michael took both her hands and asked, “Better for who? I really believe in what you two have, I want you for John. He needs you, he loves you…”
“I can’t survive on you telling me that John loves me, Michael, John needs to say it AND he has to tell me why this is all so difficult for him.”
“Well…” Michael starts then stops himself sighing “You’re right it all has to be said to you by John and no one else. This is me trying to butt out.” Feeling his pager vibrate he looks in Van’s eyes, “Can I just ask you not to totally cut him loose? I mean, if you can see him really making that extra effort could you meet him more than half-way?”
“I can’t promise that Michael, not now when it’s all so raw. You get on to the hospital, your brother’s been taking of himself in the way that he prefers for years. I can’t change him and neither can you.” Leaning over the table Evangeline gives Michael a sisterly kiss on the cheek, “But thanks for caring about us so much; keep on loving your brother he really needs it from you.”
Moving away from the table Michael remembers the second reason he had to speak to Van, “Congratulations on winning Woman of the Year. I pulled the rotation for tonight so I won’t be there but I’ll send cheers your way.” He saw the effort in her smile and decided against trying one more time for John, best to leave this alone and take it up with his brother as soon as possible. Walking away Michael wondered uneasily if being an idiot in their love life was an inherited genetic McBain family trait.
It was evening by the time Michael could take a quick break and get to the police station to try and catch up with John. He was filling the doorway about to enter when he heard a uniform cop teasing John about putting on his best monkey suit to escort Van to the award ceremony, and John didn’t correct him. Closing the door behind the officer Michael perched on the edge of John’s desk and waited for him to look up again.
Refusing to look up at him John asked, “Whaddya want Mikey?”
“I get not cluing in co-workers, you’re a private person everyone knows this. But I’m your brother, we’ve become good friends. Why didn’t you tell me you’re hurting over Evangeline kicking your ass to the curb?”
John’s only response was to toss his pen onto the desk, prop his chin in his hand and look at Michael. “I saw her, man, I know. And now SHE knows you’ve kept this split to yourself.”
“So she did make it back to accept the award, I’m glad.”
“How does she look?”
Checking the impulse to give a flip answer Michael responded to his brother quiet agony instead, “She’s looking great as long as you can’t see behind her eyes. Then you know she’s incredibly sad, like you.”
“Don’t you think I would if I could? I don’t know how, I can’t find the words to make her believe in me, in us again. I tried to write her a letter, I went through a whole pack of paper—what is that 50 sheets? More?” Getting up John paced his office, “I can’t find the right words.” Stopping to look at Michael he became angry and agitated, “And this is all your damn fault! Why are you having really personal talks with Natalie and worse, in public where anyone can hear you? When did you become Natalie’s go-to guy about me? Stay out of my personal life and try fixing your own!” John ended with a shout.
“So, what now Johnny? I yell at you giving you an excuse to swing at me? I didn’t mess you up with your woman. You did that.” Clasping John on the shoulder Michael forced him to stop moving around in tight patterns, “You never believed you deserved Evangeline, that you had a right to be loved by her and to love her. To try and make a way together; you could just tell the girl everything, but that would be too much like right.”
“I can’t tell her….”
“You can, but you won’t. Or you will once it’s all truly too late to make a difference. Hell, John, you’re my big brother I sure hope I’m learning from your stupid mistakes. Not following in your path. Are you going to the ceremony to face down Lisa Williamson over her daughter?”
“I’m putting in an appearance, there’s still a killer on the loose and Marcie will be there. I consider her a potential target. If I see Evangeline it’ll only be to offer my congratulations and to say welcome home.”
Shaking his head in sorrow over John’s determination to be lonely and alone Michael headed for the door, “Fix this, John. Fix it, or I’ll tell mom you blew it with her near namesake. She’ll be so disappointed.”
“Mikey, she gave me back mom’s pearls,” John’s voice caught and broke, “she gave them back.”
John turned briskly back to his desk and buried himself in his files never looking up as he heard his brother leave. Then he got up, locked both his doors, put his phone on do-not-disturb and placed his photo of him and Van at Nora’s wedding flat on top his desk, then John put his head down next to it tracing her features and remembering every conversation, every look, every breath she took while they were together. John had thought he knew misery. His father’s murder, his mother’s pain, Caitlin’s murder. Misery was his oldest and best friend; and his friend still had a few things to teach him.