I think if I had rewritten this novel in its entirety, there would have been a stronger central conflict born from the discussion about money in chapter 17. There’s a great amount of potential there there, something I touch on in later chapters in this novel. But obviously this came way too late in the story, so it never really had a chance to blossom into the central conflict it could have been.
It may wind up rearing its head in a future novel. I like the idea of exploring guilt over wealth, both from the aspect of the person who’s made the money and that individual’s significant other who may not have had such opportunities. It’s something that’s been told over and over again, but so has everything else under the sun.
Days passed in Edmonton slowly, days they would take with them, each in their own way. Days of excess, days of quiet reflection, days of conversation, days of beauty, days marred by the sad knowledge that it all had to come to an end.
The fervor of their lovemaking settled into something more normal for them – they still frequently went at it, but the drunkenness of wedded bliss started to approach sobriety. Their home lives began to encroach little by little into their vacation world too. While Garrett met with Tibaldo and Virgil in another unproductive but pleasant meeting, Brianna spent half a morning on the phone with Marnie back at the Hammerdown Gym. By the time Garrett came back to her with a couple of plates of fruit, yogurt, and meats, she was sitting at a table, now conferenced in with Stephanie and Ed as well as Marnie, her brow creased in worry and frustration.
It turned out the men’s locker room at the Hammerdown had mold. It wasn’t bad, not yet, but it would require some extensive work on the plumbing as well. Garrett rubbed her shoulders while she listened to Stephanie explain what would need to go into the project, and who she could call to help with the plumbing side of things.
“In a case like this,” Garrett overheard Stephanie say, “cheap isn’t the route you’re going to want to go, if you can avoid it. Otherwise you’re looking at having the same work done two, maybe three years down the line. If you give me the go-ahead, I’d like to bring in Mya Snider, she runs a crew out of Morristown. She’s batshit crazy good, and batshit crazy in general, mostly because she’ll give you a guarantee on the work. If the mold comes back in the next few years, she’ll make it right.”
“All right, how much would she charge, do you think?”
Stephanie named a price, and Brianna nearly dropped the phone. On his end of the line, Ed whistled lowly. “That’s a bit more than you’ve got in operating, Bri.”
“I know, and if there’s an emergency, and fuckin’ Murphy’s Law says there will be…” Brianna sighed. “Garrett… I hate to ask this, but…”
“Whatever you need,” he said, and kissed her cheek as he leaned down. “Ed, can you hear me?”
Brianna punched the speaker button. “-otcha, Garrett.”
“Take whatever you need from our savings. If there’s not enough, there’s plenty of cash in the safe at home. Stephanie, whatever you quoted for Brianna for your end of things, make sure it’s enough to cover you too. I don’t want you lowballing us and eating it somewhere else.”
Stephanie’s growl was unmistakably a shared Moranis thing. “I can damn well-”
“I’ll add a thousand,” Ed cut in, over Stephanie’s swearing.
“Do it,” Garrett said.
For the first time, Marnie spoke up, “Can I have a thousand extra too?”
Her frustration finally cracking, Brianna laughed. “Trust me, Marn, if the place doesn’t burn down around your ears by the time I get back, we’re definitely talking an early Christmas bonus.”
When the details were finalized, Brianna snatched up a piece of bacon and jabbed it at Garrett. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be. Shit happens and I told you when we got engaged, my money is your money. Besides, you’ve pulled in ten times that much working jobs with me. At least.”
Still waving the bacon like a wand, she grumbled, “That’s not at all true.”
“No?” With one finger he drew a pad of hotel paper to him and started writing down names and numbers. After two minutes, he shoved the paper at her. Listed were all the jobs they’d pulled together, at least ones with financial gains. When they brought down any wealthy criminals, they split their winnings between themselves and Murphy – or rather Murphy’s son, who benefitted from his father’s help through a discreet trust fund in his name. A large portion of their money now went as well to Sloan Bryant, who saw the funds distributed to the needy through her church and its community programs.
She gave the numbers a glance, then a longer study. She did some figuring of her own, sat back, and said simply, “Huh.”
“Everything we make, everything we have, it’s just as much yours as it is mine. Never apologize for needing something, not when we can take care of it.”
“Don’t say that. What if I took advantage of you? What if I decided, oh, hey, that vacation house in Maui sure is a thing I need? What if I become some sort of casino lounge lizard and just start pissing our money away on gambling and…” She slapped the table and accidentally knocked the breakfast plates off. “Oh, damn it, damn it, damn it.”
Wisely, Garrett sensed this wasn’t the time to laugh at Brianna. Sometimes, the mental and emotional hits she had taken over the last year and a half added up, became too much. He reached across, took her shaking hands, and kneaded her knuckles with his thumbs. “We cross that bridge when we come to it,” he said gently. “We’re gonna have money fights. Shit, we probably should have had one when I bought that stupid bowling alley. Four months of owning that thing and I can count the number of profitable days on two hands. We’re both going to make mistakes, take gambles, need something. That’s life. We prepare for it, but when it comes, we just try to handle it together. Right?”
She sniffed, hard. “That bowling alley really wasn’t our brightest move.”
Garrett laughed and stood up to clean up the mess. “See, there you go.”
As she watched him, dabbing at the corners of her eyes, she thought about how scared she’d been that this man was so impossibly unreal on their first date. The thought melted into memories, of their vow last Christmas to always be honest with each other. “Can I… can I tell you something else?”
“Of course.” He glanced over his shoulder. “What’s up?”
“I kind of…” She brushed stray hair from her eyes and thought for a moment longer how to word things. “I have a bit of guilt.”
“I’m glad. About our money. I know we don’t exactly make it honestly, but it’s not like we’re ripping off good people. And you and Ed, you try to give it back, in your own way. But… I also like knowing that we can do this-” she gestured at their view “-and that you have this big safety net. I feel… safe. Financially, I mean. I guess that’s not very feminist. Or maybe it is. Maybe wanting your partner to be stable isn’t so much of anything as it is just… sane. But I do have some guilt because I know the Hammerdown’s never going to be a moneymaker. If it was just me, I’d barely be clearing a few grand a month, and when something like this happened… I’d figure it out, but I like that we can do this together. I guess I just want you to know… I appreciate you being a rock for me. For Marnie and the gym.”
He tossed the food in a garbage can and took her hands. “Just promise me one thing.”
“I don’t know sometimes what lines are too far. So be honest with me. If I make some grand gesture and it really is too much, call me on it. Because you’re my first real committed relationship and… I don’t know. If I jump in to help or give you things and it’s not something you’re comfortable with, please, be honest.”
“Of course, Garrett.” The tension eased and she really did feel better. “Can we… I know we have a big old city to explore, and I think we could walk the mall without spending much, but… today, could we just cuddle and… I don’t know, be here for a while?”
“Anything you want, forever.” He squinted at the window. “Unless it’s a pool boy with a ten-inch dong. That’s just not fair.”
Crying and laughing and shaking from head to toe, Brianna stood up and embraced him, bending slightly so her head could rest better in the crook under his chin. “I’m sorry I’m a basket case.”
“I’m a guy who sees ghosts, hallucinates dead girls, and who, until a very beautiful woman told him recently that he was wrong, thought friendly mutton chops would be an amazing look on his face.”
“It just wasn’t meant to be, hon,” she whispered, smiling against the warmth of him.
“Can I ask what brought this on?”
“Mm hm. You know Grandpa had a lot of money from his companies, but that was before he got really involved in the community. When Dad came along and took over the Hammerdown. he was running it on a prayer, pretty much. Mom, she was even worse off. Her parents… they just didn’t have a lot.” Brianna pulled back a little to look up at him. “I’m not saying I was uncomfortable, but Mom and Dad made a lot of sacrifices, kinda cut a lot of corners of their own lives for mine when I was a kid. I’ve always felt bad about that. Things changed for Mom when I got older, but she still didn’t really find a lot of success until I was nearly ready for college. And Dad, well, you know.” He did. Danny had been a great guy, but the Hammerdown had been a sinking ship until Garrett paid off some of its debt, trying to be stealthy and failing. “When you can come along and just solve problems like it’s nothing, it’s… intimidating. No, that’s not right. Overwhelming. Money like you just okayed, that would have taken Mom and Dad months and months of scrounging. You’ve already bailed that place out a few times and I just… the guilt adds up.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to seem so… flippant earlier. I guess that’s the word. If you feel guilty-”
“Or if you felt resentful.”
“Right, that too. We’ll talk. Same as everything else. And for the record, I don’t resent this a single bit. I love that gym. Helping out makes me feel good too. So don’t feel a bit guilty, okay?”
He kissed her forehead. “Doing better?”
“Good. Cause I’ve got a surprise for you. Something I’ve been holding onto for a rainy day. Ah, literally. After our little stay in St. Mary, I bought something online in case we got weathered out of something.”
She pulled away, grinning. “What is it?”
His face grew dour, as though he wanted to spit. “Anime.”
“What?” she asked in utter disbelief.
“I… bought anime. I washed afterwards for hours and hours. Even flushed my eyes out. God, I felt filthy and horrible and subhuman, but… since you like it so much and wanted me to watch it, I thought… I don’t know, we could watch a couple of episodes and I promise I won’t say a peep.”
The same bet that had left her responsible for writing the thank-you cards would have seen him have to watch a season of anime if she’d won instead. Brianna offered up a feeble protest – actually, it sounded like a hell of a way to spend the afternoon with him – but his mind was made up. They raced out and to a nearby store for some sodas, bags of PC poutine and burger-flavored potato chips, and a mess of candy bars, including Mr. Bigs, Wonderbars, Mars Bars, and Caramilks. Junk food, all of it, but it was just the sort of day meant for garbage food and cuddling.
Back at the hotel room, watching a vampire and his ex-cop partner take on the paranormal, Garrett and Brianna eased into a lull together. Though he tried hard to like the show for her sake, Garrett’s eyes kept closing and soon he drifted off into a breezy nap. Brianna shut off the laptop between them, set it aside, and swept the candy wrappers off the bed. She tucked into him, still trembling slightly, but the storm had passed and soon she was breathing easily too.
Toes swirling in the river as they sat on the edge of a dock, Brianna leaned her head against his shoulder, eyes closed, content. He wrapped his arm around her, snuck out his phone, and took a picture of them together like that. It was a good thing he returned it to his pocket, because what she said next surely would have made him drop it in the river. “I wonder if I’m pregnant yet?”