The Way the Waves Break
by Benjamin J. Law
Kevin plops down next to Jack and cracks open a can of soda. “That old woman is gonna be pissed about this,” he says with a chuckle — a gesture which aggravates Jack.
“Pissed about what?” Jack responds through his teeth.
“About me being the one that called the ambulance.” Kevin sips at his drink. “Well, about me being involved at all. I’m sure you know she hates me by now… How long you known her?”
“Just a couple days,” Jack answers, leaning back in his chair and scanning the hospital waiting room. It’s too full for his liking. A large family has taken up one whole corner and is whispering about funeral plans; a man sits alone under the TV hanging from the wall and fidgets with his wedding ring; and there are twin sisters silently playing a phone game together on the far side of the room. Jack and Kevin both sigh at the same time. “Where’s Fran?” Jack’s voice is flat and low.
“I bought her some chips, and then she needed to use the restroom,” Kevin answers in kind.
Jack nods. “So,” he breathes, glancing at the man under the TV, “why does Grandma Genie hate you, anyway?”
Kevin smirks, setting his cola down on a side table and taking a deep breath. “Believe it or not, I dated her daughter for a long while,” he says in a thoughtful sort of way. “Genie — Grandma Genie, as most call her — is a war veteran…”
“Yeah, Fran told me, but what does that have to do with you dating Zetta?”
“You know about Zetta already? Genie hasn’t talked about her in years.” Kevin looks to the ground, his eyes wavering between interest and discomfort. Jack doesn’t respond past a subtle nod, and his fellow conversant remains quiet for enough time to let the space between them become awkward.
“She’s dead, right?” Jack asks, attempting to sound empathetic.
“Yeah… To this day Genie believes I betrayed Zetta in her time of need, but I was just standing up for what I believed in. She was going to follow in her mother’s footsteps and join the military, only as a nurse instead of a combat soldier like Genie. I don’t support war in anyway, and couldn’t support Zetta’s decision to follow that career path — one that Genie wholeheartedly believed in. So, when it came down to it, Zetta chose the military over me, or as Genie would say, I chose my convictions over my love for Zetta. And after she’d only been gone for a few months, she…” Kevin takes a deep breath and closes his eyes to defend against growing tears. Jack blinks, shying away from Kevin’s blatant pain. “She was in an unspecified third-world country, some high-profile operation. All Genie and I were told is that she was working on a small boat and somehow contracted AIDS through an open wound received on duty. She was discharged as soon as possible…and died within five years.”
“My Lord…” Jack’s jaw hangs loosely open.
“As you can see,” Kevin says as he pats his belly, “I let myself go a bit. Genie hates me now. I lost my job at the time because I was spending every day at the hospital. At this hospital, actually…”
“I’m sorry to hear all that. It must be difficult for you and Genie being back in this place,” Jack whispers, looking back across the room and noting the quieted family in the corner. They sit in silence now, each of them wearing a unique form of the same expression: sadness.
“Eh.” Kevin shrugs. “Genie had appointments here all the time after her service in the military. She’s strong — got shot in the head from less than a hundred yards away and survived. I think she’s used to it. Look who’s back.” He smiles and points to the doorway. Fran is waddling in, chips in hand and mouth.
“Heya,” she sputters, fragments of chips spewing from her mouth. “Is Grandma Genie back?” Her face isn’t its usual soft oblivious expression.
“They’re still looking at her, Rocco, but it’ll be okay,” Kevin answers convincingly.
“Your eyes are red… “ Jack observes, reaching out in an awkward manner to pat Fran’s arm. “You okay?” Fran nods silently. She looks over at the twin sisters, who are now sitting still beside one another and staring at the ground.
“Is the family of…Genie Miliani present?” A secretary says from the same door Fran had come through.
“Right here,” Kevin answers, raising his hand to call the woman’s attention.
“She’s awake if you wanna come see her. All three of you can come in, but only for a minute.”
Kevin leaves his cola where it is and stands, tapping Fran’s shoulder to push her along. Fran takes Jack’s hand instead and prompts Jack to go with despite his reluctance. On the other side of the door, the secretary tells them the room number and points down the hallway before disappearing into another room. Fran stays close to Jack, making it difficult for him take normal steps. Kevin reaches Grandma Genie’s room first and holds the door open for Jack and Fran, and as they enter Grandma Genie’s voice comes loud and clear through a curtain surrounding her bed. “That fat pumpkin better not be ‘round here!”
“Wish not granted, Genie,” Kevin answers in good humor, pulling the curtain back to reveal Grandma Genie covered in blankets and wearing an unbecoming headwrap. “But, I expected no different welcome.”
“Come ‘ere, Fran,” Grandma Genie says earnestly, waving her daughter over. Fran leaps onto the bed and sprawls over Grandma Genie.
“I thought you were gonna die!” Fran hollers.
“Oh, please, child! I ain’t done here yet. I s’pose I owe that to Junior…and Kevin.” Grandma Genie sighs. “Thank you, both,” she says through her teeth.
“Despite your feelings about me, Genie, you still are important to me,” Kevin answers. Jack just nods.
“Junior,” Grandma Genie snaps, “you okay?”
“You’re asking me if I’m okay?” Jack shakes his head, bewilderment on his face.
“Well?” Grandma Genie persists.
“I’m fine,” Jack answers flatly.
“All right, seeing as all’s well, I better get out of here,” Kevin murmurs as he tries to slip away. Grandma Genie nods as if she agrees, but Fran looks up unhappily and glances between Kevin and Grandma Genie. “Wait,” Grandma Genie sighs, “Kevin don’t you go go anywhere. I…I think I’ve been a bit harsh on you… Zetta would’a wanted me to be more kind.”
Kevin stands near the door, his lower lip quivering. “You haven’t talked about her to me in twelve years, Genie,” he whimpers.
Grandma Genie nods knowingly. “Yeah…” she mutters. “Junior here must ‘ave thought me a fool, havin’ a stroke over Fran goin’ after you, Kevin.” Grandma Genie laughs, and Kevin joins in. Jack only swallows, unsure of the sudden shift in attitude.
“Want some chips, Grandma Genie?” Fran asks excitedly.
“Don’t think I can, kiddo. Maybe Junior wants some.”
“Want some chips, Junior?” Fran holds out her small bag of chips for Jack, who smiles and takes the bag even though he doesn’t want them either.
Grandma Genie squints under Fran’s weight, and Kevin jumps at the chance to help out. “Want another snack, Rocco?”
“Yeah!” Fran climbs down off of Grandma Genie’s bed and leaves the room with Kevin.
“Consider yourself repaid, Junior,” Grandma Genie says after a long moment.
“What?” Jack moves a little closer.
“Fran may have saved your life, but you went and saved mine, too.” Grandma Genie smiles, and they share a moment of silence before the door clicks open and a nurse about Jack’s age walks in. Jack steps back to give her space to work, but the nurse stops beside him.
“How’re we doing, Genie?” She says happily, hugging a clipboard to her chest.
“As good as ever,” Grandma Genie replies.
“That’s great! And who might you be?” The nurse turns to Jack with a grin and extends her hand.
“Oh,” Jack stumbles over his words for a minute, losing his thoughts into the nurse’s huge green eyes. “I-I’m…” He pauses and glances at Grandma Genie through his unmoved sunglasses. “My friends call me Junior.”
“Well, Junior, I’m Cassandra, or Cass for short. It’s nice to meet you! Little dark in here for sunglasses though,” she says with a wink.
“Oh, it just…covers my missing eye,” Jack says in a tone of voice Grandma Genie hasn’t heard out of him before , but she would swear it sounded like a joke. Cass bursts out into a laugh and nods appreciatively.
“Well, Junior,” Cass says, looking at Grandma Genie adoringly, “she’ll be fine. Just a minor incident. We’ll continue to monitor her, but she’ll be able to go home soon.”
“Good,” Jack answers.
“Well, I was just checking in. I’ll leave you be. Again, nice to meet you, Junior.” Cass grins at Jack and then at Grandma Genie before leaving the room.
“You too,” Jack says as the door shuts again.
“Fran said you ain’t got friends,” Grandma Genie says quietly, her eyes steadily closing.
“Yeah, well, Fran also believed I wanted these chips,” Jack retorts, but by the time he’s spoken Grandma Genie has fallen asleep. He makes his way to the window beside her bed and peers out at the distant coast, where he can faintly see the waves breaking on the bright, white sand. He takes a deep breath and slowly bites into a chip.