"Big day, huh?" said Belinda. She rolled lazily to her side so she could see Heather lying across the room. The nurses hadn't come around to help Belinda get dressed yet. Heather could dress herself, but never liked to do it until Belinda was dressed first. Lately, though, Heather didn't mind the extra minutes in bed.
"Yeah. I haven't seen my brother in a while. I bet his beard has grown a lot."
"He has a beard now?" asked Belinda. "Yuck. I don't understand why guys grow beards. Doesn't stuff get stuck in there when they eat?"
"I know, right?" said Heather.
"I bet he still looks hot though. I'd still do him."
"Yeah, I guess," said Heather. "I mean yes, but seeing people is such a hassle lately."
"Hey, I'd be happy if I just had as many visitors as you. What's up with you? You don't sound like your Happy Heather self."
"You're right, I should be happy. I just don't want to be a burden on anyone."
"I'll give you my copy of I, Zombie. I've already read it like three times. It really gives you perspective on life. At least you're not eating people. Hell, you're not even in a wheelchair like me yet. You worrying about money again?"
Heather blushed and turned away.
"How do you afford a place like this, anyhow? Your folks rich?"
Heather was silent.
"You don't have to tell me."
"Rich?" asked Belinda.
"I'm sorry, Heather."
"It's okay, it was a few years ago. She had a life insurance policy though. But it's running out now."
"Can't you just move in with your brother?"
"He doesn't know the money is almost out. And I want to keep it that way, okay? Don't tell him anything. I'll tell him when I'm ready. Promise?"
"Fine, but I don't see what the big deal is."
Nurse Haley walked in. "Rise and shine. Ready for the day, Belinda?"
"You know it."
"Heather, I think your brother's here. Did he grow a beard lately? It looks great. Very mountain man."
Heather blushed again and pulled herself out of bed. She slowly and carefully got dressed before David walked in.
"Hey sis, you look great." David came up and gave her a big hug. "I've missed you. I'm so sorry it's been a bit since I've been by."
"Six months, by my count," said Belinda.
"Hi, sex kitten."
Heather hardly recognized her brother. He seemed different. Older than she remembered, but not just because of the beard.
* * *
At the pancake house, David brought a tray full of food to a small booth. Heather had only ordered a small bowl of fruit, but David ordered the works. He sat down and poured a slop of ketchup next to his giant omelet and mountain of hash browns. Breakfast at the Original Hotcake House was a tradition their dad had started before he left, but for some reason David still loved the place. It was an old pancake house that was busiest between two and four a.m. after the bars closed in Portland. The plates were huge and the food was even bigger.
The omelet must have used a dozen eggs and filled half the plate. But next to the hash browns, the eggs looked small. The hotcakes came on a separate plate because there was no room with the eggs and hash browns. An intimidating inch thick, the hotcakes didn't have any reason to taste good, but they were always a little bit of heaven.
David stuffed his mouth with a big bite of hotcake.
"So how's the halfway house?"
"You know I hate it when you call it that, David. It's nice. They treat me great. But I don't know why they insist on keeping me there. I've been fine for over a year now."
"I'm sure they have their reasons." David smiled as he asked: "You got any boyfriends yet?"
"Well, there's this male nurse who keeps bringing me tea, but I'm not that into his crumpets."
They both laughed as David cut out another slab of hotcake.
"Still think of Mom?" said David.
"All the time. You?"
Heather and David looked down at their food to avoid eye contact. Neither wanted the other to see the sadness the question brought them.
Heather broke the silence. "Tell me about work, how's startup life treating you?"
"Well, the jellyfish blog is picking up traction, finally. I've been putting out posts pretty regularly. At first, it didn't seem to make any difference, but my last post got fifty-four views. But Megan and Andrew keep nagging me to work on an encrypted chat idea I came up with. I don't know if I should walk away from the investment I already made to try something new or not."
Heather looked at her big brother with gentle, loving eyes.
"David, are you happy?"
"Yeah. Sure. I guess. What do you mean?"
"I mean, I've known you since you were feeding me Gerber peas. You've never been into jellyfish. Not as a kid. I know you think it'll make you easy money, but none of what you explain sounds easy. In many ways, you seem busier than ever. Do you even really care about jellyfish?"
"That's not the point. Life doesn't always pay you for your passions."
"Yes, that's fair. But I think Megan and Andrew see a spark in your eye. Even now when you said encrypted thingy, you lit up. When's the last time you honestly got excited about jellyfish?"
"But what about the time and money I've invested in it already? It's my life savings we're talking about."
"What about changing the world for the better?"
David went from stunned to embarrassed in a nanosecond. He quickly chewed and swallowed his mouthful of eggs and ketchup and hot sauce.
"When did you get so grown up?"
Heather smiled and pushed aside her bowl of fruit. Heather felt weak, but David didn't ask about it and she preferred it that way.
"Heather, you okay?"
"I'm fine, just a little light-headed."
David continued eating. She could see his mind was somewhere else—lost in thought. Heather didn't mind though, she could use a break from all the talk. She took a sip of water from a clear plastic cup like the ones they had in high school.
"So you think I should try the encrypted chat startup?"
Heather smiled. "Yes, David. Go for it."
YOU ARE READING
The Term Sheet | Wattys 2016 WinnerMystery / Thriller
2016 WATTY AWARD WINNER - HQ LOVE THE TERM SHEET is a fast-paced technothriller about entrepreneurship, startups, encryption, and the delicate balance between national security and individual privacy. Its complex characters explore thought-provoking...