Chapter Fourteen

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Michelle came in, awkwardly took off her shoes, dumped her purse, and flopped on the couch, one arm trailing on the dusty parquet. She experimentally raised her head, then dropped it again with a low, long, groan.

Rolling onto her back, keeping her ankle raised, Michelle stared at the ceiling. She shouldn't be surprised that Dolores took the job offer. She had been helping out Creampuffs, and they'd been paying her under the table for it, but it wasn't enough to live on. Bryan did shifts at Douchebag Derek's; all the money from personal training—far and away the most profitable part of the operation—he sank back into the line of credits that they'd used to pay for the renovations. Michelle herself lived very frugally off the savings she hadn't mentioned to Bryan. She'd thought it foolish to put all her eggs in one basket, financially-speaking. But that basket was emptying.

She should probably go back to work as well. Shift the hours around, maybe scrounge up some freelance web clients. Work from home or even while sitting at the card table in the evenings. But then they might need someone else in the gym—and money to pay them with. She rubbed her face. Maybe she should take some lessons from Uncle Gary on finding 'innovative revenue streams'.

Something chimed.

She reflexively pulled out her phone but no new notifications and anyway was set to silent/vibrate. Another chime. She craned her head over the edge of the sofa to stare, confused, at her desk where her tablet lay half-buried under printouts. What could be working on her tablet that wouldn't be on her phone—

—Skype.

She scrambled, ignoring the pain in her ankle, bringing the half-charged tablet back to the couch. When she flipped it on, the Skype logo flashed: someone was trying to contact her.

Uncle Gary!

"Hello?" She held the tablet up so that her face swam into view. Gary's camera wasn't working. It was just VOIP. "Uncle Gary? Hello? This is so weird, I was just thinking about emailing you—"

Something like a rooster crowed audibly in the background.

Her uncle's voice sounded scratchy and tinny and far-away. "Hi hon, how are you? Good?"

She tried not to show her surprise, then remembered she could switch off the camera on her end and treat it like a phone call. She did, and rested her elbows on the couch arms. "I'm... good. Uh... was that a rooster?"

"A rooster? Why would there be a rooster, hon?"

The crowing started again; definitely a chicken. Michelle tried to bring forth explanations but failed. "Uh... How are you? Where are you?"

"Oh, you know, around," Uncle Gary replied, breezy. The sound of a door closing, quieting the chicken noises.

"Are you coming home?"

"Oh, probably not for a while." He took a moment to cough: a horrible wet long-term-smoker's hack. "Sorry about that, hon. How's the gym coming along?"

Recoiling from the ghastly horking, her nose wrinkling, Michelle managed: "It's coming along. I don't know if Bryan thanked you enough for sending Leo over to us. He's been a godsend with repairs."

"Oh yeah, Leo's real connected." Gary agreed instantly before lapsing into another round of coughing. "He's a great guy. Real salt-of-the-earth."

"Yeah, so's his sister, Marietta, she's been coming out too—"

"That's great, real great. Listen, hon, is your brother around?"

Affronted, Michelle scowled. "No. Why would he be?"

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