“Little brother, that’s not how it’s done.” Trixie said with exasperation, looking at Youssef’s precise, blocky writing on the contract, just before the paragraph stating her requirements at every shoot: Fresh mango. Pre-cut celery sticks. White washcloths. Rose water in a ceramic bowl, not plastic or metal. Makeup that matched her skin tone. Dark chocolate for Lorraine.
She wondered if she should add in barf bags.
“Who cares how it’s done? Do it differently, you make a name for yourself.”
“I”m pretty sure that name would be that-girl-who-used-to-work-for-us. Anyway, I have a name. It’s Trixie Franklin, remember? Unlike some people sitting here, I never changed mine.”
Youssef pushed his chair back from the table but didn’t get up. Instead he placed his hands on his legs, hunched his shoulders, and exhaled heavily as he stared at the ground. Trixie knew he was counting and wondered how high. The higher the number, the more she had gotten to him. She had yet to break out of double digits, but she was working on it. She also knew the body position from back when Youssef had been merely Joe-Joe, a wide-eyed and ridiculously sweet little boy crying because he got suspended for something he didn’t do, or called names their mother wouldn’t let them repeat, or—when they were older—pulled over by the cops and searched when he was first learning to drive because he “matched the description of someone who robbed a liquor store.” (“Matched how?” twenty-year-old Trixie had demanded, leaning over the console in their parents’ old Toyota sedan, the seat belt cutting into her side. “Let me guess. They said black and male, right?” The cops hadn’t liked that; had almost dragged them both off to jail. It was Youssef who had apologized and smoothed it over. For a kid who hated confrontation, he sure had picked an odd profession.)
Sometimes, when she looked at him now, all the love and protectiveness for that little kid came rushing back, washing away the arguments, the accusations, the anger. For a moment she almost reached out and rubbed her hand over his hair like she used to do all the time.
But then he stood and she drew her hand back. Joe-Joe was gone. What she had now was Youssef, polished to a brilliant hardness and unquestioningly sure that his way was the only one. She didn’t even know why he wanted to be the one to handle her legal affairs. He clearly didn’t enjoy it, and it wasn’t like she couldn’t afford to hire someone else. But whenever she brought it up, he said, “That would be ridiculous. There’s a lawyer in the family, you know.”
As if anyone in the family—or any family that had lived within a five-mile radius of the Franklins—didn’t know that. Their mother had made sure of it.
“Do whatever you want,” said Youssef, rising and sliding the contracts across the table to her. “These are ready to go. You can strike out whatever you want, but you’re covered.”
I miss you. The words inexplicably pushed at her throat and mouth. Trixie grabbed the papers and blinked rapidly. Jeez, was this another side effect of pregnancy? Unwanted sentiment? She would rather throw up, and that was saying something.
“Youssef is leaving, “she called back to Ralph, her voice thick.
Youssef turned to her as though he wanted to say something, but instead he just sighed.
“What?” snapped Trixie.
“I think you mean, ‘Thanks, little brother, for doing all this work for me pro-bono.’”
“No,” said Trixie, glad that the sentiment had disappeared as fast as it had come. “I meant, What?”
Ralph wandered out from the back room to fist bump Youssef. They had always gotten along, which had once been a relief but was now an endless source of irritation.
“You sure you don’t want some gumbo to go?” she said sweetly, holding the door open.
In the doorway, Youssef paused. For a brief moment she thought maybe, just maybe, this time he would apologize.
But instead, he said, “Do you know a woman named Florencia Morrican?”