Matt saw Amanda the minute he walked into the café. She looked excited, so whatever she had to tell him, it was probably good news. He smiled a little as he approached the table.
‘Hi, there,’ he said.
‘Matt! You made it!’ She got up and hugged him, and then they both sat down.
‘So what’s this big news you have to share?’
‘Let’s order first, and then I’ll tell you, OK? I don’t want to be interrupted.’
They picked up the menus lying next to their place settings and soon made their choices.
Amanda made Matt wait until their sandwiches and coffee arrived. Then, she held up her left hand and showed him the small, but elegant, diamond ring on it.
‘Seth proposed last night!’ she sang out. Her hand shook just a bit as Matt took it to look more closely at the ring. He smiled as he let go.
‘This is great. Did you tell Mom and Dad yet?’
‘No, I’m going over there tonight, and I’ll tell them then.’ She looked at Matt’s face a little more closely.
‘You don’t look happy for me, Matt. Am I being paranoid, or is something wrong?’
‘No, no, it’s fantastic. It’s just…Seth better be good to you, that’s all.’
‘He is! He treats me like a princess. You know he’s a good guy. You work with him.’
‘Working with him isn’t the same as having him for a brother-in-law. Besides, you two haven’t known each other very long. Isn’t it a little soon?’
‘It’s fine, Matt. Stop worrying. I’m all grown up now and everything.’ Amanda shook her head, half amused and half annoyed.
Matt decided it was best to drop the subject, and instead, asked how Amanda’s job was going. The mood lightened, and the two enjoyed their conversation. Just as they were getting ready to leave, though, Matt made one more reference to Seth. ‘If he does anything to hurt you, lays a finger on you, anything, you tell me, OK? I’m always here for you.’
Amanda smiled. ‘All right, Matt.’ She sometimes got tired of feeling overprotected, but it was nice to know that Matt cared about her.
It was a small wedding, held at a rustic inn that Amanda had always admired. The day was bright and sunny, the catering was perfect, and everyone seemed to have a fabulous time. She couldn’t have asked for anything more.
A month later, everything started to fall apart. At first, it was little, petty arguments that Seth couldn’t stand losing. Then it was yelling at Amanda for staying late at work to finish a project. Every time they fought and made up, Seth promised it would never happen again. But it did. Then came the night he slapped her. Hard. That was enough for Amanda. She hastily packed a suitcase and left.
Amanda hadn’t told Matt about any of this. She felt stupid enough for having made such a bad choice. But this time, she really needed to talk to someone she could trust. And she’d always been able to trust Matt. They met at a wine bar, and, as soon as he saw her, Matt knew something was very, very wrong.
‘What the hell happened?’ he demanded.
‘Don’t, Matt, please. It’s hard enough without you losing it.’
‘I’m sorry,’ he said, more quietly. ‘I promise I’ll be good. Now, what happened?’
And she told him.
‘That bastard! I’m gonna –’
‘Stop it! I don’t want you to do anything, OK? Just…can I stay with you for a couple of days until I figure out what to do?’
‘Of course. Terri’ll be happy to see you.’ Amanda nodded, wiped her nose and eyes on a cocktail napkin, and hugged him, flooded with relief.
Seth had done his best to avoid Matt ever since Amanda left. For the most part, he’d succeeded, but this morning was different. The roofing company he and Matt worked for had just gotten a contract to put up new shingles and underlayment on a building that was being remodeled to house a bank. Today, they were scheduled to inspect the roof for integrity, and make a final list of materials and procedures for the job. He and Matt would have to work together on the project, and he wasn’t looking forward to it.
Still, Seth always loved that first look at a roof. He liked the sense of freedom he got from being up at the top of a building. And once he got busy with his part of the inspection, and Matt with his own, maybe the two could even co-exist. Now, each one put a ladder against the side of the building and slowly climbed up. With them were Charlie and Tomás, the other two men on the project. When they got to the top, Seth surveyed the expanse of roof.
‘How about I take this side?’ he called out, pointing to the east side of the building.
‘You sure?’ Tomás asked. ‘Those shingles look pretty bad. I can go, if you want.’
‘I got this,’ Seth snapped. He was not about to let anyone make him look chicken.
‘Whatever,’ Tomás shrugged. ‘I’ll take north then.’
‘West,’ Charlie called. That left the south side for Matt.
With the work parceled out, Seth slowly made his way towards the east side of the building.
Matt let his breath out slowly. He’d been afraid for a moment that Seth might take Tomás up on his offer, and he didn’t want anything to happen to Tomás. He should have known he could count on Seth’s bravado and ego. Two minutes later, Seth’s scream startled everyone as a rotten section of shingles gave way and he fell through that part of the roof. The ambulance got there fast, but there was nothing anyone could do.
When Matt got the word about Seth’s death, he couldn’t help smiling to himself. He’d been to the building the day before, and he’d seen the state of the roof. Anyone walking on that part of it would fall through. He hadn’t said anything, least of all to Seth. But anyone with half a brain should have seen it wasn’t safe. It wasn’t his fault if Seth was too stupid to see that for himself, was it? It wasn’t like he’d committed murder. Oh, well, there was more than one way to protect your little sister.