He froze, half-hunched at her vanity, the contents of her makeup box spread out before him.
"The hell are you doing?"
"C-c-c-ar-m-mela!" he tripped over the consonants like a cold car engine, as if his vocal cords were unwilling to turn over. "I c-c-c-can exp-exp-exp…" the syllable was practically spit, the ending 'p' culminating in little more than a frantic splutter.
"…Pavi?" Reaching, she flicked on the lights and blinked not only at the sudden brightness, but at her brother's reaction. He curled in on himself, lowering his head so that his reflection would not show. Stepping across the deep carpet, she noticed with mild alarm that his clothes were dirty and rumpled, powdery white fingerprints on his trousers, greasy black smudges on his shirt. Little beads of red sprinkled the glossy surface of her vanity. Another dripped to the surface and splashed minutely, sending tiny ruby drops flying.
"Did something happen?"
He would neither face her nor answer her. Instead he turned away, hair still obscuring his face, hands fisted on the vanity top; a filthy tissue in one, her cover-up clutched in the other. Aside from a few sticks of lip liner grouped with her eyeliner, he has shoved the various items into little piles according to use. The lipstick and eye shadow had remained otherwise untouched, but the cover up, foundation, and concealer were all open. She boggled briefly that he should know one from the other, and then why he might want to use them? Another drip onto the table top. A sniff. …was he crying?
"Pavi?" she reached and laid a hand on one arm. Reluctantly, he unbent his back and raised his head. Carmela gasped, one hand automatically moving to cover her mouth.
He hung his head, rivulets of red running down his chin and into his collar. Half his face was seared an angry red, the skin shriveled and black as if it had been melted. The other half oozed blood from many deep slashes, one of which seemed to penetrate to his teeth.
He said nothing, only pleaded with his eyes: Help me.
"Sit down," she told him. Pavi did as instructed while Carmela went to the bathroom to fetch a cold wash cloth. Not that she knew all that much about first-aid, but it was what the nannies had done whenever she scraped a knee or an elbow. She had an uncomfortable feeling that Pavi was going to need a bit more. As an afterthought she grabbed one of the bathroom towels too. He was no doubt leaving a mess on the carpet.
Pavi sat hunched miserably on the spindly little Queen Anne chair while Amber did her best to clean up his pathetic attempts at hiding the damage to his face.
"What happened?" she asked, more interested in how he'd gotten hurt than any associated scandal.
"Got in a fight." he told her stiffly, lapsing into Italian since he clearly didn't possess enough English at the moment.
"I won." There was an odd sense if finality to those two syllables.
"That's not what I asked."
"I didn't kill him."
"Again, not what I asked, dumbshit. Who did you not kill?"
To this he said nothing. Pavi's silence could be a powerful weapon and if he chose to retreat into muteness, there was no siege she could launch that would loosen his tongue. Well, there was, but now hardly seemed the time. The gore was beginning to make her queasy. The blood in and of itself was not a problem, she'd seen enough barcoded organs floating placidly in jars to be thoroughly desensitized. Perhaps it was the fact that this mutilated bit of humanity was her brother that was making her stomach knot and clench uncomfortably. The burned side wasn't so bad; it was almost a solid lump of charcoal. The flaps of skin and muscle, however, were making it hard to concentrate.
"You should have one of the surGENs deal with this," she told him, "I'm not a goddamned nurse." Panic instead of derision colored her voice and Pavi looked dazedly up at her. Evidently the blood'n'guts were getting to him too; beneath the layer of dirt and coagulation, he had gone quite pale.
"I'm calling dad," she told him, but her arm stopped in mid-reach, arrested by his words.
"What the hell for?"
"So call a GENtern or a surGEN or something. All dad will do is get angry."
He had a point.
"All right. I'll call Nathan, then."
Something occurred to her as she hunted through the speed dial list.
"Why would dad get angry? Wouldn't he be more upset someone rearranged your face?"
Pavi gave a derisive snort, quickly moving the now saturated washcloth to cover his nose so as not to spray Carmela's vanity with any more blood.
Normally he wasn't this stubborn. His constant companions the GENterns got only 'The Pavi' and his compliments and advances. But to Carmela he would speak freely, much more freely to her than to anyone else. They told each other everything; gossip, fashion, the details of their latest conquests. Sometimes he felt more like an older sister than a second elder brother. Then it occurred to her:
"...was it Luigi?"
He wouldn't look at her.
"Paviche Largo, did you get into a fight with Luigi? Did he do this to you?" Just as Pavi defaulted to Italian, Carmela preferred English in a time of crisis.
"Luigi isn't part of this."
If it was one thing Pavi didn't like to do, it was lie to his little sister, and Carmela knew it. Angry tears had begun welling up in her eyes, though she couldn't decide at whom the sudden outrage was directed. Luigi had done it, that much he couldn't deny, thus the half-truth. Furiously, she stabbed the correct button on her cell phone. Best not to use the house line for something like this.
"I'm calling him next."
"Don't bother. He's probably already down there."
'There' meaning with a surGEN. A small and tinny 'hello?' emitted from Carmela's phone but she ignored it for the moment. Instead she stared at her brother, not sure what to think or feel. He must have felt her eyes on him for he looked up and offered her a rather deformed smile.
"I told you didn't kill him."
"What did you do to him?"
The only slightly self-satisfied grin split his lip as well as much of the coagulated tissue, forming fresh rivulets of dark blood.
"Broke his nose."
"Oh. Well. If that's all." It probably wasn't, but knowing Pavi, it was likely the worst of it. She returned her attention to the phone and found Nathan mercifully still on the line. After giving him the Cliffs Notes version, she returned her attention to Pavi. He looked as if a light breeze might knock him off the chair, such was the limpness in his posture and the waxen color of his face beneath the goo and scarring.
"What the hell were you two fighting about anyway?" she asked, snapping the phone shut and tossing it back into her purse.
A sigh that seemed to utilize all the oxygen in the room. "You'd laugh if I told you."
"No I wouldn't. And you are going to tell me."
"Not now sister, please."
To be fair, he really didn't look up to the task. She half expected him to slide off the chair and splatter the carpet with blood.
"All right. But you're telling me later. Promise?"