Chapter One, Part one

1.

“Hello?” Silence on my end. I’m not blinking or crying. I’m sure my face is as blank as if I were listening to a reminder call about a doctor’s appointment. When the caller is done with what he has to say, I push the off button on my clever little phone and go outside.

I had been sitting in the front yard, in my favorite chair, padded with chintz pillows and an old quilt my Grandmother made when she was twelve. My chair is settled under an oak tree that has to be two hundred years old. I was drinking homemade sun tea,  it was still on the yellow tin table that once sat on my Grandmother’s back porch.  I picked up a book yesterday at the flea market in town, one of those with a lonely cottage, surrounded by the raging sea on the front cover. I love anything that takes place by the ocean. Nicholas Sparks is one of my favorites, him and Stephen King. What a pair, huh? I also love all the classics, Steinbeck, Alcott, Faulkner. My kids all read and they are forever bringing me something to read with them. Naturally I had to read the Twilight series and Harry Potter. I am a true Potterhead now. I even have the Hufflepuff flag hanging on the side porch. I had planned on sitting in my chair and reading my by-the-sea novel today. That plan is now shot to sunshine.

Rubbing me temples, I watched my two middle boys riding up and down the long drive, weaving in and out of the double line of  magnolia trees planted on either side. Hazardly maneuvering the new motor bikes their dad bought them, making ruts in my grass and narrowly missing the towering trees. I needed a xanax after about two minutes of watching that. Finn and Sayar. They are seventeen and thirteen, respectively. They are the most horrible children ever. If there is something perilous to get into, they’re your guys. I’ve gotten used to calls from mad parents, hysterical girls and the occasional visit from the police. They don’t care. No punishment works, I have tried everything. They like to fight and they are good at it. They don’t bully, but they never miss a chance to jump into any brawl they can find. Finn was stout and frightening, he had thick, unruly hair and always looked like he was working on something devious. He loved a good brawl and was ready at any time.  Sayar was another story. He was tall and skinny, silky blond hair and looked like an angel. Looks are deceiving. He had a big mouth which usually overloaded his little ass. He thought nothing of this. Finn was only but a phone call away. Nobody messed with Finn.  I keep telling myself that one day I will laugh at all of this. I’m usually crying when I say that though. I tried to be a good mom. I grounded them. I talked to them. I read the Bible to them. If all else failed, and I lost my mind a little bit, I would pummel them with what ever was handy at the time. Their father, Brick Carling, enjoyed every minute of this. I made him bring home five gallon stir sticks from the paint store for me. They hurt and they had a good reach if the boys were running. If they broke, I just had Brick bring home some more. The paint sticks really didn’t deter the boys, but my goodness, some days they made me feel so much better. Working out my aggression, I guess. The boys owned a big chunk of my heart. They loved me, they loved their family and they loved each other. As awful as they were one minute, they were that good the next. It was hard to stay mad at them for too long. Neither of them had to work today, they won a bet with their daddy. My men will bet over anything. At least they have something in common. Bets and milk bottles. The bet was who could hit a baseball the farthest, Brick or Sayar. They loaded up their baseball bags and went down to the new baseball field at the school. The girls and I piled in the back of the truck to ride along and watch. All the boys hit ball after ball over the fence. They were all marvelous ball players. Baseball, basketball, football, soccer. There wasn’t a sport they didn’t excel at. Their father still won most contests. I secretly rooted for the boys. Today they won. The girls and I hooped and hollered!! And the boys got a day off the play.

Macon was the middle child and the oldest daughter. She was quiet and thoughtful. She wrote constantly in journals she kept under lock and key. If she wasn’t writing, she was on her phone. She had more friends than you could count. Boys and girls. She is funny and loud. Really loud. She gets in trouble a lot for being so loud. She will whine and say “Momma, I can’t help it! God made my voice like this!”. She’s right. She does try. But God love her, sometimes it just embarrassing! At this moment, she  was hanging upside down from the tire swing talking on the phone. She had chocolate brown hair that was sweeping the ground back and forth with the rhythm of the swing. She was as brown as a coffee bean from being in the river every chance she got. She was stunning. Everyone noticed her. She had remarkable eyes. They were the the color of a bluejay and they held a surprise. This is where her birthmark landed. A quarter of her left eye was mahogany brown. It was as if she had been kissed by an angel. I felt it summed up her whole personality, exotic. She was chattering into her phone breathlessly.  I remember being 15 and on the phone for hours,  but for crying out loud. She never puts her phone down. It’s a constant argument. She’s talking on a new phone right now. I stomped on her old one last Tuesday when she wouldn’t quit texting while I was talking to her. Her daddy bought her a new one. Dick. Cell phones suck ass. I’d throw mine in the river if everyone wouldn’t have a freaking breakdown.

Wren, my four year old, was in her kiddie pool she insisted we buy at Walmart today even though we have a perfectly good pool in the back yard. She has all of her floaties in the ridiculously small pool. She is a spoiled little bird. She was our surprise. Her hair was the color of a ripe peach. She had fairy kisses across the bridge of her nose. Her green eyes she inherited from me and they always had something cooking in them.  Wren was mean. She clobbered whoever crossed her. Last week, it was one of Sayar’s friends. He was on her tire swing and wouldn’t get off. After taunting her endlessly, she walked off in apparent defeat, only to return with Sayar’s metal baseball bat which she promptly walloped Cody in the head with. Cody was on the ground squalling when I got to the side yard. Always defiant, twirling her bat, she announced that he should have moved. This incident earned Miss Wren a switching. Cody went home with an ice pack and a pissed off mom.  You have to give it to the little witch, she stood her ground. Much to everyone’s consternation.

My husband and my oldest son are out on a job today. We own a painting company and the only restaurant in town. I took  the day off from work life and planed on spending it quietly here at home with the rest of the kids. I decided to open a little restaurant ten years ago. The plan was to have a toy for myself. Something that I could go and play at while my husband painted and the kids were at school.  I named it Ruth Grey’s after myself. (I don’t have a humble bone in my body) I bought the old drugstore in town and we gutted it. Brick and his crew completely remodeled the inside. I went to a local antique mall a friend of mine owned and he filled my eatery with antiques of all kinds. I used that to decorate and he had free advertisement. It was a benefit to both of us. When something sold, I just went shopping again. It didn’t cost me a dime and he sold a little more. Win-Win. I had a gift shop in the front. I sold things that women think they can’t live without. Velvet clutches with birds embroidered on them in silk, hankies with initials on them, extrinsic perfumes I searched the world for, lavish stationary that felt like satan.  I found things that I loved and wanted and I knew others would fall in love with too. My little corner of the store was as popular as the restaurant.general. Brick built a little stage for me. We had live music on Friday nights. We had several local blue grass and country music bands that played for tips. In a community this small, most things were done just for fun. I had a large office upstairs that I furnished like a living room. I have a sectional couch, table and chairs, a desk for homework, TV and game systems. The kids could come up there while I was working and hang out to be near me. What was going to be a diner, opening for breakfast and lunch only, turned into a full service restaurant that sat two hundred and twenty six people. I catered every event in our county and most in the surrounding counties. My food was amazing and I demanded perfection. Juniper Jude was a local woman I hired before the restaurant was even open. She helped me every step of the way. She told me what I needed and how much of it I needed. She told me who to hire and who would steal me blind. She was my right hand at the restaurant. Harrison Jude was her husband and we hired him to help  me around the house. He catered to my every whim and took care of things before I even considered them. I would be lost without either one of them. They kept our family functioning and me sane. Well, more sane than the alternative.

2.

I heard the wooden storm door slam on the side of the house, making me cringe and fight not to throw my tea glass across the front yard. I could smell her before I could see her. The cocoa butter she had no doubt dunked herself in, dippity doo style, was always a cloud around her. She was like that Peanut’s character, Pigpen. Oh my God. I’m calling her that from now on. No one will have a clue what I am even talking about. Well, Macon will. She and I operate on the same wave, but no one else will. It will make me feel better. I was originally going to try Bitchypoo but Wren kept saying it and no explanation sounded legitimate. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to hurt my oldest child’s feelings, Park was sensitive when it came to his girlfriend, but she  was a horror. She was never dressed. She came to the dinner table in one of her damn bikinis every evening. Last night she asked if she could have another one of my rolls and I told her only if she could catch it between her tits. Park was pissed. I told him to tell her to put some freaking clothes on or suffer the consequences. Park brought this particular gem home with him about three months ago. He met her in Tunica on a drunken, gambling weekend with his best friend, Argus. I’m blaming this whole debacle on Argus. Damn him. He is always dragging Park off on some foolhardy mission. This mission was to see who could get laid more. I keep telling my son and his friends that these are the things you hide from your mother. No dice. They tell me everything. This time was a total disaster. They came home with Clarissa. She was going to be ‘staying with us a few days’. The horny bitch has been here three months. She has tits like bullets and is very proud of them. She was a spoiled brat. She had no respect, for us, her things, my son. She threw her two hundred dollar jeans on the floor and left them there until Macon snagged them.  Macon wore them in front of her, asked her if they looked ok and sashayed about like Miss Arkansas and the dingbat didn’t even realize they were hers. She gushed to Macon that those were ‘the cutest jeans I’ve ever seen!” Then actually asked her where she had gotten them. Good gravy. Last week I found a half eaten peanut butter and jelly sandwich squashed on  the bottom of a pair of Jimmy Choos! Who does that?? I opened the window in Park’s bedroom and threw them out in the back yard. Two days ago I saw our coonhound, Sam, toting one around in his mouth. The heel was gone and so was the peanut butter. Good for Sam.

“Hey y’all!”  bellowing as if I was on the verge of deafness. Counting to a hundred, I answered sweetly, although my teeth were clamped down tight. “Hello Clarissa, off to a day around the pool again? I left yours and Park’s laundry on the bottom step. Do you think you could handle getting the basket into the room? I’m sure Park will put it all away.” (as usual, you big ol’ slutty harlot). I never lost my grin as she shrugged her shoulders at me, flipped my favorite beach towel over her shoulder and mumbled something. I was going to have to burn that damn towel. I’d never get the smell of Palmer’s cocoa butter out of it now  Every time I laid on it, I’d get a murderous headache. Do you ever get those? I think it’s a special kind of migraine when you want to murder people and can’t.

3.

Finn and Sayar, came skidding up the drive, announcing that dad was almost home and did I have supper on the table yet. Seeing the look on my face, they both came to a dead halt. “What’s wrong, Momma?” they spoke in unison. “You’ll know soon enough, go wash up. I’ve called Juniper at the restaurant and she is fixing barbecue plates for all of us. Supper outside on the patio tonight.” Turning around and running for the front steps, punching and tagging each other with their wet shirts I was sure to find laying in the bathroom later. I hollered at Macon to hang up that damned phone and at Wren to get out of the pool. As I reached for my iced tea glass, still half full and my unopened book I was so excited about, the protesting began. I turned around and gave them that stare that only a mother on the edge can give. “Get your sweet little behinds in the house now. You can count on a bit of drama at the supper table, so you better hurry.” Both girls ran for the front door. They were so much alike in the drama department. Anything provocative always garnered their unwavering attention.

I walked into the house, the house I love, and began to gather paper plates and napkins. I yelled for Harrison to go out to the shop fridge and grab some pop. I also invited him for supper, telling him I had news and could use a pretty face to focus on. I wasn’t really sure about Harrison’s age. I’d guess somewhere between sixty and one hundred and four. He was cranky and quiet. He had the most beautiful head of gray curly hair. His skin was as grey as his hair and he walked with a limp. I asked him one time what had happened to him and he told me he couldn’t tell me for fear he would ‘offend my womaness’. Let me clarify one thing, I cuss like a sailor. And if I get on a verbal tangent of some sort, it’s usually best just to stand clear and agree. So if he thought he was going to offend me?? Oh I wanted to hear it all. I haven’t gotten it out of him yet. I keep threatening to fire him and hire Frankie May Malone, a gal from town I had babysit one time, he just laughs at me. He knows I’d slap the piss out of her within the first hour of her being in my home. She was lazier that Addie, our basset hound, and twice as fat. Don’t you worry though, I’ll have it.

5.

Finally, I could see the dust from the work truck barreling up the drive. I grabbed clean tee shirts I kept at the back door for Brick and Park to change into every day when they came in from work. They were always dusty, dirty and paint covered. I didn’t want to dawdle this early evening. I had a lump in my stomach and the murder headache was still raging.

Filing out of the truck, two workers in tow, Brick announced that they would be going back to work after supper. I told him that, no, today they would be staying home. Standing akimbo, waiting for an argument, Brick looked up and into my eyes and understood at once that there was an issue. Sighing, he threw the work truck keys to the nearest hired hand and told him to take the truck home and be here at 5:00 the next morning.

As Harrison went around gathering the rest of what we would need for supper, I sent my sweet little Wren around to gather everyone else. This was her job every day. I told her this was the only time she got to be boss. She relished it. As this was the only time her siblings were ordered to listen to their fiery little red headed sister, she made the most of it. She marched upstairs to gather the troops.

I went outside and sat on the porch. Harrison had laid out the spread, placing little wire tents over the food to keep the insect population from carrying our supper away. There was a metal cooler filled with ice and pop and a few beers for Brick. I had a bottle of wine and a wine glass at my spot, to the left of my husband. Sigh. This is why I love my Harrison. As my gaggle of geese came filing out of the house, freshly washed and smelling like summer, all giggles and smiles, I admired my blessings.  Everyone took their seats, we grasped hands and Brick led us in a short prayer thanking God for our food. As the lump in my stomach loosened and everyone dug in, I was preparing the news I was going to deliver shortly.

“Well what the hell!! Y’all didn’t even tell me it was supper time!” There stood our little Kardashian wannabe, the smell of cocoa butter and sweat infuriating me. One huge nipple was hanging out of her top and if there was any question about whether or not she shaved her nether regions, that particular query had now been laid to rest. Macon was making gagging sounds, Brick had his hands over Wren’s eyes and the two stooges at the end of the table were making jerk-off motions and delightfully provoking Park into red hot furry. “No one here even likes me!!” Clarissa wailed and  Wren said under her breath, “Well, no shit” which earned her a pinch on the leg from her dad. The whole ludicrous situation was causing my legs to cross. I pee a little from time to time when I laugh too hard. The little leech turned to run off into the house and Park got up to follow her, glancing back at me with condemnation. “What?? You didn’t notice she wasn’t here either! We have news, we are going to talk. She can miss a meal, maybe her tits will fit in the top of that suit.” I was now standing and pointing at his spot. Starting to argue, then gauging my mood and thinking better of it, Park sat back down. Wren was bouncing up and down, Macon was unsuccessfully trying to get around my no phone at the table rule and Finn and Sayar were conspiring about something at the end of the table. Brick had dug in and was oblivious to everyone. A comical wail of distress wafted out of the upstairs window. “Well shit. I was going to break this news with some finesse, but you assholes make that impossible. Your grandfather, Webb, called today. Delilah committed suicide last night.” Everyone stopped. It seemed like everything stopped. I should have had my phone out. We would have captured the perfect mannequin challenge. Thinking this, I almost laughed. That would have been more than Park could have handled. Only Park was truly upset. He was the only one that had any sort of relationship with Dad and Delilah anymore. Everyone started barking questions and Park put his head into his hands. “I have no details. He was very short and to the point. I don’t even know if there are arrangements made yet.” Raising his head, wiping away tears, “I’m going home. Webb will need me.” I nodded my understanding. Park still had his rose colored glasses on when it came to Webb. I was still fighting myself constantly about my relationship with Webb. Brick, in his most fatherly, concerned tone, looked at Park and said, “So she killed herself, did she? Do you blame her?” Park laid his napkin on his uneaten plate and got up from the table. The rest of the kids started talking among each other and Wren crawled into my lap. Harrison came down, opened my wine and filled the glass up with as much wine as the glass would hold. I smiled at him and sunk back in my chair. Wren took my chin and turned my face to hers, Wren speak for ‘listen to only me’. “Momma, how did she kill herself?” Everyone got quiet and looked to me for an answer. I shook my head “Little kittens don’t need to know such ugly stories.” Macon and her brothers stood up and came to me, one by one,  kissing the top of my head saying, “I love you, Momma.” Brick finished eating and pushed back in his chair. “Well, if Park is going home for the funeral, I’ll have to find some temporary help. I’m going into town.”

Alone we sat, my little bird and me and I began to think. What the hell? Why? Why not? Fury began to build. I didn’t want to be drug into this soap opera that Webb always managed to be the star of. I hated that Park would be going to him. I resented that he was excepted and I wasn’t. I didn’t resent my Park. Just all the other asshats on my father’s side of the family. Then, my phone rang. Jolting me out of my pity party, “Hello?” “Oh my God, Sis. You have to come. I’ve been here for twenty four hours and I need all the vodka Meridian has. Webb is drunker than a skunk and right now he is making a profile on Match.com. I can’t do this without you. Come for me, not him. I need you.” My brother, Dax, pleading for the one thing in the world that would make me insane right now. I wouldn’t deny him. I never could. He was my best friend. I patted Wren on the behind and scooted her into the house. Harrison was cleaning up the half eaten meal. “Take all the leftovers home with you. You and Juniper can eat for three days on that.” He nodded and started for the house, pushing his little cart he hauled all of my demands on. The mosquitoes were coming out, the lightening bugs were already sparking the night. The breeze was blowing and I still had a full glass of wine. Here was a good place to stay a bit. The chaos I could hear emanating from inside the house seemed too much for me right then. The hot, sticky night seemed much more comforting.

When the mosquitoes came out full force, I went inside. I had an early morning. Park and I would both be traveling so I had a lot to organize. The whole thing made me want my mom.

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