I decided to attempt the impossible first.
Perhaps if I was friendly with Silver or I invited her to something the tension in the household might settle down.
“Hi Silver… how are you doing today?”
“Whaddya want?” she whined jerking her headphones out of her ears as if my intrusion on her much-too-loud teenage wanna-be-pop-star music was an awful inconvenience.
“Well… I was wanting to know if you wanted to go to a BBQ with me later…” I asked, trying to avoid timidity in my tone.
“BBQ?” she frowned. “Ugh! Do you think I want sweet honey BBQ on these manicured nails? What are you deluded or somethin’?” She shoved one earbud back in.
I recalled the neighborhood grill-a-thon she had me organize when I first came to town. I guess now I knew why.
“Okay… well… I just thought…” I tried to sound cheerful.
“What? You’re ruminating the song for me?” Silver snipped.
“Ruminating?” I quirked a brow, and smirked. “You mean ruined?”
“Bite me,” she snapped, throwing her Portably Portable music player onto the deck chair and swishing past me with her nose in the air.
Just as I thought… impossible. Perhaps I’d go ruminate on a way to really ruin her music… eh… her nails… eh… maybe her whole head, I thought darkly.
Silver splashed into the pool and I was half-tempted to toss the Portably Portable player into the water with her, but decided I wouldn’t stoop to her level.
I walked in the house and found Shark and Lolly doing homework at the dining room table. Shocking too since Shark didn’t typically do his own homework.
“Hiya guys,” I said, putting a little pep into my voice.
“Do you want something?” Shark gave me the evil eye, and Lolly just glanced up at me and looked back to her math homework.
“Well actually I do,” I sat down across from them and rested my arms on the table. “Do you like BBQ?”
“Will there be girls there?” Shark immediately asked.
“I didn’t even say what it was yet,” I replied.
“But if there are hot girls there, I wanna go,” Shark said.
“You’d go if there were troll girls,” Lolly teased, twirling her hair around her pencil.
Shark reached over and snapped the pencil in half. “Like you? Because you’re one ugly tro…”
“Guys!” I interceded before things really got ugly. “There’s a BBQ party down at the beach tomorrow afternoon. My new friend, Gala…”
“You have friends?” Shark eyed me suspiciously.
“Shut up,” I replied. “My new friend, Gala is throwing the party and she invited us to go.”
“If there are girls or trolls there, Shark will be there,” Lolly said.
“Hey I can answer for myself,” Shark retorted.
“Seriously? You can’t even do your own compositions for class. I’m surprised you can string six words together and call it a sentence.”
“Well I’m surprised your face hasn’t frozen that way from how hard you stare at your chemistry homework.”
“Wow! Just wow! That’s the best you can come up with.”
“So you’ll go?” I interjected, and then quickly answered for them. “Great. Be ready at 5.”
Five o’clock rolled around and of course, Lolly was late. She was upstairs fixing her hair. Shark, on the other hand, arrived promptly in the entryway, shirtless, but ready. When Lolly finally appeared, she and Shark argued for five minutes about Shark’s shirtlessness and how it wasn’t “decent” to appear in public without a shirt. He replied something along the lines of “how else would he get laid?” and Lolly rolled her eyes, gagged, and covered her ears. She nearly refused to come. I finally diffused the situation by reminding Lolly that he couldn’t “engage in such activities” with me around supervising and that Shark could go shirtless if he so desired. I figured no one would want to hang out with the whiny brat anyhow.
While Lolly and I laid out in the sun on the grass with Gala and a few of her other friends, Shark found his own spot on the beach. When I sat down to enjoy some grilled hot dogs with Lolly, I figured out why he chose the spot.
He seemed incredibly interested in staring at another teen girl’s backside. She was sunning herself on the beach, fully immersed in a book, unaware of Shark’s oogling. I didn’t know what to do about it since I wasn’t his mom or technically even his aunt so I figured it was harmless.
Turns out I was wrong about someone taking interest in him. He and the girl… whom Lolly said was Chase Bayless, a freshman… spent quite a long time talking in the water.
It was nearly nine o’clock when the party was dwindling down. I rolled up my beach towel and threw on my athletic top and shorts over my bikini. I called Shark who reluctantly came over after about five minutes. He seemed pissed.
“I’m sorry we had to go,” I said, trying to sound cheerful again. “But it’s getting late and I’d hate to get you two in trouble if we’re out past curfew.”
“Yeah thanks,” Lolly said, popping headphones in as she climbed in the front seat.
Shark sullenly climbed into the back of the taxi with me.
“What’s wrong, Shark?” I asked.
“Chase,” he grunted.
“What about her? You seemed like you were having a good time,” I replied.
“I’m going to kill him,” he said, under his breath.
“Who? Kill who?” I perked up, suddenly feeling a flurry of worry.
“That no-good bastard boyfriend of hers,” he balled his fists on the seat.
“Uh… okay… why?” I prompted.
“Because he beat her up… didn’t you see her face?” Shark howled. “She had bruises and fresh cuts on her lip, cheek, and eye.”
“Oh wow,” was all I could think to say.
I didn’t know what to say. Teenage relational abuse really wasn’t my department. I’d had a boyfriend… not really… just a guy I went on a date with once, grab my arm roughly after I wouldn’t kiss him but that was about it. My dad had taken care of it for me. I decided there was really only one person I could go to discuss it.
“Promise me you won’t do anything stupid?” I said.
Shark grunted. Whether it was a reply, I decided to take it and hope for the best.
The following evening, I found Marigold in the dining room. She had made some sort of clear beverages in breakfast glasses instead of her usually whiskey.
“Want Silk Panties?” she glanced up and grinned at me.
“Excuse me?” I took a step back in surprise, unsure of what the crazy old coot meant.
“Don’tcha worry, love,” she gave a husky laugh. “I’m not being fresh or nothin’ with ya. It’s a drink… a mixed drink… peach schnapps and vodka.”
“Oh…” I replied. “Okay…”
Marigold downed her beverage and made an “ahhhh” sound. “Nothing feels better in your stomach than edible silk panties…”
I grimaced at the weird image.
“Uh Marigold… I have a question to ask you…”
“Shoot darlin’. Unless you’re really shooting and then I need to get my Colt 45 and I probably can’t shoot ya straight or nothin’ cuz I’ve had three of these panties drinks.”
“Okay… umm… what are your thoughts about handling a delicate situation like… say… uh… abuse between a boyfriend and girlfriend?”
Marigold paled a little. I suppose I should’ve picked a different person to talk to given her “personal experience” with relational abuse.
“Is Bill smackin’ you around?” she asked, her voice getting quieter.
“Oh no! No!” I shook my head. “I mean… it’s hearsay… a friend of Shark’s… but let’s just say I overheard him making threats…”
“My grandson is beating some girl up?” Marigold seemed to ponder this for a moment. “Didn’t think the punk had it in ’em.”
“No, no, no,” I corrected. “He has a… uh… friend… who is in a potentially abusive relationship… with another boy…”
“Oh I see,” Marigold responded. “Well, I’d ask his father.”
“Who? This boy’s father?”
“No. Shark’s dad. Dennis.”
“Ask me what?”
Dennis had materialized, shirtless just like his son, behind Marigold.
“Oh… uh… hi…” I greeted him, my cheeks suddenly feeling hot.
I tried not to stare at the muscular, leaner younger brother of my current boyfriend.Still, it was hard to ignore the hulking arms and tight abs. I found my eyes drifting downward, and my mind wishing he’d turn around so I could… I quickly snapped my eyes back up. I couldn’t be ogling my future brother-in-law in front of his mother.
“I see what you’re doing?” Marigold said, dropping her sunglasses down on her nose.
I froze, feeling like a kid caught with her hand in the cookie jar. My face flushed several shades of red. Dennis leaned down and mixed a few liquids together.
“You wanna see all my pictures in my wallet,” Marigold giggled, and I breathed an internal sigh of relief.
Her response was odd but thank the Maker she hadn’t caught on to what my eyes had really been doing.
“See look at all these pictures,” Marigold pulled out her wallet and let the flap fall down so I could see her many photographs. “There’s Shark when he was a baby and Lolly when she first was learning to walk and this is Dennis and his precious Silver on their wedding day.”
“Ma! Seriously?” Dennis interrupted. “You need to get some sleep and quit drinkin’ so much.”
“Aw whatever Denny, spoiling my fun,” Marigold pouted as she folded her photos back up and started out of the room. “I was enjoying… slowing… stowing… showing… Rachel here my collect…” she hiccuped. “…tion…”
“Sorry for that,” Dennis apologized as soon as Marigold had left the room.
We heard a loud thump on the stairs and Marigold humming some strange tune as she stomped up to the second level.
“Too many thumps on the head,” he said, beneath his breath, and then clenched his teeth as if he hadn’t meant to say the words aloud.
I decided not to engage that topic. Everyone in the household knew Max smacked his wife around. Dennis was the only one who griped about it on occasion, but he still hadn’t been home enough to intercede. The abuse probably explained her absent-mindedness and odd quirks.
“I think she’s had one too many drinks…” he said loudly, trying to cover up what he whispered before.
“Silk panties,” I smirked.
“Uh…” he coughed. “Wha?”
I decided not to repeat myself, wishing I could take it back. I couldn’t believe I mentioned underwear… even in the form of a drink… to this… attractive sibling of Bill’s.
“Uh… what were you going to tell me?” he asked, stepping a little closer.
The room suddenly felt much hotter, my heavy coat clinging to my dress and my dress clinging to my skin. The Southern humidity was much too high this time of year to be wearing my coat but I had taken it to work like an idiot this morning since I arrived at the office around 5AM. I stared past Dennis’ shoulder, trying not to stare at his tattooed arms or chest. I wondered where else he had tattoos.
“Hello? Rachel? Are you okay?”
Dennis’ deep Southern drawl drew me back to the present.
“Uh yes…” I stammered. “I… uh… went out with your kids… teens… Shark and Lolly… the other day… a friend… invited us to a barbecue. Actually she invited me… and said I could bring along other… uh… Rackets…”
Are my palms sweating?
“And uh…” Dennis was looking at me like he was wondering when I’d make my point. “Um… Shark… he told me this girl… uh… Chase… Bayless… was her name.”
Dennis narrowed his eyes.
“She was getting smacked around by her boyfriend… I think…”
Dennis’ eyes widened.
“Shark seemed pretty upset and the girl did have bruises and cuts on her face,” I added.
“The Bayless girl you said?” Dennis repeated, and I nodded and swallowed hard. He had a nice jawline. “Silver told me about her. She tried to keep Shark from getting interested in the girl. Said she didn’t come from money and whatnot so he needed to pick someone with higher class.”
I frowned, wondering what he meant by his remark. He seemed to ponder for a few moments.
“You said she had cuts on her faces? Chase? Bayless?”
I nodded again.
He leaned in close, so close I could feel his hot breath on my face, smelling lightly of sweet root beer with hints of alcohol. The tension in the air was so thick I don’t think I could’ve sliced it with a machete.
“I’ll take care of it.”
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