• • •
“What in holy hell were you thinkin’?”
The six of us sit at the kitchen table, heads down, mouths shut.
“The two of you with a child! You didn’t act this way when you were in goddamn high school!”
It’s best to just let him get it all out. The more you talk, the longer he’ll yell.
“My son, the lawyer, tearin’ up my winter grass like a fool, with my other son—the drug dealer—helping him along!” he hollers, his cheeks bright and rosy, like a pissed-off Santa Claus.
Carter takes this moment to interject, “It was a bondin’ exercise. I’m a healer, Daddy.”
“You’re an idiot!”
And those are the first words my father speaks directly to my brother in two years. Makes sense.
Carter stands. “You need to relax. Stress is a silent killer. I have some herbs that can help you with that.”
“You can help yourself to my boot up your ass!” my father yells louder.
But Carter is not deterred. He throws his arms around my father’s neck. “I love you, Daddy. I’m so glad we’re talkin’ again.”
For just a moment, my father pats Carter’s back and his eyes go gentle. And I know he’s happy to be talking to my brother again too. Even if it’s just to yell at him.
Then he pushes him away and he’s back to glaring at us. “Every one of you are gonna get up at dawn to reseed my goddamn field, or I’m gonna break some asses!”
“Yes, sir,” JD answers.
“Yes, sir,” Jenny replies.
“Definitely don’t want any asses getting broke,” I agree.
And because she’s a smartass, Sofia adds, “Or cracked.”
I cover my mouth so my father doesn’t start up again. Marshall giggles behind me.
Just as he turns toward the stairs, Mary comes strolling in the back door wearing the same outfit she had on earlier—denim shorts, red top, white denim jacket, blue sneakers. Of course it’s the same outfit—because she hasn’t been home yet to change into anything else.
She screeches to a halt just inside the door, looking at the group of us like a deer in the light of an oncoming tractor trailer. “What’s goin’ on? Did somebody die?”
No. But the night is still young.
“Are you just gettin’ home?” my father asks, his tone turning more threatening with every syllable.
Her face goes blank. A liar’s face—the kind who’s trying to not show any tells that they’re bluffing. “Of course not!” she claims. “My curfew is at midnight, and it’s after midnight. If I was just gettin’ in now . . . that would be wrong.”
My sister is not a good poker player, and she’d make a terrible witness in a court of law. But my father, like so many others when it comes to his youngest, his only girl—is blind. Or he’s just getting too goddamn old to keep up.
“Then where the hell were you?” I ask, tilting my chair back.
She gives me the evil eye for a split second. Then more smoothly she says, “Couldn’t sleep. I . . . got dressed and went for a walk.”
She kisses my father sweetly on his cheek. “You should head up to bed, Daddy. You’re lookin’ kinda flushed.”
He pats her on the top of the head, then goes up the stairs mumbling that we kids will be the death of him yet.
I’m prepared to let it go—shit, I blew through my curfew ten times more often than I made it. But then my baby sister pulls a pitcher of juice out of the refrigerator, and takes off her jacket—revealing half a dozen red clusters of broken blood vessels on her lower neck and chest.
Marshall takes the words out of my mouth. “What in the actual fuck is that?”
Mary almost drops her glass of juice. “What? What’s what?”
Carter, Marshall, and I surround her. “That!” I point to the marks. “Did you get into an altercation with a vacuum cleaner hose?”
She looks down. “Oh.” And lies again—badly. “I scratched myself on a bush.”
Carter inspects her neck more closely. “Those are hickeys, little girl. Fresh ones. Who’s been suckin’ on my baby sister’s neck?”
“I’d rather not say,” she replies, clapping her lips together.
“I don’t give a rat’s ass what you’d rather,” I tell her. “You’re gonna say, and you’re gonna say now.”
Sofia stands up. “Hold on a second.”
I lift my hand. “Just sit back down, Sofia. This is a man thing—you wouldn’t understand.”