Saturday, March 3, 2012

Sample Sunday: Nothing Else Matters

Chapter 14

At six o'clock sharp Stu and I showed up at the Sullivan house to pick up Amber for dinner. A full hour before we were supposed to be there. I figured I would feed her some line about missing her too much or some garbage like that.

"Scott, what the hell?" Amber asked as she opened the door in a towel with her hair soaking wet. "You're like an hour early."

"Don't you want to see me? I couldn't wait to have dinner with you." Now that much was true. I couldn't wait to see the expression on her face after an evening with the Kincaids. "I just really want you to meet my family," I added.

"Hey, what's up," Stu said with a nod of the head.

Amber looked at him for the first time and nearly jumped out of her skin. Or I guess she nearly jumped out of her towel. Stu's black hair, black clothes, and black lipstick really caught her off guard.

"Oh, this is my little brother, Stu. You've probably seen him around school."

"Goth guy is your brother?"

"I have a nickname?” Stu quipped. “Cool!"

"Yep, he's my brother."

"Is he coming to dinner with us?" Amber was trying hard to hold in the panic.

"No."

"Oh," she sighed.

"You're coming to dinner with us. I thought you could come to our house since you were so nice as to have me over last night."

Amber massaged her temples with one hand while holding up the towel with the other. "I gotta get dressed," she said, swinging the door open so Stu and I could enter.

As soon as we sat on the sofa, little Crystal Sullivan entered the room. She stood at the end of the room for a moment and stared at Stu. I could tell she was trying to make heads or tails of him in her mind. She probably had never seen anything quite like my little brother in her short, sheltered life. After a few moments, she took a few more steps into the room and approached Stu. She stared at him more closely, squinted her eyes and said, "Are you Satan?"

Stu laughed his high-pitched chuckle. The one he does when something is truly funny. Then he stopped suddenly, looked Crystal directly in the eyes and said, "Yes," with an eerie calmness.

Crystal screamed and sprinted out of the living room. Seconds later, Mrs. Sullivan came in holding her daughter.

"Oh, honey, I'm sure he was just kidding. Satan is not sitting in our living room. Scott, did your friend here say he was Satan?"

"Um, well —"

"I'm sorry ma'am. Don't blame my brother. I was just kidding. I'm not Satan."

"See, honey," Mrs. Sullivan reassured her daughter.

"I just worship him," Stu added. I pretended to cough so as to hold in my laughter as Mrs. Sullivan's eyes grew and her expression froze. Then she slowly backed out of the living room without saying another word.

After she left, Stu and I did our secret celebratory handshake. This was going to be easier than I thought.

***

Sam wasn't expecting us to bring a visitor for dinner. It wouldn't have mattered anyway. She wouldn't have changed the menu. Carbs, carbs, carbs. Pasta with no sauce, rolls, lentil beans, rice, steamed vegetables for balance, and bran muffins for dessert. Stu usually managed to smuggle in some Burger King for me, but that night we decided just to ride Sam's Crazy train.

"What's the matter? You don't like my cooking?" Sam asked as she stared at Amber's untouched paper plate of food. We had real plates, but Sam refused to use them, claiming she didn't have time to do dishes. I was excused from doing dishes because, hey, I was Scott. I needed to train. And the last time she had asked or commanded that Stu do dishes, he invited his friends over and used the cups and plates for paintball gun target practice. So real dishes were only used for special guests. Amber apparently wasn't special enough.

"Oh, no your cooking is delicious. I'm ... uh ... I'm just on a diet," Amber lied. "Yeah, I'm on a diet." She smiled politely and pushed her food away.

Sam huffed, and then eyed her up and down. She even dipped her head under the table to get a look at her legs. "You should not be on a diet. You have the worst muscle definition I've ever seen. Well, except on Stuart." Stu glared at her, but bit his tongue. I knew he'd get her back for that remark before the end of the night. "You need to lift some weights and build up your upper body strength." My mother stood and started pulling her hair back into a tight ponytail. I cringed inside knowing where her line of thought was going. "Stand up," she ordered Amber.

"What?" Amber looked at me, then Stu, then back to me. She looked more terrified than a kitten in a room filled with rocking chairs.

"You heard me. Stand up. Let me see what you got."

Amber slowly rose from the table as Sam walked over to the counter separating the kitchen from the dining room and assumed the standard arm wrestling position.

Amber looked at me again, pleading with me with her eyes. She desperately wanted me to get her out of this. I clasped my hands behind my head and leaned back in my chair as I thought about the barrage of questions her father had fired at me the night before. Ah, revenge was sweet.

Sam won within seconds, and then forced her into three more matches. By the time Amber returned to her seat, she was rubbing her shoulder in pain.

"That was a pathetic showing, little girl," Sam said before shoveling pasta into her mouth. "Before you go I'm gonna let you borrow some free weights so you can work on that." Actually, what she said sounded more like gibberish because her mouth was full of food, but I was more than happy to translate for Amber. "I mean, any woman who wants a future with Scott has to at least be able to hold their own against me. Do you know I’ve placed in the top ten of my last six marathons?”

Amber nodded her head and tried to seem impressed.

“I’m poised to win one in Italy next week. I’ve been training meticulously for six months. I only make Scott do one triple five a day. I do three. Does she know what a triple five is?” she asked, pointing to Amber with her elbow. I quickly explained before my mother added, “You should join us some time. You need to work out. I don’t want any weak grandchildren. That reminds me." Sam jumped up and retrieved a small jar from the cupboard. After placing it in front of me, she said, "Go take a piss."

Amber's eyes bulged as I stood from the table, unbuckled my pants, and headed to the bathroom.

On my way back, I caught Stu stuffing his nose in Amber's hair and saying, "Can I borrow your shampoo? I can come by and get it myself. I know where you live." Amber cringed. And before she had time to recover from that I slammed my jar of urine right on the dinner table.

Amber covered her mouth and gagged.

"What's your problem?" Sam asked, taking offense to Amber's reaction. She probably thought Amber was criticizing her cooking again.

"Nothing. I'm fine, Mrs. Kincaid," Amber said after swallowing hard.

"Mrs.? Do you see any ring on this finger?"

"No, I just assumed you were married at some point. Maybe to Scott's father or something." Amber scrunched down, trying to disappear into her chair.

Stu and I exchanged glances. We hoped Sam would ignore the father comment and not go into any details, but we knew our mother. We knew what was about to happen.

"Please, I've never even met Scott's father. I picked him out of a catalogue."

Amber's lips parted, but no words formed. A confused expression befell her face as she turned to stare at me.

"Sperm donor." Sam offered as explanation. I'd dealt with the reality of being a test-tube baby years ago, but it still kind of hurt the way my mother was so willing to bring it up in front of a virtual stranger. "Yep, I searched for three months for the perfect athletic specimen. I even had the clinic ask a few men to come back in and test for their body mass index. Can you believe they don't test for that in the first place?"

I felt heat rising to my neck. I knew Sam was insane, but how could she be so cold and callous about her own child's parentage? It was like she didn't care that she had practically turned me into a science experiment.

Stu must have sensed my discomfort because he decided to turn the tables. "At least your father has credentials, Scott. I'm the product of Sam's drunken one night stand after she lost yet another race."

"Stuart!" my mother yelled, anger rising.

"What? Am I lying? Who was it that beat you that time, Sam? Was it one of those genetically enhanced Kenyans?" Stu waved his hands in the air as if he was talking about the boogieman.

"Don't you need to go find a pretty little dress to match your lipstick or something?"

"Yeah, I'll get right on that after I write you a love song. I think I'll call it 'Son of Sam.' It'll be about how my mother turned me into a serial killer."

"Go to your room!" she yelled, slamming her fist into the table.

"Gladly!" Stu pushed away from the table, and then bolted upstairs.

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