Chapter 2: Birthdays and Invitations
“She made me stay here, dad. I wasn’t feverish.”
Mike flipped the sizzling burgers over on the grill, and gave them all a pat with his spatula. “Now, why would your mom --”
“Step -- mom.”
He gave her a perturbed glare. “Why would she want to do that to you, Mel?” He focused his attention back on the wonderous meat beneath his nose. “What would she gain from it?”
Melody flopped into the white plastic patio chair. Her defeated head collapsed into her hands. “She hates me.”
Mike’s miniature potbelly jiggled. “I hardly doubt that.”
Melody’s hands slapped the parts of the chair’s arms that the sun had baked the pigment from. “She works me like a slave, and you don’t even care!”
Her dad doused the burgers in Worchestershire sauce. “Please, hon. It’s your birthday. Can we not go through this again now?”
“I do the cooking.” One of her fingers unfurled. “I do the cleaning.” Another finger went up. “Fold their laundry, the yard work, take out the trash...” She held up her open palm. “Should I continue?”
Mike’s chest deflated as he set the patties on the paper plate. “Look, Melody. I love you and believe you, but--”
“What, dad? But what?”
His leathery left hand went up and brushed the question out of existence. “I’ll talk to her later. Can we at least try to make this a peaceful celebration?” He pulled his only child out of the chair by her hands. “In case you hadn’t noticed, my baby’s turning eleven today.” He twirled her on their brick patio dancefloor.
Mel laughed as he dipped her. “You’re a goober, dad.”
He grinned. “Takes one to know one.”
Mel slugged him in the bicep. Not hard, but with enough force to get her point across.
Her dad toted the platter of restaurant-level patties out to the picnic table under the shade trees. “All right, everybody. Soup’s on!” He sat his masterpieces at the center of the butterfly tablecloth. “No fancy maids ’round here. Get your grub while the gettin’s good.”
Chad made a b-line for the stack of paper plates next to the meat. He snatched one off the top, and went for a plastic fork behind the plates.
“Not quite , sport,” Mike said, winking at Mel. “Birthday girl goes first.”
Chad’s forlorn face spoke volumes. Melody skipped to the front of the forming line, and took the burger and plate from her dad. Down the table she went, filling her plate with picnic favorites.
Angela came stumbling down the enbankment to join the gathering. “H-Hey, e’ryone.” Giggle-snort.
The reek of fermented drink wafted into Mel’s face on the opposite side of the picnic table.
Mike leaned into Angela’s side and grabbed a flabby bicep. “Drinking on her birthday?”
Mel’s father had clearly been pushed past his limits. She attempted to hide her smirk behind her cheeseburger, but Megan had seen it all. Her step-sister’s glare blazed a hole into Mel’s face.
“Oh, relax!” Angela swiped a napkin from her husband’s hand. “You’re shuch a pottypooter!” Another chortle. She took a fork and tried to fish some mini dill pickles from their jar. After a few goofy jabs, she surrendered. She shook a small hummock of chips onto her plate (and her shoes), and flopped onto the bench beside her own daughter.
Megan scoffed. “God, mom.”
“Whuh?” Angela mumbled. “It’s a party, right?”
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