Cross Roads

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Chapter Thirteen: Gonna

There are several things on my bucket list. One of which I am doing right . . . about . . . now – must remember to check it off so I can keep track – as I eat vanilla pudding from a mayo jug. Another is to go into a random store, ask the year, and whatever their reply is I will then scream ‘YES! It WORKED!’ There are dozens of other insane things that I must wait to do for when I am old and wrinkled, such as having races through Target on the motorized shopping carts with my other ancient-ized friends.

My point is that I want to enjoy my life, however long or short it may be. And the only way I know how to get a laugh is by being insane and crazy and confusing the rest of the world. When I go, I want to go laugh myself into a heart attack.

Dearest Grandmother, however, is one of the people whose wish is to die with a permanent scowl on her face. I’m pretty sure that the first ten things on her list, if she even has one, is to make my life miserable.

Belittle Spencer.

Call Spencer stupid.

Show Spencer how disgusting she is – okay, I don’t entirely understand that one because I DO shower on a semi-regular basis.

Let Spencer know she will never amount to anything in life.

Spencer is a stain to the family, and must be bleached from existence; therefore, next time be sure to pack a gallon of pre-mixed bleach to prepare for such a time as she is sighted.

On and on and on.

The woman is like a broken record.

She is also a very good actress – perhaps this is where I get it from. She starts off as so nice and sweet, exactly what one would expect from a doting grandmother, and then her true colors show.

Like now.

When she arrives for the Memorial Day picnic that my parents are hosting, I try to avoid her like the plague. I mingle with my cousins, all of whom I get along with at least semi well. I make them laugh, perform the duties of the hosts’ daughter, all the while keeping one eye on the self-named matriarch of the Goode family. The second she starts coming towards me I am going the other way. We literally travel in circles just so I don’t have to speak with her.

That, however, does not prevent her from making snide comments behind my back – or to my front, depending on how our little game is going.

She knows I can hear her, but just to be sure I am paying attention she raises her voice so the rest of the family can as well. There is no love lost between us.

“What year are you in, sweetie?” she asks my cousin, Jodie, who we all know is just a freshman.

“Freshman, Grandma,” she answers sweetly, humoring the lady. It makes me sick just to eavesdrop on.

“Oh, yes, I remember. Just make sure you stay in school. We don’t need another drop-out in the family.”

There it is. Right on schedule. Now she’s going to delve into the subject since it’s been brought up, lecturing all those who will lend an ear about my many, many faults. She will caution the younger grandchildren about the folly of following in my footsteps, scaring them into staying in school and getting the best grades that they can – something I always failed to succeed at. She will also try to convince the rest of my family to my familial pariah, nothing new and yet still so vaguely upsetting.

I roll my eyes, walking away from everybody, taking a seat beside the one person who I know loves me beyond any shadow of a doubt.

“Hey, Gappy,” I say to my grandpa.

The older man smiles at me warmly, and he slings an arm across my shoulders. “How’s it going, Kid?”

My eyes roll again, this time at the nickname. “You know,” I say, “the usual, Gappy.”

He laughs, tugging me closer until my head is resting on his shoulder. “Don’t listen to your grandma. She was born that way.”

“So you’ve told me,” I grumble.

“Few have ever been able to see past that harsh exterior of hers,” he says with an exaggerated sigh, patting my hair and laughing when a few strands get caught in his beard.

I pull back my hair with a rubber band and throw it over the back of the bench. “Like you.”

He laughs again and then shakes his head. “Nope. That woman is an ill-tempered old hag who doesn’t have a nice bone in her body.”

My jaw drops – even though this isn’t the first time my grandpa has said such things about his wife of fifty-plus years. “And yet you’re still married to her?” It’s a running gag between us, complaining about my grandma, and then him playing the part of the loyal husband before the act drops and we’re back to poking fun at her absurdities.

“Mostly for her inheritance,” he jokes, and I know him to be only joking. I know, for reasons beyond my comprehension, he still loves his wife . . . or at least still tolerates her. “That’s just the way she is, Spencer. Stuck in her old ways. Southern Belle and all that. Did you know that your own parents have gotten into arguments with her?”

No, I hadn’t. And I highly doubt they could have been about me.

He gives me a slow, understanding smile. “It was about your mom working. Lorelei hated that your mother continued with her career even after she was married to your father; thought that a woman’s place was in the home and not out making money. Your grandmother does not like change, Kid. She actually hates it. And you, Spencer, are a small package of too much change.”

I gape like a fish out of water. “Did you just call me small?”

He guffaws. “I love you, Kid,” he tells me.

“I know you do,” I agree. “Sometimes I think you’re the only one.”

He kisses my forehead. “You know your parents do, too. They just . . . they don’t understand sometimes.”

“Try never,” I grumble. “They’ve never understood, and they never will because they don’t want to. It doesn’t matter what I do or what I am trying to do. It’s never good enough and . . .” I sigh. “I’d ask if I can move in with you but your wife doesn’t like me at all so that idea’s out.”

My grandpa shakes his head, smiles, and kisses my forehead for a second time. “Want to tell me about that lovely shiner you’ve got?” he asks with a pointed look at the fading, yellowing bruise on my cheek.

I shrug, not interested in talking about The Incident, as I have taken to referring to it, with my grandma nearby. The woman has ears like a bat, especially tuned into the frequency of Spencer Screwing Up. She has a sixth sense or . . . or her spide-y senses are tingling or whatever. The second that word gets out about the reason behind the bruise – which no one aside from Dog-Tags-slash-Noah knows about; maybe Brandon has guessed, or he and Anabelle have brainstormed – she will be there to berate and broadcast to the rest of the family. I will be looked down upon even more than I already am.

No, I am not merely talking about my being vertically challenged.

My grandpa understands and lets it go. “Well, whenever you’re ready just call. We can go out for ice cream like old times and Lorelei won’t have a clue,” he teases. “Sound good, Kid?”

I smile and nod. “As long as you’re paying I’m all for it.”

“Always were a bit of a mooch,” he mutters with the intent for me to hear.

“Excuse me?” I demand, pretending to be offended. “I’m a mooch? You’re the one who has a freezer full of pies from McDonald’s. Or did you happen to forget about that? What about the Frappés I bring you? If anyone’s the mooch it’s you . . . and I have learned simply by watching my elders.”

“Are you blaming me for your thieving ways?” he returns.

“Of course not! That would imply that I am a thief.”

We break off into laughter and spend the next hour people-watching – well, to be correct, we are actually Lorelei watching. My grandma makes her rounds, greeting each family member warmly, with hugs and kisses, and encouraging them to pursue their dreams – okay, I have no clue what she says to aunts and uncles and cousins; reading her lips is not that important to me. All I care about is making sure she stays at least twelve feet away from me at all times. When she starts to get a little too close for comfort, my grandpa and I get up from the bench we had previously claimed, cross the yard and sit with my cousins and Anabelle in the grass. Belle makes room for me beside her, tossing a glance over her shoulder before shaking her head and nudging my shoulder. She says nothing about what I am doing, and just draws me and our grandpa into the conversation.

Dunch – as I have christened our late lunch but early dinner – consists of hamburgers, deviled eggs, potato salad, potato chips, and whatever else the family has brought for the picnic. There is an unhealthy abundance of delicious food and I make good use of it. I pile my plate high, make my way back to my spot on the grass, all while snagging a third pickle as I pass. With pickle in mouth I sit down. My sister soon joins me, and the rest of our cousins follow.

“Dude, you sneaking food for your own private army?”

I know immediately that he is talking to me.

“You only wish you could eat as much as me,” I throw back.

He laughs as he drops down next to me, his arrival unsettling my plate and nearly toppling my tower of food. “Spencer, I can out-eat you any day.”

“Wanna bet on that, Faolan?” I ask, smug when I get a glare from my slightly older cousin. “Aww, are you still sore about your name? Over two decades and you still haven’t gotten over it? Poor, poor, Faolan.”

“Put your food where your mouth is,” he tells me, letting the over-use of his first name slide. “We’ll see who can finish their plate first. You up for it? Or are you too chicken, Spencer? You worried you’re going to lose?”

I snort. “If anyone’s going to lose, it’s going to be you, Wolf,” I declare, picking up my hamburger and preparing for the food war of the year. I glance over to my cousin, watching as Wolf – a guy who would prefer to go by the meaning of his name than by his actual name – lifts his own burger. “On your mark—”

“Ah, ah, ah!” my sister interrupts. “You can’t give your own countdown!”

I roll my eyes. “Fine. Then you countdown.” I give her a look, shifting in my seat to get more comfortable and prepared for what is to come next.

“Okay. On your mark . . . get set . . . EAT!”

I stuff my burger into my mouth, ketchup spewing out over my fingers and dripping down to the rest of my food. Beside me, Wolf’s does the same, and the rest of our circle of cousins watches in disgust. The vocalization of horror only spurs me on and I shove as much of my hamburger into my mouth. I chew loudly and widely, swallowing bit by bit until I am done. Then I start in on the rest of my plate, forking potato salad onto my tongue, practically swallowing without pausing to even chomp. Wolf is keeping up with me – okay, maybe I am keeping up with him, and just barely, but that is neither here-nor-there – popping three deviled eggs, one after the other, into his mouth. I know he swallows them whole when he has to pause to take a drink, giving a full body shake as they travel slowly down his esophagus.

It takes three minutes for us to finish, both of us swallowing our last bite at the same time.

“And it is a TIE!” Anabelle declares as she shoves a handful of napkins into my face. “You’re so gross, Spencer. You too, Wolf,” she tells us even as she laughs. “You’re losing your touch, Wolf. Usually you finish long before her.”

He groans, tipping forward and sprawling onto his stomach. “I was also hungrier this time so I had more food on my plate.”

I cannot argue that fact since he had had more food than me. All I care about is that this little war ended in a draw for the first time in my life. Forget the fact that I just might be sick, and the reappearance of all that food will be ten times worse than watching it go down. All that matters is I almost won.

“I think I might be sick,” Wolf moans pathetically.

“Me too,” I agree, falling backwards. I swing my legs up to rest very comfortably – at least for me – in the center of his shoulder-blades.

“Get off!” He makes a flimsy attempt at knocking me off before falling back to the grass.

I remain exactly where I was, perfectly content with my feet slightly elevated. “Lemme ‘lone.”

From across the yard one of the aunts yells “Dessert’s on the table!”

Wolf and I share a look. We think the same thing, our overly stuffed stomachs suddenly partway empty. Shoving at each other in our haste and need to be first, we jump to our feet and sprint to the porch where all the food is set up.

“Ooh! I do!” I cry excitedly, the feeling of needing to puke completely forgotten.

“I want it more!” Wolf says, pushing me.

I stumble in the wrong direction, but quickly get myself back onto course. “Hey! No cheating! Be nice to me. I’m your little cousin.”

He laughs. “In more ways than one.”

“Not funny, Faolan!”

He whirls on me, the picture of terrifying fury, but which only makes me want to laugh in his face. It’s kind of hard to be scared of a guy you grew up with. We used to take baths together for crying out loud – and the only way we even realized this was when his mom brought out his baby book and started gushing about what an ‘Adorable boy my baby was and oh, look at that, it seems Spencer tried to drown you in the bath tub’. “Stop calling me that.”

We arrive at the beginning of the dessert line, grabbing plates and filling them with pudding and cupcakes.

“Be nice to me or I’ll put water into your gas tank,” I say with a disturbing smile that has been known to strike fear into the hearts of the grizzliest of men.

Okay, maybe my imagination has run a little wild, but work with me, here.

He turns wide and angry eyes on me. “I taught you that! You can’t use my own trick against me! That’s totally not fair!” he hisses, looking around to make sure no one has heard the turn our argument has taken. “And not so loud. If my mom found out I shared it with you I’m dead.”

“Don’t be so exaggerative.”

“I’m not exaggerating,” he snaps back.

I pat his arm. “Don’t worry, Wolfie.” He glares again but I am unaffected. This boy wouldn’t hurt a fly. “No one will ever know it was you who taught me the finer points of vandalizing cars. The secret is safe with me.”

We go back to the grass, chat some more with the cousins, and then a very physical game of football begins. The uncles meander over after a time, and then bones start cracking. Anabelle and the other girly wimps bow out of the game after that, leaving me the sole female, as well as the smallest, in the grass. I refuse to give into the beefy men of the family, choosing instead to risk life and limb in the pursuit of a touchdown.

It’s not until, during one of my impressive interceptions, that someone flies into me and sends me sprawling into the dirt.

The air gets knocked out of my lungs and I am left choking on grass as my tackler cackles from above.

“Wolf, you jerk!” I croak.

I take back my earlier statement. He wouldn’t hurt a fly, but he would definitely hurt his cousin.

So that leaves me with nothing left to do . . . aside from kicking him in the balls.

He topples down with a pathetic gasp and cry. “You kicked me,” he squeaks as the rest of the male cousins and uncles laugh. “You really kicked me.”

I get offered a hand up and then limp off to the porch, leaving Wolf to get made fun of – there is obviously no camaraderie among males, and no need to be sympathetic to this plight. Or they know that he deserved it for hitting me so hard. I’m pretty sure that my ribs are broken. . . Fine. Maybe I just had the wind knocked out of me. I can dream, can’t I?

“You doing okay, Kid?” my grandpa asks me as I walk past him on my way into the house.

“Yep, just peachy,” I say with a smile, going inside. Suddenly I have the urge to pee, whether it’s from having my bladder squished or simply the excitement is anyone’s guess. I seriously have to go and nothing will stop me. I hurry inside and to the bathroom, taking care of my business, washing a smudge of mud from my mouth, and then start back to the action.

I don’t make it any further than the living room.

“She’s going nowhere in her life. She’s going to end up one of those lower class people who can’t hold a job and is going to depend on unemployment checks.”

That is my grandma.

The ‘She’ that is being spoken of is most definitely me.

“Why are you allowing for her to go about life without a care in the world? Your daughter needs to learn responsibility, and by allowing her to quit school and keep working that pathetic job you are letting her to be lazy.”

Lazy? Me? Perish the thought!

“I have tried to keep my piece about this, Jed, but I can’t allow for this anymore. She is doing nothing productive with herself. I want her back in school so that she can have a future outside of living under your roof forever. It’s laughable that she thinks a career in fast food will enable her to survive in this world. She won’t be able to pay for bills or afford her own place. She will always be depending on the two of you to take care of her, and she will never learn to care for herself if you don’t push her.”

I can’t stand for it anymore. I march through the living room and into the kitchen where my parents and dear, dear Grandma are having a discussion about me at the counter. They all look up when I enter, but none have the common sense to look at least a little apologetic for talking about me behind my back.

“For your information, Grandma,” I snap, resisting the urge – but just barely – to keep my finger from poking in her face, “I have been paying for stuff. I pay for my jeep, I pay for my insurance. I pay for my phone bill and groceries and gas and I still have money left over. I know McDonald’s is a dead-end job, but at least it’s a job.”

“You think you could survive on your own?” my grandma counters. “You think working there is going to give you a future? Spencer, I knew you were dense and naïve, but I never took you for stupid. You need to learn to stand on your own feet and not rely on others to care for you. You are throwing your life away. You’ll never have a future.”

“Excuse me?” I demand, very, very offended by what has just spewed out of her mouth.

“And your attitude! No one is going to want to marry you with an attitude like that! Sarcasm is not a good quality to be found in women, especially those who are looking to settle down and start a family.”

“I’m not looking for get married and start a family.”

“There’s another thing! You are depending on your parents to care for you for the rest of your life. You need to grow up and accept responsibility for yourself! You need to go back to school so you can get a proper job. You need to start behaving like that of a proper lady if you ever want to find a husband because, I can assure you that, right now, no one is going to want to deal with you; especially when your own family is getting sick of your immaturity.”

For the first time in, probably ever, I am speechless. I mean, I knew she hated me and I knew that the aunts and uncles thought lesser of me for dropping out of college, but I never knew that they hated me this much. Never mind that my grandma has just told me I will die old and alone and with no one to care about me. Did they all hate me that much?

I look to my parents, hoping to find something; hoping to hear something in my defense.

I should’ve known the likelihood of that happening to be at absolute zero.

“She’s right, Spencer,” my dad says with a sigh. “You need to grow up.”

My mom sits there, stoically silent but nodding along with her husband.

“Seriously?” I ask.

“You need to go back to school. We’ve let your little hiatus go on for long enough. You’re enrolling in the fall semester. You’re majoring in business. You’re interning with your mother. Maybe then you’ll learn something useful. It’s time for you to take responsibility for yourself and stop floating through life.”

Now, that hurts too.

“You think I’m just floating? You think I’m not doing anything with my life?”

“Going around and vandalizing people’s cars is not what we mean,” my mom snaps. “There are consequences for your actions, and this is the consequence for that.”

“What are you talking about? I know I made a mistake, and I took care of it.”

“See, I don’t believe you have. There has been nothing done about it. I doubt you even went to the Knightlys’ and reported yourself.”

“I did go! I spoke with Adrian! He said not to worry about it!”

My parents stare blankly at me. My grandpa sits with a glare that has permanently marred her face.

“A hundred thousand dollars in damage and he told you not to worry about it,” my dad deadpans.

Now that it is said out loud it does seem more than farfetched.

“I know, but that’s what he said. A hundred thousand dollars is like pocket change to them! But I did go and I did take care of it. What, did you want me to get arrested? Did you want me to be in debt for the rest of my life? Is that it? You just want everything to fall apart for me, don’t you?”

“Spencer, apologize this instant!” my grandma cries. “They are your parents and you should show them respect!”

Respect is something to be earned, and right now none of them have mine.

“I’m not dealing with this anymore. Go back to talking about me like I’m not here. See if I care. You hate me anyways so why bother pretending like you don’t.” I spin around and start back to the front door, fully intent on rejoining the football game just so I can punch something and get away with it.

“You either go back to school, Spencer, or you can move out!” my dad calls after me.

That stops me mid-step, one foot poised off the floor. “What?”

“You heard me. I’m putting my foot down. You either go back to school or you move out. You say you can provide for yourself, then do it. If not you’re going to obey by my rules. You’re quitting McDonald’s. You’re going to work with your mother. You’re going back to school and you’re getting your life straightened out.”

This ultimatum is not what I had ever expected.

They are kicking me out.

They are black mailing me into going back to school, which is something I don’t want to do.

I am stuck between a rock and a very, very, very hard place.

My decision is easy. I don’t bother arguing; I don’t bother begging. I go upstairs. I go to my room and fill my backpack up with clothes, my money, my hairbrush and a couple other toiletries. It barely ties shut. I will have to make a return trip for the rest of my belongings – if I’m even allowed to do that.

I return to the kitchen, stopping any further complaints about me and my unorthodox ways.

“Here,” I say, handing over a key.

“What’s this?” my mom asks.

“The key to the house. I guess I won’t be needing it anymore.”

The meaning takes a second for it to catch on, but once it does I am prepared to run. My mom looks defeated; like someone has just run over her oh so important briefcase. My dad, on the other hand, looks absolutely livid. He looks like someone has just told him he was wrong – and my dad hates to be wrong.

I start, once again, for the front door.

“If you walk out that door don’t bother coming back!” my dad hisses, giving me one last ultimatum as he and my mom and my grandma follow after me.

I walk out the door.
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