Cross Roads

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Chapter Six: Love

“You want me to WHAT?”

Spit flies and I recoil beneath the fury that is my older sister. One would think, after such a huge favor I did for her, that she would be grateful; kissing my feet and bowing down before my almighty awesomeness.

One would think.

But no, I don’t even get a thank you. I don’t even get told what an incredible sister I am – lucky for her I already know.

No, instead I get screamed at and spat upon. This is the last time I do favors for anyone. Ever again. Favors always come back to bite me in the ass, anyways.

“Please, Anabelle. Let us use our inside voices,” I say calmly, wiping the saliva from my eyelid.

“We’re not even inside!” she screams.

I blink. Oh yeah. “So?” I ask from where I am sitting on the hood of my Jeep. Anabelle is pacing in the driveway across from me, visibly upset and hyperventilating. I consider telling her to calm down, but watching her panic is far too amusing for such a thing. My usually so put-together sister is now falling apart at the seams right in front of me – again. Who needs reality TV when I can just do this on a daily basis?

Does one say that I am cruel?

That is merely a matter of opinion.

I like to think that I find entertainment in the little things in life . . . that I seemingly cause. I guess Grandma was right about me being a sadist. Kudos to the woman who has hated me since I came out of my mother’s womb screaming my little lungs out – infant me must’ve had some foresight.

“Anyways, Belle, it’s not that bad. It’s just one, harmless little outing.”

“With some random guy I don’t even know!”

“But I know him and I say he’s cool.”

She gives me a look, clearly not buying it. “Spencer, you work at McDonald’s. The people you associate with are high school drop outs and drug dealers. I highly doubt your boss is any better.”

I frown, never one to take a person – even if I am related to them – putting down my place of employment. Only I can do that. It is my God given right as an underpaid, underappreciated employee of a fast food joint that I believe is the cause for all obesity in Americans.

That and video games.

“Only a couple dropped out of high school, and no one sells drugs. Goodness, Anabelle, we are a family restaurant. They would never accept an application for a drug dealer. Everyone is a model citizen. Even my boss,” I retort, crossing my arms and hefting my chin high. “There is no need to be a stuck-up meanie.”

She gasps, offended. “I am not being stuck-up!”

“Yeah, you are. I had to convince him to go along with my plan.”

She pouts and folds her arms. “What I don’t understand is why you would even have this horrible idea.”

I wave a hand. “That’s easy. I ran into your stupid ex and I had to come up with something so the douche wouldn’t be all smug and crap. So I said you’d found somebody a hundred times better, and were going out on a date the following week. Well, guess what, today is the following week! Your special date will be here to pick you up in an hour. Go get dressed, Belle. Your future awaits you!” I cry with all the fervor that comes from my days of high school theatre – as in none. I merely like to be dramatic in my exclamations.

“Spencer, sometimes I wonder if you’re on the correct career path,” my sister sighs, dragging a hand through her messy hair. “You could probably make it big on Broadway, or maybe even in Hollywood. You exaggerate too much.”

“That’s because I get a kick out of it,” I deadpan. “But seriously, go get ready. Wear jeans and a nice shirt or something. Don’t dress over the top. He’s probably going to take you to someplace like Applebee’s. I don’t know. We were talking this week and I kept suggesting Arby’s and Burger King. He did not approve and told me he would figure it out.” I frown at the memory. “But seriously, Belle, be nice. He’s helping both of us out. And he’s a nice guy.”

She sighs and goes into the house, leaving me outside by myself.

Just how I like it.

I lay back and stare up at the sky, drifting. Maybe I could take a nap . . . ?

A horn blares not even a dozen feet from me and that thought is thrown into the trash of my mind. I jolt upright and nearly topple from my vehicle and to the stone driveway.

“Spencer! How many times do I have to tell you not to sit on the hood! You’re going to bend the fiberglass!”

Ah. Dear, sweet, Dad. How long has it been since we’ve had a civil conversation? Days, weeks, months? It feels like forever.

“And how many times must I reply with I am too small to do any damage?” I yell back, but get off. I wait as my dad parks his car before crossing over to him and giving a hug. “How was work today?”

“Long. We’ve got another contract for a house. The would-be owner is an idiot who doesn’t understand anything about structure and framing.” My dad shakes his head. “Sometimes I feel as though I am surrounded by idiots . . . but then I realize something.”

“Oh? What’s that?”

“That I actually am,” he says with a serious face.

I laugh. “Same here.”

“Did you work today?” he asks as we walk towards the front door together.

I nod. “I had to open, but it was slow so I was gone by eleven.”

“You work too much, Spence,” he says with a sigh, opening the door and holding it for me to enter first. I scurry beneath his arm and then wait for him entry. “Why don’t you quit and then go back to school? You could do so much better than a place like that.”

I roll my eyes. Here it goes. Again. The same spiel about how I am wasting my potential. It always goes in one ear and out the other. I will return to college when I feel like it, not when people tell me to because they think I am being lazy. Hello! McDonald’s is not an easy job. I am constantly running around, lifting things, dealing with faulty equipment and cranky customers. Fast food is not a place for the faint of heart.

“Are you even listening to me?”

Nope.”

The glare I get is so worth the inevitable lecture. I never knew my dad’s face could wrinkle that way, even in his advanced age.

“One day, Spencer, you are going to realize that you are going nowhere. You’ll wish you’d gone back to school.”

“I know, I know. And you will be right there next to me with an I-told-you-so. Don’t worry, Father Time, I’ve already got it written on my bucket list.” I spin away, no longer feeling in the mood to have a conversation with my dad. Things start out okay, but then always shift into these rocky waters. I can never please the man; can never make him proud. The only thing I ever did that my dad approved of was rebuilding his old Jeep – with his help, of course. Everything else has just seemed to dig me into a deeper and deeper hole with the man.

Pretty soon I’ll find myself in China, where I will then dye my hair and learn Mandarin so I can fit in with the oriental crowd.

Maybe that is my true calling.

“Spencer, don’t walk away from me,” he says, clearly irritated.

“I’m not walking away from you,” I retort.

“Oh?” he calls. “Then where are you going?”

“I am simply walking towards something else,” I snap. “And that something just so happens to be this beloved flat-screen TV. Do you remember who bought this for you? Do you, Dad? For your birthday last month? Can’t remember? I’ll give you a hint. It was the daughter who is going nowhere in life, but just so happens to be making money in the process. I mean, if you really want me to go back to school then I guess you don’t want your new TV anymore. I might as well take it and sell it on Craig’s List so I can pay for my tuition.”

If my dad was any less mature, then I can so totally picture him stomping his feet in a fury. “That’s not what I’m getting at, Spencer. And watch how you speak to me. I am your father.”

NOOOOOOOO!” I scream, eyes upturned to the ceiling. I sink to my knees and throw out my harms, asking the universe why.

The pause that I receive is hilarious. If only there was some random person who could cough.

Instead, the doorbell rings.

Good enough.

I brighten instantly. “I’ve got it, Darth Vader!” I screech, bounding over the back of the couch, and flying to the door. “Keep those Jedi Mind tricks to yourself.” I cut my dad off as he is reaching for the handle, swinging the door wide and beaming at my boss—

—Who I must say, cleans up very nice. Anabelle, you so owe me for this.

“Brandon!” I cry, throwing out my arms in greeting.

“Spencer!” he mimics, doing the same.

“You’re early.”

He suddenly looks very, very, very nervous. With a hand on the back of his neck he says, “Yeah. I know. I . . . I didn’t know if there would be traffic or anything. . . . There wasn’t, by the way.”

“I figured. Do you want to come inside? Anabelle’s still getting ready, so we’ll have about an hour for you to work on relaxing before she comes down.”

His eyes go wide. “Seriously?”

I shrug. “To heck if I know. C’mon.” I grab the sleeve of his shirt and pull him into my house where I come face to face with my very imposing father. Now all he needs is to be cleaning a shotgun and explain about his hunting days for this reenactment of Belle’s first date to be complete. “Hi, Dad!”

“Spencer,” he growls, forcibly making his voice deep. “Who is this?”

I glance up at Brandon who is visibly starting to sweat. “This? This is no one. He doesn’t want to meet you. He worked very hard on making himself presentable, and a face-off with you will ruin that image. He did not pack an extra diaper, so crapping himself out of fear is completely out of the question.”

Brandon’s face goes red, as does my dad’s.

Score for me. Awkwardness is a success.

“You’re always like this?” Brandon asks. “I only thought it was in public.”

I wave a hand. “Nah, I either tone it down there or blow it sky-high. It depends on my mood. Right now I am pissed. C’mon! I want to show you the TV that I bought with my own money from the job that I currently have!” I make sure to keep eye contact with my dad as I drag Brandon into the living room. “Isn’t it lovely? Some people don’t think so.”

“Spencer.”

“I’ll admit, I could have gotten the sixty inch,” I continue, “but this one seemed to fit in better with the rest of the living room. Wouldn’t you agree, Brandon?”

“. . . Ummm.”

I wave my hand. “Of course you do.” Finally, I turn to my dad who is doing a remarkable interpretation of Papa Smurf – minus the overgrown, white beard. “Would you like to watch TV with us, Dad?”

He is not amused.

I sigh dramatically. “Okay. I guess he really wanted the sixty inch.”

“Spencer—”

I thrust a finger into the air, suddenly chipper and excited – I know my dad wants us to have a heart-to-heart now, and I do not do Chick-Flick moments. No siree. None of that emotional crap, thank you very much. “I shall go and see on Anabelle’s progress. Dad, keep Brandon company. Don’t scare him off, now. If you do . . . I know where you live.” I leave with a glare and then bound up the stairs, ignoring Brandon’s stammered protests about being left alone. “Oh yoohoo! Anabelle! Are you decent?” I call seconds before shoving open her bedroom door.

“SPENCER!” she screams in a pitch that could shatter glass.

It merely destroys my eardrums.

An acceptable loss, I guess one could say.

“What!” I say back, trying to clear my ears of the ringing. “Did you say something? I can’t hear you!”

“SPENCER!”

Yes?”

She rounds on me, visibly fuming even as her makeup and hair and clothes remain done to perfection. “You never told me your boss was Brandon Hawke!”

I am confused.

Very confused.

“Yes . . . why is that a problem?”

“How could you not tell me who your boss is?”

I shrug. “Maybe because no one in this family ever cared to listen to what goes on in my life? McDonald’s isn’t a very hot topic in this house. But that’s not the point. Why is going out with Brandon a problem? He’s a nice guy, Belle.” I pause, thinking. “Hmm. Belle and Brandon. Has a nice ring to it. B-B.”

“Spencer!”

“You keep saying my name, and I don’t know why.” Girls can be so dramatic sometimes! I wonder how society can stand to live with them.

“I . . . I can’t go out with him.”

“It’s just a onetime thing so Adrian stays away from you. What would you rather, spend four hours with a sweet guy or have Adrian trail after you to rub in your face that he dumped you and no one will risk going out with you again?”

She glares at me. “I hate you, Spencer. Seriously, I hate you so much.”

I roll my eyes and open her bedroom door. “I don’t care. Seriously, I don’t care at all. Now get your butt down the stairs. Dad might have gotten into his gun cabinet by now and is currently scaring your date crapless. Is that what you want? After the huge favor he’s doing for you?”

“How did you get him to agree?”

“I told him I would clean his apartment.”

I sense her stopping in the hallway behind me. I turn and raise an eyebrow.

“No. I’m being serious,” she says.

“So am I. Do you know how many hours he spends at McDonald’s every day? At least twelve. He doesn’t have time to do much cleaning, so I said I would go over a few times and clean it up for him. No biggie.”

“Aside from the fact that you hate cleaning.”

“We all do things in the name of love.”

Her eyes go so wide I think they might fall out of her head. “Do . . . do you like him?”

I can’t help it. I laugh. “What? No! He’s my big brother. I meant your future love. You and Brandon. The two Bs. Big-B and Smaller-B. It’s perfect!”

“Just get moving,” she grumbles, shoving me towards the stairs.

We go down and Brandon shoots to his feet, looking very pale as my dad lounges in his lay-z-boy. I notice Brandon wiping his hands on his jeans, obviously nervous about this date. I wonder why, but choose to leave the questions for another time – like when we’re at work, because everyone knows that work is the ideal time for social hour among friends. I make the introductions even though I kind of don’t have to.

Both seem to know each other.

Both seem very awkward around each other.

Both are silent and sneaking glances at each other when the other isn’t looking – but I am looking.

“Well, I believe the two of you have some fun plans to get to. Enjoy yourselves. Brandon, remember that your curfew is eleven. Belle, try not to snort milk out of your nose. Have fun and don’t hurry back! Seriously, though, don’t hurry back. Dad has that crazy look in his eye and I’m pretty sure he’s going to be bringing out his arsenal in a couple of minutes. Go while you still have a chance!” I hiss, shoving them out the door and locking it behind me. I spin around and lean against the glass, letting out a sigh of relief. “Ah. Alone at last.”

“Spencer,” my dad calls, bursting my bubble.

I frown down at the floor. “I spoke too soon.”

“What was that about?” he asks, not bothering to get up from his seat.

I go over to the couch and flop down. “Nothing. I’m just setting Anabelle up with a guy who is ten times better than Adrian. I’m surprised I never thought about it before. They made a cute couple, didn’t they?”

“I don’t know,” my dad says with a serious face. “But he was much more polite than the other kid.”

“I know, right? And he has a job, and his own place.”

“. . . He’s your boss, huh?”

“Yep, and dang good at it,” I agree firmly.

“Wasn’t he valedictorian of his class?”

I am surprised that my dad even knows this. Brandon graduated a year before my sister.

It would appear that my dad did actually pay attention to the goings on of our school. “Yeah.”

“He had a full ride to Harvard, didn’t he?”

Once again I am shocked. “Yeah. How did you know that?”

“It was in the paper. It was also in there when he dropped out halfway through his first semester of sophomore year.”

And suddenly I understand where this is going. “So he’s a drop-out like me. So what? He has his reasons, just like I did. You’re judging him before you even get to know him. You, Dad, are a very judgmental person.” I stand up and huff. “I’m going out tonight.”

“Where?”

“I’m hanging out with friends. They work at McDonald’s so I’m not going to invite them over. I don’t think they would receive the warm welcome that Anabelle’s friends get.” I pull on my boots, grab a hoodie and my keys, and then leave without another word.

My dad calls my name after me, but I don’t stop. I do need to leave before things get too heated and my parents decide to kick me out – or call my grandmother, whichever would annoy me most. I cross the driveway to my car, walking past my mom who has just arrived.

“Hey, Spencer,” she says as she gets out. “Ho— . . . Where are you going?”

“Out. Dad’s in a very grouchy, everyone-is-beneath-me kind of mood. I thought it best that I leave before he starts preaching to me.”

She sighs, having heard – and witnessed – these disputes often in the past couple of years. “Spencer, please. It can’t be that bad. Come back inside. We can have a family dinner. We haven’t had one of those in a while.”

I pretend to think about it. “Nah. Besides, Belle’s out on a date, so you and Dad can mingle and do whatever else you old farts do when the kids are gone. I’m outta here.” I make a second attempt at leaving.

“Your sister’s on a date? With who?” she asks excitedly.

“Some guy. He’s cool, but Dad doesn’t think so.”

“You know, Spencer, you’re twenty years old. Don’t you think it’s time you started dating? Your father and I love you, but we don’t want you living at home for the rest of your life. I want you to find someone and be happy, but you can’t do that if you’re always being so—”

“Being myself?” I interrupt. And to think, this day started out so well at three this morning. I laugh and roll my eyes. “Thanks so much for the pep-talk, Mom. I’ll look back on this moment very fondly when I live in your basement with my three-hundred cats.” I climb into my car and rev the engine as she tries to say more. With a wave I peel out of the driveway, not knowing where I am going, but knowing that I need to get away.

I could also do with getting me some chocolate . . . Priorities . . .

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