Chapter 8: Helpful Harley
Inside Roscoe and Ashley’s high-tech duplex...
Snarls transcended exotic honey and pale blue walls, swung the vaulted roof’s planters to and fro.
“Cat. Dog. Stop it,” Dee interrupted another fight of the Enemies pair from her place on the curved, lemon sofa. “Geez, you guys stay at each other’s throats,” she plopped back dramatically, her face into some long vine inhabitants, and the sunlight of the bay window.
From his place atop a double-sided chaise lounge, Brandon’s all-too-knowing yellow eyes pinned his Protected’s bum to the gray floor. His sensitive ears perked up, took in his human’s ever-increasing litany.
“Hate him, hate him, hate him. Bad dog!” Tina wailed.
“I’m a wolf,” Brandon barked.
“The pair of you are insanity personified,” Roscoe commented, peeked up from his cramped nook and the papers he was sifting through.
Sat beneath some vibrant cacti and framed proverbs that would be better plastered on cheap mugs, Tina roared her stress. Pulling her hair and turning to the side, she saw herself in the room’s floor to ceiling reflectors. She eased her grip when she overlooked her image for the background, a fringe of shelves lined with trophies, family photos, and memories of a road trip.
Looking back to his documents, Roscoe mumbled to himself, “Suum cuique, to each his own.” He cracked his neck, and went on, “However, T, Dee’s words have merit.” Turning to the rest of his group, the genius glowered. “Now listen, I need to submit these packets today, and with you all having made it clear that you cannot be trusted-”
“Ugh, dude, it’s been a week, drop the stupid email already,” Hailey grumbled from the furry sack that threatened to swallow her, Monáe, and Denzel whole.
“Here we are,” Roscoe continued as if he hadn’t been interrupted.
“This’s one helluva way to spend our day off,” Denzel groaned. “Only you would give us homework when our classes got axed for a G/P faculty meeting.”
“I’m wit’ the dork,” Hailey spoke over Monáe’s shoulder, watched her work on an outline. “Our regular classes don’t even start ’til Monday.”
More repetitive, angry muttering that likened a demon’s summoning.
“Knock it off, T.” Roscoe checked her as he passed his electric fireplace and reached for the sheer curtain hiding one of his many libraries. Though, none top the well-insulated and soundproof one on the duplex’s opposite side, where Roscoe’s office and the majority of his academic escapades are located.
Sitting in his ergonomic chair, the man used the light from a nearby bank of windows to search his antique desk for a pen. Uncapping one, he kicked a storage bench holding an overflow of books askew, revealed a heap of wires that aid the home’s artificial intelligence system.
“T, you need to reign in your bellicosity. Stop allowing Brandon to take you out of your character,” Roscoe admonished in a low voice, not wishing to wake his napping, fleece-covered lover. She hung a few feet away in an egg-shaped swing chair.
“I can’t help it.”The teen’spout matched her childish tone of voice and arm-cross. She watched Roscoemake a motion to the living space’s ovate bookcase ottoman that doubled as a supersized, stainless-steel table.
“T, play ni-”
Brandon smirked. “She just called you a ’fucking goody two shoes know-it-all’.”
“How”—Tina gasped, and quickly closed the accidentally opened Guardian/Protected telepathic link—“…Snitch.” She snatched a hefty stack of papers off the table.
Back at Tina and Brandon’s place – Friday afternoon
Wiping her sleepy eyes, the teen reached under her pillow for her cell. Toggling her notifications on, Tina retrieved a backlog of messages, most of them Harley’s uppercase-only writing.
The girl dressed at record speed, burst from her room in a pair of leggings, a pink sweater, and some house socks. As she washed up and detangled her nest of hair, Tina registered the absence of breakfast smells.
In the background, Brandon overheard his housemate. Sitting at the bar top, working on his laptop, and eating some grilled quesadillas, he concurrently made out Tina’s location, her less than graceful movements a great help.
“Be quiet,” the man rumbled.
“Christ!” Tina startled and slammed the cupboards she’d opened. “Don’t scare me like that!”
Brandon paused for a second, watched the dubbed idiot woman lower her plastic cereal dish, and palm her jolted chest before moving to clean her accidental spill. “I’ve been sitting here,” he said.“You disrupted me,” he added and wiped his crust-covered hands clean.
“Oh, no”—the girl extended a warning finger—“You will not damper my mood today, sulky man. I’m eating in the living room.”
Sometime later, no sooner than Tina had devoured her “nutritious” meal and placed her dirty dishes under the tap, did she hear an obnoxiously loud, familiar sound she’d be able to identify anywhere.
“Finally!” Tina bolted by Brandon for her room.
A few seconds later, the Guardian watched the dummy race to the front door, her phone abuzz, and her face fighting a peculiar twitch that made her look like a smiling catfish. For a brief moment, Brandon considered inspecting what had his Protected so excited, but then his phone chimed.
“Harley!” The teen practically ripped the front door off its hinges.
“Sis.” The woman whose complexion was a touch darker than the juvenile’s grinned widely, her alabaster teeth on full display as a demanding hug wretched her t-shirt and sweatpants draped body from an apple red convertible. “Calm down. You’re acting like you didn’t jus’ escape the fam.”
“Am I not allowed to miss my favorite sissy?” Tina asked, her words muddled with her face pressed to the slightly taller woman’s bosom.
“I won’t tell Shawna.” Harley gave a wink of her dark brown, burgundy flecked eyes.
“You texted me that you wouldn’t be here-”
“Until tonight? Yeah, screw that. I needed to get away, so I called off work. You know how it is, claimed food poisoning.” Harley smooshed her sibling’s poof.
“Of course,” Tina chortled, and let Harley go. “Sorry that I called you all the way up here.”
“Don’t apologize. Any reason to take Cherri out is good ’nough for me. God knows I don’t give her ’nough drive time.” Harley walked to the front door. When she spied the welcome mat’s shoe-free home message, she discarded her steel toe boots caked with mud. “Before I check on the scrap metal you have the nerve to call a car, I’mma use your bathroom.”
Though she knew the offense was playful, Tina couldn’t help the way her cheeks puffed up. “I’m sorry that truck was the only thing I could afford?” she said like a question.
“So am I.”
The teen rolled her eyes. And the ribbing begins.
“This place is nice, love the decor. I still can’t belie-”
When Harley stopped short, Tina rammed her face into her robust back, never more thankful for a staircase railing.
“Oooooo. Well, what do we have here?” Harley stepped to the side, pushed her pressed hair behind her pierced ears. She grinned a little too wide for Tina’s liking.“Yvet-”
“No!” Tina flushed. “Don’t call me that”—she peeked at Brandon—“not in front of him,” she attempted to whisper.
“Sure”—Harley peaked at her sibling—“Whatever you want. But,”—her exploratory gaze returned to the undeniably attractive man faster than she cared to admit—“when were you going to tell me that you got a boyfriend?” Harley clocked Brandon’s plate of crumbs. “And did you finally learn to cook? You’ve been holding out on me,” she accused.
Brandon scoffed. He got up to clean his plate and after a short pause and turn of the faucet broke the sudden silence with a guess, “Yvette?”
Tina inwardly cringed at the mention of her middle name, knowing a pin would put in it for later.
“If you guys don’t mesh”—the intuitive, black-haired lady speedily read the room—“then why’re you together?” She leaned on the banister of the staircase.
“Long story,” the forced partners shared simultaneously before glaring death at each other. “Very long story,” they said in tandem once more.
“Make it short ’nough to fit in my visit. I leave Sunday.” The doe-eyed Harley slyly scanned her kin.
“…I’ll do what I can,” Tina worked out, knowing damn well she wouldn’t be able to disclose anything.
Momentarily satisfied by that response, the older woman monitored the strange man in the kitchen. “So, if you’re not Tina’s boyfriend, you’re who exactly?”
With a sideways glance, Brandon scrutinized the woman referencing him. Something about her implored him to be forthcoming. “Brandon.”
“Brandon,” Harley repeated.
Tina observed the rare, civil exchange with broad eyes.
Did she just get him…? Did he just…?
With an amicable smile, the older Franklin marched Brandon’s way, extended her hand for a shake. “I’m Harley, Tina’s older sister.”
Brandon paused his dizzying typing to grin and return the familiar gesture. “Nice to meet you, Carly.”
And it’s nothing but downhill from here, Tina thought.
Harley squinted, pulled her hand back.“I’m sorry, I believe you misheard me. It’s Harley,” she said through a clenched jaw, her dulcet tone suddenly denser.
“That’s what I said. Carly.”
In a flash, the hothead yanked the heavy Guardian from his seat. “I know you heard me say Harley, smart-ass.”
“Harls, put him down!” Tina shrieked, watched unsuspecting amber eyes round to a steely glare.
“Harley,” the elder Franklin growled between bared, sparkling canines. “Try me again, dick, and you get yours chopped off.” She pushed the man away.
As he kneaded where his sweater’s drawstrings had dug in uncomfortably, Brandon heard his phone chime. He ceased the darting his eyes were doing between his Protected and her sister to, instead, gather his possessions. “I’m going out. Don’t,” he emphasized, “need me.”
Harley ponytailed her longhair and knotted the front of her shirt. As she got to work, she updated her sister on all the family drama.
“Really, another one?” Tina interrupted a hilarious story of the clown-like twins’ latest dinner visit. “How many is that now?”
“She’s Quentin’s fourth fling this month.” Harley chuckled.“Her personality, if you can even call it that, actually made me miss the last ditz, Courtney.”
“I’m talking about the playing card,” Tina clarified, still staring at her bent over sister’s new lower back ink.
“Ah.” Harley looked over the jalopy. “I always tell you, small tats are like a puzzle, part of a bigger picture.”
“How many?” Tina was unyielding.
“Ten?” Harley half-answered, not quite sure of herself.
“Jus’ about, maybe a few more, like I said, they tell a story.”
“Yeah, of a few drunken nights and bad breakups.”
“Cute,” Harley snarked back.
“Mom and Dad are going to kill you,” Tina groaned.
Yankingan all but dilapidated toolbox and jack from her trunk, Harley snickered. “Y’know I’m an adult, right? I can do what I want.”
“Is that why you still don’t have a sleeve?”
“Shut up,” Harley snickered again.
“You know I’m right.”
“They would have to find my tats first. Why do you think they’re only in”—Harley cleared her throat—“intimate places. Barely anyone sees them.”
“Yeah right. You expect me to buy that?”
The older sister smirked. Popping out a hip with various wrenches in hand, she inquired, “What’s that supposed to mean?”
With a waggle of her eyebrows, Tina grinned, “I know how you like to flaunt your nudity.”
“Says the nudist.”
The mechanic rolled her eyes. Using a ratcheting wrench, she dug into the car’s bits and pieces. “So,” she changed the convo, “where’re Ross and Ash at? I thought they’d be over here keeping you company since you and Ross are peas in a pod, and Ash is all but glued to his hip.”
Caught off guard by the question, Tina sputtered, “Oh, yeah… um, they’re… at the library! Studying! I’m not conducive to quiet environments.” She smiled sheepishly.
For a moment Harley took up a pensive stance, stopped all movement.
She’s totally about to call me out. Shit. Shit!
“Stop leaning on my baby.”Harley sighed.
Oh, thank God!
Unlocking her passenger door, the woman hooked up a diagnostic scanner. “Well, hopefully, I’ll see the rugrats before I leave.”
“Alright, Evie, bad news,” said the grease monkey.
“I don’t like the sound of that.” Tina straightened from where she’d nearly dozed off.
Placing one blackened with filth hand on her hip, Harley squinted. “I can fix the thing-”
“That’s great, doesn’t sound bad at al-”
“Let me finish.” The older Franklin wiped her sideburns, effectively replaced her sweat with car grime. “The hunk of junk’s not even worth the money you’d sink into it for parts.”
“Not worth,” Tina blanched before retaliating, “It’s the original model from 1986!”
“Yeah, and it’s because of that I’m still surprised someone sold it to you, shit’s sorta an icon, could be a collector’s item. But listen, the car’s damn near prehistoric, its frame is rusted to hell, and your trans is shot”—Harley paused when Tina looked at her as if she were speaking in tongues—“Your transmission. It’s kinda integral to your hooptie running properly.”
“I thought you loved the classics.”
“Exactly, classics, not something I now know can barely pass for a tin can.”
Tina glowered. “You were saying shit’s wrong?”
“In simple terms, your car’s old as hell, and way over its ideal mileage number, making the cost of repair or replacement for the trans alone crazy, more than it’s worth.” Harley rubbed her forehead with a closed fist. “I’m getting a headache jus’ thinking about the service.”
“Harls,”—Tina crossed her arms defiantly—“if you don’t fix Sarah then what am I supposed to drive?”
“Whoa now. Cool your tits.” Harley stroked her chin. “How much do you have saved up?” She looked toward the sky impishly. Tina couldn’t help but titter at her sister’s self-drawn transmission fluid beard. Realizing what she’d done, Harley grumbled and grabbed a towel from her mechanic’s box. “Come on, Yvette, I know you,” she said in a lowered voice, “sometimes better than yourself.” At Tina’s intense look, Harley raised her voice, “Emergency stash?”
The rental home money…
The look her sibling gave her told Harley all she needed to know. “Lemme get a shower and then we’ll head to a used car lot.”
Thirty minutes later…
As Harley dressed, her out of tune singing penetrated the bathroom’s walls. “It’s a small world after all. It’s a small world after all…”
From the living room, Tina recognized the mantra for what it was. She muted her mounted flat screen. “Oh?”
“I jus’ got off the phone with a dealership I have in mind, and it turns out the owner and I went to undergrad together.”
“That’s cool,” the junior stretched her voice.
“I’ll probably be able to snag you a deal. I know for a fact this guy used to have a crush on me. We’d lost contact for a while, but his social medias say he’s currently single.”
“Out of the frying pan and into the fire?”
“Oh, so it’s like that?” Harley gave her improved reflection one last look.
Tina turned when she heard the bathroom door swing open. Seeing the more mature, dolled-up version of herself come skipping into view, she was unable to help the stain on her cheeks.
“Ahhhh. I always feel so much better after a hot shower.” Harley turned her sister’s way, showed off her five-minute makeup routine results of lengthened this, blushed that, and nude lips. “Close your mouth, you’ll catch flies,” she puffed up, drew attention to her gray jeans and frilly top with transparent, lace sleeves.
At her sister’s words, Tina purposefully cleared her throat.
“Don’t get left,” Harley sounded over her wingtip platforms. “Let’s aim for something one-toned.” She grabbed her slightly puffy jacket and small, black backpack off the couch.
Tina rolled her eyes at the jab. “I’m surprised you were able to get that black gunk from under your nonexistent nails.”
Harley chortled and rolled her eyes. “Some of us bite our shit.”
Tina giggled and grabbed her gray peacoat off the rack at the bottom of the steps. “Don’t get left,” she echoed earlier sentiments.
“I’m sorry, but do you really think your hardcore flirting with that Campbell guy was necessary? I’m pretty sure he still got me for all I was worth.”
“You truly are a naïve little girl. This silver baby is beautiful and actually from this decade!” Harley said, pleased with herself. “Because of my dedicated innuendoes, you got to say bye-bye to that tricolor horror show and Estelle’s price was slashed.”
“You used your womanly wiles on the poor guy.” Tina turned her face up disapprovingly. “And did you just name my car for me?” she questioned in an afterthought.
“Hey, Nevin’s choice to buy your piece of crap was his own, and yes I did.” The older woman winked.
“I spent eight thousand.” Tina sulked. “You said I’d only need four thousand.” She looked at her abused debit card. Harley clucked her tongue. “If you would’ve taught me how to drive manually when I asked at 16, I could’ve saved a fuckton more,” Tina grumbled.
“I thought I told you back then, you’re never allowed behind the wheel of my precious after what you did to dad’s car. Cherri’s made for drag racing, not crashing.”
“There’s a difference?” the teen asked, knowing just how to push her sister’s buttons.
“Yes, you uncultured dunce!”
“Could’ve fooled me.”
Once the pair reached a stoplight, Harley peeked at the passenger seat. “You know it’s your own fault. Like I said, I know you. With your expensive tastes, anything you chose was going to be pricey. Must I remind you it was a used car dealership?”
“Turning up the music now.”