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The Family Room Ch. 12

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“Quit stalling and answer the question, Rick. What would we do if it was too late? What would we do if I was already pregnant?” Julie’s eyes squeezed into angry little slits. The wicked rasp of her breath drilled through my ears.

My response was long in coming. “I could take you to the women’s clinic,” I said, unlocking my jaw. “A doctor could—“

Her eyes and mouth flew open. “Oh my God, you can’t…you can’t be serious.”

She regarded me with such bitter coldness; I was a stranger to her. “You mother fucker!” she screeched. Her right hand curled into a fist, striking me hard against the left cheek. I didn’t react to the blow so she swung again, striking my jaw with as much force as her skinny arm could muster.

She whimpered and rubbed discolored knuckles.

I reached for her in a foolish attempt to make peace. She struck me with an open hand, raking her sharp fingernails across my cheek.

Touching the stinging skin, my fingers came away streaked with blood.

Julie jerked off of the bed and hovered over me. She was raised on the balls of her feet, her shoulders arched. She tried to make her tiny body appear as intimidating as possible.

I was sick of her stubbornness, sick of her attitude. She was a nineteen year old brat, not a mother and I wanted her to realize it.

“Would it be like this with your kid?” I asked, smearing warm blood across my cheek. “First night the baby won’t stop crying you smack it around until it bleeds. Or would you just cover it’s face with a pillow, smother it until…” I fell silent. Such terrible words had never passed through my lips. Words made even more terrible by the fact they were directed at Julie.

“You Goddamned sick mother fucker!” Skinny arms thrashed again, raining stinging slaps and sharp claws to my face, neck and chest.

I grabbed her forearms, stopping the assault, holding firmly, squeezing her arms tight enough to produce a wince. Not wanting to hurt her, no matter how furious she made me, I relaxed my grip. Julie tore free, stumbling sideways into the futon, scattering the stacks of my folded clothes with a flail of her arms.

She sloppily readjusted the black bathing suit, covering the portions of her body I had exposed prior to our lovemaking. She struggled into a wrinkled t-shirt. It was backwards and inside-out but she beat her arms, forcing the white cotton to conform to her torso.

“God damn it, I hate you.” The words were spat from her lips. She rushed to the tiny kitchenette and yanked open a drawer, tearing it off it’s rollers. Something glinted in her hand as she charged the bed.

A paring knife, did she mean to stab me?

“You psychotic little bitch!” I tried to scramble from the airbed but the shifting vinyl surface hindered my movement.

She plunged the knife through the bed sheets, tearing through the thick vinyl. Cool air rushed through the wound as the bed rapidly deflated. In seconds my body touched the hard floor.

She raised the knife again, keeping me guessing as to whether or not she meant to do harm. The blade never fell again, Julie hurled it towards the kitchen, where it ricocheted off the toaster and clattered to the floor.

She forced her breaths through a wide mouth, trying to regain control of herself. I had never seen Julie so upset, not at me, not at my parents, not at anyone.

Spittle rained from her lips, cooling my enflamed skin. I noticed another glint of metal in her hand, the keys to my car. She was leaving me.

Despite my simmering anger, despite every stupid and irrational thing I had said, I had no desire to see her go. If there was something I could have said or done to pacify her I would not have hesitated. “Baby, please—“

“Don’t you ever call me that! Don’t look at me, don’t touch me and don’t ever come near me!” Tears washed her cheeks, tears of anger, sadness and pain. “I’ll tell everyone that you took advantage of me. That you raped me and…” She sobbed, unable to continue. She wouldn’t tell anyone that.

Every conceivable human emotion flickered in her wet green eyes, every emotion but love. Ties had been severed, a connection lost. I was no longer her friend, no longer her lover. Worst of all I was no longer her brother. The love was gone, all of it.

And so was she.

***

Columns of light escaped through slits in the drawn curtains. Their presence announced daytime, but what day? Julie blinked swollen eyes, wondering how long her slumber had lasted. She focused on the pink canopy of her old bed as memories of last night chilled her body. She rolled over on her side so she could bury her face in a pillow.

The bedroom that had been her kingdom for nineteen years was a strange and foreign place without her prince. Her prince? Julie was disgusted by the thought. Her brother had turned out to be a dragon, breathing fire with his words, hateful words that ransacked her dreams and laid waste to their future together.

Everything she had feared etimesgut escort came to be. Rick hated her and he hated their baby. He had reacted so badly to the hypothetical question, to a mere what if. How would he have reacted had she divulged the full truth, that she truly was pregnant. Would he have forced her to have an abortion?

Julie had no choice but to leave, depriving him the satisfaction of leaving her first.

Without money or friends, she had traversed every mile of street and side street in Saratoga Spring. Not an inch of paved surface went untouched by the commandeered tires of her brother’s car. After running the gas tank to near empty, Julie conceded that her options were limited. She could return to Rick or return to her parents. Both options were frightening but at the moment she perceived her parents to be far less so.

Donald and Beth Martin must have been shocked to find their tear soaked daughter heaped on the front porch, clad only in a bathing suit and t-shirt. She had shivered in the night air for almost an hour, trying to summon the courage to press the doorbell.

Her parents had taken her back without hesitation. Thank God for that. Julie had no idea where she would have gone had they turned her away. She stayed in bed the entire night, her own strange bed.

Her mother tried to offer company, launching skilled attempts to pry information in an inoffensive, motherly way. The two talked about friends no longer friendly and relatives no longer relative. They talked about everything, except Rick. Julie never wanted to talk about Rick again, even if he was all she could think about.

Despite the much needed warmth that resulted from the reunion with her mother, the sky eventually grew too dark and the moon’s glare too bright. Unable to pretend insomnia, Julie surrendered to a sleep without rest, a sleep with far too many startled awakenings and far too little peace.

When she finally awoke, it was not to the gentle appeals of a mother but to the agitated moans of a father. “I told you this would happen; didn’t I?” Through the closed door her father shouted. “I Goddamned told you!”

She imagined her father’s chest puffed, strutting about like a rooster. And why not, he had been right all along.

The bedroom door cracked open. To Julie’s relief, it was her mother who quietly slipped inside.

Beth Martin sat at the edge of the bed and did little more than watch her daughter. She watched with eyes of warmth, compassion and forgiveness, the eyes of a mother. “Sweetheart,” she said, opening her arms.

Julie, the woman who had run away with the man she loved–thought she loved; Julie, the woman who carried a child conceived with the man she loved–thought she loved, was transformed in that moment. As if traveling backwards through time she morphed into a dependant little girl. Feeling utterly helpless, she clung to her mother, hoping to find some small measure of support.

“Sweetheart, please tell me what happened.”

Julie shook her head. Warm tears rolled off her chin, dripping to her mother’s sweatshirt. “I can’t, you’d hate me too.”

“Julie, I’m your mother. There isn’t a single thing you could say, not in any language, that would make me hate you or your brother.”

Julie sniffled, summoning what remained of her tattered courage. “He said horrible things about me and about our…” She pressed her face to her mother’s shoulder. Tears flowed freely. She couldn’t tell, she could only cry so that’s what she did, soaking her mother’s ash gray sweatshirt for what seemed like hours. She cried until the need for food overtook her sorrow.

“Come on, sweetheart, I’ll fix you breakfast.” Beth paused, glanced at her wristwatch and amended, “I guess lunch would be more appropriate at this time of the day.”

Julie inched out of bed, feeling sicker and dizzier than her condition alone should have accounted for. She wanted to throw up. She wanted to eat. She wanted Rick and that made her want to throw up even more.

Had she been in bed forever? The muscles of her body felt like they had atrophied. She readjusted the black Lycra swimsuit while stretching stiff joints. She arched backwards to combat the pressure on her spine. The action prominently displayed her stomach, too prominently.

The eyes of a mother had not missed the subtle changes in her little girl’s body. “Julie Alyssa Martin!” she hissed, forcing each syllable through locked jaws. “You’re–oh my God!” She dropped to sit on the mattress, quickly sprang up, then dropped again.

The mother’s eyes never left her daughter’s stomach, not for several minutes. She stared, as if equipped with some manner of x-ray vision that allowed her to view the baby that grew within her baby.

Julie prepared for the worst. Would her mother be as angry as Rick, her words even more horrible? Was that even possible?

Beth Martin threw her arms around Julie, crying tears her daughter had etimesgut escort bayan already spilt.

“Please don’t tell Daddy.” Julie pulled away from her mother. Just imagining her father’s reaction created a chill.

“You can’t expect me to keep something like this—“

Julie’s arms wrapped around her mother’s neck. “Please mommy, please mommy… please! He’ll hate me and throw me out. I don’t have anywhere else to go. Please…”

Beth Martin held her daughter. She comforted, whispering promises that everything would be all right. She had done the very same thing more than a week ago, when Julie and Rick had been caught making love. She had been wrong then as well.

Julie sagged against her pillows, still hungry, still exhausted. Her eyes stung too badly to hold open, she didn’t even try. Gripping her mother’s hand she drifted off, ignoring her body as it tensed and cramped from fear and hunger.

She awoke a short time later to the sounds of quiet tapping in the hallway. Crutches, or a crutch, maneuvered across the hardwood floors of the house. She knew her father had been hurt from his fall in the kitchen but had no idea how badly.

Two voices sounded on the other side of the bedroom door. A quiet conversation was taking place, one where her name was whispered extensively. She recognized another name just as easily, a name that even whispered made her sick with heartbreak and fear. Then came the moment she feared almost as much as anything Rick could do to her. Her mother softly murmured pregnant and baby, two words that at one time had seemed almost magical but now were the verbal incarnation of everything she dreaded.

Julie braced herself for the violence of her father’s reaction.

He muttered a curse. With a garbled voice he repeated the same curse. He shouted so loud the neighbors must have heard. This time there would be no chest puffing, no finger wagging, no boasts of vindication.

A fist struck the door, restarting the tremors in her body as it pounded repeatedly. She feared the wood would splinter in it’s jamb. He called for her in a voice thick with anger and pain, the same agonized voice that had called for her as he laid bloody and broken upon the kitchen floor.

Beth Martin urged her husband to let the girl’s emotional wounds heal before trying to inflict his own. Her words must have worked, the pounding stopped. The tapping of crutches on the hardwood floor restarted, moving slowly down the hall and then even more slowly down the stairs.

The confrontation she dreaded was averted. She was safe, her baby was safe, for the moment.

The world outside Julie’s room fell silent. She gripped the edge of her sheets, letting the smooth cotton absorb the sweat from her palms as a horrible, eerie silence built. Silence was everywhere when it should have been nowhere. There should be yelling, screaming, fighting but instead there was only ceiling pulsing, wall quivering silence. Cold dampness covered Julie’s entire body as she anticipated the moment when the entire house would blow apart.

Finally the explosion came. The grating sound of glass crashing through glass echoed throughout the house. Downstairs in the family room a crystal vase had been hurled through a television set.

***

A car whizzed across Miller’s Bridge, the driver passing close enough to spray me with warmth from his exhaust.

“We’re both going to end up road kill if we stay up here.” Lance’s protests had been as constant as the wasps that flitted in lazy orbits overhead.

“Don’t be such a coward,” I said. Leaning over the guardrail, I gazed at the foaming green water below. “You only live once, Lancelot.”

“And not for long if you stay up here,” he said. Lance joined me at the rail, clutching the steel bar with white ghost’s hands. He shifted his concern from the traffic to the distance between the bridge and the lake.

Lance’s hands were glued to the railing, his feet were rooted to the concrete. He motioned to the little bait shop using his chin as a makeshift thumb, “That Jerry, he’s a real character.”

“Yeah, I thought you’d like him.”

“You’re lucky to have a friend like him, someone you can trust.”

“Someone else, you mean.” I smacked Lance on the back, causing him to gasp as he widened his stance.

I sure didn’t feel lucky. Even after spending the afternoon with two of my best friends I felt more depressed than ever.

For the past three months it seemed as though my every emotion, high and low, revolved around Julie. Now, with no outlet for my hope and fear, my pride and insecurity, I feel only a great emptiness.

“There’s only one thing that stops me from jumping,” I said, gazing into the water. “What’s that, a craven fear of heights?” Lance’s focus darted from the trees across the lake to the smoky purple sky to his dusty truck resting in the gravel lot.

“A promise. A stupid promise I made to a stubborn little girl.” escort etimesgut A promise that I would never do anything to hurt myself. If only I had promised to never hurt her.

Another car zoomed across the bridge, it’s hungry tires chewed bits of gravel and broken asphalt.

“She pretended to be so confident, like she needed to be a mother.” I spat over the rail, watching my clear saliva disappear downward, where I knew it would become part of something bigger, part of the lake.

“The happy homemaker, only nineteen years old. How fucked up is that?” I asked.

“Totally fucked up,” Lance said. “Your sister would have been much better off listening to you, Rick Martin, the world’s foremost authority when it comes to responsibility. After all, you’re so dependable and mature—“

“Shut up, Lance.” I wasn’t angry at him, or the sarcasm that sharpened his tongue. I wasn’t angry at all, just empty.

“Would it really be so bad to give her what she wants?”

“Does she want to answer the questions everyone will ask? Who’s the father, why aren’t you married, why are you so close to your brother. She’d be living a nightmare of a lie and she deserves so much better.”

“That’s not my buddy Rick talking, that’s his bully of a conscience.”

“I can’t ruin her life, I can’t.”

“Sounds to me like that’s exactly what you’re doing, ruining Julie’s life and your own to boot. Why don’t you at least talk to her, tell her why you’re concerned. I’ll bet she’d understand.”

My face and upper body were covered with partially healed scratches, the results of last night’s conversation. No, her mind was made and once that happened reasoning with Julie Martin is like reasoning with a stone slab.

“She’s just a kid, a selfish little kid!” I stepped back and kicked the guardrail. My boot struck hard, clanging against the steel. “If the stupid girl wants a family so bad let someone else knock her up. Let her sleep with every man in town for all I care.” A fleeting image of my Julie with another man turned my stomach.

“We’ll see how she likes being a mommy complete with nausea and mood swings. If she thinks she’s putting on weight now, you just wait until her belly swells. She’ll wish she never…” I stopped. Like puzzle pieces everything fit into place: mornings locked in the bathroom, her overly-emotional and sometimes erratic behavior, the extra weight that had troubled her.

“It’s too late.” The words were squeezed from between my locked lips. My jaw fell; it dangled uselessly. She never told me it was too late. All the hypothetical questions, the constant what ifs and nagging what woulds. Julie had been pregnant the entire time.

The things I said to dissuade her echoed in my head, the awful, horrible things. She had to listen to every selfish, disgusting argument I could conjure, knowing all along that it was too late.

Lance looked at me funny. His lips moved in silent speech. No, he was talking but I could hear nothing over the ringing in my skull, nothing save for the drumming of my heart.

***

Julie rolled on the bed and punched the tower of pillows her mother had stacked beneath her shoulders.

Every time! Every single time her body relaxed enough for a peaceful slumber she was disrupted by memories of Rick. She would imagine that his long arms were wrapped around her body. She would imagine until she could almost feel the softness of his breath as it tickled her neck.

Far worse was the masculine scent of his aftershave. If only the scent of limes, spices and unabashed masculinity that lingered in the fibers of her bed sheets were imagined. The scent served as a bittersweet reminder of the secret trysts she and her brother had while still under their parents thumb. She drove her elbow into the mattress, hard enough to pop a spring.

The familiar tap tapping of a crutch sounded in the hallway, followed by gentle rapping on the door. In a shaky little voice, voice hoarse from too many sobs and too little rest, Julie permitted her father entry.

She hadn’t seen him since that night, the night her life changed–the first night her life changed. Looking so much different than she ever remembered, it was a feeble old man who held an injured foot aloft as he balanced on an aluminum crutch.

His free hand, a hand bandaged and wrapped with gauze, caddied a steaming mug of alphabet soup. He set the mug on the nightstand, sloshing a dribble over the side.

He touched her forehead with his palm, a ritual Donald Martin had performed many times when his little girl was sick in bed with the flu. This may have been the first time his touch failed to comfort her.

He pulled a napkin-wrapped spoon out of his shirt pocket and placed it beside the mug. “I had a chat with your mother,” he said, balancing himself at the bedside.

“I heard.” Julie tried to smile, but it hurt too much. She focused her gaze on the edge of the bed, fearing and at the same time hoping he would sit and join her.

When he showed no signs of sitting she took the spoon and dipped it in the mug. Absentmindedly she hunted a noodle R, an H and an M. Richard Henderson Martin. She sighed and tipped the spoon, spilling the letters back into the soup. She chose instead to sip a mouthful of broth straight from the mug.

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