“Uncle Carmichael you didn’t have to come out here. Crazy enough that Cliff is doing it.”
A very sour expression was my answer until he blasted me with, “Don’t tell me what’s crazy Prissy Britches or you just might hear some things you don’t want to. Now take this box up to the porch for your cousin; looks like Christine is puking again.”
Ignoring what I could get away with ignoring, namely the hint that I should have found a way to contact him sooner, I told him, “I’ll get Aunt Rachel on her. She knows all sorts of remedies though she’s just as likely to tell her she’s gonna have to sleep in the bed she made.” There was the sound of something wet hitting the ground and splattering. “Ugh, that sounds nasty. Does she do this all the time?”
A groan from near the bushes was followed by, “I’m not deaf you know. I’m standing right here.”
Shaking my head even though she couldn’t see it I told my cousin, “Well you shouldn’t be standing right there. You should be back home and you wouldn’t have gotten car sick.” Another groan and more heaving told me she wouldn’t be making intelligent conversation for a while yet.
I walked up to the porch where Aunt Rachel was looking at the mess being brought in from the three vehicles that had just arrived and talking with Cevin who’d driven his wheelchair up the ramp that Dad built for her back when I was a little girl. “Hey Cev! I don’t mean to interrupt but I need to ask my aunt something.”
He gave me a sweet smile and waved that he didn’t mind and I noticed that he seemed more there than he had last time I’d seen him. Living in the independent facility seems to have done him some good.
I walked over to Aunt Rachel and pulled her aside to ask her quietly, “Are you OK with this? I didn’t invite Cliff out here to get all snotty and bossy and I sure didn’t think the others would descend on us too.”
Aunt Rachel patted my arm and said, “Well that’s family for you. Just when you think you’ve got them figured out they’ll go and do something to surprise you.” She shook her head. “Gonna mean more work for you. This heat is taking all my starch out.”
“It’s not the work I’m worried about. I just don’t want you upset.”
Aunt Rachel smiled like she appreciated her feelings being taken into consideration but she still said gruffly, “Girl I am not made of spun sugar. Don’t you start treating me that way either.”
“No ma’am but this is your home and it’s … even to me it’s like an invasion.”
She patted my arm again. “Oh let ‘em think they’re helping. It will make them feel better and we might actually get something out of it too. And as soon as we can make them feel good enough … or work them hard enough … they’ll see fit to go home and leave us in peace again. I used to love to having the family out for a visit but was always happy to see the backside of them again too. Reckon it will be the same this time. You just watch that boy when he’s messing with my truck. We only need something to get us from point A to point B; not some jumped up speed buggy that uses a lot of petrol. And I want to know exactly how much it costs. We are not a charity case. I am perfectly capable of paying my own way.”
“Yes ma’am,” I said knowing it would be useless to fight about it no matter that I had already slipped Cliff the money to pay for the battery yesterday.
Aunt Rachel went back over to Cevin and started to interrogate him about how he likes his new living arrangements. She was a special ed teacher before there really was such a thing and had always had a soft spot for the youngest Montgomery brother. I left her to it since it seemed to have put her in a good mood and walked over to Cliff. Before I could even open my mouth he said, “This wasn’t my idea. I was going to be up here earlier today but when Dad and your uncle heard the story – and then Christine – they started making plans without me being able to get any warning to you.”
“Kinda figured. If you think I’m strong-willed you need to be around Uncle Carmichael a little more. He makes me look like an angel. Dad was just as bad or so I’m told so now you know where I get it from. Chris better be glad that I got Christine’s share so he doesn’t have to put up with it. I’m really not surprised to see you or even Uncle Carmichael – not even Christine – so much as I am to see Connor and Chris … and Cevin.”
He gave me a look out of the corner of his eye and said slowly, “Mom … Mom is …”
Connor strolled up with another box, sat it down on the porch, and then fist bumped Cliff’s shoulder. He turned to me and said, “Mom is going through one of her spells. Dad and Carl are planning an intervention and getting her to go visit this spa-thing upstate where they’re going to put her on a special diet and exercise routine and other stuff. Natural and organic stuff to see if they can get her system regulated.”
Cliff unhappily griped, “Con!”
“Oh don’t turn into the Cliffinator on me. If you’d just tell her and get it out of your system you wouldn’t have to walk on eggshells all the time.”
Instead of fighting Cliff jerked up his tool box and the new truck battery and retreated in the direction of the pole barn. Con sighed and looked at me for a moment and then got a surprised look on his own face. “You know. You do don’t you. Christine swore she’s never said anything to you about it.”
“She hasn’t. It’s just I’m not nearly as stupid as people want to give me credit for being barring what happened at the riot and afterwards. Let me go see if I can … I don’t know. Geez.” I reluctantly made my way over to where Cliff had the truck’s hood up and was peering inside.
He glanced my way and then said, “I’m busy Winnie.”
“What happened to Gypsy?”
“Other people are around.”
I leaned against the truck. “OK … and … and thanks. Hey about …”
“I said I’m busy.”
“So be busy and just let me say this and then we can be done with it.” He just ignored me so I took the leap anyway. “I know. I’ve never known what to say about it or how to let you know that I know. Mostly it isn’t my business but the other part is …” I shrugged. “You’re my friend and it hurts you so I don’t want to do anything that hurts you more. You’re cranky and irritating and testosterone poisoned sometimes but none of the rest of it really changes the fact that you’re my friend and I’m going to get really angry if somehow you knowing that I know makes that go away. So if you don’t want to talk about it, don’t want me to mention it, I’ll follow your lead just like you don’t call me Gypsy in front of other people. Just don’t stop being my friend because … well … that wouldn’t be good. OK?”
He wasn’t answering me and after standing there for almost a full minute in silence I sighed and started to walk away but all of a sudden he said, “We’re still friends?”
Eager to smooth things out I rushed back and said, “Of course. Do I look like a dork or something? And don’t you dare turn that into a joke Cliff ‘cause … ‘cause I’m being totally serious about this.”
He snorted and then with his head still stuck under the hood said, “I don’t know how to talk about it. Don’t want to talk about it. Get sick of it when Dad makes me talk about it. Same way you get sick and tired of people making something out of what Tamika and her pack did.”
“OK. But just so you know … well … it did make me uncomfortable knowing about it at first but then I realized you were still you and I was still me and it was kinda dumb to let anything get in the way of that. If I don’t let your girl-habits get in the way of our friendship I don’t see why this other should.”
He snorted again but said, “Dating is not the same thing has having a girlfriend. Girlfriends are … not something … oh hell … just stop worrying about what you call my girl-habits. They aren’t as big a deal as you keep making them out to be. Besides, what about all the farm boys out here?”
“What about them? They aren’t any different than the city boys back in town and no one is beating a path to my door. For obvious reasons. Besides I already told you, I’m too busy.” I tried to get under the hood too but I would have needed to stand on something to do it. “Look, are we square or not?”
He finally stepped back from the hood and said, “Yeah. We’re square.”
“Good. You want some tea or some water?”
And that’s where we’ve left it. Sometimes things matter and sometimes they don’t. And sometimes things just are what they are and you have to live with it being that way.