“…What do you want, kid?”
“Your time is up. You’ve kept Uncle Tony waiting long enough!”
The well-dressed man looked Tim over from head to toe and snorted. “You’re a joke. I don’t have time for this.”
He tried to brush past Tim, but the young man blocked him.
“Are you sure you want to keep Uncle Tony waiting?”
The man blinked a few times before laughter erupted from his mouth. He laughed so hard, he clenched his side. “You poor boy…. Haven’t you heard? Tony is rotting in jail where he belongs!”
Tim was so tired of getting zero respect from the “clients.” He often wondered how he would be faring if he would have been paired with a different mentor. Although he appreciated everything Uncle Tony did for him, most of his successes came by invoking his name. Why wouldn’t anyone take him seriously? He tried changing his wardrobe, but it only helped just a little bit. Maybe he needed to make more drastic changes to his appearance. Whatever the issue was, he wanted to take care of it quickly. It was true; Tony was in jail. But, anyone who knew him should recognize it would be temporary.
“So? You think jail is gonna stop him from taking care of you?”
The man looked concerned.
Oh good…it worked!
“Look, son, I–”
“I’m not your son! Just give Uncle Tony what you owe him!”
“I’ll see you in two days…unless Uncle Tony gets you first.”
Tim cackled as he turned around and walked back home. It was time to get ready for dinner. His mother was expecting him and his sister.
# # #
Mary was brimming with excitement over her family being under the same roof again. She had attempted so many times to get the older children to come over for dinner. They always had excuses. Tim was always more open than Susie, but she wanted them to come together. Finally, it happened. She cleaned all day to keep her nerves and excitement at bay. Had they changed much? Did they still love her? Well, did Tim? His presence interrupted her thoughts when he came through the side door.
She threw her arms around him. “Tim! My sweet boy! So good to see you!”
“I’m a man, mommy.”
She chuckled. “Of course you are!”
She let go of him. “Let me take a look at you! Is your butler taking good care of you? What on earth are you wearing? Are you feeling all right?”
Susie snorted as she walked in on the barrage of questions.
“Mommy,” Tim said, “Please. I’m fine, ok?”
She was taken aback. “Oh…. Well, of course you are!”
My little boy is definitely gone. I hope this man in front of me is just as sweet. Something tells me he isn’t.
Mary put on her classic smile and tried to shift her attention to her daughter, but Phoenix discovered the guests and came bounding toward her brother.
Instead, Mary placed the food on the table, took a seat, and watched her two blonde children love on each other.
The children joined her and served themselves. She wanted so badly to connect with Susie, but it seemed like everything she did and said ended up offending her some kind of way. Her feet were bloody from walking on eggshells around her for so long, but she had to keep trying.
She cleared her throat. “You’re back to brown…. Your hair looks great…”
The sound of metal forks scraping against porcelain plates filled the room like it often used to when they were living under the same roof except now it was a reminder that she was running out of time. Nothing was keeping them, and she wanted to make sure they had a lovely evening.
She cleared her throat again and thought she saw Susie roll her eyes. “So, Susie, what are you up to these days? Are you working?”
“I’m writing a book,” she said lackadaisically.
Mary’s eyes grew wide. “A book? Oh how exciting! What is it about?”
It saddened her to learn her daughter had a talent she didn’t know about. Why did she hate her so much?
A mischievous grin crept onto Susie’s face. “It’s called ‘Keeping Up Appearances,’ and it’s about a manipulative, rich family with all kinds of secrets and the lengths they go through to keep the secrets and appear to be a perfect family.”
Mary knew if she freaked out, it would be over. Susie would shut down for the rest of the night. She swallowed hard on several lumps in her throat and attempted to make the best out of the situation.
“Oh…. Well…I’m sure you will do well if this is the path you’ve chosen to go down. I’m…I’m proud of you.”
Susie looked at her as if she just heard some shocking news. Mary knew that was not the response she was expecting and was glad to be able to disarm her. She scooted away from the table and prepared to take her plate into the kitchen. Her daughters had finished eating as well.
“I’ll take those plates, my darlings,” she said with a genuine smile.
“I got all A’s on my report card,” Phoenix shouted.
Mary gasped. “Oh, how wonderful! I’m so proud of you, dear!”
“Yeah…that’s great,” Susie said.
Both girls got up from the table, presumably to go watch TV, but they stood in the walkway and talked. Susie never paid Phoenix any attention before, and listening to them talk warmed Mary’s heart.
“So…you’re gonna be in high school soon. Are you going to take up the family sport?”
“We have a family sport?”
Mary giggled quietly. Her back was still turned to them.
“What is it?” Phoenix asked.
Phoenix gasped. “You were a cheerleader?”
“I sure was.”
“Coooooooooooool! Mommy, were you one too?”
She finished up the dishes and turned around to find them both back at the table.
“I wanna be a cheerleader too!”
“Maybe I’ll teach you some of our best cheers,” Susie said.
Maybe that was it. Mary thought Susie didn’t care for Phoenix, but maybe she was never able to relate to her before. Maybe she was always too young. Maybe they had nothing in common. Susie had always been a bit socially awkward. Mary didn’t understand why it took her so long to see. Perhaps her daughters had a shot at a good relationship in the future after all.
“Our school’s cheers are dumb,” Tim shouted.
“They are not! We have the best routines in the entire region,” Susie retaliated.
“The uniforms are dumb!”
“Your face is dumb!”
Mary giggled as she took her son’s plate to wash. It wasn’t the evening she planned, but the feels were what she wanted. Having all of her children under one roof breaking bread together–and even fighting with each other–it was all wonderful.