Thankful

byPuckIt©

"He usually does," Uncle Billy said, giving up his pose to smile.

I took advantage of the lull to decide I should get a drink. And give Uncle Billy time to get distracted by something on television.

I'd gone back to reading while I walked back to the kitchen and it wasn't until I looked up to lift down a glass that movement out in the garage caught my eye through the window in the door.

I'd known, intellectually, they had some weights out in the garage that Olivia, and I supposed Uncle Billy, used when we weren't there. But, they'd never been out there using them while we were visiting.

The movement had been Kelly lifting a bar with more plates stacked on the ends than I would have imagined they might have out there. She'd stripped off the baggy clothing and was wearing a pair of shorts and a sports bra, as thick muscles corded and knotted beneath skin covered in a sheen of sweat.

A sheen of sweat and a swirling pattern of yet more of the dots that decorated her face. Every inch of her seemed to hold at least one, usually more, of the black spots except for a swirl of brown gracing her left side that was almost an exact replica of the Orion nebula.

I bobbled the glass and in trying to catch it, managed to drop the paper I was reading. I bent to pick up the paper from the floor. When I stood upright again, Kelly was looking directly at me and I froze for just a moment.

The constellations gilding her skin sang to my mind. Trying to ignore them didn't help as it just called my attention to the body they graced. A body that looked like Scotty had tried to beam up Arnold Schwarzenegger and Ava Fabian and the matrices had gotten crossed in the teleportation field.

God, she was gorgeous!

Too bad she was a jock. Most likely with that same superior arrogance of every other jock and a tendency to look down on what they thought of as lesser mortals.

But, then, even if she hadn't been, it had been my experience that a beautiful woman could be much crueler than a jock when she wanted to be.

I tore my gaze reluctantly away and crossed to the sink where I filled and drained my glass twice before wandering back to the living room, my attention back on the paper that I was beginning to suspect might have potential to break a deadlock we'd hit.

I would, of course, have to restructure it. Hell, I'd probably have to build the thing from scratch. But, his ideas certainly looked like they might help.

A hard shove caught me by surprise, making me fall over where I was sitting on the couch.

"Ow, Olivia! What the hell?"

"Hey!" Uncle Billy snapped. "Do I need to go get the ice buckets?"

"What did you do?" Olivia snarled, still atop me, pressing me down into the couch.

"I don't know what you're talking about," I wheezed.

"Olivia Jeanene!" Aunt Regina joined the fray. "Get off him, right now!"

"Kelly is upset," Olivia snarled. "She's in the shower right now. Probably crying. I want to know what Nick did to her."

"Me?" I gasped. "Nothing! I went to the kitchen and got a drink. While I was there I saw you guys lifting. I came back after I got a drink. That's it."

"Bullshit!"

"Ollie!"

"Well, it is! He probably stared at her!"

"I didn't! At least I don't think I did," I said. "I was reading and reached for a glass. The movement of her lifting distracted me and I dropped the glass. I managed to catch the glass but dropped my paper. When I stood up, she was looking at me. I turned away and got the drink I was after. I couldn't have looked at her for more than a couple of seconds."

"Whatever, Space Chimp," Olivia seethed. "Understand this, if you hurt her, I will hurt you."

"Ollie, why don't you go check on Kell?" Uncle Billy said.

Olivia glared at me until she passed behind me where I couldn't see her. I found the three adults all staring at me.

"What?" I asked. "I didn't do anything."

"We're just worried about Kelly, Nick," Aunt Regina said gently. "She's very sensitive about the way she looks. She tried to commit suicide a couple of years ago. So, we're a bit protective of her."

"But, I didn't do anything," I said. "I didn't stare at her. Not then and not any other time. We've hardly spoken, so I couldn't have said anything. And besides, what does she have to feel sensitive about? If being that much bigger bothers her, maybe she should quit lifting. I assume she knows lifting is what is making her bigger."

"It's not being bigger," Uncle Billy said. "It's her spots. You know how kids can be when someone looks different. Well, I gather the other kids have made her feel bad about them her whole life. And then, that boy... Well, that's not my place to tell that story. Anyway, she's convinced she's ugly and won't ever be anything but ugly."

"But, that's just dumb!" I all but shouted. "Kelly's gorgeous! Seriously. She's beautiful. It's really dumb that she can't see it because other people, stupid people, have to make comments to cut her down to make themselves feel better about the way they look."

"Yes, Nick," Aunt Regina said. "But, she didn't have your advantages of a parent making sure you knew you were special despite the other kids making fun of you for your differences."

"What differences?" I asked, half joking.

As intended, my comment made the adults smile and the conversation gradually wandered away from the topic of Kelly, letting me off the hook.

But, they'd given me something to think about. It hadn't crossed my mind that Kelly might have been the butt of what passed for schoolyard humor just as I was for so long. And for the beautiful stars decorating her skin no less.

A little before midnight, the adults wandered off to bed. I wasn't quite ready to sleep just yet as I didn't sleep much, but I went ahead and folded out the couch to lay down and read.

Shortly before two, I felt ready to sleep and shut my eyes without bothering to turn the light off.

As usual, two hours fifty-seven minutes later, my eyes popped open. And, as usual, I laid there for a few moments wishing for a return to the dream I'd left behind. It didn't work. It never did. Slightly less than three hours of sleep in a twenty-four hour period was all I was ever allowed.

I padded to the kitchen where, without an audience to comment, I eschewed the social nicety of a spoon to dig the goop out of a couple of jars of baby food scrounged from the cabinet they stocked for me during our visits with two fingers.

Naturally, movement drew my eye, and I glanced at the kitchen door to see Kelly standing there, watching me with two green covered fingers in my mouth.

"Um, good morning," I managed after extracting my fingers.

"Hi," Kelly said. "So, you're awake, then? Would you mind if I watch television?"

"No, not at all. Help yourself."

Without saying anything else, she wandered away that direction, leaving me embarrassed at being seen like that.

I finished my breakfast in short order and returned to the living room to find her in Uncle Billy's chair flipping through channels. We didn't speak as I swiped my bag from under the table and headed back to the bathroom.

In addition to my regimen of meds, I took the time to shit, shave, and shower and pull on fresh clothes before wandering back to find Kelly watching a movie. I would have been pleased that it just wasn't so-called "news" or sports. But, I was pleasantly surprised to find her watching a movie of the type I liked. And one I hadn't seen several times already.

I regained my seat and watched the screen. I didn't know what I'd missed, but I was reasonably sure I could catch up.

"I heard you," Kelly said softly without looking away from the screen.

"Er, I wasn't exactly trying to sneak up on you."

"No. Last night. I heard what you said."

"Um. Can you be a bit more specific?" I asked. "I'm not sure what we are talking about."

"When you said I'm beautiful."

Aww, shit. And thus, Hell begins. Or such had been my experiences.

"Yeah, well it's just the simple truth," I shrugged one shoulder and stared hard at the screen.

I could feel Kelly's eyes on me but carefully didn't so much as glance at her. If she was going to make fun of me now, I couldn't stop her. But, I didn't have to make it easier for her either.

To my relief, she returned her eyes to the screen and we watched the movie in silence until Olivia decided our lives had been much too pleasant and came wandering in.

"Hey, Space Chimp, manners would be to let Kelly pick the movie as our guest and a girl."

"He did," Kelly said softly. "I'm sorry. We can change it, if you want."

"No," Olivia said slowly, thwarted once again. "No, if you picked it, it's fine. But, you heard Daddy. We aren't supposed to be in here until everyone is up."

"No," Kelly said. "You aren't supposed to be in here until Uncle Billy is up. He didn't say anything about me. And since Nick was up and didn't mind me coming in and watching television..."

"Well, I'm up now," Olivia said, glaring at me with her bloodshot eyes. "Did you want to get in a workout or anything?"

"I'd sort of like to finish watching this first," Kelly said. "It's almost over."

Olivia, being her usual charming self, flopped down on the couch and proceeded to yawn loudly and talk and make other noise so we couldn't really hear what was said in the movie.

Kelly and I's eyes met finally, and we shared a small shy smile at Olivia's obvious obnoxiousness.

Giving up, I suppose, Kelly took Olivia and wandered away before the movie was done. It almost seemed wrong, somehow, for me to watch the ending without her, but I couldn't force myself to look away.

When it was over, I made a note of the name, "The Princess Bride," and looked to see when it would be coming on next. It was a new release on HBO, so it was going to be on several times over the next few days. Which was good. Maybe I could catch it from the beginning.

And maybe Kelly would get to watch the end.

I left the television on but ignored it in favor of one of my books, a light fantasy novel with swords and sorcery, while I waited for the sun to peek in the windows.

About the time I heard stirring elsewhere in the house, I deemed it light enough out and set my book aside to go walk down to the park to continue my interrupted exercise from the night before.

When I returned, of my own choosing this time, Uncle Billy was on his throne and the television was turned to the talking heads breaking down statistics for the game later that day.

"Heyla, Hoss! Looks like it's going to be a great day for turkey and football."

"It is," I agreed. Cold, cloudy, and threatening rain. Just the sort of dreary day that best suited my mood when being threatened with those two in combination.

"So, do you think we'll make a good show of it?"

"You would know better than I, Uncle Billy. What do you think?"

"Well, I have to be honest, but I'll deny I ever said it if you repeat it, our boys lost a step or two over that strike. I mean, you could see that when the Washington Scabs took us out behind the woodshed. And us with most of our talent back! And it's gotten worse. I just don't know if they have enough pepper to pull it out."

I've often wondered if the numb haze that descended over me whenever anyone started talking sports was similar to what other, normal people felt in the classroom. I admit I faded out while Uncle Billy went on to break down the stats of what sounded like the entire first and second string on either side of the ball.

It took me a moment to realize he had stopped talking and was staring past me at the hallway behind me with his mouth hanging open.

I glanced around to see Kelly coming around the couch clad much as she'd been while she lifted and shining with sweat she was swiping at with a towel.

Typical. I get chewed on and warned not to stare, but then Uncle Billy gets to sit there with his eyeballs popping out.

Kelly didn't see his reaction, I guess, since she was wiping at her face with the towel.

"Er, Good morning, Kellster," Uncle Billy said as she spread the towel in the other recliner across from him and sat. "Did you, uh, get in a good workout?"

"Not really," Kelly replied. "Olivia wasn't on form. Tired, I think. We were going to hit the showers, but Priscilla and Michelle are in there. So, I thought I'd come see what you guys were doing in here."

"Kelly? What are you doing?" Olivia asked from behind me as she came in.

I couldn't help it. I rolled my eyes. And Kelly must have caught it, since she broke out into giggles. No one the size of Kelly should be allowed to giggle. Chortle, fine. Snicker, chuckle, or laugh or anything but giggle like a schoolgirl in pigtails.

I was entranced.

Not long after Olivia joined us, and Kelly had to explain what she was doing again, Michelle wandered in.

"Kelly?! What are you doing?"

Something in Michelle's tone clued me in there was more to the story than I was catching and I frowned around at her to find her staring open-mouthed at Kelly.

What? Was I the only one who wasn't supposed to stare or something?

"Just waiting for a shower to open up," Kelly said, rising to her impressive full height.

"Ah, well, that's what I was doing," Michelle said. "I was coming to tell you I was done."

"Me too," Priscilla said as she came in.

At least Pris didn't ask Kelly what she was doing.

Kelly and Olivia stood and started making their way from the room. I couldn't help but wonder just what it was about Kelly being in the living room that had made the rest of my family take that tone and stare. I watched as she walked past, trying to figure it out. Her eyes crossed mine and a blush mantled on her cheeks as she ducked her head and hurried away.

"What on earth was that?" Michelle asked about the time Kelly and Olivia should have turned the far hallway behind me.

"I know!" Uncle Billy hissed. "I never thought I would... that she would..."

"What's going on?" Pris asked, her eyes on me.

I shrugged to show I didn't have a clue either.

"Kelly never, and I mean never, wears what she was wearing where anyone might see her," Michelle told Pris. "Even lifting, she only wears it to work out in private. Never in public. To have her sitting here in her shorts and a sports bra..."

Michelle trailed off and glanced at the hallway behind me.

"So?" Pris asked after a moment. "I wear that kind of stuff all the time. So do you. And she looks really good in it, if maybe a little butch. What's the big deal?"

"No," Michelle shook her head. "You don't get it. It's rare for Kelly to let anyone she doesn't know see her face. She's seriously self-conscious about her birthmarks. To have her sitting here, dressed like that, in front of God and everyb-..."

Michelle broke off and turned to stare at me.

"In front of Nick, you mean?" Pris asked.

Oh. Suddenly much became clear.

"Uh, she said something this morning," I said, glancing at Uncle Billy. "I guess she heard us last night. Heard what I said. About her being gorgeous."

"Did she now?" Uncle Billy perked up and leaned forward with his elbows on his knees. "Did she?"

"What's this?" Michelle asked. "What did we miss?"

While Uncle Billy filled them in, I flashed back to July. The last time I'd revealed I thought a girl was attractive.

Every summer when we met Uncle Billy and his brood out at the lake to celebrate the Fourth of July and Olivia and I's birthday, several of Laurell and Michelle's friends, either also Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders or wanting to be, would either tag along or swing out to visit while we were in residence.

One would think I would have become inured to physically attractive women what with my own female relatives being on the high end of the scale themselves and the bevy of bikini-clad friends of Laurell and Michelle. One would be wrong.

If anything, it only made things more difficult. Oh, not my sister, mother, aunt, and two older cousins. But, the others...

And Olivia was root and branch of the difficulties, calling attention to me in such a way that made them all laugh at me.

I'd learned the hard way not to show the slightest interest in them or what they were doing (although I couldn't help but sneak frequent peeks).

But, July of 1987, there had been one amongst them that stood out from the rest. Tina had gone on to become the most photographed Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader that fall and sold the most posters. (I bought three myself.)

I hadn't been able to take my eyes off her at the lake that summer, giving Olivia ample ammunition. Tina's laugh was the loudest when the girls would invariably get tickled at something Olivia said or did and cut their eyes towards me.

After a week of Olivia making snide comments and parading around with her index finger down her bikini bottoms sticking straight out and pointing at Tina whichever way she turned, and the girls all laughing about it, I snapped.

The biannual epic showdown of Nick and Olivia was as ignominious as it was short lived. There was no need for the ice buckets our fathers kept prepared as Olivia took care of it herself.

Olivia hefted me bodily over her head, marched down to the lake shore, and hurled me out into the water. Much to the merriment of all that saw except for Father and I. Only Olivia herself laughed harder than Tina.

No. Kelly, and everybody else, knowing that I found her attractive could not possibly end well for me.

"Nick? Nick?!"

I snapped back to myself at Priscilla's call.

"Are you back with us, Nick?" Uncle Billy asked.

"Yes," I said. "I'm sorry."

"Not a problem," Uncle Billy said kindly. "I thought you'd outgrown that."

"That was different," Pris said. "That wasn't pattern capture. That was memory. Are you all right, Nick?"

"I'm fine, Pris. Thank you. A little thirsty."

I got up from my seat and made my way to the kitchen.

Just in time to be walking past as Kelly opened the bathroom door. At least, thank God, she was wearing more clothes as she paused rubbing her long dark hair with a towel.

I quickly tore my eyes away and went on into the kitchen where Mom and Aunt Regina were messing around doing stuff with food for the traditional feast.

"Good morning, Nick," Aunt Regina said, spotting me first.

"Good morning, Aunt Regina. Mom." I retrieved my glass from the night before from the drainer and filled it. "Is there anything I can do to help?"

"You can keep your Uncle out of here," Aunt Regina said with a smile.

"Did someone mention me?" Uncle Billy asked, coming up behind me. "Mmm. Smells like heaven in here."

"And your sister and I will beat you within an inch of your life if you set one foot in here," Aunt Regina said severely.

"But, it's Thanksgiving, Dear!" Uncle Billy stepped into the kitchen and was immediately driven back as Mom and Aunt Regina advanced with spoons. "Fine. Fine. I came bearing news anyway. Did you happen to see what Kelly was wearing this morning when she finished her workout?"

"The same thing she always wears," Aunt Regina replied, cocking her head.

"Right," Uncle Billy nodded. "Well, she came into the living room where me and Nick were visiting. Dressed like that."

"She did not!"

"Sure did." Uncle Billy nodded. "And there's more. Seems she heard Don Quixote here call her beautiful last night when we were all talking."

"Did she?! But, that's wonderful!"

"Ayup. Oh, and she's sitting in there right now, brushing out that hair of hers. And I can see her face! But, I don't think it's me she's waiting to show it to."

All three of the adults turned beaming faces on me. God, it was worse than junior high. And I hadn't thought that was possible.

"Well, I should get out of the way," I said, washing my glass and putting it back in the drainer.

"Are you sure I can't have just one of those deviled eggs?" Uncle Billy asked. "Nobody will miss just one."

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