Man of the House Ch. 04byclearwinston©
A stream of foaming champagne ran down mom's hand as she and Erin squealed and giggled, Erin trying to get the flutes under the stream before it hit the floor, but failing miserably. I laughed and shook my head as I yanked a stream of paper towels off the roll, which rested upright on a stainless steel holder by the kitchen sink. As I wiped the mess off the floor the ladies continued to laugh and called me "boy" while telling me I missed a spot. I also had to clean the splashes off their shoes, which didn't bother me a bit. As I returned from throwing away the dripping paper towel wad, my sister handed me a half-full champagne flute and my mother sighed.
"A toast," she said, looking to each of us. "To the absence of fear and a new day of freedom." We all clinked glasses and repeated, "To freedom."
Oh, wait. I'm sorry. I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me back up.
It has been nearly two months since that weekend when I came home to find dad beating up on mom again, and kicked him out. Erin and I have been sexually involved ever since and have occasionally read more of mom's stories. Since that night we went swimming, mom has tried to maintain her composure and nothing else has come of that night that we gave her the massage. But she has continued to write.
So anyway, a couple of weeks after that weekend, mom walked in from work, talking on the phone. She was clearly irate.
"So that's how it's going to be, then? You're going to go after everything?"
She looked at me when she walked in, and pulled a manila folder out of her brief case before tossing it on the table and pointing at it.
"You don't have to remind me how long! I'm well aware!"
The voice on the other end was escalated and although I couldn't hear the words, I could definitely pick up on the tone. I opened the package mom pointed at and pulled out a stack of papers with the name of a legal firm at the top and centered in bold letters was the phrase "Dissolution of Marriage"
Holy shit! Dad was filing for divorce? I looked at mom wide-eyed and she nodded, her eyes narrow as the voice continued to rant on the phone.
"Fine. I'm not going to fight the divorce. I'll get an attorney tomorrow, but why don't you come over tonight so we can tell the kids together?"
The voice protested.
"Oh, come on! It's the least you can do. Be a man for once in your life...I'll speak to you however I damned-well please! What are you gonna do, divorce me?...No you don't have to stay for dinner. Just come over, we'll tell them and you can leave. We both want the divorce, so it's not like I'm going to fight you about it. And I'd be real surprised if the kids did, either...Fine." She hung up and dropped the phone on the table.
"I can't believe dad's divorcing you," I said. "I thought it would be the other way around."
"Yeah, well...Anyway, he'll be here in a little while. Is Erin home?"
I pointed out back.
"Of course." Mom stepped over to the sliding glass door and opened it before calling to my sister. After Erin answered, mom just waved her in before closing the door back.
Erin walked into the kitchen wearing her usual bikini, this time a yellow one. She slid her sunglasses up onto the top of her head, pushing her hair back. "Hey, mom. What's up?"
"Your father and I are getting a divorce."
"It's about time you left his sorry ass," she said.
"Actually," mom corrected, "He's leaving me. I was served papers at work today."
"It's okay, baby," she consoled Erin with her own acceptance. "He had the balls to do what I've always wanted to, but never could. Anyway, he'll be over here in a little while to tell you two. Act surprised."
"Sure thing," I said. Erin echoed, "No problem."
"Well, I'm going to go change. I'll be right back." With that, Erin scampered around the corner and up the stairs.
Erin returned a few minutes later in her shorts and t-shirt and it wasn't much longer before the doorbell rang. I walked to the front and opened the door. Dad was there and he looked surprised and frankly a little intimidated when he saw me. I held my ground and blocked the door for a little longer than I needed to.
"Your, uh...your mom asked me to come over," he stammered, mostly avoiding my gaze.
"She said you would be coming by. Come on in." I opened the door and stepped to the side, closing it as soon as he was clear of it, and as he walked in, I was right on his heels.
As he entered the kitchen he asked, "Who changed the damned locks?"
"I did," I said sternly right behind him. He flinched as soon as I made a noise.
I passed him and sat at the kitchen table beside Erin. Actually I was sitting at the head of the table in the chair that had traditionally been his, but it was right next to Erin's seat. Mom sat at her usual seat at the other end and dad was forced to take a seat at the side, in my old chair.
"So," mom said to dad, "Why don't you start?"
"Oh, calm down. Just tell them what you came to tell them." Mom seemed so nonchalant about the whole thing, but she had to have known that her confidence was unsettling for him. It was not her ordinary response to him. In his defense, however, we had already set up for a home-field advantage. Mom was still in her work clothes, we changed the locks so he had to be let into his own house, and his seat at the head of the table was taken by the son who drew his blood a few weeks before.
"Well...your mom and I...um...you know that we haven't had a very good marriage lately, and..."
"Good god, Larry. Just get to the point," mom pushed, flustering dad even more.
"Okay, okay. Um, kids, your mom and I are getting a divorce."
"Okay," Erin said matter-of-factly.
"Anything else?" I asked, not even blinking.
Dad was stunned. He was kind of wide-eyed and looked over at mom who didn't move either. "No. That's...that's all."
"Okay. Well, thanks for coming over and telling the kids. Now," she said, reaching for the envelope and pulling out the papers, "About the settlement. I don't think it's fair at all. It seems a little...I don't know...disproportionate. I was thinking more along the lines of this." She slid him a single sheet of paper that had a list of numbers on it.
He took a minute to look at it and then looked up at her again, laughing a little. "You're fucking crazy if you think I'm going to go with this."
"What? The way I see it, you can be done with me, get a quick, clean divorce, leave with enough cash that it equals a year's worth of your salary, and can move on with your life."
"No way! This house, your car, twenty-five years, they all come into play and I want what's coming to me!" he fumed.
"Really?" she said, pulling another packet out of her briefcase. "You want what's coming to you?" She opened the envelope and fanned out the last few years' worth of abuse pictures and event statements on the table in front of us. It pissed me off just to see them again, my memory flooding back to all the times I cleaned up mom's blood and went to get Mrs. W. to help out. I looked at Erin and her eyes were red and tear-filled. I reached for her hand and gave it a squeeze.
Dad's jaw was hanging open and his eyes were wide. "Where did you...? What...?"
"Soooo," mom dragged out, "If you want to take the quick and dirty divorce, I would much rather do that. But if you want to drag it out, I can do that, too. I'm sure the court would love to see the state of our marriage for the past two decades. And I'd be happy to press charges. You can spend some time in jail and THEN we can work through a settlement if you'd like. Like I said, I can go for quick and dirty, or I can drag it out, but it will still be dirty. Your call."
Dad sighed, looked at the pictures and then looked at the terms mom wanted. He bobbed his head a few times in a nod of understanding, folded up the paper and put it in his shirt pocket. "If I do what you want on this list, you won't come after me later?"
"Not a chance. The last thing I want to see is your sloppy drunken face near this family again. You formalize that settlement and I'll sign it. I expect to hear from your lawyer with my new settlement by the end of next week."
Dad nodded and stood. I quickly stood to match him and to be ready. Dad looked at me. "I guess this makes you the man of the house now, son."
"I've been the only man in this house for a long time."
Dad looked shocked. I simply pointed toward the front door. He turned to walk away and I walked close behind him. I opened the door and when he stepped out onto the porch, he turned around. I was still standing in the door.
"Cory," he said, reaching for a handshake.
"Fuck you, dad," I said before slamming the door and locking the deadbolt.
So here we are, six weeks later. Dad's lawyer sent the settlement mom had asked for and both signed it. This afternoon they had both met with a judge for a bench hearing, which was pretty much the judge asking if they both wanted this and both really agreed to the settlement. When they affirmed they had, he dropped his gavel and dissolved the union.
"So how does it feel, mom," I asked.
"Oh, honey," she laughed, "You have no idea. It feels great. Such a huge weight has been lifted."
"I'm proud of you, mom," Erin said. "You really stood up to dad and did what needed to be done."
"Thank you, sweetie." Mom touched Erin's arm and smiled.
"Well, I think I should grill some steaks and we can have a proper celebration dinner," I suggested.
"Ooh, that sounds good, baby. We can eat on the patio."
Over the next hour we had all changed into more casual clothes and sipped champagne while the steaks and potatoes cooked and while Erin and mom sliced vegetables for the salad. The ladies walked around the kitchen barefoot, wearing their casual tank tops and shorts. It was a delight to see; as I had shared before, they are both very beautiful. Mom had a new spring to her step, one that I had not seen before. She was truly lighter on her feet.
When I had gone out to light the grill and let it heat up, I came back in to hear the satellite radio playing eighties music, the kind that mom liked to listen to. We all knew a lot of the songs because as we rode with mom in her car, she made it clear that the radio was hers and we had to listen to whatever she wanted. Duran Duran, Bananarama, Journey, the Police and early U2 were part of our childhood memories now, the soundtrack to our play times, if you will. Dad hated it and preferred his classic country: Waylon, Willie, Johnny and George were his staples. They were his drinking buddies.
But he was gone now, and I had a feeling that Hank Williams, Jr. would never come into our living room again.
As I went out to check on the steaks I lit the citronella torches and table candles and turned on the pool light, leaving the patio lights off. There was still plenty of light from the torches, pool light and light coming through the glass door that we would be able to eat and see each other without a problem. I heard mom and Erin inside laughing and looked in through the glass to see them dancing in the living room to the B-52s' "Love Shack." Each had her almost-empty glass in her hand and they laughed as they sang along, Erin doing the part of Fred's one-off echo, apparently his sole purpose in the band. When the song ended and Aerosmith started up, they fell into each other's arms laughing. It did my heart good.
I opened the door and walked in, catching their eye. "Hey! There he is!" mom yelled.
Uh oh, I thought. Time to cut the champagne.
I laughed at them as they continued to dance to "Dude Looks Like a Lady", mom pointing to me as she sang it. I just shook my head to more laughter, laughing along with them. Actually, more AT them really. I checked the champagne bottle and was only mildly surprised to find it empty.
"Really, mom?" I yelled over the music and twisted the bottle in my hand. She just shrugged and downed her glass.
"We're celebrating, remember?" she yelled back. I just waved and tossed the bottle into the trash can. I opened the fridge to make sure and naturally there was another bottle in there. I pulled out a 2-liter of Mountain Dew and held it up for them to see. They both pouted and whined, but I just tapped the side of the bottle and nodded.
I filled three glasses and carried them out to the patio and made a couple more trips to get the salad and dishes. The steak plates were heating on the grill beside the foil-wrapped potatoes. Checking the meat one more time, I put the steak plates into the plate holders and put a steak and potato on each one before setting each one on the table next to the glasses at each seat.
The sun was almost completely gone now, the sky holding onto that space between purple and gray, enough to outline the trees, but not enough to cast a shadow. It was a beautiful night out.
I approached the door to call the ladies to dinner and was surprised at what I saw. There was a slow song playing and they were dancing together. The music was lower and mom had her head on Erin's shoulder, her eyes closed and her hands wrapped around my sister's shoulders.
"Your father never danced with me," she said. "I used to try to get him to, but he never would." Her eyes teared up a little and she sniffled when she said.
I walked up unnoticed. "May I cut in?" I asked. Mom straightened up and looked at me, surprised. Erin was just as surprised it seemed. "I'll dance with you, mom." I held out my hand with a smile. Mom smiled back and took my hand before reaching up to wrap her arms around my neck. My arms found her waist and wrapped around back a little. She rested her head on my chest and it felt amazing.
I looked over at Erin, who was watching and she just winked at me and blew me a kiss. She watched as we danced slowly, barely moving, but moving. As Clapton's guitar faded out, mom lifted her head and looked me in the eye.
"Thank you for dancing with momma, baby." She stood on her tiptoes and kissed me on the cheek, again a little closer to the corner of my mouth than would seem proper, but I wasn't complaining.
Phil Collins interrupted our moment, causing mom to snap back to the present, it seemed. "Man," she laughed awkwardly, backing up, "That champagne went right through me. I need to use the restroom. Excuse me." She continued to back away as she spoke, not knowing where to look apparently.
"Yeah, okay. Well, dinner's ready so come on out when you finish up."
Mom nodded and hurried into the hall where she quickly closed the bathroom door. Erin walked up and quickly wrapped her arms around my neck, giving me a long tongueless kiss on the lips. "Thank you for that," she said. "That was about the sweetest thing I've ever seen." She gave me one more quick kiss and then stepped toward the door, opening it to the patio and taking her seat at the table as I followed behind her.
She sat at the table and made a comment about how good everything looked and smelled. I thanked her and gave her and mom credit for the salad. Mom joined us a moment later, giving us an awkward smile as she took her seat. I remained standing and raised my glass. "Now, I know this isn't champagne, but I can still toast, right?" They both snickered and raised their glasses. "To a new household. To two ladies I dearly love. May peace, love, and freedom reign under this roof from now on." I extended my glass and they both nodded with "well-said" or "hear, hear" as our glasses clinked again.
I took my seat and we each began to prepare our potatoes as Erin used the tongs to put salad into each of our bowls. It was a light-hearted dinner and we each really seemed to relax and enjoy our time together. As mom took her first bite of steak, she said, "Wow, the steak is amazing, Cory." Erin echoed the sentiment and I thanked them both.
"Dinner's great," said Erin, "But it would be even better with more champagne." Mom agreed and laughed.
"Later," I said. "I thought it would do us good to cut the effects with some food and a little non-alcoholic drink for a little bit. I'm not cutting it off completely, just for dinner."
"Thanks, uncle Cory, for letting us drink at your house," Erin said like a young teen. Mom got a kick out of that and pointed her fork and laughed at me.
"If you give me an attitude, young lady, I'll cut you off AND tell your mother."
"Oh, no," she said, "I'm shaking. Oooooooohh." She had an exaggerated tremble in her hands as she hunched over in her chair, her eyes wide as she mocked me. She sat back and smiled as she put another bite of steak in her mouth.
"Brat," I said.
"Dillweed," she retorted.
"Now, children, don't make me pull this patio over. I'll do it." mom laughed.
"Sorry, mom," we both mocked in unison before all three of us burst into laughter.
The rest of the meal was enjoyable and light-hearted as well. The night was amazing, the food was good, and we were all in a great mood. After dinner, I started clearing the table, but mom and Erin insisted that I sit and relax and that they would do it instead. In a few minutes they had cleared the table and put the food away inside, as well as loading the dishes into the dishwasher. When they went inside, instead of closing the door, they simply closed the screen so that the music and laughter drifted out onto the patio. They were talking and laughing and singing like...well, like girls.
I looked out over the pool and yard, just enjoying the night as their laughter and the music drifted out toward me in the background. It wasn't much longer before I heard the screen slide open and I turned to see Mom come through first, with Erin right at her rear. Mom was holding the other champagne bottle and a flute, and Erin was holding two more flutes in one hand as she closed the screen with the other.
"Dinner's over," mom said. "More drinking." I shrugged and smiled because that was the deal. Mom opened the champagne and there was still some foam, but it was much less pronounced than the last bottle. They filled the first glass and mom handed it to me and then filled the two in Erin's hands. Mom set the bottle on the table, took a glass and sat down with a sigh.
No one said anything for a while. We just sat and listened to the bugs and the music and soaked in the night. We each sipped on our champagne for a little while
"God, I need to get laid," mom suddenly blurted out. I about choked on my sip of champagne.
"MO-OM!" Erin squealed.
"AH! Oh, my God!" mom covered her mouth, her eyes wide with shock. "I'm so sorry! I didn't mean to say that out loud."
Erin and I looked at each and just started laughing. Mom was embarrassed we could tell, but didn't really know what to say. Erin just touched mom's arm and said, "It's okay," as she continued to laugh.
Mom buried her face in her hands and let out a groan. "I can't believe I just said that."
"It's fine, mom," I said, still smiling. "Don't worry about it."
"Hey, mom," Erin asked calmly, "How long has it been?"
"Erin!" mom protested.
"What? I'm just curious. How long?"
"I am NOT answering that," mom said, red-faced and incredulous.
"Okay, okay, I'm sorry." Erin settled down and let it go.
Again it was quiet for a few minutes, the air still thick with tension, most of it coming from our mother. "Enough of this," Erin belted out, standing. "I'm going for a swim." With that she took of her shirt and walked quickly to the pool before mom could object, and then pushed her shorts down, kicking them to the side as mom called her name.
SPLASH! She was in the water, a shape in the illuminated pool, briskly kicking toward the diving board. Mom just looked at me as if she wanted to say something, but didn't know what to say. Her mouth opened, but then she closed it and looked back at the pool as Erin burst through the surface at the deep end.