Part 4 of 4
I caught the scent of campfire smell coming in through the open kitchen windows. I took in a deep breath, enjoying the feeling of comfort I always got from that smoky perfume.
"They must have lit the fire. Let's go back outside." I poked my head into the den and lured Caleb and Annabelle away from the television with promises of sticks and marshmallows.
Silas and Jeremy had a nice little fire going. They both looked relaxed and easy with one another, so apparently their drama moment had run its course.
We mentioned Josie and her headache. Silas looked startled. Jeremy didn't. "She's had a couple of bad headaches recently," Jeremy said. "I keep telling her to make an appointment."
"Get my number from Silas and call me if she doesn't," Liz said. "I'll get on her butt to get it done. She's never had headaches before. Neither Jessamine nor myself have ever had a migraine. Mom never had them. And, as far as I know, Melanie never has either."
"Speaking of…" I said, looking around the yard. "Where the heck is Melanie?"
"She's sleeping upstairs," Annabelle volunteered. "We wanted her to help us figure out how to hook up the Play Station, but she was crabby and swatted us away."
I remembered her finger-drawing on the table, connecting the wet beer bottle circles. I wondered how many beers she'd actually had. She's not supposed to drink at all when she has Caleb.
I volunteered to go check on her, if the others would help the kids get started with the marshmallows.
Mel was on top of her bed in her old room, fully clothed and sound asleep.
"Mel." I whispered. "Psst, Mellie, wake up."
She groaned and rolled over. "What time is it?"
"Seven-thirty," I said, louder now. "What are you doing? You have Caleb. And we're having a fire."
"I know, I know," she groused. "Wake me at ten, okay? I'll be fine then. Shouldn't have had that last beer, tha's all."
"Shouldn't be having any beers when you have Caleb," I said, then was immediately sorry I said it.
"I know," she agreed, to my surprise. "Sorry. Jus' need a nap. Wake me, please?"
"I'll try," I said. "But if you're totally out, I'm taking him home with me. We can figure out whatever else tomorrow."
I was hoping for a thanks, or an outpouring of sister-love, but all I got for my accommodating nature was a snore.
When I went back outside, Silas had my phone in his hands and was reading my email. I bristled a little, but let it go when he said, "Send me a copy of the contract and I'll read it over for you." I felt my lips curve up in a smile again. Seemed like I couldn't stop smiling today, no matter what. In fact, the only thing that stopped it from being a perfect day was Sam's absence.
The fire crackled and radiated warmth, and I filled up with contentment. At this very moment it was perfect just to sit here with my family, and the fact that sometimes we are difficult with each other felt very distant. My hyper-religious sister was sitting beside my gay brother and his boyfriend, and she was handling it all right. Two more sisters were safe in their rooms upstairs.
Annabelle and Caleb had loaded up on roasted marshmallows, and now worked off their energy playing flashlight tag in the darkening yard. Life was good.
"Whatever happened with Uncle Butch?" I asked, thinking about Mom's journal, and breaking a long period of relaxed silence.
"What about him?" Silas answered. "He'd dead, and good riddance."
"Yeah, that part," I said. "Why good riddance?"
I could only see his outline in the orange light of the fire, but I still thought I saw his shoulders tense up.
"Who's Uncle Butch?" Jeremy asked.
"Our father's younger brother," Elizabeth answered. "He's been dead a while. Why are you asking, Jess? Something in Mom's journals?"
"Yeah," I said. "A story about Butch trying to hire Silas, and Silas refusing."
"Don't forget the part where Silas was never allowed in the building again," Silas said. "And the part that said by not accepting the position, I signed away all past and future rights to the company name, its assets, and its holdings."
My stomach clenched. There was a resentful edge to Silas's tone that was foreign to me. As difficult as he had ever been, as loudly as he'd ever shouted in his teen years that sisters were stupid and he wished he never had any, I'd never heard this cold kind of anger from him.
It was odd. Out of place.
"But you didn't want to work there anyway," I ventured, keeping my voice soft and calm.
"That doesn't mean I wanted to be kicked out, doesn't mean all doors should close in my face. It was Dad's company. I should have never been completely aced out."
"Maybe you weren't. You didn't sign anything agreeing to the terms, did you?"
He didn't answer. The silence was electrifying. I was holding my breath.
"Silas," Elizabeth whispered, and I could hardly hear her over the crackle of the fire. "Did you?"
"But why?" Liz asked. "Why would you do that?"
"I can't – no, I won't – talk about this."
He got up and left. Not just the yard. He got in his truck and left the driveway.
We all – me, Liz, and Jeremy, stared at his retreating taillights in amazement.
"What the hell was that?" Jeremy said. "I've never seen him like that. And believe me, we've had a lot of arguments. And a lot of them end with him leaving. But not like that."
"That wasn't an argument," I said. "That was something else."
How does Silas deal with personal problems? I remembered Jeremy asking us that, taunting us, really, hurt and angry, and yet pleased somehow to know something about our brother that none of the rest of us knew.
And I remembered the answer, too. He yells, he punches walls, he breaks things, and only then does he finally spit out what the real problem is.
What he doesn't do is go cold and silent.
I stared into the fire for a couple of minutes, then said, "I know that Silas and our cousin Ralph never got along when we were growing up, but I don't remember anything particular between Silas and Uncle Butch, do you, Liz? Like, I don't know, animosity, or dislike of each other?"
"Hmm," she said, long and drawn out like she was thinking. "I don't know. There's something bouncing around in my memory, but I can't quite catch it. Give me a minute."
Annabelle and Caleb came over to the fire, giggling. "Man, am I ever so thirsty," Annabelle said, with panting breaths and slumped shoulders, demonstrating exactly how thirsty she was. "Mom? Will you get me a glass of water?"
"Yeah, me too," Caleb said, with a big dramatic sigh.
"Very funny, guys. If you're not old enough to get your own glass of water, it must be way past your bedtimes."
"No! I'm never going to bed, never in million years," Annabelle shrieked as she raced for the kitchen door.
"Me neither!" Caleb said, running after her.
"It seems to me," Liz said once the kids were out of earshot, "that Silas and Uncle Butch were abnormally close for a while. Oh, we were still young… but I'm thinking, a Thanksgiving Dinner at Uncle Butch and Aunt Margie's house, when Silas and Butch spent a long time in Butch's den, and I only remember it because Aunt Margie's seemed like she was angry about it. And then it must have been that same year, at Christmas, that Uncle Butch gave Silas, oh, something too expensive, or over the top, I don't know – that BB gun, maybe? Yeah, the one that came with a bonus sling-shot. Neither Mom nor Aunt Margie seemed to know about it beforehand, and they both were a little aggravated with Uncle Butch. And by the next year Uncle Butch was giving that kind of attention to his own son, Ralph, who'd been just a little bit developmentally delayed in what, first and second grades, maybe, but then suddenly caught up to his age group."
"Okay, so…" I stopped to think a little. "Silas was jealous when Butch transferred his attention to his own son? And maybe that's why he never cared for Ralph?"
"Oh, I don't know, Sissy," Liz said, and sighed. "I mean, it was long, long ago. Silas was maybe ten or eleven, and we were even littler, so maybe it's just something I made up."
"Weird," Jeremy said. "Even weirder would be having all kinds of sisters to analyze your every mood."
I laughed. "Mom started it. She wrote about that company meeting in her journal, and about Silas bidding Uncle Butch good riddance. So now that Silas has a secret, I wonder how long he'll manage to keep it from me?"
"If Silas doesn't want to talk, he won't talk," Liz said. "And family secret-keeper or not, you'll have to accept that."
Yeah, we'll see about that, I thought, and smiled.
I gave Mel till ten to sober up, then drove her and Caleb home. Mel was probably okay to drive, but I thought it was silly to take a chance.
Annabelle was asleep in the car before we got on the bridge to Superior. I'd been hoping Sam would be home to carry her up to bed, but he wasn't.
It wasn't odd for Sam to be gone all day, but it was a little strange to have not heard from him. After I walked Annabelle upstairs, I texted him. Where's you?
He texted back. Lunch.
That made me laugh. A couple times a year lunch with the boys turned into bar close. He would come home extra silly.
I was so jacked I couldn't sleep, which was okay, because I had an email to answer. Yes. Yes. Yes. Please send a contract!