"I think you should," I said.
Somewhere amid the sounds of instruments being tuned came the faint strain of Beethoven's Ode to Joy.
Jeremy turned away from us and pulled his phone from his pocket.
Melanie stood up and straightened her flowing, peasant-style shirt. "Beer tent," she announced, giving me a look that clearly said she didn't want to participate in my discussion with Silas about Aunt Margie.
Silas watched Jeremy, gaze softening as Jeremy said, "Jo-Jo? Ah, sweetie, it's no problem. I'll be there in a little while." He put the phone back into his pocket, and asked Silas, "Can I take your Jeep?" His eyes were almost pleading. "Jessie, can you give Silas a ride later? Josie still feels awful. I'm going to try to get her to eat something."
"She's that sick?" I asked. "Maybe we all should go."
"No, no," Jeremy said. "She said don't ruin the day for the rest of you. She's worried it's a summer flu bug, anyway, and doesn't want anyone else to get sick. Me, well, I live there, I can't really avoid it, you know?"
"Sam and I can drive you home," I said to Si.
He just shrugged. "I only drove because Jeremy slept over, and I figured I'd have to drive him up to mom's house later. I can walk home."
Silas lived in an overly-expensive condo, just a mile away or so, smack in the middle of downtown, reminiscent of cities that suffer from over-crowding and space issues. Duluth was not a metro area, however, so the building was well, pseudo SoHo or something like that, with a parking garage underneath, and a fantastic view of the North Shore Railway and the Duluth Harbor. It was almost pretentious, but somehow it suited him.
"Josie must be really sick," I observed, "if she's calling for company. Yikes."
Silas dug into his pocket and handed Jeremy his keys. We both watched him walk away. Me, worried about Josie, Silas, I suspected, avoiding conversation with me.
"So?" I prompted.
"What?" Silas asked, just as the new band opened their set with a crash of drums and a guitar riff.
Silas grinned at me, then shrugged. Yeah, like the music was going to get him out of this conversation.
Liz and Dean returned. Perfect. I could drag Silas off to talk, and Liz could babysit our stuff. Liz handed me my coke, as Silas studied Dean with curious eyes.
"Come on," I said to Silas, picking up Sam's chair bag, which happened to not contain any alcohol at the moment.
"Where are we going?"
"To get drinks from my car."
"Nah, I'm good," he said.
I grabbed him by the wrist. "Liz, stay with the stuff," I said, raising my voice to be heard above the band. "Silas, come with me."
I dragged him out of the park. Well, okay, he let me drag him. I could feel his reluctance in how hard he hung back. When we got to the car in the aquarium parking lot, I popped the trunk, and twisted open a wine cooler. Then I handed him a beer.
"Fess up," I said. "Why was Aunt Margie hitting you when you were a kid?"
"Jess," he said. "It's not worth talking about."
"You're full of it," I said. "I'm going to find out one way or another, so you might as well tell me."
"She didn't want me hanging out with Uncle Butch."
"And why not?"
"She said it wasn't fair to Ralph."
"Uh-huh. And for that she hit you?"
Silas took a swig of his beer and paced all the way around the car. "I really don't want to talk about it, Jessie. Not now. Probably not ever."
"You keep saying that, Si, which makes me think you need to talk about it, whether you want to or not. If not to me, then someone else."
"Like who? A therapist?"
"If that's what the subject requires, sure."
He shook his head, and walked around the car again. This pacing thing let me know that he was way more agitated than he wanted to let on.
"Butch was… I don't know how to explain it. Physical, I guess. You know, he'd rest his fingers on my shoulder, ruffle my hair. He'd get down to my level and talk to me like I was his little man, real earnest and honest-like, his big hands circling my waist. He talked to me different than the way other adults did, and I felt special, like I was almost a grown-up. It was like that for awhile, I don't know, Labor Day to Thanksgiving, maybe. I was eleven."
He stopped pacing and just leaned against the side of the car, staring at the ground.
"But then that Thanksgiving, Butch was, I don't know, different. His hands were meaner, and he touched me in ways I didn't like. Personal ways. I felt really embarrassed."
"I told Aunt Margie. First she slapped my mouth, actually gave me a fat lip, then she said I had an overactive imagination and said I'd better not say that to anyone else, and that if I didn't like Uncle Butch, then I should stay away from him."
"Oh Jesus, Si, he was grooming you."
Silas rolled his eyes. "No shit, you think?"
"So that was it? You stayed away from him, right?"
The only answer I got was silence.
He sighed, blew a out a long breath that puffed through his lips, and scrubbed his face with his hands. "Yeah, stupid, I know. But I really liked the part where he treated me like an adult. And I didn't want to hurt his feelings, even when sometimes his touching grew into something I knew wasn't quite right. I'll spare you the details. They aren't important, anyway."
"And you still never told anyone?"
Silas shook his head. "I used to go over there after school, used the excuse that our house was too full of girls. I supposed Butch invited me, and I'm not sure why he was at home and Aunt Margie at work, but whatever. I'd stay until just before Aunt Margie got home." He laughed, but it was a sound that dropped to the concrete and crackled, not humorous. "But one day I forgot to watch the time, and Aunt Margie caught me limping out the back door, and she was furious. She walloped me across the side of the head and said if she ever caught me in her house again, she'd tell mom and dad that I stole money from her, that I was a thief and a liar."
"Mom would have never believed that. You could have told her the truth, she'd have listened to you."
"I didn't want to think about the truth. I wasn't ready for the ugly words that describe the kind of person Uncle Butch was. Aunt Margie said I had to stay away or I was going to ruin their whole lives. That was the end of it."
I wanted to stare at him, but then I didn't want to look at him at all. "So Margie is the good guy in this stupid story," I said, but immediately wanted to take it back. What kind of story had I been hoping for, anyway? Margie wouldn't have hit Silas over something warm and fuzzy.
"That Christmas, Uncle Butch gave me the BB gun – and everybody was upset about that, not just Aunt Margie, but Mom and Dad, too. And he told me he missed me and was sorry I didn't come over anymore. I just shrugged and said I had a lot of sisters that needed looking after. And that was about the end of it. But I never really forgot, and I think Butch knew it, and I supposed as I got older, he must've realized I could be some kind of threat to him. He definitely didn't want me in the company."
I didn't know what to say, so I didn't say anything. I just stepped up to him and gave him a fierce hug.
He shook himself free. "Enough of that, now. And don't be getting all upset. It's all done and gone and over. The end. See? Melanie's not the only one with ugly childhood secrets."