I wouldn't have thought the day could get any worse, what with Josie, the organizer of our fun Fourth of July, home sick, and finding out Silas was molested by Uncle Butch. Wasn't that enough?
Silas didn't return to the park. After pulling away from my hug, he went home. He looked hollow and fragile as he walked away, and I tried to remember if he'd ever looked like that after visiting Uncle Butch. But no, that was self-defeating. I was only six and wouldn't have noticed if he had. So then I tried to remember if Uncle Butch had ever touched me inappropriately, or made me feel uncomfortable in any way. But nothing came to mind. So probably not.
It was only two o'clock, still many, many hours until fireworks.
I tucked two wine coolers and two beers into Sam's chair bag and headed back, noticing all of a sudden that the temperature seemed to have soared up into the eighties. Linda, my golf-cart-driving volunteer friend came by and picked me up. Sweet relief. She was definitely the woman to know today.
She delivered me to the remains of our family gathering. The blankets had been dragged further into the shade, and Melanie was watching the band through half-closed eyes.
Sam and Eric had returned, and Dean Johnson was nowhere in sight. Well, there was one small piece of good news. Liz was strongly encouraging everyone to eat.
I cracked open another wine cooler, handed Sam a beer, and loaded up a plate, just in time for Annabelle to take it off my hands.
That's how it goes.
I loaded up another plate and offered it to Mel. "You should eat."
"Not hungry," she growled at me.
"Yeah, but you should eat, anyway. It would be good to add food to your beer."
"No thanks." Her eyes were slits, but her mouth was smiling in an odd, ambiguous way. "Beer is all I need today."
I handed the plate to Caleb, who'd arrived seconds behind Annabelle.
And since Liz had fixed plates for Sam and Eric before I got back, I finally sat down and ate.
The band was good, but winding down. And the food was good, but the absences were glaring. Even more so after Sam answered his phone.
"Jimmy called in sick, and Bill called in dead. I'm pretty sure Bill is lying. But that puts me in a truck. Sorry, Sweetie." He kissed my cheek and the top of Annabelle's head. "Have a nice slacker day."
"Are you taking the car?" I asked, thinking getting home was going to be really confusing.
"Nope, one of the drivers who isn't sick or dead is meeting me in the parking lot. You're in the clear."
Eric watched him go.
The band ended their set, and without their musical energy, the whole area felt like it was getting ready for an afternoon nap.
"Starting to look like sibling-only day," Eric said.
"Oh, come on, you're not leaving, too, are you?" Liz asked, chuffing at him and shaking her head.
"Well…" Eric said, then paused. "Maybe Jessamine can give you a ride?"
Liz threw up her hands. "Fine. Go. We'll just have a sister day. It'll be fine. Hell, it'll probably be more fun. Ha."
Liz put the food away, and I went and got funnel cakes and cokes for Caleb and Annabelle. It was a direct and total bribe to get them to stay with our blankets and chairs while we girls checked out the vendor booths. I gazed longingly at jewelry I'd never wear. Melanie tried on hats, and Liz spent long minutes learning how to place a big, glitzy charm onto a stylish scarf. And even though the scarf charm was obnoxiously large, it looked pretty cool.
Dean bumped into Liz. Oh, he made it seem like an accident, but somehow I doubted that. When we figured we'd been long enough for the kids to finish their colas and start vibrating, we headed back. And still Dean tagged along.
Melanie disappeared, Dean was nothing but properly polite, and next few hours were uneventful as the music waxed from tolerable to fantastic.
Just as we were settling down to wait for the fireworks to start, Mel showed up swearing, dragging Caleb by the hand to the blanket.
Caleb looked like he'd rather be anywhere else in the world but here.
Liz grabbed her. "Mellie, what's going on?"
"Oh, shit, oh, shit." Mel started keening and crying the way you only see when you're at a funeral, or hanging out with a drunk chick. She crumpled to the ground, dragging Liz along to create a heap of misery.
Caleb tugged on my arm. "She got in an argument with my dad. He was really yelling. He said she's irresponsible."
"That's a big word," I said, because I had no idea what else to say. Mel was clearly in violation of her visitation agreement, and if Craig saw her here, there were going to be repercussions.
He rolled his eyes at me. "Yeah, but it's true. She's getting sicker."
Annabelle was tucked in close to my side. "What's wrong with her?" she asked, about Melanie.
"She had too much grown-up juice and it's made her silly," I explained.
Unfortunately, right about then, Caleb's dad, Craig, and the cops showed up. Uh-oh. This wasn't going to blow over until Craig pulled her into court again.
The two officers pulled Melanie to her feet and took her about ten yards away to talk to her. Craig told Caleb to stay put and went along with them.
Caleb scooted closer to me, wrapped his arms around his knees, and started to rock.
"It's going to be all right," I told him. "They both love you."
"Yeah. Mom just doesn't do well with rules."
"Well, that's true."
Melanie's wail reached us over the music, and jerked our heads up so our eyes could find her. Caleb was halfway to his feet when I grabbed him and pulled him onto my lap. "Stay here," I said. "Us getting involved will only confuse things."
I held onto the kids. But when Melanie got louder, angrier, and more hysterical, Liz went to her. And when Mel took a swing at one of the cops, it was Liz, a head taller than Mel, who got between them, and grabbed Melanie by the wrists.
I could see Liz talking to Mel, see the intensity of their facial expressions, Liz deadly serious, earnest, Mellie shaking her head violently, and actually pawing the ground with her shoe.
The kids were staring.
Just as I was wondering if I should take them away to get another coke, the sky exploded with color.
"Wish on a firework for Auntie Josie," I told Annabelle, and she held her arms up toward the sky and said, "Don't be sick anymore, Auntie."
It was so honest and sweet I almost choked up. I said my wish, too, that the docs would figure out why Josie was getting headaches.
I kept a surreptitious eye on the Melanie drama, while the kids and the crowd ooh-ed and ahh-ed. The ones that explode then slowly droop like weeping willows were still my favorite. Annabelle exclaimed, "Look! Look!" and clapped her hands when one of them exploded into a giant purple peace sign.
By the time the show was over, Melanie was gone.
Craig came over to sit by Caleb.
"Come home with me tonight, buddy," Craig said, and Caleb nodded.
I didn’t really want to talk to Craig. He was right, of course. Melanie's drinking was getting out of control, and Caleb should never have to deal with that. It left him an eleven-year old adult, and that wasn't fair.
"We all watch out for him," I finally said.
"I know," Craig answered. "And I appreciate that. You guys are always great. I had a feeling that there was more going on with Mel than Caleb was letting on. He hates to be the one to get her in trouble."
"Where'd she go?" I asked.
"They said they were taking her to detox. I'm sorry."
And Caleb, well-loved, in the middle of it all.