Chapter 10, Part 2
Mel went on long enough about how much she hates throwing up that I started to feel a little sick myself.
"Seriously, Mel, too much info."
"Well, you know," she said, "some of us are hard core, some of us are pansies."
"Yeah, I'll keep my pansy status, thanks."
"And I'll go get another beer." She got to her feet and headed for the beer tent, already walking lopsided. But maybe that was just me being judgmental.
"How many do you guess she's had already?" Liz asked, so maybe I wasn't judging Mel poorly after all.
I shrugged. "You know Mel – probably the first in line at the beer tent this morning."
She sighed. "She's going to crash. And Josie's sick? Again? That's not like Josie."
"I know," I said. "This was supposed to be a perfect day. But maybe if we all just chill it can still be perfect enough."
"Silas and Jeremy were holding hands," Liz said. "Did you see?"
"Yeah, I saw. Let it go, Liz. We're supposed to be relaxing and enjoying each other." I made a point to change the subject. "Hey, where do you think Sam and Eric went off to?"
"Eric said something about a car show at the arena," she said. "All American muscle cars or something. We might not see the two of them until dinnertime."
I grinned, glad that Sam and Eric had something in common. Then again, who doesn't adore a '69 Charger or a '68 Firebird?
I dug a bottle of water out of the canvas sack that also held my collapsible chair, and was squinting against the sun, already imagining the cold goodness in my mouth, when a dude walking by paused and did an obvious double-take.
"Liz?" he asked, his entire demeanor a question mark.
She startled, and looked up at him. "Oh, Dean! Hi, how are you?"
"Pretty good," he answered. "How's the class going?"
"It starts tomorrow. It's nice to have a long weekend to enjoy first. I feel pretty confident that if it's my only class, I can handle it."
I watched them without trying to watch them, if you know what I mean. Liz fiddled with her braid, and then with her hat. She adjusted her sunglasses. She smiled.
I looked up at the guy. He was clean cut and fresh looking, wearing khaki shorts, a polo shirt, and flip-flops. He was smiling back at Liz with beautiful white teeth.
Where were Eric and Sam? Because now would be a good time for them to show up, at least for Eric to show up. I looked around the park, but neither one of them had the good sense to materialize at my will.
"I'm going to get a coke and a smile," Dean Johnson said to my married sister. "Want to join me?"
"I am thirsty," Elizabeth said, and her eyes cut toward me. "Do you want something, Jessie?"
"Um." I didn't know what to say. "Who are you again?" I asked, to force an introduction.
"Dean Johnson," he said, leaning down so I could shake his hand from my beach blanket. "Student Advisor."
"Oh. Hi. I'm Jessie, Liz's sister. Nice to meet you."
Oh, he was a handsome devil. And, I noticed as I shook his hand, he smelled good. Great, actually. Like I imagined sailing would smell – all ocean and wind and man-sweat.
"A coke would be great," I said to Liz. "Or something sweet. Or something crunchy."
"There's trail mix in my bag," she said. "Crunch on that. I'll be back soon."
So there I was, left on the blanket, my family scattered to the four corners of the park.
Melanie getting beer. Maybe she'd run into Silas at the beer tent. Annabelle and Caleb off playing. Liz and her hot new friend flirting for cokes. Jeremy filling his insatiable hunger – for food, I mean. Josie home sick. Sam and Eric looking at cars and dreaming of youth.
And then Jeremy returned and plunked himself down next to me on the blanket, a paper dish full of fried something in his hands.
"What is that?" I asked.
"Cheese curds, and they are to die for." He popped on in his mouth, hissed in a breath, and, voice garbled by his open mouth, exclaimed, "Hot, hot, hot!" He fanned a hand in front of his mouth like he was a little kid and thought that would help cool off.
I found myself giggling at him.
When the giggles subsided, I noticed a woman standing about six feet away, staring at us.
I stared back.
It was Butch's wife, our father's sister-in-law. "Hey, Aunt Margie," I greeted her. "Wow, haven't seen you in forever." Well, not forever, actual.y, only since mom's funeral.
She came closer. "Jessamine. It is you. I wasn't sure."
I stood up, and gave her a light hug. "Yeah, I'm hard to recognize without my siblings gathered around."
"How are you all doing?" she asked.
"We're okay. Missing mom, of course."
"Are all of you here? I saw Silas just a little while ago."
"Most of us. You know how mom was about keeping us together. We're still gathering every week. Josie's home sick."
She looked confused for a minute, then recovered. "Oh, yes. Josie. The caboose."
What? She'd forgotten Josie? I supposed Jose hadn't been to a great many big family gatherings, considering she was born when the rest of us were practically grown.
Her gaze fell on Jeremy, who was concentrating on his hot cheese curds, kind of oblivious.
I felt an evil little twinge. Margie could forget Josie, could she?
"Aunt Margie, I'd like you to meet Jeremy."
Jeremy looked up, swallowed, then smiled. "Hi," he said.
He wiped face with a napkin, then gave Margie a friendly wave.
"Silas's boyfriend," I added, watching her face.
Her eyebrows went up, eyes widening, and lips pursing into a perfect O.
"Oh." She stared at him for a second, then shifted her eyes to me. "I don't know what to say."
I leaned in close to her and whispered, "'Nice to meet you' works pretty well in these awkward situations."
She let loose a strangled laugh, and said, "Nice to meet you, ah, Jeremy, was it?"
He nodded, gulped down his mouthful, and answered, "You too."
"Well, it's great to see you," Margie said then, her words louder and more rushed than they had been before. "I'll be getting along now. You all take care."
I watched her go, wondering if her nervousness was just a form of homophobia, or plain old surprise, or something more secretive. And I remembered how Silas completely overreacted to my questions about Uncle Butch. And something terrible was worming its way into my brain. Something ugly.
I wasn't the only secret-keeper in this family.
I wasn't the only secret-keeper in this family.