Sunday, July 29, 2012

SM Johnson ~A Year of Sundays~ ch 13, pt 2

Chapter 13 – July 24th
Part 2


It was the oddest thing in the world for Craig to show up here, ringing the doorbell like a stranger. He said hello to everybody and we, the clan, enfolded him and urged him to the dining room table.

"Come in," Liz said. "Sit down. We were just talking about going to see Melanie."

There'd been an odd tension to this whole gathering, and the room itself seemed to let out a collective sigh, as every person in it embraced Craig and silently thanked him for showing up with a side dish of distraction.

It's funny, in unusual scenarios, we'd typically couple up. Liz and Eric side-by-side, me in front of Sam with his arms looped over my shoulders. Melanie on the lap of whomever she was seeing at the moment, and Josie oddly set-apart in her aloneness, but chipper and engaged with all of us. Or Josie at Mom's side, being hovered over before Mom got sick, and doing the hovering after.

We didn't arrange ourselves in any of the usual ways today.

Liz and Eric were obviously fighting, and they sat across the table from one another.

Silas was really moody, and either because of that, or even possibly to antagonize him more, Jeremy took a sideways seat next to Josie, who leaned into him, her back against his chest, her elbow propping her head up at the table.

I did a sort of double-take, because it suddenly occurred to me that she looked exhausted, maybe even sick, and she'd lost a few pounds so suddenly that her face looked thin, and her skin was almost translucent.

What the hell was going on?

Sam was across from me, and I gave him one those married-people-whole-message-in-one facial-expression kind of looks, and jerked my head the tiniest bit toward Josie. He gave me one of those looks back, and it said, 'what-is-it-exactly-that-you-expect-me-to-see?' Totally clueless. I was across the table from him on purpose, and not because we were fighting. Sam was all horn-dog lately, flirting shamelessly and constantly touching me with fingertips filled with sexual promise. And don't get me wrong –I loved it. We were inexplicably in a very good place in our marriage. But Craig showing up here was weird, and I separated from Sam purposefully so I could pay attention to Craig.

Craig sat himself at the head of the table, like a father-figure, or like someone who had something important to say, and it struck me how perfectly he fit there, like he belonged to this family.

And he did.

He'd been missing from us for all the eleven years of Caleb's life.

What a terrible oversight we'd made, not yanking him into the family circle.

I suppose because at first he was the asshole who knocked up Melanie. A stranger. A one-night stand, couldn't even gracefully call him a fling, although surely Melanie had flung herself at him.

Later he was the villain who was going to take Caleb away from us, and even though he never actually did that, the possibility was always there. This, the story that Melanie fed us, that Craig had the power.

We never invited him in, never treated him as though he belonged here, at the Meyerhoff weekly gatherings, the Sundays that were sacred.

And he set himself apart from us right from the beginning, never asking to be included, although to be fair, it would take a lot of guts for someone to try to crash into our hearts, and likely he would have never earned a place with us that way.

I'd have to talk to everybody about bringing him in. From my perspective at the table, it seemed like the right thing to do. Seemed like, even if it had taken eleven years for Craig to belong, now he did. By default. Or maybe just by the fact that he'd been doing the right thing for Caleb all along.

Silas bit right in and started the conversation.

"What's up, Craig? What's going on?"

And Craig told us. How paranoid Melanie had been since Mom died, calling him out of the blue to check on Caleb, begging him to join her in the paranoia. Is Caleb safe? I Caleb okay? Is Caleb with you, like right this minute? Where's Caleb?

"She's been really intense about Caleb, perseverating on how easy it would be for someone to take him, badgering me about giving him too much freedom, not keeping a close enough eye on him. And by that she means not monitoring him, eyes on, every minute."

Annabelle was two years younger than Caleb, and she'd lose her mind if I hovered over her even half as much as Melanie was asking from Craig.

"You know the story, right?" I asked, speaking up from my role as the family secret-keeper. "How Melanie was kidnapped and abused when she right around Caleb's age?"

Craig nodded. "Yeah. It was pretty much the basis for why we never tried to have an actual relationship. Melanie said she couldn’t afford to fuck me up, that someone had to stay sane enough to be the primary parent."

I could have cried, imagining Melanie saying something like that, her belief that she was damaged beyond repair, too broken to ever be successful in a romantic partnership.

Josie made a sound, part whimper, part sigh, and said, "That's really sad. Poor Mel."

Craig started to say something, stopped. He looked around at all of us, then shrugged, and said, "I had a mentally ill sister, so... you know, I was never sure it would be all that great of an idea anyway, to have a relationship with Melanie that went beyond friendship, I mean."

Well. Huh. Who knew? My secret-loving brain latched on to the tidbit about the sister, even as Craig started saying the important stuff.

"Melanie told me that her kidnapper has been released, and that he's threatening to take Caleb."

Our shock was collective.

"Bullshit," Silas said.

And from Liz, "That's not even possible, is it?"

And Sam. "No bleeping way."

Josie watched us, wide-eyed.

I didn't say anything, didn't even try, just sat there shaking my head. No no no no no.

Nobody gets released from MSOP. Like one or two people in the whole history of the program. Child molesters can't be rehabilitated. That was like… common knowledge.

"I called," Craig was saying. "I called here and there and everywhere. I called the prosecuting attorney from Melanie's case. I called the judge. I got the proper signatures and called the guy who's the head of the Minnesota Sex Offender Program."

He couldn't sit still anymore, and pressed the heels of his hands against his eyes for a minute, then pushed his chair away from the table, far enough back that he could stretch his legs out, ankles crossed. And his top foot shook from side to side, causing both his legs to bounce. He stared at his shoes and made the wiggling stop. Then his bottom foot arched against his top foot for a stretch, an independent movement. And then it started all over again, side to side, bounce, stop, stretch.

It was almost fascinating.

We waited for it, the confirmation of all our worst fears, that Melanie's kidnapper, The Doll Collector, as he was tagged by the media, had somehow been set free in a gross miscarriage of justice, and now every child we loved was in terrible danger.

Craig stared at his feet.

Bounce. Stop. Stretch.

And then he said the words that shocked us all. "The asshole is still there. He'll probably never get out. Melanie made up the whole story. She's lying. Or if she's isn't actually lying on purpose, then at the very least she's completely delusional."

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