Well, other than the really big things like our parents dying and Melanie getting kidnapped, abused, hospitalized and stalked, last week might have been the most eventful week in the history of our family.
Okay, well, I might be exaggerating, but you know – between Elizabeth's bomb drop, Silas's name drop, and Eric's explosion, last Sunday's drama is pretty hard to beat.
Except the Eric part kept getting more weird.
Elizabeth called me and said she knew she'd offered to cook for my turn, but did I mind if she bailed? Her voice was totally strange, high-pitched with a sing-song almost too-cheerful chirpy tone.
"You sound weird," I said. "What's up? I mean, not that I have a problem taking my turn with dinner."
I could almost hear her hesitation over the phone. "Come on, Liz."
She sighed in my ear. "I don't think I can talk about it without falling apart. And if I start crying, I'll have to re-do my make-up, and I don't have time for that. I have to get downtown to the police station."
I was bowled over. "What? Oh, come on, you have to tell me now."
"I don't actually know much," she said. "I have to bail Eric out of jail, and I'm not even sure what for."
For a second I thought she'd rendered me speechless, but I found the words after only a short pause. "I'd think you'd want to know why he was in before getting him out."
"What are you saying, Jess?" Liz sounded tense. "Do you know something I don't know?"
"Wow, no," I said. "I mean… if he killed his mother, bailing him out could be a really bad idea."
"Oh Jess, always so dramatic. He said it was an assault charge, but that, really, the whole thing is just a big misunderstanding."
"Your boring husband Eric assaulted someone?" I was completely surprised. I was thinking embezzlement, or insurance fraud or something nice and clean like that.
"Nice, Jessamine. Super helpful."
I had a sudden thought. "He didn't assault Dean, did he?"
"Oh, Lord no," Liz gasped. "It was someone at work."
I had nothing to say, honestly. I mean, that was almost worse. He probably wouldn't get fired for assaulting Dean Johnson. But someone at work? Oh, shit. Liz's life was about to change.
"Jesus, Liz. Okay. I'll pick up some fried chicken. Is Eric coming?"
"I doubt it," Liz said. "In fact, if he didn't need me to bail him out, I suspect he wouldn't be talking to be yet."
So the mood on Sunday was decidedly… well, awkward, I guess.
Silas and Jeremy were absent, but Sam came along just in case there was more good drama. Josie, Mel, and I had the chicken on the table when Liz breezed in at five minutes after five without a word about Eric, school, or unbelievably, her newly gravid state.
"I see Jessie's specialty," she said, surveying the table.
"I didn't marry her because she's Betty Crocker," Sam said, which is something he says whenever I cook something that turns out barely edible.
I rolled my eyes. "Super One's specialty, you mean," referring to the local grocer. "But even so, it's my favorite."
Liz shrugged. "KFC is better."
Huh. That was almost…mean.
"You're out of line, Liz," Melanie said, grabbing a chicken leg. "Now, let's eat."
"Yeah, doggie," Sam said, and started loading his plate.
Sam was the only non-sister present. After the unpleasantness last Sunday, we'd decided Annabelle could visit Sam's mom.
We ate in an uncomfortable silence for way too long, so I finally asked Melanie, "Have you heard from Craig?" desperate for the sound of something, anything, aside from forks clanging against plates.
"Oh, yeah," she said. "We took Caleb school shopping."
"And how was that?"
"Well, a funny thing happened at the mall…" she gave an exaggerated shiver, and something about was alarming.
"It wasn't him, was it?" I asked, totally creeped out.
"No. But Craig had wandered away from us with half the list, determined to speed up the chore. So Caleb and I were looking at clothes, and Caleb was saying "Fine" to everything I picked up, even a pair of tow-truck print toddler's pajamas.
"So then this guy comes over near us. I'd seen him four aisles back, or so, and gave him that smile you gives strangers, the one that says we're all in the same boat here. And then he said to me, 'Man, kids hate shopping so much, you know? They get positively gloomy about it.'
"Maybe I agreed, maybe it was just one of those polite noises you make, you know? Whatever.
"He keeps talking. He says, 'I'm just picking up some blue jeans for my boy, 'bout the same age as yours, eleven, right? That's pretty old. I sent mine over to the Dairy Queen for an ice cream cone. How about I take yours and you can meet us there when you're done shopping.'"
"Whoa," I said. "Did you flip out?"
All eyes were on Melanie now, eagerly waiting for the rest of the story.
Mel shook her head. "I didn't flip out. I actually laughed. The sheer audacity of the guy. And then I said, and this is a direct quote, by the way…'Are you fucking high on crack, or actually so stupid you think I'd send my son to the DQ with a complete stranger?' And then I pulled my phone out of my purse and called 9-1-1. He got out of there, but quick. And I hope they found him and chewed his ass."
"Holy crap," Josie breathed softly into the silence that followed. "That was like a close call. Way to go, Mel."
Mel smiled at Josie. "Thanks, little sis. I must be on the road to recovery. I feel more strong than scared."
"What did Caleb think?" I asked.
"I can quote him, too," Melanie said. "'Jeez, mom, you didn't have to be rude about it. He was just being nice. And why can't I go to the DQ, anyway? I'm not a baby in footie pajamas, you know.'
"And I told him maybe the guy was so nice because he doesn't have a son and he figured he could steal mine.
"Then Craig showed up and we tag-teamed Caleb, who was still arguing that the guy was nice, not creepy, and we did the whole safety quiz all over again. And I explained that no, I didn't have to be rude, but on the other hand, why should I have to be nice? That man, that stranger, approached us and started a conversation fro no other reason than to separate my son from me, and that was pretty rude, too."
"Did he pass the safety quiz?" Josie asked.
"Well sure," Melanie said. "He knows all the answers, but he still expects pedophiles to look and act like creepers, and doesn't quite understand that they can look like anyone."
I shuddered. "I need to quiz Annabelle."
"Make sure you ask her the puppy questions," Mel said.
Sam laughed out loud. "Puppy questions?"
"Yeah, like 'Hey little girl, will you help me find my lost puppy?' or 'Hey little girl, I just got a new puppy. He's in my car. Do you want to see him?'"
Sam looked like he was going to vomit. "What, puppies are the new candy?"
"Yeah," Melanie said. "Like pink is the new black. Telling kids not to accept candy from strangers is old news."
Sam thought about it. "Yeah, I guess it would work with a lot of kids. Most kids, even."
Mel's eyes were glued to the chicken bones on her plate. "I fell for it," she said in a flat voice, and a hush settled over the room because no one wanted to know, and no one knew what to say.
A few seconds went by. Then Josie said, "Hey, where's Silas?"
Silence descended again, equally as awkward as the previous silence.
I finally said, "Liz banned him, remember?"
"Oh, come on," Josie exclaimed. "She didn't mean it to be, like, forever."
No one answered.
"Did you, Sissy?" Josie asked, turning big round eyes on Liz.
Liz sighed, shrugged, and said, "I won't have him disrespecting me in my mother's house."
"Liz," I said, using my most reasonable voice. "You can't ban him forever."
She was shaking her head. "He can't treat me like the whore of Babylon."
"Even if it's true?" Mel asked softly. "Pots and kettles, Sissy. You've been pretty awful to him. And it's our mother's house, too, and Silas is our brother. You don’t get to make all the rules."
"I might be a sinner, but I am not a whore," Liz said through clenched teeth, her arms raising to un-plait and re-plait her braid.
"No one's calling you a whore," Josie said. "And we're all sinners, you know? Human beings, I mean. So you screwed up. We've all screwed up. We'll deal."
"But Silas," she sputtered. "He was enjoying it. It was like a circus to him."
"Only because you act so pious and perfect, Liz," I said. Because I felt it, too, it was Liz's Ms. Perfect act that made it almost fun to see her fall. Even if saying it out loud was too cruel.
"What' s Eric's deal, anyway?" Sam asked, throwing in a nice change of subject. "I mean, he seemed awfully sure he didn't knock you up. And you were as shocked as the rest of us by his reaction."
Liz sighed. "I don't want to get into it. Do we have to?"
"Of course not," I said quickly, giving Sam a glare. "It's not our business." But then I saw the silent tears trailing along her cheek. "But you might feel better. You know we love you, Sissy, even if we've been assholes."
She started crying harder. "He lied to me. He was lying the whole time."
"About what?" Melanie asked, her voice soft and soothing, and as if on cue, we the sisterhood, scooted our chairs toward the head of the table so we could lay hand son her and offer sister-therapy.
"About wanting kids," she sobbed. "About his plumbing being in working order. He got a vasectomy right after his first divorce, and he never thought to mention it."
"What a rat-bastard," Sam said."
"And I've been trying so hard to get pregnant, and taking all these tests, charting ovulation, giving myself hormone shots, everything – and he knew, he always knew it was never going to happen."
"He really is a rat-bastard," Melanie said. "No wonder he was so quiet all the time. He couldn't open is mouth for fear of the truth falling out.
I almost started laughing. "Yeah, but Karma's a bitch."
Liz flashed me the sort of look that said I'd just spoken out of turn, but too late, and I felt my cheeks get hot. "Sorry," I mouthed to her. She sniffled and hiccupped while Josie and Mel exchanged puzzled looks.
"What does that mean?" Josie asked.
"I had to bail him out of jail today," Liz said. "Apparently he assaulted a nurse at the hospital."
"Are you fucking kidding?" Sam said, his eyes wide.
"Really Sam, language?" Liz said, but her tears had stopped and her mouth looked like it almost wanted to smile. "Oh, Lord, help us. There's a lot going on right now." She sighed the exhausted sigh of the long-suffering, and her fingers crept toward her braid again.
Eric, it turns out, is quite a lot more interesting than we'd ever dreamed.