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An Exploration of Love (originally written in 2013)

“So much for the three day weekend!” Chris said as he looked out at the menacing gray storm clouds through the bay windows of the front room. He glanced from the window to the other side of the room where the television was. The entertainment system it sat on was covered with dust except for a square area where the black plastic underneath shown through.  “Why does my Xbox have to be broken?”

His sister Kayla didn’t respond. She sat across the room in her father’s Lazy Boy flipping through the pages of a well-loved copy of Tiger Beat.

Chris sighed. “Reading is only entertaining for so long in this boring house”

Kayla looked up from her magazine. “Yeah, whatever Chris. As if you were spending your time in here reading. If you plan on complaining more, please do it in the hall, I’m trying to actually read.”

“That’s cute Kayla! As if anyone would consider that ‘reading’. If asked, I’m sure most people would call what you are doing there sighing while looking longingly at pictures of members of the latest bubble-gum boy band.”

Before Kayla had a chance to put in a word, Chris took another stab. “To be considered reading, my dear sister, you must actually be deciphering combinations of letters to form words. Looking at pictures of cute boys is usually called depression-induced fantasizing or brain cell destruction.” Chris felt good with that retort and slumped against the window. Putting his back to the storm seemed like the best way to get it to go away.

Perhaps for the best that isn’t how rain works. A roll of thunder shook the house as Kayla’s rage built. The synapses in her brain fired in a fury as she planned her attack. One eye closed and she scowled as her brain went through every possible response.

Her face snapped into a cruel smile as her eyes slowly met her younger brother’s. “Oh Chris. Chrissy, Chrissy, Chris.” She shook her head in mild disgust as the smile grew on her face. In her mind she had won before the words had left her mouth. “Christopher,” she spoke through the teeth of her smile, “at least I keep my crushes to celebrities. I’m sure Anna would love to hear about the things you do at night in her name.”

Chris’s face soured. “You wouldn’t” was all his lips could form in the way of words.

Kayla’s expression changed as she considered this new statement. Would she? Her smile returned and Chris quickly realized that yes, quite possibly, she would.

Chris, acting quickly to keep the issue from getting worse, jumped up, ran across the room and tore the magazine from his sister’s fingers. If Chris resorted to physical violence first he was insured a great punishment from his father. If he let Kayla throw the first punch he at least had a small chance of some form of justice for his devil of a sister. If he didn’t act at all he may as well have handed her the phone to call Anna. If a ruse was something she wanted, Chris would be happy to oblige her.

Chris knew that Kayla’s phone was currently in the possession of their father as punishment for poor grades in math class. This would keep his sister’s ideas from coming to fruition, for now.

Chris crushed the cover of Tiger Beat in his clenched fist as he thought about what his next move would be. “I would give that back if I were you.” His sister said, almost with a chuckle. “Anna’s locker is just down the hall from me. I’m sure to run into her on Monday.”

“Barry.” The word just fell out of his mouth. “Barry Saunders.” Chris knew that was all he needed to say. The words carried so much power. He may have touched himself late at night to a girl in his class, but at least he wasn’t crazy enough to have a crush on someone two grades above him. He had heard her discussing her affection for him during a sleepover with one of her friends.

Kayla didn’t even flinch. Her smile was gone but she gave no real signs of her distress over his words.

Chris knew that he had struck a nerve. “You know he’s in my math class. We actually sit next to each other. I can hear it now. ‘Hey Barry, do you know my sister Kayla?’”

Kayla opened her mouth to propose a truce as the door to the front room creaked open.

“Kids, lunch is ready,” Victoria said as she poked her head through the opening. “I made sandwiches and put some chips on the table.”

Chris and Kayla exchanged glances. They wouldn’t say a word around their nosy new stepmother.

***

They ate their lunch in silence. Their stepmother stood in the next room cleaning some dishes, or rather pretending to. If she had had the sink running the two might have continued their conversation in a whisper, but as it was she could hear everything that happened at that table.

The two kids were under the false impression that Victoria was out of the loop, but a trophy wife stepmother can only get so much drama from her soaps. Her stepchildren’s bickering’s were far more entertaining to listen to. She had been listening through the whole argument and had intervened when she did less because lunch was ready (it had actually been done for some time) and more simply to extend the plot; to let the drama build through a bit of suspense. They needed time to let their hatred fester so they didn’t decide on a truce right when the argument was getting good.

They kids ate in utter silence. They knew what was at stake, so telling Victoria, or especially involving their father was completely out of the question .They liked their asses too much for all that. The paddle fell with enough force to be a powerful motivator.

Their stepmother stood with a maniacal grin on her face as she dried the one dish out in the kitchen. The whole room was spotless but she sure looked like she was doing something, any excuse to keep her near the action.

The two silently finished their lunch and placed their dishes in the sink. Kayla glanced over at her stepmother and said “Thanks for lunch Victoria.”

“Oh honey, call me Tori. Just don’t call me Vicky. I despise that name.” She flashed them a smile. Chris and Kayla walked back to the front room, to the battleground.

“Now be good, you two! It isn’t every day you get to spend so much quality time together.” Of course their stepmother understood all the irony in her words though the kids thought she was completely ignorant in the ways of children. Kayla wondered if ‘Tori’ had ever actually been a child.

In the front room the war continued. Both sides now resupplied with fresh ammunition. In the kitchen, their stepmother wondered if she should pop some popcorn for the occasion.

***

The palpable rage in the front room was reaching a point of solidifying into words again when the doorbell rang, cutting like a knife through the heavy air. It rang again as the children got up and moved to the entryway. Their stepmother didn’t even get up. She sat at the dining room table enjoying the events with a glass of wine.

As Chris approached the door, a voice could be heard on the opposite side. “Hey, someone let me in. I know you guys are home! Come on. It’s pouring out here!” It was Chris and Kayla’s older sister Karen. “Hurry up! I’m freezing!” The doorbell rang a few more times as Chris fumbled with the lock and pried the door open.

“About time!” His sister grumbled. She was soaking wet. Her skinny jeans clung more tightly to her than usual. Her bleach blonde hair stuck to her sweatshirt, now two shades darker, like it had been painted there. She stomped out some of the water from her ratty Chuck Taylor’s before stepping past the threshold. “Vicky, could you get me a towel?” Although phrased like a question, the words left her mouth more like a statement.

“Sure dear. How was your date?” Could be heard from the other room.

Karen froze. For a moment her shivering stopped. She heard the sound of water dripping off her clothes onto the tile of the entryway. Her stepmother appeared from the hall, a dish towel in her left hand.

“How did you know that?” the words came out in a whisper, so faint they was barely there. Her lips barely moved as they slid out.

Victoria looked at her with a false smile. “Honey, I was your age once. I lied to my father plenty of times.” She surveyed the shivering Karen. “And look at yourself. Even through all that rain it isn’t hard to notice the marks of passion on your neck.” Her dripping face flushed bright red. Her shivering increased.

Chris stood in the corner of the room, not quite understanding what had just happened. Kayla had moved from her chair in the front room and was now eyeing the scene from the hall. She was hardly oblivious.

“You were with Tom!” Kayla nearly shouted the words. Karen spun around, spraying water from her hair at Tori and Chris as she did.

“Shut up!” She looked at everyone in the house in turn. “No one says a word of this to dad. I’m not about to get in trouble for spending time with my boyfriend!” She snatched the towel out of Tori’s hand and marched toward her room, leaving a puddle where she had stood and a trail of wet carpet behind her.

Kayla wasn’t fazed. From behind her, Karen heard the two most common words exchanged between siblings, “I’m telling!” As an older sibling, Karen was expecting these words. She spun around again, now covering the walls of the hallway with water. “You’re just jealous.” This was all she needed to say. Kayla scowled at her as she walked to her room and slammed the door for effect.

Victoria chuckled as she left the room. Karen could hear her through the thin walls of the house. Karen’s iPhone was already ringing for her friend Ashley. The insensitivity of her stepmother would be the topic of her venting this evening.

***

Kayla’s brother, realizing that they were alone again, took his chance to make the first strike to rekindle the fire of the two’s argument. “I bet you want Barry to make marks on your neck too don’t ya Kay?” he paused for effect. “I bet he’d love to hear about that. Maybe I should tell him.”

Kayla turned a fiery red. Her fists clenched as she stomped toward her insolent little snot of a brother. Chris took a step back. Looking into her eyes he had seen the demons he had just unleashed on the world. Kayla swung her open hand toward her brother at record speeds. It met Chris’s face only with its sharp tips.

Four red marks quickly appeared on Chris’s left cheek. Kayla had hit hard enough to break the skin.

Chris looked at his sister wide eyed and open mouthed. For a second he was dumbfounded. That didn’t last long though. Vengeance must be given for this sudden act of violence. With a shout his clenched fist impacted Kayla’s left shoulder.

Kayla crumpled to the ground. Her brother stood over her, his fist still clenched. She held her wounded shoulder as if not even a skilled surgeon could save it. Tears welled in her eyes. She followed in her sister’s wet footsteps as she ran down the hall to her room and slamming the door.

Chris didn’t know what to do at this point, and decided he’d also retire to his room. Kayla, who wasn’t crying quite as hard once she was alone, heard his footsteps as he entered his room.

The grooves of the brass against the tumblers of the lock, although only a faint, grinding sound, filled the house with dread. He had arrived. The door swung open and the man of the house entered. Clad in a rain covered duster and fedora, he placed his briefcase on the tile floor and his large black umbrella in the stand by the door.

The house he entered was perfectly silent. Dead. “I’m home!” He looked down the hall as he removed his jacket and hat. “Is anyone here?”

Kayla knew the horror that would soon be upon her two siblings. She couldn’t help but smile as she forced herself to cry again, this time much louder than before so her father could hear from the entry way.

It didn’t take him long to arrive. He opened Kayla’s door, his shoes replenished the supply of water on the hall carpet. “What’s wrong sweetie?” Kayla let a few more tears roll down her cheeks before saying through long sobs, “Chris – sniffle – Christopher hit me.” Her father tried to look compassionate, but Kayla could tell he was tired and really didn’t want to deal with a case of sibling rivalry after his long day at work. He sat on the bed next to her and kissed her forehead as he thought about what he would do next.

An interruption from his young wife made his decision easier. Her head peeked around the door. “Hey Honey, how was your day at work? Just so you know, Chris hit Kayla in the shoulder. He’s in his room.” Kayla knew those words sealed her brother’s fate. Her father got up from her bed. “Chris!” He stormed out of the room and toward the culprit’s room.

Kayla heard a door slam, followed by an exchange of words in muffled yet angry voices. She couldn’t make out everything that was said, but she could hear Chris scream “She hit me first!” followed by her father yelling “I don’t care! You should never lay a hand on a girl, especially one of my daughters!”

Screams from her brother escalated, followed by the sound of three hard slaps. This was the usual punishment for violence in their father’s house, more violence; this time in the form of spankings. The screams quickly turned to sobs as the sentence was completed.

“Are you going to hit your sister again?” The words of her father sounded strained to Kayla. Chris’s sobs turned to coughs before he said “n-no” in a defeated tone.

But Chris wasn’t done. He wasn’t about to be the only one in the house punished for their actions that day. “Karen was out with Tom today. Shouldn’t she be punished too?” Karen gasped in her room. She had all but forgotten about the atrocities performed by her older sister.

She heard her father’s footsteps as he moved from Chris’s room to Karen’s at the end of the hall.

***

The man of the house moved from one dealing of justice to the next. His hand grasped the handle of his eldest daughter’s door. “Jim,” Tori said from down the hall, “remember that she’s just a kid. She may try to convince you that she’s an adult, but she doesn’t know what she’s doing. Let her make some mistakes. I think today was a learning experience for her. Before you punish her for being with her boyfriend without your permission, ask her how it went.”

Jim nodded before opening the door. Inside Karen was on her laptop. Jim could see she was Skyping a friend.

“Ugh, my dad is here. I’ll have to call you back.” Karen closed the laptop and looked up at her father.

“I hear you were out with Thomas today.” He made sure to sound disappointed rather than accusatory. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Because I knew you would have said no.” Jim opened his mouth to say something, but his daughter was all too ready to share without being told. “His parent’s weren’t home, so we had the house all to ourselves.” Now Jim was worried. He opened his mouth again but was interrupted. “I know what you’re going to say and no, nothing happened. I wouldn’t let it, but Thomas sure wanted something to happen.”

Karen nudged up against her father, who was now sitting on the edge of the bed, and began to cry quietly. So much emotion this evening, Jim thought to himself. He patted his daughter on the head and was about to say he was proud of her when he was interrupted again.

“Why can’t I just have what you and Vicky have?” She wiped her eyes, smearing mascara across her face. “Why do boys have to be so complicated? No. Why do they have to be so simple? I’m more than just a set of tits.” Jim was about to say “Of course you are dear,” when he was again interrupted.

His eldest daughter gave a sniffle and composed herself. “Thanks for the talk Dad. I really needed it. I’m going to break up with Tom. I want someone who isn’t just in a relationship for sex. I’m going to text Ash and tell her. Love you!” She hugged him in a way that said “this conversation is over, please leave,” and removed her phone from her pocket.

Jim stood up and, slightly confused, returned the sentiment. “I love you too dear.” He left the room feeling like there was something he had forgotten.

In the dining room, his wife was back at the bottle of Merlot.

“Did you hear what your little brats were fighting about today?” Tori had such a way with children. “They were threatening to expose each other’s crushes! It was rather entertaining to listen to this afternoon; something to pass the time at least.”

Jim stared at his young wife. He slumped into the chair next to her and poured himself a glass of the wine. “Oh to be young.” He raised his glass. “If only life was still as simple as worrying about crushes and math homework.” He took a drink. “I miss those days.”

His wife looked at him quizzically. “But now you have me dear.” She leaned over and kissed his cheek.

“Yes, yes I do. Don’t I?”

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