Thursday, June 23, 2022

FAMILY MATTERS - Chapter 20







                           Chapter 20


Later that afternoon Nell’s question....“What made it so hard to keep their men at home?”.... would have someone else wondering too. Returning from her email excursion to the mall, Delaney was surprised to see her mother’s van in the driveway. 

Bounding down the stairs to the basement apartment she stopped short at the sight of her mother sitting at the end of the sofa, hugging her legs and curled up in a fetal ball. Though the girl’s noisy entrance was enough to silence Kathy’s sobbing, when she looked up her embarrassed grin was framed by red, swollen eyes.

“Mom. What’s wrong? Why are you home so early? Did something happen at work?”

Delaney’s rapid fire questions would have to wait for a response....long enough for Kathy to sit up, retrieve her purse, and locate a tissue. Daubing at her eyes, she could not bring herself to meet the girl’s wondering gaze as she explained, “I got off early. That’s all. Nothing happened.”

“Getting off early makes you cry?”

Her mother’s attempt to create an understanding smile came up short. For a moment it appeared the tears might return. “It’s Gary. That’s all. He got that job I told you about. He just called to tell me all about it. ”

“And? Is it as good as he thought it would be?”

“Apparently it’s better.” Kathy’s unenthusiastic grin offered little comfort. “He was so pumped. Listening to him, it’s hard to imagine he’d ever settle for Tanner. Not the way he feels right now.”

For an instant Delaney paused to scold herself for not feeling guilty. Gary’s notion of good news had come as a blow to her mother, pushing her to tears. Yet, while Mom was grieving, Delaney was caught up in a rush of hopeful new possibilities.

“Does that mean we can go back home? You know that’s what Gary wants.”

“Del. Don’t go there, please. He’s already been on my case. That’s why we ended up yelling at each other, until I finally hung up on him.” Hearing herself speak those words had Kathy shaking her head. “God. I’ve never done that before. But he just wouldn’t back off. He’s so damn stubborn.”

Reaching up for Delaney’s hand, Kathy pulled the girl down beside her. “Anyway, I told him for the umpteenth time that Tanner is our home now. You’ll be registering for school pretty soon. Once you get involved there I'm guessing that you won’t miss L.A. at all.”

“How about you?” Delaney asked.

“I’m not missing L.A. a bit.”

“I’m not talking about L.A. You know that. It’s Gary. You do miss him. I can tell. I know you’d be happier back home with him.”

That brought Kathy to her feet. Having just fought that war with Gary, she was in no mood for a repeat. “Delaney Padgett, listen very carefully....so I don’t have to say this twice. We are staying here. So get used to that. Tanner is home, for now and as long as you’re in school.”

“Why are you being so stubborn? You blame Gary for being that way, but you’re acting just like him.” 

Delaney’s questions were growing more demanding. “You’re miserable here. I’m miserable here. Gary’s miserable without you. What’s the point?”

“The point is, keeping you in school and out of trouble is the most important thing right now. It’s about creating a future for you.” Kathy had slipped into the same command tone that had so aggravated Gary. “It’s about you learning to like Tanner and knowing that it’s home. Which you can do, if you’ll just try.”

Not surprisingly, her daughter’s caustic reply was even louder. “And you’re willing to give up being with Gary, who is probably the best thing that’s ever happened to you, just for my stupid future. That is so dumb.”

Stepping over to where Delaney was sitting on the arm of the sofa, Kathy pulled her to her feet and into a tight embrace. For a few seconds her words were choked off by returning tears. Then, “He’s not the ‘best thing.’ He’s the second best....after you. And that means it’s you, me, and Tanner, kiddo. That’s the way it has to be.”

With her head still on her mother’s shoulder, Delaney bit her lip and willed away her own tears. As happened so often, she was asking herself why adults, the so-called rational ones, could look the facts right in the eye and still make such bad choices.

“Besides,” Kathy whispered. “Dad said you sounded like you might actually be looking forward to school. That’s a good sign.”

“I didn’t say I was ‘looking forward’ to it. I said it looks like I have no choice.”

Still holding the girl’s shoulders, Kathy pushed herself away to arm’s length. “There’s another reason for us being here. If Grandpa goes off on his retirement trip, like Grandma says he might do, even without her, then she’ll need you here with her.”

“She doesn’t want me around. I only get in the way. As far as she’s concerned I can’t do anything right. Just ask her.”

“We’ve already talked about that, Mom and I. And I guarantee that she wants you right here.”

What was the sense of arguing? Delaney understood the futility of that. It was time to escape for a while. Stepping away from her mother’s grip, she answered, “I need some fresh air. I think I’ll take a walk.”

“Okay,” Kathy said. “I’m pretty sure Mom and I will be gone when you get back. She asked me to join her for some Garden Club thing. Actually, she said you were welcome to come along too. I told you’d probably pass on that.”

“Thanks, Mom. I appreciate that. There’s no reason to be totally bored.” Purse and sunglasses in hand, the girl started for the stairs.


              ~~~


From Delaney’s perspective everything about that Friday afternoon reminded her of how depressing Tanner could be. Her mother and Gary wanted to be together, though they could not agree on where that should happen. For the first time in days her grandparents were not fighting, if only because Grandma and Mom were leaving for town and Grandpa was asleep in his recliner. 

Earlier she had gone to the mall to check her emails....a half hour walk that yielded only two brief, not-so-newsy messages. By any measure Tanner was a bummer....turning everything it touched from bad to worse.

Leaving the house, she started aimlessly down the hill toward town, following the route she had taken with Antonio the day before. After a few minutes she paused at a familiar intersection, wanting to remember the name of the street he had pointed out, the one leading to Southside High. 

By the time she reached the foot of the first long hill a possible destination had crossed her mind. Antonio had mentioned a skateboard park, just beyond a church parking lot. Although they had not seen it from the street, his appraisal of the place and its inhabitants had not been flattering.

Delaney remembered wondering at the time how accurately Antonio, with his semi-geeky, good-boy view of the world, had portrayed Tanner’s contribution to the skateboarding world. Would it be any better than the park they had seen downtown? She would be the judge of that, she told herself. 

Having grown up in Venice Beach, a virtual skateboarding nirvana, she was certainly more qualified than Antonio Calle to render a verdict on how Tanner’s provincial efforts stacked up.

Ten minutes later she walked across the empty church parking lot to the edge of McAdams Recreational Park....‘The Mac’ to local boarding aficionados. With only a cursory glance she concluded it was not all that much, at least not by California standards. There were a couple pyramids, one low rail, and a single deck atop the longest of a half-dozen ramps. Conspicuously absent were the high walled ‘tubes’ favored by Venice Beach boarders. 

Her first judgement was to label the place a poor imitation of the real thing, right down to the skateboarders’ cookie-cutter outfits....baggy jeans, loose-fitting shirts that hung to the knees, and tight-knit skull caps pulled low over their ears. Among the eight or nine teens in attendance the uniform-de-jour, obviously lifted from the pages of a Southern California skateboarding magazine, varied only in the color of the shirts.

Moving closer, Delaney spotted another defining clue. Standing behind a pair of concrete benches to her right were a trio of young men, gathered close together, passing a single cigarette from one to another. That was something she could relate to. Whether they called it ‘a weed,’ ‘a joint,’ ‘a roach,’ or ‘a hit,’ that piece of action was a reminder of home.

Then, before she realized he had noticed her, the tallest of the three took a long, slow drag, cupped the cigarette in his hand and started toward her. He approached slowly, making a production of checking her out. The sight of him, and the transparent display of casual macho he wanted her to see, struck her as funny.

“Don’t think I’ve seen you around here,” the young man said.

“That’s because I’ve never been here.”

The boy paused for another drag on his smoke before holding it out to her. It was hard to tell if he was surprised by her willingness to accept his offer. The cigarette was shorter now. Pinching it between two fingers she inhaled deeply.

If the youngster was impressed by Delaney’s familiarity with the process it did not show. Still, there was no hiding his dismay when she quietly asked, “Where did you get this crap? Did they sweep it out of the horse barn?”

He was grinning, as much at her attitude as her question. “So what makes you an expert on good weed?” 

Delaney stepped closer, moving deeper into her own well-practiced role playing. “I’ll tell you what, where I come from we wouldn’t touch garbage like this. This is the stuff we pack up and send north, to places like Tanner.”

“And where might that be,” the boy asked. “That place you come from?”

“L.A., of course.” She motioned toward the park and it’s skaters. “That’s where all this stuff was born. Where it’s still the best there is.”

“So what brings you here? What makes us so lucky?” 

He handed the now shorter smoke to her. Pinching it carefully to keep her fingers from getting burned, she took a last long drag and gave it back to him. 

“My mom’s from here,” she explained, returning to his question. “She thinks I should live here too. Thinks it will ‘straighten me out,’ whatever that means. Anyway, they tell me I’ll be starting my senior year at Southside High in a few weeks.”

Reaching out to take her arm, the boy offered an intriguing, but slightly menacing smile. He was smooth, she noted. Smooth and good looking. Probably used to having his way. 

“So, what’s your name, L.A. Girl?" he asked. "The next time I see you I’ll want to know who I’m talking to.”

“I’m Delaney. And you are?”

“Well, Delaney. I’m Martin, Martin Copeland. My friends call me Marco.”

Reaching down, Delaney deliberately lifted his hand from her arm. “I’ll remember that, Martin. If I ever see you again.”

“Oh, you’ll see me. You can count on that. It sounds like we’ll be classmates, maybe even be in the same senior-class picture. Won’t that be cozy?” 

With nothing more than a flirty little grin Delaney turned and headed back toward the street. She knew about that part too....about leaving the scene while he was still interested, even curious. She would see him again. He had said as much. Better to leave him wanting to know more. Then, as she started across the parking lot, his unexpected summons brought her to a stop.

“Hey, L.A. Girl,” Martin called out. “Are you on foot? I’m heading out myself. Can I drop you off somewhere?”

Pausing to consider the daunting uphill walk back to the Padgett home, Delaney understood the logic of accepting his offer. True, she hardly knew him. But she had long ago learned the difference between macho bluster and unnecessary risk. It had taken her only seconds to peg young Marco as a ‘wannabe,’ a hopeful salesman....pushy, but safe as could be.

“Yeah,” she nodded. “I’d take you up on that. It would save me a long walk back to the Heights.

“Let’s do it then.” He was beside her, nudging her toward the sleek black coupe, with its shiny wheels and darkened windows.”

“Nice wheels. Is it yours or your folks?”

For a moment young Marco appeared reluctant to admit the truth of it. When he finally answered Delaney was hearing hints of a crack in his macho facade. “Actually, it’s my mom’s. It was part of her divorce settlement. But since she doesn’t drive, it’s the same as mine.”

“So your old man had to spring for what amounts to ‘your’ wheels, eh? That’s pretty cool.”

“He wasn’t my old man. He was actually her third husband, and a real loser. But he did have good taste in vehicles. She got it and now it’s mine.”

“But she doesn’t drive? That’s a strange sort of settlement. What kind of judge would buy that?”

At the car in question, Marco held the door as Delaney slipped inside. By then he was ready to move beyond their dead-end ‘divorce’ conversation. There was no reason to be bogged down in that kind of talk when he had other, more interesting things in mind.

“Let’s just say the guy had treated Mom pretty bad. By the time they were in front of the judge she was going after anything she could get her hands on.” Then, closing the door behind her, “Now let’s get out of here.”







 

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