Spite and Malice

lavendar eyesI noticed her the moment she walked in the coffee shop. She paused to scan the room. As soon as she saw me, she walked to me. Her face was oddly expressionless.

“I am looking for you,” she said.

“Oh? Well,” I said playfully. “Here I am!” I beamed at the girl, who couldn’t have been more than fourteen years-old. I had no idea who she was.

Short and very slight, she was the most striking beauty I’d ever seen in a man or woman. Jet black hair hung down past her waist, the sunlight reflecting iridescent strands of Safire. There was not a blemish on her stunningly perfect heart-shaped face. Her large eyes were deep lavender with bright flecks of gold, outlined by thick, jet black lashes and elegantly arched brows. Transfixed by her beauty, I couldn’t help gazing at her the way a little child openly gapes at something that fascinates them.

“May I sit with you?” she asked.

“Of course,” I gestured somewhat grandly to the chair opposite me. She took the seat, leaned a little bit forward over the table with her hands in her lap, and stared intently at me. I didn’t move muscle.

“This book you are reading, it is good?” She asked, gesturing with her head to the novel in my hand. Her head moved in a kind-of reverent nod as she spoke. Mimicking her a bit, I nodded in reply.

“You will tell me about it. Please.”

“Uh…I just started it, actually, so I have no idea what it’s about. Not yet.”

She was silent, now searching my face, for what, I wasn’t sure. I felt my cheeks flush.

“So, how can I help you?” I snapped. I needed to take charge of the strange situation. “You say you’ve been looking for me…” she started to reply, but I put up my hand to stop her, “…but, I think you mistake me for someone else; someone who looks like me, perhaps?”

“Your mother told me what you look like and where to find you.”

I flinched. “My mother? My mother…my mother died years ago. You must have me mistaken for…”

“Yes. She died when I was five years-old.”

A strange girl mentioning my mother years after her death was downright weird. I was suddenly comforted knowing I was in a public place with many people around. Adjusting my posture to an upright position, I put my inherent no-nonsense sensibility into play.

“I don’t have a clue who you are. I never met you. But, if you knew my mother, like you say, though I find that highly doubtful, given how young you seem to be…” the girl started to reply but I stopped her with a flash of a upheld hand. “If you knew my mother, then you know that, were she here, she would insist you answer my questions, so,” counting off on my fingers as I went, “how do you know my mother, who are you and, how the f…how in the world do you know who I am?”

The girl lowered her head almost to the surface of the table before looking up again to meet my gaze. “Your mother is a friend of mine. She is very amusing! I like her very much. She taught me the card game she calls Spite and Malice. She says, with more practice, I will become very good, and one day I will win and she will lose.”

As she spoke, a smile broadened wide across my face. “My mother taught you Spite and Malice…when you were very little?”

“You have other questions,” she said. “I must reply as you requested.” I gestured for her to continue.

“My name is Amrusha Koshi. I live here, in the city …”

“With your parents, I assume?”

“Yes. Why do you ask?”

I shrugged. “You seem young. How old are you?”

“I will be fourteen in two months.” I smiled. I was right about her age.

“My auntie lives with us, as well. And I have an older brother. Do you want to know their ages as well?”

“No, no. Not necessary. Please, continue. You’ve not said how you know my mother. I mean, I have to assume your parents were clients of hers, or maybe your aunt?”

“She came to see me two weeks ago.”

I did not completely fathom what Amrusha said. “She? Who, she? Your aunt?”

Amrusha shook her head. “Your mother. We are speaking of your mother.”

“Amrusha, can I get you something?” I abruptly asked. “Maybe something to drink? A soda? Water? Tea?”

“Yes, thank you. I would like tea, please. Black. Or Oolong, if they have it. No sugar or cream.”

I excused myself and walked to the counter to get Amrusha Koshi—the very odd and very beautiful fourteen year-old, who knows her black tea from her Oolong tea, and who apparently was visited by the spirit of my long-dead mother for the specific reason of teaching her how to play the card game Spite and Malice—a mug of English Breakfast. Neat.

As the barista prepared Amrusha’s mug and topped off my coffee, I watched her. She sat still, staring straight in front of her, when suddenly she let out a loud, high-pitched giggle, which drew looks from others in the coffee shop. Just as suddenly, she went silent and still again.

I placed the mug of tea in front of her and asked her why the laugh.

“Your mother!” Her incredible eyes were bright and wide. “She is so very funny!”

“Yeah….Mom was a very funny lady,” I quipped.

“The answer to your last question…”Amrusha started to say.

“Oh, I’m sorry…what was my last question?”

“How I know who you are.”

“Ah, yes. How?”

“I assume the answer is obvious, because I have told you. I know your mother. She is my friend.”

I drew in a deep breath and took a moment to gather my thoughts. “And, so, Mom, my mother, came to see you…in a dream, perhaps?” Amrusha shrugged. “…and apparently knew I was here at this particular coffee shop, told you what I look like and told you to drop whatever you were doing and come find me? Is that it?”

“Not exactly. She…”

I interrupted her. I needed an explanation planted firmly on the ground, not riddles flying overhead. “My mother, from the great beyond, told you to find me here today, at this hour. Here, in this place.”


“It’s just that…not including how strange this all is…I don’t come to this place often. At least, not regularly.”

Amrusha was nonplussed. “She said you were here, told me what you look like,  and asked me to come see you, as I have said.”

Curiosity superseded my disbelief. I had to ask. “Did she say why?”


Was this kid playing me? If so, why? I narrowed my eyes at Amrusha and asked in scolding tone, “Do your parents know you are here? Or, where you are? And, most importantly, why you are here?”

I waited for her to respond, but Amrusha didn’t reply. She blew air over her hot mug of tea before taking a tentative sip and set the mug back on the table.

“OK. Whatever,” I shrugged.

My mother never gave any credence to anything she couldn’t actually see, touch or hear. Ghosts did not exist, except as the Holy Ghost, a Halloween costume, or in summer campfire tales. She certainly did not think anyone could talk to someone who died. This girl telling me she’s been sent by my mother, of all people, was kind-of funny.

“Ironic, to say the least,” I muttered to myself.

“What is ironic?” Amrusha asked, herself now looking a bit confused. I shook my head. I wasn’t entirely sure if she was asking after the meaning of the word, or why I found the situation as such. Either way, it was clear Amrusha possessed absolutely no sense of irony.

If Amrusha hadn’t mentioned Spite and Malice, my mother’s all-time-favorite, best-way-to-kill-the-time card game; if she wasn’t so unaffected, or if she possessed an inkling of a sense of irony, I could write the entire encounter off as nothing more than being the unwitting punk of some geeky teen prank. But, I believed Amrusha. I believed this strange girl befriended the ghost of my mother.

“Ya know,” I ventured, “I thought I spied several decks of cards, in the bookcase, over there…” Amrusha turned to see where I had indicated. “Why don’t we play a game of Spite and Malice. I’ll give you a few pointers of my own.”

Amrusha paused and then let out another high-pitched giggle. “Your mother said to me just now that you do not play well, but if you happen to win, I am to accuse you of cheating!”

Tears instantly welled up in my eyes. Whenever I happened to win at Spite and Malice, my mother always teased it was only because I was cheating.

“Oh, my dear girl,” I reached across the table. Amrusha raised her hands from her lap and held them open to me. I grasped them both. “You don’t know how much it hurts to miss your mother.”

Amrusha smiled.

“Has anyone told you that you are a very beautiful girl, but also a sort-of odd little thing?”

This time she frowned. “All the time. My brother, in particular. He calls me ‘weirdo,’ and tells me that I am to leave him alone. He is very mean to me.”

“Well, brothers can be like that. Don’t worry. He’ll grow out of it, eventually. Maybe. Anyway, c’mon. Let’s play some cards.”

Inspired by the prompt: You’re sitting at a café when a stranger approaches you. This person asks what your name is, and, for some reason, you reply. The stranger nods, “I’ve been looking for you.” What happens next?

Family Anthem

Road-TripOlivia started singing at the top of her voice when the chorus came around.

Well I’m on my way, I don’t know where I’m going…I’m on my way, I’m taking my time, but I don’t know where…Goodbye to ROOWZEE, Queen of Corona…See’n me and Julio down by the school yard…” Olivia continued humming along, her head pulsing to the rhythm.

She and her father Jason cleared the city about 20 minutes before; the seemingly endless sight of buildings, row houses, strip malls, concrete and asphalt finally giving way to empty rolling hills of tall spring grass and the straight line of highway stretching out in front of them. The uncluttered expanse made Olivia feel like all that crap could actually be left far behind.

The chorus came around again. Olivia blurted again at full voice, “See’n me and Julio down by the school yard!

“It’s not ‘see’n me and Julio’,” Jason said.


“It’s, ‘See you, me and Julio’,” Jason corrected.

“ ‘K. Whatever.”

The song played on, but Olivia sat quietly, unaccustomed to talking to her father. She’d been on this stretch of freeway before, when they used to go see her grandparents. Even as a little kid, she was amazed at why, except for the giant green exit signs indicating a road to places unseen, there was nothing out here. Just empty hills and the highway signs. Enormous highway signs, always looking new and shiny, as if someone finally noticed there was something to see of the world out here, beyond the city. Smaller, colorful signs promoting fast food joints, hotels and gas stations, made it seem like those unseen places were some sort of meccas; better than the city, something fantastic and not to be missed, out here, in the middle of nowhere.

The next song started and this time Jason started to hum the tune.

“Know this one?” he asked.

“Nope,” Olivia said.

“No?! Really? C’mon…you don’t know ‘Little Pink Houses?’”


Oh, but ain’t that America, for you and me,” Jason sang the chorus as loudly as Olivia. He turned and smiled, giving her a wink and continued singing, “Ain’t that America, … something to see baby, ain’t that America, home of the free, yeah…Little pink houses for you and me.” Olivia stared out ahead at the highway, trying to hide a smile. Jason kept singing,

…he says Lord, this must be my destination… (da dumm dadumm dumm…) those old crazy dreams just kinda came ‘n went…OH BUT AIN’T that America, for you and me…!

Jason slapped the steering wheel with his hand, bobbing his head back and forth with the beat. Olivia kept her head turned away, making every effort to hide she was biting her lip to keep from laughing.

What do they know, know, know…Go to work…sum sum dum dummm” Jason mumbled his way through the lyrics and then yelled at the top his voice, “AND VACATION DOWN AT THE GULF OF MEXICO!! OOO YEAH!” He added an extra “umpf umph” through his teeth, accented with more head bobs.

“Oh my God, DAD!” Olivia whipped back around and smacked Jason on the arm. “Stop it!”

Jason mockingly winced, lifting his arm to shield himself. He sang even louder, twisting his face into one of those expressions everyone thinks singers make when they are belting out a song. . “… hey we’re something to see BAYBAY,”

“DAD!! Ohmigawd STOP IT!” Olivia feigned humiliation, holding her forehead in her hand, “Oh, My, God, you are like, so freakin’ me out right now.”

…Little pink houses babe for you and me, OOO YEAH…. OOO YEAH…”

The song ended. Olivia lurched forward and hit the scan button on the radio.

“Oh, hey, now… that was a good station, kiddo.” Olivia repeatedly hit the scan button. “Not going to find much of anything else out here,” Jason cautioned. “Get my CD case out…”

“No!” Olivia snapped. “I’ll find something.”

The radio scanner landed on Mariachi and Norteño stations, a talk show, several Country stations, a man extolling the love of Jesus Christ, and a classical music station before coming back around to the oldies station they’d been listening to.

“Told ya,” Jason said.

Olivia turned off the radio and sat back in her seat with dramatic sigh. To Jason’s surprise, she did not turn on her phone and put in her earbuds.

They drove in silence for a while, staring at the road ahead. It was peaceful. Just the sound of the car speeding over the freeway; a kind of peace neither of them had known in a long while.

“You gonna let me drive some?” Olivia eventually asked.

“Yeah? Sure! Of course. You need some freeway experience.”

“Cool.” Olivia gave her father a quick smile.

“After lunch, then,” Jason thought a second before continuing. “Next exit, we’ll get something to eat. Good time for a break anyway.”

“ K.”

Jason smiled back at his daughter. They sat in silence a while longer before Olivia slowly leaned forward and turned on the radio again, just as Elton John started to beg to not let the sun go down on him.

Wrote this a while back based on two prompts: 1) “I’m an idealist. I don’t know where I’m going, but I’m on my way.” (Carl Sandburg)  2) Road Trip

Online Writers’ Guild #11: The Waiting Room

The waiting is the hardest part. Sitting. Sitting, not moving. Sitting for one minute, two minutes, three minutes, four minutes. Jeffery looks at the clock on the wall. Five minutes.

The flowers are all over the wall. They flutter and bend each time the oscillating fan on the side table blows air over their field, but the clock doesn’t do anything. Six minutes, seven minutes, eight minutes, nine minutes. Why doesn’t the clock move? Why?!


Jeffery catches it. This time. This is a good thing. The carpet is still. Good. This a good thing. Carpets are still. He catches it this time. This is a good thing.

He carefully raises his glance to face whatever is across the room. Feet. A woman’s feet. Now a child’s feet. Now the child’s feet are gone. Now they’re back. Jeffery cautiously moves his eyes to the left. A man’s feet and then the same child’s feet. The child’s feet go up, one at a time. They don’t come back. Jeffery slowly, very slowly, raises his glance. Knees. The man’s knees. The woman’s knees. Now whole legs. The man’s. The woman’s. And the child’s. On the man’s legs. The child’s chest. The man’s chest. The woman’s chest. Her chest. Her chest. The child’s face. The child’s face looking at Jeffery’s face.

Behind the child’s face the flowers flutter and bend left. Then still. Flutter and bend right; flutter and bend left. Then still. The child’s face is pink. Now purple. Now green, with each sweep of the fan. The child’s eyes are pure black. The child’s hands are growing toward Jeffery, long green fingers growing, growing, changing color to pink, purple, black, green, with each sweep of the fan. The flowers flutter and bend left over the child’s orange face. Then still. Flutter and bend, and twist around the fingers, growing and growing, faster and faster…


A woman’s voice. Calm. Insistent. Her hands on top of Jeffery’s shoulders. Jeffery forces his eyes open. A placid, smiling face of a woman with her hands on Jeffery’s shoulders. She pushes on Jeffery’s shoulders, forcing his knees to bend. She bends her knees as well. Throat. Shoulders. Chest. They sit. Chest. Hello, my name is…Dr. Brenda Chatsworth. Red letters. Black letters. Not moving. This is a good thing.

“It’s OK, Jeffery. Here.”

Her hand. Not green. This is a good thing.  A white paper cup. Clear liquid. Fingers, not growing, this is a good thing, and a pill. This a good thing.

“You’re Dr. Chatsworth,” Jeffery says staring at her name tag.

“Yes. You can call me Brenda.”

“You are not Dr. Anderson.”

“No. That’s right. I’m not.”

This week’s OLWG prompts are:  Wait for it!; Can I call you Brenda?; It will tarnish

Over There

The smoky skies this past week reminded me of a post from several years ago:

Writing prompt: Take the first sentence from a favorite novel and make it the first sentence of your post.  

wild fire

She stood up in the garden where she’d been working and looked into the distance. Beyond the hills to the south, a giant cloud reached high into the atmosphere.

Large thunder clouds appeared almost every afternoon in summer, but this mass of cloud looked somehow different. A tinge of pink and a bit of dark brown colored the cloud’s edges.

The frantic tone in her husband Toby’s voice broke her concentration.

“Eve! Evie!” Toby’s face was flushed, his eyes wide with obvious panic.

“That was Ken. On the phone. There’s a wildfire started in the Jefferson last night and…” Toby paused as he took in the cloud in the distance.

“Oh, God.”

“So, that’s…smoke?” Eve asked, somewhat surprised.

“Yes,” Toby said. He took in a deep breath and then looked all around, his eyes darting around the whole horizon.

“But, it’s so white. You sure? How close is it?” Eve demanded.

Toby shook his head. “Could be this side of the park, could be over to Branchesburg. Who knows. Can’t tell from here.”

“Ken didn’t say?” Eve asked. Toby shook his head.

“Looks more like a thunderhead,” Eve protested, “like those, head-for-the-basement type clouds I remember from home. I’ve not seen anything like that before around here. Toby, are you sure?”

“That’s smoke, Evie… Jesus. That’s a lot of smoke.”

“No kidding.”

Eve and Toby stared at the cloud, both lost in dreadful thoughts of the last time a wildfire broke out.

That fire was not close to them, but the devastating effects were felt by everyone in the county. Their church asked members to put up firefighters coming in from all over the state. Eve and Toby agreed, but then they got a call from a guy at Toby’s work looking for a place to put up his sister’s family, because the Red Cross shelter was full. The experience of strangers in the house was awkward and chaotic, but it’s what you do in times like these. Staring at the growing cloud, Eve wondered if Toby’s co-worker would return the favor, should their need arise.

“Come on,” Toby said quietly. “Let’s make some calls.”

“You go ahead,” Eve replied. “I’ll stay here. I want to keep an eye out.”

OLWG #9: One Ra’s Family

This week’s Online Writer’s Guild prompts are: Come hither; He had a really hard time shaving today; Ra, the sun god

It was a perfect morning. The sun held back the cowering rain clouds to the tops of the foothills by the sheer force of its brilliant radiance. Ray couldn’t wait to get to work.

He woke his teenage son, Stu. “Come on, buddy. Let’s go. Up, up!” He clapped. “Let’s go!”

The boy groaned and slowly sat up, rubbing his face. Ray called again from the hall as he headed downstairs. “Now Stu!”

“I’m UP!” Stu growled.

Both men skipped showering. Ray made them a quick cheese sandwich for breakfast, and rushed out the back door. On his way to his truck he called for his Border Collie, who came running at full speed from his doghouse. In a single long leap, the dog jumped in the cab and took up his spot in the truck, happily panting, also eager to get to work. Ray’s young daughters came running out of the house, followed by their sullen older brother.

“Can we go with you today? Please? Please?” asked Tiffany. She bounced on the balls of her feet, making the best imploring, sad face she could. “You said we could!”

“Not today, honey.”

“DAD!” yelled Basha, “You promised. Not fair!” She crossed her arms and stamped her foot, also doing her best with the sad face bit.

“Not today. I didn’t say you could come along today. I said sometime it’d be OK, but today is going to be a very long day. It’s the height of the season, kiddos. We are going to be working nonstop, probably past dinner. That’s too long for you guys to come along. You’ll get bored and I can’t leave just to drive you guys home.”

A cacophony of protests broke out from all three children. “Stu can drive us home!” “Dad! I’m going to the Mariner’s game with Harley’s family tonight! You didn’t say I’d be there all day!” “Mom’ll come get us!” “If Mom comes gets them, can I go back with them too?”

“Mom will do nothing of the sort,” Ray’s wife Heather said as she walked up to the truck. The children stopped yammering, knowing further argument was pointless. Heather handed Ray a paper grocery bag through the window, which he placed on the seat next to him. The dog and Stu peered inside.

“Just leftovers, sodas, a couple apples. Also treats for the dog,” Heather said. Ray leaned over to give her a kiss, but she playfully recoiled. “Not with those whiskers! Yikes.”

“Come on, girls,” she continued. “Another time.” The girls fussed and whined about promises made. “Ray, Stu does have plans tonight. Harley’s family can pick him up at the winery,” Heather suggested.

“Tell you what,” Ray said to his daughters as he started the engine. “I’ll bring the falcons home tonight and tomorrow morning we can work with them a little bit before Stu and I have to get back to the winery, OK?”

Tiffany and Basha jumped up and down, clapping and cheering.

“For just a little while, though, OK? Right?” The girls nodded. “It’s my busy time of year and we can’t tire out the birds. But I promise.”

(The Sun God Ra is typically pictured wearing a Falcon headpiece, which reminded me of an article I read some time ago about vintners hiring falconers to rid their vineyards of starlings. Ra had several children, three of whom are Shu, Tefnut and Bast. One of his wives/consorts is Hathor. Hence the play on names—and yes, I took time to look all this up. Suffice it to say this took longer than 25 minutes!)

Me ‘n Gert

I couldn’t resist. A story gets left open-ended like that, I simply cannot just walk away. I’ll put my mind to this week’s Online Writers’ Guild prompts later, but in the meantime, here’s how I think tnkerr’s little preamble ditty concludes:

me n gert

Me and Gert the day we got married.

That was 45 years ago. That freckle-faced red-head and her munchkin in the back seat became my wife and son about a month later. I changed my name to Chispa Flores. Gert insisted I change my name. Time came we all went by Flores. As the boy grew, he wanted to go by “Will.” Even Gert had to admit times change, but to her, he’d always be Wildfish.

Gert and Will hung around Santa Cruz for the most part, and I kept traveling the roads and rails, working odd jobs when work was to be found. I made a point to always circle back to Santa Cruz, staying for as long as I could, but when Gert got pregnant with the twins, Taiyang and Chunji (Gert took up Eastern philosophy and medicine by then), I gave up my wandering ways. We moved into a place near Salinas, an old homestead we found one day on a hike. The land belonged to a generations-old farming family. We convinced them to rent the place to us and let us fix it up.  Gert opened a Yoga studio in town and went to school to become an acupuncturist. We plopped all the kids in school—which was a big change for ol’ Will, but he managed—and I went to work as a conductor for Amtrak. Every summer we held a whiskey barrel tapping party for our friends. Sent everyone home with jars of the stuff. Some men’s wives make pies and cakes, but my Gert’s always had a knack for makin’ booze. She eventually sold the Yoga studio and joined friends in on a small winery, but she kept on with the acupuncture. She loves making people healthy. We had one more kid, named him Bob, after my father. Good guy, my dad. Lived with us the last two years his life. Glad we got that time with him.

Tomorrow’s my last day at Amtrak. Bob’s off to college, if you can believe that, and the other kids’ are scattered all over the world. Will’s in Panama (we think, hard to know with him sometimes), Taiyang’s married, expecting our first grandkid, and loves living in Ketchikan, and Chunji sends emails almost every day about Beijing. She said folks there get a kick out her name. She’s loving teaching English and Spanish.

Anyway, Gert and I figure, with the kids grown and gone, we’ll sublet the old homestead and get a mobile home and head out on the road trip we started 45 years ago but never finished. Plan is to head up to Alaska to meet the grandkid and then maybe drive across Canada. I’ve always wanted to see Nova Scotia. Beyond that, who knows.

Maybe I’ll publish a book with all those stories about all those people I met along the way. My kids’ are always reminding  me I’ve always liked to write.

Over the Hill

“SURPRISE!!” everyone yelled as Dave walked in the front door of his father and stepmother’s house. His girlfriend Tracy was beaming a bright and hopeful smile. His stepmother Ann grabbed his face and pulled it down to hers to give him an exaggerated motherly kiss. His half-brother Jake stood back a little ways, hands shoved in his pockets, looking appropriately guilty.

“Oh, wow! Guys…!” Dave feigned surprise and confusion, hoping it didn’t look like he was faking it. “This, is…wow. Hoooly crap! I’m…so…blown away. Seriously.”

“Are you really surprised, babe?” Tracy asked, still beaming. She was such a sweet and honest woman. Nothing blue or crazy about her. They’d been together just shy of a year and Dave cared more for her than he expected. He could kill his half-brother for nearly ruining this whole thing for her.

Dave made his way through the living room and kitchen greeting the friends and family gathered, all of them slapping him on the back, giving him hugs, and eagerly showing off all the “Over the Hill” decorations his girlfriend and stepmother spent so much time selecting and putting up. Someone put a beer in his hand and herded him out to the backyard where his father was barbecuing. “Over the Hill” decorations were littered all over the backyard as well.

“By the looks of all that smoke, I’d say you’ve got too much sugar or oil in the sauce,” Dave joshed his father as he made his way across the lawn.

“So says the geezer of the moment,” his father joshed back.

“What’s with all the ‘over the hill’ crap, anyway,” Dave complained. “Fifty’s not old.”

“You date a woman practically half your age, this is what you’re gonna get.”

Dave chuckled. “Well, dad, you would know.”

A couple of guests walked over and asked again if Dave was really surprised. Sure, sure. A real surprise. Very cool for Tracy and Ann to do this. He turned back to his father and rolled his eyes.

When they were alone again, Dave’s father said, “Don’t stay pissed at Jake. And, make an effort tonight to, you know, not be you, and actually give a damn. Tell Jake he’s forgiven. That little girl of yours and Ann busted their butts to pull this off, so just because Jake blew it, shouldn’t take away from them.”

“Yeah, OK. I’ll go in and put on a big show for everyone. Just…would you…” Dave thought better of finishing his sentence.

“What? Would I, what?” his father snapped.

“Never mind.”

“No, what?”

“Just, quit being on my ass about Jake and about Tracy’s age, is all.”

“JAKE!” Dave’s father yelled, ignoring his son’s remark.

Jake came out of the house and made his way across the lawn, keeping his head down and gaze off of Dave.

“Jakey, here,” he said, holding up a platter of burgers, chicken tenders and ribs. “Take this plate into mom.”

Jake started back to the house. Dave’s father turned to him and gave him a long, steady look. Dave sighed, finished his beer in two long gulps, and trotted across the lawn after his half-brother.

“Jakey, Jake…,” Dave called out. Jake stopped and let Dave catch up.

“Look bud, this is a raw deal and I hope you learned something from it. Seriously man, these past weeks have really sucked for me,” Dave paused a moment, “… but here’s what we’re gonna do: We’re going take this platter into Ann and Tracy, and then we’re going tell them what went down.”

Jake looked mildly horrified. “Mom’s gonna be pissed!”

“Yeah, and so will Tracy, but we have to man-up on this. I can’t keep up the BS forever. I don’t like lying to Tracy, or your mom, for that matter. I don’t want to keep pretending I didn’t know a thing. OK? You with me?”

“Yeah, alright. Whatever,” Jake reluctantly agreed.

“Alrighty, then,” Dave said, triumphantly. “Done and done. Let’s get it over with and call it a day, little man.”

“Don’t call me that.”

Dave gave Jake a gentle smack on the back of his head. “I will if I want.”