Author's Note: Let's just say how much I hate my computer sometimes. Losing files is no fun, especially when you had already written the next four chapters. Talk about a muse killer. Without further ado...
"Jessica, where's your mother?" Dad asks, looking for the millionth time out the window over the sink.
"She said she was going to run errands really quickly… and something about knitting," I say. I paid so little attention to our conversation that I'm sure my mother could have told me that she was pregnant, and it wouldn't have fazed me.
One look at Dad's face, and I have to turn away to hide my smile. I have spoiled his plan. He and Mom are an unfortunate team. When there's a problem with my siblings or me, they always tag team and figure out what to do. Now that I've kept Mom from immediately coming to the house, I've kept Dad from figuring out how to go on with his conversation with Sam, and ultimately with how to torture me.
The pizza is in the oven, and Sam and Dad are situated at the kitchen table, awkwardly and silently sipping mugs of steaming coffee, when Sierra walks in, pink faced and smiling. "¡Hola, mi familia!" she exclaims with a horrendous Spanish accent. She plants a kiss on my father's cheeks before awkwardly toeing off her snow boots and leaning her snowboard against the wall. She yanks her hat off her head and shakes her curly blonde hair out. The pink stripe of her bangs is plastered against her forehead, but she doesn't seem to notice. She seems to sense the quiet in the room and asks solemnly, "Who died?"
"Sierra Kimberly, what did I say about snowboards in the house?" Dad says while sipping at his drink.
Sierra promptly wrenches the door open and tosses her snowboard out the back. She slams the door shut and plops her heavily-clothed, snow-covered self in the seat across from Sam. "Okay, so… is it Mom? Because if it's Mom, I'd rather you not tell me. My goldfish just died, and I don't think I can take losing two good people in one month."
"Your mother didn't die," Dad says with a roll of his eyes. "But if you leave your snowy boots on the floor again, she might come home, and you'll die."
"Picky, picky today, aren't we, Pops?" Sierra asks as she stands up and grabs her boots. She tosses them outside right by her snowboard. Dad doesn't really care about where they are in the backyard, just as long as they aren't messing up his house. "Who got your panties in a twist?"
"Sierra," I say with a big fake smile as I grasp her upper arm with a death grip. "I need a, uh… tampon. Will you come help me with that really quickly?"
Both Sam and Dad look sufficiently embarrassed and give small coughs before turning to their mugs of coffee. Sierra, eyebrows knitted, lets me drag her out of the kitchen and into the living room. She yanks her arm out of my grip and says, "Okay, first off, ow. What's with the death grip?" She unzips her coat and walks to hang it in the mudroom. I follow her nervously, looking over my shoulder in attempt to see what's happening in the kitchen. "Second off, what the hell? Tampons?"
"It worked, didn't it?" I ask defensively. Sure, it wasn't well thought out, but it got the job done. "I have to talk to you about something."
"Obviously," Sierra says, shaking out her hair. She grabs onto my arm to steady herself as she pulls off her snow pants and hangs them in her cubby. For a moment, I am horrified, but I realize that she's wearing leggings underneath, and I can feel comfortable if my boyfriend walks in the room. "What's going on?"
"Dad wants to Talk to Sam," I say.
"Most men would like to get to know their future son-in-laws before they walk their daughters down the aisle. Right."
"No, I mean Talk. Like… Talk Talk."
Dad talks to everyone. Everyone talks to everyone. It's just a normal thing for people to do. It's how relationships grow, and people communicate. But my dad is special. No, Dad doesn't just talk. He Talks. With a capital T. He psychoanalyzes. I swear to you, he gets people into these funks, and they spill their guts to him even if they don't want to. He's like a freaking magician. Even when I didn't want to tell him about the bitchy girls at school, I'd be rattling off all my problems as soon as he sat me down with a mug of hot chocolate and a Frank Sinatra CD.
And the last thing I want Dad to do is Talk to my boyfriend because I know that the last thing my boyfriend wants is to be Talked to by my dad.
"What are you gonna do about that one, sis?" Sierra asks as she shakes out her hair and puts it into a ponytail.
"I need you to distract him, Sierra."
"You're joking me, right?"
"Oh, come on, Sierra!" I beg. I'm not above getting on my hands and knees and begging. "Please do this for me! I was the one who nursed you through your first hangover without telling Mom and Dad!"
"They found out anyway!" Sierra exclaims.
"Okay, sorry Mom is psychic," I remark. "Seriously, I will do anything for you if you do this for me. Be a good sister, please."
"I'm an incredible sister, thank you," Sierra says, "and I'd like to let you know that now you've greatly offended me."
"Sierra!" I beg. She stops being witty for a moment and looks me right in the eyes. Her sharp blue eyes narrowed, she frowns slightly.
"You're really upset about this, huh?"
"I don't want Sam to feel psychoanalyzed. He hates that," I explain.
"Yeah, but you have to admit, there's a lot you want to know about him," Sierra points out. She pulls off her overcoat and grabs a sweatshirt of my dad's from his cubby. Slipping it over her head, she says, "This is the perfect way to stay a safe distance and get some information."
I hesitate but shake my head. No. This isn't right. "That's manipulative, Si. I can't do that to him. Besides," I sigh, "I really wasn't supposed to talk to Dad about Sam in the first place."
"What do you mean?" Sierra asks. Now she seems suspicious. Great, Sam's only ally besides Melissa who is too nice to ever say something wrong, and I'm turning her against him. I need to learn how to word things right. Normally that's Sam's job. He's the lawyer.
"It's just… I told Mom and Dad about Sam's dad," I say quietly, "and the next night, Sam told me to stop running my mouth off about his dad. So if Dad goes talking to Sam about his dad, I think Sam's going to get the wrong idea."
"What about his dad?" Sierra, always a detective, asks me.
"None of your business," I say.
"Seriously? You're asking me for favors, and you won't give me something in return?" Sierra asks. "Weak, big sister. Very weak."
"Sierra, I told him I wouldn't talk about it," I whine at her. She's being so unfair.
"Well, you're talking about it now. Can't you just tell me what it is?" she begs me. "Come on, J, it's not like I'm gonna tell anyone. No one cares but our family, and it's not like I'm gonna run to Tommy about it. You know I'm not a snitch."
"I can't," I say with a shake of my head. "But I need your help. Please. I don't think our relationship can take a hit like this."
"Are you guys really that on the rocks?" Sierra asks. "I mean I knew you guys got in a fight, but I didn't know it was that bad."
"It's not, it's just…" I struggle to explain. "Sam's really guarded. And if I go running my mouth to other people about him, he's going to be really upset. More upset than anything else I could do to him. So can you please help me? I'll owe you big time."
Sierra sighs heavily and rolls her eyes. "Fine, but you have to do whatever I say for a week this summer."
"Sounds like a slightly imbalanced deal, but I'll take it," I say, reaching out and shaking her hand.
"I'm the one getting mind-ninja-ed by Dad," Sierra says, returning my shake. "You try lying to him. It's hard."
"I appreciate it, Sierra," I say. "I really do."
"Yeah, yeah, so what do I say?" she asks.
"Um… anything, I don't care."
"Well, I just walked in and made a big scene, I can't exactly come back in and be depressed. He might notice that something's up," she points out.
"Fine, uh… keep being happy, and when I offer you pizza, say no," I suggest.
"Why would I ever say no to pizza?" Sierra asks. She eats everything. She and Tom would be great in an eating match, but Tommy always refuses. I think he's afraid he'll lose. I don't think his ego could take that.
"Good question," I say with a smile. "That's what Dad's going to have to figure out. Then all you have to do is get really defensive about it—'cause let's face it, you might not be moody, but you're really defensive." Sierra just shrugs. She knows it's true. I take a deep breath. "And… problem solved."
Sierra breaks out into a smile. "Jessica Moore, you are a devious little child. I'm going to need your help on how I can sneak in on New Year's."
"Thanks… just… don't mess up. Please."
"Since when have I ever messed up?"
With a silent agreement between us, we both walk back into the kitchen. Sierra throws herself at the table and grins at the two men seated across from her. I busy myself with the fridge, snorting inside at how good she is at it. No wonder she's gotten away with so much crap in the past. If she wasn't such a jock, she could be an actress. I'm about to offer her a cup of coffee when the oven timer beeps just on time. I pull it open and grab my oven mitts, placing the pizza on the counter to cool.
"Okay," I say happily, peeling off my mitts. "How many pieces do you want, Sierra?"
She opens her mouth to say how many (normally, she starts with three and grabs more later, but this time, I can tell by the look in her eyes, she's very depressed that she's going to get none). Instead, she looks down and looks ashamed of herself, nervously tucking her pink hair behind her ear. "Uh, none for me, thanks," she mutters quietly. She picks up the newspaper on the kitchen table, reading the headline about a child who got kidnapped from the local mall.
Sam just looks down into his coffee mug, noticing nothing, but I feel my heart soar when Dad takes the bait, and the concerned look draws across his face. "What's the matter, sweetheart?" he asked, reaching over and putting a hand on her forehead. "Are you sick?"
Sierra pulls away, looking annoyed. "No. I'm not sick. I'm just not hungry. What's wrong with that?" she snaps at him. I can tell her heart is breaking just by the shine in her eyes. She's such a Daddy's girl. She hates snapping at him. Sam looks up at me, shocked. I don't blame him. This seems really random if you're not a Moore.
"What's wrong with that is that I've known you your entire life, and not once in the last sixteen years have you ever refused a piece of pizza," Dad says gently, knitting his eyebrows.
"Yes, I have!" Sierra exclaims, indignant.
"When?" I ask, rolling my eyes. I decide to prompt the discussion. I don't want Dad to flake out and end up Talking to Sam anyway.
"When… when… I was at your graduation party," she flusters, glaring hard at me. I shudder. If she were actually mad at me, that wrath would have been ugly.
"Actually, you ate half of the pineapple pizza at my graduation party, and Grandma Marie got really mad at you, remember?" I ask her.
"Oh, piss off, Miss Perfect," Sierra snaps, leaning back in her chair and crossing her arms over her chest.
"Sierra Kimberly Moore!" Dad exclaims, shocked. "We just want to help you out. If something's wrong, you can tell us. You know that."
"Nothing's wrong!" she barks at him, sounding like she's on the verge of tears. I need to nominate her for an Oscar. "God, I'm sorry that I'm a freaking pig, and I eat so much, Dad! Maybe I should just walk around looking like a whale for the rest of my life. Is that what you want? God!" she huffs, pushing back her chair and running out of the kitchen.
"Sierra, sweetie!" Dad exclaims, standing up and putting his mug of coffee down. "I'm sorry, Jessie. Maybe we can have lunch later?" he asks us.
I shake my head. "Go right ahead. I'll talk to her later too, if you need me to."
Dad leaves the kitchen and heads up to my sister's room. I send a quick prayer to Jesus and the whole gang for Sierra's mental health and turn to my boyfriend, who is looking sufficiently awkward. "Is she going to be all right?" he asks, as I turn to slice up the pizza.
I allot three pieces to Sierra and set them aside for her. "She's going to be fine," I tell him.
As an afterthought, I add two more pieces. She's going to be hungry.
LIES LIES LIES LIES LIES LIES LIES LIES LIES
There's a wild banging on my door. I look up, startled, from my People magazine. Sam is on the porch, talking on the phone— in daylight, finally— with his brother. Now that the cat was out of the bag about who Sam was talking to, he felt more comfortable with calling Dean during the day. Well, sort of during the day. The sun is setting behind the mountains, and everyone is settled into bed after a meal of traditional Italian spaghetti meal. All in the house is supposed to be quiet, except that this person is pounding on my door like they're trying to break it off its hinges.
"J, open up the door! This is important!" Sierra exclaims, punching at my door more rapidly. I scramble out of bed and swing open my door. She collapses inside, breathing heavily, slamming the object she so direly wanted open closed behind her. She leans against the door and says breathlessly, "Jess, it didn't work."
"What didn't work?" I ask, heart sinking.
"Dad caught me eating the pizza, for one thing," she says with a shake of her head, "and I just walked past Mom and Dad's room, and I heard them talking about what happened earlier today." She lifts up her head and smacks me hard on the upper arm.
"Ow!" I exclaim, giving it a rub. For such a small child, she has a lot of power behind her punch.
"What the hell?" Sierra exclaims angrily, stomping over to my bed and facing me, standing strong, with her arms crossed over her chest. "You didn't tell me that he hit you! I hope the stupid bastard gets Talked to by Dad. And, you know what, I hope he gets Beaten by Tommy. I fucking hate him."
"Sierra, would you keep it down?" I snap, taking her by the shoulders and dragging her away from the veranda doors. "Look, it was an accident. He was asleep, okay? You really think I'd stay with him if he hit me? He'd be on the first plane back to Palo Alto, and he'd be packing up his stuff and leaving as soon as he got there."
Sierra snorts, tugging out of my grip. "Sleeping? How do you hit people when you sleep?"
"No, no, no, no," I groan, throwing myself on the edge of the bed and burying my face into my hands. "Not you, Sierra. You're supposed to be my ally!"
"How can I be your ally when I know this guy hit you? If he touches you, he's a scumbag, Jess!" she exclaims, obviously not caring if Sam heard her or not.
"He was having a nightmare, Sierra," I say exasperatedly, running a hand over my face and sighing. I look up at her desperately. "He was having a really bad nightmare, and he swung out, and he hit me. You don't know Sam like I do, Si. He wouldn't hurt me. He really wouldn't. I'm telling you the truth."
"How can we believe you the second time if you lied the first time?" Sierra had been young when I was dating Clay, but the relationship had affected her also. No one wants to see their sibling hurt. I understand that.
"Because… just because," I say. Sierra rolls her eyes and starts for the door.
"Well, I just came to tell you that I heard Mom and Dad talking, and Dad wants to talk to Sam tomorrow," she tells me over her shoulder.
I can't take this pressure anymore. I'm not this good at keeping things from my family. I always tried my best to be honest with them. Even through my relationship with Clay, I tried to be honest. If I didn't have something nice to say, I said nothing at all so that I could avoid lying. Sam was asking a lot of me, and he didn't realize it. I was going to burst if I didn't talk to someone soon. I wasn't like him. I needed to talk to people, or I would go insane.
"His dad was abusive," I blurt out as she twists the knob.
Sierra freezes and slowly turns to look at me, eyebrow raised. "What?"
"Sam," I mutter breathlessly, "his dad was abusive. He ran away from home when he was seventeen because his dad threw him through a glass door, and I think that's why Sam has the nightmares. I think that's why he's so defensive. And so scarred up. I think that's why he doesn't talk about his childhood. Because, I mean, really, no one wants to talk about that, you know? And sometimes I have to wake him up because he's whimpering in his sleep. And sometimes I wake him up while he's crying. And it's not easy for either of us. But I don't know if I'm right because he won't talk to me. But he doesn't want to talk to me. He's made that really clear. And I'm really scared that if our family pushes him too much, he's going to run away, just like he did to his family a couple of years ago." I didn't even pause to take a breath, to think. It was a conscious stream of everything I had in my head for the past few days. Hell, the past few years.
Sierra blinks. "Wow."
"I know," I say.
"Wow, so… he's stark raving coo coo for CoCo Puffs?" she asks.
"Sierra, I'm being serious!" I exclaim loudly, desperately. "He needs help, and he refuses to get it, and I know it's killing him. It's just… I don't want to lose him."
"Don't you think that you're going to lose him if he never finds himself?"
I knit my eyebrows. "What is that supposed to mean?" I ask.
"Well, come on, Jess," Sierra says exasperatedly. "If he just sits around and pretends that there's nothing wrong with him, he's never going to figure out who he really is, you know? He can't just deny all his real feelings and thoughts because he's afraid to face his past."
"Okay, who died and made you psychiatrist?" I say moodily.
"I'm just saying," Sierra says, hands up in defense, "Dad may have a point with this. Maybe the only way to make Sam better is to get rid of whatever is… bad inside of him."
My question is, how much bad is my father about to release?