I love those dimples. I can't get enough of them. My heart just melts every time she pours on the charm. At this point, I don't think she realizes that it's 'charm,' but who knows. Maybe she does – she can be sneaky from time-to-time.
Our relationship wasn't love at first sight. There was just so much drama that came before, during and after her arrival in my life. I just never got the chance to sit back and truly admire her; to see her for who she is, and who she could be. But really, that's true of anyone if you think about it. Now when I look at her though, it's a different story. I couldn't see my life without her…or any of my 'girls' as I call them.
She's trying to negotiate through the yard now as she sways back and forth. Her arms are extended out, trying to keep herself balanced and upright. The grass is a little high – the landscapers should be here tomorrow – but I like it high. After living in the city so long I appreciate the little things, like grass. Besides, having it higher makes it more cushy if she falls.
I don't think I have to worry about that though. She's testing her independence while her sister and her mom keep a watchful eye. Emma sits on one side while Olivia sits on the other her arms extended. The joy on her face is one I expected I would see one day as Francesca begins to 'get mobile.'
What I didn't expect was how whole it would make me feel. I love Rafe – he's my son. I'd die for him. But this time motherhood is much different. I can enjoy a carefree summer day outside without worrying about the electric bill or getting to my third job just to make sure there is PB and J in the pantry. While money doesn't solve everything, it sure does make it easier to enjoy even the simplest of things, like a lazy picnic in the backyard.
Francesca finally makes her way into Olivia's waiting arms and wraps her little hands around Liv's neck. They both look my way and smile with a sense of accomplishment.
"Did you see Ma?" Olivia calls over to me. "No help at all."
My heart swells at the adoration I feel for all of them right now.
But Olivia's wrong.
Francesca has lots of help, and lots of people who will always be there to 'catch her.' And if not…she's always got dimples to fall back on.
Dimples 2: Terrible Twos
We walk inside the house and the first thing we see is Olivia and Emma. If I'd known any better I'd think they just went ten rounds with Thor. They both seemed to be breathing hard and were…wet?
In her highchair sat Francesca, looking triumphant. Spaghetti dripped from her hair and clothes, just as it did from Olivia and Emma. The difference is Francesca wasn't wearing Armani or Abercrombie & Finch like her other two family members.
She had on the ducky pajamas that Blake bought her last week – a duck that was now red with marinara sauce. It looked like a bloodbath, well, except for the dimples that blazed across her cheeks upon seeing us enter the room.
"Are you a dirty girl?" I ask.
She immediately started to flex her fists as she holds her arms out to be picked up.
Next comes the chorus of "Da,da,da,da."
"Don't do it, Frank," Emma warns me. "It's a trap. She'll get you too."
The severity in Emma's voice was so forceful it sounded as if she was talking about a bomb detonating. As I looked around the room closer – spaghetti on the ceiling fan, refrigerator and cupboards – yes, it DOES look like a bomb went off. I turn to Natalia who had entered with me. I see the smile on her face as she shakes her head.
Natalia shrugs and says, "Looks like another day to me."
I creep closer and ask, "You wanna go bye-bye with Dada?"
"No!" she all but screams. I feel myself cringe inward.
"Don't take it personal," Olivia says. "She's in a 'No' to everything mood today. Watch this." She then turns to Francesca. "You wanna go read a book?"
"You wanna go play with Oreo?"
"You don't want to play with the new kitty?" Olivia tries again.
"You sure? He's cute – black on the outside; white in the middle."
Emma joins in, "Would you like to get dressed in something besides spaghetti?"
She giggles and then says, "No!"
I see Olivia nod to Emma who knows what the signal means. Emma takes the shirt off of Francesca – or at least she tries. Francesca isn't helping in the least. She's flaying her arms around, making it hard for Emma to pull out the sleeves. Finally, after the brief struggle, the garment is off.
"Go get changed Em," Olivia tells her. "We'll take it from here." I watch Emma dart away; relieved her duty is over for now. Olivia turns back to me as she wets the dishrag in the sink. "I really did plan to have her ready for you, Frank. Chessie had other plans though."
"I'm in no hurry," I tell her honestly. Besides, I like watching them all interact. I feel assured that even though I'm not here full time my daughter is still getting lots of love and attention.
At that moment, Chessie takes what's left of the spaghetti and dumps the bowl on her head. Olivia turns just in time to see it. She casually tosses the dishrag over her shoulder so it lands back into the sink. This cleaning project just got a lot larger than a dishrag can handle. I try not to laugh and I look to Natalia who's also trying to stifle a smile.
"We don't throw food," Olivia warns as she waves her finger. Like clockwork, a piece of spaghetti flies across the room and hits Liv square in the forehead.
She can't help herself and starts to smile.
"Oh, joy! It's a daddy weekend! You're goin' in the tub for a scrub and then you can say no to him for the next three days. Sound like fun, Chessie?!"
I grin as Olivia sighs, "Somehow I knew you'd say that."
Dimples 3: Three's a Crowd
Every other word out of her mouth is a 'W' question. Where are we going? What's that do? Who's that? And, of course, her favorite one today… "Why?"
In one hand, I have a bag of old bread. My other hand has my pinky extended. Chessie wraps her small fingers around it as we walk toward the water edge.
"Looks like Chester made it back," I say as we approach the pond.
"Where?" she asks.
I pick her up and settle her on my hip. Then I point out across the water to the one duck that has a white mark on top of his head. We saw him last year before winter and she had to name him Chester after a cartoon dog she likes to watch on weekends.
"Where he go?" she asks in broken English. Sometimes the child sounds like a New York taxi driver and I grin.
"He flies south during the winter because it's warmer."
"How he get home?"
"He flew," I answer.
"No, why he fly HERE?" she says as she motions to the pond.
"How did he know how to come back to THIS pond?" She just nods. "Birds do something called migration."
"Close enough," I giggle. "Yes, migration. It's an instinct inside that tells them where to fly so they know where home is. I guess Chester likes it here because he came back to the farm."
"It's a nice farm for ducks."
"There's this big pond. Plus, there're no hunters around here."
"We don't let people shoot animals here."
"We like our birds and other animals."
That seems to satisfy her for the moment.
"I feed Chesder now?" she asks, not quiet pronouncing the 't' correctly.
"Yep," I say as I put her back on the ground and open the bread bag. She digs in with enthusiasm. I have to admit it's been years since I've seen anyone this excited about ducks and I grin even bigger. I know I won't have much time with her. Not like this, anyway. In a few years I'll be on my own, like Rafe was. So I'll take what I can get now.
"How're my girls?" Ma calls from the back porch.
"Look Mama!" Chessie jumps up and down and points to the water. "Chesder come home! See?"
Ma starts to make her way over.
"Yep, that looks like him alright," she answers. When she finally arrives, Chessie gives Ma's leg a slight shove.
"You go," Chessie says firmly.
"I have to go. Why?"
Now I know who she gets the 'why' from.
"Me and Em feed Chesder. No Mama."
"Oh, I'm not allowed to feed the ducks too, huh?"
"No. Just Em," Chessie says firmly.
Ma holds her hands up in front of her. "Well, excuse me for intruding," she chuckles. "Sheesh."
"You checking up on me? Making sure I don't dump her in the lake?" I ask.
"No." Natalia grins and pats my arm. "I know how responsible you are. Just wanted to let you know breakfast is ready."
I feel a small sense of pride wash over me. I'm starting to see that being a teenager now has its advantages. I give her a short nod as Chessie continues to try to make her go away.
"Hey munchin," I say as I pick up my sister. "How about we eat and then come back out and feed the ducks some more? What do you say?"
"Just Em and Chessie?"
Ma tries to hide her smile.
"Just us," I promise.
Chessie wraps her arms around my neck and gives me a wet, sloppy kiss on the cheek. Having a baby sister was tough at first, I'll admit. But now… I'm starting to see the benefits.
Dimples 4: Fearsome Fours
The shrill scream could have competed with Jamie Lee Curtis in her heyday. Seriously.
We immediately shot up in bed and looked at each other in horror. I was convinced we'd find Dimples at the bottom of stairs with a broken arm, broken leg, severed finger, who knows what. That's when we heard the scream again and I realized it was coming from her room; not below us.
Someone had to be in the house; in her room.
Natalia ran toward the door while I ran to our closet safe. By the time I arrived with my glock in hand, Emma was standing in the doorway rubbing her eyes, while Natalia sat on the bed, stroking Chessie's long, dark hair behind her ear.
"What's going on?" I ask.
"She's trying to make me fail my finals tomorrow," Emma replies.
"Nu-uh!" Chessie disagrees firmly. "There's a monster over there!"
I look to the closet where she's pointing.
"Oh, for Pete's sake," I mutter under my breath.
"Olivia!" my wife reprimands me. "She's really sacred," she adds, which prompts Chessie to nod quickly.
"And I need to get up really early," Emma announces, sounding annoyed.
I walk over to the closet and I open the door wider. I want to have a look to be on the safe side. I'm sure there is no 'monster,' but she might have seen a prowler.
I continue to inspect the room as Emma continues complaining. "How many years have you said these final years of school will be the most important? Huh? I don't want to bomb out freshman year. It'll set a precedence for the rest of high school."
"Emma," I sigh. "Ditch the melodramatics please."
My elder daughter snorts. "Says the woman holding a 9 millimeter for a monster inspection." She made sure to put the words 'monster inspection' in air quotes. God, she's so much like me sometimes. Yes, it's exasperating.
"I really don't like a gun in the house," Natalia says to no one in particular.
"Daddy has a gun," Chessie points out.
Ha! I love my kid. That's my Dimples! Comin' through for Mum again. I smile proudly and wave my hand in her direction in a 'See? Frank has a gun,' fashion. My wife, however, is not as impressed with our daughter's observational powers.
"We'll discuss this later," she says to me. At least I have a reprieve for the moment.
"I don't wanna go to bed," Chessie says as she pulls the covers higher. "Maybe he went under the bed. Do you see him, Mum?"
I'm really gonna have to do this, aren't I? I'm gonna have to get on all fours, look on the floor and then somehow try to get back up. I take a deep breath resigned to my fate. I move to the floor and pull up the dustcover.
"Nope," I call up. "No monsters down here."
"Because there's no such thing as monsters," Emma sighs.
"Are too!" Chessie argues.
"Are not!" Emma retorts.
"Yes, sir," Francesca says. It's a term she picked up from Frank, which frustrates me to no end, but I let it go. "That show we watched for your school class had a monster, remember?"
"What are you talking about?" Emma asks.
"Last night, remember? That show had a guy who said Hister was a monster."
Emma looks confused at first and then grins.
"You mean Hitler; not Hister. And for the record, Hitler…" she pauses and considers her point. "Hitler was a monster. Okay, you got me. But since there're no monsters HERE in this house so can we all just go to bed now?"
Chessie shakes her head.
"Fine," Emma continues. "Take her to bed with you guys then."
Natalia and I both look panicked for a moment. Oh, no! That's not gonna happen! I love my daughter, but that bed is for adults sleeping and sex. Not snack food time. Not nail polish time and certainly not kid cuddle time. Thank god Natalia agreed to that pact years ago. I'm not gonna let us backslide now. It's called a 'marriage' bed; not the 'everybody climb in' bed. There's gotta be something that I can…Ha! Got it!
"You know, Dimples," I begin. She looks up at me with those beautiful sea green eyes. How she managed to get my eyes is astounding. "Why don't you draw a picture of the monster you saw?"
"He was ugly with shiny teeth – real big teeth."
"Well, draw a picture of him and Emma and I are going bring back something I got when Emma swore she saw a monster in her room at your age."
Emma looks at me like I'm insane for a moment and then she starts to giggle.
"You still have that?" she asks, thankfully playing along.
"Yes, I do, so we'll be right back."
I lock up my gun again before Emma and I make our way downstairs.
"I forgot all about this," Emma says as we go toward the kitchen.
"Yeah, you were once four too, so cut her some slack, okay?"
"I try. I do," Emma replies. "I just really needed my sleep tonight."
I stop short of the kitchen door and turn to face her. She's taller than me now by about an inch and her body looks more womanly than girl-like. I cup her cheek and give it a light pat.
"You HAVE done really great with her, Bean. Really. Sometimes though you just need a little extra patience with young ones."
"I know," she replies. "Just tell me how can I help so I can get to sleep tonight?" she teases.
A few minutes later we return to see Dimples' picture. He does look like a mean bugger and for four years old she's actually a darn good artist. Probably better than anything I could draw. I planned to have her rip it up, but she's convinced if she gives it to her Daddy he'll put it on the wall with all the others pictures of the bad guys the police are looking for. Once we get beyond what to do with her picture, she notices something in my hand.
"What's that?" she asks as she motions toward me.
"Tell her Em'," I say.
"It's Monster Spray!" her sister announces.
"Monster spray?" Chessie and Natalia both ask at the same time. Chessie however turns to Natalia and asks, "Did you know about this, Ma?"
Natalia seems to stumble for a second.
"Of course!" I say pulling Chessie attention back to me. "Every mom knows about Monster Spray, but she might not have known we had some here. She probably didn't want to tell you in case we didn't, but that's not a problem. Show her Em'."
Emma hands over the bottle that was nothing more than a plant mister filled with purple food coloring and water. On the front was a crudely drawn picture Emma made of a monster that sorta resembled Dimples monster, thankfully. In big bold letters she wrote MONSTER SPRAY.
"How does it work?" Chessie asks optimistically.
Yes! She's buying it! Kid-free bed tonight!
"We have to use it once a year and it keeps away monsters. It's kind of like our spider spray we use outside. Come here," I motion her over.
She comes to my side, with the bottle in hand, and I take her to the window.
"Now, you don't need a lot. Just three sprays here by the window."
"One. Two. Three," she counts as she sprays.
"And one by the closet, just in case."
Again, she sprays.
"One on each side of the bed."
We all watch her squeeze the bottle making sure to hit the left side, right side and foot of the bed.
"Oh, almost forgot," she says as she goes to the head of the bed and makes Natalia move out of the way as she squirts one more time.
"Now two at the door way over here." I motion her over.
"One! Two!" she says happily as she squirts again.
"There you go," Emma says. "You won't have to worry about monsters for a long, long time. Think you can go back to bed now?"
Chessie nods enthusiastically; her dimples blazing. Natalia and I both kiss her on the head as we tuck her in.
"Night," Emma says as she exits Chessie's room and heads to her own room.
"Bean?" I call out, which makes her stop. Yeah, she's not an adult just yet, but I wonder for a moment just when did she grow up. "Thanks."
She smiles and just nods a 'welcome.'
"Monster Spray… You're brilliant," Natalia tells me as I put my arm around her waist and lead her back to bed.
"I am pretty smart, huh?" I say smugly, which earns me a pitch on the side.
As I settle back into bed, with Natalia curled up, resting her head at my shoulder, I have one thought on my mind.
I love my girls.
Dimples 5: Fearless Fives
I put the screwdriver in my back pocket and rise as I see Munchkin Junior – MJ for short – make her way over to me.
I'm not sure how it's possible, but she looks like all three of them – Ma, Frank and Olivia. She's got Frank's smile, Ma's dark hair and dimples and Olivia's green eyes. Truth is… she looks more like Emma than me, her own brother. In fact, if anyone didn't know any better, they'd swear that Bean and MJ were biologically related instead of she and I.
None of that matters though - I love her with all my heart. Growing up alone with Ma I never felt like I lacked anything, but now I can't imagine my life without her. Sure, I don't see her much, but now that she's older she writes me or sends me videos. She's such a ham. Even the guys in the barracks sometimes will ask to see what she had to say that month. She's got a subtle way about her that reminds me of Ma, but she's as quick witted and headstrong as her Mum, Olivia. Yeah, I have to admit it…Olivia's been good to her; to all of us really.
I wasn't sure why Chess always called her Mum, which sounded pretty English to me. Not English like the language, but English like the 'pip, pip, cheero' folks.
Ma said that when Chess was just learning to talk she said 'Ma' and 'Da' just fine. But they weren't sure who she was addressing when she said 'Ma' unless they were facing her.
So when Emma began to call Ma by the name 'Ma' and Olivia 'Mom', they taught Chess to say 'Mum' - it was a sound Chessie could make and it sounded close to 'Mom'.
So Ma stayed 'Ma'. And Olivia became 'Mum'. They figured when Chess was older, she'd start to use 'Mom' like Emma did, but no dice. Olivia became Mum forever in Chess's eyes.
And today since, I've been told that 'Ma and Mum' are too old to keep up, and 'Daddy' AKA Frank is even older than them, it's my job to teach Chess how to ride a bike.
"Are you ready, Rafe?" she asks wearing her kneepads and crash helmet. She looks like she's ready to play hockey. The only protection my head and legs had growing up was a Cubs cap and jeans.
Little does she know I raised the training wheels. Right now they're off the ground enough for her to learn balance, but not enough for her to notice they're not touching the driveway. If she leans too far to one side she WILL fall. But I'm betting she'll get the hang of it soon enough. In fact, I'm willing to bet she already does. She just doesn't have her confidence yet.
'Oh, yeah. I'm ready,' I think. "Sure am," I answer her out loud and try not to smirk.
I pull the bike over to the middle of the driveway and put the kickstand up. I hold it while she climbs aboard. She wobbles a little at first.
"It feels funny," she says.
'Maybe she's brighter than I expected,' I think.
"It's fine. I put the training wheels a tad higher," I tell her.
"They still touch, right?" she asks in concern.
"Yes." Okay, that was a bold face lie, but I'm certain she can do this so I change the subject fast. "I'm gonna run behind and help hold you up though if you need it. You keep peddling no matter what. Got it?"
She nods and pushes off as I follow behind her. As I suspected, at this point she has so much balance that I'm not even holding the bike up. She's doing it on her own. She doesn't realize she's really riding on her own since my hand is outstretched; yet not touching anything.
I look back toward the house and I see Olivia and Ma looking out the window at us. They're grinning and I give them a thumbs up. It's going great so far.
"Are you still there?" Chess asks nervously.
"Yeah, MJ, keep going!" I say optimistically.
She peddles a bit more and I let go completely, allowing her to pull ahead. When she gets several feet down the driveway I shout out to her.
"Keep going MJ, you're doing it!"
She knows I'm no longer behind her so she has a fleeting moment of doubt. I know because I see the bike wobble a little after my words. But she recovers and keeps riding as I clap my hands. She starts to get to the end of the driveway and slows down. The wobbling gets more intense as I see her try to turn the handlebars. That's when I realize the problem.
'Oh, shit! She doesn't know how to turn yet.'
I start to run after her but I know I'll never make it in time. She topples to one side with the bike landing on her.
'Shit! She's never gonna trust me again.'
"You okay, MJ?" I ask as I run up to see the bike on top of her.
I pull the bike off and put up the kickstand. It looks like she's crying, but I quickly realize she's not sad. She's laughing.
"Rafe?" she said in between giggles.
"Do you think you can teach me to turn first?"
I laugh too. "Yeah, that's an important part of learning to ride, huh?"
"Yeah," I said as I pick her up and dust her off. "We'll work on that, okay?"
Fearlessly, she climbs aboard again and we start back up the driveway. This time I follow along and we take the first turn together. I'm sure by the end of the day she'll be a pro.
Dimples 6: Six Simple Words
"Mum - tell me - what's dyke mean?"
It's only six words, but everyone stops eating dinner in mid-chew. I'm not sure what I've said exactly, but I know it got everyone's attention, that's for sure.
"It's a wall that holds back water," Mum answers and then grins.
Ma and my big sister Ava, who's in from California, snort and start to giggle. But I'm confused even more now. Why would Heather call my moms big walls?
"Am I wrong?" Mum challenges the chuckling pair. Ma shakes her head slightly. "Am I?" Mum presses again.
"No, but I'm pretty sure that's not what this is about," Ma replies.
At that point, Emma comes into the kitchen like a tornado and tussle with my hair on the way over to the stove. I really hate it when she does that and I try to push her hand away, but it's too late. It already feels knotty on top.
"Sorry I'm late," she says as she makes a plate of food. "Volleyball practice ran over. What'd I miss?"
Emma stuffs a fork full of macaroni in her mouth and Ma chuckles.
"Chessie just asked what a dyke is?" Emma coughs a little and the fork falls to her plate. Then Ma adds, "You wanna answer that one?"
"Did Mum tell you it's a wall?" Emma asks me.
'How did she know?' I wonder and just nod.
She then turns to Mum. "You need some new material, Mom." Emma then looks my way again. "She used the same line on me when I asked years ago. But lemme guess, someone at school said something about living here with dykes?"
I nod. "Heather Decker," I answer.
"Decker," Mum growls out the name. "Go figure that widow-duping, m-money-grubbing son-of-a-bitch would raise a homophobe."
"Olivia! Language!" Ma corrects her.
As usual, Mum just rolls her eyes… and, as usual, she tells me, "Don't say bitch. It's a bad word. Unless you're talking about a female dog. So if you think about it I'm not sure Decker is human so is that really a swear word then?"
"Olivia," Ma warns again in her 'I'm getting annoyed voice.'
"Please! The man shacked up with his 'mid-life crisis' after he left his wife and now has a spawn to call his own. Isn't that grand?"
This time Ma says nothing. The look in her eye, or more correctly, her raised eyebrow, says it all. Mum knows it's time to give up and let it go. She blows Ma a kiss and just goes back to her mac and cheese with a grin.
"So," Ava pipes in, "tell us, what happened at school, Sweetie?"
"Well, at lunch Heather Decker told everyone at the table that my moms are big dykes and that I'll be a dyke too."
"While it's true a dyke is a wall," Emma begins. "…it can also be considered a derogatory word for a lesbian. Do you know what derogatory means?" At first, I do nothing. I don't want to appear dumb, but I'm not entirely sure. I just know it must mean something bad so I just shake my head. "Derogatory means insulting. Some people use it as an insult to a woman who's gay."
"Right," Ma agrees. "But sometimes even women who are gay use the term with each other."
"But if it's an insult then why would they use it?" I ask.
Ma shrugs. "Maybe because by using it then it desensitizes it."
'Desensi-what?' I think
Emma smiles because I think she sees the confusion on my face.
"It's like when I got braces," Emma replies. "Remember how Mum called me 'brace face' all summer?"
"Yeah, Ma would get real mad."
"True, but Mum was right. I got used to it. So when I went to school in the fall and the kids called me that name it didn't hurt since I was already using it. It's kind of like that. Understand?"
"Yeah, I guess I could see how that might make it not hurt as much," I say. "So do you call yourselves dykes?" I ask my moms.
Mum starts to laugh and tries to talk at the same time. "Your Ma is the biggest dyke around."
Ava and Emma start laughing too while Ma turns about three shades of red and hits Mum with her napkin.
"Keep it up Spencer and this week I won't be," Ma replies and starts to laugh too.
I'm not sure what that means exactly, but they all laugh a little harder for a few moments.
"Well, don't worry about Heather," Emma tells me. "Gay, straight, bi – it doesn't matter in this house. You're lucky, you know? A lot of kids are still cast aside by their family for who they love. Here though, we just want you to find someone who's good to you, good for you and makes you laugh after a decade like these two… Find that and you'll be just fine – 'dyke' or not, Dimples."
I smile. I can live with that.
Dimples 7: Slippery Sevens
"It was an accident, Frank!"
"And I think it's a mistake she was ever there!"
Emma is on one side of me while Ma is on the other. All three of us are on the sofa as Mum and Pop go back and forth. While they argue, my tongue plays with the gum where my top front tooth used to be.
"You can't guard her the rest of her life!"
"No, but I can keep her safe now."
"What about the bigger picture? Kenpo Karate can give her the ability to defend herself someday!"
"She got her teeth knocked out for Pete's sake!" Pop says.
"Teeth?! It was a tooth - one baby tooth! And it was loose anyway!"
"Is that true?" he asks me.
I look to Mum, who's rolling her eyes. I'm not sure what to say.
"No, I made that part up," Mum mumbles. "Look," she says louder, "It was gonna come out soon anyway."
Pop turns to Ma. "What do you think?"
"Front baby teeth do come out around now."
Pop sighs impatiently. "I meant about the class."
Ma just puts up her hands. She doesn't want any part of this and I don't blame her.
"Leave me out of that," she says.
Pop asks her, "Do you think it's okay to have Chessie's teeth knocked out?"
No one's asked me what I want or what I think. Am I invisible here? The truth is, it was just an accident like Mum says.
Ma shakes her head again. "I'm staying out of this. If anyone's going to make the decision about the class, then it should be Chessie."
She then looks over to me.
"Fine," Pop begins as he looks at me. "Do you want to keep going to class and getting your teeth knocked out?"
"No," I answer.
Before I can add more he points to me and faces Mum.
"See, Liv? She wants out of the class."
"No!" I say louder than I intended. Everyone looks at me. "I don't want out of the class. I just don't want to get my teeth knocked out."
"Well," Pops starts, "If you keep-."
"May I finish explaining please?" I say, interrupting him before he can start ranting again. No one speaks and all eyes are on me, so I continue. "Ruby didn't mean to hit my mouth. Besides, I had on headgear - her hand slipped and blamo! She got a point for the perfect hit and I got toothless. Heehee, well, not entirely toothless. I still have teeth, but I gotta say... sheesh, Pop, to hear you tell the story you'd think I needed dentures like Grandpops."
Everyone chuckles, expect Pop.
"Up top," Emma says as she raises her hand for me to high five.
Pop finally starts to grin slightly.
"Listen Dimples," Mum begins, "Your Dad is just worried about you. He doesn't want you to feel like you have to go to the dojo."
"But I wanna go!" I reply. It sounds like she's starting to side with him. This isn't good. "I do. I've got my junior yellow and I'm close to my junior orange!"
"Sweetie?" Ma says, "Do you want to stay there? Yes or no."
"There's your answer, Frank," Ma says in her 'end of discussion' voice.
"Alright, but she's-she's only seven."
"She's learning that Karate isn't what you see in Hollywood," Mum explains. "She's learning discipline; dedication and, perhaps most importantly, she's finding out how to protect herself, even from people bigger than her. Be honest. Have you seen rape victims her age?" Pop doesn't say anything. He just nods. "I don't want her to be a statistic," Mum adds although her voice cracks a little. She clears her throat and then says, "So she stays then?"
"Yeah," he finally relents.
Yay! Besides, picture day is over - not like I'd have to worry about that. Come to think of it though, I'm kinda disappointed. I coulda had something to remember my match from years from now if I had a big toothless smile.
Pop turns to Emma with a grin and asks, "So I hear you took regionals - think your volleyball team'll go all the way this year, Captain?"
"Everyone stays focused and strong with no injuries, then yeah, I do," she replies. "We've got the best team."
"And the best captain," Ma says as she pat Emma on the shoulder as my sister blushes. "And I remember why Coach Ballard picked you - he wanted someone who's, and I quote, level-headed, capable of leading, and has a "take control" kind of personality."
"Bossy," I add. "Did she mention bossy?"
Emma wraps her arm around my neck and proceeds to give me a noogie. I try to squirm away but when that doesn't work Ma pitches Emma's side and makes her laugh and she releases me.
"You said semi's are the 15th?" Pop asks her.
"Yep," Emma replies. "We'll be at Catholic Central."
"Good, if there's nothing huge going on at the station, I'll be there."
"Cool. Have Ms. Toothless here save you a seat," she teases me as she grabs a pillow and hits me with it before she darts to the kitchen. I try to throw it back at her, but Mum steps forward and catches it mid-air before it hits the mantel. Good save.
"My son was never this rowdy," Ma replies. "Whoever said girls were 'easy' never had three girls in one house."
"Three?" Pop asks.
"She counts me too," Mum says.
I should have seen it coming, but no. Bam! Pillow upside the head as Mum runs away too. I'm such a sucker sometimes.
Dimples 8: inquisitive Eights
'What in the world?!' I nearly drop my glass of water. 'Is Ma hurt? She sounds like she's in pain.' I creep closer to the bedroom door and listen a moment longer. She's fighting for breath. I can tell.
'Something's wrong! No, wait! If Ma was in trouble then Mum would help her, right? And I can hear Mum's voice, but she doesn't sound like she's in a panic, even if I can't make out the words she's-Wait! There she goes again with the moan! Okay, I gotta know for sure if Ma's okay.'
Knock. Knock. Knock.
"Ma?" I call out. Suddenly, I don't hear anything. Not Ma. Not Mum. No breathing. Nothing. "Mum?" I try when no one answers.
"What is it, Sweetie?" I hear Ma ask.
Wait! I bet they were...OH MY GOD! I gotta think of something fast to say!
"I forgot to tell you."
"Tell me what?" She sounds as nervous as I feel.
"Tell you that I, uh, I needed a fruit tray for the Valentine's Day party. Can we leave early and get one at the store?" Smooth move. A fruit tray? That the best I could think of? What am I gonna do with a fruit tray at school tomorrow?
I hear Mum giggle and then the sound of skin against skin. Ma musta slapped her to stop laughing. Oh god, I am SO embarrassed right now.
'Someone just answer me please so I can go to bed and hide under the covers.'
"Okay, Chessie. We'll stop tomorrow. Go back to bed, Sweetie."
"Night," I call out. Without waiting for a response, I dart back to my room.
The next morning I'm sitting at the table eating my bowl of cereal alone. Everyone else is in bed, even Ma, who's usually the first one up. Of course, last night was a late night for her. Ewwwwwwwwwwww! I gotta get that out of my head. I'm thankful when Emma stumbles into the room.
"Where's everyone?" she asks as she yawns.
"I think our moms had a late night," I reply softly.
Emma turns her head slowly toward me and then just bursts out laughing.
"Really?" she asks conspiratorially.
I'm failing to find the humor in this. This is too much to deal with. I just nod and take another bite of my Cheerios in silence.
"So what did you hear?" she asks with an evil grin. She's enjoying my discomfort way too much. I told her what happened and how now I have to take a fruit tray to school for no reason whatsoever. That made her laugh only harder...God, my big sister can be so annoying sometimes.
"It's not funny, Em!" I say in growing annoyance.
Suddenly, Mum walks in and pats me on the head as she walks by, going to her first stop of the day - the coffee pot. I cringe slightly at the thought of what those hands might have been doing just hours before. It's almost as Emma is reading my mind because she laughs even harder.
Now Ma comes in and asks, "What's so funny?"
'Emma, you better not say it. You better not even think of-.'
"Chessie heard you two having sex."
'You're an ass, Emma.'
Mum is behind me so I don't actually see her spit out her coffee. Instead, I hear the slight choking noise followed by a brief cough to clear her throat.
"What did you hear?" Ma automatically asks and then immediately back peddles, "What I mean is that, yes, sometimes your mother and I are intimate and we don't mean to disturb you so-."
"I'm already disturbed, okay? This entire conversation is disturbing. Can we just drop it?"
"Amen," Mum mutters.
"It's nothing to be embarrassed about," Ma continues.
'Oh, god, why is she STILL talking?'
"I'm shocked too," Emma adds. "I mean, really, you haven't heard them until now? Moaning comes out of that bedroom three, four times a week."
"Emma!" my moms both say.
Emma only smirks.
"I just want you to know that it's nature," Ma says, to which Emma starts to sing 'I Want Your Sex' like George Michael.
"It's chemmmmicalll (let's do it). It's logicalllll; habitualllll(can we do it)." I look back to Mum who's started to snicker as Emma continues, "It's sensualllll, but most of alllll - sex is something that we should do. Sex is something with me and you."
At this point, both our moms are trying not to laugh and I have to admit that it's pretty funny.
"Emma," Ma interrupts before she can continue the chorus, "Go get dressed."
"But I haven't ate yet," she complains.
"Go," Mum orders and Emma gets up.
That doesn't stop her though as she makes her way out. She continues to sing, "Sex is natural; sex is fuuuuun. Sex is best when it's one ON one."
I look down into my cereal bowl and I realize... I'll never look at Cheerios the same way again.
Dimples - Know-It-All Nines
"But how do you know?!" I really want to understand this and my hands slap the kitchen table a tad harder than I expected.
"It's called Faith," Ma says firmly.
"I've looked online. Nowhere in the bible does it describe what heaven is like or how it looks or-."
"Gee. Online? Really?"
"Heaven exists. End of story."
"But how do you know?"
"In Revelation John says the city itself and its streets are pure gold, yet like transparent glass."
"I don't remember what verse, but it's there."
Mum shuffles in the kitchen, going straight to the coffee pot, which is her morning ritual.
"Mum? I got a question." All I get is a grumble, but it doesn't stop me from continuing. "Does the Bible describe heaven as a place in the clouds with babies with wings playing harps?"
"Francesca," Ma gripes.
"I wanna know what Mum thinks about God and Heaven."
"Your Mum's opinion doesn't count." My jaw drops and even Mum's head swings around. "No!" she adds quickly. "It counts, but not until she's had a cup of coffee. I mean just don't ask her anything right now."
"Well, if you wanna know what I think..." Mum starts.
"Olivia, no," Ma pleads to her. "It's too early for you to have THIS discussion."
"Our daughter is having a crisis of faith at the moment," Ma says.
"It's not a crisis," I tell her. "I'm just trying to understand what heaven is and how everyone who's ever lived, and been good, fits up there. When you think about alllllll the people who ever lived it just seems..."
"What?" Ma asks.
"It sounds pretty ridiculous." There. I said it.
Ma opens her mouth, but no words come out. Mum immediately rushes over to her. I've never seen her move that fast without at least one cup of joe. Then she pulls Ma to her feet and leads her into the living room. I can hear Mum whispering, but Ma's still not saying anything. After a few seconds go by Mum returns alone.
"Your Ma's getting ready for church."
I hang my head. "I did it, didn't I? Ma won't love me anymore for not being sure about God and asking questions."
"Test everything; hold fast what is good."
"What?" I'm not sure what Mum is trying to say.
"It's from Thessalonians, in the Bible. Years ago, before you were born, her Priest tried to, well, talk your mom out of loving me. She held onto that verse. What it means is never stop questioning things. Look at all the angles. You'll find a lot of crap in this world, so hold on to what's right; what's good. Your Ma loves God, but she realized she had to leave her church because her love for me wasn't a sin. She could love us both. She held on to me because she felt like a better person with me and she left her church to find a place more welcoming."
"Which is why we go to Uncle Josh's church?"
"But what does all that mean for me?" I wonder aloud.
"It means," Mum speaks up. "Question God. Test the faith your Ma wants you to have. Look for answers outside, but look in your heart too. Then hold fast to what will make you a good person and the rest...fall away."
Mum gets up and goes back to her coffee.
"Mum? Tell me the truth. Do you believe in God?"
She puts in her cream and then faces me.
"For many years, I doubted God existed."
"Ma convinced you?"
"In a way. But it wasn't her faith that rubbed off."
"What was it?"
"It was her. She's my miracle. There has to be a god because how could someone as wonderful as her not give up on me."
"I think you're great Mum."
"Again, I had a life looooong before you came along Dimples, and not all of it good. Your Ma saw beyond all that, even beyond things I did to her...she's my proof that God is real. But remember, Thessalonians, which says...?"
"Test everything; hold fast what is good."
"Good girl," Mum says as she returns and kisses the top of my head. "Now go get ready for church."
Hmmm. If Mum can believe then...maybe there is a God.
Dimples 10- Terrible Tens
Author note: There is a character death in this little brain dropping. Be warned.
"I've made a decision," I tell Emma as she takes a seat beside me. I still haven't turned to face her. I'm still staring straight ahead. The backyard is filled with mourners. Doris is hugging Ma, both of them look like they've been crying. For the moment though, they're trying to smile, but the smiles never quite reach their eyes.
"What's that?" Emma asks.
I take a deep breath and blow it out slowly.
"I hate funerals."
"You're in good com...company," she finishes. She stops at the word 'company' and we both recognize why. "Not too many people enjoy them."
"What's the point of loving someone if all they do is leave anyway?" I ask as I finally turn to face her.
She hands me a glass of something that appears to be some kind of fruit drink.
"We can't dwell on the time lost," she says. "Instead we should focus on what time we've had. Death could have came years ago so we're fortunate for every year we DID have. Heart conditions can be...tricky."
I can feel myself getting angry. I tell her, "It's not fair."
"Life isn't fair," she answers immediately. "It's cold and it's hard and it's pretty unjust at times, like right now."
"Some pep talk, Em. Thanks," I say sarcastically.
"BUT," she continues with the wave of a finger, "since it is such a rough place that's exactly why you need people to love. Yes, some of them leave, but some of them don't."
She reaches into her pocket and hands me something. I look at it.
"A quarter?" I ask.
"When my Granddad Alan died, my dad's dad, I was feeling pretty alone and sad. Our brother Rafe gave that to me before he left for the service. So, I'm giving it to you now. I've got to go back to college in a few days, but as long as you've got that, I want you to remember I'm always thinking of you, and no matter how alone you might feel, the truth is... you're really not. So if you need to talk, day or night, I'm only a phone call away."
I rest my temple on Emma's shoulder and try not to cry. "I can't lose you too Emma. Promise you won't die."
"I can't promise that, but I promise I'll do all I can to make sure I'm around for a long time, okay?"
She turns and kisses me on the crown of my head.
I look up to see Pop make is way over to us.
"Hey Sport. Em'," he says before motioning to the house. "You two want to come help us in the kitchen?"
Anything beats just sitting around feeling sad. I nod and both Emma and I make our way toward the house with my Pop behind us.
"What do you think you'll miss the most?" I ask Emma as we walk into the house.
She smiles. "Playing cards," she answers without hesitation.
"Really?" I chuckled. "Me too because I'd always win. He liked to call me a shark."
Emma giggles. "It's a Spencer trait. At least I know I trained you well."
We both grin. It's nice to grin...even now.
We walk in and see Mum putting some pastry wrapped weenies on a tray. Usually I love them, but today I don't have much of an appetite. How can I? Right at this moment, they're putting six feet of dirt over Grandpop Buzz and I'll never see him again, well, not in this life anyway.
"Emma?" Mum says breaking me from my morbid thoughts. "Can you take the dip and chips out?"
"What can I do?" I ask.
"Frank?" Mum says, kind of ignoring me. "There're two bags of ice in the freezer. Can you fill up the chests outside?"
"Yeah, no problem."
He walks out, ice in hand, and I move to Mum's side.
"What can I do?" I ask again. If I have to ask a third time I'm gonna get pissed.
"Are you okay? You've been pretty quiet." I just nod. "Whatever you feel, it's okay to feel."
I hesitate. "Even if I hate God right now?"
"Hmm, I wasn't expecting you to put so fine a point on it," Mum mutters.
"See? Told you."
I start to walk away.
"Chessie, stop. Come here."
Reluctantly, I go back.
"There are times that I've hated God too," she continues. "And yeah, it does make me mad that Buzz is gone."
"Hell-Heck, yes." I have to grin a bit. Anytime Mum corrects her swears it's a bit funny, even now. "I think of all the mean people in the world and wonder why didn't God take them. Why take your Grandpop? But your Ma says there's a bigger plan at work here that we don't always understand in the present time. And some things will happen that we won't understand until we pass over into the next life..."
"Do you believe that?"
"I have to, because sometimes it's the only way to get through things like this."
"Is it true you almost married him?"
"Who told you that?"
"My sister, Marina. I heard her talking at the funeral home... No one ever said anything about it before."
"Yes, it's true. I loved him and he loved me, but we were meant to be with other people."
"So my pop was almost your step-son?" I grin for a moment.
Mum smiles and nods.
"Which means I would have been your step-granddaughter, right?"
"Yes," Mum chuckles.
"Wow." I heard Marina but until just now I didn't do the 'family math' in my head. "So why didn't you? Get married I mean?"
"It just wasn't...right...And although it hurt at first, we got beyond it and it worked out best for everybody. I eventually found your Ma and Grandpop Buzz found Grandma Lill... Like Ma says, sometimes we eventually learn the reason why bad things happen. I know the marriage didn't happen because God planned on putting me with your ma...But sometimes...well, sometimes we might not see or understand why certain things happen.
"Like this for example?"
Mum just nods.
"Right now it just hurts to think about it too much." I feel myself tearing up again. Mum pulls me to her side, and like Emma, she kisses the top of my head.
"Then don't right now, okay?" I nod. "What do you say you take that tray out to the table?" I pick it up and start to carry it out. "And Dimples," she tells me. "Make sure to have a few of those weenies. I know you're sad, but Grandpop knew you like those. He'd still want you to enjoy yourself."
"You think so?"
"I know so," Mum says with great confidence.
I start to make my way out again, but not before popping one in my mouth.
'Well, maybe I could have just a couple more,' I think as I pull another from the plate and make my way outside.