A Taste Of Home – Chapter 03

Chapter Three

The driving rain attacked the windowpanes of the rickety, manufactured home like a platoon of soldiers on a suicide mission, attempting to liberate the young Katie Liberman from a prison of boredom. She was torn on the issue of completing her weekend homework or watching the falling, fascinating precipitation driving down in sheets rather than drops. After all, it hadn’t rained like this in what seemed like ages. With her head in her hands, her mind was racing in ways that thirteen-year-old girls should never have to experience. Sure, she had friends at school who endured much worse and seemed to enjoy the idea of having their parents in different locations, if only for the simple fact that there was a large communication barrier between houses and weekend custody. Katie was nothing like those other children and wasn’t quite able to comprehend the adolescent joy of divorced parents. From her perspective, these were two people who cared enough about each other to fall in love, bind themselves, and do the things couples do to conceive and raise her lovingly up until this point. In her mind, a divorce was out of the question. 

They’d both tried their best to exclude her from the nightly sessions of yelling and insults, but walls seem to make themselves thinner in the deepness of the night, especially for a teenage girl with nothing to comfort her other than the tickling fuzz of a childhood teddy bear. The posters of various pop stars and movie icons who surrounded her all seemed to stare in sympathy while she forced herself to sleep. She would wait for the voices to cease, followed by the sound of footsteps and a blanket being dragged behind. This was the signal that her father was moving to the couch. This was the sound of defeat.

From what she could tell, he was trying wholeheartedly to reconcile things, but her mother was a difficult person to deal with, especially when she believed she was the one in the right. Lately, that seemed to be her viewpoint for just about every subject. To Katie, the issues discussed had little to do with right or wrong. Her mother became a ghost in her own home, returning at hours only associated with newspaper carriers and drug addicts, and Katie was learning to enjoy her father’s cooking. For hours, they would sit alone on the couch and watch television, not saying a single word to one another with an understood sense of loss in their hearts. She loved her father like no one else, and he’d become her only island of comfort in a child’s troubled sea of despair when things on the home front seemed hopeless. She wished the both of them were home right now sitting on that couch and forcing down whatever he’d thrown together from their kitchen, instead of sitting at her uncle’s house with his girlfriend, staring out the window at the oncoming October rain.

“Hey ‘soon to be Aunt Becky;’ just out of curiosity, why again do you put up with my Uncle Johnny?” Katie said to begin the day’s usual bantering.

“He’s cute and he makes me laugh,” said the woman staring at the television in a melancholy fashion. Today, it almost sounded as though she meant it, or at least she was becoming convinced.

Katie continued. “Yeah, but he makes you cry, too,” she added.

“Dammit, Katie, must we have this discussion again?” Becky protested, annoyed. 

“We can stop having it when I fully understand it,” Katie laughed.

“Why do you need to understand it? Are you writing a research paper on relationships? I think that subject would be a little too taboo for a thirteen-year-old,” she informed her hoping to halt what was guaranteed to be a useless dialogue.

“Come on, Becky,” Katie insisted. “There are kids at my school that can’t buy clothing big enough to cover their pregnant bellies and some of them are so eaten up with diseases that their underwear probably sounds something like pouring a package of pop rocks into a soda can. I’m trying to avoid becoming one of them by picking your brain.”

“First of all, Kate, you’re beginning to sound way too much like your father and your uncle. Second, that’s the nastiest thing I’ve heard in quite a while,” she cringed.

“What’s wrong with sounding like my dad and Johnny?” Katie inquired. “They’re funny, and people like funny people.”

“There’s a fine line between funny and downright disgusting, and the more time I spend with this family, the more I’m realizing that the barrier between those two things fell apart a long time ago,” Becky smiled slightly.

“Which leads me back to my original question. Why do you stay?” Katie interrogated. “I mean, it’s not that I don’t like you or anything. I’d hate it if you left. I’m just trying to dissect the logic behind adult relationships.”

“Kate, babe, I love you,” the lady sighed. “But I don’t think you’re going to be able to put a stop to what’s going on with your mom and dad, especially if I tell you anything that has to do with me and your Uncle Johnny. It takes two people to work those things out, and when one of those people isn’t willing to change things, it leads to this. I should kick your father in his butt for being this way.”

Katie interrupted in a fit of rage. “Say what you will about her, but never trash-talk Toby Liberman in my presence! What the hell are you talking about?!” she barked at Becky. “You’re just taking my mom’s side because you’re one of her friends, and that’s fucking unfair!”

“Katie!” Becky inhaled deeply in surprise, “Watch your language!”

“I’m sorry; that just kind of slipped out,” Katie apologized half- heartedly. “But the only side of the story that you hear is from her. I’m the one that’s there every night listening to both sides of it all, and it’s always Mom that’s being the hard-headed one. Dad usually cries a lot and walks away.”

“He cries?” Becky asked with a nearly inaudible snicker.

“It’s not funny,” Katie shot back. “Yes, he cries. He’s sick of mom coming home at weird hours and not wanting to explain where she’s been. He sleeps on the couch and cries. She barely sleeps at all.”

Katie began to sniff a little as she valiantly fought back the tears which were welling up inside of her. She was a tough kid who never cried much, even in the most painful of situations, but she, like her father, was reaching her breaking point.

Becky turned off the television and moved closer to her. As she put her arm around the troubled young girl and buried her now tear-stained cheeks into her chest, she could feel the child trembling in a very familiar way. She, too, was worried about Jessica Liberman and her recent behavior, but wasn’t quite sure how to approach her.

For years, while they were growing up together, Becky and Jessica held one another in tears over several occasions and various situations. Now, she was in a seemingly unsolvable nightmare and felt out of place. She’d never been a mother before and wasn’t quite sure she wanted to start acting like one today. Especially with someone else’s child. She held Katie tighter.

“Look, baby,” Becky tried to console her. “Things are going to be all right soon. Nothing lasts forever.”

“That’s what I’m worried about,” Katie sobbed from beneath her hair. “If things go bad, I’m probably going to be stuck with my mom. That’s just the way it seems to work. If she keeps acting like she’s been, I’m not going to have anyone to turn to. I want to be with Dad.”

“Katie, don’t even begin to think that way. I really don’t think it’s going to come to that. Anyway, you’re getting yourself all worked up over nothing.” Becky tried to comfort her.

“Honestly, do you really think so?” Katie glanced up at her through moistened eyes. “Or are you just blowing smoke up my butt like all other grown-ups?”

Becky flinched again. “Smoke up your butt?”

Katie couldn’t resist. “I had intended on saying ‘ass,’ but you got onto me a little while ago about my language. I could rephrase it if you want me to.”

“No, Kate, that’s okay,” Becky stopped her. “The word ‘butt,’ will be just fine. I hope everything is going to work out, and I don’t want you to think I’m a liar if it doesn’t.”

Katie turned her attention to the reflection of the two of them in the now darkened television screen. She was trying her hardest to imagine the face belonging to the woman next to her was her mother’s, but it’d been getting more difficult every day to recall the details of the person who’d given birth to her thirteen years ago. For now, this would have to suffice. All things considered, it could’ve been a lot worse. At least Becky didn’t smell like jet fuel and aftershave. Not that those smells were horrible, they’d become rather comforting as of late, but it was a pleasant change of events to be held by someone she looked up to as a role model for her future self. Even if she insisted on giving her a hard time every now and then.

Becky continued. “I’m not lying to you. I’m just telling you the truth from my point of view and the experiences I’ve had.”

“I know,” Katie assured her. “You didn’t ask for any of this and I shouldn’t be putting it on you. I didn’t ask for it either, though.” She had stopped crying and was beginning to tire of the subject.

“When am I going home tonight?” she asked.

Becky was thankful for the change of conversation but wasn’t quite sure if Katie wanted to hear the answer she offered.

“You’re stuck with me for the night, kiddo,” Becky smiled and squeezed her tighter. “Your dad and Uncle Johnny are going to kick it with the old men at the American Legion when they get off work, and your mom is going to kick it with the rest of the town at her class reunion tonight.”

“That’s cool,” Katie leaned into her. “But I don’t know if I’m going to be able to sleep worth a crap without some yelling going on. Do you think you can argue with yourself for a little while tonight and do different voices?

“Man, whatever happened to kids wanting bedtime stories?” Becky glanced at her again.

“This is my bedtime story!” Katie informed her. “It usually goes somewhere along the lines of ‘what side of whose bed did you get up on this morning’ and ‘I’m getting sick and tired of making love to the couch pillows every night, Jessica.’”

“Well,” Becky said matter-of-factly. “I know better than to sit on the couch at your house anymore.”

“Yeah, Dad is always wondering why I insist on sitting on the floor most of the time. There are some things a little girl with an innocent mind should never find within the cushions of her own sofa,” Katie giggled.

She was feeling much better. She wasn’t quite sure if it was the result of actually speaking with someone who wasn’t directly involved with the troubles and discord within her family, or the fact that she finally had a female shoulder to cry on, but it worked. She leaned upward again, untangling herself from Becky’s tear-soaked hair, and grabbed her pencil to return to her homework. Becky glanced over her shoulder.

“Do you need any help with that stuff? I know I’m not a genius or anything, but I might be able to figure it out.”

“Trust me, Aunt Becky,” Katie formulated her response. “School has changed dramatically since you went there. ‘The Theory of Backseat Philosophies’ is no longer offered as an elective. I know. I tried to sign up for it. I got Algebra instead. Lucky me.”

Becky looked at her, slightly cross, and gave in anyway. “I love you so much, kid,” she said truthfully. “Even though you possess the twisted logic of all the deranged men in your family.”

“I love you too,” Katie returned the sentiment. “And I hope you do decide to marry my Uncle Johnny. He’s a good guy but he could use some taming. It would give him something more to do other than drink beer and look at dirty pictures on the internet, even if some of those pictures are of you.”

“You saw those, huh?” Becky blushed. “He told me that he deleted those. Remind me to kill your uncle when he gets home.”

“Yeah, that ‘Theories of Backseat Philosophies’ class must’ve really paid off,” Katie snickered again.

“You know way too much about too many things, Ms. Katie Liberman and, sometimes, that bothers me to the point where I’m not sure if I’m going to be able to sleep underneath the same roof with you,” Becky grinned.

“Likewise,” Katie said with a dramatic nod of her head.  “I’m hiding your camera tonight.”

The ladies finally returned to silence and went on about their business in the home of Johnny Haynes. Though neither of them said it, the problems which plagued the young girl still raged on in each of their heads as relentlessly as the rain beating against the outer walls of the old home. Unfortunately, the answers and solutions to all of Katie’s problems couldn’t be reconciled by anyone within the confines of the house, and it would all have to wait until her mother decided to stumble in later that evening…if she did at all. It was comforting, in a way, to finally see the raindrops streaking down the room’s windows. It made them both feel as though they weren’t the only ones in the world crying.

***

Johnny Haynes threw open the doors to the American Legion with a vengeance.

“Damn,” he exclaimed loudly. “I love the smell of beer, smoke, old people, death, and bullshit war stories in the afternoon!”

The patrons at the bar barely flinched at his presence, which had nearly become a regular Friday occurrence. They could almost quote him word for word when he entered. It was the exact same greeting week after week, and it’d become tiresome months earlier. They all seemed to groan in unison, turn their attention back to their half empty beer glasses, and ignore him as usual. Toby followed close behind with his head hung low in depression and disgust. 

“You know,” Toby began his usual speech. “One of these days you’re going to come in here and do that, and some young veteran is going to be sitting in here waiting to kick the living hell out of you.”

“Oh please!” Johnny replied. “The only thing that separates this place from the bar in Star Wars is the fact that I’m not about to drink a glass of blue milk and animatronic puppets are a lot more entertaining to endure.”

“Okay, I can see from where this is heading that it’s going to be another one of those nights where we get drunk and have a Star Wars discussion,” Toby said with a slight grin.

“Well, what the hell else are we going to talk about?” Johnny continued. “The path to destruction your marriage with my sister is undeniably barreling down? Jewish philosophy? I don’t think so, my friend. I want to drink beer and enjoy it, not choke on it.”

“Sometimes, I don’t think that would be such a bad turn of events. You choking, I mean,” Toby fired.

“Hell no!” Johnny spoke a little too loudly. “If you think I’m going to let you drop to your knees and put your mouth on me, it better be for another reason and the destination of your mouth would be further south.”

A couple of the patrons slammed their beers to the bar, gathered their belongings, and headed for the door in disgust. Putting up with this type of behavior was tolerable if the person was drinking there all afternoon, but Johnny Haynes hadn’t so much as put a glass to his lips and was already scaring away the paying customers. He considered it a talent but most everyone else found it to be a nuisance. 

“Do you see what you just did?” Toby asked him in awe.

“Yes, I do. I just got us a couple of seats at the bar. Pure genius at its finest,” Johnny answered. “Make sure you wipe the film that those fogies left behind before you sit down. I’m sure they’ve been silently busting butt cheeks out of their adult diapers all afternoon.”

“You know, one of these days you’re going to be old, and I hope, although it seems highly unlikely, that someone just like you only younger will torment you,” Toby informed him.

“Two Blue Moons, please,” Johnny ordered to the bartender before turning his attention back to Toby. “That is a highly unlikely possibility, my future ex brother-in-law.”

“Which part?” Toby asked him. “The part about getting old or the part about someone giving you a hard time?”

“Both!” Johnny began. “I don’t plan on getting old. I’ll more than likely die a horrible death within the next few years at the hands of one of these dope freaks that are running around here, long before I have the opportunity to register for my social security. If I do live to the ripe old age of who knows what, no one is going to mess with me because I’ll carve my name in their forehead with a broken beer bottle.”

“You’re way too sure of yourself, Johnny,” Toby said. “I’m not sure if I find it disgusting or if I envy it.”

Their beers arrived and they both took long, well-deserved pulls from their bottles.

“Why would you envy it?” Johnny asked him curiously.

“I think that if I were more like you, all carefree and sure of myself, that I probably wouldn’t be going through the crap that I’m going through right now. If I absolutely had to go through with it, I would be assured that I would have someone else waiting around the corner to play the part of the rebound girl,” he said truthfully.

“Toby, are you scared of being alone or something?” Johnny asked. “Regardless of how this all goes down, because you really aren’t going to have a say in the matter, I’m still going to be your friend. Let me tell you, though, that’s going to be awkward as hell for Jessica.”

Johnny took another long pull off his beer and sighed. He continued. “Who knows, though,” he cut his eyes at Toby and smiled. “It could possibly get you some post-divorce sympathy lays from her. There’s a plus side to everything.”

“I doubt it,” Toby replied as he finished his bottle. “She’s not even screwing me now.”

“Good point, my friend,” Johnny acknowledged. “I might have to be the one coming to visit you if it all goes sour. She’ll probably try to kill the both of us!”

They bowed their heads as though they were giving praise to the beer gods of long ago. It wasn’t that the present conversation couldn’t continue for days, it was just that neither of them really wanted to talk about it much longer. The Star Wars argument was something that neither of them was in the mood for. It was blasphemy to taint the ‘holy saga’ with interruptions of crying about a relationship. Johnny listened around the room for an interesting and drunken conversation to jump into and someone to torment. Glancing around as he ordered up two more beers, his eyes quickly rested on his next target of ridicule and humor. Over in the darkest and most intimate corner of the bar sat Archie Weldon with a young girl in his lap who looked no older than twenty-four.

“Come on,” Johnny tapped Toby. “Let’s go have some fun. I see someone that looks as though they could possibly be getting unworthily lucky.”

Toby grabbed the new beer from the counter and followed Johnny out of curiosity. Johnny walked to the edge of the table and cleared his throat, interrupting the conversation that was going on between the targeted man, who Toby recognized almost instantly, and the young woman who he’d never seen before in his life. 

“Well, hi, little girl! Didn’t your mommy ever tell you not to take alcoholic beverages from dirty old men wearing Santa Claus suits in October?” he said to the young girl, taking her by surprise. “Hi, I’m Johnny Haynes, and this is my friend/soon to be ex brother-in-law, Toby. That’s a long story though, and a boring one. I’m more interested in what attracts you to this beat up old turd.”

“Excuse me?” the young girl replied to him in shock.

“Damn you, Johnny Haynes, no one asked you to come over here and start jacking with me!” Archie began furiously.

“Archie, my friend, no one has to ask me anymore. I usually just do it on my own now. It’s called education through repetition, but I wouldn’t expect you to know anything about that. After all, you’re still talking to this chick even though you know for sure that she’s going to blow you off, and not in the good way, and you’re going to spend the rest of the night in the bathroom taking care of business by yourself. By the way, and this has been really bothering me lately, did anyone ever tell you that you reminded them of the little kid in school that smelled like piss all of the time?”

The young girl collected her purse and drink and headed toward the bathroom in disgust without so much as even glancing back over her shoulder. From the looks of things, the date was officially over.

“She’s going to take her drink in the bathroom?” Johnny inquired with a twist of his lip. “That’s a big hygiene issue with me, man. I probably just saved you from catching something!”

“Do you see what you just did you sorry S.O.B.?” Archie protested. “You made her leave! If I have to go home and screw pillows like your friend here, I’m going to take it out on you.”

“Ouch, Archie,” Johnny protected his friend. “Why do you have to pick on Toby? That’s my job! He hasn’t done anything at all to you, just the pillows. Besides, no self-respecting pillow would have sex with you. As a matter of fact, you couldn’t get laid if you crawled up into a chicken’s butt and waited.” Johnny smiled as he took another sip of beer, waiting for either a retort or a fight.

Toby joined in the laughter. He could no longer resist. This was exactly what he needed to help take his mind off things. He enjoyed watching Johnny grill other people and break them down to near tears with his wit and sinister sense of humor. Archie Weldon was such an easy target as of late, although he shouldn’t have been. His wife died just months earlier in a tragic automobile accident, but rather than go through the normal stages of grieving and depression, he’d decided to turn his back on his son and spend most of his time looking for someone to fill the void in his empty bed, and to drink until he couldn’t stand up without assistance. Toby and Johnny both had noticed his son, Ryan, walking the streets of Twin Oaks on several occasions, rain or shine, due to his father’s shameless lack of priority. As far as they both were concerned, Archie deserved anything shot in his direction from anyone possessing the nerve to say something. Archie prepared to strike back.

“I don’t know what the hell you’re laughing at, Toby Liberman,” he looked up at Toby through the darkness. “I have an excuse. My wife is dead. The only way yours can get off is if you put on a tin star and make police car sounds.”

Toby’s heart sank deep into his beer-filled stomach, and his blood began to boil within his veins. He immediately felt ill.

“Yeah,” Archie continued. “I figured that would shut you up. The Sheriff’s car is parked at your house so much that I’ve thought about changing the letters on your mailbox to read ‘Sheriff’s Department.’”

Toby couldn’t take any more. A burst of angry energy formed suddenly at the base of his legs and raced like an electrical charge toward his arms. His mind clouded in a sea of red and the once cool temperature of the bar jumped to an unbearable level of heated thickness. Sweat began to form at the base of his hairline as he reached out in a fit of rage, grabbing Archie by the collar of his shirt. All sense of logic was screaming for him to let go and walk away from the situation, but this man had it coming.

“You sorry son of a bitch,” Toby growled at him in disgust and rage. “You’re a damn liar and you know it!”

Archie struggled to release himself from the grip of the angry man, but he was unsuccessful. With his final attempt at escape, his shirt ripped, causing buttons to fly in all directions.

“Johnny, get him the hell off of me, man,” he screamed, turning everyone’s attention in the bar to the corner where the confrontation was taking place. 

“Oh no, my friend,” Johnny said calmly. “You’ve opened up that can of worms and brought down the thunder of Toby Liberman, and you soiled the sometimes-good name of my sister by saying that she’s having an affair with Sheriff McGee. You’re at the mercy now of a Jewish guy that sleeps with pillows.”

Johnny wanted to laugh, but deep in his mind, he wondered if anything said was true. Pieces of the puzzle were now falling into place in a way he’d thought they might, but prayed they never would. He reached up at Toby’s clenched fist and pulled the frightened man’s shirt from the iron grip.

“So help me God, Archie Weldon, if you’re pulling my chain I’m going to kill your kid’s dog and nail it to the side of your house,” Johnny assured him. “You know I will, too!”

Toby was breathing heavily and panting in a near panic attack. Johnny inquired further for the sake of his friend.

“When was the last time you saw this?” He wasn’t quite sure if he wanted to know the answer.

“Honestly?” Archie inquired carefully. 

Toby screamed at him in anger.

“Yes, honestly, dumbass. I’m tired of lies. I want the truth!”

Archie braced himself for Toby’s reaction. “Half an hour ago on my way here,” he said under his breath.

“What?” Toby jerked in anger.

“Well,” Johnny looked him dead in his eyes. “This is the moment you’ve been waiting for. Go stop it! I’ll go home and brace Becky for what’s going on in case Jessica tries to pull some weird crap and come for Katie. Go put a stop to it.”

Before Johnny could finish his sentence, Toby disappeared out the doors of the American Legion in a flash of burning rage and headed for his vehicle. The sound of the squealing tires on rain-soaked asphalt could be heard through the walls of the establishment above the jukebox and the now audible conversations going on among the patrons of the bar. Johnny was nearly at a loss for words. Nearly.

“Damn, I feel sorry for that guy,” Archie said to himself.

“Feel sorry for my nuts, you bastard,” Johnny growled at him and pushed him hard against the wall. “Why don’t you go pick up your freaking kid and act like a dad for once?”

Johnny had just about endured enough of the Archie Weldon experience. 

The bartender finally stepped into the disturbance to calm the situation. “Johnny, Archie, if you two guys don’t calm things down, I’m going to have to call the Sheriff.”

Johnny held his head down low, looking at the man through his hanging hair. 

“Don’t worry about it, mister,” Johnny assured him. “I’m not going to start anything else. I’ve got more important things to deal with other than this piece of trash. By the way, Weldon. For the record, you were the kid in school that smelled like piss.”

The bartender wasn’t impressed.

“Johnny Haynes, if you don’t get the hell out of here and quit insulting my customers, I’m going to call the law and have you thrown in jail,” the old man informed him.

“Somehow, I doubt that old-timer,” Johnny yelled back at him.

“Why is that?” the bartender inquired, surprised by the attack.

Johnny’s mouth had officially taken over the conversation. “Well, from what I just heard, the Sheriff is kind of busy. If he’s not, he will be in about ten minutes or so.”

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