Just a Fling by London Casey
(A COUPLE YEARS AGO)
The crisp airtickled my lungs as I raced up the porch steps, wearing my favorite red hoodie, knowing the weather was getting cold enough to warrant an actual winter coat. My favorite red hoodie was now a deep shade of pink thanks to years of washing. The sleeves a little torn and a little frayed along the bottom. That didn’t matter. It was a hoodie my high school boyfriend gave me and while I wished that guy would meet a slow demise of his balls being twisted, ripped off, and shoved down his throat, I really did like the hoodie.
On the porch itself, I turned and looked down at the second to the top step.
“It didn’t creak,” I whispered to myself.
I walked down the steps and back up.
The step didn’t creak.
That step had made a sound my entire life.
Mom had been telling Dad to fix it and his logical reasoning was that the creak and pop of that step was merely a warning. A cheap security alarm. So if anyone snuck out - or snuck in - he would know.
Of course, the old farm house had two million windows, most of which myself, my sisters, and my brother Finn had mastered throughout our lives.
Still… the step was fixed.
Inside the house, I found Dad standing at the kitchen sink with Mom’s favorite coffee cup - the one with myself, Jenna, Eve, and Finn all recreating her favorite pose from when we were kids. (She did have a mug with that original pose on it but my asshole brother Finn broke it when he chased Jenna through the kitchen and she bumped into the counter and knocked it to the floor. That was a family issue for a good six months.)
I watched the coffee cup fill up with water and run over… and over… and over…
All as Dad stared out the window.
“Dad?” I asked.
Dad jumped and looked at me. “Hey. Evelyn. Hey.”
Even dressed down Dad still had a gun holstered to his hip and he wore a polo shirt with a badge and symbol for the police department on it. Everyone in town knew Teddy Rohrick. Some liked him, some hated him, but to us, he was always just Dad.
I walked to the sink and turned the water off.
“Sorry,” he said. “Just a little tired today.”
“How is she?” I asked.
“She’s okay. You know how it goes.”
“How are you?”
Dad smiled. “I’m fine, Evelyn.”
I took a deep breath. “You know I’m the only one who asks. You can tell me the truth.”
“Don’t be like that to your brother and sisters.”
“I’m not. I just want you to know you can talk to me.”
“I know,” he said. He leaned down and kissed the top of my head. “I was just cleaning out your mother’s favorite cup. I’m sure she’ll want more tea soon and I know how much this cup means to her.”
“You’re too good to her.”
“Hardly,” he said with a smile.
I wished for myself that I would find a love like my parents had. I couldn’t imagine how afraid Dad secretly was. The word cancer made me feel sick to my stomach. But now to watch my mother battle it… it was hard to explain. I couldn’t imagine how Dad kept things together. So strong around us kids (kids meaning adults but we would forever be kids in his eyes). So strong around Mom.
“Did you fix the porch step?” I asked.
“I did,” Dad said.
“Well, you four are all grown up now,” he said. “I can’t control who you date, right? And I know your mother hates that the step makes noise. I figured it was better to do it now than… I don’t know… I just wanted to do something for her. I wanted her to feel in control of something.”
I swallowed hard and hugged Dad.
Dad’s cellphone rang, he went one way and I went the other.
Into the den, which had two large windows next to a small fireplace. It was the coziest room in the house. The room Dad dreamed of displaying his guns in. He told us he wanted to go hunting and hang the mounts on the old-paneled walls.
All it took was one bad dream and scream from Jenna when she saw a deer head on the wall to end that.
From there the den had become a makeshift office, then a playroom, then a toy room, and now it was a room for Mom to rest in. It was her favorite room too.
When I saw her looking out the window, I noticed her wrists.
They were skinnier. Skeletal.
The same for her face.
She joked about it because that’s what Mom did. She said it was nice to finally lose the baby weight after all these years.
We all laughed.
Then we cried.
I remembered it vividly when she told us all she had cancer.
I didn’t quite understand the stages, treatments, surgeries, or most of the terminology. Mom was confident. As was Dad. As were her doctors. For me, the word cancer just…
Well, there was someone in another family that had cancer and he didn’t make it.
No matter the family issues, it was heartbreaking to hear of the passing of Hank Justa.
“Hey, Mom,” I whispered as I walked toward her.
She wore a light blue winter hat with the same police logo that Dad had on his shirt. It wasn’t that Mom was embarrassed that she had lost her hair, she just always found herself getting colder a lot easier.
“Evelyn,” she said. “Come here.”
Mom reached for me and I leaned down to hug her.
Then I sat across from her.
She smiled and sighed. “You know, I feel like time has slowed a little for me here. I’m watching the colors out there and they really are beautiful.”
I turned my head and nodded. “Yeah. I remember waiting for the right time and then working so hard to rake the leaves. We’d make the biggest pile out there.”
“Then Finn would ruin it,” Mom said.
I looked at her. “Asshole.”
She smiled and laughed. “He kind of was one, wasn’t he?”
“You’re talking about him in the past tense, Mom. He still is…”
“Oh, stop,” Mom said.
“I know you don’t like when I ask how you’re doing…”
“But you have to ask anyway,” she said.
“How are you doing, Mom?”
“I’m good,” she said. “Everything is a waiting game. That’s the hardest part I think. The days when I don’t feel sick, it’s still tricky to just sit and wait. I’m a little tired today. That’s because yesterday I wanted to go for a walk.”
“That makes sense.”
“What does, Evelyn?”
“Dad fixed the porch step.”
Mom smiled and shut her eyes. “Damn you to hell, Teddy.”
“I thought you wanted it fixed?’
“Ten years ago I did!” Mom said with a big smile. “Oh, your father… he’s trying so hard to make everything perfect.”
“You deserve it.”
“No, I don’t. I’ve had a perfect life, Evelyn. The most anyone could ask for.”
“Hey, wait, don’t even start talking like that.”
“Like what?” Mom asked.
“Like this is…”
My throat tightened.
The words refused to come out.
My eyes filled with tears.
“Oh, Evelyn,” Mom said. “Come here.” She grabbed my hands. “I’m not talking like that. I’m not going anywhere. I’m just thinking. A lot. You know what? I won’t lie. I have been thinking like that. A little. About dying. I just want you all happy. With someone.”
“You stick around and it’ll happen.”
“I just have one rule,” Mom said.
“What's that?” I asked.
“If I don’t make it…”
“Mom,” I said.
“Just listen to me,” she said. “If I don’t make it…” She pointed at me.
That was her you’re in trouble point.
I put my hands up. “Ut-oh.”
“I want you to find a good man. But… no Justa men.”
I threw my head back and laughed.
“I’m serious,” Mom said. “You better not end up with a Justa!”
I had done a lot of dumb and crazy stuff in my life… but hook up with one of the Justa’s?
(MANY YEARS AGO)
“Here they come,” Tyler said to me with an evil grin. “Let’s do it.”
I crouched behind the crooked wooden fence and looked at the bucket.
I shook my head.
It was normally my idea for this kind of crazy stuff.
To see Tyler like this was weird.
I knew this was more about revenge on Finn than actually wanting to bother Finn’s sisters.
Either way, the three Rohrick girls were walking down the sidewalk, shoulder to shoulder to shoulder, in Sunday dresses.
“Ready?” Tyler asked.
“Water balloons?” I asked. “Really?”
“What’s a water balloon going to do?”
“Get them wet,” Tyler said. “That’s the point. We’re going to soak them and then take off.”
“This seems a little boring to me.”
Tyler curled his lip. “Look, Crosby, if you have something more dangerous, go for it. I’m looking to make a statement, not end up arrested by their father.”
“I’m just saying… if we’re going to do something, make it worth our time. Water balloons are stupid.”
“You’re stupid,” Tyler said.
He reached into the bucket and grabbed a red balloon.
“This is all because of Finn, right?”
Tyler looked at me. “I thought you would be excited to do this. What the hell is wrong with you? Do you have a crush on one of them? Which one? Jenna? Eve? Evelyn? Please tell me you don’t.”
“Shut up, Tyler,” I said. “This isn’t about that.”
“Then prove it,” Tyler said.
There was something about getting challenged by my older brother that just did something to me.
I stuck my right hand into the bucket and grabbed two water balloons.
I stood up and tossed one up into the air.
In one swift move, I grabbed the water balloon with my left hand and threw it.
The water balloon hit the ground in front of Jenna.
She gasped and froze.
Tyler started to laugh.
“You idiots,” Jenna growled.
“Wash that makeup off your face,” I called out.
I threw the other water balloon and hit Jenna in the shoulder.
I grabbed two more and set my sights on Eve.
She grabbed Jenna’s arm and started to try and run away.
“Water balloons?” Evelyn called out. “You’re such a pussy!”
I gritted my teeth.
I looked at Tyler.
“Told you so,” I said to Tyler.
“I don’t care,” he said. “Get them soaked.”
We lifted our hands again, ready to launch more water balloons.
Eve and Jenna darted toward the road.
From the corner of my eye I saw a dirty red pickup truck flying down the road.
“Shit,” I whispered.
I pointed and Evelyn looked.
“Jenna! Eve!” she cried out.
Evelyn somehow turned and grabbed her sisters, pulling them back a second before the truck sped by. The driver beeped his horn and just kept speeding.
Tyler laughed louder.
He grabbed my shoulder. “That was great!”
I shook him away. “That wasn’t great. They could have gotten hit and killed. What the hell is wrong with you?”
“Oh, what, I can’t have some fun once in a while? I can’t cause a little trouble? Plus, if Mr. Minnley did hit one of them, oh well. He’s old and drunk all the time.”
“I can’t believe you, Tyler.”
“I can’t believe you,” he said. “You’re a wimp right now. What is it? You like those Rohrick’s girls in their dresses? Huh?”
“Fuck off,” I snapped.
Tyler kicked the bucket of water balloons over and walked away.
I looked for Evelyn and her sisters but they were out of sight.
Believe me, I wasn’t against playing pranks and keeping the Justa and Rohrick fight going. Water balloons were stupid. And chasing them into the street was dangerous. If Tyler had something with Finn, he should have just faced him.
The rest of the day I thought about that dirty red truck.
The town drunk.
The guy who stumbled around, drove around…
A couple hours later I still couldn’t stop thinking about it.
So much so that I decided to get a knife and pay Mr. Minnley a visit.
Not to hurt him, of course.
I went to his old, shitty house and found his dirty red truck parked kind of sideways in the driveway.
I had no idea what had gotten into me, but I couldn’t stop myself.
I walked up to the truck and stabbed the back driver’s side tire.
It took me a few seconds to wrestle the knife out of the rubber.
When I did, the tire went flat.
I turned and saw Evelyn Rohrick standing a few feet away.
We stared each other down.
She looked really pissed.
I didn’t blame her.
I dropped the knife on the ground and nodded.
She nodded back to me.
Without a word, we went our separate ways.
I looked back, just once, to see Evelyn using my knife to carve asshole on the side of the truck.
She caught me looking.
We both smiled at each other.