The Houses in Rossford part one of chapter ten
In the seat beside her in the dark theatre, the young man whispered to Claire: “He’s really good.”
She nodded her head, thought about it, and then said, “He’s my brother.”
“Yeah,” Claire whispered eagerly and as the curtain went down. She clapped her hands.
The young man beside her looked at his program: “Paul Anderson. So you’re…”
“Claire Anderson,” she said, turning to him with a smile.
“Wow, from East Carmel.”
“Why’d you say it like that?”
“There is a rumor,” he said, “that Black people aren’t safe in East Carmel after sunset.”
“Well, fifty years ago it was probably true,” Claire told him. “Everyone likes to say it’s not, but it probably was. Hell, even twenty-five years ago. But the truth is, if you come to East Carmel, sir, everyone will stare at you just because they’re dying to see a Black face. Look at me. I’ve been dying sense I got into town. Aren’t you dying, Matty?”
“What?” irritated, her brother, who had been talking to her mother, turned to them.
“Nothing,” Claire decided, judiciously.
“Oh,” the boy said beside her, “I’m Julian. Julian Lawden.”
“Wow, you sound like a soap opera character,” she said.
“You know, us big city Rossford people.”
Claire laughed and said, “Until you’ve come to East Carmel, you don’t know how big city Rossford really is.”
Then, sitting back in her seat as the curtains reopened, she offered her hand and said, “Julian Lawden, pleased to meet you.”
“YOU WERE TERRIFIC! You were all terrific!” Tom said. “Weren’t they terrific?”
Fenn, looking up from his glass of champagne, nodded half amused, and said, “I agree. Everyone was…” he swirled the glass around, “terrific.”
“I am so proud,” Mrs. Anderson declared. “To come all the way up here and see my son!” She reached up and grasped him by the shoulders. “All on stage like a real Broadway person.”
“Well, I’m not quite Broadway, Ma,” Paul blushed.
“Hey,” said Fenn, “the Lighthouse is as good as Broadway.”
“Damn straight,” Todd declared, though Tom only smiled.
Outside the crowd was still milling about, leaving the theatre, and Brian arrived backstage from that door the same time Lee came in from the parking lot declaring:
“It’s really barbaric how you can’t smoke in here!”
Brian looked at Tom, and then at Lee. Fenn wondered if he was the only person who had seen the look, but when he turned to Todd he knew he wasn’t. They both nodded sagely.
Brian walked up to Paul and Leona, straight backed, and held out his hand with a flashing smile. “That was a brilliant job you all did tonight.”
“Hey,” Paul said, looking like East Carmel, all gee willickers, “without your music we couldn’t have done anything.”
Brian nodded manfully, Fenn reminded himself it was not his job to watch Brian, and then Claire touched him on the arm.
“I met the most … I met someone who reminded me of you tonight?”
“I know,” Claire said, only half joking. “But… his name was Julian. And then I remembered meeting Layla, and isn’t her last name, Lawden?”
Fenn frowned and said, “You met Julian Lawden?”
“Yes. I guess you know him? Is he related? Bad?”
“No,” Fenn said slowly. “He is Layla’s half brother. Not related to me at all.”
“Oh,” Claire said. Then she said. “The way you said that… Are you going to tell me why he’s Layla’s half brother?”
“Sure. What the hell.”
Fenn leaned in. “Layla’s father had a mistress, apparently the whole time he was married to my sister. That’s his son, and Layla just found out about him a few months ago.”
“Oh,” Claire said. “Well, crap. That is… crappy.”
Then she said, “But he’s still cute.”
“You going back to E.C. tonight?”
“No,” Mrs. Anderson said. “Adele Lawden is putting us up for the night. I love this town.”
“I love Layla’s shoes,” Claire said.
“God, aren’t there any guys in this town?” Matt said.
Fenn shrugged and said, “You could stay with us.”
Todd looked at him and said, “If Dena’s coming over, then Matt might not want to be in a houseful of girls.”
“There is nothing wrong,” Claire stated, “with a houseful of girls.”
“No,” Matt agreed. “Not if you’re a girl. Great,” he said to Todd, “I’ll take you all up on the offer.”
Paul looked over at Fenn with a frown.
“Eveything’ll be fine,” Fenn told him.
Paul shrugged, kissed his mother, ruffled his sister’s hair, and said “I’m gonna take Mom’s car back to the house, then.”
Paul waved back at them and headed down Dempsey Street. Late at night it was no longer busy, and the crowds had died off. The parking lot was not close, and Paul had been walking a bit when a car pulled up beside him, and the power window went down.
He was shocked, and then he looked in and saw Brian Babcock.
“Would you like to grab a drink?” he said.
Paul looked at Brian, and then he cocked his head and said, “Sure. Yes.”
Brian nodded and leaned over, unlocking his passenger door.
“I can’t believe you weren’t there,” Claire was saying. “Either of you.”
“Well, I had to spend time with Will,” Layla said. “He made quite a point of it.”
From where Layla sat in the middle of her bed, she said, “Do you think he’s needy?”
“No more needy than any other man,” Claire said. Then added, “Well, that’s what my mother would say at least.”
“I think Mommy might be right this time,” Dena told her.
“And you?” Layla said to her. “You can’t even use the excuse that Brendan hasn’t seen you in awhile. The two of them have been inseparable. It’s really disgusting.”
“It is not disgusting,” Dena said. “It’s sweet and it’s happy, and I love, love, love Brendan.”
“Now, that is disgusting,” Claire said. “But I think that’s just because I’m single and jealous.”
“Claire, are you gonna be around a lot more?” Dena said.
“Yeah,” said Layla. “It’s not enough girls.”
“It’s gotta be plenty of girls here.”
“Well, yes,” Layla agreed. “But they’re all bitches.”
“No doubt,” murmured Dena.
“Well,” Claire said, twirling a long braid out of her red hair, “I had actually been looking at schools around here.”
“Oooh, go to Loretto,” Layla said. “It’s where my mom and my uncle went. They loved it. It’s on the outskirts, so its got a whole campus and it’s just like being far away.”
Dena nodded. “And for you it will be.”
“And we’ve got men up here,” Layla added. “So you can grab yourself one.”
“I heard,” Dena said, “it was something your brother said when he called over here, that you already grabbed yourself a man.”
“What?” Claire said, turning red.
“And not only that, but jungle fever.”
“Oh, my God who says jungle fever?”
“We do,” Layla said. “So who’s the man.”
“Oooh, I think I’ll keep that to myself.”
“Now look here, bitch,” Dena uncrossed her legs. “We’re supposed to be your new best friends, and you can’t tell us who this man is?”
“Seriously,” Claire said. “I think I shouldn’t tell you. Besides… It’s not like we dated or anything.”
“But will you ever see him again?” Layla said.
“From what I’ve heard,” Claire told her, “I’m almost bound to see him again.”
When Layla looked at her, Claire knew it was no use keeping the secret. She just wasn’t sure how much Dena knew, or how much she was supposed to know, so she said, “His name is Julian Lawden.”
Dena and Layla looked at each other, and both of them muttered:
“Can I ask you guys a question?” Matt said from the backseat of the Land Rover. “And if it’s offensive, then I’m sorry.”
“Is he going to ask us if we’re gay?” Todd said.
“I think so,” Fenn replied, taking a cigarette out of his breast pocket.
“Then you are?” Matt said, with a sigh of relief.
“You sound happy about it.”
“Well, it’s just that… I didn’t want to have to ask… and, you know, Paul didn’t tell me.”
“Well, no,” said Fenn.
“Can I ask you guys another question?”
“You can always ask,” Todd said.
“Is Paul gay too? Is that why he didn’t tell me? I always knew there was something about him. You know? Something he wasn’t telling me.”
“Matt,” Fenn said. “You need to talk to your brother about that.”
Matt was quiet, and then he said, “Yeah. I guess you’re right. I… I just don’t know why he didn’t tell me.”
“Cause he’s a grown man, and you just turned seventeen, and he lived in California, and you were here,” Todd said, summarily.
“Right,” Matt said. After a while he said, “I guess I don’t really know my brother that well.”
“Well, maybe you all will get to know each other better,” said Todd.
“You,” said Matt. “Was it like that… with your families?”
“I think….” Todd said, stopping on Birmingham, and turning right, “that Fenn was sort of… he did whatever the fuck—I mean heck—”
“I’ve heard the word fuck before.”
“Well, he did whatever the fuck he wanted to. And I guess Adele knew about Tom right away. I mean we all did.”
“That was Tom at the show?”
“Right,” Fenn said.
“And he was your first boyfriend?”
“He was the first who lasted long enough to be called a boyfriend.”
“And back then I was younger than you. And then when Fenn and Tom weren’t together, I saw an opening and… jumped right in.”
Fenn chuckled and murmured, “I don’t know if it was exactly like that…”
“Even though… Fenn’s sister is your sister’s best friend?”
“Well Fenn was my sister’s best friend too. They were all older than me, and then I got older and I realized what I was, how I felt, and then Fenn was available so…I snatched him.”
“You did not snatch me. You begged and wheedled.”
“Hell, no. I didn’t.”
Fenn turned back and told Matt, “Begged… and wheedled.”
“This isn’t like East Carmel at all,” Marilee Anderson said sipping from her coffee mug in the large kitchen where Adele raised her head and muttered at the stomping above her head, “Those girls!”
“It’s not Chicago either,” Nell said, stirring sugar into her cup. “You know, tea never soothes me. I need a cup of coffee.”
“So Fenn and Todd are your brothers?”
Nell and Adele nodded.
“And… a couple? I guess we have that in E.C. but… there’s so much we don’t know about. I mean, we’re so sheltered. I’m so sheltered. I met Fenn, and I felt so bad. Those jokes about Black people and East Carmel… I know they were just jokes. But there’s truth to them. I didn’t live there my whole life. When I married Joe he brought me there, but I came from someplace twice as small as E.C.” Marilee smiled.
“And you know, I was watching the play, and it dawned on me, I thought, ‘Why would my son be living with a gay couple? Why would he know them?’ And that Tom and that Brian, and Lee. And I suddenly realized, no, he’s not just keeping company with a bunch of gay people—no man from East Carmel who wasn’t gay would do that. I realized my son was gay. And… I wonder if this was his subtle way of telling me.”
“Show is more powerful than tell,” Nell said, and snorted with laughter.
Marilee looked at her, surprised, and Nell said, “My ex-husband… the reason he is my ex husband is because I found him… with someone. A male someone.”
Marilee burst out laughing, and then put a hand over her mouth. “I’m so sorry! I’m sorry! I found my husband with a female someone. I guess we’re still married. He left and never came back.”
“Shit,” Adele said, “I found out a few months ago my husband had a secret family, and then a few days ago that his illegitimate son got the lead role in Fenn’s next play. Ah,” Adele pulled out a bottle of brandy and poured some in her coffee, in Nell’s in Marilee’s, “Fuck it. Life!”
“I… Oh,” Marilee wiped her eyes, laughing, “Life!”
They were all quiet a moment, and then Marilee said, “Are they everywhere?”
“Gay men?” said Adele. “Or cheating husbands?”
Marilee kept laughing and shrugged.
“I suppose both.”
“Well, then yes,” said Adele. “And yes.”
Have I ever told you
How good it feels to hold you
It isn't easy to explain
And though I'm really trying I think I may stop crying
My heart can't wait another day When you kiss me I just gotta
Kiss me I just gotta Kiss me I just gotta say
Baby I love you C'mon baby
Baby I love you Ooh-wee-ooh baby
Baby I love I love only you
Matt turned to Tom and Lee.
“Are they always like this?”
“They are always like this when they have a successful show,” Lee said.
Fenn, with the bottle swinging from one hand, while Tara sang into cigarette, pulled Todd off the couch and made him dance, singing into his face:
Baby I love you C'mon baby
Baby I love you Ooh-wee-ooh baby
Baby I love I love only you!
“Actually, Tom said, “they are always like this: period.”
Oh, I'm so glad I found you I want my arms around you
I love to hear you call my name Oh, tell me that you feel
Tell me that you feel Tell me that you feel the same
Baby I love you C'mon baby
Baby I love you Ooh-wee-ooh baby
Baby I love I love only you
Muted, the television was also on, and as the Falcon Crest re-runs were going off, and the panorama of Texas sailed across the screen, Leona clapped her hands at the sight of Larry Hagman and shouted: “Who wants to play Dallas?”
“How do you play Dallas?”
“Oh, it’s easy,” Leona said, reaching for the remote control. “We used to do it in college, but you can do it wherever. Before a Dallas re-run you call a character, and then you have to match the number of drinks they take.”
“Oh, shit, I’m calling Sue Ellen,” Lee said, spinning around and bringing Tom to the televsion. “Actually, I’m calling Sue Ellen and Gary together. I wanna drink!”
“Gary wasn’t even on Dallas,” Tara said.
“Sometimes,” said Lee. “Let’s say he was tonight.”
“Um,” Fenn murmured, “Ted Shackelford.”
“Which one. The Knots Landing Ted Shackelford, or The Young and the Restless one thirty years later?”
“Oooh,” Fenn said, ticking his teeth. “I think I need Gary. No, fuck it. Ted Shackelford is good any year.”
“Ted Shackelford is a grizzly old motherfucker,” Tara declared. “Now what I’d take is some Linda Gray. Or Victoria Principal. Bitch still look good.”
“That’s cause of that Acclaim bullshit she’s selling on infomercials,” Lee said.
“Well, it caint be bullshit, cause that white bitch look good,” Tara told him, and she said, looking at Leona, “Yawl usually don’t age that well.”
“I heard Linda Gray took her clothes off on—shit, gotta drink,” Lee said, taking a swig from the bottle. “I heard she took her clothes off and was buck naked on stage in some play.”
“The Graduate,” Tom said. “I saw it.”
“Was it hot?” Matt said.
Tom looked at him. “Not to me, Matt.”
“Oh, com on,” Fenn said. “Some shit crosses all boundaries.”
“All I know,” Tara said, “is if I saw Sue Ellen’s pussy, it would be hot to me.”
“Oh, God,” Leona groaned.
“Sue Ellen thirty years ago, or Linda Gray now?”
“I told you,” Tara said. “It don’t matter. The bitch is fine. The bitch looks better than she ever did. She just gets better and better.”
“What about Patrick Duffy?”
“Naw, he don’t get better and better.”
“I used to have a crush on Patrick Duffy,” Tom admitted.
“Really?” said Lee.
“It was always Gary for me,” Fenn said. “He had that hound dog face. Looked like a cross between a horse and hound dog. A sexy horse and a hound dog.”
“And that turned you on?” Todd said.
“God, what do I look like to you?”
Fenn frowned, considered it for a second, and when he was opening his mouth Todd slid a hand over it.
“You know. It’s best if I don’t know.”
They were both breathing heavily, sprawled across the large bed, sweaty and amazed.
Paul touched his chest and kept his hands there for a while, looking up at the ceiling.
“I should get dressed. I should have been back at the house… And… my mother’s car is still in the theatre parking lot.”
Brian said, “You don’t have to get dressed.”
He turned over on his side and Paul, still on his back saw the length of Brian’s body from the corner of his eye.
“If you wanted to you could stay the night and we’d get up early and I could take you to the theatre.”
“Yes,” Brian said, turning on his back and folding his hands together. “I have to play organ at ten o’clock Mass.”
Paul stopped himself from snorting with laughter. Doubtless Brian already saw the inconsistencies between tomorrow morning and this moment. If there were any. Paul wondered.
“Wow,” Brian said. “I… I didn’t plan on this happening.”
“Yes you did,” Paul heard himself saying.
“The moment you pulled up to me outside of the theatre you did, and so did I. So we shouldn’t pretend.”
Brian didn’t say anything for awhile.
“You’re right, I guess,” he said when he did speak.
“Good thing about me staying…” Paul began.
“Is we can fuck all night.”
“Yes,” Brian said in his usual cool voice. “That is the good thing about you staying.”
Paul was coming through the kitchen door when Fenn came down the back stair in that large patchwork housecoat, a cup of coffee in his hand.
“I’m sure this will make for an interesting story later during the day, but for now,” Fenn said, navigating around Paul and refilling his cup, “I have to get dressed for Mass.”
“Did Matt ask where I was?”
“No,” Fenn said, spooning in sugar and pulling a cigarette out of the breast pocket of his housecoat. “But he’s got other questions for you, I’m sure.”
“I’m sure,” Paul echoed.
“Well,” Fenn said, “I gotta take a shower.”
“You’re seriously not going to ask me where I was last night?”
“Uh. No. Because I seriously am a grown up, and so are you. Besides, I imagine you’re going to tell me later, anyway.”
When Fenn was halfway up the stairs, Paul shouted, “Only if you want to hear about it.”
Up the stair, Fenn sighed loudly, turned around and trudged down the stairway.
“Of course I want to hear. I want to hear everything because you are my friend and that’s what friends do. But not right now. Now, friends let friends get dressed.”
“Okay. Now you can share.”
“Don’t hum me, Paul. You come in looking like something the cat dragged in, and talking about “don’t you wanna know where I was last night, and then… Well, I’m here. So tell me.”
“All right,” Paul said, leaning across the kitchen table.
“I slept with Brian last night.”
Fenn sat back, stony faced.
“I said I slept with Brian last night.”
“Wait a minute,” Fenn waved his hand, shaking his head. “Let’s wait a goddamn minute. Not Brian Brian? Brian Babcock?”
“What the fuck for?”
Paul opened his mouth, stopped, started again.
Fenn took a deep breath.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “Let’s start over again.”
“With what the fuck for?”
“Sure,” Fenn said.
“Because he was there, Fenn. Because he wanted it.”
“You were with Brian Babcock the entire night?”
“Yes. After the show he swung by and asked me if I wanted to go for a drink. And… I was just this strange person. He kept trying to talk, you know, the way he does, all academic and blah blah and about how he loves his single malt Scotch and then I just said, ‘If you want to blow me, just do it.’”
“You said that?”
“You know what, Fenn,” Paul’s voice had a heat, but it wasn’t anger. It was discovery.
“I was a pornstar. I am a pornstar. I turned tricks. See, there’s this me that’s been coming up lately, showing up in strange places, doing strange things and… He bothered me. That different me. But he is me. Johnny Mellow. That’s who I am. That’s what Brian wanted last night.”
Fenn said, “I don’t need to hear about everything you all did.”
“Well, no,” Paul said distractedly. “I guess not. But the bottom line is I acted like who I thought I wasn’t anymore.”
“And that’s not all. I’ve been doing it a lot Fenn. The time we went to take the money down to the Gulf? Noah arranged a threesome. I didn’t say no to it. And… Noah wanted to shoot porn, make a few movies. While we were here. I’m sorry, Fenn. We did that. We did a few dirty films in the bedroom before we left. And… sometimes when I go out, this night I went to the Video Watch, the kid said he knew who I was. I messed around with him in the back of the store. I mean, I fucked him. It’s getting to be you know, where I can’t get a good night’s sleep without having sex with someone. Without going out looking for it, without turning into Johnny Mellow, and I thought he was gone. I really did.
“I’m sorry to burden you with all this shit, and right now. But last night was the last straw. I mean the last straw before I keep things to myself.
“Brian is so… he’s good looking and everything. But he’s lonely. Really, really super lonely. When we got finished he told me I could stay the night. I knew he didn’t want to be alone. I mean the whole time there was just this… it’s like there is this hole in him. There’s one in me too. It’s just addicted to screwing people. I mean, I never knew how badly I needed to have sex. I…
“I like sex. I love sex. It’s great right? But I don’t know how to have anything normal. When we were in Florida, and I was in that church and learning about books and the stars and Andromeda I thought I was becoming this new person, someone who… all of the being an escort and doing the pics, all of that was in the past for. But lately I just get… depressed, almost, at the idea of not doing something with someone. Then I rush out to get that fix, to feel like me again.”
“You mean Johnny Mellow.”
“But I am Johnny Mellow. I thought I wasn’t, but… I don’t know anymore.”
“Fuck,” Fenn said, at last.
“I know,” Paul said. “I’m pretty fucked up.”
“That’s not what I meant,” said Fenn. “It’s just, usually I have something intelligent to say. Some sort of solution. This time I’ve got nothing.”
“Whaddo you mean you’ve got nothing?” Layla said, walking into the house and shutting the back door behind her.
“I think I mean… mind your business,” Fenn told his niece.
She pursed her lips and frowned at him, and Matt came down the back stair.
“Hello,” Layla said, stepping forward. “I’m Layla Houghton. Your sister stayed with me last night.”
“If I’d known you were there,” Matt said, taking her hand, “I might have stayed too.”
“That’s not even funny,” Layla said, turning to her uncle.
“Fenn, you should get over to the house.”
“What for, I’ve got my own drama over here.”
Layla looked at Matt and Paul, seeing if that were possible, and then deciding it wasn’t, said, “Well, you have real drama over there.”
Fenn opened his mouth.
“Grandad?” Paul said.
“My father,” said Fenn.
“I never pictured you having one.”
“Even Hitler had a father,” Layla said. “Com’on. Last time I left him Lula, Grandma and Adele were about to tear him to shreds.”
“I could stand to see the son of bitch torn to shreds,” Fenn said, getting up.
“Uh?” Matt said loudly, putting up a hand.
“Well… call on him,” Layla said. “Or something.”
“Yes?” he turned to Matt.
“I should probably go with you. Since my folks are there. And we’re going back this afternoon.”
“I guess I’d better come too,” Paul said.
“Hell,” Layla murmured, “that’s right. Let everyone see some embarrassing shit.”
“Watch your mouth,” Fenn said, negligently, and opened the door for his niece to go out.
She squeezed her knees around his naked waist and pulled his neck closer to her as he shuttled in and out of her.
“Oooh. Oh… Yes. That’s. oh—” her voice stopped like she’d been stabbed. She couldn’t talk. When Brendan fucked her it felt so good. He did it so hard and so fast, like he could hardly control himself, not looking at her, his eyes closed, his mouth open, his stricken face a little glossy with sweat, his hands pressed to the mattress, biceps tensed.
“Ahh—” she started.
They moaned together, quietly, in his bedroom. Two days ago it had been in her bathroom.
They oohed and then ahhed and then Brendan fell back and “ahhhed,” and she held him while he came.
The first two times there had been no condom, and Brendan had come out of her. They had figured that since the Church forbade condoms, sex with contraceptive really would be sinful. But then Dena’s good sense and fear of pregnancy had prevailed. She knew Brendan would be too embarrassed for it, so she went to the drugstore. Head held high she bought the Durexes herself. She got a thrill even thinking of the word Durex, or buying a condom. She watched the BBC, where a woman had said the word. Con-dom, both syllables stressed, very chic, very civilized, not like Americans who said both syllables dully and embarrassed. She was a woman of the world, experiencing the pleasures of the world, experiencing the pleasure of Brendan.
“Brendan, I love you so much,” she told him quickly, kissing his mouth and his face, while he pulled off the condom and, kissing her offhandly, turned around to toss it in the waist basket. In a rush of love she wrapped her arms around his waist, pressed her face to the sweaty small of his back.
“I love you too, Dena,” he said.
She was sore with the memory of him inside of her. She could still feel his body pressing against her. His hair against her lips. His sweat was on her.
“Do you really?” she said.
Brendan turned to her. Originally he’d been self conscious about being naked in front of her, off put by her nudity. Now he just stood there.
“Yes,” he said. “Really.”
“It’s just,” she said. “You didn’t sound like it.”
Brendan shrugged and turned around, reaching for his underwear.
“Well, I do, Dena. I think actions speak louder than words. And,” he pulled his cargo shorts on, and bent over the bed, to kiss her, “From the sounds we were both making I’d say our actions were definitely loud enough. Don’t you?”
There was no arguing that. The truth was, Dena always wondered these days if Brendan really loved her. In some ways he was as distant as he had been in those last months. Only now they had sex all the time. And when they were screwing there was no room for doubt.
So when he repeated, “Don’t you?” she nodded, put a smile on her face, and said, “Yes.”
“He says he’s dying,” Adele said.
“Hello, Papa,” Fenn said entering the house behind Layla, followed by Matt and Paul.
“Is that him?” his father said.
“No,” Fenn said. “Todd looks the same way he did last time you saw him.”
“I don’t remember what the fuck he looked like,” Leroy Houghton said. “All I remember was that short fucker you ran off with. Bob, or Steve, or Danny. I thought, Goddamn, if you gon have to swing that way, at least bring home a niggah. But no, you brought that short motherfucker home. Best thing you ever did was toss his ass aloose. What happened to his ass anyway?”
“His ass,” Adele said, “is with Lee.”
“Goddamn! Two in the family, and both of yawl chasing after these short, white motherfuckers. And now you got this skinny white motherfucker. This redheaded motherfucker over here.”
“Paul is just a friend.”
“And Idetta and Kittie and Clordine, and all them bald headed bigtittied bitches yaw mamma saw me with back in the day was just friends. I was a son of a bitch.”
“Yes,” Fenn agreed. “You were.”
“And you still are,” his ex-wife said. “Fenn, he said he was gon drop dead of some cancer and now he wants to live with me.”
“And me,” said Lula. “And that shit just ain’t gon happen.”
“Be quiet you mean ole bitch,” Fenn’s father barked. “Waddn’t nobody talking to your old withered black ass anyway. I bought that house your ragged ass is living in, and now you gon—”
Lula stood up and declared: “See if I don’t whoop your ass, niggah. Just like I should have the day you came into my husband’s house and said you were gon marry my daughter.”
“Bitch, you gon sit the fuck down, just like you did the day I came into your husband’s house and said, I’m gon marry your daughter.”
“Hold up hold up hold up!” Fenn put up his hands.
They all looked at him.
“What’s all this shit about some cancer?”
“Watch your mouth,” his mother said before continuing: “This son of a bitch is broke. He’s got no place to live, but now he wants to tell everyone he has some cancer. We sit up and take care of his black ass. Look at his skinny black ass! Have you ever seen an ass as old, or as black, or as skinny as this man’s skinny black ass?”
“Have you seen an ass as fat, or as badly kept as this bitch’s old black ass?” Fenn’s father asked him, pointing to his mother.
“Oh, motherfucker, you gon take that back—!”
Fenn pulled his mother back down as she prepared to cross the kitchen table.
“Now you’ve seen my family,” Layla said to Paul and Matt. “Why don’t you go upstairs and see yours.”
The brothers nodded to each other, and then took her advice.
“So… Wait,” Fenn said. “Do you really have… something?”
“Cancer!” Leroy Houghton declared. “My daddy had it when he was my age.”
“But do you have it? Have you been to a doctor?”
Fenn’s father looked at him like he was crazy, old brown eyes blazing from behind the thick glasses.
“Are you crazy? You know I don’t believe in no goddamn doctors!”
“So you made this up?”
“I feel like my time is coming.”
“You gone feel the back of my shoe in your—” Lula began, but Adele put a hand up.
“And he wants to sit up in my house,” his mother muttered.