“Fine,” I said, hanging up and tossing my phone on the counter. I put my hands on my hips and stared at the computer monitor.
“I just started a huge family fight. My mom’s heart is going to be broken, and it’s all somehow going to be my fault. Cal?” I yelled. “I’m going to have to leave at four thirty.”
“You don’t get off until seven!” he yelled from his office.
“It’s for family! She’s leaving at four thirty!” Hazel yelled back.
“Whatever, then!” Calvin said, not sounding all that upset.
Calvin didn’t answer, instead his door slammed, and he walked into the lobby. “What the f**k is going on?”
Calvin watched me with suspicious eyes for a moment, and then looked to Trenton. “Have you seen Bishop today?”
Calvin turned to me. “You really need backup to go home for dinner?” Calvin said, dubious.
“Yeah, she does,” Trenton said. “Even though she won’t admit it.”
I couldn’t keep the pleading tone from my voice. “You don’t know what they’re like. And tonight is going to be . . . you don’t want to go, trust me.”
“You need at least one person at that table on your side, and that’s going to be me.”
How could I argue with that? Even though I didn’t want Trenton to see the insanity that was my family, it would be comforting when they inevitably decided that Coby’s relapse and their ignorance of it was somehow my fault. And then there would be the moment when Coby found out I’d ratted him out.
“Deal,” he said, hugging me to his side.
TRENTON PULLED INTO THE DRIVE, AND TURNED OFF THE ignition. The last time we were in his Intrepid, Olive was in the back, and I was irritated about being coerced into a trip to Chicken Joe’s. Now an evening with Trenton and Olive in a noisy restaurant sounded like heaven.
“I believe it,” I said, pulling on the door handle. The door squealed as it opened, and then it took me a couple of tries and a push with my hip to get it to close all the way.
“Sorry,” Trenton said, shoving his hands in his jeans pockets. He held out his elbow, and I took it. All of my brothers and my parents were standing at the open door, watching us walk up the drive.
“I’m the one who will be apologizing later.”
“Who the f**k is this jackass?” Dad said.
I sighed. “This is Trent Maddox. Trent, this is my dad, Felix.”
Trenton held out his hand, and Dad took it, staring him down. Trenton wasn’t the least bit intimidated, but I was still inwardly cringing.
“Nice to meet you,” Trenton said, lightly shaking her hand.
Mom offered a small smile, and then pulled me into her chest, kissing my cheek. “It’s about time you visit your mama.”
“Sorry,” I said, even though we both knew I wasn’t.
We all walked into the dining room, except for Mom, who disappeared into the kitchen. She returned with an extra setting for Trenton, and then went back into the kitchen. This time, she came to the table with a steaming bowl of mashed potatoes that she set on a hot pad, next to all the other food.
“All right, all right,” Dad said. “Sit down so we can get to eat already.”
“It all looks great, Mom, thanks,” Clark said.
Mom smiled, and leaned toward the table, “You’re welcome, so—”
“What’s with all the goddamn formalities? I’m starvin’ here!” Dad growled.
We all passed the various dishes around the table and filled our plates. I picked at my food, waiting for the first shot that would start the war. Mom was on edge, which meant she knew something was up.
“What the hell is all that on your fingers?” Dad asked me.
“Uh . . .” I held up my hands for a moment, trying to think of a lie.
“We were messing around with a Sharpie,” Trenton said.
“Is that what all that black shit is all over?” Dad asked.
“Ink. Yes,” I said, rolling my food around on my plate. My mother was an exceptional cook, but Dad always had a way of robbing me of my appetite.
“Pass the salt,” Dad said, snapping at Coby when he took too long. “Damn it, Susan. You never put in enough salt. How many times have I told you?”
“You can add the salt, Dad,” Clark said. “This way it’s not too salty for the rest of us.”
“Too salty? This is my goddamn house. She’s my wife! She cooks for me! She cooks the way I like it, not the way you like it!”
“Don’t rile yourself up, honey,” Mom said.
Dad slammed the side of his fist on the table. “I’m not riled up! I’m just not going to stand for someone to come into my house and tell me how my wife should prepare my food!”
Clark shoveled another bite into his mouth and chewed. He had been the peacekeeper for years, and still wasn’t ready to give up. Out of all of my brothers, he was the easiest to be around, and to love. He delivered Coke products to convenience stores around town, and always ran behind schedule because the female employees would chat his ear off. He had a kindness in his eyes that couldn’t be missed. He got that from our mother.
Dad nodded, and then eyed Trenton. “Does Cami know you from school, or work?”
“Trent grew up in Eakins,” I said.
Dad thought for a moment, and then narrowed his eyes. “Maddox . . . you’re Jim’s boy, aren’t ya?”
“Oh, I just loved your mother. She was a wonderful woman,” Mom said.
“For f**k’s sake, Susan, you didn’t even know her,” Dad chided. “Why does everyone who dies have to turn into a goddamn saint?”
Dad looked up, unappreciative of Trenton’s tone. “And how would you know? Weren’t you a toddler when she died?”
“Did you just raise your voice to me in my house? I oughta come across this table and slap your sass mouth!”
“I remember her,” Trenton said. He was showing an exorbitant amount of control, but I could hear the strain in his voice. “Mrs. Camlin’s memory is accurate.”
“So you work with her at the Red?” Chase asked, unmistakable superiority in his voice.
I’m not sure what expression was on my face, but Chase lifted his chin, defiant.
Trenton didn’t answer. Chase was corralling us into a trap, and I knew exactly why.