Having never expressed any interest in art before, Seth Maguire had a hard sell. Not only did he want to go to Virginia Renquist’s art show, but he also wanted to not have to spend his Friday night with his brother and his brother’s tubby friend, Drew, who was also Mrs. Renquist’s son.
“They’re old enough to keep themselves entertained,” Seth argued. He followed his mother, Colleen—usually referred to as ‘Leen by their father without a shred of irony—into the kitchen as she frantically searched for her car keys. She was always frantically searching for something.
“Whether you think they are or they are not is not the point. The point is I want you to keep an eye on them. I am concerned about what could happen to them without you there.”
“I’m getting too old for this babysitting shit.”
“Watch your language. I didn’t raise you like that.” She rummaged through the piles of papers that seemed to breed on the counter.
“You must have because this is how I turned out.”
“It’s those friends of yours. And all that TV.”
“Right. Which is why I should go to something like an art exhibit.”
“Going to an art gallery is an adult thing. It’s—well—it’s sophisticated is what it is. You’ll understand when you get older.” She banged a hefty fist on the counter. Her frustration at not finding things often manifested in chubby paws clubbing inanimate and innocent objects.
“How much older? Does some magic switch get flipped at a certain age? You never make any sense. I had an art class at school.” But it wasn’t the art he was so keen on seeing. He had always recognized that Mrs. Renquist was attractive, but only more recently had the complete nature of her beauty gained any worthwhile significance. Perhaps, in this case, it was like a switch got flipped. On this atypically warm December night, he wanted nothing more than to be at her art show, to be able to just watch her, and, to some extent, yes, to see her art. He never spent much time inside the Renquist home and had never had the opportunity to see any of her work. He rarely got beyond the family room, which was always much neater and cleaner than theirs. He’d bet anything that no Renquist had such trouble finding things. He had a difficult time believing that Mrs. Renquist and his mother had any kind of friendship, even one as superficial as theirs seemed. Certainly, Virginia would not have opted to spend any time with his mother if they did not live next door to one another and had sons of similar ages.
Colleen plodded off to the living room to upturn seat cushions with Seth at her heels. “Irregardless, I need you to go with Jeremy and Drew. It’s your father’s poker night and, besides, they like you. You’re a good influence on them.”
“That was my first mistake.”
“I probably won’t be long. Maybe an hour or so. You’ll eat dinner. You’ll play some games. How bad can that be?” She tramped over to the foyer where she had dropped her oversized handbag on the floor. She dumped out the contents and, with a heavy breath, examined her paraphernalia.
“I’ll be stuck with a couple of thirteen year olds. That’s how bad that will be.”
“You’re not that much older. I’m sure you still have things in common.”
“If I’m not that much older, then why do I need to babysit them?”
“They’re not babies. Stop calling it babysitting. There’s safety in numbers is all.” She forced herself upright, keys in hand. “No kidding. They were in there the whole time. Would you look at that?” She held her keys out for Seth to examine. A dozen or so dangled from a chain anchored by a small can of mace.
He knew there was no arguing with her. There was never any chance of winning but he had to try. Why couldn’t she be more like Mrs. Renquist? Things were so peaceful over there. None of the yelling. None of the loud and nearly constant TV watching. Even when his mother and his father did get along, they did so fat and loudly. Every step heavy one. Every breath labored. Every laugh choking. He longed for the peace and serenity of the Renquist household.
Mrs. Renquist seemed young enough to remember what being a teenager was like. Her husband was much older and hardly ever at home. His daughters from his first marriage—one about Seth’s age and one older—were also easy on the eyes, but not in the same tall blonde way of Mrs. Renquist. He had no idea of her age. All he knew was that she looked a lot younger than his mother and that she took much better care of herself. She was the only thing which made him not totally resent keeping an eye on Jeremy and Drew. The occasional glimpse of her—the mere hope of a glimpse of her—kept him from arguing even more desperately.
Seth followed his mother to the front door where she and Jeremy put on winter coats that were hanging on a nearby rack.
“Seth, put your coat on.”
“I’m fine in my sweatshirt. It’s not that cold out.”
“Yeah, but it’s not that cold out.” He knew he would eventually acquiesce but needed to voice his struggle.
“Seth. Why does everything have to be so difficult.”
“Nothing was difficult until you told me to put a coat on to go out in the warm night.”
“Jeremy put his coat on.” She pointed to the young Maguire son.
“If Jeremy jumped off a bridge…” Seth doesn’t finish this reversal of one of his mother’s trite arguments.
“Why can’t you just respect my authority? Put your coat on. I don’t have time to argue.” She turned to open the front door as Seth grabbed his coat and put it on. Seth looked at Jeremy and the brothers laughed quietly.
They all walked out to the minivan. Seth got in the passenger side and Jeremy climbed in the back seat. They drove next door and Colleen beeped the horn. Drew came ambling out and got in next to Jeremy.
Seth looked back at his wards. Under Drew’s coat was the same Spazz Cola t-shirt that Jeremy had on. “Are you two in some kind of cult or something?”
Jeremy and Drew looked at each other in confusion.
“You get half-price burgers tonight if you’re wearing something with the Spazz logo on it,” Jeremy answered.
“What a great idea,” Colleen said. “Seth, don’t you have a Spazz t-shirt?”
“No.” He regretted, as he often did, having said anything. He should know better than to say anything about anything in front of his mother. She could turn the most innocent of statements into a needle in his eyeball.
“Yes he does,” Jeremy said. “We got them at the same time.”
“Do you want to run in and get it? I still have time.”
“I don’t know where it is.”
“For the love of Jesus. You should be more responsible with your things. It’s my money you’re playing with. If I had known before, I would have made you look for it.”
Seth wanted to tell her that there was no way in hell he would go anywhere dressed the same as his younger brother and his dopey friend. Wasn’t she ever fifteen?
Luckily, the drive to the Delaney Avenue Shopping Center was short and nothing more was said about the t-shirt. Colleen parked in the crowded lot and handed Seth some money. “Just because I’m giving you this much doesn’t mean you have to spend it all.” She turned and looked at the younger kids who were already jumping out. “You guys be good and listen to Seth.”
The Delaney Avenue Shopping Center consisted of eight connected stores with Colleen’s destination, the I Know It When I See It art gallery, anchoring the right end. All the light posts were wrapped in green garland and had red sparkling bows attached near the light. Except for the art gallery, all the stores had Christmas decorations of one sort or another. An alley separated the row of stores from the Great G’rilla Games and Grub Pub which stood apart from the rest of the strip and was closest to the street.
He led his brother and Drew inside the G’rilla. The place was lousy with younger kids. Scattered about were a handful of parents. Christmas music struggled to be heard over the din. A truth for Seth was that he was beginning to feel too old for the G’rilla. A sophomore in high school, Seth watched his friends migrate from such family-friendly fare and toward parties at someone’s house or in the park during the summer. His friends often would make fun of any of their peers who ventured into the G’rilla. It wasn’t that eating burgers, drinking soda and playing games fell out of fashion, it was just that this place also attracted younger kids and their parents thereby denying them of the escape they so desired.
They walked up to the order counter.
“What do you want?” Seth asked.
“Two G’rilla Burgers, two orders of fries, and an extra jumbo Spazz,” Jeremy said.
“I’ll have the same,” Drew said.
“Are you two trying to beef up for the football team or something?” Seth knew that was far from the truth. Jeremy was only mildly interested in sports and Drew didn’t seem interested in much at all.
Jeremy shrugged his shoulders. “The food’s half-price for us, so why not get two of everything.”
“I think mom had the idea that she would just pay half for a normal meal.” Seth voiced this as an objection but didn’t care enough to protest any more strongly. If anything, he knew the revelation would rattle his mother when Seth handed her less change than she expected. Seth ordered a more reasonable portion and waited for the food while Jeremy and Drew searched for a booth amid the clamor and chaos that always plagued the G’rilla. Once he got the food and lugged the tray over to the table, Jeremy and Drew attacked their meals like they hadn’t seen food in a month.
They ate quietly. Seth, for one, was intimidated by the din. Kids ran between the game room and their weary parents. Aggravated parents yelled at wild children. Games rang and buzzed. He couldn’t stand it and needed to refocus himself with what was foremost on his mind. He leaned forward to make sure his brother and friend could hear him. “You know, Drew, your mom is pretty hot. I mean for a mom and all.”
“Shut up.” Drew nearly spat out his mouthful of his burger.
“What did I say that was so bad?” He looked at Jeremy. “That’s a compliment, isn’t it?”
“Knock it off, Seth.”
Seth smiled at his brother’s disapproval knowing that Jeremy, too, had noted the attractiveness of Mrs. Renquist. “Have you ever gotten to see her naked?”
“She’s my mom.”
“Hey, no reflection on you. Just looking for some objective information here. Let’s say, like, she’s coming out of the shower and doesn’t know you’re in the hall or something. Anything like that ever happen?”
“I’d say that’s a shame because I would imagine she’s exceptional. She hasn’t let herself go to pot like some people’s mothers.”
“I hope you’re not talking about our mom,” Jeremy said.
“Who? ‘Leen? She rarely crosses my mind.”
“Have you ever seen her naked?” Drew asked.
Seth shuddered involuntarily. “Don’t change the subject. We’re talking about Virginia here. Could you sneak me into your house and, like, hide me in her closet or something? Or maybe snap a picture or two?”
Neither Drew nor Jeremy said anything, but Seth didn’t allow their silence. “At least invite us over when your pool is open.”
“You have your own pool,” Drew said.
“Yeah, but we don’t have Virginia lying around in a bikini.” Suddenly, the thought of her depressed him. He knew kids from school who had seen girls naked and wondered if he ever would. He wasn’t at ease with girls and couldn’t imagine getting into a situation where he would be alone and comfortable enough with a girl to even kiss her let alone get her naked. Bobby Whitcome told him about how one time Cindy Masterfield jerked him off under a blanket in the park. How did these things happen? And why did they happen to assholes like Bobby Whitcome? Seth’s lack of experience with girls put him on even ground with his younger brother and friend, which was intolerable. “What the hell? You shits wouldn’t know what to do if you saw a naked woman anyway.”
“Oh, like you would.” Jeremy stuffed fries in his mouth.
“I’ll have you know that Cindy Masterfield showed me her boobs and then jerked me off. In the library of all places.”
“You’re full of shit.”
“Believe what you want. I know what happened.”
“I believe if this Cindy person even kissed you on the cheek, you’d come running home.”
Jeremy laughed. “Give us some money. I want to play games.”
Seth threw the rest of the money at his brother, who scooped it up and ran off with Drew leaving Seth with the dirty wrappers and tray. He piled it all up and brought it over to the can to dump the trash in and place the tray on top. Jeremy and Drew had enough money to keep themselves busy for a while, so he slipped outside without telling either of them. He crossed the alley and peered into the window of the art gallery. About two dozen people shuffled about and after a couple of minutes, Seth spotted his mom talking to Virginia. Soon, two men—one tall and handsome, the other short and skinny—approached them. The handsome man shook Virginia’s hand and then his mom’s. The skinny one looked like he was introducing them. Seth thought about going in. He had nothing but his mother’s orders barring him from entry. There was no real reason he couldn’t walk right in. Debating what to do, he continued to watch. Suddenly, the conversation became heated. His mom turned red and pointed a chubby finger at the shorter man who threw up his hands defensively. No doubt, his mother instigated something. She had a way of ruining things and it made him sick to his stomach that she was wrecking Virginia’s show and ended any chance for him to contrive a reason to go in.
He returned to the G’rilla to find that a crowd had formed a ring and some man was yelling. He looked around for his brother and spotted Drew who pointed toward the center of the circle. Seth pushed his way through to find that Jeremy was being reprimanded by some man who looked to be about their father’s age.
Seth went up to them. “What’s going on? He’s my brother.”
The man moved threateningly close to Seth. “Your brother needs a stern talking to.”
“I’ll take him home. My mom’s in a yelling mood, apparently.”
Seth took Jeremy by the arm and started pulling him away but the man grabbed Seth’s shoulder.
“You can’t just go like that.”
“Yes I can. I’m taking him home. It’s over.”
“It’s not over. He asked my daughter for a sexual favor.”
“He’s thirteen. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.” He turned to Jeremy. “Did you apologize?”
“Yes.” Jeremy is on the verge of tears.
“OK, so we’re done here,” Seth said.
“Where are your parents?”
“They’re not here. I’m watching him.” Seth yanked himself out of the man’s grip just as a manager came over.
“What’s going on here?”
“This little asshole asked my daughter for a sexual favor.”
Seth and Jeremy took this interruption as a chance to head for the door.
“I want to speak to your parents,” the man called after them. “What is your name?”
Seth ignored him and rushed Jeremy out the front door with Drew chasing after them. Their mother was just then storming out of the art gallery. As they cut across the parking lot, the angry man came after them.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with people,” Colleen yelled as they merged at the minivan. “I just met the rudest person. These artist types are too much. How Virginia can stand them—” She didn’t finish her sentence because the angry man had reached them.
“Are these your kids?”
“Two of them are. Why?”
“This one,” he said pointing at Jeremy, “asked my daughter for a sexual favor.”
“Get with it lady. It’s quite possible. He asked my daughter to jerk him off.”
“My kids don’t talk like that.” Colleen unlocked the van doors.
“Lady, I heard him say it.”
“I told you, buddy. My kids don’t talk like that. They’ve been raised right.” She pulled out her hefty ring of keys and opened the sliding door to let Jeremy and Drew in. Seth climbed in the passenger side.
The man threw his hand up in the air. “Why would I lie about something like this?”
“Where were you?” Colleen asked Seth.
“I was right there. I didn’t hear him say anything like that.”
“He’s the one who’s lying.” The man pointed at Seth.
Colleen poked her head in the minivan. “Jeremy, what happened? And don’t lie to your mother.”
Jeremy hesitated and then said: “I asked this girl if she wanted to play a game with me and then this man started yelling.”
“Holy Jesus! You’ve raised a whole household of little fucking liars.”
“Watch your language.” Colleen dug in her handbag and took her cell phone out. She slung her bag onto her shoulder so that she could hold her phone in one hand and adjusted her key ring so that she had the can of mace in the other. “I think you better just go away before I call the police. Or worse.”
“You’re crazy and your kids are mother fucking, cock sucking, cunt licking, ass eating, newborn molesting, going to hell in a hand-basket devil children.” He turned and stormed away. Colleen sprayed the mace a moment too late; the angry man already was out of range. Seth, Jeremy and Drew burst out laughing.
Colleen slammed the sliding door of the minivan and got in the driver’s seat. “There must be a full moon. I’ve just met two of the crassest, most ignorant people in the whole world within minutes of each other.”
“That’s it, ‘Leen,” Seth said. “Must be a full moon.”
Colleen started the van and drove out of the parking lot onto Delaney Avenue. Seth looked back toward the shopping center wondering what had happened in the art gallery and how Virginia reacted to his mother’s nonsense, but that thought faded as a certain pride swelled up within him because his slight rebellion had such an unexpectedly magnificent outcome.
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