As Stella and I walked hand-in-hand uptown toward her daddy's house, I could feel my long, wavy golden brown hair sticking to my neck and my meticulously applied makeup sliding down my face. Sweat was beginning to pool around my ankles causing my feet to slip around in my pointy-toed, knee high leather boots.
That morning I heard on the news that this particular November was the warmest in New York's history. As much as I enjoyed the 75-degree weather, I could have used a blast of cold air--I was sweating bullets.
To start with, I was wearing fall clothes. I had to. It was late November for Christ's sake. Because of the summer-like autumn we were having, my fall clothes were just sitting in my closet with the tags still on them. Soon I would be pulling out my winter clothes leaving my new fall wardrobe basically untouched. I couldn't let that happen. Who knew what would be in fashion next year.
Secondly, I was a nervous wreck. I knew my imminent conversation with Josh was going to suck and I wasn't looking forward to it. I was glad to have Stella by my side. Not that a three-year-old could protect me from her father's wrath, but at least he might try to temper his reaction knowing she was in ear-shot.
Yeah, lots of luck.
At this point in the game, my daughter and I were living with my best friend Frankie. We moved in right after Josh and I initially split up a little over a year ago. It was high time I gave Frankie his guest room back. Also at this point in time, Josh still didn't know Brad and I were seeing each other. This was a little problematic considering I was shacking up with the guy in a matter of weeks.
I never set out to hide my relationship with Brad from my ex-husband. Initially I felt it was none of his God damned business who I dated. That cheating bastard was no longer privy to the details of my life. Shit, he was the one who owed me; he took advantage of my precious time--primarily my entire 30s. I would never get that back. No, I owed him nothing.
But now Brad and I were moving in together. Still none of Josh's business except for one rather major detail--our daughter. I had primary custody, so she was moving in with Brad, too. This wasn't going to go over well considering Josh was pretty open about hating Brad's guts. He blamed him for the breakup of our marriage. Right. As if Brad put a gun to his head and demanded he screw the boss' wife behind my back. Granted, Brad did hire a private investigator to uncover the affair between Josh and Marcia, but in retrospect it was really just a waste of his money. I found out on my own. I didn't need a professional to point out the lipstick on his collars and the condom wrappers in his suit pockets.
As we walked, my daughter and I chatted about Thanksgiving only being a day away and how she was going with daddy to her grandma and grandpa's in Philly for the holiday. She told me all about the pilgrims and the Indians and how they ate pumpkins and corn. I explained to her that mommy was going to eat with Brad, Uncle Frankie and Aunt Rosa. She told me she was OK with that as long as no one at grandma's made her eat pumpkins. I assured her that could be arranged. We finished the rest of our walk in silence.
The doorman to Josh's building spotted us a half a block away and had the door ready and open when we arrived. "Ariel, Stella, how are you ladies, today?" he cheerily asked.
"Fine, thank you, Ben," I replied as Stella and I whisked through the door.
"Is it a lucky day for Sagittarians?"
"Every day is," I smiled as I kept walking. I was too consumed to stop and make small talk.
"Have a good holiday," he called out after us as we made our way across the lobby and to the elevator. As I raced across the shiny marble floors, I could barely hear him over the loud clickity-clacking from my high-heeled boots.
"Yes, you too," I replied as the elevator doors closed.
The elevator shot up like a bullet and lurched to a stop at the 17th floor. The second the doors opened Stella ran out ahead of me and down the hallway toward her daddy's condo. I took my time. Like Ben, Josh had the door ready and open. He was crouched down to Stella's level with his arms held out her. Once she reached him, he scooped her up and gave her a big hug.
"How's my little Stella-bella?" he asked as he swung her around.
"Mommy says I don't have to eat pumpkins, daddy."
He looked at her quizzically. "Pumpkins?"
By then I reached the door. "She's a little concerned about pumpkins being on the Thanksgiving menu. I told her not to worry."
"Ah," Josh nodded. Actually, if anyone should understand it would be him. Unfortunately she seemed to have inherited his neurotic relationship with food. He grabbed Stella's suitcase from me. "Come in," he offered.
As I entered the condo I took a good look around. This was going to be our condo, but I never made it here. I decided I wanted a divorce three weeks before we were supposed to move in.
It was really a beautiful space--hardwood floors, big windows and vaulted ceilings--but Josh hadn't done much with it. Sure, he had all of the furniture from our old house, which I let him have without argument. But he'd been here for six months and the walls were still stark white. And except for a few pictures of Stella, there were really no decorative artifacts to speak of. Unless you count the array of unpacked boxes he had pushed up against the walls. All of them were open with their contents oozing out as if they'd been disemboweled. A part of me wanted to tear through those boxes and put everything away once and for all. And I'm sure a part of him would have loved for me to do that. But we were no longer married and that was no longer my job.
However, despite how disheveled his condo was, his appearance still remained flawless. He was dressed to the nines in one of his finest suits (he just got home from work) and despite the fact that it was 4:00 in the afternoon and he put in a full day, he remained crisply ironed and polished. Not a shiny blonde hair out of place--not even an eyebrow. And now that he was single and living in the city, he was spending even more time at the gym running, pumping and preening. It showed, too. Jesus, who would have thought the guy could possibly get any better looking? It was just ridiculous.
Stella immediately found a toy and started to play with it. "I just have a few more things to throw together then Stella and I need to hit the road. Traffic is going to be brutal," Josh said heading into his bedroom. I followed him. His suitcase lay open on his bed and he had about three day's worth of clothes and other necessities packed neatly and precisely away. Quite a contrast to the way he treats his surroundings, I mused to myself. Makes me wonder: Is he really a slob or does he only bother take care of the things he values?
I walked over to the bedroom window and peered out at the beautiful view of downtown. He busied himself with his packing. "Your parents having a big crowd, tomorrow?" I asked.
"My brother is coming down from Boston with the kids. It'll be a full house."
"That's good. Stella likes playing with her cousins. Send everyone my regards."
He grinned to himself. "I will."
"Before I forget, Stella's teacher gave these out to the parents, yesterday." I handed him a memo regarding her preschool's holiday pageant. "Stella is going to be an angel. The show is during the day, but there's plenty of time to schedule your work around it."
He stopped packing to read the memo. "Of course. I'll definitely be there."
He seemed like he was in a good mood and I started to think twice about telling him about Brad and me. Perhaps I should wait until after the holiday, I thought. "Great. Good. Well I guess I should be going, then," I said.
"OK, well have a good Thanksgiving. I'll have Stella back to you Sunday night." He looked up at me and smiled--the first time he made eye contact with me since I walked through the door. Then he went back to packing.
As I turned around to walk away I couldn't help but feel I was chickening out. I was prepared to tell him and that was what I was going to do. I took a deep breath, walked over to the door and closed it so Stella couldn't hear us. "I ... I have to talk to you about something, Josh."
He looked up at me and raised his eyebrow. "What's up?"
"I'm ... Stella and I are moving."
He did a double take. "What? Huh? What about our custody arrangement? It's so convenient with you at Frankie's. So close to me..."
"Don't worry; I'll be just as close. Still in Chelsea."
"Oh, OK." He gave me a concerned look. "Is everything alright? Did you and Frankie get into a fight or something?"
"We fight everyday. For the past 30 years," I replied jokingly.
"Did he meet someone he wants to live with?"
I paused and shook my head. "No. No, Frankie hasn't met anyone."
Immediately his expression crumbled. "Meaning you have?"
I nodded. "Yeah."
He crossed his arms and shot me such a fierce, sharp look that I swore I felt his green eyes rip through me like bullets. I knew what was coming. "No! Absolutely not. I cannot believe you, Ariel! We've been divorced for five minutes. I am not allowing my daughter to move in with some guy you just met yesterday!" he hissed with icy sternness.
"It's not like that. We didn't just meet," I said sheepishly.
"Didn't just meet? So then who..." Then he figured it out. Probably because he always suspected it. He went pale. His jaw dropped. He started to violently sputter. "Oh don't even tell me! You've got to be fucking kidding me! It's that Brad Martinson, isn't it Ariel? That son-of-a-bitch, Goddamned mother fucker!"
I tried to calm him down. "Please Josh, please, it's not what you think."
My pathetic plea just made him go even more ballistic. "No, it's exactly what I think! Jesus, Ariel! You have no idea how much hell you put me through for my lousy one-month affair! For over a year I've been punishing myself for committing the fatal error that destroyed our marriage! But now, now I realize I'm not the only one who was fooling around--I'm just the one who got caught! The friggin' scapegoat! So tell me, how long have you two been carrying on, Ariel? Huh? Those astrology sessions weren't just discussions about Venus and Rising Signs were they?"
"You're wrong, Josh. I told you then and I'll tell you now, Brad and I never had an affair while you and I were married."
"Bullshit! You're a liar, Ariel! A liar and a cheat! A worse cheat than I ever was! I admitted my mistake! I tried to make it up to you! And what did you do? You denied, denied, denied any philandering! And I don't care what you say, Brad wanted me out of the picture. I was going to end it with Marcia, but he arranged to have me caught with her before I could."
OK, now he sounded nuts. "What are you doing? Rewriting history, Josh? That's not what happened. And you know that we didn't get a divorce just because you had an affair. There were other reasons."
"No, apparently we got a divorce because you had an affair!"
"Josh, just stop it! Stop it with these accusations! Shit! Brad and I never even saw each other last year. We've been together since my birthday this year, that's all!"
"So you mean to say there were no feelings between the two of you while we were married? Get off it, Ariel! If that's the case then how is it that now, only a year later, you're leaving your precious Frankie to move in with him? Huh?"
That was a good question. One I really didn't have an answer to. So I did the best I could. "I don't know."
Apparently my answer was the wrong one. He flew into a rage. He walked over to the bed, grabbed his suitcase and threw it up against the wall. All of his hard work was for naught as his belongings rained down on us like the proverbial toads from the sky. I knew for Josh to take his anger out on his clothes things had to be pretty darned bad. I tried to keep my composure but I started to shake. For the first time ever in the nine years we knew each other I was scared of him. He walked over to me and got in my face. He spoke calmly but I could see in his eyes that he was anything but that.
"You don't know? You don't know? Well, I do. Call it what you want, say what you want, the minute Brad Martinson came on the scene I was history. Now get out of my house, you whore."
I was floored. The man I loved for so many years, whose child I bore, whose underwear I washed and folded, whose meals I cooked, whose bed I shared, just called me a whore. I knew this conversation would suck, but I had no idea it would come to this. My voice quivered as I choked back the tears. "Josh, please, please let's not leave off like this."
He sat down on his bed and put his head in his hands. "I said get out. Now."
"OK. Just do me a favor. Don't drive until you calm down." I slowly turned around and walked away.
Stella apparently didn't hear a word of our conversation; she was still merrily playing with the same toy that caught her interest when we got there. I bent down and gave her a hug and a kiss. I whispered in her ear. "Don't worry, you won't have to eat any pumpkins. Have a good time and I'll see you on Sunday. I love you."
She kissed me on the cheek. "I love you too, mommy."
Then I let myself out.
The smell was so pungent that Brad had to hold his breath as he made his way down the corridor. He couldn't believe that after all of these years school janitors still used the same cleaning chemicals. He was instantly transported back to high school when he worked after school with the custodial staff in order to compensate for his parents' inability to pay his full tuition. His father wanted the best for him and insisted on sending him to a private rather than public school. As if it weren't bad enough that the shy, rather studious boy stood out like a sore thumb among the children of the Upper East Side elite in his ill-fitting, over-mended uniform. (One year he grew over three inches; his mom let the hem out of his pants but they still hovered above his ankles. Still, one uniform a year was all they could afford.) Once word got out that the poor, stuttering art freak also worked as a janitor cleaning up his classmates' shit after school, he became even more of a social pariah.
It was 3:30 in the afternoon and the school was quiet and empty. The kids were dismissed early in lieu of Thanksgiving being the next day. The door to the principal's office was closed. He gingerly opened it and peeped in. Like the hallways, it was also empty and lifeless.
"Hello?" he called out.
He heard shuffling come from an adjoining room. A tall, thin woman in her early 50s appeared in the doorway. She had frizzy, dark hair with grey streaks and wore wire-framed, cat-shaped glasses. Her conservative suit was a drab grey. But her sunny demeanor offset her flat appearance. "Brad Martinson?" she asked.
She held out her hand. "Hi, I'm Victoria Berringer. I'm the Vice Principal who oversees the freshman and sophomore classes."
"Nice to meet you," Brad shook her hand.
"Please, come in. I apologize for the mess. I'm trying to wrap a few things up before the long holiday weekend. Speaking of which, I appreciate you coming down here on such short notice. I know today is a busy travel day and I'm sure you have tons of things to do. Please, sit," she pointed at a chair across from her desk.
"Thanks," Brad sat. "Actually, I'm spending the holiday in the city. So it was no problem to come down this afternoon."
"Great. Glad to hear it."
Brad swallowed. "So you wanted to talk to me about Max?"
"Yes, Max." She looked down and smiled. "Mr. Martinson, I realize that you're busy man. I understand that your kids live with you pretty much full time?"
"Yeah. They see their mother on weekends. And holidays. As a matter of fact, they'll be with her tomorrow."
"But I'm assuming that homework is done at your house?"
"That's safe to assume. Why, is Max not doing his homework? He tells me he is."
"No, no that's not the issue. He does his homework. I'm just curious if you ever check it. Or read it."
Brad felt his neck get hot. He sank into his seat. "Maybe not as often as a should."
Mrs. Berringer realized he was embarrassed. "Please, Mr. Martinson, don't think I'm in any way criticizing your parenting skills. I'm just trying to get a feel for how familiar you are with Max's work."
Brad cleared his throat. "Well, I'm on top of his grades. Which are pretty good, from what I've seen."
"Yes, there's no denying he's a bright boy. Great writing and verbal skills."
Oh really, Brad thought to himself. Who knew the kid who locked himself in his room and spoke nary a peep to anyone had good verbal skills.
She continued: "How do I say this? It's not the quality of his work that concerns me, it's the content of his work. For example, are you familiar with his recent English assignment? Where he was asked to write a poem about something he loved to do?"
"No, I'm afraid I'm not."
"Well here. I have a copy of it for you. Please take a look at it and tell me what you think." She slid it across the desk to him and watched as he read.
Turkey. I can't believe this mass exodus of cars from Montauk to Bay Ridge is about freakin' turkey, Frankie thought to himself. He was stuck in a traffic jam, which more resembled a parking lot, on the upper level of the Verrazzano. Who the hell even really likes turkey? Yet word gets out that some family member you can't stand is cooking one up on the last Thursday of November and bam--everyone packs up, gets in the car and heads out to, apparently, the Verrazzano Bridge.
All he wanted to do was pick up his mom on Staten Island and bring her back to his place in the city that evening so they wouldn't have to rush around on Thanksgiving morning. He sighed. So much for well-laid plans. May as well make good use of the down time, he figured. He reached behind to the backseat and pulled a sweet, little pink dress out of a bag. One of his designs for the spring line. He stuck his car in park and started embroidering.
About 10 minutes and two feet later, his phone rang.
"Hello?" he answered.
"He called me a whore."
"Yes you are. You are a nasty, nasty, little whore. Now bend over," he replied in a sexy voice.
"It's not funny, Frankie."
"Ariel, you knew he wasn't going to react well."
"No Frankie, I knew he would be pissed and I knew he would accuse me of having an affair with Brad while we were married, but I never thought he'd call me a whore."
"Well, sticks and stones..."
"Frankie, he was furious. He literally flung his suitcase up against the wall."
"Was it packed?"
"Oh dear, an assault on his clothes. It must be bad," he said sarcastically.
"Frankie! Be serious!"
"Look, Ariel, sweetheart, we both know that Josh is just a big, 42 year-old baby. And he's not the one who wanted a divorce. Now to hear that you're moving in with the guy who hired a private investigator to uncover his affair with the boss' wife, well darling, I think his reaction is apropos."
"Please, what did you want him to do? Bake you a bundt cake? Make you a 'Home Sweet Home' needlepoint? Let him run home and cry to his mommy; she'll pamper and patronize him and he'll come back on Sunday good-as-new. Look on the bright side: At least your relationship with Brad is out in the open now. It's always better to deal with life when all of the cards are on the table, you know?"
Frankie moved his car up another five feet then resumed embroidering. "So where's Martinson? I thought he was coming over this afternoon and you two were going to start cooking for tomorrow's feast."
"Yeah, he is. He's just running behind. I guess there was some problem with Max at school and Brad had to go in and meet with the Vice Principal. He just called me on his way back home. He wants to catch Max and have a word with him before Abby picks up the kids and whisks them off to their grandparents in Syosset."
"Really? Max? What did he do?" Suddenly he heard a commotion coming from a few cars over. He looked up and saw two men get out of their cars and start yelling at each other.
"I don't know. Something about some poem..."
"Ooh, ooh, bridge fight!" Frankie interrupted.
"Frankie, stay out of it."
"Why would you assume I'd get involved?" He watched as the men started beating the crap out of each other.
"Because, Frankie, if fists are flying, somehow you wind up involved."
With each punch the men started edging closer and closer to Frankie's car. "Wow, these guys are really going at it. Anyway, what were you saying? Something about a poem?"
"Yeah, Brad didn't elaborate, but I guess Max..."
All of a sudden there was a loud thud.
"Hey!" Frankie screamed.
"Jesus Frankie! What was that! Did someone just hit your car?"
"No, those two assholes are now beating the crap out of each other on the hood of my car. Gotta go." He hung up his phone, rolled down the window and yelled: "Hey! Why don't you kick the shit out of each other on the hood of a Ford or a Dodge? God damn it! I just got my car washed you macho shit heads!"
But they didn't stop fighting. It just got worse. Frankie watched and winced in agitated horror as one man continuously banged the other man's head into his windshield. Finally, the one man went unconscious and the other one slumped over in a heap of exhaustion.
"Great. This is just fucking great," Frankie sighed. He turned on the windshield wipers and went back to embroidering.
By the time Brad got home, it was already after 5:00. As he stepped into his foyer, he noticed that Brianna and Max's overnight bags were at the foot of the stairs. He was relieved that he caught them before they left for Long Island.
"Max?" he called out as he ascended the spiral staircase. "Max, I want to have a word with you."
He nearly knocked over his ex-wife, who was perched like a gargoyle on the landing of the second floor. She looked more sinister than usual as she glowered at him with her deep brown eyes and her dark, bobbed hair grazed her jaw line accentuating her bright, red lipstick--or was it the blood of her last victim?
"Oh, Abby. I didn't see you there. Where's Max?" he asked.
"In his room," she replied.
"Good, I'm glad I caught him." He started to make his way down the hallway.
"Not so fast," she called after him.
He shuddered as stopped in his tracks. "Excuse me?"
"Can you explain this?" She angrily pointed at what was once the guest room. "What happened to this room? I had it filled with art deco antiques and beautiful oriental rugs. Now it's a, it's a..."
"A gym," Brad finished.
Brad knew that Ariel liked to work out, so he thought he'd surprise her and turn the pretentious guest room that no one ever used into a gym. He bought her a brand new treadmill, recumbent bike, one of those all-in-one weight machines, free weights, a TV and DVD player, and all sorts of other home fitness goodies.
Abby put her hands on her hips. "A gym? A gym! You lift weights? You run?"
"Occasionally I run out of cigarettes."
"No doubt this is yet another room you redid for your darling girlfriend. Very sweet, Brad. Nothing says 'I love you' like the gift of 'you-better-keep-that-38-year-old ass-of-yours-in-shape-or-else.'"
Brad rolled his eyes and turned to walk away. "Leave me alone Abby."
She grabbed his arm and spun him around. "So then where are my antiques?"
"Your antiques? Your antiques are splattered about that gawky suburban mansion of yours in Colts Neck. My antiques are sitting in a consignment shop in the West Village just waiting to be snatched up by some lucky gay couple." Then he broke free from her grip and continued down the hallway to Max's room.
Abby stormed after him. "You knew I loved that furniture. You could have offered it to me."
"Not now, Abby. Really. I have to talk to Max." He knocked on Max's door. "Max! Let me in, I want to talk to you."
"Is it time to go?" Max called out.
"In a few minutes. I want to talk to you about something first. Open the door."
"Could you at least get it back from the consignment shop?" Abby continued.
"For Christ's sake, Abby! Give it up!" Brad snapped. Then he banged on the door. "Max open up!"
"Tell me when it's time to go," Max called out from the other side of the door.
Finally, Abby stopped thinking about herself and clued in to the situation. "What do you need to talk to Max about?"
"I was called in to Max's school today. To discuss this." He handed the poem to Abby. He watched as she read it. Her expression didn't change at all. He found it disconcerting that she seemed more upset about the ugly furniture than the content of her son's poem.
"So this is why you're spending a fortune on private school for our kids? So they can write poems like this?" she asked.
He snatched it out of her hand. "No Abby, it's a bit of a problem that he wrote a poem like this. That's why they called me down to his school."
"Well, I don't think it's a big deal. And I don't think you should go out of your way to reprimand him the day before a holiday. Can it wait until Friday? Mitch is waiting for us in the car."
"No, it can't wait. And Mitch can. Besides, I'm not going to reprimand him. I just want to know what's going on in that head of his."
Suddenly Brianna peeked out of her room from down the hallway. "What's going on? Mom, are we ready to go, yet?"
"Not yet. First your father needs to speak to Max," Abby replied.
Brianna made her way down the hallway and joined them outside of Max's door. "Don't hold your breath, daddy. I don't think he's spoken to anyone in days and I don't think he's going to start, now."
Brad continued to bang on the door. "Max, if you don't open the door now, when you get back from your grandparents' on Friday you might find it permanently removed from its hinges."
"Fine. I'm coming, I'm coming," Max said. He opened the door in a big huff. "Can I help you?"
"Don't sass me, Max," Brad said angrily.
"Sorry. What's up?"
"May we come in?"
Max opened his door and let his parents in. Curious, Brianna trailed behind.
"So Vice Principal Berringer called me down to school, today. Do you know why?" Brad asked.
"No," Max replied.
"She's concerned about this poem you wrote." Brad handed it to him.
Max studied it. "Oh, yeah. The poem about what I like to do. I was wondering why I didn't get it back when all of the other kids got theirs. How come it's not graded?"
"Are you being serious?" Brad asked.
"Yeah. I worked hard on this. Why isn't it graded?"
Brad was exasperated. "Because, Max, your teacher assumed it was a joke."
"What poem? Let me see this." Brianna grabbed it from Max. He tried to get it back, but she was too quick.
Max then went back to defending himself. "It's not a joke. It's about something I like to do. Let's face it, it's about something everyone likes to do. It's universal, you know? That's why I thought it would be a good topic for a poem."
"Yuck! This is sick! No wonder why everyone at school thinks your such a freak!" Brianna squealed.
"Brianna, enough!" Brad angrily grabbed the poem from her. Then he squinted his eyes and studied his son. This kid is serious, he could tell. "Universal, yes. But do you think it's an appropriate topic for a freshman English class?"
"Huh? The assignment was to write a poem about something I like to do. The teacher didn't say anything about topics that were off limits."
Abby chimed in. "Well maybe the next time the teacher will know better and be more specific when she assigns this project. Now let's hit the road. It's already close to 6:00."
"No, I'm not done yet," Brad said. "Max, I think the teacher just assumed that each student would use his or her best judgment when choosing a topic. You can't tell me that you believed that this topic would be well-received by her."
"Honestly, dad, I never thought that she'd think twice. I mean, the great poets throughout history never let any arbitrary constraints or definitions of appropriateness hold them back. Instead, they broke through those chains of oppression and expressed themselves freely without apology!"
Brad was stunned by the eloquence of his son's response. Shit, this kid does have excellent verbal skills. Who knew?
Max continued: "I thought she'd appreciate seeing something different. I mean couldn't she see I gave this thought? Look at the alliteration! The imagery I used throughout the poem! The girl who sits next to me wrote a poem about walking her dog. She got an 'A.' Come on, give me a break!"
Brad reflected on his son's argument then spoke. "Max, I see your point, I really do. But sadly you're not one of history's great poets--though judging by your apparent passion for the written word I have no doubt you could be some day if you put your mind to it. Right now you're in freshman English, you were asked to do an assignment, and your teacher found your finished product unacceptable."
"No, dad! Don't you see? She found the topic unacceptable, not the poem. She didn't even bother to grade it! It's a good poem!"
"Regardless, Max, you have to do it over. I worked it out with Mrs. Berringer that you wouldn't be penalized for this poem if you hand in another one on Monday."
"That's not fair!" Max yelled.
"I'm sorry, Max, but while you're in school you have to follow the rules. If you want to pursue poetry after you graduate you'll be free write about anything you want. That's just the way it goes."
Max started screaming. "I can't believe you, of all people, an artist, wouldn't see my point! I can't believe you didn't defend me! Instead, you agreed with them. Artistic expression is fine as long as you conform, is that how it goes, dad?"
Brad felt his heart race, his jaw clench and the veins on his temples pulse. He was certifiably pissed. How dare he challenge his integrity as an artist! In front of Brianna and worse yet, Abby! He had a choice: He could let the kid have it or end this conversation now and pick it back up after the holiday. He glanced over at Abby who was enjoying the crap out of watching Brad squirm. He decided to put an end to the show.
He took a deep breath. "Well, you certainly told me, didn't you Max? Enjoy your Thanksgiving, tomorrow. When you get back expect to spend the weekend rewriting that poem. We'll talk more about it then." He stormed out of the room, down the hall, and up the second flight of stairs to his bedroom.
His head was spinning. He angrily threw open the French doors leading out to the terrace, stepped outside and lit a cigarette. He read the poem again and shook his head. My God, is my kid fucked in the head or is it just me?
Brad looked up to see Brianna standing by the entrance to the terrace. She looked so pretty with her long, chestnut hair blowing in the warm November wind. The sunset made her blue eyes twinkle even brighter and as she beamed at him, he wondered if perhaps her warm, dimpled smile was to blame for keeping the cold weather at bay. He'd have to alert the weather authorities.
"We're going, now. I just wanted to wish you a happy Thanksgiving," she said giving him a kiss on the cheek.
Sure he and Brianna didn't always see eye-to-eye, but at least he understood her. And though he loved both of his children equally and without question, at times he wondered if Max was even from this planet.
He hugged her. "Thanks, sweetheart. You have a good holiday, too."
"I'll try. You know I hate Grandma's cooking."
Brad nodded. He remembered his former mother-in-law's cooking very well. Disgusting. It's really no wonder Abby struggled with bulimia throughout her life. It must have started as a matter of survival. "Well, I'll snag you some leftovers from my dinner."
"Thanks!" Then she turned and walked away.
"Brianna, wait!" Brad called out to her.
She swung around. "Yeah?"
"What you said before in Max's room: Were you just being mean or is it true? Does everyone at school think Max is a freak?"
"Only the people who know he exists," she responded.
Brad's heart sank. "Does he have any friends?"
"I don't know. Maybe one or two. I'm a junior, he's a freshman, so I don't really come into contact with him."
"But when you do, are you nice to him?"
She thought for a second. "I guess."
"Because as strange as his behavior may seem, he is your brother, you know."
"Oh, alright. Well that's good. Anyway, don't keep your mother waiting. Enjoy your holiday."
"You too, daddy. And say 'hi' to Ariel and Frankie for me," she chirped as she left.
"Oh shit!" Brad said to himself as he looked at his watch. "I better go."