Reverend Mother opened her eyes and looked up at Joshua. For a second, she thought that he was her deceased husband Gabriel. Lord, he looks so much like his daddy! A melancholy smile momentarily touched her pursed lips.
“Were you asleep?”
“No, I was just resting my eyes. You all sit down and stop gawking at me.”
Reverend Mother’s glare took them each in, her shrewd eyes quickly assessing them. They braced, wondering which of them would be first on the hot seat. Rachel tried her best to conceal feelings of nausea and the insistent throb at her temples.
“Well, don’t all speak at once. Why do you all look like the cat that swallowed the canary?”
“I don’t know what you mean mamma,” Rachel chirped.
“Oh please child, you think I can’t tell when you’re hung over? Where is the rest of your family?”
“I uh, thought it was best that I come alone. No need for my daughter to miss school.”
Reverend Mother’s snort of derision was followed by a bark of rude laughter. Rachel squirmed in her seat feeling foolish for attempting to mislead her. How did she always know what was going on in Rachel’s personal life? The throbbing at her temples intensified. She hadn’t planned on discussing the state of her marriage in front of her siblings but it looked like she had no choice.
Well, she was dammed if she was going to volunteer any information. Rachel steeled herself and got ready to dodge sensitive questions. Reverend Mother gave Rachel a thorough dressing-down leaving her sullen and shame-faced.
Rachel held her anger in check by focusing on the folded hands in her lap and avoiding the gleeful expressions of her brothers. At one point, Rachel’s gaze unintentionally met that of her sister and the pitying look Harriet gave her was somehow worse than the taunting grins of her brothers. How dare that little gremlin feel sorry for me! If anyone was pathetic it was Harriet with her flat chest and spindly legs!
Rachel gritted her teeth and willed herself not to blow up at her mother. She knew that if she stayed calm and acted contrite then her mother would get bored and move on to fresh prey. Sure enough, Joshua sniggered and Reverend Mother glared at him.
“What’s so funny Joshua? At least your sister got married and blessed me with a grandchild. You can’t seem to hold on to any of your women. Did you call that plumber like I asked you to?”
Rachel almost went limp with relief. It was finally someone else’s turn. Ordinarily, she would egg her mother on but today, talking seemed to jar her aching head. Rachel concentrated on sitting as still as possible. She took little notice as each sibling was blasted in turn.
Rachel waited until Reverend Mother was occupied with grilling Richard to slip into the bathroom and splash cold water on her face. The last thing she wanted to do was doze off. When Reverend Mother announced that she was tired, her brood fairly tripped over their own feet beating a hasty retreat out to the parking lot.
They rode back to the house in silence, feeling raw and exposed. Rachel went to her room and lay down. Richard and Harriet borrowed Joshua’s car intending to take in a movie and dinner. Joshua sat down in front of his laptop. He had a deadline to meet but he just couldn’t seem to get motivated. His mind replayed the cringe-worthy events of the day.
When they had gotten back home and Rachel toddled off to bed, his sister and brother had asked for the thousandth time how he could stand living with Reverend Mother all of his life. He knew their mother could be abrasive but he also knew that her bluntness came from a place of genuine love and concern for them. Like most mothers, she believed she knew what was best for her children.
She saw his brother and sisters so rarely, Joshua guessed that when they did come home she felt compelled to make up for lost time. Reverend Mother wasn’t always berating. She could be downright kind and considerate. They had passed many pleasant evenings on the porch sipping iced tea, putting together puzzles or watching television. She had a great sense of humor that very few people got to see.
Sure, she could be bossy but he didn’t mind. At least with her around, he could keep his loneliness at bay. Thomas was his best friend but Thomas had always had a lot of friends. Joshua counted himself lucky when Thomas put in an appearance.
There were long stretches of days and even weeks when he wouldn’t see hide nor hair of his friend. It had always been that way. Thomas’ friends were not Joshua’s friends. Joshua suddenly remembered the sprinklers that were still on. He was in the back yard winding up the hose when Thomas came creeping up and tackled him from behind.
“What the…? Thomas you scared the shit outta me!”
“That’s the idea.”
The two of them wrestled until Joshua managed to get Thomas into a headlock. He tightened his grip and held on until his squirming captive surrendered.
“Ouch! Damn, alright man. You got me. Now lemme go.”
Joshua released him and jumped up, doing a victory dance until Thomas started chasing him. They fell into an easy boxing match, alternately yelping and guffawing as they got the best of one another.
“Where are you on your way to? I know you didn’t get all dressed up just to return my lawn mower,” said Joshua.
“Oh damn, I knew I was forgetting something. I’ll bring your mower back tomorrow Josh.”
“What? If you didn’t come by for that then why are you here? What’s with the monkey suit?”
“This isn’t a tuxedo.”
“Listen, any suit you wear is a monkey suit.”
Thomas stopped boxing and crossed his arms over his chest, grinning mischievously. Joshua’s curiosity was sparked but he continued to jab and duck. If he acted too interested, Thomas would make him wait even longer.
“I wanna run something by you.”
Thomas impatiently swatted at Joshua’s jabbing fists. Joshua danced away to avoid the swats and continued to bob and weave, swinging at Thomas with mock ferocity. Thomas pushed Joshua away.
“Stop dude, I’ve got something important to tell you. C’mon Josh! Can you be serious for half a second Gilligan?”
“Alright, alright so what’s up professor?”
“I’m gonna ask her tonight.”
“You’re gonna ask who what tonight?”
“I’m gonna ask Nicole to marry me tonight.”
Joshua stared blankly at Thomas for a moment and then the weight of his words hit Joshua all at once, almost knocking him over. Did I hear him right? No, I couldn’t have just heard what I think I just heard! Joshua started to ask Thomas to repeat himself but hastily decided that he didn’t want to hear it again.
So, it had finally happened. Thomas had taken complete leave of his sanity. Joshua took in the goofy grin and couldn’t stop shaking his head or close his gaping mouth. Thomas misread his friends astonishment, positive that congratulations would commence.
“You’re really gonna do it huh?”
Thomas laughed, “I knew you would…what time is it? I’ve gotta go Josh. Listen, I’ll call you later and let you know how it goes.”
Thomas sprinted out of the yard. Joshua was glad to be off of the spot. He stood in the yard, hearing Thomas’ car door slam, the motor roar into life and the sound of tires crunching across gravel as Thomas departed. Joshua closed his eyes and felt the ground slip away from underneath his feet.
He was still standing but felt like he was falling. Their relationship was about to change. It was inevitable because that was what Nicole wanted. There was no way that Thomas would refuse. If Nicole got things her way, and she always did, Joshua’s friendship with Thomas would soon be at an end. Joshua was the only blind spot in her influence over Thomas.