Sunday, April 26, 2009

Bad Influence

“I was wrong about her,” Granna Nellis said.

“Well, this is refreshing,” Jack’s father said, taking another bite of pie.

“She isn’t just a bad influence on him. She’s downright dangerous!”

“Beth wouldn’t hurt a fly!” Ellie said.

“Well, there’s Kyle, but he asked for it,” Jack said. “And he’s more of a roach than a fly…”

Beth stared at the pile of whipped cream atop her slice of pumpkin pie.

Her hands still trembled some, though not as badly as they had been during the trek home. She’d changed out of the dress, and into the seemingly too-big dark blue sweats.

“What would have happened if she’d gone on her own?” Jack asked. “She’s been sick, what if she’d fallen? What if she passed out? It was getting colder out there, what if she was out after the sun went down?”

“Suppose she takes you to Mars with her next time she does that?” Granna Nellis asked.

“Then she wouldn’t die alone,” Jack said.

Granna Nellis opened her mouth to say something else.

“Winifred, I think that pretty much ends any arguments you might have. Jack, that’s a very brave sentiment, and I’m very proud to hear you say that. Beth?”

She looked up at Jack’s father.

“Please don’t go hopping off to Mars with my son any time soon.”

“I’ll try not to go much further past the moon,” she said, licking whipped cream off her fork. Though her tone was cheerful, she sounded tired.

Granna Nellis blew out a sigh, crossing her arms. “How can you joke about something like this?”

“Granna, what do you suggest we do, when faced with something like this?” Hannah asked.

“This isn’t exactly covered in Dr. Spock’s baby books,” Jack’s mother said.

“‘Chapter 11: What do do when your child begins teleporting,’” Charlotte read from the imaginary book she held before her.

“Winifred, we’re just happy they didn’t go too far, and were able to make it back. That didn’t happen to her the last time.”

“You said this was the first time she’d done that,” Granna said.

“We said this was the first time ‘they’ did that,” Jack’s mother clarified. “She seems to only do it when she is upset.” She gave her mother a long, meaningful look.

“So, thats it then? We just tiptoe around the girl and pray we don’t hurt her feelings?”

“You’re the only one doing that around here, Granna,” Charlotte said. “And really, come on, we’re all missing the big point here. Way to go, Jack-O.” She flashed him a genuine smile.

“What? What’d I do?” Jack asked.

“Yeah, what did he do?” Ellie asked. Beth reached over, used her napkin to wipe whipped cream off Ellie’s nose. The movement caught Jack’s eye, and he thought he saw Beth blushing.

* * * * *

Jack finished rinsing the last of the dishes, packed them into the dishwasher somehow, and swung the door shut. He clicked it on, trudged out to the living room, and plopped on the couch, next to Beth, who sat curled up in her blankets.

“Well, that’s Thanksgiving for you,” Jack said.

“I ruined it,” she murmured, more to herself than him.

“Are you kidding? Didn’t you hear Charlotte? You made Granna’s eyes almost pop right out of her head. Actually struck her speechless. Do you have any idea how hard that is to do?”

“Your Granna does like to talk, doesn’t she?” Beth asked with a tired smile. She sighed, closing her eyes, leaning her head back.

“She hates me.”

“She does not hate you,” Jack said.

“No, I’m pretty sure she does,” Beth sighed.

“Beth, if it makes you feel any better, she hates me too,” Jack’s father told her.

The girl brought her head back up. “But… you’re her son in law. She can’t hate you.”

“It’s because I’m her son in law that she does,” Jack’s father said, and he gave her a smile. “Don’t let it bother you too much. You’ll get used to it. Judging how you handled her this afternoon, I’d say you’re well on your way on that point. Looks like me and you are in the same boat.”

“I’m not— Oh,” Beth said, then she looked hurriedly away.

Jack’s mother brought the overflowing pill cup and another large glass of water.

“You should take my mother’s not liking you as a compliment, Beth,” she said, tipping the pills into the girl’s hand. “In fact, if she’d simply adored you, we’d have to just throw you out.”

Beth went a bit pale. Jack’s mother laid a comforting hand on the girl’s shoulder.

“She absolutely loved one of my boyfriends, back when I was in high school. He was terrible. Bad, Beth. He hit me.”

The girl’s eyes went wide. She choked a bit as she swallowed down one of the pills.

“Don’t worry, Beth. When I heard about that, me and some friends, we took care of it,” Jack’s father said. “After we finished laughing over the bruises she gave him.”

“So I didn’t…?”

“No, Beth. This has been one of the best Thanksgivings we’ve had in quite a while,” Jack’s mother said with a smile. She took the girl’s wrist, glanced down at her watch, counting.

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