CHAPTER EIGHT:

Sara woke up to a smelly mouth giving her kisses.

“Aaah! Get the Hell off of me!” she swatted the pug off the hide-a-bed.

“That’s the most action Sara’s had in years!” Ned’s voice cackled. Ryan also joined in. Tiffany came running down the stairs and jumped on the hide-a-bed.

“Merry Christmas Aunty!”

“Yeah, yeah. You too.”

“Hurry! Get up so we can open presents!”

“Your Aunty needs a coffee and a smoke first.” Ned handed her a steaming, large paper cup of Tim Hortons. Sara reached for it then slowly got out of bed, grabbed a coat and shoved her feet into some boots. Ned led the way out of the basement door, then out into the shed.

“So what’s wrong with dad?” she asked, while trying to light a smoke.

“Told ya. He’s fuckin’ nuts.”

“No, I mean is he sick or something?”

“Sick in the head.”

“I heard mom and Kat talking last night. I think there’s something they’re not telling us.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah. Do you think the cancer is back?”

“I dunno. Haven’t heard nuthin’. You’re right, though. Something is up. Can’t put my finger on it. Couple times I’ve come over here a bit later in the evening to check e-mail and he’s not here. When I ask mom where he is, she just kinda snaps ‘I dunno!’ Maybe he’s sick again and they’ve been hidin’ it. Wouldn’t surprise me.”

After a couple of smokes and a coffee, Sara headed back in with her brother to find the whole family waiting in the front room. In the Bell house, presents under the tree tended to be rather unimportant. Stockings were what really mattered! Everyone provided stocking presents for everyone else. All stockings also came attached to an enormous gift bag to handle to overflow.

 As usual, Herb refused to open his presents until everyone else had opened theirs because he wanted to “see what everyone else gets.” Grandpa was rather pleased after he discovered a jar of marmalade in his stocking. Sara waited for Tiffany to open the ceramic-faced geisha doll she’d brought from Japan. When her niece finally opened it, her only response was “Her dress would look real pretty on one of my Barbies.”

Aunty Kat had to squeal after opening each present and track down who had given it to her, so that she could offer a big thank you and say, whatever the object might have been, that it was “exactly what I needed!” That included such things as a Lady Gillette.

Sara got several books, some lotion, a scarf, a sweater (“I made it myself!”), some Pez dispensers (which she collected), some stationery, and an assortment of toiletries.

The gifts under the tree were mostly things sent from relatives or friends. Mom was about to hand out trash bags to clean up when Herb stood up. He held several envelopes in his hands.

“Hold on! We’ve got a few more gifts to go around.” He handed an envelope to Ryan, Ned, Sara and another to Tiffany. Sara slowly opened hers and pulled out a cheque.

“Holy shit!” Ryan exclaimed.

Sara looked down at hers. Fifteen-thousand dollars.

“Now Tiffany? Yours is for your college fund, so your dad will have to keep it for you,” Herb explained.

There was shocked silence, until mom scowled at Herb, threw the trash bags down and stormed into the kitchen. Kat followed her.

“What’s going on?” Sara asked.

“Whadda ya mean? Just decided that I’d like to see my kids spend some of their inheritance before I die.” Herb sat back down on the loveseat.

“Are you sick again?” Ned asked.

“No, I am fine. In fact, doctor says I haven’t been this healthy in years.”

“So what’s going on then? Why is mom so upset?”

“Good grief! Can’t I just give you all a gift and leave it at that? I don’t, uh…”

“Herb, I think they’re just a bit shocked, that’s all.” Uncle Joe tried to be the peacemaker.

“No, Joe, no. He’s hiding something. What is it dad?” Ned prodded.

“Look, if you don’t want the money then give it back!”

“Dad, it’s not that we don’t appreciate it, but what is it all about? I mean, this is a LOT of money!” Sara said, shaking her head in disbelief.

Suddenly mom came hauling out of the kitchen with a mandarin orange in her hand. She threw it at her husband and shouted “Yes Herb, go ahead! Tell them what that damn money is! Tell them! Go on…be a man. Geez, why the heck did you have to do this at Christmas! Can’t we have one, last, happy Christmas together?”

“What do you mean by ‘last Christmas’?” Ryan asked.

Tak-Sin sheepishly slinked out of the front room and went up the stairs. Wes pretended not to notice that anything was happening, and started thumbing through one of the books Sara had gotten for Christmas. Tiffany was busy listening to her new I-Pod. Kat was behind her sister, trying to pull her back into the kitchen.

“Well? Am I going to have to tell them? Hmm?” Mom stood staring angrily at Herb.

“Calm down Colleen. Let’s just go back to the…”

“Shut up, Kat! He’s going to be a man and tell everyone himself.”

Herb stared out the window with his arms crossed.

“You stubborn, old fool.”

“Colleen, you need to settle down. This is not the right time or place,” grandpa reprimanded his daughter.

“You can shut up too, old man! “

“Come here, kid.” Wes called Tiffany and took her downstairs.

Sara stared at her father. He couldn’t look at any of them. His eyes seemed tired. His strong face had melted into defeat. The raging bull had lost its horns. Rupa stood and left the uncomfortable silence. Kat whispered something into Colleen’s ear, motioned to Joe, and they all disappeared into the kitchen. There were only Herb and his children.

“I’m moving out.”

Nobody spoke for what seemed like several minutes.

“Where are you going?” Ryan asked.

“Puerto Vallarta. Probably. Not really sure yet.”

“When was this decided?” Sara.

“It’s been a long time coming.”

“Are you trying to say that you and mom…” Ned.

“We sold the house. I’m giving you kids some of my share.”

“Shit!” Ned.

“So you guys are getting a divorce?” Ryan.

“Already done.”

“You’re divorced?” Sara.

“Just wanted you kids…uh, well, your mom wanted you to have one last, happy…”

“Unbelievable.” Ryan.

“What the…I mean, why?” Sara.

“Well, uh, your mom and I…uh, about six years ago I made a big mistake, and I, well your mom was a good woman and you kids, uh…anyway, we tried to work things out. But in the end my, uh, heart wasn’t…so, then recently Joanne and I were…”

“JOANNE?” Ryan.

“Mrs. Lowry?” Ned.

“Who’s that?” Sara.

“You don’t know?” Ned.

“Know what?” Sara.

“He fuckin’ cheated on mom with her. Years ago.” Ryan.

“What? How come I didn’t know about this?” Sara felt panic crawling up her spine.

“Listen! It’s not like that. Your mother and I agreed…”

“Ah, you are too rich, old man. I need to get the FUCK out of here.” Ryan stormed out.

“I know you guys are, uh, upset…all I can say is that I’m sorry.”

Herb’s face crumpled. He started softly crying. Sara always felt a rage well up inside her when she saw him cry. He only cried after an eruption. When he had beaten her on the back with a coat-hanger so hard and later saw the marks he’d made on her back…he had cried. When he’d tipped the dining table upside down at Sunday dinner and a casserole dish had given Ryan a bloody nose…he came back that night and cried. When he’d grabbed mom by the back of her head and thrown her to the floor and she busted her lip…he had cried and said how sorry he was. She hated his tears. They meant nothing to her. Even though he hadn’t touched a soul in nearly 20 years, it did little to erase the past. Ryan tended to forget a lot of it because he had been so young. Ned remembered everything. And Sara remembered even more.

She stood and walked towards the tearful face of the old man staring out onto the snow-covered orchard.

“Shame on you. After all the crap you put her through. Shame on you.”

She left the room, grabbing her coat and headed for the shed and a joint.

____________________________________________________________________________________

Christmas Dinner, as it traditionally occurred, never happened that year. Herb disappeared. His truck was gone soon after his announcement and he hadn’t told anyone where he was going. Nobody felt like eating. Mom insisted on setting up a buffet on the dining room table anyway. She wouldn’t speak to anyone so they all quit trying to engage her in conversation. Ned, Ryan and Rupa had slipped outside to get stoned. Wes filled his plate and sat in the front room feeding Lucky bits of turkey. Joe and Kat had given up trying to speak to their sister, and had gone down to the motor home.

Sara was hiding in the basement, curled up on the hide-a-bed.

“You want a drink?”

 Tak-Sin’s head poked around the corner at the top of the stairs then he motioned for her to follow him into the garage. She smiled, and nodded.

“Joe tell me to keep it in the truck, but I bring it now because I think you need it.” He pulled a bottle of red wine out from under his sweater. Alcohol in any form was not permitted in the Bell house.

Tak-Sin pulled a Swiss army knife from his pocket and opened the bottle, then handed it to Sara. She took it desperately and drank until she could feel herself get dizzy.

“I think you like it.”

“Thanks. I needed that.”

“We can drink all together.”

“So, happy to be part of this crazy family?”

Tak-Sin cocked his head like a puppy and scrunched his lips in thought. “Not so bad. My family is more crazy.”

“I don’t believe it.”

“Is true! My father kills his brother. He goes to prison so mom move to Bangkok. My sister is a money-girl.  My mom marries Australian guy who is old man, 72 years and goes to Sydney. She sends me a little money. I have one more brother and he is gangster. I don’t hear from him never. So, your family is not so bad.”

“Well, you should drink up too.”

“Joe is my family now.” Tak-Sin smiled. One of his bottom teeth was missing which made him that much more adorable.

“Yes. He loves you a lot.”

“I know. I’m lucky. He likes you very much too. Always talking and saying ‘I’m jealous Sara!’ because I think he wants travelling.”

“Yeah.”

“Anyway, don’t be so angry to your father.”

“Actually, it is complicated.”

“He’s old man now. I think he just wants to be happy.”

“Yeah? Well he made my family miserable his whole life.”

“My father too.”

“I can imagine.”

“I think maybe your mom will be happy now.”

“Eh? You drunk already?”

“Just, I think your mom never has freedom. Now she can be free and find her happiness.”

“She’s almost as crazy as HE is.”

“We are all crazy.”

“Now, I can drink to that!”

____________________________________________________________________________________

Herb didn’t come home that night.  The boys and their families finally left at about ten. Kat and Wes went out to the motor home. Sara was about to go downstairs to bed when she heard her mom’s voice speak from the darkness of the living room.

“I want to try it.”

Sara turned. “Try what?”

“I know what you guys all do in the shed.”

Sara laughed uncomfortably. “Mom, I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“You let Wes try it. Kat told me. She could smell it all over him and he kept rambling on about how he no longer liked Tab Hunter.”

“Maybe another time, mom.”

“No, I want to try it.”

“Are you sure?”

“Never so sure of anything in my whole life.”

“OK, well, get your coat and…”

“No, just bring it in here. This is my house. If I want to try it in my own house…I WILL.”

“Whatever you want. Though, I guess it isn’t your house now, is it?”

“Oh, yes it is. Now hurry up!”

Sara rushed outside and got the two joints Ned had left for her on the rafter. Whatever. If this is how her mom needed to deal with things, then so-be-it.

Colleen choked up a storm the first time she started to inhale. The second time was the same. The third time just a bit. By the fourth time she was baked.

“Don’t be too hard on your dad. I have not made this easy for him.”

“Good! Hope you gave him Hell!”

“Sara. We HAVE tried. It just didn’t work out.”

“And why did you never tell me about his affair?”

“I don’t know.”

“You know, this is all so weird. You tell me I should have STAYED with Blake when it happens to me, and all the while this has been going on. I mean, why would you tell me to try and work things out, when you tried and it didn’t work? And now he goes and does the same thing again? Sorry…sorry. I shouldn’t be making this about me. So. When did this even happen?”

“Well, it was official in October.”

“Does he even LIVE here?”

“Of course he does. He wasn’t going to move out until we talked with you kids. I mean, he stays over there a couple nights a week, but he hasn’t taken his stuff over there yet.”

“Christ.”

“Honey, it has been a stressful time for him. This has not been easy for him at all.”

“Why the hell are you sticking up for him now?”

“I’m not sticking up for him for myself…just for you. My relationship with him is what it is. I can’t change that. But I don’t want you to grow old hating your father like Aunty Kat.”

“But obviously it bothers you more than you’re saying now. Mom, we were all there this morning. We heard you and saw your reaction.”

“Of course I’m angry and upset. But honestly, I just want it done. I want him out of the house. I am too tired of all of it.”

“Well, where are you going to live?”

“Right here.”

“But you guys sold the house!”

Mom threw her head back and started laughing. “Yeah, funny thing about that. Grandpa bought it.”

“What?”

“Well, I told him about what was going on. He decided to buy it. So, I will just stay on.”

“And dad knows this?”

“Of course.  Your grandpa gave Herb half the estimated value. I didn’t charge him for my share, so the whole place is his. It will become mine again when he passes away. My inheritance.”

Sara placed her face in her hands. Mom reached over and rubbed her back.

“Hey, don’t worry about it. We are both still your parents. This is our problem. Let us handle it. You have nothing to worry about.”

“I hate him.”

“Don’t say that. You’re angry with him, that’s all. Ya know, you really need to learn how to let go.”

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