Alma had been home for a couple of hours. Her head was still racing and pounding and she was still so, so confused. The only thing she could even think of was 'what the fuck?'. Heart racing, skull reeling, she sat uncomfortably on her bed. Occasionally her phone dinged and chimed, but she had only just picked it up.
From: Marian: Come on, Alma, you aren't mad are you? You know I didn't mean to offend you.
From: Oliver: im so so sorry
From: Oliver: i fucked up i kno i did
From: Marian: please, let me make it up to you. Besides, you left your book here.
From: Oliver: cmon alms just call me back i didnt mean to hurt u
Alma squeezed her eyes shut and rubbed her temples. She wasn't mad at Marian, she could never be mad at Marian. She was pissed at Oliver, really. How long had he been doing all that stuff with his friends? Was Jacey in on it, too? No, Jacey couldn't be. Jacey sure as hell wasn't straight, but Alma could tell Oliver wasn't his type- nor were Ewart or Olin. Alma had seen the way Jacey had looked at Greg when Alma had introduced him to the boys, but Greg seemed to be too busy obsessing over Marian to notice... and Alma didn't even know if her thoughts were true or not. The only thing Alma really knew was that it was Friday night, and she was thankful for that. She wouldn't have to face Oliver until Monday, but she could certainly forgive Marian. After all, Marian wasn't the one who'd participated in a gay threesome. Alma did feel a little bad about walking out on Marian for such a stupid reason, and she knew it had been immature, so with shaking hands she picked up her phone.
To: Marian: No, I should be the one making it up to u. I walked out, not u.
Then, almost instantly, Alma received a text back.
From: Marian: I'd love that :)
To: Marian: Maybe I can make it up to you tomorrow?
Alma's thumb tapped the send button, and she was about to send another text to Marian when her mother's voice called her. "Alma!" Alma's head snapped up, glancing toward her door. "Alma!" Her mother's voice came again, slightly more annoyed this time.
"What?!" Alma called down, frowning, as she climbed to her feet. She shoved her phone into the pocket of the sweatshirt she'd pulled over herself and walked to her door, opening it slightly.
"Alma, come here please!" Her mother sounded more exasperated than anything now. Tired, even. Alma sighed and descended the stairs, her hand delicately holding to the stair railing.
"Yeah, mom?" Alma asked hesitantly. She found her mother in the kitchen, leaning against the counter tiredly. The bags under her mother's eyes were a clear indicator that Mrs. Harris was indeed exhausted.
"We're all out of soup. Do you think you could run down to the store and grab a few cans?" Mrs. Harris asked with a soft sigh. "Your father wants soup for supper." Alma glanced toward the door that lead to the living room, knowing her father was in there. She could hear him muttering to himself.
"Is dad drinking again?" Alma asked warily. Mr. Harris was known to drink quite a bit, he'd started after he'd lost his job a couple months ago. Since then, his behavior had become erratic and violent.
"Started around noon." Mrs. Harris muttered. She handed Alma her credit card. "Mind taking Barney with you?"
Alma blinked, then glanced at her little brother. Barney stood at the foot of the stairs, watching his sister with innocent eyes. Barney seldom saw Mr. Harris when he was drinking, as Mrs. Harris didn't allow it, so Alma wasn't surprised Mrs. Harris wanted Alma to take Barney with her. "Yeah, I'll take him. C'mon Barney. Get your coat on, okay?" The boy nodded and darted to get his shoes and jacket as Alma turned to her mother. "We'll be back soon." Alma chewed on her lip. "Just remember mom, you can call the police if he gets out of hand." Mrs. Harris didn't respond, so Alma simply pursed her lips and simply went to get her shoes. Barney stood by the door, his bright blue eyes watching his sister. "You ready, Barney?" Alma asked as she lead him outside and to her car.
"Is dad ever gonna be okay again?" Barney asked as they walked, his eyes staring at the ground.
Alma blinked, surprised Barney would ask that. "I... I don't know, Barney." Alma admitted. "People all deal with stuff differently. I guess dad isn't dealing with it very well, but he's dealing... even if it hurts us a little." Alma knew her words wouldn't comfort Barney, but it was how she felt. She climbed into her car, as Barney did, and buckled her seat belt before she turned the car on and pulled out of her driveway.
The local grocery store was owned by Marcellus's parents. The Washburns weren't wealthy, but they did have enough money to have ran the grocery store for a handful of generations. Marcellus wasn't working tonight, but Mr. Washburn was. Barney held onto his sister's hand as they entered the store, the door gently beeping to alert Mr. Washburn of his new customers. "Hello there, Miss Harris." Mr. Washburn greeted with a smile. "Hey there, Barney."
"Hey Mr. Washburn," Alma managed to smile. Barney offered a small wave with his free hand, but that was all. He wasn't too talkative, not tonight at least. Alma didn't blame him, either. Barney knew his father was a drunk- most of River City did, anyway- and it wasn't something to be proud of. Mr. Harris had once been the best lawyer in River City and even the county, but he'd been in a pretty bad car accident and really couldn't work anymore. His firm- or, well, Mr. Hix (Oliver's father)- had fired him and given the position to Mr. Dunlop, Ewart's father. Mrs. Harris was a physician, but she worked in the county over and often drove up to forty-five minutes to get there, and she was the main money maker now. Alma didn't doubt that her father despised that his wife made money and he didn't. Mr. Harris had been a proud man, and he was a bit of a sexist. It didn't surprise Alma that her father would be upset about his wife bringing home the bacon.
"Barney, you wanna go pick out some soup?" Alma asked. "I'm gonna go find something for dad, okay? Something to help him calm down." Barney nodded and raced off, his sneakers squeaking against the tiles of the store's floor. Mr. Harris was a big Pepsi fan, and usually buying him one helped... and Alma couldn't legally buy him cigarettes or alcohol. Alma headed toward the isle where the drinks were kept and began looking for a bottle of Pepsi.
"Oh, hey Alma." A familiar voice greeted. Alma turned, confused, and looked up at Jacey.
"Oh, hey." Alma offered a smile. "Whatcha been up to, Jace?" She asked, a lame attempt at making conversation.
Jacey shrugged and shoved his hands into the pockets of his letter jacket. "My dad needed help at the shop. I just got done with that." Mr. Squires owned the auto-body shop just outside town by the Paroos' home. Most people brought their cars there when they needed them fixed since Mr. Squires was a pretty trustworthy and hard-working person. He was also one of the farmers in the community and served on the City Council.
Alma grabbed a bottle of Pepsi from the fridge and leaned back casually. "Does he still want you to take over the shop when he retires?"
"Yup," Jacey sighed, "but I'd rather go off to college." Jacey was a senior, as was Alma. Oliver, Olin, Marian, and Maud were also seniors- though Ethel, Jenny, Ewart, and Marcellus were juniors. Apparently Greg was a junior as well.
"Really? I didn't know you were considering that." And Alma was being serious. Jacey had never seemed like the college going type. "What do you want to go for?" Alma motioned for Jacey to follow as she went to go find her brother.
"Not sure yet." Jacey admitted. "Business management, maybe. Or something with lecturing."
"Yeah, you do like to talk a lot." Alma teased with a smile, which caused Jacey to chuckle slightly.
"I guess you're right." They found Barney in the soup isle, but he wasn't alone.
"Thanks, mister!" Barney smiled as Greg handed Barney a couple cans of soup from the highest place of the store's shelves. Jacey froze instantly when he saw Greg, as did Alma, though they froze for entirely different reasons. Alma froze out of suspicion, Jacey out of pure interest- and maybe even shyness.
"Oh, heya Alma!" Greg grinned. "This guy yours?" He gestured to Barney.
"My brother, yes." Alma said, her eyes narrowing slightly. "Greg, this is Jacey. I think I introduced you two earlier?"
Greg looked at Jacey and smiled. "I believe so. Jacey Squires, right?"
"Ayuh." Jacey nodded, watching Greg. "Whatcha here for?"
"Oh, my mom sent me to get some groceries." Greg smiled that shark-y smile, the one Alma hated. The gesture seemed to have the opposite effect on Jacey, however, which seemed- to Alma, at least- to confirm her theory of Jacey being at least a little interested in Greg.
"Maybe Jacey can help you." Alma said after a few seconds of silence. "He knows this place pretty well, dontcha Jacey?"
"Wait, what-?" Jacey's features were a mixture of confusion and pure panic.
"Yup. Jacey will help." Alma said, not even a beat later. "Barney and I gotta go, though, our parents are expecting us. Catch you two later." Alma said as she turned on her heel, Barney right beside her.
"Hey, Alma, do you know if Marian is busy tomorrow?" Greg called.
"Yup, she is." Alma replied simply, ignoring whatever question Greg hollered after Alma's answer.
Alma pulled into the driveway and parked quickly. They'd already taken enough time, and Mr. Harris would be rather upset if they took any longer. Barney held onto the items they'd purchased at the store, the plastic bag crinkling beneath his hands every now and again. It crinkled rather loudly when he moved to unbuckle his seat belt, then again when one of his hands grasped the bag's handles and the other reached for the door handle. "Remember," Alma said, "be quiet and don't try and make dad upset, okay?" Alma asked softly. Barney nodded and stepped out of the car as his sister did and headed for the door. Barney skipped the the front door while Alma simply walked, chewing on her lip silently. She hoped her father was, at least, in a tolerable mood. If not, she didn't know what would happen. She guessed her father would make a scene of sorts, but it hadn't gone worse than him making a scene yet. Alma knew, though, one day it probably would- and she didn't know what she would do when that happened.
"Mama, we're home!" Barney called and jogged to the kitchen.
"Barney, no!" Alma hissed quietly. "Shoes off, remember?" Barney paused, then ran back to his sister to slip his shoes off. Mr. Harris liked the house clean, and didn't much enjoy when his wife or children wore their shoes around the house. Mr. Harris feared they'd track mud around, but Alma knew that had never once happened- her father was just being a drunken dick. Mrs. Harris stood in the kitchen and took the bag of items when Barney handed it to her. She bent down and hugged her son, sighing softly as Alma headed over and handed Mrs. Harris her card.
"Have any trouble?" Mrs. Harris asked, to which Alma shook her head.
"No," Alma said, "but I'll help you with supper."
"That might be a good idea." Mrs. Harris said. "Your father's getting irritable."
Alma nodded and said nothing more about the situation. Barney was asked to go upstairs and finish his homework as he waited for dinner, which he did. Mrs. Harris didn't really say anything to her daughter, and Alma didn't really say anything to her mother, but instead they simply worked to fix dinner. Mr. Harris wandered in after a while, his pale skin patchy with stubble and his hair unkempt. His eyes were red and bloodshot and dark, dark bags gathered beneath his once bright and happy eyes. "What're you two up to?" He muttered, his voice low and words tired as he stumbled in.
"Just making supper, dad." Alma told him. "I... I, uh, gotcha a Pepsi."
"Ayuh." Mr. Harris muttered and sat himself at the table. "You gonna give me some or what, Jules?" He growled to his wife, fist thumping against the table.
Mrs. Harris simply sighed and did as told so she didn't invoke Mr. Harris's wrath. "Did you hear about Barney's school play coming up?" She asked her husband. Mr. Harris didn't answer, he just began to scarf down his food- still hungry despite having nearly devoured all the food in the cupboards. "You know," Mrs. Harris finally said, "you don't have to make everyone else miserable too, David. The kids have to eat too."
"Don't you think the kids could do with a little less feeding?" Mr. Harris snapped. "We already need more groceries because of the damn kids."
"No, we need more groceries because of you." Mrs. Harris snapped back. "All you do is sit around all day and gripe and complain, David."
"Mom, please..." Alma murmured, wringing her hands together.
"No, Alma." Mrs. Harris shook her head. "I've put up with his crap for nearly two months, all his self-pity and all his drinking. Just get over the firm, David. They cut you off because you broke your arm, big deal. It happened because you were drinking and driving. Maybe you can just get another job when it's all healed. There's a firm in-"
"I didn't ask for your input, Jules!" Mr. Harris snapped. He was on his feet now, stalking toward his wife. "It's hard enough providing for this damn family, you know!"
"I do know!" Mrs. Harris glared. "I know because I'm the one providing, David. Not you! I can't believe you, cursing your own family and your own children! How dare you-" But Mrs. Harris didn't get to finish her sentence because Mr. Harris's hand collided with her face. She stumbled back, mouth agape, as she stared at her husband in utter awe. Mr. Harris didn't say anything either, he just stood- his chest heaving with drunken rage- as he glared at his wife. He raised his hand again, but it was Alma who stepped between her parents defiantly, glaring up at her father with narrowing eyes that were beginning to tear up. Mr. Harris paused and glared at his daughter, about to open his mouth to speak- but he never got the chance.
"Dad-?" Barney whispered from the stairs. His eyes were wide with fear, as were Alma's, but Barney didn't understand what was happening. Alma did.
Mr. Harris turned to look at his son, still glaring, but he didn't say anything. It was Mrs. Harris who spoke. "Alma," Her voice was a bit softer, "take your brother and go somewhere else. Please. I'll sort this out."
"Now." Mrs. Harris's voice hardened.
And that was how Alma ended up on Marian's front porch. Each Harris kid carried an overnight bag, Barney clutching his sister's hand as he sniffled quietly. He'd been crying, and Alma didn't blame him at all. She was scared, too, and had been shaking since she'd put herself between her mother and father. Alma's shaking free hand knocked on the door slowly, knuckles rapping against the old wood. Dino wagged his tail at the visitors, but kept himself at a distance. He seemed to know something was off. It was Mrs. Paroo who opened the door, a concerned look upon her face. "Alma? Why, it's well past supper. Is something wrong?"
"No, Mrs. Paroo." Alma lied, her voice still shaking. "My mom just wanted us to get out of the house for a bit. Is it alright if Barney and I stay here for the night."
Mrs. Paroo's mouth opened, her features still concerned, but then she shut her mouth for a beat and thought. After a few moments, she sighed. "I don't see why not," She said with a weak smile, "Marian is upstairs. Would you like to go play with Winthrop, Barney? He's just in the living room with the cat." Barney nodded, his eyes wide, and darted inside. Alma stayed behind, her eyes tired. "What happened, dear?" Mrs. Paroo asked softly, now that Barney was gone.
"I'm not sure." Alma admitted. "Everything was very sudden... is it alright if I just go up to Marian's room?" Mrs. Paroo nodded reluctantly, though Alma knew she wasn't satisfied with her answer. She silently made her way up the creaking stairs and down the hall where she found Marian's room. The door was shut, so Alma gently knocked. "Marian, you in there?" Alma could tell Marian had almost immediately stopped whatever she was doing the instant Marian had registered it was Alma speaking.
"Oh, uh- yeah! Come on in!" Marian's voice called. So, Alma gently pushed open the door and headed in. The familiar sight of Marian's tidy room was a nice one. Her bed was neatly made, books neatly placed in alphabetical order on the two bookshelves in her room, and Marian was sitting at her desk as she finished the last bit of her homework. "I didn't know you were coming." Marian admitted sheepishly.
"I didn't either." Alma muttered. "I.. I guess this is an opportunity to apologize for earlier, though. I don't know why I left you with that creep."
"He is a creep, isn't he?" Marian asked, though Alma's comment had caused her lips to twitch upward in a slight smile as she closed her trigonometry book. "It's alright, Alma. I don't like him either."
"Still, it was a dick move." Alma shrugged.
"Yeah, it was." Marian agreed with a soft grin.
"You aren't supposed to agree!" Alma teased with a small laugh and smile.
"Whoops." Marian rolled her eyes, the famous Paroo smirk plain upon her features. "Anyway, what brought you over here?"
Alma's smile faltered, and she simply sat on the bed and wrought the strap of her backpack in nervous hands. "Family issues." She said simply. "Is it alright if I leave it at that?"
"No." Marian said bluntly. "It's not. You can't dance around this one, Miss Harris."
"Well, Miss Paroo," Alma's eyes narrowed, "it's a touchy subject and I don't wanna talk about it."
"Was it your dad?" Marian asked with a sigh.
"Did he do something bad?"
"Was he drinking?"
"Marian, please.." Alma glanced at her hands. Marian watched Alma carefully, then shook her head and went to sit beside her friend.
"I'm sorry." Marian said, gently patting Alma's shoulder. "I can never understand why people can be the way they can.. well.. be." Alma didn't say anything, she just leaned against Marian tiredly. Marian didn't say anything either, she simply draped an arm over Alma's shoulder and sat with her friend in silence.