Kathleen Williams, gazed out at the dreary day. The windowpanes rattled with each gust, seeming to punctuate her emotions. Chaos. Turmoil. Panic. Anxiety. God, when would it stop?
A new sound clattered. A creak of the door. She stilled in her chair, there was no reason to turn, she knew who it was. The love of her life, Susan Jennings. And, now, the same argument would begin all over again.
"Kathy, today's your father's funeral. It's time you went to your family," Susan pleaded.
Kathleen turned, arranging her features into her iciest stare. "I've made up my mind. Don’t you understand? They. Don't. Want. To. See. Me." Hopefully, she'd spelled it out enough for Susan to comprehend. Did she have the energy to continue to fight this battle?
"Have you forgotten that Daddy disowned me all those years ago? You were there. I can't believe you've forgotten that day." And if she had enough oomph she'd stand up and stomp her foot about now. However, the damn weariness she'd become used to every day about this time had settled in again. Instead, she pointed a finger. "Oh, and let's not forget to mention all those letters I wrote after I left. All sent back unopened."
But bless or damn, Susan, she continued as if the sarcasm didn't hurt, and Kathleen knew it did. Which made her feel like the biggest ogre ever. Susan loved her and wanted what was best for her. Even if her intentions were misguided.
"You need your family now more than ever and I'm not going to let the subject drop. That icy look doesn't scare me. I know you want to see your family. I know you love them even after all these years. And dammit, Kathy, they love you too." A tear rolled down Susan's cheek.
It nearly broke Kathleen's heart but she pushed the emotion away and turned back to the window. She stared out but no longer saw the trees bent by the wind or the blustery day.
Late summer grass waved in the breeze of the warm Indian summer day. A few plump marshmallow clouds dotted the powder blue sky, perfect weather for a game.
"Swing batta," Kathleen yelled.
Oh yeah, Deborah knew how to stare a pitcher down. Her younger sister's body still as a statue, the bat didn't budge nor did she blink an eye as the ball whizzed by high and to the left. The catcher, one of their twin sisters, caught the ball with a thunk.
"Strike three, you're outta here," the Anderson boy yelled.
Kathleen winced. If that was a strike, she was the damn pope. She glanced up, sorry God.
Deborah's fury radiated off her like a furnace. Oh boy, here we go. Kathleen took off from first base. Oh man, she was going to be too late.
Deborah swung around, her black hair whipping in the wind. She leaned in nose to nose with the boy. Kathleen sucked in her breath. Oh boy, oh boy, Deborah was going to kill the Anderson kid. Kathleen pushed herself. She didn't think her legs had ever pumped so hard. She strained to hear what the two were saying but the wind carried the words in the other direction.
She knew there was no way Deborah would let the bad call go. What was the boy thinking? Anyone with eyes could see the pitch should've been a ball, not a strike. The only explanation, the kid was new to the neighborhood and, therefore, hadn't learned the golden rule; Thou shalt not tangle with the Williams sisters.
Only two feet, two short steps, but it was not enough. Kathleen watched in wonder as the kid's arm swung back and he let it go. The twins reached Deborah's side a split second too late. They pulled the boy away as their sister's butt met the dirt with a thud.
Deborah clambered to her feet and wiped the dirt off her new jeans. Kathleen reached the group. The twins were struggling to keep a grip on each of Deborah’s arms. Kathleen positioned herself behind Anderson, locked an arm around his chest.
No one hurt one of her sisters.
"You know it was a ball, you scumbag," Deborah snarled.
"Was not, it was right over the base and you know it." The boy squirmed to get out of the hold he found himself in, to no avail. "Let me go, guys. It's just a game. Don't flip your wigs."
"You going to touch my sister again?" Kathleen squeezed as hard as she could.
He turned the best he could to glare at her. His look more bravado than anything. His sigh hissed out, then he barely managed not to whisper, "No. Don't sweat it. This game's a drag, I'm gonna cut out." After the girls let him go, he stalked to the gate.
Kathleen turned to Deborah. "You okay?"
"Yes. My pride's just hurt."
Deborah swiped at her butt of her jeans again. Kathleen shuddered. Mom's going to have a conniption fit when she sees Deborah's Riders. Why had Deborah worn her new pants?
Deborah stared in the direction the kid had stomped. Then yelled, "Besides, he swings like a sissy boy."
"Hey, we gonna play or bag it? I've got homework to do," James said. He'd lived next to the Williams's for as long as Kathleen remembered. He was the closest thing she had to a brother.
She threw an arm around each of the twins then turned to James. "I think we're going to need to bag it. We have homework, too. Besides, Mom will be calling us to supper soon. Come on, Deborah."
Deborah gave James a salute. "Take it easy, man!"
Then she walked toward the gate leading the way home. Their dad's weathered work boots slithered out between the wheels of the old Chevy in the driveway. They chorused, "Hey, Dad!" as they passed without breaking stride.
The back door opened, their mom stepped through to the porch. "Hello girls, I was just about to call you for dinner. Take those shoes off before you track mud in."
"Ma, it wasn't muddy," Nancy and Patricia said in unison. They dutifully took off their shoes nonetheless.
Deborah made it to the kitchen door leading toward the hall before their mother said, "Deborah Jean Williams, what on earth have you done to your new jeans?"
"Just had a little fall in the dirt, Ma..." Their mother's shriek successfully cut off Deborah's reply.
Kathleen sucked in her breath and closed her eyes. Their mother had perfected shrieking down to a science. Every infraction had its own pitch.
Her mother took two steps to reach Deborah and grabbed her by the shoulders. "Is that a black eye? What happened? And don't you lie to me."
It was time to diffuse the situation. Otherwise, Peggy Williams would be marching her way to the new neighbors. Kathleen knew that would not be a pleasant start to a new neighborhood. She linked her arm with her sister's. "Ma, Deborah's fine, we were just playing a little baseball."
"Yeah, Mom, she's just fine.” Nancy linked Deborah's other arm to lead the way out of the room. “We better go wash up for dinner, cause we've got lots of homework, huh Patty?"
"Nancy's right Mom, everything's copasetic." Patty loved to spout new fad words.
"Don't get flip with me, young lady. All of you back here with your hands washed in five minutes for supper." A moment later, they heard their mom admonish at the back door. "Doug, clean up for supper and just wait until you see your daughter's shiner."
The twins fled past Deborah and Kathleen on their way to their bedroom. Kathleen pulled her sister in, kicked the door shut with her heal, and plopped on the bed with a bounce. "Does that hurt?"
"No. I didn't think I'd have a shiner." Deborah stood in front of the dresser, squinting as she frowned at her reflection. "It's already purple. What a bummer, I don't wanna look like this for the Harvest Hop. What am I gonna do if I get asked?"
"We'll make sure to cover the damage with make-up, don't worry." Kathleen threw a pillow at her sister. "Besides what cat's going to ask you out?"
"Ha, ha!" She caught the pillow and threw it back on her bed, then went into the bathroom that connected their rooms.
Kathleen jumped off the bed to follow. She reached over and grasped her sister's chin.
"Here let's practice." Kathleen used her index finger to dab some of the flesh colored goop around Deborah's eye. "Okay, look now."
Deborah peered closer. "Wow. You can't even see it."
Their mother's voice echoed from the kitchen reminding them about dinner.
Kathleen winked. "And just in time. Let's go eat."
"Dear, I was just telling your father about your eye." Peggy's full skirt swirled as she turned, the gauzy material continued to swirl and wrapped her knees when she stopped. "Oh, I guess it wasn't as bad as I thought." She leaned in, squinted to get a better look. "Hmmm, good, come and sit down."
Kathleen winked at her sister again as they took the last two seats at the table. Patty peered closer to see the coloring around Deborah's eye. Before the girl had a chance to comment, Kathleen asked, "Who's gonna say grace?"
"Going to, not gonna.” Her father chastised. “If you want to go to college you need to speak properly."
"Yes, Daddy." Suddenly Kathleen wasn't very hungry. Why did he always correct her? He didn't the other girls. She hated being the oldest. She had the best and the worst part of the family.
"Deborah, why don't you say grace tonight?"
As with any good Catholic family in the sixties, ritual was part of their lives. Grace, one of the most important. Kathleen crossed herself and listened to her sister.
Her mother picked up the platter of meat and handed it to her dad to start the customary food procession around the table.
"What are you studying in school?" he asked the table in general.
"I have to write an essay on the march on Washington." Kathleen grimaced. She pushed her food around with her fork. She understood how important it was, but everyone had heard it on the news. Why couldn't she write about something that no one knew about? Wouldn't that be more interesting?
"And what can you tell me about it?"
"It was held on August twenty-eighth and Martin Luther King gave a speech to two-hundred-thousand civil rights supporters from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. It was all about jobs and freedom for the black people."
"Sounds like you have a good start. President Kennedy is fighting for civil rights for Negroes and I think he has a long, hard road ahead of him."
"But Daddy, I thought you liked President Kennedy," Nancy said.
Their dad turned to Nancy and smiled. "Of course I do, Dear. I think the civil rights movement is a good thing. Unfortunately, I don't know if enough people agree. Hopefully, with the help of people like Martin Luther King, and the march your sister is writing the paper on will help. Now, you two, what are you studying in school?"
"We're learning about the civil war, that was a hundred years ago," Patty answered before Nancy had a chance.
"What do you think, Dear?" Their mother raised a brow toward their dad as she stood to gather the dinner dishes. "I'd say they have a theme going on in the schools. Girls, time for homework. Bedtime's at nine o'clock."
"Ma, could I stay up a little later?" Kathleen asked. "I have more work to do than the twins."
"I guess, but only until ten, then it's off to bed."
"I need to call Susie." Deborah paused. "It's about our assignment."
Her mother tilted her head to consider. "Okay, Dear, as long as you keep to only five minutes."
Kathleen suppressed a smile as her sister raced to the phone. Five minutes in Deborah time was like a nanosecond. She'd bet her sister would be at least a half hour or longer.
Deborah strolled into their dad's study, the gathering place for homework, only ten minutes later. Kathleen raised a brow at this. Man, wonders never ceased.
Patty fiddled with the dials trying to tune in a station to replace the static that currently filtered over the room like scratching at a chalkboard. Finally, music blared from the old transistor.
"Hey, we're studying. You know that music is too loud," Deborah warned.
"Sissy told me they were going to play the top ten tonight. Here, let me." Nancy monkeyed with the knob until the strains of Blue Velvet by Bobby Vinton filled the air.
"What is it with him and blue? Didn't he do another song this year with almost the same title?" Deborah asked.
"Blue on Blue." Nancy bounced in her chair even though the beat wasn't a quick one.
"Guys, quiet. I gotta get this done." Kathleen glared at the twins. Flipped open her textbook. "Dig?"
"You want to do homework?" Deborah tilted her as if such a concept was highly unlikely.
"If I don't ace this essay, I'll get a C." Kathleen's stomach gurgled at the thought.
"Man, Daddy's gonna flip," Patty giggled.
"Ha, Ha." Kathleen scowled, even though she knew her sister was right.
"I'd hate to be the oldest." Nancy grinned at Kathleen.
Except for the occasional mumble, or scruff of an eraser, the only sound was the music playing softly. Kathleen read her paper again. To her it seemed adequate for an A. She sighed, what was all the fuss about Martin Luther King? Apparently, the march on the Capitol last August was going to change the country, or so Mr. Durben said.
Thinking of her teacher made her insides squeeze, she figured he was the only person she truly hated. Hate was such a strong word, but her feeling was far too strong for dislike. The word sleaze was created especially for him. One day Kathleen had looked up in time to see Mr. Durben staring down Jenny Sue's dress, the most well-endowed freshman in the school.
Then other times when he thought no one watched, he'd try to cop a feel as he accidentally bushed up against some unsuspecting girl. She guessed he was good looking. Even so, why did the girls giggle at his interest? Kathleen shuddered at the thought. He gave her the creeps. If he ever tried to touch her or her sisters, she'd lay him out flat.
"Hey, stop giggling!" Deborah's shout startled everyone.
Kathleen brought her attention to the present, sighed again, and closed her book with snap.
"Don't you think Paul is the best looking?" Nancy asked.
"Who the hell is Paul?" Kathleen sucked in her breath.
The twins broke into giggles at the forbidden word. Deborah shoved to her feet reached over to switch off the radio.
"One of the Beatles, silly," Patty finally replied.
The twins began another round of giggles. How were they supposed to study if those two wouldn't shut up?
"You two are so juvenile. I'm going to my room to finish." Deborah picked up her pile of notebooks, turned to glare at the two girls and then left.
"Me too." Kathleen gathered her things and followed her sister.
Kathleen followed her up the stairs to their room. Deborah tossed her books to the dresser, while Kathleen's landed on the bed. Kathleen settled on the lone chair to watch Deborah consider the clothes in their closet.
"What's up? The brat's weren't making that much noise."
"I just didn't want to study anymore. I thought if Ma happened to be hanging out in the hall she'd think I just wanted privacy." Deborah pulled out a dress and held it to her chest, twirled to face Kathleen.
Kathleen raised her eyebrows. "You're going to wear that to school tomorrow?"
"No, I'm trying to decide what to wear to the dance."
"If you get asked. I thought it was only for sophomores."
"Mrs. Carter said they were going to let the freshmen attend this year and see how it goes."
"Ma and Daddy may not let you go."
Deborah paused in the process of admiring herself in the mirror. "When are you ever going to stop calling Dad, Daddy? You're older than I am for God's sake."
Kathleen slumped further in her chair. "It's more habit than anything. I've tried to call him Dad and it just doesn't work. And don't let him hear you use the g word. And don't change the subject. You know Ma and Dad won't let you go to the dance without a chaperone."
"They will if I get asked."
"I suppose you're going to turn the water works on if they say no?"
It was downright irritating the way Deborah could tear up and their parents would be eating out of her hand. Then they'd apologize for making her cry. It drove Kathleen insane.
Deborah didn't answer, just winked and grinned. "What are you wearing to the Harvest Hop?"
"I'm not going to the stupid dance. Besides, boys don't ask me out."
"If you'd do your hair up and put on a little make-up they would. And you're always wearing such drab clothes. Let me deck you out, I'd bet you'd get asked."
Kathleen swallowed, then glanced out the window. Her turn to change the subject. Why would she want someone to ask her out? Unless it was for a game of basketball, she would never pass up the chance to prove how much better she was than any guy. She turned her attention back to her sister who seemed to have lost track of the conversation anyway.
"Are you done with your homework?"
Deborah sighed loudly. "No. Are you?"
"Yes, I finished. My teacher is such a creep. I bet he gives me a low grade even if I ace it."
"Isn't your teacher that pervert?"
"Yeah, that's him."
Deborah stopped looking through her clothes, turned and frowned at Kathleen, "He hasn't tried anything with you?"
"No, he only goes after the small, petite, pretty girls. With big bosom's."
Deborah laughed a moment. Then said, "You're pretty."
"Am not, I don't want to be pretty." Kathleen leaned forward and waved her hand in the direction of her sister. "Then I'd have to make my hair all ratty and poufy like yours."
"What's wrong with my hair?" Deborah's hands reached toward her poufy strands as she darted over to check herself in the mirror.
Kathleen went over and stood behind her, grinned as she poked a finger into the high bouffant styled dark hair. "I think I see a spider's nest inside here. Oh yeah, here he comes, nasty looking bugger."
A high-pitched wail emitted from Deborah, she danced around the bedroom. Her sister's fingers made a tangled mess in search of the eight-legged menace. "Get it out." She screeched at the top of her lungs.
The door blew open allowing their mother and father to tumble in. "What on earth is going on in here?" Their mother looked around as if expecting an intruder. "What have you done to your hair, Deborah Jean?"
"Kathy said there was a spider in my hair."
"Oh dear, here, let me look." Peggy pulled the chestnut mass toward her and started to search.
Kathleen took the opportunity to sneak into their shared bathroom while she had the chance. She cast a quick glance at her dad and caught his smile. She grinned back. At least he wouldn't rat her out to her sister, or her mom.
She could hear her sister shrieking, as she slowly pulled her cuffed short jeans off and unbuttoned her sleeveless white blouse. Her pressed lips held in the giggle. Man, was she going to catch it in the morning.
She cautiously opened the door to Deborah's room, poked her head in, coast was clear. Hurriedly she washed her face and returned to her room, then flipped the lock. Deborah liked revenge, no need to take chances.
When she was in her pajamas, she snuggled into bed. Turning her face to the window, the breeze gently blew the tree leaves, and the branches bobbed and scratched against the glass. Bunching the pillow under her head more comfortably, she let her breath exhale out, the sound more a moan than a sigh.
Deborah was so excited for the hop. What was wrong with her? She could care less about boys, unless it was to beat them at some sport. All her friends ever talked about was what boy they wanted to kiss or what dance they wanted to attend.
Yet the only thing she wanted to do was see if she could break the hoop record at school. The only programs for girls were cooking, why couldn't they have girl teams for football, baseball, or basketball at school like the boys? Someday would they have girls’ sports?
Sure, her dad played basketball with her sometimes, when they went next door to play with James and his dad. Why was it the only time she felt she belonged? She sat up as she realized what her last thought had been.
"Belonged?" she asked aloud to the dark room.
She'd finally figured a small piece of what she'd been feeling lately. She didn't feel like she belonged when she was with her friends, who happened to be girls. When she was with boys she just wanted to be one of the guys.
She snuggled back down into her bed and turned to stare at the moon. Maybe she was a late bloomer like Cousin Sarah.
Beams of sunlight danced across the table as the sisters ate their breakfast. Books piled on the counter in readiness so they could grab them as they left to catch the bus.
"That was so not cool last night."
"What?" Kathleen bit her lip to keep the smile from slipping out before she took another bite of her soft, doughy pancake. You'd think someday her mom would figure out the knack of getting them done in the middle.
"No spider." Deborah spat the two words out.
"You must have knocked him out when you were pulling your hair."
"What spider?" Nancy asked.
"Ma said there was no spider," Deborah grumbled.
"What spider?" This time Patty asked.
"Dear, I guess you could have knocked it out of your hair. You'd made a pretty big mess of it before we got there." Her mother took a moment to turn a pancake in the griddle.
"What spider?" The twins yelled in unison, only to be ignored for a third time. They rolled their eyes at each other.
"You know I noticed a spider crawling into your closet right after your mother started to look through your hair," her dad said.
Kathleen almost choked on her milk, her eyes swung to her dad. She almost burst out laughing. He was thoroughly enjoying the saga about the spider.
Deborah's eyes rounded, she jumped up so fast her chair wobbled and almost fell. "That is not true. There was no spider in my hair."
"There was a spider in your hair?" The twins asked again.
Just then, a horn sounded from the front yard. "School bus is here. You better get going."
Deborah was the first out the door with the twins a close second. Kathleen picked up her books and followed at a more sedate pace. Why hurry to get to school to hand in her essay? As she strolled along the path, her parents' voices floated out the opened window.
"You know there was no spider?" her father asked.
"Yes." Then her mother continued, "Do you ever wish we'd had at least one boy?"
A horn tooted again. As much as she didn't enjoy the prospect of handing in her assignment, she didn't want to miss the bus.
She paused just long enough to hear her father's, "no", before she ran to catch her ride. She smiled as warmth ran through her body and settled in the pit of her belly.