Denise was in the kitchen with her mother. She started the pie crust so that it would be ready when Jeff returned with the apples.
“Goodness, Denise,” her mother said, “you really shouldn’t bother. Enjoy the day.”
“Well, I’m just sorry that Emily dropped the ball on this one.”
Her mother shook her head. “We shouldn’t sweat the small stuff,” she said.
Ever since she’d been given a clean bill of health, Maggie Lamb had taken to looking at life in entirely different light. Denise wondered if she was the only one who found it annoying; a little too much, far too late.
“It won’t take long,” Denise said, “as long as Jeff gets back soon.” She glanced up at the clock. “I can’t believe no one else has gotten here yet.”
“Hi, Grandma!” one of the twins said, running into the kitchen.
“It’s Elliott, Mom,” Denise said, noticing her mother’s blank expression.
“Of course it is!” she said. “I knew that.” She gave Elliott a quick kiss on the cheek and patted his arm.
Just then, the other twin came into the kitchen, his bathing suit dripping all over the floor.
“Danny!” Denise said, “Please get a towel.”
Danny strolled through the kitchen without any sense of urgency.
“And say hello to your grandma.”
“Hey,” he said, heading toward the bathroom off the kitchen.
Denny rolled her eyes. Just then, the whole house seemed to shake.
“What’s that?” Maggie said with a jump.
“That’s Josh. Actually, it’s his stereo.” She turned to Elliott. “Honey, would you please go up and tell him that I said to turn it down. We’re trying to have a conversation here.”
Elliott hesitated, then said, “He’s not gonna listen to me.”
“Tell him I said to turn it down.”
Elliott headed upstairs. Danny walked out of the bathroom with a towel wrapped around his waist.
“So what grade are you in, Danny?” Maggie said.
“Duh, school’s out for the summer.”
“Danny!” Denise shouted. “Apologize to your grandmother.”
Barely audible, Danny muttered, “Sorry.” He headed toward the family room.
“The twins are going into seventh,” Denise said. “Josh will be going into ninth.”
“Soon you’ll have an empty nest,” Maggie said. “Unless, of course—”
“Mom, please,” Denise said, cutting her off.
“I’m just saying.”
Denny heard someone at the back door. She quickly wiped her hands off and grabbed her camera. Her intention was to take a photo of everyone just as they arrived and create a photo album for her mother as a memento of the day. Unfortunately, she’d already missed her mother and father when they’d arrived. She raised the camera, ready to shoot when Jeff walked in carrying a bag of apples. He dropped them on the table.
“Here you go,” he said.
“Hooking up the propane tank,” Jeff said.
A loud screech came from upstairs. Denise knew it was Elliott; seconds later the music got louder; she hadn’t thought it could get any louder than it was. Elliott appeared, running through the kitchen, and headed outside, but not before Denise saw the imprint of a hand mark on his back.
“Elliott,” she called, “did Josh hit you?” Elliott didn’t answer, but she was sure she heard him sniffling.
Gerald Lamb, Denise’s father, stuck his head in through the back door. “You got a wrench, Jeff? Can’t seem to get the old tank off.” He looked over at Denise. “Hey, Sweetheart.”
Just as Jeff started to head back outside, she said, “Would you please go upstairs and tell Josh to turn down that music?”
“What is it exactly you want me to do first? Get the tank on the grill or talk to Josh? Or is there something else you have in mind? A tap dance?” Jeff then did a mad, sarcastic shuffle with his feet.
If her parents weren’t there, she would have responded differently. Instead, she forced a laugh and said, “I vote for the tap dance.”
Jeff didn’t smile and went directly outside with her father following him. She would have to deal with Josh herself.
“I’ll be right back,” she said to her mother and went out of the kitchen, down the hallway, past the living room and up the stairs, the music getting louder with each footstep she took. Apparently, for Jeff, a propane tank was a lot easier to deal with than a rebellious teenager. Then again, he didn’t see anything particularly wrong with their son’s behavior, having shown Denise an article from the paper a couple of months earlier about a recent malady that had been discovered in children.
“See,” he’d said, handing Denise the paper, “this is probably what Josh has.”
She put down the photography book she was perusing and read aloud, “Oppositional Defiant Disorder?”
She couldn’t help but laugh. “Now they’re saying kids who are nothing but brats can be given the excuse of having a disorder?”
“Denny—” Jeff implemented his warning tone.
“No, really, Jeff. This is nonsense.”
“You haven’t even read the article yet and you’ve already made a conclusion.”
“All you’re trying to do is justify Josh’s behavior by claiming it’s a disorder.”
“You’re incredible, Denny! You obviously know more than an entire medical study with backing.”
“I didn’t say that.” Denise jumped up off the couch. “All I’m saying is that you are always making excuses for him. He’s a boy. He’s a teenager. He’s a teenage boy. Maybe he just needs more discipline!”
“Fine. I’ll get the baseball bat and beat the shit out of him. Is that what you want?” Jeff had stormed out of the living room, heading toward the kitchen.
“Jeff!” Denise ran after him. “I’m not saying that. You know that.”
He had gone straight to the refrigerator and took out a bottle of Coke, pouring himself a glass. After taking a harsh swill, he said, “I just wanted to show you the article, but you turn it into some fight.”
“I’m not trying to. All I’m saying—”
He signaled with his hand to stop her. “Read the article before we discuss it any further. Otherwise, this is all just going in circles.”
So she went back to the living room and curled up on the couch, tossing the photography book aside and read the article. Once she had finished, her mind had not been changed about her son who was difficult then and difficult now, the music still blasting from his room. She knocked on his door, twice, three times before he finally opened it, his expression annoyed.
“Josh,” she said, keeping her voice as controlled as possible, “could you please turn that down? I’m trying to visit with your grandmother, and we cannot hear ourselves think.” She noticed he still had on the offensive shirt.
“Fine,” Josh said, starting to slam the door, but she stopped it with her foot. “And did you hit Elliott?”
“He’s not allowed in my room.”
“I sent him up here,” Denise said.
“Well, that was your mistake,” Josh said, pushing his door shut, forcing her to move out of the way.
Tears came to her eyes. How could she go through all this again? But then, to her relief, suddenly the music stopped. Silence. For now anyway.