I already have a headline in mind even as I cower from the person standing in front of me whose facial expression exudes murderous intent.
As corny as it sounds, this is no laughing matter.
Dickhead somehow manages to maintain his balance and mine after my tripping episode before so gallantly pulling me behind him to shield me from this unrecognizable person. Dickhead then raises his fists, ready to engage his unknown foe in a hand-to-hand bout.
It never comes to that, though.
“William Lawrence Granger,” Mom shrieks, reaching up to give the retired Navy SEAL a hard, resounding, open-palm slap upside his bald head, “you quit that this instant! You’re scaring our baby to death!“
Told ya my mom rules the roost.
Even so, it comes as a relief to witness it firsthand.
The wrathful person disappears.
Dad — MY dad — reappears.
But I’ll never quite be able to look at him in the same way again. Not after this.
“Dammit, Meggy, that hurt!” he cries out, grimacing as he rubs the most tender — and bright red — spot on his smarting head where she hit him but good. “Did you have to do it so hard?!”
Better her popping him one than the alternative.
Mom simply glares at him, hands on her hips. She means business.
Utterly fascinating, how she grounds him, turns the murderous-looking … monster? … of a few seconds ago into an overgrown crybaby. Now, THIS is the dad I know and love.
Retired Senior Chief Petty Officer William “Bill” Granger certainly is no pushover. He’s still a big, robust man even at his age. Dad also is taller than Dickhead, though not by much, and bulkier.
People who don’t even know him have the audacity to walk right up to him everywhere he goes and ask if he’s a retired professional boxer because of his intimidating size — 6 feet 6 inches tall — his big, bald head and a crooked Roman nose that has been broken more than once in the line of duty. Sometimes, my dad, who reminds me of a modern-day Popeye, will toy with those unsuspecting strangers and make up some of the most outlandish tales you’ll ever hear. Other times — like NOW — he’s in no mood to mess around. The really funny part is Dad — a highly trained martial artist — can’t stand boxing, constantly scoffs that it’s beneath him. He claims it’s a sport of stupidity because it involves two people beating each other to a pulp. But my dad the boxing snob also considers those brutal fucking mixed martial arts bouts that attract every bloodthirsty fanatic on the planet to be athletics at their finest, coming in second only to football. Never mind that it also involves two people beating the shit out of one another just like boxing. There’s just no arguing with his logic.
I don’t take after him at all in the looks department, with the lone exception being the clefts in our chins. We also share the curse of having abnormally large feet — I wear a 9EEEE (that’s extra-extra wide for those of you lucky enough not to have a fucking clue what that means) in shoes; Dad is a 16 wide — but this is where the physical similarities end. I inherit my cutesy-wutesy pert little nose and small, attached earlobes from Mom, thank goodness. My dad has ears that protrude so much, his SEAL team buddies years ago affectionately nicknamed him Dumbo for the Disney movie elephant who could fly using his mammoth — sorry, I never can pass up the opportunity for a good pun — ones and “Easy Glider,” which I surmise must be some cute little play on words from the cinema classic Easy Rider.
This same paradox of a man who served our country for 22 years and killed his enemies when necessary during his SEAL — sea, air and land — team missions or outright combat, has been working as a top-notch designer for various local florists since retiring from the Navy nearly 30 years ago. He’s very much in demand for his talents, although the pay is just as shitty as Mom’s was for every last one of those years she toiled away as a teacher. But he loves it, thrives on it, gets one hell of a kick out of customers’ reactions when they see HIM, of all people, creating such elegant, intricate masterpieces that surpass even their wildest expectations. Call it a gift. He has quite the green thumb. Sadly, I do not inherit it.
And sadder still, the gentle but blunt, bark-is-worse-than-his-bite teddy bear of a man I’ve always known has shown me a side of him I’m sure he never meant for me to see: Bill Granger the soldier. Preparing to rumble with Dickhead the civilian who has about as much knowledge as to the extent of my dad’s capabilities as me, which is next to none.
Dickhead, meanwhile, refuses to relax his fighting stance, still unsure HOW to take the now-whining hulk of a man across from him. I gingerly touch his shoulder to let him know it’s OK, to chill out, that he can unclench his fists. I can feel the tension in his body, sense his agitation.
MEN. You, ahem, ALLOW them to protect you once and they instantly go into full caveman mode. Geesh.
All right, all right. So I kind of like that quality about Dickhead.
OK, OK. So I find alpha males slightly attractive. More precisely, THIS alpha male. With the bunching muscles. Ready to take on Dad. For me.
The very idea would have repelled me only yesterday. Now, it intrigues me. No, it excites me. Thrills me, even.
No! No! NO!
I don’t like where this is going one bit. I cannot be getting all teenage crushing fucking gaga over my own boss. This simply will not do. This simply will not do at all!
Focus, Piccolo, focus! Eyes on the prize! And no, it ain’t Dickhead, so give it up already! Remember: No shitting where you eat! ESPECIALLY when it comes to your boss!
Keeping that firmly in mind, I give Dickhead’s shoulder a hard squeeze.
That’s enough, dammit!
His hands drop to his sides as he waits for Dad’s next move.
It’s not long in coming.
“So, you’re the infamous Dickhead,” my dad says — stating, not questioning — while measuring up his would-be adversary of only moments ago.
Did I forget to mention that subtlety isn’t one of my dad’s strong points?
Mom is all about the niceties and Dad usually is, as well, but not when it comes to someone he thinks is making his only daughter’s life hell on Earth. Totally my fault. Looks like I’m going to have to explain yet again about the change of course in our relationship. I’m sure Mom told him when they were doing all of that loud whispering in the laundry room, but it will go over much better — I hope — if it comes from my own lips.
“Dad,” I begin, but Dickhead beats me to the punch, if you’ll pardon the double entendre.
“I see my, ah, reputation precedes me,” he says, his expression giving nothing away as he holds out his left hand for my dad to shake.
Dad extends his right hand just to be a shit disturber, knowing full well doing so makes it impossible for them to shake hands properly.
Great, just great. They’re at an impasse, each digging his heels in deeper to establish supreme dominance.
Looks like it’s going to be up to Mom and I to stop this nonsense. If they have their way, they’ll keep it up all night, and I’m too fucking hungry to deal with this petty standoffish bullshit.
“Take it outside if you two insist on fighting,” Mom calmly takes charge. “Otherwise, quit acting like a pair of territorial tomcats and go wash up. Supper’s ready.”
They continue sizing each other up a few seconds longer, both unwilling to be the first to look away and neither budging from this stubborn stalemate of wills, until Mom decisively takes matters into her own hands with an ultimatum only a fool chooses to ignore.
Both men sheepishly dispense with their macho acts.
“Bathroom’s this way,” Dad mumbles to Dickhead with some lingering hostility, pointing to the end of the mudroom, just past the antique-green Hoosier cabinet.
They shuffle off to the bathroom while we wash our own hands in the kitchen sink. Afterward, I pull down a stack of plates from one of the kitchen cabinets while Mom grabs the cutlery from a nearby drawer. We put them on the table, as we always do, so everyone can just grab a plate and help themselves to whatever they want. We don’t care if you go back for seconds, thirds or more — we take it as a compliment to the cook(s) — so long as you don’t expect us to wait on you hand and foot. You help yourself in the Granger household, else you starve. Simple as that.
Our tasks done, Mom puts her arms around me in a welcome-home hug I swiftly reciprocate. She smells of Tide laundry detergent, as she normally does, and I embrace her tighter because I desperately need to hold on to the familiar. She gives me a peck on the cheek.
“Have the police been to see you?” I can’t stop myself from asking her.
“Yes, honey,” she says briskly, breaking off our hug. “But we’ll talk about that later, after supper. You must be starving. I can hear your stomach grumbling. We made all of your favorites.”
Yep, just as I suspect. They’re trying to sidetrack me by plying me with all of this delicious yumminess. And I’m not even going to try to kid myself or anyone else into thinking it’s not going to work, because it will. I know it, they know it and Dickhead’s about to witness the total lack of control I exhibit when it comes to food — GREAT homemade SOUTHERN food. Here’s hoping I don’t go into a food coma right after stuffing myself to the gills, even though I know it’s not a matter of if, but WHEN. And it WILL happen, trust me on that. It always does.
Dad walks into the kitchen, opens his arms. I launch myself into them, fully embracing the familiarity of the crushing bear hug he gives me, that he’s always given me on sight … until bringing Dickhead into our home today, until seeing the frightening extent of his anger.
“I’m sorry I scared you, baby,” he says, kissing my forehead as we disengage from our hug. “When your mom told me you brought HIM with you, I lost it. Especially, y’know, after all the times you called us crying about something he said or did to you. I don’t like ANYONE who hurts my little girl, and I WANT … WANTED to snap his neck as soon as I saw him. Part of me still wants to kill him with my bare hands, make no mistake about that, but you and your mom would never forgive me, and as much as I might enjoy it, he’s not worth a trip to death row. Besides, I kinda like how he tried to protect you, even if it was from ME. So I’ll give him a pass. THIS time.“
He turns around to scowl at Dickhead — who’s hanging back in the doorway watching us with a kind of … yearning? … to further stress his point.
“I’m giving you a fresh start,” he warns Dickhead, “so don’t fuck it up. This is your last chance to do right by her.“
Now you understand why I’ve never told him or Mom about what really happened with Joe. They never got a chance to meet him during the short time we were together, but my dad would have killed him without a second thought. No question. But I’d MUCH rather Dad have his freedom because he’d be No.1 on the suspect list. Plus, as much as I’d like to see Joe pay for what he did to me and possibly others before and after me, I don’t wish anyone dead. Not even him.
“It’s OK, Dad.”
Oh, how I truly hope everything is OK!
I just need to know for certain, however, that Dad didn’t murder Coach Smith. I’m pretty sure a Navy SEAL wouldn’t be so sloppy as to leave in plain view damning evidence containing Mom’s name and my phone number, though. Nor would he need a gun, since stealth is what the SEALs are all about. When they kill — IF they HAVE to kill — they are trained to do it quietly with their hands rather than using noisy weapons that draw attention to them. When SEALs have to resort to gunfire, it means that their mission is FUBAR — fucked up beyond all repair (or reason or recognition) because something goes wrong and they have no other options.
Furthermore, I can’t envision my mom killing anyone, either, because she is so against guns and weapons in general. But normal people can and will go to drastic measures to protect the people they love, or secrets they don’t want anybody finding out.
I can’t get a good read on them until we talk later, so I might as well try to put it out of my mind for now.
“Bill, don’t you go stirring things up again,” Mom reminds Dad of his manners.
Then she cuts Dickhead a look herself. Gone is the well-mannered Southern belle.
“I’ll have you know that the only reason we didn’t come to Kentucky to give you a piece of our minds a long time ago isn’t because Piccolo begged us not to come charging in to her rescue, but because it wouldn’t have ended well for you,” Mom says, matter-of-fact. “I believe in new beginnings, though, so I will give you a chance. But hurt my daughter ever again, and you will rue this very day.”
I make no attempt to smother the smirk that spreads across my face. My mom is fucking awesome!
What a match they make, my parents. Can you believe they couldn’t stand each other when they first met in high school? They constantly got into arguments that often escalated into shouting matches. Still do, but they get over their mads just as quick. They even had a huge fight the night Dad intended to propose to Mom after he got back from basic training in Great Lakes, Illinois. He ended up showing her the engagement ring he bought, telling her, and I quote, “This is what you could have had!” She says she’s STILL waiting for a proposal after all these years, so I have no fucking clue how they managed to get married in the first place since Dad was too pigheaded to ask her properly. But it obviously wasn’t necessary.
They make it work and give me hope that there’s a good man somewhere out there for me who’s the other half of my soul.
“Thank you,” Dickhead tells them.
Most men would have left skid marks trying to get away from my parents after that explosive confrontation, but then, he’s not most men. And he’s not going anywhere.
He has staying power. I like that.
I can see it in his eyes as I meet his steady, thoughtful gaze. But I keep it to myself, smiling because I know him better than he realizes. What a difference a car drive in his company makes. Just the two of us. Away from the office. One on one. Yes, it throws him off, this secretive smile of mine.
Good. Nice to keep HIM guessing for once.
“Now that’s settled, let’s eat!” Mom announces.
Food coma, here I come!