“I hope these people really know what they’re doing,” Mr. Utt says as we pull into the parking lot of the small waffle house. The Visionaries suburban isn’t here yet so Mr. Utt gets us a large table in the back where we’ll be able to talk in private, even though they aren’t more than three people here.
Everybody is feeling kind of anxious, so we sit in silence, either examining the menu or staring absentmindedly at the surroundings. Marisol’s doing neither, being conked out since it must be way past her bedtime; her head is lying against her mother’s arm. They’re serving all you can eat waffles but it doesn’t look like anybody has much of an appetite. I stare down at the menu and pick apart the straw wrapper to pass the time.
I am halfway down the wrapper when the door opens and in comes the Ghostbusters, Calista leading the pack.
“How ya’ll doing?” Calista inquires.
“Even better now that you’re here,” Mr. Utt says.
We all shake hands and exchange cordialities.
“Enough small talk, time to get down to business,” Calista says after we’ve ordered. “Now the game plan is that when we arrive at the house we are going to be using the buddy system. Under all circumstances you three are to stick to me, especially you.” She points to Marimar. “Now first I am going to create a protection circle and call on God and the Goddess to assist us and protect us, which Al and Adel will be joining us for. It’s our protocol. After that we’ll start by smudging, which is simple enough. Gunner and Lawson will be assisting me while Al and Adel will be in the van watching the footage on the monitors. The smudging should calm George down a bit and that’s when I’ll channel him.”
“Channel?” Mrs. Utt asks.
“It means I’ll be allowing him to speak through me. Now don’t worry, this isn’t my first rodeo. George will be simply borrowing my body. I will be in control at all times. At that time I want you, Marimar, to tell him to go the light. Tell him in the light he will feel no pain and that he’ll be happy, that God does not judge you but you judge yourself so all he needs to do is forgive himself. After that we’ll recite some prayers and send him off to the great beyond with a crossing over ceremony, easy enough. Any questions?”
“I’ve got one, what if George doesn’t want to go?” Marimar asks.
“You have to firmly tell him that you want him to go. But remember, he was once a living person too, so you have to be respectful about it. ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ Once you tell him, he will have no choice but to leave. The power to make him go is the combination of the prayers and the crossing over ceremony.”
“I want you all to remember that nothing will happen to you. Negative energies feed off of fear. You have to keep your emotions in check. The more you give off the stronger he will be, but he cannot kill you. Keep that in mind. God needs you alive not dead,” Calista says, leaning in close to us. To wrap up our meeting Calista and the gang tell us some personal experiences that happened in similar cases, before we say our good-byes and we head back to the motel.
We are almost there. I suck in my breath in anticipation. My heart is pounding and my muscles are tightening as we are nearing the corner that will take us to their house of horrors. The waffles I ate at dinner a few hours ago threaten to make reappearance. Thank God he stopped at a gas station in town. I think we all have nervous stomachs. I knew I shouldn’t have had that third plate, that’s what happens when they offer all you can eat waffles.
The music is low enough that I can hear Marimar’s shallow breathing. I want so badly to protect her, to wash away all her fears, to take her somewhere else, just jump in my truck and drive, but I can’t. For the past hour I haven’t even been able to look her in the eyes. I don’t want to see the doubt lying behind them; Mar knowing George already beat me once and that tonight I can’t protect her. She must rely on Calista and I’m near useless.
I can hear her breathing intensify. With every second that passes the ache in my heart magnifies. Does she know how much pain her being here is bringing me? Is she feeling the same way? Knowing what she told me about George hurting her isn’t helping me come to terms with the idea either. What’s to say it won’t happen again? I want so badly to reach out and touch her, to comfort her, to tell her everything is going to be all right. But the ugly truth is that I really don’t know. None of us do. I recall my only memory of being able to hold her in my arms; heaven on earth.
“Whose truck is that?” Mr. Utt asks snapping out of it. As we near his driveway I see a truck parked smack dab in the middle of his driveway. The headlights illuminate the back of the Visionaries equipment van they set up earlier leaving the truck in the shadows. I watch as someone seems to stagger out of the truck. It takes me a moment to recognize who it is. No, it can’t be. My worst fear is confirmed when Mr. Utt turns into his driveway and the minivan’s headlights light up my own personal demon.
My brief moment of bliss as part of this family has just been extinguished by Bubba. He brings a bottle to his lips and takes a swig of his beer. He looks highly intoxicated and pissed. Instantaneously, I get out of the van and I hoof it over to him.
“What are you doing here?”
Bubba takes the bottle away from his lips.
“Shut up ya little shit!” he slurs. To other ears his speech would be unintelligible, but after years of living with him, I’m well versed in drunk.
“I’m sorry, what was that you were mumbling?” I say fed up with his constant humiliation.
“Don’t ya f**king talk me …”
“You cocky piece of shit!” I say, finishing his sentence. Crap, I’m in for it now.
“Why I’m gonna put a world a hurt on ya little smartass!” Bubba staggers towards me. He boxes my ear with his left hand. Mr. Utt steps towards me and intervenes. If he’d want to get to me he’d have to go through him. I know he’s drunk but I don’t think that he’s that drunk. Bubba squints as he sizes him up. He takes a step back.
“Is there a problem?” Mr. Utt asks, taking up a defensive posture.
“No, it’s all right, he was just leaving. He wouldn’t want you calling the cops.” I put my hands on his chest while trying to push him back to his truck. Bad mistake. Bam! He nails me in the jaw with his bottle. I stagger sideways. That hurt.
“Cops rest you!” Bubba says jabbing his finger at me. “Where da f**k have ya been? Do ya think I’m a f**king idiot! I know what you been up to! Been pissing off da whole town. People telling me I can’t control my son … that my son been going ‘round stirring trouble up with some wet back b —”
“Shut up! Don’t ever talk about her like that you drunken son of a bitch!”
“What ya f**king call me? What ya f**king call me little shit? I’m gonna put a world a hurt on ya!” He smashes the bottle on the side of his truck and stumbles towards me.
This time I get ready to defend myself when Mr. Utt intervenes. It all happens in a blur. Mr. Utt swipes me to the side as he comes to my defense. Bubba, still holding the broken bottle in his right hand, makes a prison style uppercut thrust at his midsection. Mr. Utt deflects it with a swat of his left hand across his body while he pivots, his hips turning right. As momentum brings Bubba past him, Mr. Utt catches Bubba’s right arm above the wrist and uses his left to create an armbar as Bubba’s arm straightens out. Mr. Utt continues his momentum around to his right, running Bubba in a tight one hundred and eighty degree circle face first into the side of his own truck; knocking him out cold. That’s going to leave a mark. His body thuds as he hits the concrete.
For a moment, I just stare at the bloody mass on the concrete, speechless. His nose is smashed; blood is flooding out of his nostrils and out of his mouth. His face is starting to swell up. I don’t see any signs of breathing. Did he kill him? I nudge his rib with my foot. I hear a slight moan. Damn.
I look up at Mr. Utt who is taking deep breaths. “Thanks,” I manage to say.
“No problem,” he says as he squats down and turns Bubba over on his side. “Thanks for sticking up for my daughter.”
“I’d have done it any day.”
“Your jaw all right son?” Mr. Utt asks while still checking out Bubba for any serious injuries.
“Yeah, just a little sore,” I say, while rubbing my jaw.
“Papa, are you all right?” Mar asks running up from the van.
“I’m fine, don’t worry.” He gives her a kiss on the head; she returns it with a peck on the cheek. She glares down at Bubba.
“Are you okay, Sage?”
“I’m as good as ever.”
“You know if you weren’t being such a smartass none of this would have happened,” she tells me.
“That’s not how Bubba works. He just would have waited till we got home to hit me. I just figured that I might as well have a witness for once.”
“Has he always hit you?” Mar asks after a short pause.
“Since I was twelve.”
“Why didn’t you ever run away or tell someone?” she asks.
“It wasn’t that simple. I couldn’t leave Oscar. I was the only one protecting him. If I had told someone of our situation they would have only done their moral duty by calling Child Protective Services and they’d have had us separated in foster care.”
“What are you going to do now? You can’t go home. Not after this.”
“I don’t know. I planned on moving out before he kicked me to the curb. I always imagined I’d be dreading this moment, but right now I’ve never felt more liberated.”
“You can live with us until we figure something out,” Mr. Utt says. “Welcome to the family, son.”
For the first time since we met we shake hands.
“Wait, what about Oscar? I can’t just leave him to suffer the same fate as me.”
“We’ll work on getting you emancipated first and then we’ll try to figure out a way to get you custody of your brother. But I’m not going to lie, that’s going to be a long battle inside a courtroom. If I’m assuming correctly that your parents are going to be difficult.”
“You’re assuming correctly. They’ll just want him to spite me.”
“Not unless we find away around it,” Marimar says mischievously.
“And how are we going to do that?”
“Because of this,” she holds up her phone for me to see. It takes me a moment to register what she’s saying. “I caught the whole thing in color.”
“You’re a genius!”
“I know, all we have to do is hand this to the police and Bubba here will be locked up in jail, unless —”
“Unless they give me custody of Oscar.”
“Blackmail, girl you really are a bad influence.” She grins in self-satisfaction.
Bubba lets out a moan. We all look down at him, “Now what?” I ask.
“Let’s drag his fat ass to my minivan, I’ll take him home.” I grab one arm and Mr. Utt grabs the other and we tow his lard ass to the passenger seat. Marimar trails behind us. I buckle him up and I close the door quietly. I want to keep him in his drunken stupor.
“Why don’t you call your mom so she can pick up his truck?”
“She could, but I think it would be best if I drove him home. I’ll pick my mom up so she can pick up his truck and I can talk to her. Plus, I need to grab my clothes. Luckily Oscar is staying at his friend’s house again. Bubba should be conscious pretty soon and he’s going to be enraged, so now’s basically my only chance.”
“Guess you’re right. I wish you would have thought about that before. Now we’re going to have to drag him to your truck. Get him out,” Mr. Utt sighs.
After he’s in my truck I pull up to Mar.
“See you in a bit,” I say after I’ve shut the door.
I look down and she’s staring up at me. I look into her eyes; those same eyes that I’ve been avoiding. Instantly, the euphoric cloud I’ve been floating on since Mr. Utt said I can move in with them vanishes. I realize they’ll have started the cleansing before I can make it back. I won’t even have the chance to try to protect her. What if Calista fails her? What then? What if the unspeakable happens? I can feel the color drain from my face. I know that all the fear in those big brown eyes is reflected back in mine.
Mr. Utt senses the change in mood and takes his leave. “I’m … just going to go back to the van to … yeah.” Mr. Utt puts a hand on my shoulder before he turns and leaves. I don’t watch him go. My eyes are locked with the girl standing in front of me. I step out of the truck. I can read the thoughts forming behind those gorgeous eyes. She’ll be facing George without me by her side. I’ve failed her again. Thanks to me being a smartass.
“Good-bye,” she whispers. Her words linger in the air. I can hear the quiver in her voice, the undisguised fear.
“Bye,” I say quickly. I hug her to me and I give her a light kiss on the head. “Be safe.”
I jump back into my truck and drive off before she can see the tears streaming down my face. I hear Bubba moan and turn to look at him. He’s leaning towards me and is beginning to fall over. I give him a straight right to the chin knocking him back.