Serendipity - Version Charlie

by Lubrican

Chapters : 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | Epilogue

Chapter Eight

There are uncomfortable situations.

And then there are uncomfortable situations.

Hannah, for her part, simply turned around and left the room.  With the suitcase still in hand.

We had stopped kissing, of course.  Both our startled faces had turned toward the open door.  Our hands were frozen in place. 

"Shit!" whispered Caitlin, and she slid sideways as I stepped back.

She darted out the door, running after her mother.

I stood there.  I mean, really, what do you do in that situation?  Where do you go?  What do you say?

My mind was tumbling.  I felt like I should sit down before I fell down.  But, eventually, I sort of wandered out of the door.  I didn't hear any screaming, so I didn't know where they were.  I remember being glad her dad was at work.

I found them in the living room, both standing, Hannah still holding the suitcase.  I stood in the opening between the dining room and living room, uncertain whether to go further or not.  I might have shifted from foot to foot.  I have this vague memory of wondering what to do with my hands.

I also remember finding them by hearing their voices, but they weren't loud, angry voices.  When I appeared, it was just as Kat was saying, "Because I love him, Mom.  I've loved him for years."

"I knew that," said Hannah.  "But I didn't think you loved him that much."  She glanced at me, and then back to her daughter.  "Or like that." She looked at me and back to Caitlin again. "Is that why you've wanted to go visit him every year?"

Caitlin shocked us both by laughing.

"Are you kidding?  He's been the perfect uncle and perfect gentleman the whole time.  It took me all those years to break him down.  If we hadn't been in that tent I'd still be frustrated.  But he couldn't get away from me in the tent, and I finally got my way."

Hannah's cheeks flushed.  She was clearly shocked by her daughter's casual confession that she had more or less hunted me like some kind of game animal.

"I thought it was a crush," she said, softly.  I felt a brief flutter of pride as she proved I had been right when I predicted that's what she'd think.

"It probably was, when I was twelve," said Kat.  "But every year, when I went back, it never seemed to be long enough, and his hugs were never tight enough, and even though he looked at me when I wore a bikini in his pool, he didn't do anything except look.  And that wasn't enough.  And these last couple of years, all I could think of was that I wanted to spend more and more time with him.  I know I have to grow up and leave home and all that.  Everybody has to do that.  But I don't ever want to grow up and leave him."

"But you can't do that ... with him," moaned Hannah.  "He's your uncle!"

Caitlin seemed to draw herself up, to stand a bit taller. I saw her chin move into that position that I knew meant she was digging in her heels.

"I don't care about that," she said.

I had planned on staying the night.  It wasn't to be around Caitlin longer.  If anything, sleeping in a different room than her would make it hard for me to even get sleep.  I'd probably spend all night jerking off, wishing I was in bed with her.

No, the reason I had planned on staying the night was the same reason you would have stayed the night. I was going to spend some time with my sister, catching up on things.  While my sexual desires aren't in the mainstream, the rest of me is.

Now, I wasn't so sure staying was a good idea.

All the things had been said that were likely to be said right away.  I was quite sure the subject would be discussed more in the future. Quite likely for years.  I knew Caitlin pretty well, and I knew how stubborn she could be.  I also knew she got that from her mother.

"I should probably go," I said.  I know it sounds trite, but that was all I had.

Kat's "No!" was said at the same time Hannah barked, "I don't think so, you son of a bitch!"

That was when I remembered that, while Hannah had discussed things with her daughter, she hadn't discussed them with me.  I'd been more or less like a fly on the wall while they raged back and forth for the last hour.

You've heard the term "saved by the bell"?  Well I was saved by a car door.

"Daddy's home!" said Caitlin, in a hushed whisper that was somehow very loud.  Suddenly she didn't sound so confident.

"He cannot find out about this," said Hannah, sounding just as worried. "Not yet."  She looked at me. "Everybody act normal," she said.

I laughed.  It was hysterical laughter, just my way of trying to deal with the tension of the situation, but that's what happened. I had no control over it, and I couldn't stop doing it, even when both Caitlin and Hannah started shushing me and touching me.  By touching, I mean Kat touched my shoulder, and then Hannah poked me with a finger. Caitlin gripped my upper arm with that grip moms use on errant little boys, when they're dragging them to wherever punishment will be dealt out.  Both were scared, or worried or whatever it was, and both were flushed, and I just couldn't stop laughing.

But the Anderson women were troopers.  They'd have made good thespians, because not only were they good actors, they also ascribed to "the show must go on" theory of things.  When Phil walked in the front door I was still laughing.  Hannah timed it perfectly so that, when Phil first saw us all standing there, she slapped me on the shoulder.

"That's awful, Bob!  You should be ashamed of yourself!"

"Well, look what the cat dragged in!" said Phil, grinning and setting down his briefcase. "Pray tell, what did you do that was so terrible?"

"He told the most awful blond joke!" said Hannah, sounding hurt.

"To two blonds?"  Phil grinned.  "You should know better than that, Bob."  He grinned even wider. "How many times did you have to explain it to them?"

Then he laughed, and that was somehow what it took for me to get control of my run away emotions.

"I have to hear this joke," said Phil.

"It was stupid," said Caitlin. "It was about a girl seeing sheep and asking the shepherd if she could have one then picking the sheep dog. No woman is that dumb."

Phil lost his grin, and looked stern.

"Sir, you have offended my ladies. Their honor has been besmirched!"

The jaws of the three people in the room who weren't named Phil dropped.  Flushed faces suddenly got pale instead, as everybody in the room who wasn't Phil assumed he had somehow, against all odds, found out that I really had besmirched the family honor. It wasn't rational, but sometimes nervous people don't think rationally.

"I challenge you to a duel, varlet!" said Phil, striking a pose.  "Whoever can eat the most White Castle hamburgers gets the blonds!"

He grinned again.  He also shifted his feet, as if to be prepared to run.  The rush of relief was like electricity jolting my body, and I decided that I'd jump on Phil's bandwagon.  It beat trying to pretend there wasn't an elephant in the room. True, Phil didn't know about that elephant yet, but the longer we concentrated on other things, the longer it would be before his weekend was ruined.

"Quickly, to the Batmobile!" I said.  "Missouri is far, and I am eager to begin the duel!"

"Missouri?" Hannah sounded confused.

"That's where the closest White Castle I know is," I said.

"What's White Castle?" asked Caitlin, frowning.

"What?  Your ladies know not of White Castle?" I said, sounding way too outraged.  "Have you hidden them away in the dungeon lo, these many years?"

"Nay, varlet," said Phil, who didn't mind acting silly at all.  It's been my theory for years that real men both wear pink and are willing to act silly in the right circumstances.  "'Tis only that, as your wisdom has displayed, my humble cottage lies too far from the Camelot that is White Castle.  I wished not to taunt them with the knowledge of such delights, only to have to inform them they were unavailable."

"What's White Castle?!" asked Caitlin, impatiently.

"White Castle is the abode of fine dining," said Phil, dramatically, in a long, drawn out sigh. "Alas that they build them not, west of the Mississippi."

"Missouri is west of the Mississippi," said Hannah, dryly. 

"You speak truly," said Phil, with dignity.  "Perhaps I painted with too large a brush stroke.  Yet, I beg point out that it is barely west of the great river."

"A magnificent river, agreed Hannah, "which has the primary purpose, in my view, of separating those of us who have a decent palate from that which would destroy it." She shuddered, but I suspected it was deliberate, because it preceded, "White Castle! Ugh!"

"What?"  Phil's eyebrows rose impressively.  "Are you saying you've actually eaten at one?"

"Sadly, I have," said Hannah, smiling thinly.

Phil actually looked hurt.  "You've had White Castle?  I am shocked!  How is it that my lady knows of White Castle, and yet has never spoken of it to her lord and master?"

"Your lady is from Chicago," said Hannah.  "Where White Castles dot the landscape, and where a boy named Jack took me to one on a date one time."

"What's this?"  Phil apparently loved to role play, because he kept it going.  "There exists competition for the affections of my woman?"

"I never went out with him again," said Hannah, sweetly.  "But if it's White Castle my lord and master desires, I will hie forth instantly to Sam's Club and purchase a case of the frozen ... delights."  She made a face that communicated flawlessly that "delights" was the farthest word from the truth.

"They have White Castle at Sam's?"  Phil was suddenly just Phil again.

"You should go shopping with me more often," said Hannah.  She curtsied, which looked silly, since she was wearing jeans and a T shirt. "But I know my lord and master has much better things to do than accompany his wench to the market place."

"Hmmmm," said Phil.  "And a comely wench you are, my sweet."

Then he was just Phil again.  He shook my hand, and hugged Caitlin, and then his wife.  I noticed he squeezed one of Hannah's butt cheeks.  She slapped his hand away, but didn't make a big deal about it.

"You can tell me the joke later," said Phil, conspiratorially.  "And, since going to Sam's to get White Castle and then cooking it would take too long, I'll spring for dinner at some lesser place."

"Smart man," muttered Hannah.

"What, Dear?" asked Phil with a grin.

"I never went out with Jack again," Hannah reminded him, firmly.

"Oh," said Phil.  "That."  He pulled her against him with one arm.  "We wouldn't want that outcome."

There is an interesting dynamic that sometimes comes into play in a situation like the one I was in.  Let's use a similar kind of scenario to the one I was in: the surprise birthday party.  Those who know about the secret often exhibit behavior that isn't normal for them. They dart warning looks at each other.  They carefully avoiding talking about certain things, and if the discussion gets too close to the issue, they change the subject, sometimes precipitously.  Trying to keep the secret alters their normal behavior.  And if the person the secret is being kept from is paying attention, that's the kind of thing that commonly leads to the well-known question: "Okay ... what's going on, here?"

Which brings us back to my situation.  There were four people present in the house, two males and two females.  Three of those people knew an explosive bit of information that was being kept from the fourth.  Of those three, two had very different feelings about the secret than the third did.  You could say that Kat and I were "used" to our new relationship, and were more comfortable when we thought about it.  Hannah, of course, didn't think about it like we did at all.  She wasn't used to the idea that her brother had spent the last three-odd days porking her daughter.  She might never be used to that idea.  And the half hour it took to get to the restaurant didn't really give her time to process things.

The conversation along the way didn't help her any.

"So!" said Phil, when he got us on the road.  "What kind of mischief have the two of you been up to for the last month?"

Hannah made a strangled sort of coughing sound.  She had, without thinking about it, gotten into her normal seat, in the front, with her husband.  Caitlin and I had gotten in the back.  Hannah's head turned to look at us just as Kat's hand reached to touch my leg.  I'm sure Caitlin's only intent, in that situation, was to communicate what she would think of as "the humorous component" of his question to me.  I'm sure she wouldn't have left her hand on my thigh, or grabbed my basket or anything like that.

But Hannah's hand appeared between the two front seats and slapped at her daughter's arm.  Granted, she pulled it back immediately, blushing furiously as she recovered from something that was instinctive and unplanned on her part.

Caitlin, who could become a normal teenager with startling quickness, said, "Geez, Mom. Take it easy!"

"What?" asked Phil, turning his head.  "What happened?"

"Nothing!" came Hannah's strained voice.  "I thought I saw a bee on Caitlin."

"A bee?"  All four windows began smoothly sliding down as Phil manipulated the buttons on his door handle. 

"Okay, he's gone," said Kat, deciding to end that particular game.

The windows slid up again.

"Anybody get stung?" asked Phil.

"No," said Kat.  "We're fine."

"Okay. Good."  Phil continued down the street. "So, where were we?  Did you have fun this summer?  Did you try anything new?"

Hannah developed a sudden and avid interest in the yards we were passing on her side of the road.

"I had a wonderful time, Daddy," said Caitlin.  "We did all kinds of things."

"Like what?" asked Phil, who is like most parents of teenagers who provide only minimal information about their lives.  He wanted to know more.  He wanted details.  He wanted to enjoy what his child enjoyed, if only on a vicarious basis.  "What did you do that you'd never done before?"

Hannah moaned, and coughed again.  Her forehead landed on the window with a soft thud.

"You okay, honey?" asked Phil, looking over at his wife.

"I'm fine," she croaked.

Phil looked over his shoulder at us, for some reason.

"What did you try that was new?" he asked, looking at his daughter.

I know this sounds like Phil was akin to a dog with a bone, worrying off every scrap of meat.  But all he was doing was trying to have a conversation with his daughter, and possibly his brother-in-law, about what they'd done over the last month.  His life had been the boring, normal routine.  He wanted to hear about something else.

"We went white water rafting!" said Caitlin, whose hand was suddenly on my thigh again.  The excitement generated by the memory was both instant and strong.  "It was so much fun, Daddy.   But it was terrifying too."

"I'd think that after all those monster ocean waves that have crushed you half to death, some ripples on a river wouldn't be all that threatening," said Phil, who had never been submerged in any water save that in a swimming pool.

"It's not the water that's scary," I said, chiming in.  "It's all the boulders in the middle of the river."

"Yes," gushed Caitlin, as her hand squeezed my thigh.  "They look like giant's teeth, all ground down by eating thousands of rafts in the past.  We'd be heading right for one and then, suddenly, we'd slide to one side, pushing off of the rock with our paddles, sometimes.  And going so fast!  It was awesome!"

Hannah's head came around and kept going.  I gently lifted Kat's hand from my thigh and more or less threw it back towards her.

"That does sound scary," said Phil.  He looked at me in the rear view mirror.  "Should you be exposing my only daughter to that kind of danger, Bob?"

"It isn't as dangerous as we make it sound," I said. 

"That's true," said Kat, who then went on artlessly.  "Statistically, only two people die per year."

The car weaved momentarily.

"I'm not much interested in you becoming a statistic, Caitlin," he said.

"You worry too much," said the teenager in the car.

"Of course I worry," he said.  "You're my daughter.  And every year I send you off to the wild west, where there are still Indian tribes and who knows what kind of other dangers.  I trust Bob to take care of you and protect you."

"Uncle Bob always takes care of me," said Caitlin.  "He takes care of me good."

Hannah produced another of those soft, whining moans, and her forehead gently landed on her window again.

"Honey?"  Phil was concerned.  "Are you coming down with something?"

"No, I'm fine," insisted his wife.

Phil's eyes now went to the rear view mirror again, and found his daughter in the back seat.

"Well, Caitlin," he said.  "Your uncle takes care of you well.  Not good."

"Well," said Caitlin, dutifully, and in that voice that all parents recognize as being patronizing.

"Proper English is no joke, Caitlin," said Phil, seriously.  "You're about to enter your last year of high school.  After that, there will be college.  College is no joke, and sloppy verbal skills can affect the way others perceive you, including your professors."

"I'm sorry, Daddy," said Caitlin, sounding contrite.  "I'll try to do better."

"I hope so," said Phil.  "We're here.  I hope everybody's hungry."

Phil hadn't mentioned where we were going.  I'd been so caught up (philosophically) in the conversation that I hadn't paid much attention to our surroundings.  Now I noticed we'd left the urban sprawl of Santa Barbara, and were, more or less, in the country.  We had pulled into the compact, gravel parking lot of a small restaurant that had the unlikely name of "The Hag's Cauldron."  The marquee had a hand-painted picture of a stereotypical, black-robed, cowled, one-toothed hag, stirring a huge, black cauldron with flames licking up the sides of the pot.

"Interesting concept for an eating establishment," I commented.

"Don't let the name throw you," said Phil.  "A colleague brought me here for lunch one day.  It's the best kept secret in the American Riviera."

"If it's so special," said Caitlin, "then why haven't we eaten here before?"

"I was saving it for a special occasion," said Phil.  "And if this isn't a special occasion, I don't know what is."

Hannah moaned again.  At least I think she did.  She opened her door at the same time, and it was hard to tell whether the sound I heard came from her or the door, which might have needed lubrication.

Caitlin was suddenly tense.  She opened her door and slid out with the ease and grace of youth.  She met her father as he exited his door and linked her arm in his.

"So ... this is a special occasion?" she asked, still irrationally worried that her father somehow had knowledge of her recent sexual activities. Maybe she thought he had a shotgun in the trunk, and was going to surprise us by pulling it out and yelling "We gonna have ourselves a weddin'!"

"You bet it is," he said, putting his arm around her and hugging her.

"I just found out I can eat White Castle again."

"It's stupid to celebrate the existence of one food - and I use the term loosely - by eating someone else's food," said Hannah.

We were seated, and I think she was trying to steer the subject away from what Caitlin and I had been doing over the last month.  She could have used a number of other gambits to do that.  For one thing, the interior of The Hag's Cauldron bore no resemblance at all to a witch's cave, or hovel, or wherever witches reside.  It was clean, and well appointed, and it smelled wonderful.  It was also small.  Even as small as the dining room was, physically, there was still a feeling of roominess.  I decided that was because, while the room could have had eight or nine tables in it, there were only five.  That meant there was plenty of room between them, which gave a sense of roominess and privacy.

The other thing that Hannah could have brought up was that the woman who greeted us was the exact opposite, in terms of appearance, from what we'd seen on the marquee of the restaurant.  She was tall, statuesque, and built like a real life Barbie Doll.  Her smile showed she had all her teeth, which were gleaming white.  There was enough cleavage exposed to nestle a tennis ball in, comfortably.

"My name is Julie," she said, when we walked in.  "We're delighted you decided to join us tonight.  You're lucky.  We have one table open."

She'd led us past the four tables that were occupied, two of them by couples who paid us no attention, and one where three men sat, drinking some kind of liquor and chatting.  All three men eyed both Hannah and Caitlin as we walked by.

Julie seated us at the table farthest from the door, which was also in a corner of the room.  "Have you dined with us before?" she asked.

"I have," said Phil, "but these three are virgins."

"Oh, please help me," groaned Hannah, looking toward the ceiling before jerking her head straight. I don't think she meant to say that out loud.

"Okay, okay," said Phil, who misinterpreted his wife's comment as a normal reaction to a silly kind of comment, "at least one of them is a virgin."

Then he introduced the family to our server, as if that were the most normal thing in the world to do.

The odd thing was that Julie responded as if she got introduced to family members on a routine basis.  Then she addressed us three "virgins."

"My sister and I own and operate The Hag's Cauldron.  Robin is the chef, and I handle things out here.  When we started this business, we decided that what needed to be high was quality, rather than volume.  I think you'll be glad we chose that way.  What can I get you started with, in terms of drinks?"

Phil said he was driving, and ordered Diet Coke.  Hannah, looking a bit haggard, asked for Scotch, on the rocks.

"Can I get a Whisky Sour?" asked Caitlin, who was allowed to have one drink, now and then, at home.

"Sweetie, real virgins don't get to drink Whisky Sours until they're twenty-one."

"Okay," said Caitlin, who hadn't expected her attempt to succeed.  "I'll have what my dad is having."

Julie turned to me.

"And what about you, Bob from Oklahoma?  Are you a virgin too?"

Hannah lurched up, mumbling something about needing to use the facilities.  Julie pointed to the sign, and looked back at me. I couldn't tell if she was flirting, or just drumming up business.

"I'll have that Whisky Sour," I said.

She gave me a brilliant smile, and turned back to Phil.  "You have been here before, right?"

"Sure have." Phil smiled.  "It's worth it."

"Thank you," she said, and then she laid four menus on the table and was off to get our drinks.

"What did you mean, it's worth it?" I asked.

"Low volume and high quality mean high prices," he said.

"Oh," I said.

I saw what he meant when I opened the menu.  The cheapest thing on it was thirty-five dollars.

Hannah returned from the powder room, looking much more composed.  She sat down, which brings us back to where I was a few minutes ago, as she tried to steer the subject of conversation away from me and Caitlin.

"I love White Castle," said Phil, sounding injured.  "I'm not going to try to make you eat any, but why can't I be happy. I should be able toi have some now and then."

That thread of conversation ended when Hannah opened her menu.

"Oh my god," she said, softly.

"What?" asked Phil, as if he didn't know.

"The prices," she breathed.

"Don't pay any attention to the prices," said Phil.  "Pay attention to the description of the dishes.  You won't believe how good the food is here."

"This is too expensive," she said, looking up at him.

"Not for the women I love," he said, completely serious.  He glanced over at me.  "I like Bob, too."  He winked at me.

I expected Hannah to say something like "You'd better," but she didn't.  Her eyes ranged over the menu.

"I do love Calamari," she said, biting her lower lip between her teeth.

"Then you should order the Calamari," said Phil, leaning over to put his hand on her wrist.

Julie appeared with our drinks, and water as well.  Hannah picked up her scotch and took a healthy slug, lowering the level in the glass by half.

"Looks like you'll need to bring her another," said Phil.  "Menu shock," he added, winking at Julie.

"I promise you'll be glad you came," said Julie.  "See anything interesting?"

"It all looks so good!" sighed Caitlin.

"You need more time?"

"I want the Calamari," said Hannah, firmly.

"And would you like the smoked jalapeno aioli, or the tomato-basil sauce, for dipping?"

Hannah looked up.

"Could I have a little of each?" she asked, hopefully.

"You can have as much of both as you like," said Julie.

"Both, then," said Hannah.  "Thank you so much."

Julie looked at Caitlin.

"I've heard of prime rib, but never had any."

"It's very tender, but it's also very pink," said Julie.  "Really rare," she warned.

"I like rare," said Caitlin.  I think I'll try that."

Julie looked at me.

"I'll have the Veal Oscar medallions, topped with crab and smothered in hollandaise sauce," I said, reading from the menu description.

"Excellent choice," said Julie.  "I had that before we opened.  It's delicious, tonight."  She turned to Phil.

"It's the filet mignon with portabella sauce for me," he said. 

"How do you like it?"

"Apparently my daughter got her sensibilities for meat from me," he said, smiling. "Walk it by the stove on its way to the plate."

"Rare, it is," smiled Julie.

She spent another few minutes getting the sides taken care of, and then left us to get Robin working on our orders.

"I'm starving," said Caitlin.  "It smells so good in here."

"Patience," said Phil.  "You young people want to rush in to things too quickly."

Hannah tossed off the rest of her scotch.  She sucked in an ice cube and started moving it around in her mouth.

"So what have you been doing while I was gone?" asked Caitlin, looking at her father.

"Just the normal, boring stuff I have to do every day," he sighed.  "People give me numbers, and I crunch them, and then I get more numbers to crunch.  Same old same old."

"I want to get a job I love doing," said Caitlin.

"Oh, I don't hate my job, or anything," said Phil.  "It's just very routine.  I guess I should be glad I know what to expect." He looked at me.  "Isn't it a little frustrating working with different people, who want different things?  I mean each of your designs, or drafts, or whatever you call them different?"

"Yup," I said.  "But actually, I like that part.  Nothing is ever the same.  Each project has different challenges."

"I'll stick with knowing what to expect every day," said Phil.

"Sometimes life can throw you a curve," said Hannah, picking up her glass and sucking in another ice cube.

"What do you mean?" asked Phil.

Hannah looked uncomfortable.  "I mean sometimes things happen that you don't expect."

"Such as what?"

Hannah looked at me, as if asking for help.

"Like I might have changed my mind about what I want to major in, in college," said Caitlin, suddenly.

Phil looked at her.

That's not exactly a curve.  I read somewhere that the average college student changes his major five times before he settles on the one he gets a degree in."

"Well it seems like a curve to me," said Kat. "I've wanted to be an astronaut my entire life up until now."

"And what is this new interest that knocked going to Mars off the table?"

"I think I want to be an architect ... like Uncle Bob," she said.

"Really?"  Phil blinked.

"Yeah, really," said Caitlin.  "I got to see some of his work this summer, and it was really rad.  I think I'd like to be able to do that."

"Well how about that," said Phil.  "I'm kind of proud of you."


Julie walked over and set another scotch and rocks on the table beside Hannah.  Phil smiled up at her and pointed at his own drink before going on.

"Because I know how hard it is to make it into the astronaut program and, beyond that, I know what the odds are that a woman - any woman - would make it on the team that may or may not ever actually go to Mars.  I know you could do that, but I'm not the one making the decisions.  On the other hand, you'd make a fabulous architect.  You're very creative, and with Bob to take you under his wing some day, I know you could realize whatever you dream of doing.  Maybe you could even do something together."

Hannah picked up her brand new drink and drained it like a cowboy in a saloon after a dusty trail ride.

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