Fog Above the Steeple
Sweaty but still filled with a jolt of energy Tatum parked her silver ’09 Ford Fusion in the driveway of a faint gray stone, two-story Tudor style home with dark green shutters. The deep mahogany that silhouetted the double-pane glass door was the picture frame into the world of the McCoy’s. Antwon McCoy, Tatum’s father, juggled Cedar Harbor’s residents bankroll as a financial manager. Her mother, Desiree, made sure everyone in the greater Austin area remained sane as a psychologist. The McCoy’s were pillars of the community. They were what every family should be: devoted, compassionate, and successful. The McCoy’s were nauseating in public finishing each other’s sentences, doing the cupid shuffle at bar-b-cues, and dominating three years in a row at the country club’s family golf tournament.
Unfortunately, as Tatum turned the key in the front door’s lock, her carefree spirit vanished. As she twisted the brass doorknob her energy drained like a car battery after it’s headlights had been on all night. Her nerves started to shake like a baby’s rattle when she stepped inside the house with its stone floors. Tatum wanted to run back out; go back to school where things were normal, where she was in control. This morning, she skipped out the house amped to be in a place where the homeostasis was free of incoherent babblings and convicting looks.
Her parents weren’t home. She couldn’t hear their mumblings on what to do next in the office down the hall. It was just she and him. Her nerves jittered a little more, her palms glisten with the dew of sweat as her stomach stormed like the sea with a hurricane forming in its belly, kicking up water and throwing around wind. She loved him; the one she secretly prayed didn’t hear her lightly shut the door. She loved him truly. He was her first love, her protector defending her from the monsters in the closet that went bump in the night. He dabbed her knee with Neosporin when she fell off her bike after Donovan teased her for having training wheels when she was knee high. She used to fall to sleep on his arm while watching Aladdin.
She stood frozen in the entryway confused on what to do next. He wasn’t the same boy now. The same Paul that showed her how to waltz for the decade dance or the one she brainstormed her ninth grade cheerleading tryout routine with. The person that was staring her down from the top step wasn’t him. He wasn’t Paul. He wasn’t her older brother. This person was a stranger, an invader taking over his body.
She didn’t know what to do, say hi and get condemned or ignore him and be deemed the enemy. That was where they were, a far cry from his Macaroni, the little girl that loved mac and cheese so much he learned how to make if from scratch, for her and only her. Tatum wished for those times, prayed for those times as she dropped her duffle bag off her shoulder and then her backpack. She swiftly walked down the hallway that led to the kitchen. Tatum skidded across the pine-sol scented lacquered floor. She whipped back the fridge’s sliver door, grabbed a cold bottle of water and twisted the top.
“What took you so long?” Paul shouted. His hair was disheveled; he was wearing the same black t-shirt and Texas University track pants he had on four days ago.
The bottle slipped from Tatum’s hand as she jumped higher than a jackrabbit. Water gushed out rolling over the floor, droplets rolled down her warm legs.
Tatum grabbed the dishtowel folded neatly on the bone granite counter.
“I had practice,” Tatum said. “There’s a pep-rally and a game in two weeks.”
She watched the yellow cotton towel seep up the water darkening the bright hue of the cloth. Everything about their house was bright, the paint on the walls, the dishes in the cabinet, the rugs on the floor, and the light that shone through the wall of windows.
“It’s 6:34. It took you three hours, seventeen minutes.” Paul glanced at his watch erratically. “And eleven seconds to get home. It never takes you three hours, seventeen minutes and eleven seconds to get home!”
“You’ve been timing me?” Tatum said fearfully looking up.
“It shouldn’t take you three hours, seventeen minutes and eleven seconds to cheer. I graduated from Meredith Carver! I know how long it takes to get back to this house! What took you so long?” Paul inched closer to Tatum. “Were you with them?”
Tatum glanced down at the floor. “I don’t know who them are?” she clinched the soggy towel trying to quell her shaking hand.
He grabbed her shoulders and forcefully yanked her to her feet, slightly lifting her for a millisecond with his Hulk-like strength. He was 6’3; eight inches taller than her.
“Don’t play dumb with me, Tatum!” He frantically urged, with dilated pupils. The dishtowel fell from Tatum’s hand.
“I’m not. I’m not!” Tatum stammered. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“You’re lying. You’re lying!” He started shaking her “ You’re lying! You’re lying” He shook her harder.
Tatum’s head snapped back as her ponytail flapped. “They tried to talk to me.” She gripped his perspiring arms. “But I didn’t, I didn’t talk to them.” She uttered a lie, trying to play along with the narrative racing through his disrupted mind.
He stopped shaking her. He pulled her into his body, wrapped his arms around her tightly like she was a teddy bear. “Never talk to them.” He let her go, then gently took her rattled face in his hands. “Never. Or they’ll come for your soul. Then I won’t be able to save you.” He dropped his hands.
“I won’t” She nervously smiled.
Paul relaxed, dropping his shoulders. His head cocked to the side and his eyes went void, staring right through her. He blinked, and then refocused on her. “Tatum!” He smiled. “When did you get home?”
“Just now.” She glanced at the clock hanging over the coffeemaker. “6:40 on the dot. I had practice and a study session at Taylor’s.” She gulped in a deep breath.
“Good, keep those grades up. The job market is tough enough as is. I don’t need you struggling like me.”
“4.0 or bust.” Tatum uneasily muttered.
He kissed her forehead. She quivered inside.
“You should be hungry.” He shook his head smiling like a kid in a candy store. “I’ll make you some mac and cheese.” He scurried to the pantry around the corner.
Tatum took off like Flo-Jo out the kitchen, up the stairs, down the hall, and to her room. She shut the door, locked it and sunk to the floor. Tears burst from her eyes like a sprinkler. She cried in the palms of her hands, with her eyes closed she prayed to be somewhere else, anywhere but there. Then she opened her eyes, let the light from her bay windows spray across her face. She was in her room. Her mint painted walls, lilac comforter bed, oak desk in the corner and pictures of her friends thumbtacked to the wall. She was in her room. This was her safe space, her oasis from the madness that lurked outside her door, her hub of sanity. Tatum grabbed her headphones off the desk, her iPod off the nightstand and fell into bed. She put her headphones on, closed her eyes and drifted on a melody.