I: The Crazy Schizo Cuban Grandmother
When it all came down to it, I blamed my mother. Now, granted, my mom was a great lady once upon a time, but she had completely ruined my opinion of her with one swift move: an affair with Joe Stratton, the owner of a boarding house in the pathetic excuse of a downtown in this small suburb south-west of Chicago.
And that affair led to her divorcing Daddy, and then Daddy went and burned the house down – in retaliation for the affair, mind you – so he was put in jail. Needless to say, I'd had a lovely time explaining this all to my younger sister and brother; that our mother was getting married to another man and why we had to stay with our abuela instead of with our father.
She ditched us, her own children, with her ex-husband's mother so that she could shack up with that home wrecker. And now, after a year she decides to come and collect us like we're some kind of property?
Oh hell no.
"But, Mommy," Ricky, my six year old brother whined, "Marti and Abuela said they'd take care of us. That we didn't need you anymore 'cause you ditched us for the – the man-hole? Is that right, Marti?" He looked up at me worshipfully, his brown hair stuck up at odd angles and his brown eyes wide with innocence.
"You mean man-whore, Ricardo," Abuela answered for me, watching my mother carefully with her beady eyes.
Mom frowned, going down on one knee to put her hands on Ricky's shoulders. "Ricky, honey, where did you learn that awful word?"
"Marti!" he answered joyfully, a huge smile splitting his face. "She teaches me lots of words and what they mean. She said that you were a whore, too!"
Erin, my fourteen year old sister and not one to be left behind in showing off her own knowledge of cussing, sniggered. "She is a whore, Ricky. Just remember it. Or we could just refer to her as puta. That always worked for Daddy."
If it wasn't clear enough already, I'll make it: none of us liked our mom too much anymore. We'd have rather been with our dad, but he was sort of in jail, so Abuela was a close second.
"Don't speak to me in that Spanish garbage," Mom seethed through gritted teeth. Oh how I loved Erin for bringing back our favorite term for Mommy-dearest. "You are my children and should be better behaved." She turned on me then, looking positively livid. "Martine, you should know better than to teach your brother and sister such things. You're seventeen. Take some responsibility."
I idly looked at Erin. "Bad puppy," I scolded in a bored voice. "Go in your cage. Use bruja instead of puta. You might insult some other person from a different Spanish speaking country. We prefer to be politically correct in this family. Even if she is a whore."
That was when I let a glare settle over my egg donor. "Oh, by the way, it's nineteen. I'm nineteen, Bruja," I hissed, picking up Ricky and passing him to Abuela so that she could take him and Erin in the house. "You have a lot of nerve, telling me I need to take responsibility. Where have you been the past year? I certainly haven't seen you at parent-teacher conferences with Erin and Ricky's teachers."
Mom put a bright grin on. "But that's why I'm here! To bring my babies back to the boarding house so we can be a big happy family again."
"Uh, yeah. We'd be a real great family. Without you and Man-Whore-Home-Wrecker," I retorted. It was a true statement. We got along great with our stepbrothers, Cameron and Luc. But none of us had any real happy feelings for our respective parental units.
"I really didn't want to have to pull this card, Martine," she sighed, as if what she was going to say was going to hurt her more than me, "but I suppose I'll have to. I have custody of Ricardo and Erin and they're coming back with me. Whether you join them or not."
My mother wasn't the brightest bulb in the candelabra, but apparently she wasn't half as stupid as I'd assumed. She knew as well as I did that I would never let her take Erin and Ricky and just leave it at that. I mean, Christ, the woman couldn't have been bothered to even call and make sure her children weren't dying or something. Didn't even ask Cameron if he'd seen me at COD during our classes or if Luc had seen Erin at the high school.
So let me ask you, what mother does that? What self-respecting mother of nineteen, fourteen, and six year olds completely leaves them so she can dance the hanky panky with her new husband and then expects them to still adore her when she comes to save them from their "crazy, schizophrenic Cuban grandmother?"
Okay, I'll admit it, Abuela is probably at least a little schizo; the woman told Ricky that there was a boogeyman under his bed, faeries in his closet, a vampire and/or werewolf stalking the house at all times, and that he ought to always sleep with his eyes open so that they couldn't come and kill him in his sleep. I thought she was kidding the first couple of times she told him that, but then when she was telling her neighbors, the cashiers at the grocery store, even the mailman these things, I realized she was completely serious.
Hell, I'd rather be stuck with an old, schizophrenic Cuban woman than a bruja and her man-whore home wrecker. But the bruja had me in the proverbial headlock, hence why I grudgingly agreed that a month later, when Erin and Ricky were out for summer vacation, the three of us would move into the boarding house.
Abuela was even unhappier than I was about the arrangement. "That place is not the place for my grandchildren to live," she raged, washing dishes manually instead of using the dishwasher (there were apparently pixies locked away in there). "I can feel the nymphs and werewolves and vampires and warlocks and hags from here."
I smiled wryly from where I sat at the kitchen table, poring over some texts so that I could learn most of it now instead of during the school year. "What? No boogeymen?"
"One boogeyman. And probably La Chupacabra as well."
"La Chupacabra? Abuela, por favor. How can you believe any of that?"
She turned around to point a finger at me. "Créeme, there are things in that house that are not good. Your father didn't believe me when I told him when that man first started that boarding house, and just look at where it got him. ¡En la cárcel!"
"Sure, Abuela. Just like how there were banshees back in Cuba," I commented, closing the European History text and standing. "No such thing. Just a bunch of retarded kids with nothing better to do than scream at night for no good reason. Great reason to leave a perfectly fine marriage and home with Abuelo, if I do say so myself."
As I headed towards the stairs to the small room I had to share with Erin and Ricky, I heard her call up, "You do not believe me now, but when La Chupacabra comes and eats Ricardo because there aren't any more goats, you will be sorry!"
So great to know that my abuela had faith in our self-preservation skills.
I rolled my eyes, opening the door to the bedroom and quietly placing my Euro text on the stack of other books next to the closet and stepping over Erin's sleeping form on the floor at the foot of the bed. There wasn't enough room in Abuela's house for all of us to have a bed, so Erin chose to sleep on an air mattress on the floor and I shared the double with Ricky.
Granted, I probably should have been the one on the floor, being the oldest and all, but Ricky was scared shitless by Abuela's boogeyman and insisted on sleeping as close to me as possible. Not that it bothered me too much; Ricky was a sweet kid, but an even better teddy bear who loved to cuddle. I was going to be depressed when he grew up and would be more concerned with canoodling with girls than hanging out and cuddling with his big sister.
I crawled into the bed, taking off my thick-rimmed glasses and placing them on the bedside nightstand, happy that the day was over. Bruja was more trouble than she was ever worth.
"This will be your room, Martine," Cameron said cheerfully, pushing open a creaky door on the third floor of the boarding house.
I loved Cameron like a brother. Always had. The kid had been one of my best buds throughout junior high and high school, and although our parents were screwed in the heads, we were still cool.
He was a tall dude, and while pretty much everyone towered over little ol' five-feet-two-inches me, he seriously was just a giant and he was still as awkward with it as he was when he first shot up back in seventh grade. And paired with hair the color of a tomato and the last remnants of an acne-filled high school career, he looked like he'd fit right in at a Dungeons and Dragons convention.
With a sigh, I turned to look at the room and automatically scowled. Obviously, they'd let my mother veto my choice of color in favor of her own. I mean, seriously, the room was pink. I didn't even like pink when I was little. "What the hell were you smoking when you let Bruja paint my room this color?" I moaned, gesturing wildly towards the room that was empty of furniture. "Did you think I went with you and Luc to Home Depot for just a joy ride?"
Cameron shrugged, leaning against the doorway. "We brought home the paint and she had a near conniption. She didn't want Ricky's room to be green, so she made us return it and get blue. She didn't want Erin's room to be red, so she made us go get purple. But most of all, she really, really didn't want your room to be yellow and made us go get pink."
"So? Why the hell did you listen to her? You never listen to her!"
"She and Man-Whore ganged up on us!" he argued. "Threatened to take our car and sell it for scrap metal!"
"Cameron. You're six-nine and your brother's six-five. You're a foot taller than him. What the hell are you scared of him for? You could take him!"
Okay, so I lied. Cameron probably couldn't take his dad. He might have had a height advantage, but it was all awkward and gangly height and he had no idea how to throw his weight around. He was a gigantic, teddy bear hippie who wanted nothing more than to find himself a nice hippie girl named Sunshine and make babies or whatever it is that hippies do when they're not stoned within an inch of their lives.
I took a deep breath, trying and failing miserably to calm down. "Fine. Go get Luc," I muttered in an order, pulling car keys out of the pockets of my faded carpenter shorts. "We are going to Home Depot to get the right paint and fix this shit. It's nine in the morning now. If we can get the three rooms done by five and the furniture in by ten, Bruja and Man-Whore will be none the wiser when they get back from the city at some ungodly hour, and everything will be ready for tomorrow when I bring Erin and Ricky by. We won't have any tears on their part, and our egg and sperm donors won't be able to do a thing about it."
"You're crazy," Cameron remarked bluntly. "You want us to repaint three rooms and move all the furniture into said rooms in half a day?"
"Yes. Now go get Luc. We have paint to buy, rooms to repaint, and furniture to move. The faster we go, the sooner we'll be done."
By ten we had re-bought the correct paint and had the painting done by four-thirty. And after a half hour break for pizza from Passero's that one of the boarders, a small old lady with this massive mole on her chin had taken the liberty of ordering for us, we started moving in the furniture.
Thankfully, Bruja had been nowhere near Erin, Ricky, Abuela, and me when we had gone out and gotten the furniture because we really couldn't use the stuff from our old rooms. It was all kind of burned and charred. I don't know about you, but I don't like my dresser to be cooked well done.
When we finished at ten on the dot, we collapsed on the floor in living room down on the first floor, green, red, and pale yellow paint stains in our hair, on our legs and arms, and smeared across our faces in some kind of war-paint parody.
"God, Martine," Luc gasped, running a hand through his hair. He was pretty much a smaller, younger version of Cameron, but he had apparently inherited the better complexion and confidence to make him some kind of chic-geek. His spot on the football team didn't hurt either; it had helped him rise to a higher social status than his brother could never have hoped for. "You're a freakin' drill sergeant. It took a lot longer to paint that stuff before."
"I told you guys we'd have to work fast," I replied easily, lifting a hand up and staring at the outline of my fingers spread out in the light, admiring the way the red, green, and yellow paint had mixed to become a nasty puce-brown thing. "I think I know how the guys at Home Depot make crap colored paint. They mix dark red, bright green, and pale yellow together."
They laughed and then told me to promptly leave. "Go back to Schizo-Cuban-Abuela. She probably thinks a vampire or something has eaten you," Cameron ordered, pointing to the door without opening his eyes.
With a groan, I pushed myself up into a sitting position. "She says that you guys have La Chupacabra wandering around this place. Said that it was going to eat Ricky because it didn't have any goats."
Luc made this sort of nervous laugh-gurgle in the back of his throat. "W-why would you say that? There's no cadabra thing here! That's just silly!"
Seventeen year old, self-respecting straight boy telling me "that's just silly!" Double-you, tee, eff.
Cameron reached a hand over and slapped the back of his brother's head, hissing, "Shut up, moron."
I arched an eyebrow, mildly bemused. "All righty then…I'm just gonna let myself out." From the door, I gave a half wave. "Have fun with the silly cadabra thing." I shook my head, getting into my old beater of a car and zooming off to Abuela's. "La Chupacabra does not exist," I told myself in a mantra. "La Chupacabra is not real, nor are warlocks, faeries, werewolves, witches. Especially boogeymen. Boogeymen do not exist."
Everyone was already in bed when I stumbled into the house, half asleep and tripping over my own paint-splattered black sneakers. I barely managed to change into an oversized tee shirt to sleep in, pretty much chucking my stained clothing against the closed bedroom door before slipping in next to Ricky's gently snoring form.
My grandmother's schizophrenia might have been hereditary and passed to me, I don't know, but I could have sworn I saw something wolf-shaped outside on the street near the house and heard the eerie, lonesome howl of a wolf before sleep claimed me.
Ricky shook me awake that morning at eight. "Come on, Marti, wake up," he said in a soothing half whisper. For being only six years old, he was smart enough to know his big sister was not one for bright, sunshiney mornings. Shit, just kill me now. Mornings are not meant to be so happy. "Despiértate, Marti."
I rolled over, giving him a groan for all his efforts. "Ricky, por favor. I was on my feet for twelve hours yesterday painting and moving furniture. I'm entitled to sleep until noon."
"But we have to move all the rest of the stuff today," he complained, picking up my arm in an attempt to pull me out of bed and dropping it like a dead weight when I wouldn't move. "And you promised you'd help me with my stuff. Come on, Marti, please get up. ¿Por favor?"
"Caray," I mumbled, sitting up to my brother's happiness. I was still stained and smeared with paint and there was no point in showering considering I had another fun-filled day of hard labor to look forward to. "Fine. Go get dressed and –" Ricky started fidgeting nervously and I sighed heavily, "what, Ricky?"
"But the faeries are in the closet. And my shoes are under the bed. The boogeyman is under there and Abuela says they want to kill me."
"There is nothing –"
Ricky interrupted me in a squeaky yelp, "Yes there is! I've seen the boogeyman's hand trying to grab my foot! I saw it, Marti! The faeries too! I saw them flying around and they pulled my hair!"
I didn't bother to retort. I fell back on the bed, pulling my pillow out from under my head and putting it on my face, hoping in some juvenile way that it made me invisible from my entire schizophrenic family. Including myself.
And if I thought just getting out of bed was hard, it was pure, unadulterated hell moving all our personal items to the boarding house. I couldn't even stuff all of the boxes in the trunk and backseat of my car, so I had to make multiple trips, shuttling back and forth between Abuela's and the boarding house.
"Nice war paint, Martine," Cameron commented smoothly, leaning against the front door as I pulled up with the last of the boxes. "I thought girls were supposed to be really hygienic and stuff."
I gave him the sweetest smile I could muster before slamming a box of Erin's clothes into his chest, relishing the "oof" sound he made when the wind was knocked out of him. "That's nice. Now be a love and help me carry these heavy boxes up to our rooms."
"What the hell did Erin pack in here? Rocks?"
"I don't know. Maybe she did. Always said she wanted a pet. I bet she's got, like, a dozen pet rocks in there."
Cameron grumbled something unintelligible under his breath before heaving the box up and carrying it to Erin's room while I made a beeline for Ricky's with the last of his boxes.
"I don't like this room," was what I got when I put Ricky's boxes on the floor at the foot of his bed. "Can't I stay with you like at Abuela's?"
"All right, come here, sit," I sighed, patting the bed next to me where I had sat down. "Here's the deal, bud: I am not going to be around forever, you know. Someday, when I know that you and Erin can deal on your own with Puta around, I'm going to leave. I'm going to have my own apartment and my own bed and you're gonna have to sleep by yourself at some point, Ricky."
I decided not to mention that if I ever got drunk again and found myself a guy and we ended up going to my place, I so did not want to have to give Ricky the sex talk. I'd make Cameron do it. But I was not going to explain to my six year old brother that he couldn't keep sleeping in my bed when someday – okay, probably never. The one time I got lucky, I was drunk and I couldn't even remember a damn thing about losing my virginity – there could be a naked dude in my bed.
"I don't like that your room is all the way on the third floor. I don't like it on the second floor."
I put two fingers to my temples and massaged them. "Okay, here's the new deal: you can come and sleep in my bed on one occasion and one occasion only: if you're so scared that you think you're gonna pee your pants? That's when you can come and sleep in my bed, otherwise, you stay here and let Perrito protect you, 'kay?" I pulled his raggedy stuffed dog out of the closest box and placed it in his open arms.
Ricky nodded and watched from his bed as I unpacked his boxes and neatly folded his clothes into his new dresser and the closet, adding as I went, "See, Ricky? No faeries or boogeyman here. You're perfectly safe in this house; don't let Abuela's stories scare you."
Although, I still found it slightly disturbing that earlier that morning he mentioned that he'd had his hair pulled and his foot grabbed. See, Ricky doesn't lie. He can't. He doesn't know how. In fact, I think he was genetically made to not be able to lie. So, if he can't lie, then what in the world had been scaring him so much?
Shaking my head, I left his room and headed towards the stairs to get to work on my own room, not even flinching when I had walked straight into someone's chest and a pair of strong arms reached out to steady me. "Whoa, sorry 'bout that, miss."
I looked up to see a pretty good looking guy with short blonde hair, green eyes, and, from what I could tell from my face plant to his chest? He had some muscle. Great. I run into a hot guy, and I'm covered in day old crap colored paint. Lovely.
"Er…are you all right? Miss?"
"Oh. Yeah, sorry," I replied, running a hand through my hair, "just kinda zoned out there." Caray. I was babbling and giggling like a cheerleader in junior high. "So. Uh. Yeah. I'm Martine Rivera. Bru – I mean, Mrs. Stratton's daughter. I, well, we – me and my younger brother and sister – just moved in."
Seriously, if I were watching this, like a director watches his actors, I would have gotten up out of my seat and slapped the actress playing me because I was in front of a hot guy and I was babbling. Just shoot me now and put me out of my misery.
To my utter surprise and delight, mystery hot guy smiled. "Oh, hey. I'm Josh Leonetti," he said, introducing himself. "I've heard a lot about you from Cameron and Luc." Shit. Those two would totally tell him all the stupid things I pulled back in high school. "It's been nice meeting you. I'm the second door on the left on this floor if you need anything."
I stood there, pretty much frozen to the spot, until he was out of sight and on the first floor before smacking my palm against my forehead. "Way to go, Martine," I muttered in self loathing as I trudged up the stairs and into my room. "Now he probably thinks you're a stupid little virgin girl who's never even been out on a date and drools at the sight of a hot guy."
I gave a moan of self pity when I took in all the boxes for me to unpack, rubbing my eyes, and shutting the door behind me as I sifted through my clothing and makeup and what was left of the family photos seeing as the rest burned with the old house.
Eventually, I resolved to just unpack enough for me to go bathe in the bathroom down the hall and I'd do the rest of it tomorrow. I'd done enough in the past twenty-four hours between painting, moving furniture, driving back and forth with heavy boxes, and unpacking Ricky's boxes. I could wait until tomorrow to do my unpacking and study more of my school texts; I should have studied after I bathed, but I'd just end up falling asleep and I wouldn't remember a thing I read anyways.
I pulled out an old Juanes concert tee shirt my father had gotten for me ages ago and a pair of worn boxers that I'd snagged from Cameron's things a few months ago because I'd liked the White House and presidential style print. I would have never pegged him as the kind of guy that would wear boxers with not only the White House printed on them, but George Washington, Abe Lincoln, and various other former presidents.
Not to mention that I was a history major. I saw the boxers and I had to have them.
I found a towel, grabbed my hygiene products, and locked my door behind me; I was in a boarding house now. Who knew what kind of whack jobs were living here? With my luck there'd be some creepy old guy trying to get inside my room and peek at my underwear and bras.
Luckily, no one was using the washroom and I locked myself in, scrubbing until my skin was red under the steaming water and there weren't any traces of crap colored paint before turning the shower off and wrapping my towel around so that I could, hopefully, sprint back to my room without anyone seeing poor, stupid Martine and how she had forgotten her pajamas and clean underwear back in her room.
I peeked out the door, giving a sigh of relief while I gathered all my things and speed-walked back to my door, hurriedly unlocking it and stepping in, my eyes trained on the floor so I wouldn't step on any of the things I had thrown about the room while sifting through my packed boxes.
But when I looked up, I stopped mid-step and screamed. Why? Because there was a dude in my room. A hot dude, but that was beside the point. There was some random guy crouched on the ground, picking through a box full of my underclothing.
He finally seemed to notice me when I started shrieking like a banshee and simply raised a brow at my attire, unabashedly looking me up and down.
Now, don't get me wrong, I know I'm not a hag or anything, but in all honesty, Erin was the one who had gotten the looks in the family. She actually looked Latina with her olive skin and dark hair and eyes, unlike me. Sure, I had ended up with the Latina body – "pleasantly curvy" as Abuela defined it – but I completely envied Erin's ability to get into a size four when I could barely get into a six on a good day. And then to add insult to injury, I didn't even live up to my Hispanic last name with wavy auburn hair that was more red than brown at this point in my life and light colored skin that just burned and never tanned.
I, unfortunately, was the only child out of three that took more after Bruja looks wise than I did with my Cuban father and I cursed my genes every day.
Cameron, who must've heard my screaming or something (can't imagine why he wouldn't when I was being a damn banshee), had raced into my room and stood in the doorway, his face the same color as his hair. "What's wrong? Who died? What happened?" And then he took a look at the tall, black haired, blue eyed guy in the room and murmured a small, "Oh," in recognition of the problem.
"'Oh?' Is that all you can say? Cameron, there's an effing asswipe picking through my bras and underwear and all you can say is 'oh?'"
He ignored me and pointedly stared at the other guy. "Theo, we told you that you weren't supposed to be in this room anymore. You're supposed to move downstairs under Luc's bed."
"Aw, come on!" Theo whined, straightening and wiping imaginary dust off his simple navy blue tee shirt. "You just want me to stay out of this room because you didn't want me to find this pretty little thing here. And you know I haven't had any action in so long." He turned his gaze towards me again and grinned cheekily. Oh God. He was freaking me out. "I know a pretty girl like yourself doesn't want to sleep alone at night, right?"
I shivered and pushed away my obvious feelings of discomfort. "Okay, you are a serious freak show," I shot back, inching my way behind Cameron. "Cameron, please make him go away. I really, really don't like him."
"You heard my sister, Theo. Go back under Luc's bed."
Okay. What the freak. Why would this whack job, albeit a hot whack job – but that was beside the point – have to be under Luc's bed? And then, Abuela's hereditary schizophrenia kicked in again. "No way. No way, no way, no way," I muttered under my breath, eyes getting wider by the second. "No es posible."
If possible, Theo's grin grew even bigger as he watched me come to terms with my obvious psychological issues. "Oh, yes indeed," he corrected. "I am the boogeyman." Without dropping his gaze, he addressed Cameron, "And she's only a sister by marriage. Her license is out on the dresser, and as far as I know, you're last name is Stratton, not Rivera."
"You know you can't touch her. The rules say –"
"That it can't be anyone related by blood, married, or in some other way taken. I think I know the rules of my imprisonment better than you, Cameron. There's nothing in there about relatives by marriage. She's free game."
I glared. "Uh, yeah. I'd appreciate it if you stopped talking about me in the third person when I'm standing right here." I pointed to Theo. "You need to get out before I go get my softball bat out of the trunk of my car; I was not the fourth batter in the lineup all high school for no reason." Cameron looked like he was going to smirk and tell him off before I turned my finger on him. "I don't know what you're thinking, but I know that tomorrow we are going to have a chat, you and me and it ain't going to be some tea party."
Both of them looked significantly cowed as they left, Cameron through the bedroom door and Theo under the bed, and I sank into a heap on my bed, staring blankly at the ceiling. I pinched myself once, but much to my chagrin, I was still up.
Damn. When did Abuela's schizophrenic stories suddenly become my reality in the form of a boogeyman?
A/N: Plot bunny attack. I don't own anything you might recognize from the media, etc. Please note that I do not believe that hippies are all druggies and have names like Sunshine, and I understand that I'm making light of a serious mental disease in an effort to give Martine's full opinion on her grandmother, her family, herself, as well as her go-to explanation of the supernatural. Spanish Translation:
-Créeme: believe me
-¡En la cárcel!: In jail!
-Despiértate: Wake up
-Caray: idiomatic expression...best I can give is something like, "Oh, come on/shit/jeez."
-No es posible: self-explanatory. "It's not possible."