"Where the hell have you been?" Claire whispered upon Jimmy's return.
"Why the hell is Rowan in my seat?" Jimmy responded when he saw Rowan sitting there, sipping his soda with an enviable calmness. He then realized that everyone else had moved a seat to their left, leaving the seat between Claire and Rowan empty. Reluctantly, he took to occupying the space, and repeated his question. "Seriously, what gives?"
"We just thought as long as Rowan was here," Holly said, "might as well let him join us. What's the harm, right?"
"Well, why not invite Scott and Sloane while you're at it?" Jimmy grunted.
"Hey, I'm trying to watch a movie here," Rowan said, with a piece of popcorn dangling in his hand while he pointed at the screen. "Could you please be quiet?"
"How are Scott and Sloane?" Rusty asked. Looking around the dark, crowded theater in vain, he continued, "Did you talk to them again? Are they here now, too?"
"They're not," Jimmy said, stealing a handful of Rowan's popcorn. "And I only talked to Sloane." He paused to add emphasis to what he said next. "Apparently, things aren't going so hot for them."
"If they break up, I wonder if I might be able get a shot with her."
"No, you don't, Rusty," Claire said. "You don't want to be the rebound guy, trust me."
"Are you insinuating that this is something you have experience with?" Jimmy said with a slow turn in Claire's direction.
"No, of course not," Claire scoffed, handing Jimmy the bag of popcorn he'd bought for the two of them only for him to steal more of Rowan's. "I just know how women think, that's all."
"Know what I'm thinking right now?" Rowan said.
"Womanly thoughts, based on your lead-in," Jimmy replied.
"I think what Rowan is thinking is the same thing that I'm thinking," Kent said, "which is, I think we should all just be quiet and enjoy the movie."
"Don't presume to know what I think," Rowan said, his whisper loudly disappearing and ironically prompting shushes from others in the audience towards him. "But yes, Kent, that's what I was thinking, and it's a swell idea."
"All right then," Jimmy said, looking towards the screen. "Let's do that."
Two hours later, the six of them (Rowan tagging along) exited the theater, and some pulled out their cell phones to call for rides home while others began discussing what they had just seen.
"So, what'd you guys think of the movie?" Rowan asked nobody in particular while rapidly dialing his parent's number.
"I think it was a good excuse for everybody to hang out before we go our separate ways for the holidays," Holly answered. She took Kent's hand and with her smile asked for his opinion.
"Well, I for one think there are much better Jerry Bruckheimer-produced movies starring Nicolas Cage and Ed Harris out there," Kent said. "Those movies are called The Rock." He looked at everyone else he was with and added, "But I'll probably buy the DVD when it comes out anyway, to help preserve the memory of tonight."
"There's a better way to do that," Jimmy said. "If you two would just have sex already, you wouldn't need the DVD of a crappy movie to remember tonight by."
"Yeah, they'd have an awkward encounter with each other's naked bodies in its place," Claire said as she put her cell phone to her ear. "Oh, hi Mom. Sorry you had to hear that, we were just talking about Kent and Holly's unresolved—okay, I'll stop talking about that. We're ready to be picked up now." In the minute that followed, the look on her face changed from slightly impatient to slightly shocked, which no one was surprised to see followed by a glance at Jimmy. "Okay, I understand. See you in a couple minutes. Bye." She gracefully slid the phone back into her pocket and explained: "Jimmy, my Mom says you can't catch a ride in her car with us."
"Why?" Jimmy said. "She dropped me off, why can't she pick me up, too?" He sighed and insulted Claire's mother quite loudly.
"No, Dad, that wasn't me," Rowan said into his phone immediately after Jimmy's curse.
"You'll just have to find a ride with someone else," Claire shrugged. She turned to the other couple. "Kent, Holly, you guys want a ride?"
"Anything that'll keep me away from that damn Porsche," Kent said with a nod.
"Wait," Holly said after initially (silently) agreeing with Kent. "What about Rusty? He came with you."
"If only," Rusty said.
"Rowan, do you think your dad could give the other guys a ride home?" Claire asked just as Rowan was hanging up.
"Probably," Rowan said.
"Good," Claire said. "Then I don't think we have anything to worry about."
Jimmy cleared his throat. "Ahem."
"You know what, Claire! The whole reason I agreed to this thing! Did I pass your little test, or what?"
Claire and Jimmy stared at each other for several moments, then she turned and shared successive glances at Rusty, Kent, Holly, and, by virtue of his being there, Rowan. "Barely," she answered him, making Rusty grumble and shake his head. "You barely passed. We're still together."
Jimmy smiled, but everyone could tell he was still feeling bitter about the whole thing.
"But a surly attitude's not going to get you anywhere, mister."
"Thanks, Mom," Jimmy said, rolling his eyes and crossing his arms. "How soon will your dad get here, Rowan?"
"I don't like you," Rowan replied.
"How soon will your dad get here, Rowan?" Rusty asked.
"Not too long."
"See, Jimmy? Respect. It gets you places."
"Funny," Jimmy said, "it doesn't appear to have gotten you into Claire's pants, Rusty."
"Would you grow up?" Kent said suddenly. "Let's face it, Jimmy, all you've done lately is treat Claire and everyone around her like crap, and despite all that, she's still standing by your side! You should be grateful more than anything right now! If you know what's good for you, you'll stop acting like this. I really don't want to have to give this speech again."
"I'm probably going to have to give him that speech again," Kent sighed while he and Holly sat in the back of Lisa Zielinski's car.
"I wouldn't worry about it," Claire said from the front passenger seat.
"Because you're breaking up with him?" Lisa said, her words very nearly overlapping with those of her daughter's friends. She then glanced at Claire and said, "I think it's safe to say what the popular opinion is, honey."
"Why did you even give Jimmy a ride in the first place?" Holly asked the driver. "Doesn't that go against your 'keep him and Claire apart at all costs' mantra?"
"Which hasn't been very effective, I might add," Kent did add.
"I had to pull a lot of strings," Claire said. "Strings I didn't even know were there."
"Claire, if your relationship is hanging by a thread," Lisa said, "you should just take out a pair of scissors and give it a mercy cut. I know neither you nor Jimmy likes where you are right now, especially since, as you say, he just barely passed the test you gave him today."
"I'm of the opinion that he didn't pass at all," Holly said. "The man's still the same jerk he's been these past several weeks."
"You don't see him when he and I are alone," Claire said. "He's different then."
"Claire, the only reason you think the sex is so good is because you're not supposed to be having it," Lisa said, stopping the vehicle abruptly at a red light.
"I never said anything about sex."
"Name something else you two do when you're alone these days." Before Claire could answer, Lisa did for her. "Nothing, because we won't let you two go on anything resembling a date anymore, so you just have to make do without the romance and go straight to the carnal pleasure." Claire tried to interject, but failed repeatedly. "If you were seeing someone else, someone with a better personality, someone like Kent here, your father and I might—"
"Hey!" Holly said.
"Whoa!" Kent gasped, his palms facing forward in shock.
"What?" Claire said. "Mom!"
Lisa shrugged. "Well, I would say Rusty, but he's just a friend and kind of a pervert, right? Not ideal, but still an improvement over—"
"Mom," Claire said, "Kent is Holly's boyfriend."
"I know, that's why I said you should get someone like him, Claire. Not him specifically."
"I don't want to be a measuring standard of boyfriend quality!" Kent said. "I'm too tall! And I'm lucky to have Holly, not the other way around! And why are we still in the car, shouldn't we have gotten to somebody's house by now? Are you driving in circles, Ms. Zielinski? You can't afford to be this reckless, not with these gas prices!"
Lisa smirked. "See? Why can't Jimmy be funny like that?"
Claire uttered a small laugh of her own. "You do have a point, Mom."
"Is no one going to comment on the double standard of me being too good for him?" Holly said, nonetheless taking his hand, likely out of a sense of clinginess brought on by the Zielinski's acknowledgment of her boyfriend's nice guy qualities. "For the thousandth time, Kent, we are on an even plane!"
"Humbled though I am by your comments," Kent said, blushing, "I'm rather embarrassed, and would like to maybe talk about something else."
"The radio!" Holly said.
"Yes, the radio!" Kent said. "Let's turn on the radio!"
"We're almost to your house, Kent," Lisa said, while Claire did as suggested and switched the radio on. "Piedmont Avenue, right?"
A voice sang, "If I was your vampire…" and Claire right away said who it was, conveniently for those not in the know. "Marilyn Manson." She laughed. "I can't believe he's still around."
"Well, you can change the station if you want," Lisa suggested with a minimum of subtlety.
"No," Claire smiled. "I like this song."
"Have you ever heard it before?" Kent asked.
"Since when is that a prerequisite for liking a song?" Holly said.
"I didn't say that it was, I was just asking."
"No, I haven't heard it before," Claire said. "My disbelief that Marilyn Manson was still around probably should have tipped you off."
Kent nodded silently in agreement and glanced out the window, whereupon he made a strange but completely understandable half-smile when he realized Lisa was turning onto his block from the main north-south street of La Crescenta Avenue. "You'll be going towards the center of the block, Ms. Zielinski," he informed her. A very short time later, she was pulling into the driveway of his residence, one that made she and her daughter, but not the previously acquainted Holly, give bewildered looks. "I know, we don't exactly look like a rich family, but all things considered, I'd say it's for the best. Anyway, thanks," he said, stepping out of the car just in time to be monumentally startled by his towering father appearing right beside the driver's side of the car. "Dad!" he gasped.
Rod leaned down and examined the occupants of the vehicle, feigning interest. After prompting her to lower her window, he asked to confirm Lisa's name, which he of course got correct but didn't make her seem any more comfortable. In fact, she was unsettled by it, and quickly demanded an explanation.
"How do you know my name?"
"Turn off the car," he ordered.
"I'm sorry, but I can't do that."
"Did that sound like a question?"
"You," Rod said, pointing at the girl in the passenger seat. "Out of the car, now."
"Excuse me—" Lisa interjected, before being silenced.
"I still hear an engine running," Rod said with a slam of his palm on the hood of the car. "Turn it off."
"Dad," Kent said. "Stop it."
"That's what I've been trying to tell her," Rod said, seconds later deciding to cut out the middleman (or woman, as it were) and just remove the keys himself, suddenly invading Lisa's personal space to reach the ignition to do so. The car now sitting in the Thomas family driveway and its keys tucked in Rod's pocket, the patriarch continued, "Now, everyone out of the car."
The three women did as they were told, but naturally none of them were happy about it. "What the hell is going on?" Lisa said.
"Do you know what a little cunt your daughter is, Lisa?"
"I beg your pardon—"
"You're not going to get it," Rod replied. "So I'm guessing you don't know? Okay, I'll tell you. Claire called Kent a rapist."
"I know," Lisa said. "She told me. But this was months ago, over one little kiss he gave Holly! Yes, it was an overreaction, but it's silly to keep talking about it now! Honestly, she's done worse things since then."
"Yeah, sticking with her boyfriend even after everything that's happened between them. How unfortunate."
"What the hell gives you any right to talk about this? Give me back my keys." She opened her hand to receive them, but was denied, rather predictably. "I said, give me back my keys."
"If there was any justice in this world, this Jimmy creep would have really raped her, instead of acting like a pussy and tricking her into his bed."
"My bed," Claire argued with a dose of correction, crossing her arms and looking to Holly, who was just as confused and speechless as Kent at the moment. "The fucker tricked his way into my bed, you asshole," she said while Rod walked slowly towards her. "Because I'm the one with the power in this relationship, not him. Tonight proved that."
"It's nice to finally meet you," Rod snarled, studying Claire's teenage body for several moments. "Very nice. Tell me, how is Jimmy?"
"Lucky to be with me," Claire stared back at him. "That's how it is. Oh, and by the way, Mr. Thomas, I was wrong when I insulted your wife that day at the gardens. It seems I was mistaken: you're the cunt here."
A few tense seconds passed, and everyone saw Rod's fist clench and his eyes glare, but when he did reach his hand up to Claire's face, it was to gently pat her cheek, though luckily not for long, as she backed away as soon as possible.
"Now give my Mom her keys back."
"Claire…" Lisa began, ultimately uncertain of what to say.
Rod turned to Holly and made another evil smile. "How's it going, slut?"
"It's going quite monogamous, thank you," Holly sneered. She glanced back and forth between Rod, Lisa and Claire and repeated the latter's demand. "The keys," she said, using her eyes to help get the message across.
Rod finally reached into his pocket to retrieve Lisa's keys and showed them to everybody so they could be sure. "Is this what you people want?"
"Dad," Kent said, watching as Rod lowered his gaze and the keys in hand towards Lisa's car. "Don't do it."
"I gave Mark a black eye at Thanksgiving," Rod said, making Holly ever more irate. Glancing at Lisa and Claire, he explained, "I think this family needs a warning from me, too." Using the key, he then proceeded to tear a scratch on the passenger side of the car, the painful and overlong noise second only to the bigger threat it served to imply. When the minute or so of property damage was done, he tossed the keys back to Lisa, who failed to catch them, and concluded, "None of you are going to see Kent until the new year. I hope one of your resolutions is to avoid pissing me off, because like I said, these are just warnings." He smiled and began walking to the front door. "Come on, Kent," he said with a pat on the boy's shoulder, "we've got gifts to wrap."
"I'm…" Kent hesitated, looking at the women, in particular those new to his father's tactics, "I'm really sorry about—"
"It's not your fault," Lisa said with a sigh, as she and the teenagers stepped back inside her car. "Believe me, Kent, I'm not holding this against you." She looked to her right and said, "Claire, do not come back to this house. Holly, I'd say the same, but you're his girlfriend, so…yeah. Are we clear?"
"What if I come back to burn it down?" Claire replied.
Turning the ignition, Lisa answered, "In that case, I'll think about it."
"Just let me know ahead of time so I can move out my stuff," Kent said, his hand slightly raised.
"Well, that goes without saying," Holly said in spite of stating otherwise. As Lisa backed out of the driveway, Holly blew Kent a kiss and shouted, "Have a nice vacation!"
"I'll try," Kent said with a wave goodbye. He finished with a preemptive, "And happy birthday!"