Sage Jackson finally escapes her abusive father, only to land into the arms of a smooth-talking college-senior. But when the relationship leaves her broken, she fails to take seriously the advances of, Brian Woosley, a handsome young man who is willing to love her completely. While he is everything she needs, Sage can’t see beyond the fact she used to babysit him as a child.
Sage Jackson’s head snapped around to the sound of the car door slamming. “Um, okay, then, Mrs. Woosley. Will do. I-I’ll be over in just a few minutes.” She ended her phone conversation, talking fast into the receiver. Sage nearly dropped the phone in her haste to hang it up and leave her room and the house. At the last minute, the Woosleys wanted her to babysit.
Now, her focus shifted. The car door slammed. It meant her father was in a funky mood. What happened this time? Someone at the post office didn’t speak? Did her mother go over the food budget? Sage could only guess what repercussions her mother would endure, whether she’d been at fault or not. Like a dump truck, her father would unload all of his garbage and anger of the day onto her mother.
She usually didn’t see it coming, sucker punched yet again. She’d vacuum up his occasional kind gestures. The week of her last birthday, he made her coffee because she’d been so tired from standing all day. She puckered her lips at the first sip then raced to the sink to spit. She wiped her mouth hard and said, “Oooh, Jason. This coffee tastes funny!” He responded by saying, “Yeah, ‘cause I peed in it.” His laughter saturated the room. Looking at his wife’s unsmiling face, he added, “Fool, you know I’m just playing with you. Can’t you take a joke?” There was always some lesson he claimed needed teaching. Lessons with cruel actions attached to them. An addendum. He gladly took credit for any mishap her mother endured, reminding her it happened because of something she did, or didn’t do enough of, for him. Then he’d blurt out, “See, that’s why. . .”
Her mother usually turned away in defeat, obviously, understanding very little of the intended lesson. But, the coffee did taste bitter, she thought. When Mrs. Jackson did feel up to confronting him, the battle of words would last well into the night, and then for a rematch the following morning. But their words turned into objects taking flight and landing against walls, missing its intended target. Then there was the occasional wrist-grabbing, and cry of, “Ouch, Jason! You’re hurting me!”
Sage’s mouth took on an unpleasant form. She sprinted down the stairs and scooped up her geometry notebook from the writing desk in the kitchen. When she heard the key turn in the front door, she stood still until the sound of her father’s footsteps ascended the stairs. She quietly eased out the front door, relieved to escape, if only for a few hours.
Sage locked the door and stuffed her key in the front pocket of her Gloria Vanderbilt jeans. She turned to face a half moon that welcomed silhouettes of trees and lamp posts. Sparsely scattered leaves crumbled beneath her feet as she walked one house over. The neighborhood seemed quiet. Still. Lights inside the windows of homes were the only evidence of life. She lifted her smooth caramel skin to the night air before walking up the steps and knocking on Mrs. Woosley’s door.
After three knocks, Mrs. Woosley opened the door wide. “Hello, Sage!” Linda gestured for her to come inside. They stood in the vestibule.
“Tonight’s your anniversary, isn’t it?” Sage said.
“Yes,” Linda answered, somewhat surprised. “How did you know?”
“Well, it wasn’t hard to guess because the last time I babysat Brian said that you and Mr. Woosley were going out next month because the family was still married.”
Linda nodded her head. “That sounds like something Brian would say! You think that’s something, earlier today I went downstairs to chastise Gabie for stuffing too much toilet paper in the toilet, right? Well, wouldn’t you know it, I caught her sticking . . .” then she lowered her voice, “. . . Kotex Lightdays all over the living room window for the entire world to see! I couldn’t believe it. All my pads on the front window!” Mrs. Woosley said, now laughing richly. “I don’t know what I’m going to do with her!”
Sage chuckled, her head slightly tilted back. She loved hearing stories about the twins. Gabrielle and Brian were actually well-behaved children. Gabrielle with her love for pretending and stories, and Brian with his urge to hug and kiss her every chance he got. She knew that deep down, Mrs. Woosley found delight in talking about the children, even if they’d done something contrary to what she wanted them to do.
“Again, sweetie, I’m sorry for asking you to babysit at the last minute. We really appreciate this,” Mrs. Woosley said fervently, guiding Sage into the living room.
Mrs. Woosley stood no more than five-feet tall. She had a pleasantly pale, round face. Mr. Woosley was tall and dark with thin hair that swirled around the sides and back of his head. The top shined like a new penny. It was obvious to Sage the love the Woosley’s had for each other. It reflected in their home as well. The furniture, wall décor, and rugs all said that the Woosley house was indeed a home. Sage scanned family pictures with delight. Every room had family portraits; in one Mrs. Woosley held the twins in each arm shortly after they were born. A few portraits graced the mantle over the fireplace in the living room.
Sage lowered her small frame onto the sofa, her eyes fixed on the pictures. She imagined the Woosley's eating together at the dinner table, each member chattering about the events of their day. Little Gabie mentioning her craft project in art class, Brian, some cool game he discovered, and Mr. and Mrs. Woosley listening intently, commenting when necessary. Sage’s thoughts were interrupted when she heard footsteps from the stairwell and looked up to see Brian creeping down the stairs holding his Operation game.
“Hey, Brian, what’s up, guy?” Sage smiled easily and knew that she was expected to play the game with him. Sage connected well with the children, partly because they were well-mannered kids, and they were so darn cute.
“Where’s Gabie?” Sage inquired, watching Brian finger a thick rubber band around his thumb and pinky. It was the rubber band he pulled off his Operation game to keep the dilapidated top over the game board and parts.
“Unno,” Brian hunched his shoulders, and then began taking off the top to his game.
“I’ll check on Gabrielle,” Mrs. Woosley interjected. “Make sure she hasn’t gotten into my makeup or anything.” She walked away swiftly and climbed the stairs. Brian sat next to Sage, staring up at her, smiling from ear to ear, minus his top front tooth. “Can I give you a hug?”
“Sure,” Sage said, thinking how adorable he was.
He put both arms around her neck and pulled her down to where her cheek was level to his lips. Then he kissed her. Sage inhaled Ivory soap and oddly enough, peanut butter.
“Oooh, a bonus!” Brian was quite the charmer. He and Gabrielle were what some folks in the south would refer to as “high yellow.” The twins were closer to their mother’s complexion, but looked more like their dad around the eyes and nose. They had doe eyes and irresistible cuteness. Their noses were medium in width but the nostrils were visible as the end of their noses turned up a bit, Gabrielle’s more so than Brian’s. Brian’s mom kept his hair cut short, although the ends still turned up into curls. Gabrielle’s hair seemed to have several destinations, the sides going east and west no matter how many times the strands were combed into an attempt to have them succumb to uniformity.
“Will you be happy to graduate first grade?”
“Umm, yes, I guess. But I won’t have anything to do when school is out.” Brian sucked his bottom lip.
“Well, aren’t you going to summer camp?”
“I dunno.” Brian looked away, then down at his sneakers. “Are you going to summer camp?”
“Oh, no. I’m graduating high school this year.”
“What high school do you go to?”
“Hayman. Maybe you’ll go there when you’re bigger.” Sage patted his head.
Linda’s return interrupted their conversation. She was holding Gabrielle’s hand. “Yes, I knew it. She was in my Mary Kay eye shadow.” Gabrielle still had a residual of sparkles, both blue and purple over her eyes and above her eyebrows.
“Hey, Gabie, you were playing dress up with Mommy’s makeup?” Sage said.
Gabrielle freed her hand from her mother’s and reached for Sage. Sage scooted to the edge of the sofa to give her a hug. “Say, which one of you is the oldest?”
“I am!” Both Gabrielle and Brian spoke in unison. It was evident the kids dressed themselves. Gabrielle wore a green blouse with dark blue and lime green vertical stripes with brown shorts. Brian wore tennis shoes with a pair of dress slacks that revealed skin from the top of his white socks to the edge of his cuffed pants.
Linda clarified. “Well, it was Brian actually.” She chuckled lightly with the recollection. “Brian is the oldest.”
By now, Gabrielle had sat on the floor next to Sage and folded her legs Indian-style. Linda remained standing to avoid wrinkling her black pant suit. Linda reminded Sage where the list of emergency contacts were and the bedtime rules. She walked to the edge of the stairs and called up to her husband. He swiftly appeared at the top of the stairs, apparently struggling with his ill-fitting tie. Like a child needing assistance, he made his way down the stairs and waited for his wife to instinctively help. It was like breathing, Sage observed.
“Howdy,” Mr. Woosley said, in his southern twang. “How’s your dad making out with those clubs I gave him?”
“Oh, hi, Mr. Woosley. He’s enjoying them!” Sage lied. She didn’t have the heart to tell him her father couldn’t care less about playing golf, nor could she tell him her father said that Mr. Woosley could take the clubs and shove them where the sun doesn’t shine.
Daniel Woosley looked pleased. “Good, good,” he said. “I’ll have to introduce him to Jim. He’s right up the street here. Jim plays golf as well.”
“He’d like that.” Sage’s gaze shifted to the floor.
“Good, good,” Daniel repeated. “Soon y’all will know all the neighbors. I think the next block club meet is next Tuesday. It takes time to get acclimated to a new neighborhood, let alone a new state. Y’all from Ohio, right?”
“No, Michigan. My dad’s job transferred him to Georgia and that’s why we moved.” Sage found herself pulling at her ponytail as she spoke.
“All right, that’s a good thing.”
Linda pulled at Daniel’s sleeve.
“Oh, I know, I know. Okay, you know where everything is, right?”
Sage started to answer, and realized it was a rhetorical question. She nodded and waved them off, and closed the front door behind them. She headed up the stairs with Gabrielle pulling on her shirt and Brian with one arm wrapped around her thigh with his other hand still clinching his Operation game. Once at the top, Gabrielle grabbed Sage’s hand and led her to her room and showed off her Barbie doll house, pink and lime green rooms with floral and striped patterns on the wooden walls. Each room had miniature furniture: a pink plastic bath tub in the bathroom, table and chairs in the kitchen. Gabrielle grabbed Barbie and handed Sage her Ken doll.
“You wanna play with me, Sage?”
“She doesn’t wanna play with those dumb ol’ dolls-- stupid girl stuff.” Brian mocked.
“Brian, I’m a girl.” Sage waited for his response.
“But why would you wanna play with boring dolls when we can play with my game?”
Sage rubbed Brian’s shoulder. “Tell you what, how ‘bout I play a little with Gabie and then I’ll play your game with you? Deal?”
Brian didn’t answer, he waited impatiently as the eleven and a half-inch antagonist robbed him of game-time while they were being dressed by his sister and babysitter. Sage could see Brian rolling his eyes periodically as Gabrielle rearranged the furniture in just about every room of the doll house. Gabrielle responded by sticking her tongue out at him. Brian sighed protractedly and leaned back against Gabrielle’s bed as he sat on the floor with both legs bent to his right-side. His head would pivot from the window to the door and then back at the doll house. He’d look down at his game and suck his teeth. This went on for the entire twenty minutes Sage and Gabrielle played.
Sage smiled easily at Gabrielle. “Okay, Gabie. Whataya think, should we play Brian’s game before he passes out?”
Gabrielle quick-wittedly said, “No, he can pass out.” She held her grip to Barbie’s waist, flicking the doll left, then right, in a bouncy cadence that humans could not possibly master.
“Gabie?” Sage called. “Don’t you feel the least bit bad for your brother? I mean look at him. He looks like he’s going to have a conniption.”
“Huh?” Gabrielle’s nose turned up and her lips bunched upward.
“Never mind, how about we put the dolls up and play with Brian’s game a bit, okay?”
Gabrielle demonstrated a more accommodating spirit than her brother. She put all of the dolls in the living room of their home and folded the front of the house closed to its back. Once done, she nodded in compliance.
“Let’s play in my room,” Brian grabbed Sage’s hand. His room was decked out with one wall royal blue, the others, a paler version. The solar system spanned across the ceiling, his bedding mimicking the same theme. Brian had one built-in bookshelf that exposed his interest in dinosaurs, comic book heroes and the solar system. Sage supposed it was typical for a boy of six. Brian’s bedroom, just as Gabrielle’s, looked as if it were decorated by a professional, aside from the clothes Brian had piled in a corner. Brian eagerly set up his game. He appointed himself to go first, giggling after each attempt to remove a bone from the oversized cardboard patient. The nose of the patient lit up red, warning the participating doctor that the bone had not been extracted successfully. Sage and Gabrielle did not escape the nose turning red on their attempts either. Laughter filled the room like installation filling a space to create warmth.
Without warning, Brian rounded his fingers and squeezed Sage’s left breast and said, “What’s that called?”
Sage was surprised but not embarrassed. “Hey, leave my boobies alone, mister.”
“Na-uh, they aren’t boobies, they’re breasts.”
“Well, leave them alone. Both of them. Thought you didn’t know what they were called?”
Gabrielle shot in, “I’m telling Mom you’re picking on Sage’s breasts!”
Sage shifted her weight from one hip to the other as they all huddled around the game on the carpeted floor, having disputes over her body.
Brian snapped back, “So what! You’re gonna get ‘em too so shut . . .”
Sage held her arms out with her palms lifted to the two opposite walls. “All right. Calm down you two. Okay, I think we’ve had enough of this game.” Sage began putting the pieces of the game inside the dilapidated box, covering it. “It’s almost ten o’clock. I’ll tell you two a story, a made up story about twin dragons . . . a boy and a girl.”
Sage had since ended her studies and began getting sleepy while the TV watched her, when the Woosleys came back just past midnight. They appeared to have had a good time, Sage gathered from their jovial demeanors. She imagined The Woosleys toasting their champagne glasses in a dimly lit restaurant with candles on the table, and soft music playing in the background. Mr. Woosley seemed a little tipsy because he kept hugging up behind his wife and she’d slap at his hand, though lovingly. Sage took in the moment, thinking it to be the biggest, almost strangest oxymoron, slapping someone for play.
Sage graciously accepted her money and headed back home. But it was like fizzle settling in a drink after two tablets of Alka-Seltzer had been plopped in it. Sage’s mood sank as soon as she walked back into her house. The voices from her parents’ room were elevated. Were they arguing all this time? she wondered. Their words seeped through the cracks under her bedroom door like smoke. “I don’t know, stupid . . . you tell me!” she heard her father yell. “You make me sick with the name-calling!” her mother retorted. Sage thought of the movie The Fog. She cut on the lamp by her bed then slowly took off her clothes, slipping into polka-dotted pajama pants with a sleeveless T-shirt. She lay in bed on her back. Her eyes turned downward like shutters to a window treatment.
Sage went back to her image of the Woosley family at the dinner table having polite and effortless conversation. Like cutting out faces of a magazine, she replaced theirs with her own family. Conversations crisscrossing over a bowl of mashed potatoes and green beans, and laughter directing itself at the person that last spewed a remark of playful criticism. She was happy, loved and knew that when the time came for her to start her own family, it would be like this. Laughter, love, food, and family, filled up the warm space. Somehow the magical pin burst her cheery thought, images vanishing in an instant. Shrills and the sound of broken glass brought her back to reality. Sage’s eyes popped open and her heart rate accelerated. She could never get used to their fighting. It all stemmed from her father. He was plain old mean. No matter how kind her mother tried to be, he’d twist it into something ugly. His nasty words weren’t enough. He had to push her occasionally to remind her who was boss. Sage didn’t understand why her mother took it. Her father was just a little over five feet tall. Her mother was slightly taller. She could have knocked him upside his head and demand he sit down somewhere, but she never did. She just took whatever he dished out.
Usually Sage managed to ignore his rude comments directed at her. “I sure hope yo’ ass don’t get big like yo’ mama’s.” Even when he dished out a compliment, Sage had to think twice because it didn’t always feel like one. “Oh, girl, you know I’m playing with you!” he’d sometimes say. Like saying something mean and admitting it to be a joke made it okay. “I grew up with my daddy treating me the same way—I turned out all right,” he often justified. He truly thought he was all right and everyone else had something wrong with them.
“Ooouch! That hurts, Jason!”
Sage jerked when she heard her mother cry out. She reached for the black knob on her lamp and turned it until there was only darkness. She gathered the covers up to her neck. Sage couldn’t help but wonder if the fog from her parents had seeped beyond her bedroom walls, past the bricks, into the night air and through the structure of the Woosleys’ home, and allowed them to know the truth that could no longer be contained.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this quick-read into my soon-to-be-released contemporary novel. Thanks!