“None of the women are going to the kitchen to help?” I asked.
“She has a staff, but I was just thinking…”
Jonathan came up behind Theresa with his whiskey drained to the ice. “She kicked me out,” he said.
“Does she need help?” Theresa asked.
“Would she admit it?”
She looked up at me. “Sheila might kick Jonathan out, but from me, she’ll take help.”
“Jonathan, can you take care of Antonio? Make sure he doesn’t step on a toe.”
“Mom’s not even here yet,” Jonathan said.
She play punched him in the arm and went to the kitchen to see what had happened.
I tried not to look at her bottom when she walked away. She never swayed it or asked for attention with it, but her posture was so straight and proud, the result of such effort to remove sex from her gestures, that I got hard just looking at her.
But her brother was right next to me, and looking at his sister as if she was naked wouldn’t make me a friend. I didn’t know what future I had with Theresa, but I was sure getting kicked out of her sister’s house at Thanksgiving wasn’t going to help .
“You’re the only boy,” I said to Jonathan. “Of how many?”
“Protecting all these women. Sounds like a full-time job.”
“You have a sister, then?” His Italian was accented, but fluid and nuanced. I had to remember not to underestimate him.
“Back home,” I said. “Just one, two years older than me.”
“She know everything about everything?”
“But, of course. How I breathe without her help, I always wonder.”
He glanced around. I knew the look. He was seeing if anyone was listening. At least one of them must have spoken Italian. “Even after you came here looking for those bastardi?”
Though the shift in the conversation hadn’t caused half a second of pause, and our faces betrayed nothing, it was as audible to me as a magazine clicking into place.
“Heard you missed one,” he said.
“I haven’t forgotten.” I was being watched, indeed, by the redhead with the vapor cigarette and one of the men.
“I think that’s the only big failure in my dossier,” I said.
Jonathan nodded. “We’ve decided to overlook it.”
“No Italian!” Theresa had returned. She put her hand on my back. “Not fair. I don’t know what you’re saying.”
“Did Sheila need anything?” Jonathan asked.
“Besides a mop? No. And she’s letting the kids toast the s’mores before dinner.”
They exchanged a look that seemed more intense than it needed to be.
“Oh, Jon don’t tell this story,” she said.
“It’s… I don’t know. Inappropriate.”
At the word, he took on a glint of mischief and leaned toward me. “Our dad took us to the club whenever Mom was unavailable, meaning incapacitated, and the nannies had the night off or were overwhelmed.
“Which was most of the time.” Theresa was cutting in on the conversation despite her misgivings about appropriateness. “The ’overwhelmed’ part, I mean.”
“Yeah. Of course, he’d go off with his cronies to the Gate Bar to drink, and we’d be left in the TV room. Which had this big screen. At the time, this was a big deal.”
“Oh, and movies on prerelease.”
“Right. R rated, too. But mostly, we’d wander around, and at one point we got to the carriage house. It was me, Theresa, and Leanne, who was old enough to know better. But we saw these lights on and who knew, right? Maybe there were baskets of candy or some coke or something.”
“We were too young for that.”
“I think Leanne was dabbling. So. Hell, if there wasn’t something going on. Out on the patio, it was so damn dark, but we smelled a barbecue and found it happening at the carriage house. A bag of marshmallows was right there. It was closed. The boxes of graham crackers and chocolate were, too. Leanne wouldn’t let me have any unless there was no one inside. So we checked.”
“How old were you?” I asked.
“Eight,” he said. “By the way, it was the last time she got candy out of my hand. Anyway, so, you know, the carriage house was like a guesthouse for dignitaries, right on the Downtown Gate Club grounds. It had everything in it. A kitchen they never used, a little pool, and a sitting room, which we snuck into.”
“It seemed like a good idea at the time,” Theresa said.
“So, we’re in there. And we hear this noise, like this slapping. And we’re all curious. Oldest of us is what, eleven? And, get that look off your face,” he said to me, “It’s not what you think.”
“It’s ten times worse,” Theresa said.
“We peek around to the living room, and then, I mean the slapping gets louder, and there’s this…” He lowered his voice. “Woman, bent over the couch, with her bare bottom out, and a guy. Big hairy motherfucker of a beast, hitting her ass with a slab of meat.”
I didn’t say anything, because I hadn’t heard that exact idiom before. But Theresa burst out laughing.
“I think it was a raw flank steak,” she blurted out.
“She covered my eyes. So sure, if she knows the cut of meat, I believe her.”
“Mio Dio.” I didn’t even believe what I was hearing. I had to hold in an attack of laughter, because Theresa was taking over the story.
“The guy… he hears something, and he stops. We run. Leanne pulls us in some crazy direction—”
“She has no sense of direction. She gets lost putting her contacts in,” said Jonathan.
“And we end up in the bedroom diving for a closet. We make it, but we hear the guy stomping down the hall, yelling in Russian.”
“Czech,” corrected Jonathan. “And I tell them, I whisper, ‘You’re my sisters, and I won’t let him spank you with meat.’”
Though he’d kept his face straight until then, none of us could hold it in any longer. I laughed so hard I thought my guts would drop out of me. Theresa had tears streaming down her face, and Jonathan tried to finish the story between bouts of laughter. “Leanne, I mean she was horrified. She said, ’No one’s spanking anyone with meat, Jon.’ And then this one”—he pointed to Theresa—“says, ‘he was just tenderizing it for the grill.’”