THE MOUTHS OF BABES, Part Eleven
Kim glanced out the front windows and saw that nothing had changed. The rain hammered down on the deck relentlessly. It had been raining since before dawn and the steady drum roll that beat down on the roof showed no sign of even slowing.
Twilight had descended inside the house, even though it was only early afternoon and Kim and Finn sat across from each other at the dining room table, huddled in the glow of the hanging lamp.
Finn absently picked up a cheese doodle from the small pile in front of him and munched on it while he considered the cards in his hand. "I'll take two," he said to Kim and he slid the discarded cards across the table to her, face down. She dealt herself three new cards, then slid two more back across to him.
"Five," he said, and five greasy orange cheese snacks joined the mound in the middle of the table.
Kim raised an eyebrow at him. "You're such a bluffer, Finn Ryan, and I'm not falling for that again," she said. "I'll see your five, and raise you five more, you little shark."
Finn smirked at her and anteed up.
"Okay, what do I do now?" he asked.
"You can raise the bet or you can call," Kim said.
"Okay. I call."
Kim spread her cards out on the tabletop. "Full house," she said with a smile.
Finn leaned forward and inspected them, then nodded.
"What have you got, pardner?" Kim asked.
He put his cards down on the table, exposing a number of face cards. All of the same suit. "What do you call that one with all the king and queen guys when they're all like hearts or something?"
"Son of a - "
"What? Is that bad?"
Kim laughed. "No, it's not bad. It's called a royal flush."
"Is that higher?" he asked hopefully.
Kim shook her head in amazement. "Oh yeah, it's higher."
Finn grinned triumphantly and pulled the mound of snacks towards himself.
Just then, Kerry's bedroom door opened and she wheeled herself out towards the living room.
Kim and Finn both grabbed a fistful of discarded playing cards.
"Okay, so, uh, do you have any fours?" Kim said.
"No. Go fish."
Kim found a card amidst the cheese doodles and picked it up. "Hey Ker, did you have a good nap?"
"As a matter of fact, I did," Kerry said, "and for the record, you two can just knock it off because I know you've been teaching him to play poker since I was in the hospital."
Kim and Finn exchanged guilty looks.
"Oh come on, Kerry, it's not like I'm taking him to Vegas and teaching him to count cards."
"I'm sure that will be next," Kerry said, rolling up to the dining room table.
"What's counting cards?" Finn asked. "How do you do that?"
"See?" Kerry said.
Kim rolled her eyes. "I can tell you're feeling better," she said.
"And," Kerry continued, ignoring Kim completely, "I'm sure his grandmother would be delighted to know that the fallen women next door are now teaching her grandson to gamble."
Finn looked back and forth between them. "Who fell? Did somebody fall?"
"All right, if you're so strongly opposed to card games, what do you suggest we play?" Kim asked.
"There's a whole cupboard full of games behind you there, in the sideboard. See what's there," Kerry said.
"All righty." Kim turned her chair around, opened the cupboard door and peered in.
"Snakes and Ladders?" she said.
"Boring!" Finn said.
"Okay, how about Trivial Pursuit?"
"What's that?" Finn asked.
"Never mind, I don't think it's really your thing, they don't have a section on Celtic mythology," Kim said. She rummaged deeper. "Oh, wait a minute, how about chess?"
"Oh, chess!" Kerry said. "That's a good idea."
Kim chuckled at Kerry as she laid out the board and opened the box of chess pieces. "I thought you might approve."
"Finn, do you know how to play?" Kerry asked.
Finn averted his eyes, suddenly quiet. "I don't want to play," he said softly.
"It's not that hard, really," Kerry said, "once you know how the men move. We could play on the same side at first."
"I don't want to play," he said again.
Kim paused, black bishop in hand, and looked up at Finn. There was something in his tone.
"Oh come on," Kerry said. "It's really a great game."
"Ker," Kim said quietly, her eyes on Finn.
"You know, if you haven't tried it, you don't - "
"I said I don't want to play!" Finn shouted. Hot tears sprang to his eyes and he jumped to his feet. "It's a stupid game and I hate it! I'm never going to play it again!" He ran across the living room and out onto the deck before Kerry could find her voice.
Kerry looked over at Kim, her mouth open in shock. "What just happened? What did I say? Did I say something wrong?"
Kim stood up to peer out at the tiny figure sitting on the steps down to the patio, huddling in the rain. "I think we hit a landmine," she said.
Kerry wheeled herself towards the door. "He's upset. I should talk to him."
"No, Kerry, wait. It's pouring, you'll get your cast wet. Let me go."
Kim stepped soundlessly through the door, pulling on her sweatshirt hood as she went. She made her way across the deck to the steps and sat down near Finn without saying a word.
The lake was the colour of wet cement, the sky not much brighter and rain pelted down without respite. She wondered if maybe she should have just worn her bathing suit to come out here.
"I'm sorry," Finn said and he sniffed.
"Sorry?" Kim asked. "For what?"
"I was rude," he said. "I shouldn't have yelled."
"Sometimes when people are angry, they yell."
Finn wiped his nose on his t-shirt sleeve. "It's just - I don't like to play chess anymore."
Kim nodded. "Yeah, I got that. And that's okay. You don't have to if you don't want to."
She studied his face, felt rain trickling down her legs and waited.
"It makes me sad."
"I see," Kim said. "Tell you what - I promise that we won't try to make you play, okay?"
"Okay." He peeked at Kim's face. "Is Kerry mad?"
"Oh, for heaven's sake, no! No one's mad at you, Finn."
"Gran gets really mad if I yell," he said. "She says it's bad manners. I'm not supposed to be rude."
Or run or play or make a mess or mourn or do any of the things that kids are supposed to do, Kim thought. "Well, we're not mad, so don't worry about that, okay? If you didn't want to play, then we're glad you told us." She slicked his wet bangs back off his forehead. "Kerry and I didn't mean to make you sad, though. We didn't know that chess made you sad."
Finn watched the water trickling down his bare arms. "My mom taught me to play chess when I was little. We played it all the time together. I was getting pretty good at it too and she said that we could maybe enter a tournament for kids and everything and I was really excited, but - "
Kim held her breath and waited. She couldn't tell his tears from the raindrops running down his cheeks.
"But then she killed herself."
Kim put a hand on his back. "You must have felt pretty scared and sad," she said.
He hugged himself and rocked a little, tears coming harder. "And lonely," he said. "She left me all alone, Kim! She didn't - she never even thought about me!"
He reached for Kim and she pulled the small boy into her lap, encircled him with her arms.
"Sometimes I wish she would've taken me with her," he said, face pressed to Kim's chest. "At least then I wouldn't always feel so a-alone."
Kim rocked him and let him cry.
The rain poured down without end.
Kim lowered the newspaper she was reading just enough to peer over at Kerry. The petite redhead was still staring down the beach, towards the Ryan house, with a worried expression on her face.
"Kerry, I'm sure he's fine," Kim said, lowering the paper to her lap.
"He usually drops by now," Kerry said, scanning the beach. "I hope he's okay." She turned to look at Kim. "Are you sure he was all right when you dropped him off last night?"
Kim suppressed a sigh. "I told you, Ker, he was calm and very tired. He needed a good sleep and dry clothes more than anything."
"But was he okay?"
Kim folded the paper and put it down on the table. "Kerry, he's not going to be okay for quite some time. He's nine years old and he's just beginning to mourn the death of his mother. It's going to take a while to work through that." Kim glanced up the beach at the Ryan estate. "Especially while he's still in the clutches of that banshee who is disguised as his grandmother."
Kerry smiled absently at Kim's choice of words, then looked out at the water and sighed. "Maybe we should call."
Kim thought about banging her head on the table. "He'll come when he wants to come. He may even still be asleep. He was really exhausted last night."
Kerry let her head fall back in exasperation and looked up at the sky. It looked bluer and cleaner than before, as if yesterday's torrential rain had washed away the signs of wear that had been there.
"We're not doing enough," Kerry said.
Kim put her newspaper back down. "We're doing everything we can, Kerry. He doesn't belong to us. There's only so much we can do."
Kerry stared out at the water again and was silent. Kim waited, then picked up her newspaper. She had just started to roll her eyes at George W.'s most recent foreign policy debacle when she felt Kerry's eyes on her again. She lowered the paper.
"I just think we could be doing more," Kerry said softly.
Kim reached across the table and took Kerry's hand in hers. "I know you do," she said. "But I think that - "
"Morning, ladies!" Roger's voice rang out across the deck and both women turned. He was already climbing up the steps of the deck, the waves and breeze having drowned out the sound of his arrival.
"Good morning, Roger," Kim said with a smile. "To what do we owe the pleasure?"
Roger's reply was lost as Kim felt Kerry's hand slip quickly out from under her own. Startled, she turned to look at Kerry, whose face was impassive.
"... so I'll just climb up and a have a look if you don't mind." Roger was gesturing towards the roof.
"Sure, go ahead," Kerry said. "Can we offer you some coffee?"
"Thank you kindly ma'am, that would be lovely," he said. "I'll just go and get the ladder off the truck." He headed back the way he came.
Kim got up and started clearing the dishes.
"I'm going to sit out a while longer," Kerry said.
Kim nodded. "Sure," she said and headed for the house.
Kerry sat on the deck watching Roger clamber up and down the ladder carrying pieces of eaves trough. She scanned the beach for Finn and wondered if he was okay. "Kim tells me that you have a regular visitor," Roger said as he stretched his tape measure across a piece of white plastic trough.
"Yeah, do you know Finn?" Kerry asked.
"Well, we mostly know about him. His family is pretty big news around here."
"They're pretty wealthy, aren't they?"
Roger nodded. "Oh my, yes," he said. "Mr. Ryan, Finn's grandfather, manufactures plastics. There's a huge family fortune, I imagine." He marked a spot on the trough with his pencil. "Poor little guy, though," he continued, "what with his mom taking her life and all."
"Yeah, he's told us about that," Kerry said. "He said it was almost two years ago."
Roger took off his cap and scratched his forehead. "Yeah, that'd be about right. Sad, sad thing. Threw herself in front of one of those El trains you have in Chicago. Such a pretty young thing, too. Finn favours her."
Kerry watched him saw a long piece of trough that was propped on two sawhorses.
"Do you know Mrs. Ryan, his grandmother?" Kerry asked.
"Again, only by reputation," he said. "My wife works at the bakery in town and she said she's come in a few times. Very specific about what she wants, but polite and all."
Kerry raised an eyebrow. That was one description, she supposed.
"So now both of you girls are doctors, I'm told," he said, rooting around in his toolbox.
"That's right," Kerry said.
"Are you both psychiatrists?"
"No, just Kim. I work in the emergency room."
"Well now," Roger said as he stood up with a power saw in his hands. "So if I was planning on having a heart attack, or cutting off my thumb ..."
"Then I'd be the person you'd want to see," Kerry said. "Although I do advise against either of those activities."
Roger chuckled and searched around for his carpenter's pencil again, eventually finding it behind his ear.
"How long have you two been together?" he said, motioning towards the house with his head.
Kerry felt a hot blush that had nothing to do with the sun.
"Pardon?" she said for lack of any alternative.
"You and Kim," he said with a big, friendly smile. "I'm wondering how long you two have been together?"
Kerry stared at him blankly, mental doors slamming decisively shut.
"Uh, actually, we're - we're not a couple, Roger," she said. "Why - what would make you think that - that we were a couple?"
The colour was draining out of Roger's face as Kerry stuttered and stammered.
"I'm very sorry, Kerry," he said. "I just went and presumed that if you girls were friends of Rachel's - I didn't mean to - well, gosh, Kerry, my apologies."
Kerry started to speak, then thought better of it. "Don't worry about it, Roger. It's not a problem." She started to wheel herself towards the door. "Excuse me, I've got to get out of the sun for a while."
"Hey, hey!" Kim called from the dining room table. "There's a speed limit in here, lady!"
Kerry slammed to a stop. "Do I look like a lesbian?"
Kim cocked her head, a puzzled expression on her face. "I beg your pardon?"
"I mean, is there something about me that tells people that I'm a lesbian? Was I the last to know? Because it seems to be evident to everyone else."
Kim shifted in her chair to face Kerry. "Okay, you're going to have to tell me what we're talking about here."
"First it was Finn and then that nurse and now Roger. Everyone just seems to assume that we're lesbians."
"Okay," Kim said slowly. "But Kerry - we are lesbians."
"I know, but everyone just assumes that we are."
"So you're saying that you'd rather that people not know that you're a lesbian?"
Kerry's eyes locked on Kim's and froze.
"I didn't say that."
"Not in as many words, but it's what you meant, isn't it?"
"Don't put words in my mouth."
"All right," Kim said, leaning back in her chair and crossing her arms, "what did you mean?"
"I meant that I don't want people to ... I mean it's none of their business. It's private."
"Private?" Kim asked. "Or secret? Because there's a big difference."
Kerry paused long enough for Kim to know that she'd hit a nerve. "I just don't want it to be the first thing people know about me."
Kim arched an eyebrow at her. "Then don't make it that way. You're the only one who can influence that."
Kim saw Kerry's eyes flash.
"That's not the point," Kerry said and the tone of voice was one that Kim had heard her use with delinquent residents in the ER. "What I'm saying is that if I was one of those very masculine looking women with a crew cut and tattoos, then I would - "
"Hold it, hold it," Kim said. "Are you suggesting that someone who chooses to look like that is less - "
"I'm saying," Kerry said over her, "that it would be more obvious to everyone that that person was a lesbian, whereas you and I - "
"What if Icut my hair, Kerry? Huh? What if I cut my hair and got a great big labrys tattoo on my arm and started wearing flannel shirts and big black boots? You wouldn't find me attractive then, would you? Would you even speak to me?"
"Kim, don't be ridiculous," Kerry said. "You would never do something like that."
"And so that's why you're willing to be seen with me, is it? Because I don't look like some bad 1950's stereotype of a bull dyke? Is that it? Because I have an acceptable haircut and because I choose to wear feminine clothes, you can be seen with me and feel safe because no one will think that you're a lesbian. Am I right?"
"Kim you're being - "
"Kerry do you have any idea how it makes me feel when you pull your hand away from mine like you just did out there?" Kim said. "It makes me think you're ashamed of me."
"Kim, I don't think you're seeing what I'm saying," Kerry said, but her voice was shaking.
"No," Kim said, "I think I'm seeing exactly what you're saying Kerry and I'm realizing what an idiot I've been to think that anything had changed." She got up and slammed the computer shut. "God, I just can't talk about this anymore. I'm going out for a walk."
She strode purposefully across the living room, and disappeared out the front door, slamming it behind her.
Kerry slumped in her wheelchair.