“Why are you bringing me here, Steph?” whined Christina as Stephanie put the car in park outside of the school. “This is the very last place I want to be.”
“Chrissy, just relax, would you? It’s a reunion, what could possibly go wrong?”
She unbuckled and buttoned up her winter jacket before releasing a rant. “What could go wrong? Hmm….I wonder. Maybe something to do with the people on the other side of this building. Maybe something that involves, I don’t know, ten years of torture?”
“Oh...that,” Stephanie said while nodding slowly. “But that was three years ago.”
“For you,” Chrissy said flatly prior walking into the school. She had to take a deep breath before opening the door though.
The gym no longer looked like a gym. Streamers and balloons were hung all over and confetti covered the basketball court. And there were so many people that it was almost impossible to walk. Stephanie made her way over to the table where her name card was while Christina got some punch.
“Two cups, huh?”
She jumped spilling her cup all over her. Slowly she turned with the punch dripping down her neck and onto her pale yellow blouse. “Nicholas, I will give you three seconds before I pummel you.”
“Easy,” Nicholas handed her a couple of napkins. “I was just trying to say hello.”
She wiped her shirt with a scowl. “Goodbye.”
He flashed a movie-magic crooked smile and ran his fingers through his uncombed spikes. Then he propped himself against the table and adjusted his tie. “So, how’ve you been?”
“Great now that you’re not around.”
“Ah, come on, you don’t mean that.”
“But, I do.”
A stick of a woman with straight blonde hair and a Californian tan walked over. She wore a light green dress that simply hung over her frame. She wrapped an arm around Nicholas and smiled.
“Nicky, can you please come back to the table? Dinner will be served soon.”
Nick put a hand on her shoulder. “Olivia, this is…”
“Christina.” She stuck out her hand. “I’d say it’s nice to meet you, but my mommy taught me not to lie.”
Olivia smiled and stared at Christina’s stained shirt.
“It’s punch. I’m a clutz.”
“I see,” she eyed the table across the room. “Come on, Nicky.”
As she dragged him off, he turned and waved. “Nice seeing you, Chris.”
Christina was still rolling her eyes as she went back to the table. Stephanie looked at her quizzically.
“Out of punch?”
“I’m wearing it.” Christina held up her hand as Stephanie went to ask another question. “Don’t want to talk about it.” She pointed to the jackets on the chairs across.
Before Stephanie could finish, Nick and Olivia sat down with full plates.
“Hey, what do you know? We sharing a table,” Nick said obliviously.
“Lucky us,” Christina mumbled through clenched teeth.
Stephanie looked between the two. “So, Nick, what are you up to these days?”
“I’m a mailman.”
“Sign, sealed, and delivered,” Olivia chuckled and kissed his cheek.
“A mailman?” Christina raised her eyebrows. “What happened to the cartoonist?”
“There’s no logic behind being a cartoonist.”
“Or eating meat,” Olivia reminded him and removed the burger from his plate.
“What are you?” Christina asked so out straight that Stephanie elbowed her in the ribs.
“I’m a veterinarian.”
“Saving animals one day at a time,” Christina scoffed.
Nick stared at his burger for a while before looking up at her. “What do you do, Chris?”
She set her shoulders. “One, it’s Christina. Two, elementary school teacher.”
Olivia laughed so hard she nearly choked on her salad. “They let someone like you teach the future kids of America?”
Instantly Stephanie and Nick lowered their heads. Christina stood and stared the laughing blonde down. “Take that back this instant!”
“Why? It was a genuine question.”
“Take. It. Back. Now.”
* * * * * *
Christina was laying back on the couch staring at the ceiling while holding the bag of ice to her left hand. Stephanie walked in with a sleeping bag and a pillow.
“I just got off the phone with Nick. He said that Olivia’s fine, but she might be pressing charges.”
“I didn’t even hit her though! It was the table!”
“She’s considering it an attempted murder.”
“Yeah, good luck with that one in court.”
Stephanie sat down on the other chair. “The district court, Chrissy. And she has her own personal lawyer.”
She cringed. “Not against…”
Christina groaned and put the pillow over her head.
* * * * * * * *
“Really, Chrissy?” Darryl looked at her and shook his head. “Destruction of public property. Believable. Uncivilized behavior. Sounds like you. But attempted murder? That’s a whole new level.”
“It wasn’t attempted murder,” she muttered and adjusted her bandage.
“I thought you became a teacher to mellow.”
Before she could answer, the judge called the court to attention.
“Miss May, you are suing Miss Watson for..attempted murder?”
“Yes, your honor.”
She had been through so many of these the words came natural. “Not guilty.”
“I object, your honor!” Olivia exclaimed, but was shushed with the raising of the judge’s hand.
“Miss Watson, what happened that night? Do you recall?”
“It was a fifteen year reunion and Miss May said some very personally insulting things.”
“She tried to kill me, your honor.”
“Is this true?”
“No, your honor.”
Olivia shook her head with disgust. The judge called Nick to the floor.
“Mister Maldonado, did Miss Watson attempt to murder Miss May?”
He looked at Christina. “No, your honor.”
The judge caught the side eye. “Please describe the night then.”
“Chr, err, Miss Watson was enraged by the comment made by Miss May.”
“Insult to her teaching profession.”
The judge turned to Christina. “You’re a teacher?”
“Elementary school in Augusta, Maine.”
“Proceed, Mister Maldonado.”
Nick looked at Olivia this time. “Then Miss May continued by laughing thus further angering Miss Watson. Miss Watson then punched her fist into the table cracking the entire top and breaking several dishes and a vase of flowers.”
The judge raised his hand and turned to Christina again. “You did that with one punch?”
“Yes, your honor.” She held up her bandaged hand. “With consequence: three broken knuckles.”
The judge nodded. “Miss May, would you like to introduce your lawyer?”
Darryl stood. “Esquire Darryl Watson.”
Olivia and Nick stared at the man as though he was a stranger now. In fact, most the court did.
“I respect my title, your honor, and will not be biased in my decision. There is no evidence in any of these witness claims saying that Miss Watson did in fact attempt to kill Miss May. It is one word against the other.” He turned to Christina. “Do you admit to damaging public property?”
“Do you admit for unjust public behavior?”
“Do you admit to attempted murder?”
“Did you think of it?”
Christina didn’t answer at first. Only when the judge reminded her that she was under oath did she say, “I did not think about killing her, though I did want to land my fist in her gut.”
Olivia let out a tiny yelp. The judge silenced her and looked at Christina. “Miss Watson, what made you come to that conclusion? The taunting?”
She stared at the floor.
“Anything you do not say can and will be held against you in this case, though I’m sure you already knew that. Why did you come to this action?”
Christina took a deep breath and mumbled something. When asked to speak up, she looked over at Nick with sad eyes. “My reasoning behind my actions were because Mr. Maldonado had spilled a cup of punch earlier that night.”
The judge eyed them again. “There was no other motive?”
“No, your honor.”
The judge was silent for a minute or two. “Okay...the ruling has been decided on my behalf. Miss Watson is deemed not guilty of attempted murder. However, Miss Watson you will be fined one thousand two hundred dollars for destruction of public property. Dismissed.”
Christina filed her papers together and tried to walk out the door. A hand grabbed her wrist. It was Nick.
“Chrissy,” he began.
She shook her head. “Meet me outside.”
Outside, on the snow covered steps, Christina stared Nick down. “What do you know?”
“I know that you used your legal skills to find loopholes in all the questions. And that you hate your brother. And that the judge was the same one from your last case on the force.”
“Well, you’re wrong.”
“Really?” He crossed his arms to hide his shiver as the snow fell. “Oh wait, one more thing: the punch wasn’t your motive, but I still was.”
She waved him off. “You are completely wrong now! And foolish!”
As she walked down to where Stephanie’s car was parked, he yelled out. “I know I’m right, Chris!” In a softer tone, he added, “At least I hope I am.”
* * * * * * *
“I mean, that could have gone worse,” Stephanie shrugged her shoulders and microwaved the leftover pasta from a couple nights before.
Christina was sitting at the table eating a piece of cold pizza loaded with everything, but vegetables. She laughed as she looked at it. “Can you believe that Nicholas gave up meat for that snob?”
She sighed and joined her friend at the table. “Just tell me what to answer because I stopped listening about an hour ago when you started talking endlessly about him.”
“It wasn’t an hour,” Christina protested.
“You’re right- an hour and two minutes. Admit it, Chrissy, you’re in love with him.”
“It’s not love.” She finished the pizza. “It’s a very, very strong...disliking.”
Stephanie shook her head and smiled as her best friend grew redder and redder every second. “By the way,” she said between bites. “Your mother called today hearing that you were in town. She wants you to stop by for Christmas.”
“Great,” Christina cringed. Christmas was in two days.
* * * * * * *
Christina took a deep breath and rung the doorbell.
Please don’t be Dad. Please don’t be Dad. Please don’t be-
A burly man built like an ox was standing at the door in his police uniform. A scowl he wore on his face. “Christina.”
Her smile disappeared. It came back when a frail woman with graying hair and flour covered apron walked through the living room. She wrapped Christina in a hug, “Thank goodness you’re home. Come in, come in. It’s too cold out there.”
Christina took a step inside and got lost in the faces. Some smiled, some scowled, some were sleeping. That was family. A little boy ran up to her wrapping his arms around her legs stubbornly.
Jeffrey smiled and stayed right on her hip even as she walked into the kitchen where her sister, Josephine, was having a civilized discussion with her husband, Marcus. They stopped talking when she walked in.
“Hey, Josie. Hey, Marc.”
Josephine raised her eyebrows. “I told you she’d come without a date.”
“Jeffy’s my man. Right, Jeffy?” When the little boy gave a sleepy nod she smiled. “Told you.”
Darryl walked in with his baby daughter on his shoulder. He saw his son and smiled. “Whatcha doing up there, Jeffy?”
The boy smiled and then wrapped his arm around Christina’s neck.
Darryl smiled and then pulled his sister into the hallway. “Dad doesn’t know about the whole court situation and I didn’t want to ruin your stay. The broken hand is just from slamming it in a desk drawer.”
He grabbed her by the wrist. “Come on, I’m trying to help.”
“I got you off of murder charges.”
She smiled. “I would have preferred being convicted of murder rather than sitting out there with everyone looking at me like I’m a complete disappointment to the family name.”
“You’re not a dis-”
“Really? Dad kicked me off the force because of what I did.”
“That was ancient history.”
“The whole town seems to remember.”
Darryl shook his head. “Stay with Jeffy for the rest of dinner. Kids seem to help you.”
She covered Jeffrey’s ears. “That’s because I can’t stick it to the man in front of the innocent minds of America.”
He rolled his eyes. “Behave.”
Christina put Jeffy back up on her hip and then took the seat furthest from everyone, which happened to be right next to Darryl’s wife, Kimberly, and another empty seat. She looked down at her steaming plate of chicken, mashed potatoes, and green beans. Christina sighed, pushed her plate over, and then grabbed a biscuit.
Her father cleared his throat and side-eyed her. Christina set her jaw and continued plucking at her biscuit. Her mother shot her husband a look and then turned to her daughter.
“So, how was Africa?”
“Augusta, was great. The kids taught me quite a bit out there, including their sledding ways. I rode down an abandoned ski slope in a cardboard box last summer. And-”
“That’s nice sweetheart.” Her mother brushed her off and then turned to Josephine, who held a strong conversation making sure to brag every second. Christina was onto her fourth biscuit when Josephine turned the conversation back to her.
“So, Chrissy, did Africa have any men that could make you happy?”
Darryl looked up and without thinking said, “Nicholas! What happened between you and him?” When he saw the death glare that his younger sister was giving him, he bit his lip and turned back to his wife.
Josephine smiled. “Nicholas? Nicholas Maldonado?”
Her husband looked up from his plate. “The Maldonado Tornado? Best pitcher of all times. There’s no way you two were together.”
Josephine smiled again. “Perhaps we should give ol Nick a call and see if you’re telling the truth.”
Their father cleared his throat. “She probably isn’t, Josie. Save yourself a call.”
Christina bit her lip and then pushed her plate further aside. Then she stood and looked them all down, only smiling at Jeffy’s face covered in potatoes like a beard. “I know I’m a disappointment to you guys, okay? You don’t have to remind me every single dinner, outing, or celebration. I will never be as good as my younger sister or as amazing in my profession as my older brother. I will never be able to cook such a great meal or stop crime in the streets. And, I’m okay with that. Okay? But, please, just trust me for once. Look at me with a little respect.”
“Hard to do when you make talk-of-the-town with that mistake of yours.”
She stood up and walked out the front door making sure to slam it behind her. In tears, Christina took a walk around the block. Soon snow began to fall and she wished she remembered to take her jacket from Stephanie’s car.
“You look a little chilly,” a voice yelled out behind her.
She kept walking. “What do you want, Nick?”
He removed his jacket and set it over her shoulders. “A burger. A big fat juicy burger.”
“There’s a McDonald’s three blocks down.”
Nick grabbed her hand. “I’m sorry. Okay?”
She rolled her eyes and kept walking.
“Wait! I need my jacket.”
“If you want it, I’ll be three blocks down eating a big fat juicy burger alone at a table for two.”