November 15, 2012 by Vee Villarreal
She gazed at the walls of her classroom examining her handiwork, without any classes to distract her she’d had days to cut out paper decorations for the bulletin boards and displays for future student work; if they ever got any students that is. In the almost two months since they opened the school her parents had managed to recruit zero families. To say she was disappointed would be a grievous understatement. The morning she and Miranda had trucked all those supplies to the town square to hand out and came home with every stitch of clothing and every can of food still in their possession she had realized their idyllic vision of a smooth and happy transition into life here in the Pacific was going to be anything but. Her sister was beginning to speak more and more about moving back home to the capitol. Miranda had been reluctant to give up her life there in the first place, but they had all made a commitment to assisting their parents’ project and whatever apprehensions they’d had were stifled. Still, she couldn’t help, but notice how the time spent idly waiting for the locals to come around was wearing on them all and life in this remote zone was turning out to be cumbersome and, above all, lonely.
She and Miranda had had a large social network in Chicago of friends, neighbors and colleagues, and both of them spent a lot of time hitting up parties and various galas, going on dates and in classes; all those events really aided them in passing the time. Here she passed time decorating her classroom or working in the gardens, and mostly just waiting for something more to happen. Occasionally that something more came in the form of two tall, dark and mysterious locals by the names of Kopi and Kai Gresham, who both had an uncanny knack for getting into tiffs with the resident military, especially Kopi. In truth, her parents had had some lucky in recruiting workers for the estate, none of them seemed interested in being examined at the clinic or sending their precious children to the school, but it was a start. At first it was just Patch, Hunter and the Gresham brothers, all the men who had helped them move their possessions from the dock the day they’d arrived, but Kai started bringing more and more locals around to talk to her parents about employment. Now they had a groundskeeper, a few gardeners, a stable boy, well man actually, and a handful of young ladies who prepared meals for her family and the staff. The yard was neat and freshly cut, the house was in better repair, the gardens were thriving, and the horses seemed about as happy as horses could be, as far as she could tell.
One thing that would be interesting would be dinner that night. Her mother had been planning a dinner party for weeks for their family and the families of their employees. Summer smiled stupidly thinking about the awkward, but potentially very comical night to come and stopped herself when she realized how utterly catastrophic it was probably going to be. Kai was sweet and he was doing a stellar job helping out her dad in the new library, but he was still pretty shy around them and seemed to really clam up at the mention of a number of subjects, so many Summer couldn’t keep track. And Kopi, wow, he was a real puzzle. Mostly, she just avoided him whenever possible; something about the man was incredibly unnerving. Patch and Hunter were nice enough, but they always seemed uneasy anytime she spoke to them, or anyone spoke to them come to think of it. Their wives were even more skittish and the other employees wouldn’t even consider the invitation, making excuses about it being inappropriate. She sighed in resignation knowing she should help with the preparations, her classroom had about as much construction paper suns and hearts as it could take, and even if it was a disaster dinner was going to be the best entertainment she’d had in two months.
The table was draped with a beautiful antique table runner that her mother had found in one of the cabinets; the cloth was patterned with delicate crocheted pineapples. Her mother had really put out a grand spread: a rib roast with charred fruit, roasted potatoes and spring onions, a tray of tiny finger foods, some kind of thick soup that smelled delicious, gravy, and poached and spiced apples. Her father brought out a few bottles of wine and invited their guests to join them in the dining room. For the event, Summer had dusted off her rose-colored, tea length dress that framed her shoulders in an appealing fashion. Her blonde locks were down as usual, the outlets in the house were still a bit wonky so her styling abilities were limited.
Their guests, consisting of Patch and his wife, Aimee, Hunter and his wife, Celia, Kai and Kopi, filed in. They stood around the table looking anxious and unsure until her mother directed them to seats; the couples on one side and her parents on the table ends, leaving the other side for her sister, the brothers and Summer. Oh joy, she thought to herself. She watched as the boys arranged themselves, making a mental note to sacrifice her fashionably late sister to sit next to Kopi if he should place himself to the center of the table. He didn’t, leaving her to sit beside Kai, which suited her fine and Kopi sat beside her mother at the end of the table.
Miranda arrived in time for her father’s toast, literally stopping the show; it was annoying how good she was at that. After mulling over her wardrobe for an hour she’d decided on the white dress with an A-line skirt that hugged her curves so tightly it looked like the dress was painted on. A thin, gold belt and pumps completed the outfit and she’d put her hair up in a French twist; elegant, but sultry. Was Summer jealous? Maybe a little, but it was hard not to be when Miranda could walk into a room and everyone in it stopped what they were doing to watch her with baited breath. Once they’d recovered, her father continued with his toast and they began the meal. The early stages of which were filled with awkward silence and the clanging of silverware against the china, made all the louder by the lack of conversation.
“How long have the four of you been married?” Her mother spoke up to try and fill the void. When her query was met with blank and questioning stares from the two couples she tried to compensate. “I mean the two of you- and you two-separately.” She stuttered the explanation then chuckled a bit, embarrassed by her bashed attempt at small talk.
Patch stepped up first, “Aimee and I have been married for seven years this last June.” He bore his usual spirited smile and rosy cheeks, though the latter was probably more the work of the wine.
“Do you have any children?” Her mother loved small talk, it was one of the many little skills that you develop in years of late nights at patients’’ bedsides.
“We have two girls, they’re four and six.”
“That’s lovely. And you, Hunter, do you and Celia have any children?”
Mid-bite of potatoes, Hunter looked up with a shocked expression; swallowing loudly before answering. “Yes, a son, and Celia’s two sisters live with us as well, ‘til they’re of age and married.”
“I remember, the two girls that came with your wife the night of the fire, Yolann and Nadie, was it?”
“That’s right, ma’am.” Hunter nodded.
“Such beautiful young women. Do they go to school or work yet?”
Hunter turned to his wife with a hesitant expression on his face, she responded with a small shrug of her shoulders. “There are no schools to speak of in this area, ma’am, and they help my wife with the housework mostly.”
“We have a school here you know, and at the moment it would be almost like the girls had private tutors with our class sizes.” Her mother segwayed, not so subtly, into a discussion of enrollment. Which seemed to make everyone at the table that much more uncomfortable, but surprisingly Celia caved after a time. It seemed she agreed with Summer’s mother that an education, though unconventional, might serve the girls well, if for no other reason, because it would keep them busy. She even agreed to enroll their son as well. Her mother was thrilled, and the excitement buzzed over the table. Summer had to admit, it would be nice to have students even if it was just the three.
The two couples dismissed themselves before dessert to head back to their homes; leaving in a more comfortable mood than they had arrived. Now it was just the six of them and the brothers hadn’t said more than please and thank you during the entire meal. Her mother attempted to remedy this as she dished out cobbler for everyone.
“Kai, are you and Kopi attached to any eligible ladies her in town?” She played it off as playful and cloying, but Summer knew her mother was being nosy.
Kai coughed on his first bite of dessert. “What?”
“Are you seeing anyone? I’ve seen a number of attractive young women at the market and you’re both handsome men, I’m sure you get your share of attention.”
“Uh-we- I mean I,” Kai looked at his brother quickly, but Kopi was stoic as usual, his hand now resting over the fork that he’d picked up and abruptly put back down when her mother started down this path. “We aren’t seeing anyone, no.” Kai shifted his gaze to the table cloth.
“I’m sure that’s just temporary. Certainly, two strapping young men like you have to board up the house to keep the girls at bay.” She smiled cluelessly at them, but Summer could sense the growing anxiety to her left as Kai fidgeted in his seat.
“We’re just not that interested in dating.” Kai’s answer was curt and his attention was still focused on the tabletop.
The chair legs screeched against the wood floor as Kopi pushed back his chair and got up from the table. He threw his napkin down over his untouched plate and mumbled under his breath as he rushed from the table and out of the room.
“What was that?” Her mother seemed dazed by the spectacle as she watched the doorway. A door slam echoed through the first floor, announcing Kopi’s exit. Summer turned her attention to Kai, whose head hung loosely from his shoulders; a dark shadow clouding his face.
“You always have to pry don’t you, Mother.” Miranda chided her.
“I was just making conversation; I didn’t know it would hit a nerve like that.”
Summer placed a hand gently on Kai’s arm, and he jumped a bit before meeting her eyes. “Are you alright?”
Kai cleared his throat. “Yes, I’m fine. Sorry about that.” He turned to address the table. “He’s nothing if not dramatic.” He laughed uncomfortably, trying to lighten the mood.
“Did your brother have a recent heartbreak? If so, I’m very sorry, I didn’t intend to upset him or you.” Her mother apologized sincerely.
“Not recent, no, but it’s true we don’t really date. I’m not really comfortable talking about it.”
Summer’s interest was piqued; there had been a heartbreak at some point. Was it unrequited love or had he fallen for a woman who was married to another man, maybe? What kind of woman could break through that rough and tumble exterior? Or maybe the tough guy attitude was new, a way for him to hide the pain. Either way, his brother wasn’t offering any explanations, but maybe he’d open up eventually. She scolded herself for being so gossipy, even if it was just in her head. One day, she would find a way to unknot the many ambiguities of the Gresham brothers, but for now she focused on swaying the conversation to a more neutral topic and clearing the table.