Bam! Bam! Bam!
Groggily, Connie raised her head. What the fuck? It took her a moment to remember where she was. Then looking around, she realized she was staying at Cali's house. Connie glanced at the clock on the side table, realizing it was only 7:00 am. She'd planned to sleep way late after staying up until 2300 hours last night chatting with Cali. Bam! Bam! Bam!
This time the sound was accompanied by a voice. “Connie? You up?”
“I am now,” Connie muttered as she swung her legs off the edge of the bed. At least the room was nice and toasty. Just then the door opened and a blonde head, minus the rest, moved into view.
“You are up. Breakfast in thirty minutes.”
Connie stared at Cali, who wore a slightly guilty expression. Well she should, Connie thought grumpily, waking me up so early on my first true day off since going through BCT. Then she forgot about being irritated as the rest of Cali came into view. She was wearing an extremely short leopard-print mini-dress. It came to much higher than mid-thigh and Connie wondered where Cali had worn it before. And when. Belatedly, she realized that Cali was waiting for her to answer by the patient expression on her face.
“Oh, okay, sure. Breakfast.”
“Nice and coherent, I see. And you got to sleep in an extra hour and a half.”
Connie smiled slightly at Cali's teasing tone, but decided to get some of her own back. “An hour and a half is not sleeping in. And what are you wearing?”
Connie watched as Cali spread her hands in a “What? This?” gesture, before replying, “I did say I was going to wear something short. I had to dig this up from the back of my closet. I don't think I've worn it since junior year.”
Connie stared. “You wore that
to school? And didn't get sent home?”
“Yep. Nope. Everyone wore short dresses there. It's not as if this is the shortest thing in my closet.”
“I actually have a skirt that's not only shorter, but has a slit up the side.”
Connie was a bit surprised. While Cali had shown her girly side a few times at the Zoo, it was odd talking to her about this stuff when usually she was so focused on school or training. And how could a skirt be any shorter? “I won't ask how the boys reacted, cause I'm sure it was funny. You probably had to beat them off with a stick.” Connie wondered what she'd said to prompt the odd look that briefly flitted across Cali's face, but then mentally shrugged. She couldn't spend the entire weekend spending every moment worrying about what she said or it was going to be quite a chore to get through the few days. Better to just say whatever and apologize if she stepped on any land mines.
“Something like that. I'll leave you so you can grab a shower. Yell if you need anything.”
With that, Cali exited. Connie wasted no time grabbing her shampoo and hitting the shower. Hot water was exactly what she needed to chase away the last cobwebs that colored her thoughts...Thirty minutes later...
Connie stepped lightly down the stairs as she headed towards the sound of voices emanating from the kitchen. She was curious to see if she could hear anything that Buffy and Joyce discussed before she came in. But the conversation ceased right before she got close enough to actually make out anything. When she walked through the door, Connie definitely had the impression that Buffy and Joyce knew she was approaching. There was something in the way that they held themselves that indicated they were trying to be casual. With a small inward frown, Connie seated herself at the breakfast table, already loaded with dishes holding bacon, eggs, fried potatoes, sausages, toast and a large container of orange juice.
“Good morning. Wow, I hope you didn't do all of this for me. I don't usually eat a big breakfast.” It was a lot of food for three women to consume, especially on a day when a large Thanksgiving dinner loomed just over the horizon. Well, at least I don't have to worry about getting fat, Connie thought, for once finding a reason to actually like PT. Even if, now that it was getting cold, it was going to be even more Hellish.
“I don't either, but I knew Buffy would be hungry, so I whipped up a little something to last until Thanksgiving dinner. We'll be having that at two.” Joyce seemed full of energy as she whizzed around the kitchen, putting finishing touches on the various breakfasty foods there.
“Well, it all looks great.” With that, Connie grabbed a couple of pieces of toast, a couple of strips of bacon, and a small serving of scrambled eggs.
Connie sat slowly munching her way through the food, allowing the conversation between the other two women to wash over her. It was mostly lighthearted and casual, and not even remotely enlightening. Connie took another sip of her orange juice then made a realization. Over half the food on the table was gone and Cali had eaten it! Okay, maybe she was wrong and Joyce had eaten more than she thought. Connie went back and mentally reviewed who ate what. She quickly realized that Cali was eating deceptively fast, while more than carrying on her side of the conversation. Connie watched as Cali filled her plate again, which was probably the fourth time she'd done so. Then Cali devoured everything on it. It made Connie's stomach hurt just watching her.
It was funny, but when she thought about it, Connie realized that Cali ate a lot every meal. During breakfast and lunch, because they ate in formation, everyone had a set amount of food for the most part, although you could get extra if you asked. But smacks didn't ask, not if they knew what was good for them. Cali always
cleaned her plate though. And snacked on power bars throughout the day as well.
But Cali ate a lot during dinner. It was during dinner that you could really fill up since there was not a set time for eating, instead dinner ranged from seventeen hundred hours to nineteen fifty hours. You could go back and get as much as you wanted or even eat a variety. Thinking back, Connie realized that every time she'd eaten dinner with her, Cali had gone back for extras at least two times. Once she'd commented on it and Cali had said she was extra hungry from all of the running that day. Which made sense. Still, overall, Cali ate way more than most people. Maybe she's an alien in disguise, Connie thought in amusement, as she watched Cali finish off the last of the toast, liberally coating it with red plum preserves. Yeah, right, an alien who just happens to be from California, and who has a great mom.
“Did you want anything else, Connie?” Joyce's polite tones broke into Connie's thoughts. Guiltily, she shook her head no. She watched as Cali pushed back from the table with a smile.
“Mom, that was great. I really missed your cooking. The Zoo food is...”
Connie snarked, “Actually pretty good?” She grinned at the glare Cali sent her way, which prompted it to change to a rueful smile.
“Okay, it is
pretty good. But still, it's not home-cooked. When you cook so much food at a time, it loses something in the process.”
Connie nodded thoughtfully at what Cali had said. It was true that food was better in family-size portions, although maybe that was just the company. “It's a good thing too, or you would bankrupt the Air Force, eating like that every day.” Connie decided that commenting on how much Cali had eaten was safe. Plus she wanted to see what Cali said.
“Like you're not going to pig out when you get home to Miami, Miss Pulled Pork Sandwich.”
Connie acknowledged the shot with a smile. So Cali had deflected her again. Big surprise. Although Connie had talked about those delectable sandwiches from Eduardo's since BCT.
“So you want to go up to my room and hang out for a while?”
“Sure thing. You can show me the infamous even shorter skirt you have.” Actually, Connie dreaded the thought of a fashion show. Hopefully, they would just chat again, like they'd done last night.
“Not only will I show you that one, but you've got to see this one outfit I have.”
As they trooped upstairs, Connie wanted to tell Cali that wearing a skirt that short was not a good thing around stairs. But she rather suspected that Cali already knew that and didn't care.
As they walked into Cali's room, Connie was immediately struck by two things. First, was the sheer number of pictures on the walls of the room. Second, was the cage that sat on a table by the window. Inside was a medium-sized rat.
“He's cute. What's his name?”
Cali looked somewhat sadly at the rat. “Her name's Amy. And she was... err, is cute. She is the cutest.”
Puzzled, Connie looked at the rat. Weird name, she thought absently. I mean, who names their rat Amy?Three hours later...
Connie stifled a yawn as she sat next to Cali looking through another family photo album. After being introduced to Amy, they had gone through Cali's closet in search of the infamous skirt. It had taken a while, but they'd finally found it stuffed way in the back. The reason it had taken so long was because of just how many clothes Cali had. Connie thought her entire wardrobe could fit in one small corner of Cali's closet. Cali had at least fifteen times as many clothes as she did. And the same number of shoes. There were at least eighty pairs of shoes in her closet, versus the six pairs that Connie owned. How could you even keep track of this much stuff, let alone wear it, Connie wondered for the umpteenth time.
The clothes were probably the single most dramatic illustration of how different the lives of the two girls had been. Connie had grown up in a working class neighborhood with a dad who worked in the dockyards as a crane operator. Her mom had taken off when Connie was three, leaving her and her four siblings with their father. Connie barely remembered her. Fortunately, her dad was this amazingly strong person. Somehow he had kept things on track and had ultimately graduated all five of his kids from high school. Three of them had attended college, including Connie, who was the baby of the family. If she graduated, it would make three college graduates in the family. Not bad for a bunch of Cuba-lingas.
Back to the clothes. Connie'd had a very limited wardrobe growing up, consisting mostly of jeans and t-shirts, with the occasional cheap dress or skirt bought at Wal-Mart thrown in. She'd worked six months to get the money to buy the dress she wore to the prom. Luckily, Connie had always been tall, slim, and athletic, making even the cheap clothes she had to wear look good. Despite this, she had gotten her share of teasing from classmates with enough money to stay on the edge of fashion. One reason that Connie had decided on the military was because at least with uniforms she didn't have to worry about what was trendy this year in Milan.
When Cali had gone into a running monologue as they investigated her closet, Connie had been completely lost. She had no idea why slingbacks were more fashionable than wedges or why you couldn't wear that shade of 'pumpkin' during the winter. Connie had nodded her head in all of the right places (she'd hoped so anyway).
When the barrage of fashion had finally ended, including the scandalously short skirt, she'd looked for something more innocuous to talk about and had settled on photo albums. Cali had scrambled to grab several and the two girls had seated themselves on Cali's bed and looked over pictures. It had been interesting at first, as they had initially looked over pictures of Cali's friends from Sunnydale. As each picture had come into view, she had made some fond observation about the person, the event, or both. Connie had seen her get a little misty-eyed, but overall, it seemed to be cathartic for her.
Connie had liked what she'd seen of Cali's friends from the sweet-looking red-haired girl to the goofy-looking, shaggy-haired boy. Even the one whose name Cali said was 'Oz,' seemed nice, if a bit wooden. However, a less likely group of people to be involved in a 'Take Back The Night' group, she couldn't imagine. But then Cali seemed unlikely to have done something like that also, at least based on surface appearance. It was only after you got to know her, that the true person emerged. Then it became obvious that it was something Cali would do. Her friends were probably the same. Of course, the pictures of Cali's friends had not lasted long before they had moved onto to others.
Even when they had moved to pictures of close family, like the picture Cali had of her and her cousin, Celia, taken when they were six, it had still been interesting. Of course, when Connie had innocently asked where she was these days, Cali's offhand comment that she had died in a hospital of the flu later that same year had been painful. While Cali seemed to be over it, Connie recalled something Cali'd once said about not liking hospitals when Connie had accompanied her to get the X-rays done after her big unarmed combat match. Thoughtfully, Connie considered how she would have felt in the same circumstances, and decided that a little hospital phobia wasn't exactly out of the question.
Moving back to the pictures. From Cali's near and dear, they had moved on to relatives she'd probably only seen once or twice in her entire life, if that. The lack of anything interesting to find out combined with the sheer amount of time spent on the subject, made Connie's head start to throb. You could only look through so many pictures of people you don't know before you feel like blowing your brains out, Connie thought darkly. She desperately looked around for something else to deflect Cali.
“Is that a jewelry box?” Connie thought her question a bit inane, and most likely so did Cali from her questioning look.
“Let's see what you have in there.” Connie scrambled up, nearly knocking the album from Cali's lap, but with a graceful sweep of her hand, Cali caught it before it hit the floor. Blushing, Connie opened the large jewelry box. There were literally hundreds of pieces of jewelry inside, most of it of the costume variety. There were dozens of crosses in everything from pewter to gold which Connie found... odd, based on Cali's religious feelings. Then she noticed the earrings. At least those were something Connie could talk about as she enjoyed wearing earrings more than any other piece of jewelry. Actually, they were the only
pieces of jewelry she ever wore.
Connie grabbed a pair of gold studs that looked real. Glancing over at Cali, she noticed a slightly dreamy expression on the other girl's face. “Okay, spill.”
Cali looked up at her. “Umm... what do you mean?”
“What's his name?” At Cali's blank look, Connie explained, “The guy who you wore these earrings for?”
Connie watched as comprehension flooded the other girl's face. Smiling, Cali said, “His name was Angel. He didn't give me these. My dad did. But, I wore them to the prom with him. I also wore that lilac dress. You know, the one you said you would look dreadful in?”
Connie grimaced. She hadn't been too diplomatic when Cali had shown her the dress in question. It was something that even she knew was completely wrong for her height and coloring. And she'd said so. Fortunately, Cali hadn't been offended, instead tucking it away in the closet without comment. Now Connie realized that it probably had tremendous sentimental value if Cali wore it to the prom. She wondered why there weren't any pictures of Angel in any of Cali's photo albums. Even Connie, as allergic to pictures as she was, had dozens from her own prom. And...
Connie stopped, suddenly distracted by something she'd just noticed. The earrings in question were for pierced ears. Stealing a glance at the girl next to her, Connie recalled what she had done for Cali
shortly after BCT, when they had been allowed to wear earrings again. Connie had noted the complete lack of holes in Cali's small pink lobes at the time, and had done DIY piercings for her right there in their dormroom with nothing more than a needle and an ice cube. If Cali had worn those earrings as recently as prom, shouldn't she still have had vestigial holes still? Or at least scar tissue, Connie thought, remembering how easily the needle had slipped through Cali's lobes. Connie contemplated saying something, but decided not to. Maybe she had some of those little clip-on converters that Connie had noticed some of the older ladies who went to her church back in Miami wear. Connie looked again at the jewelry box. Every earring inside was for pierced ears. And there was no sign of the little converters. It just gets weirder and weirder, she thought.
It was with relief that Connie greeted Joyce's call to come down for Thanksgiving dinner. At least that should be normal, she thought hopefully...One hour later...
Connie leaned back, stuffed to the gills. Thank God she hadn't eaten much breakfast. If she had, she wouldn't have been able to do justice to the meal that had been set before her. Connie had eaten some large family dinners back in Miami. Being second-generation Cuban-American, her father had seized upon the traditions of the country in which he had been born enthusiastically, to say the least. Every Christmas and Thanksgiving, as well as a slew of other holidays, were greeted with a feast, for which he sometimes saved up for months ahead of time. But as big as some of those dinners were, Connie had never sat down to a bigger dinner than at Buffy's house. Well, other than the larger extended family get togethers they had on a yearly basis. Although, she thought the amount of food here would be just about right for some of the smaller ones, like for twenty or so people...
To begin, the turkey was twenty-five pounds, making it one of the biggest that she'd ever seen. Then there had been all of the side dishes. A huge pan of dressing dominated the table, taking a back seat only to the turkey itself. An almost equally large pan of mashed potatoes was there as well. There was butternut squash, spinach, corn on the cob, yams, sweet peas, some kind of green bean casserole, a large vegetable salad, a fruit salad, some kind of three bean salad, cornbread, biscuits, and
homemade yeast rolls. Oh, and giblet gravy. Worse, everything was truly delicious.
At hearing Cali groan, Connie bit back a smirk. She had wondered if Cali was going to pig out as badly as she'd done at breakfast. Astonishingly, Cali had actually far surpassed her breakfast gorging. Now that she was conscious of it, Connie had been watchful as Cali had eaten helping after helping of everything on the table, while at the same time carrying on a long, convoluted conversation about Joyce's new neighbors, none of which were associated with PCP, whatever that meant. The sheer amount of food Cali had put away was frightening, especially when you considered she barely weighed a hundred pounds.
Now Cali was paying for it, however, if her expression was anything to go by. Cali looked like she was about to throw up, which based on how much she'd eaten, made it a truly frightening thought.
“Good Lord, Cali, how did you put so much away? I think you ate more than Joyce and I combined.” Actually she probably ate more than twice as much as the two of us combined, Connie thought wonderingly, but decided not to make a point of it. The watchful expressions on both women's faces were alike enough that Connie knew she had scored a point. Even if she didn't know what the contest was or how she was being scored.
“Buffy's always been like that, eating way more than she should during holiday meals.”
Connie decided that Joyce did a great job of damage control. Although it would have been better if Cali hadn't shouted “Mom!” right in the middle of Joyce's explanation, an expression of outrage on her face. Laughing, Connie decided to let Cali off the hook. There was plenty of time to figure out the mystery that she represented after
Thanksgiving football. Her Cowboys were playing Miami.
“So, anyone up for football? The Cowboys are playing today.” At Cali's blank stare, Connie explained, “America's Team? The Dallas Cowboys?” She shook her head sadly at Cali's mystified expression.
“Connie, just how does a nice Cuban girl from Miami become a Cowboys fan? I hear a story there.” Joyce's voice seemed genuinely curious as she asked the question.
Connie nodded, acknowledging Joyce's question. “Yes, it's a long, complicated story.”
Buffy burst in. “Connie's dad is a Cowboys fan because he likes the uniforms. They represent freedom to him.”
“Apparently not that long.” Also, apparently Cali had remembered about her dad and the Cowboys from one of their conversations in their dorm room, at least Connie thought so, based on her expression. Cali's next words confirmed Connie's thought.
“See? I do know about football. So, is Miami the team with the cute little lightning bolts on their helmets? Those were my favorite.”
Connie snorted in disgust. “No, that's the Chargers. Miami's helmets have those dolphins on them. Remember? I showed you all of them.”
Cali shrugged as if to say “So what?” then answered, “Oh right. Now I remember. At least I know the Cowboys have those cute little horseshoes on their helmets. The horseshoes are because they ride horses, Mom. I think Miami is going to win cause dolphins are smarter than horses.”
Connie started to make strangling noises, then catching the glint in Cali's eyes, realized she was making fun of her. “That's fine, tease the sports enthusiast. But one day, when I'm married and my husband's all 'Can you get me a beer, dear, so I don't miss anything?' I'll be able to tell him to get his own da... err, darn beer so that I
don't miss anything, while you'll be trotting back and forth like a regular June Cleaver.” She watched as Joyce and Cali looked at each other, then burst into laughter. Okay, I must have said something funny, Connie thought. Then Joyce explained.
“If Buffy brought her husband a beer, it would probably be burnt.”
“Mo... Okay, that's fair. And if not burnt, then shook up. I don't cook. Ever. It's a personal choice. And a request by those who know me. Besides, I'm not exactly sure I'll ever get married.”
The sheer stress contained in the one word Joyce said surprised Connie, but not as much as the amount contained in Cali's two word reply.
Staring at the two women and their expressions, Connie was aware of how charged the atmosphere had become. Almost instantly, things had changed from genial banter to raw emotion. Old griefs seemed to lay just under the surface, where the slightest movement would expose them to the light, to once again paint the world with shades of with anger and pain. Connie watched as Joyce hugged Cali, saying something in her ear. Meeting Joyce's eyes over Cali's head, Connie saw the mix of compassion and sadness there. Deciding she was intruding, Connie headed into the living room and turned on the game, raising the volume to drown out the voices in the other room.
Staring blindly at the television, Connie realized that she was still focused on Cali and Joyce when she finally noticed that she hadn't registered a single play in several minutes. She didn't even know who had the ball. The voices had become inaudible some time before. With a sinking feeling, Connie wondered what was going on. What had happened in the past to make Cali's innocent words so explosive? What lay between the two women?
A half hour later, Connie saw Cali come into the living room and head over to sit next to her on the couch. Cali's eyes were slightly red with the faint signs of puffiness Connie associated with crying. The smile she wore looked strained, as if it would disappear at any moment.
“Hey.” Connie acknowledged Cali's attempt at casualness. Connie wondered if she would explain what had happened.
“Sorry about that. The whole grandchildren thing's kinda a touchy subject.”
Connie noted Cali's shuttered expression. She decided to keep things light. “So, I take it you're not exactly into marriage?”
“Something like that.” Cali's closed expression kept Connie from saying anything more. Then Cali asked, “Anyway, who's winning?”
Connie actually didn't know. “Dallas,” she blurted out, hoping she was right. From the look that Cali turned her way, she apparently wasn't.
“Umm... Connie? The score is zero to zero.”
“Oh, I thought you asked who I was rooting for.” Connie knew it was a weak return, but she didn't think Cali would call her on it. She seemed to be trying to be as low-key as possible.
There was a long pause. Connie tried to focus on the game, not the girl sitting next to her. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Cali staring fixedly at the screen, her stare blank. Tentatively, she reached over and put her hand on Cali's shoulder. Feeling the stiffness there, Connie almost removed it, but left it instead. After a while, some of the tension seemed to leak out of Cali. Finally, she turned to Connie with a serious expression on her face.
“For putting up with me.”
“No worries.” Noting that the emotions she'd seen seemed to be back under control, Connie decided to focus on cheering Cali up. Keeping things light, she quipped, “I still say Dallas is going to win. Dan Marino is nothing compared to Troy Aikman.”
“Well, Troy is much younger and cuter. Although I have to wonder if he ever smiles.” This last was said in a thoughtful tone, as if Cali had given it serious thought.
“Of course he does,” Connie insisted.
Cali looked dubious. “If you say so...”Two hours later...
“I told you my Boys would win.” Connie's expression was gleeful as she playfully punched Cali in the arm. Damn, but the Cowboys kicked ass today, she thought. Twenty to nothing! I wonder if they're going to the Playoffs? Six and five isn't the best record, but at least they're back over five hundred, Connie thought happily.
“Yes, you did. Several times. Like maybe a hundred.” Cali seemed to be back to her normal self as she baited Connie.
Connie was unabashed. She looked at Cali, noting the teasing light in her eyes, and said nonchalantly, “If certain people didn't choose their teams based on their helmet logos, they might be able to root for a winning team, too.”
“Hey! No fair! Using the cute animal on the helmet to pick a winning team is a perfectly legitimate method. Right, Mom?”
Connie watched as Joyce nodded regally, then spoiled it by laughing. She and Cali had sat for a while watching the game before Joyce had come in. After a few minutes of awkward silence, Joyce had moved from the chair on which she was sitting to the couch to Cali's left. Putting her arm around Cali, Joyce had said something too low for Connie to hear over the television and Cali had relaxed into her hug. After a few minutes, the silence had been broken by Cali asking a question, which unfortunately demonstrated her total lack of understanding of football. From there on, Connie had been drafted to explain various plays happening. Between that and her frequent yells as the Cowboys made defensive stop after stop, the rest of the game had flown by.
“I still don't know how you could have been a cheerleader and not know anything at all about football.” Connie made sure to put as much disgust into her tone as possible.
Connie watched Cali's face take on a superior expression as she pontificated, “Connie, the point of cheerleading is not about who's winning. It's more about whose uniform looks better and who can do the best gymnastic moves and cheers. I'm not sure I even looked at any of the games when I cheered freshman year. I was too worried about making sure I had the perfect ponytail.”
“I still have a hard time believing that the girl who digs such a great latrine was also a vapid, shallow, popularity-driven cheerleader.” Connie's voice was sarcastic as she poked fun at Cali. From Cali's insufferable expression, she appeared to be wasting her time. As Cali's next words demonstrated.
“What? I can't have layers?”