Marianna didn’t want to leave, but she and Cody made plans to spend the day at the beach. That seemed to satisfy her. They said good night and drove off in opposite directions.
“Thanks for coming along,” Cody said in the back seat. “Takes the heat off a little. I thought Ed was gonna kill me.”
“He’s a good man,” Paisley said. “He’s like you two, he worries about his little sister. Treat her right, you’ll get along with him fine.”
“Yeah, but what’ll he do if we break up?”
“Depends on if you dump her, or she dumps you,” Kai said. “And timing. If you sex up his sister and ditch her, you’re a dead man. Pure and simple. If Ed didn’t kill you, I’d do it on general principle.”
Cody shivered. “I’d never do that. You know me better than that.”
“I do. You’re a good man, Cody.”
There was a prolonged silence in the back seat while Cody digested that compliment.
“Thank you. I’ve tried hard to be like you….”
Kai cleared his throat. Paisley could tell that his brother’s pronouncement had touched him.
“I guess we both chose well, then, cause I’ve tried to be like Brad. He’s the best man I know.”
Cody didn’t speak for a moment. “Not your dad?”
“My dad’s cool, but he’s not the man who raised me. Brad is. He’s done more for me than my father ever has. He’s the one who taught me to drive, told me the facts of life, and made sure I used my manners at the dinner table. He also set a great example for how to treat a lady, by the way he’s always treated our mom. There were nights I lay awake wishing he was really my father—then it hit me once—he is. He might not have given me life, but he’s my father. You won’t find a better example—not even me.”
“I didn’t know that,” Cody said quietly. “Thanks, Kai. That means a lot to me.”
Kai stopped for a light and grinned at his brother in the rear view mirror. “You’re not so bad, for a kid brother,” he remarked speculatively. “You’re pretty okay. Now TJ….” He blew a disgusted breath as the light changed.
“What’s wrong with him?” Cody went immediately on the defensive. “You’ve never liked him.”
“That’s because he’s a dumb ass, and he doesn’t think before he acts. One day he’s going to get you into serious trouble. I may not be around to pick up the pieces.”
“He’d never get me in trouble. He’s my best friend.”
“Who would throw you under a bus to save himself.”
“Okay,” Kai said in a disbelieving tone. “Who broke the windshield on Old Man Curry’s classic Pontiac Gran Prix?”
“Who got blamed, and had to work off the cost doing Curry’s yard work for two months?”
“Who pulled the fire alarm at the school, because he didn’t want to take the science test?”
“And who got blamed and suspended for a week?”
“Okay, you’ve made your point. TJ’s an ass, but he needs me.”
“Because he’s an ass. No one else even likes him much. If it weren’t for me and JT, he wouldn’t have anyone. TJ’s really shy and he can’t talk to people like JT can. I know he doesn’t act like it, Kai. But he’s a good friend. He’s pulled me out of some scrapes.”
“That he got you into?”
Cody laughed harshly. “Yeah, sometimes. Usually…. It hasn’t been easy for him, though. You know their dad has a bad drinking problem, right? And he sometimes….”
“He sometimes hits their mom. So JT and TJ take turns goading him so he’ll leave her be. One time, he got hit so hard, he lost the sight in his eye for awhile. He still doesn’t see quite right.”
“Do Mom and Dad know this?”
“No,” Cody said softly, hanging his head. “The guys told me not to tell. TJ will get really pissed if he finds out I said anything—even to you.”
“Cody, if his dad is that bad, he could hurt someone—including you, if you’re over there. Mom and Dad need to know. I’ll tell them, if you don’t want to.”
“I can. I just don’t know what to say.”
“We’ll figure it out.”
Paisley turned to Cody, putting her hand on his arm. “We all will, Cody. We’ll talk to them together.”
“You’d do that for me?” His dark eyes were wide, tears hovering in the corners.
Paisley nodded. “I’ve had some experience with abusive pricks, who drink, and take out their anger on women. It gives me a clear perspective. I’ll even talk to the twins, if you think it will help.”
“I dunno, TJ’s gonna be mad….”
“He lost his eyesight to protect his mother. I wish I’d had someone to protect me. Ultimately, though, she has to save herself. Her boys can’t do it for her, and neither can you.”
© 2019 Dellani Oakes