The Livingwater Crisis - Chapter 4 (Final)
Breakin' Bones, Breakin' BreadThe sky had become awash in a luminous pink when Chicago Wind made it to the Livingwater residence. Though he was running low on money this month, Greg happily paid the inflated toll a second time without complaint, like a gentleman. His one regret was that the exhaust of his car smelled a bit like turpentine, though neither of his passengers said anything about that.
“Greg-o-ree! Man alive!” bellowed Mr. Livingwater at the front door. His monstrous frame had to squeeze sideways as he reached for the young man standing sheepishly behind two of his oldest daughters. “It’s so - good - to - see - youuuuu! Aaaaahahaha!” Greg tried to return the hairy hug as best he could, though his arms could only reach halfway around the man.
Xaviere shuffled past her father who continued rocking back and forth, laughing with delight. “Is dinner ready?” she asked, not looking up from her game of Persona.
“Ooh, I smell chicken with riiiiiiice,” commented Olivia, slipping by and kicking off her flip-flops by the door.
“Look who it is, Geno!” Mr. Livingwater shouted, wrapping an arm around Greg’s shoulder like an elephant’s trunk. Greg looked down the hall, spotting the outline of a skinny boy with glasses and big front teeth, whose head poked out from around the corner. Without a word, Xaviere’s little brother ran over, smiling and wrapping both arms around Greg without a word, joining his father in the group hug.
Mr. Livingwater grunted like a bear ready to hibernate, clapping his guest on the back as he welcomed Greg inside. “Astrid!” he called up the stairs. “Honey! Dinnertime! We have a very special guest!”
“I’m in the middle of something!” Greg heard Xaviere’s second youngest sibling call from behind a partially closed door.
A young lady appeared cautiously at the top of the staircase and froze upon spotting the visitor. Greg, patting Geno on the head, looked up. “Hey!”
Astrid’s shoulders rose. She reached for her hood and flipped it over her head, thick bangs already covering most of her eyes. Astrid rushed downstairs, sock-covered feet slamming heavily on the carpet. She whipped around the hairpin turn at the base and ran toward the kitchen without a word.
“Hope you’re hungry!” called Mr. Livingwater from inside.
“Is it okay if I sit here?” Greg asked timidly, pointing to the empty seat opposite to the head of the nearby dining room table.
“Absolutely!” Mr. Livingwater insisted, carrying in a big tray of meat with thick baker’s gloves. He laid the hot container across two pads made of woven cork. “Anywhere you like! Please, sit! Relax!”
Greg hung his messenger bag around the back of the chair and obeyed. Geno immediately sat in the next chair to the right, glaring unblinkingly at Greg with unrestrained admiration.
“Been a while, man!” yelled a sanguine voice from behind which startled Greg, coupled with another clap on the back.
“Ah – hey, Vincent…” Xaviere’s brother, the oldest of her siblings, had only increased in gravitas since Greg had last seen him. The man’s unshaven face, slick hair and tight T-shirt with ripped jeans made him look like a modern-day Greaser.
“How’ve you been? Famous yet?” Vincent asked, so kindly.
Greg mumbled something resembling a humble dismissal.
“I was wondering if I’d get to see you before I went back to Honduras! You know, I brought one of your books with me to the guerrillas down there, they loved it! Could you believe they confiscated our Bibles in the jungle, our tracts, our medical supplies, but not your comic? It was exactly what we needed to get on their good side.” Vincent sat to Greg’s left, across from his little brother. “Geno, stop staring at the poor guy!”
Geno rested an action figure on the table, facing Greg. At a glance, many more characters and Legos were scattered all over the carpet and on every waist-high shelf in the room.
“Next thing I knew,” continued Vincent, making room on the table for a giant salad which Olivia brought in, “We were all laughing around a campfire like kids. The guerillas invited us back – which the customs agents couldn’t even believe. ‘No sane man would ever go back after escaping resistance forces,’ they said – but they were just guys like you and me. Full of doubt, missing thier families… and full of that yearning, you know what I mean? For meaning. I told them as much as I could from memory, and they insisted I come back and deliver them Bibles personally.”
“That’s crazy,” Greg muttered. Here he’d sat for his entire life in the town of Greenview: An apple who fell from the tree and never rolled an inch away. Trapped at a mindless nine-to-five part-time job, with a dead-in-the-water artistic career, making him feel like little more than a hobbyist. He tried to smile and act interested in what Vincent said - and in a way he was - but he also felt so small. Greg barely had the courage to speak to strangers down the street, much less armed Freedom Fighters in another country.
“How’s Fernando doing, by the way?” asked Olivia, carrying two steaming bowls from the kitchen. In her left hand was a tall pile of glistening corn, chopped carrots and peas. The other carried a smooth mound of mashed potatoes.
“Your future husband waits anxiously for you to visit,” Vincent said with a mischievous smile. He took a gourmet lollypop out of his pocket and hung it from the corner of his mouth like a candy cigarette.
“I told you not to show him my picture,” Olivia sighed.
“I’m sorry,” said her older brother. “Arranged marriages, you know how it goes down there in those parts of the world.”
“Please, no talking about my daughters getting married at this table!” huffed Mr. Livingwater, sitting at the head of the table. The vibrations from his voice made the overhead lights jingle.
“No but dad, Fernando is a real upstanding guy,” Vincent laughed, throwing an arm over the back of his chair. “Master survivalist, anti-government... you’d love him as a son-in-law.”
“Stop it,” insisted Olivia, reaching behind her head and twirling her hair into a loose bun, which immediately untied itself. She sat. “You know men are the last thing on my mind right now, Papa.”
Xaviere, seated next to Vincent to Greg’s far left, never looked up from her game. “Speaking of men falling at Olivia’s feet, Padre... we got into a bit of a kerfuffle earlier this afternoon...”
The dining room filled with the heavy aroma of garlic and freshly ground pepper while everyone sat and plates were passed around. Olivia recounted the day’s events to her father, who showed no outward signs or reactions at any point during the story.
“There’ll be no swimsuit issue, naturally,” clarified Xaviere as a post-script. She pushed away one of Geno’s many action figures as she reached to fill her glass with soda.
“So you don’t need to worry about anything, I promise.” Olivia put a napkin across her lap. “I’ve had a dozen other agents calling me every day.”
Mr. Livingwater piled mashed potatoes onto his plate followed by thick slices of chicken, topping the mound with gravy. His heavy breathing seemed louder in the silence that followed. He passed a hand as big as Astrid’s head over her hoodie, easing it back over her shoulders. “Let me have the joy of seeing your beautiful faces,” he said, brushing her bangs out of her eyes. He poured iced tea into her glass. Astrid turned red and removed out a lemon slice which fell in.
“We gave them the Galactic Elbow... some Cross-Counters... the ol’ Circle With No Circumference...” continued Xaviere. “Just like you showed us. They never laid a hand on either of us.”
“Hmm,” groaned Mr. Livingwater. He nodded, deep in thought. “Those are good moves.” His mouth twisted behind his thick mustache. Greg guessed the man’s thick beard was already growing back after having shaved this morning. When Mr. Livingwater scratched his chin with sausage-like fingers, his nails made the sound of sandpaper against iron. “Yes, i miei amori... I heard about that article.”
Olivia straightened her already perfect posture and shot a glance at Xaviere. “You... didn’t freak out?”
“I did, bellisima...” he said with a disappointed sigh. Mr. Livingwater’s free hand tightened around a napkin. When he released it, only dust remained. “I had gotten a call about it from some... creep at lunchtime, who hung up on me. When I went to the store and saw, the old fire was coming back. I got in the van to pick up Geno and Astrid early from school so I could drive into the city and pick you up...” The clock ticking from the kitchen seemed deafening. “But then I heard a still, small voice - it told me to stop and pray first! I got down on a knee right there on the sidewalk and asked the good Lord to give me peace. Right, Greg?” He winked.
“So I took a few moments,” continued Mr. Livingwater, ripping off the chicken’s leg with a moist crack. “And the Lord showed me something I was not comfortable with – but something I needed to hear: That I can’t always be there to protect my little ladies in the body – but I can always pray for you, like I do for your brother during his trips.”
“Aw, dad,” replied Vincent, chewing on the stick in his mouth.
“I have to believe that I taught you girls well, and that you’ll use your wisdom.”
“And the Crushing Solar Plexus Knee Strike,” added Xaviere, shoveling a generous amount of food onto her fork and taking a big bite.
Olivia cleared her throat. “We left tracts on their unconscious bodies, Papa.”
“That’s good, tesoro mia. Perhaps, when they wake up, their eyes will also be opened to the truth of the Lord’s love.”
“Amen to that, baby!” Xaviere exclaimed through a mouthful.
“Hey!” Mr. Livingwater corrected, “your manners, Boo-boo!”
“Yeah, Boo-boo,” Astrid and Greg said at the same time. Astrid smiled, looked down, and put her hoodie back on.
Xaviere shot a look, black as midnight, at her imaginary friend. Greg ignored the evil eye.
“Thank you for the safety of my children, O Lordee!” shouted Angus toward the ceiling, slamming his hands on the table, rattling the plates and cups and making Greg jump in his seat. “And our food, and our beloved guest!”
“Amen, amen!” laughed Vincent.
Mr. Livingwater continued his prayer. “And just as your body was broken for our sins so that our souls could be healed -”
“Thus, we break the bodies of our opponents!”
“Xaviere!” gasped Mr. Livingwater.
Xaviere clapped three times and crossed herself, forking another mound of food onto her already half-finished plate.
Mr. Livingwater shook his head. “Sometimes I think I taught you too well.”
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