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Summer's Crucible- Chapter Three: Our Fiends Among Family

Early that Saturday morning, despite Summer's attempts to sleep in, her internal clock was eternally set to being awake before the sun had risen. The clumsy sounds of Landon creeping in weren't helpful either. Summer didn't stir upon hearing Landon in the other room for fear he had brought a friend home that she'd not want to greet. Rightly so, Henri, whose voice was easily distinguishable via his thick vocal fry, was with him. Henri did all but officially announce himself by loudly rummaging through the den murmuring about a lighter to use with his dab. Neither realized Summer could hear them from the master bedroom, even though the room's wall facing the hallway was made out of a thin, frosted glass. For them it was the end of a long night clubbing that they were still drunk from, for Summer it was the early morning she met sober as the light of day.

As she lay in her bed, Summer couldn't help but eavesdrop on their derogative comments about her. "Hey, keep it down if she hears you, she'll bitch all day," Landon said to Henri who was equally the man-child his brother was. Henri commented, "Bro, dump her. She's been a wet blanket since day one." Henri was speaking of the no parties or wild nights at the house request Summer had begged of Landon, to which he begrudgingly agreed. It was something he only adhered to out of his wish to preserve his expensive possessions from his one-call away, fairweather, perpetually-mooching entourage. Summer originally had not wanted to encroach on Landon's bachelor ways when she first moved in. However, after a drunk friend of his came into their bedroom and vomited next to her while she was sleeping a mere few hours before she had work the following morning, Summer decided it was best to press Landon on the issue. Summer's reminiscing ended and she was put back into the present when she heard Landon reply, "Like Charlene is so great." Henri moaned in unhappiness upon hearing the mention of his wife's name.

To describe Charlene, one could safely surmise the entirety of her character with the terms; superficial, petty, and self-absorbed. When Summer first met Charlene she had already been married to Henri for a few years. On that day the pregnant Charlene had to switch her fish bowl-sized cocktail to her other hand to shake Summer's when they were introduced in Landon's family's skybox. Summer must have done a double take upon greeting her because Charlene offered the immediate explanation of "Oh, it's okay," she giggled placing her hand over her belly, "my doctor said I can have a drink a day. It's not like this is my first kid anyway." She gestured toward her toddler daughter over some empty cocktail glasses beside her that the help had not picked up yet to where the undernourished young Nina was sitting alone by an exit. Summer wanting to remain pleasing kept her alarm to herself, something that became the norm whenever Summer interacted with Landon's kin.

Summer found out later that Charlene also liked to sneak hits of narcotics from Henri's stash if he so much as slightly vexed her to include the periods in which she was pregnant, always justifying the act with "Can you believe what the bastard did now?" For Summer, Henri and Charlene were a perfectly matched pair. Both oozed their conceited natures at the world in a way that complemented each other as if they were cut from the same cloth. To no one's surprise when their second child, Greyson was born they each became more exaggerated versions of the contemptible humans they already were. Poor Nina grew into a spitting image of her mother, focused purely on material pursuits.

Back in the den, Henri retorted to Landon's quip with, "Yea? Fuck you," just before he partook from the dab apparatus Landon had passed to him. Summer could hear them both inhale deeply and cough as they went back and forth. The whole house now reeked of the heavy smoke they were creating. Summer frustrated with pretending to be asleep got up to take a shower knowing they were too far gone to remember she existed. When she was done and on her way out, she saw that Landon was trying to cook something in their kitchen with Henri. She did nothing to distract them hoping they would burn themselves in the process of tending to their cravings while inebriated. The thought alone had Summer grinning to herself as she skipped to the garage, although not before she twisted her ankle, quite painfully on the lip of the doorway after her foot for whatever reason did not lift enough when she was taking a step. Summer knew she'd need ice on that later on, but continued, not wanting to babysit her partner and his brother.

Once in her car, Summer decided to set her sights on visiting Mimsy who lived on the other side of the county in a working-class neighborhood full of other old, retired divorcees. Summer knew that Mimsy wouldn't mind the intrusion as long as she brought some type of gift. Summer remembered that she had an Ikea gift card that was worth a few thousand dollars. She had acquired it after Landon sent back a leather sectional the previous fall, upon deciding on a whim that Ikea was beneath his desired aesthetic. Landon being unreasonable refused to accept the gift card, which was the only way to process his return because it had been a back-ordered piece. In the store, Landon acted as if he were performing his tantrum on a stage for all to see when he threw the gift card onto the ground and then stormed out. Summer trailing behind him picked up the card as she apologized to the staff fearing they would call the police on them, something Summer couldn't afford, unlike the well-connected Landon who already had a few DUIs under his belt from his frat days dismissed.

The Ikea memory gave Summer all the more reason to wince at the idea of spending any part of the weekend with the man. She decided to use Landon's consigned to oblivion gift card as a perfect excuse to drop in on her relative. Summer bypassed the unpleasantness of driving with a twisted ankle by using her car's cruise control feature, but it was not without difficulty. Then, Summer realized that the ever-down-on-her-luck and persistently broke Heather would have more use from a furniture store trip than Mimsy, who was too out of shape to walk around the massive warehouse for very long, not that Summer could go very far there that day either. Summer pulled over to put Heather's address into her GPS and turned around to head toward downtown. Mimsy was probably busy prepping for some Red Hat Society outing or so Summer assumed.

After she arrived near Heather's apartment building, Summer made a pit stop at a delicatessen to grab a quick breakfast to go. Conveniently, the place had a curbside order delivery option that Summer utilized. She knew that Heather wouldn't turn her away if she had a Nova Lox salt bagel with avocado substituted for cream cheese and extra capers on top. Walking slowly, Summer let herself into Heather's apartment knowing all her passcodes were her pug's birthday from when they were in middle school together. Heather loved Mr. Puggy to his dying day, and forevermore afterward. Heather swore Mimsy feed it to death on purpose because he kept nipping at her botoxed face whenever she tried to pet him. Animals seemed to instinctually dislike Mimsy. Summer felt it had something to do with her many fringe beauty treatments that made the animals uneasy in her presence.

As soon as Summer entered the sloppy abode, she realized she was taking a page from Mimsy by going into someone else's home uninvited. Summer almost turned around before being noticed, but Heather still half asleep walked into the entryway wearing her slept-in clothes from the day before. "I thought you were Mimsy," she yawned completely unfazed, making Summer feel justified in her assumption that she had picked up a few bad habits from her mother over the years. Heather took the deli bag out of Summer's gripped hand and sat atop the kitchen island. Then, pointing to the drink carrier in Summer's other hand she asked, "Is that coffee or tea in the big cup?" Summer handed her the cinnamon latte, which she knew was Heather's favorite drink. Heather gulped it down before critiquing, "Eww it's cold." Summer carefully sat on Heather's bean bag chair that was leaking stuffing onto the floor because she needed it to take her weight off of her ankle. The apartment smelled like something in between a pet store and a locker room, probably because Heather had a pet turtle whose habitat could have used a bit more attention.

"Why did you come to the door before I said it was me? I could have been a robber," Summer scolded Heather as if it were her fault she let herself in. The reason why Summer hadn't called ahead was that she knew if she asked, Heather could have said "no." It was another Mimsy-like way of doing things Summer must have had buried deeply in her subconscious. "Okay calm down. I knew it was either you or Mimsy because only you two can sound judgmental standing in a doorway," Heather explained. Summer quizzed her, "How can we 'sound judgmental' if we aren't talking?" Heather rolled her eyes, while speaking in between the bites of the food she was chewing continued, "Besides I doubt a robber would go to the 14th floor of a building to target me. It's not like I have anything good to steal." They both looked at the turtle's tank since it was the most expensive thing Heather owned. It was placed on a wooden pallet in the corner of the living room. Summer conceded, "I'm not going to argue with you there." Summer let Heather gather herself before they were off to get whatever small furniture items would fit in Heather's 275 sqft one-bedroom apartment. In truth, Summer rarely stopped in to visit with Heather. Maybe it was because Heather moved often and without reason or because they had an age gap that put Heather in a stage of life that Summer had just grown out of.

Now that Summer was in her 30s, she was slowing down to take stock of the people she grew up with. Summer had had other step-siblings. They were from when Mimsy was married to her second husband. Mimsy had divorced Clay by the time Summer was old enough to join little league. He had three kids who lived with his ex-wife in another state in the South. Summer thought they played too rough when she was small, often knocking her down or over causing her to cry from being bruised. She never made an effort to respond to them when they tried to get in touch later as adults. She had more than enough of their antics when she was subjected to endure them every other Christmas and Fourth of July when Mimsy was married to Clay. On those few occasions, they would rip the heads off of her dolls, and somehow make everything in the house sticky and smell of dirty feet. Eventually, Clay moved on to have another brood of kids with someone else. Mimsy described Clay's wife after her as "another ugly bumpkin." Summer felt the same way about Clay's children.

In the long line of Mimsy's love interests it was a short time after Clay was gone before Mimsy married Jean, the pastor of a local Christian wingnut church. Jean began the phase of Mimsy becoming a full-time foster mother. It was briefly-lived thankfully because Mimsy could not abide by high energy, free-spirited children living in her meticulously kept home. Mimsy made sure that Jean was out the door as fast as the foster kids the moment she gave up on maintaining the image of being a good-doer.

Unlike Clay's kids who would attempt to contact Summer periodically, the rare occasions that any of her former foster siblings reached out to her included when Lachelle a.k.a. "Bux" wanted money for her teen pregnancy. This turned out to be a stunt to acquire funding for a much older man's name to be tattooed prominently onto Lachelle's chest. The next occasion was when "Jay" whose given name was, Hugo, needed a character witness in court after he had been arrested for burgling patients at a senior extended care facility when he worked as a janitor there. Never one to miss a low point in someone's life, Mimsy attended all of Hugo's trial dates. The way Mimsy retold it to Summer, Hugo would go to work every day in plain clothes and leave covered in the patients's jewelry. Summer remembered him because he used to take her lunch money from her book bag when they were on the school bus each morning. She had been too scared to tell Mimsy about it. When Mimsy did find out she spanked Summer for not saying something sooner and sent Hugo back to the group home that he had come from.

Summer appreciated that Heather was the most tolerable of all of her passing family members, which wasn't saying much. Mimsy made it no secret that Summer was adopted. It was something Summer wished she wouldn't because it put her in the position to have to constantly explain her origins to others and/or be subjected to ignorant inquiries and criticisms from those who knew. Heather, despite being younger never made her feel lesser about it, which Summer was hesitant to thank her for, not wanting to bring attention to it. It was probably the reason why Summer had such a strong dislike toward Clay's kids who would mention the topic at every manufactured opportunity, exemplified in the practice that they cultivated among themselves at the dinner table when they would debate all the ways they felt superior to Summer for being "blood-related" while she "didn't know her people." Mimsy said it was that Heather had better manners. Summer thought it was because Clay's kids were happy to be the ones doing the belittling since they were known as white trash wherever they went. Summer was too innocent to know how to defend herself from their insults in those days.

In truth, Summer did know who "her people" were. She was the product of an affair between a Baltic woman who was deported for fraudulent check writing and a married highway patrol officer who was forced to retire early due to trumping up criminal reports for ill-gotten praise. Before meeting him, he denied Summer's existence to his family, causing them to refuse to interact with her when she contacted her paternal grandparents. Summer had met her biological father once when she was just out of high school and her adoption record was unsealed as much as it could be by the state. Mimsy to her credit, paid a good amount of money to hire a top-notch private investigator to fill in the gaps of information Summer needed. At their meeting, Summer's father repeatedly begged her not to reveal herself to his wife and kids, even offering her hush money to never contact him again. Summer ended their encounter out of disgust. To Summer he was a cowardly lump of a pathetic person who could never face his responsibilities.

As for her biological mother, they had only ever corresponded with one another a handful of times via written letter. Summer had a few photos of her mom and the children who were her supposed half-siblings, however, it was difficult to sort out the truth because her mother was a documented con artist by all accounts from those who could speak of her. Summer's mother was such a train wreck that Mimsy had to hire an international law attorney to facilitate any communication between Summer and her biological mother for fear that the mother would implicate Summer in one of her cons. Summer felt it best to keep their relationship as long-distance as possible, after noticing for herself the many inconsistencies in her mother's statements regarding her past. Summer never told any of this to Landon, who never bothered to ask. It did cause a deep hurt within Summer, though, which was why she kept it to herself. Mimsy was always so proud that she was the lesser evil among those who had a hand in Summer's upbringing. Her smug attitude made Summer feel isolated all the more regarding the subject.

Mimsy was not without her less-than-honorable motives in becoming a mother to Summer. She had adopted Summer in an attempt to save her first marriage to a man named Teofilatto Benedict. Or at least that was the takeaway of the story that Summer could put together. Teo was a mid-ranking enlisted Marine who was stationed in Southern California. Mimsy, whose given name is Maisie-Yvette, before meeting Teo, had been diagnosed with endometriosis and subsequently, had a total hysterectomy by her late twenties. Afterward, when she met her future husband, she lied to Teo saying she wanted to have kids when they were in the honeymoon stage of their relationship, yet never offering any explanation as to why she was not getting pregnant. For a few years, she maintained the pretense of trying to conceive naturally. To keep his interest, Mimsy suggested to her frustrated family-centric Catholic spouse that they adopt. A friend of a friend suggested a private adoption between Summer's adulterous highway patrolman father and Teo. Not long after the adoption went through, someway or somehow, someone let slip Mimsy's secret that she knowingly could not have children. The fallout was that Teo opted to be transferred to Florida, with Mimsy never being extended an invitation to go with him. Eventually, Teo served Mimsy with divorce papers. He waited until he could safely confirm a stripper he was seeing did indeed give birth to his biological child which prompted him to want to marry her.

Teo never made an effort to contact Summer, who only had old pictures of him holding her as an infant that Mimsy tucked away to know him by. Mimsy once said that Teo had gotten divorced, and incredibly fat after leaving the Marines before he died of a heart attack brought on by alcoholism. Summer assumed she was telling the truth since Mimsy made it her business to keep tabs on her many ex's to verify their worth for alimony and retirement purposes. Not that Mimsy needed the money after she retired early from a lucrative career as a real estate agent. Heather often joked that Mimsy probably embezzled money from her company and clients to live as well as she did. Summer knew it was more likely that Mimsy had lived frugally until later on in her life.

Summer dropped Heather off at Ikea and let her shop alone there. Her ankle's pain never subsided and she didn't want to chance making it worse. Heather was annoyed about it but kept her comments to herself knowing Summer could easily have given the gift card to anyone else. This hadn't been the first time that Summer had helped furnish a home for Heather. She had previously given her all of her old apartment's furniture when she moved in with Landon instead of keeping it. Mimsy had also given Heather furniture in the past as well as Rusty. However, Heather had a habit of moving and leaving behind all of her old things. In the car, Summer made a doctor's appointment for her ankle the following day. She knew Willa would give her hell for taking a sick day and probably fabricate some fake emergency as an excuse to dump conjured work onto her for missing in-person office time, but Summer was already mentally checked out of that place. She had a few months of savings to get her over the hump if she were ever fired as well as accrued PTO. Summer was ready to be done at that company. She only hoped Landon would be understanding when she inevitably parted ways.


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