“Are you sure we should sleep outside? It’s gonna be an awful lot of work to get the kids out there…” Nessa stood in front of the sliding glass door overlooking a damp lawn, with plants poking out of the shadows like a dangerous Amazonian jungle. The end of the yard narrowed into an over grown path which lead to a worn gate holding back blackness beyond. The house around her was dark and cold. She pulled her oversized gray cardigan tighter around her body and hunched down.
“Pffft. The kids are gonna love it Nessa. You’re the one who is worried about being out there. It’s a nice warm night. Besides, the fresh air will do you some good. You look exhausted, it’ll help you sleep.” Beside Nessa stood her older sister Lindsey. She stood about a foot taller than Nessa with her hands firmly planted on the waist of her lulus.
“Ugh thanks for the diagnosis Dr. Carry.” She rolled her eyes. “You don’t have to bring my appearance into it, I already told you I’m feeling just fine.” Nessa sighed and hugging herself. Her hands almost reached right around her back.
“So is everything ready to go girls? You have the tent Linds? And the sleeping mats Nessa?” Their mother’s voice boomed down the creaking stairs as she joined them in the living room. She was Nessa’s height and just as slim, but stood up straighter and had a hair pulled back in a tight bun. She wore red cat eye glasses and a bright printed blouse with cream linen pants.
“Yeah mom, everything is right here.” Nessa indicated to the large pile of camping supplies beside her.
“Where’s Alli?” There mother had moved beside them in the room and was waving the flashlight around the room as if her other daughter would come melting out of the darkness.
“She went to get the boys.”
“Of course.” Nessa smiled. Her youngest sister Alli was an elementary school teacher and baseball coach. The boys loved her.
“Well let’s get out there and set up the tent then!” Linds picked up the tent with one hand and pulled open the sliding glass door with the other.
Nessa’s phone began vibrating and glowing. She pulled the phone out of her pocket and glanced at the screen. Callie, again.
“Who’s calling you. I can go get started, you take the call.”
“No. It’s not important right now. Let’s go.” The two women went out the door into the warm night. The stars were bright and a gentle breeze rustled the bushes.
“So where’s Matt his weekend? Working?”
“Yeah. As usual.”
“I’m surprised Callie let you have a weekend off.”
“Yeah.” Nessa worked as a personal assistant to the demanding and intense Callie Stevens—a top magazine editor and fashion personality. She never had weekends off.
“Hey Nessa.” Linds had put down the tent and was watching her as she deleted her notifications on her phone. “are you sure everything is okay? You’ve barely put your phone away all evening. I know you love the fashion industry, but I’m worried it’s starting to wear on you…” Nessa shoved her phone back into her pocket.
“It’s nothing Linds. Look, I even got a weekend off, progress, right?”
“Yeah. I guess.”
“Hey! What’re you two gabbing about out here?” Alli bounced across the lawn. She was also small, dwarfed by oversized sweats she wore but her face bright and open with her hair in a messy ponytail.
“Where are the boys?”
“Oh mom is with them. Getting together some supplies for a special surprise. She bought a fire pit for this weekend. They’re gonna love it.” She pumped her fist at the end of the sentence. “So how’s the set up going?”
“Alright. We haven’t started yet.”
“Ooookayyy. So I’m feeling a vibe that somethings going on. You two wanna spill? Nessa?”
“Why do you assume it’s me?”
“It’s always you.” Both sisters said together.
“Soooooo who are you complaining about this time? Matt or Callie? Or both.” Nessa sighed.
“Liar. I saw how you only picked at dinner. Somethings going on and you’re gonna tell us about it.”
“What? If she doesn’t fess up it’ll just eat at her all night and she’ll be miserable.”
“She’s right Nessa… It can’t be that bad. Just give us the bare bones and you’ll feel better…” Nessa sank down into the nearest lawn chair.
“I took all our money!” She threw her hands up in the air and began crying.
“Well that wasn’t what I was expecting you to say…”
“And I caught them together.”
“Matt and Callie.”
“Well there’s no surprise.”
“Yeah. Together together. Last Sunday. Matt went away on a business trip Monday morning so we didn’t talk about it. Then I came here…. I was already planning to anyway. And I took it. I took it all. All our money, all our investment papers, the jewellery. All of it.” Nessa stood up again and began pacing and wringing her hands.
“What about work?”
Nessa didn’t respond. In her pocket her phone buzzed again, but she ignored it.
“Does that woman ever stop calling you? You kept working, didn’t you!? Ugh Nessa that woman has you wrapped around her little finger.” Alli ripped the phone out of her pocket and finger posed to answer “I’ll give her a piece of my mind...”
“NO!” Nessa grabbed the phone from her sister.
“Was it at home?” Linds put her arm around Nessa’s shoulder and hugged her.
“No, Callie’s place. She forgot I was coming by.”
“HA! The heck she did! She probably planned it so you would catch them in the act. What a bitch.”
“I just, I just don’t know what to do with all the money… There was so much money.”
“You should’ve called…we can help you.”
“I know… I didn’t want to bother you. You’re always so busy with work…always with a patient.”
“Ah Nessa. You can always bother me.”
“Ugh I can’t believe you kept working. For her. I wanna—”
“That’s enough Alli. Let’s get this camping stuff set up.”
The next 20 minutes were spent in silence as the three women finished erecting the tent and setting up the beds.
“How much money was it anyway?”
“What are you going to do now… divorce him?”
“I don’t know…. I don’t want the boys to—“
As they stood back admiring their hard work the screech of the sliding door filled the yard.
“Look Grandma! A real tent! “I’m gonna get a bed under the window so I can watch the stars.” There mother had returned with two boys in tow both were wearing PJs. One was about 8 and the other 6. She was also carrying a bag of marshmallows.
“Be careful with that tray Eddie. We don’t want to water the grass with hot chocolate.” Nessa turned to her sisters and whispered.
“To what?” Alli poked her sister in the shoulder.
“Shhhhh I haven’t told them yet.” She gestured to the boys.
“Oh my god Nessa! What?”
“Mommy, mommy! Look at the stars! They’re so bright!” Rigel ran up the Nessa dragging his blanket in his wake and clutching a box of celebration cookies and a stuffed cat. Nessa reached for him and pulled him to her in a hug.
“Yes, sweetie, it’s beautiful out here.” She kissed the top of Rigel’s head and then gave both her sisters a death stare.
“Ah man. I wish dad were here! He would know all the names of the constellations! Maybe when we get home we can go star gazing with him too.” Eddie’s eyes glinted at the prospect. Alli rolled her eyes and snorted.
“Well luckily your auntie Linds knows plenty of constellations.” Linds got down on the ground next to Eddie and began pointing out constellations and giving them silly names.
“Now that we’re all here I have a surprise! Everyone grab a chair and wait here.” Their mother disappeared around the side of the house as everyone settled into chairs. Linds, Eddie, and Allie all sat together on one side of a semi circle while Nessa and Rigel cuddle up on a sofa on the other.
“What’s grandma doing mom?” Rigel’s voice carried around the circle.
“It’s a surprise sweetie.”
“I can’t believe you actually haven’t told them.” Alli seethed cross the circle.
“Told us what?” Eddie looked from his mother to his aunt.
“Surprise!” their mother had returned with an around black circular object in her arms in a canvas case. In the crook of her elbow she had a small propane tank balanced.
“It’s a fire pit! I bought it at Costco. Thought we could use it to roast marshmallows.”
“Told them that their father is lying cheating scum!” Alli jumped up from her seat and pointed around at the boys.
“What she’s talking about mommy.” Rigel looked up at Nessa with round eyes.
“Shut up Alli.”
“Alli, that’s enough. Nessa will deal with it in her own time.”
“You knew?” Alli shouted
“I could hardly not know when she’s moved in with the boys!”
“Why are we moving into grandma’s mom?”
“Mommy what’s going on. What’s wrong with daddy?” Both boys stared at their mother now. Eyes wide and mouths open.
“That’s enough you two.” Linds stood up and grabbed the fire pit from her mother. “Mom’s right this isn’t the time. Let’s have a nice marshmallow roast.
“You’re staying here?!” Where am I suppose to stay? Did you forgot I live here too?” Alli waved towards the house. Her face was bright red and her eyes flashing.
“Mommmy.” Rigel started crying. Eddie got up to comfort his brother. Just then Nessa’s phone began to buzz again.
“Oh and I bet I know who that is. Are you just going to answer it like nothing’s wrong? Are you just going to gloss over that too?” Nessa pulled the phone out of her pocket and looked at the screen.
“Hello? Why are you calling me?” She strode to the gate and went through. The darkness looked inviting now, away from her family.
“Nessa! It’s Callie. I’m so sorry, I had to call. Matt, he’s gone crazy. He’s ranting about money and how he has to get it back and then he keeps repeating the boys’ names again and again.”
“So? You expect me to listen to you, after everything you’ve done to our family.”
“Do not take that tone with me. I could fire you in a second.”
“Oh? And what if you did? I couldn’t look you in the eye again anyway, know what you did to me family.”
“Oh dare you!”
“Mommy, is that daddy? Can I talk to him.” Rigel had followed her into the orchard.
“I’m sorry Callie. I need to go. My family needs me.”
“B-b-but I need! Matt needs you!”
“No. Matt made his choice. And you should have thought of that before sleeping with my husband.”
“Daddy won’t be joining us here again, ever.”