The arrangement of two chairs and a loveseat is all we ever needed.
For the four of us.
Now our family of four is six.
We all feel the significance of that as we gather around, piling in laps and squeezing in. Raina sits beside me on the couch, and the others pair off in the chairs.
Extra seats could be brought out, but no one bothers. It’s as if there’s an unspoken consensus to fill in all the pockets of space with the voices, bodies, and smiles of the Holsten-Cassidy tribe.
Conor’s smile is the biggest. Perched on Jake’s lap, she leans toward the coffee table at the center and holds out a hand, palm up.
The sight of her scar stills the breath in my chest.
Jake extends his arm in the same manner, placing his welted palm beneath her hand. Jarret follows suit, cradling theirs.
I’m the last to move, sliding in at the bottom with my scar holding up the others.
Blood, revenge, unity, victory—it’s all there in four hands, twenty fingers, and eight years.
Maybe clasps Jarret’s leg, and Raina’s slender arm slides around my back.
Her dark eyes find mine, her expression soft with understanding. We talked about the scars during our nights on the sleeping bag. In the short time I’ve known her, we’ve shared every secret, every failure and triumph.
“We did it.” Conor’s smile teeters. “It’s been a brutal ride, but you know what? Fuck them. Fuck everyone who tried to break us apart. We’re stronger for it. We’re still together and still kicking ass.”
“Can I get an amen?” Jarret shouts dramatically, teasing her.
She jerks her hand from the pile and tries to knock off his hat, laughing as she tackles him.
As I lower my arm and sit back, I realize how proud I am of how far we’ve come.
We could’ve turned our moment of reflection into a harrowing mood leaden with tragedy and bitterness. But we’re beyond that. We don’t need to relive the memories or rehash our feelings about it. God knows, we’ve done enough of that for a lifetime.
Instead, the atmosphere vibrates with love and celebration. Because Conor’s right. We did it. We survived.
“You know what this calls for?” I reach behind the couch and grab my guitar.
“Some bluesy redneck shit?” Jarret pulls out his harmonica.
“Yup. I’m thinking… Wheeler Walker Jr.”
“I know exactly what song is in your filthy head.” Conor points at me as she stretches for the acoustic Jake recently bought her.
When she settles on his knee with the guitar on her lap, I give her a chin lift, signaling her to start.
She bends over the frets, plucks a few notes, then strums the snappy chords of Eatin’ Pussy/Kickin’ Ass. Jarret jumps in on harmonica, followed by me on backup guitar.
When Jake starts singing, Maybe and Raina sit up, captivated, smiling widely, and a few verses later, laughing their asses off.
Raina curls a hand around my neck and puts her mouth at my ear. “If this were our song, it would be Kicking Pussy and Eating Ass.”
Laughter bursts from deep in my chest. Her gaze zooms in on my dimple, and my grin widens.
I introduced the twins to this song when we were kids, before any of us were eating or pounding pussy, and look at us now. We’re belting the lewd lyrics, tapping our boots, and turning up the heat with our girls.
I forgot how well these jam sessions nourish the bond between us. The chorus of closeness waves away stress, triggers the release of happiness, and takes the mind off our problems.
When we play together, we communicate on a whole other level—with notes, our eyes, and our laughter.
Raina curls up beside me, her cheeks stretched in a permanent smile. She may not be able to relate to the connection I share with them, but she will. A year from now, ten years from now, she’ll have her own bond with this rowdy group.
We jam for the rest of the night, drunk on the music and the comfort of camaraderie. As it grows late, the song selections tumble into mellow, slow-dance territory.
Jarret rises, leaving his harmonica and his girl in the chair, and steps toward Raina.
“I want a dance,” he says, “before the Neanderthal hauls you into his cave.”
She stares up at his ridiculously charming grin, and her pink lips part on a breath. “Okay.”
As he leads her to an open area on the porch, I set my guitar aside and approach his blonde fireball with a hand extended.
“Are you shitting me?” A smile explodes in Maybe’s blue eyes, and she leaps up, grabbing my fingers. “I knew I’d grow on you.”
“Like a rash.” I hold back a smirk and pull her across the porch, positioning us near Raina and Jarret.
“You know what you need?” Her hand folds around mine, the other resting on my shoulder. “A baby calf. That would soften you right up.”