Dismissing daily relationship red flags had become Kelly‟s part-time, unpaid profession. In the face of several recurrent complications — popping up like plucky, unkillable pests in a game of Whac-A-Mole — Kelly convinced herself that Vince Taylor was the one. She‟d already practiced signing her new surname. It looked much better than Hicks, she‟d decided. Plus, she secretly coveted strong consonants. H was sometimes silent — like in heir, hours and herbs. If her h went unheard, she‟d be Kelly Icks, she acknowledged. Unacceptable, she pondered, perturbed. Allison had pointed out that herbs could be pronounced with an audible h — back when they were kids. But, Kelly often acted like she wasn‟t embarrassed when her sister spoke the word in school. Her-BS, she said in her head and smiled again like she was six years old. She‟d never used the term is her sibling‟s presence. Constant fear of disproportionate reprisals always stifled her attempts. Her elder was quick on her feet — at least verbally. A semi-flaccid snub — even in innocent jest — heaved buckets of chum in the water. And as the family shark, Allison felt obligated to ingest. Insults and teasing. Public humiliation. Whatever would whip her sniffling sister into submission or occasional servitude — especially over numerous weekends for marital rendezvous requiring the services of an inexpensive sitter. Why pay some pimply teen down the street when she could



give her Jelly-Belly Kelly nothing but grief? Way down deep, Allison did love her. But, the sometimes-sadist also relished seeing others suffer at her hand. Any shame that surfaced was briskly squashed. She was only doling out important life lessons, her little devil divulged to her conscience. Her little angel was primarily unemployed — without a want ad — and conveniently mute. All the better to seem as if she were really doing everyone a favor. Kelly had almost weeded out her doubts about her nearing nuptials. Both parties wanted babies. And at a mere twenty-five, the female half of the fertile couple knew she had plenty of breathing room. Or breeding room — as Vince liked to refer to her remaining years of procreation. He hoped to get started soon. Four boys would take their toll. After that, he‟d offer rejuvenation. “No, silly. It‟s Allison first. Then, Vince for a drink at the bar where we first met,” Kelly corrected amiably. Her caller had purposely transposed the names to mess with his friend, as usual. She wasn‟t aware. And he hated Vince. In her decrepit Honda Civic — which had recently traveled to Vegas to transport the slumbering, detested man during a mini-vacation — Kelly stopped at a traffic light to change her blouse. The cream-colored fabric was rumpled. But, it had been resting on top of shoes she had been saving for a special



occasion. Its shade simply washed her out. Her shopping advisor had guaranteed “its pallor compliments your winter skin tones.” Witnessing her reversed strip tease, the stuffed puppy sprawled on the dashboard, Jimmy Chew, stared up, appearing unimpressed. “Everybody‟s a critic,” Kelly croaked at her toy road companion — barely caring she couldn‟t afford to purchase a single pair from his homonym‟s collection. “You‟re more than welcome to join us,” she invited her best friend to spend additional time with her — and her sister. “I‟ll pass. Thank you.” Richard cherished his connection with Kelly, but not enough to tolerate participation in the threesome. He shuddered. Such a wonderful word ruined by Allison‟s grimacing picture, he thought. “Yuck.” He abhorred how Allie happily distorted Kelly‟s conceptions. And he only called her Allie because he knew how much she hated nicknames — for herself. Maybe Malice-son should be her new moniker, he mused.

“Helter-skelter, you‟re wearing my favorite blouse!” Already seated, at her insistence, Allison waved from a distant table in the upscale restaurant.

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