I was working late again. The weight room was deserted and quiet and I was finally done with my workout. I was just getting ready to shut off the lights when my sister-in-law Joselyn and my niece Stephanie came in. I'm the football, track and strength and conditioning coach at the local high school my niece goes to. I had seen her earlier at track practice and coached her up a little. She's a sprinter and she long jumps. Everything had seemed fine and she had hugged me and laughed at one of my corny jokes. She wasn't fine now and neither was her mother. They had both obviously been crying for a while. The side of Joselyn's face was swollen and red and their eyes were red and puffy.
"God, Jos, what the hell? Are you ok?" I hurried over to hug them. They were both crying so hard they couldn't talk. I led them into my office and shut the door. I sat them down on the love seat in there and got them a Gatorade. I handed them a box of tissue and rolled my desk chair over in front of them.
"Jos, what happened to your face?" I asked her.
"Ruben hit me," she sobbed.
"Jesus Christ! What happened? Were you arguing?"
"I got a call from the mortgage company today," she cried harder. "They told me we're seven months behind on the mortgage and they are going to foreclose on us. I called the bank and we're broke. Our IRA is gone, our savings is gone and we have two hundred dollars in the bank from my last paycheck. Our credit cards are maxed out and we owe a lot of money. I asked Ruben about it and he told me he's been gambling again. I got mad and started yelling at him. He's lost everything we had! I yelled at him and asked him how he could do this to Steph and me and he hit me. He slapped me so hard I fell down and hit my head on the refrigerator. It kind of knocked me out for a minute and when I woke up he was gone."
"Damn, Jos, what do you want me to do? You want me to beat the shit out of him?"
"No, I know he's your brother, Salinger. I know you love him. This isn't the first time he's hit me."
"I want you to beat the shit out of him," Stephanie spoke for the first time. "I don't care if he's your brother; he's an asshole. He's mean to us all the time. He calls us 'nigger bitches' all the time when no one can hear him."
"Holy Christ," I said. "I had no idea, girls. I can beat the shit out of him, you know."
"Yes, I know how strong you are, Sal," Jos said. "I want you to do something else for us though."
"You know I'd do anything for you," I told them. "What do you want me to do?"
"I want you to come home with us and stay there while we pack our stuff. I've had enough, Sal. I'm not going to take it anymore. I'm afraid of him. I'm afraid he'll be there. Can we come and stay with you? It will only be for a little while. You know I work hard and as soon as I get a couple of paychecks we'll look for our own place."
"Yeah, if you can stand to have two nigger bitches stay with you," Steph said bitterly.
I rolled my chair over in front of her and cupped her cheeks in my hands. I made her look at me and her huge green eyes were full of tears.
"I'm not him," I told her. "If I ever hear you talk like that again I'm going to run your ass off in practice. I love you Steph. I've loved you since you were a baby. I've never done anything but love you and I don't deserve that from you."
She sobbed miserably and threw herself on me. My chair almost turned over and I flailed around for a minute. I pulled her onto my lap when I got my balance and held her as she shook with sobs.
"I'm so sorry, Uncle Sal," she sobbed. "I love you too. I've loved you since I was a baby too. I'm just so wretched and miserable. I'm so sorry I said that."
"It's ok, baby; I understand. Just remember I'm not him. He may be my brother, but that doesn't mean I'm like him. I never wanted your mother to marry him. I'd never say anything like that to you. I'd never even think it. I love you because you're my niece and you're who you are. I know being black is hard. I've seen you struggle with that and it breaks my heart. Hell, being a teenager is hard enough." I held her and she slowly calmed down.
"I'm not saying I told you so, Jos," I told her. "I did try to tell you. He always thought you were some kind of trophy he bagged because he got in a black girl's pants. He's a sick fuck. Let's forget about him. Let's go get your stuff. Of course you can stay with me, forever if you want to. Let's take my truck and we can get everything you want."
Their car was parked by mine and they got their stuff. Steph had her backpack from school and Jos had her purse. We drove to their house and his car was in the driveway.
"Ignore anything he says to you," I told them. "I'll take care of him. You just get your stuff and put it in the truck. Tell me if you need help with anything."
I went in first. He was sitting on the couch watching TV and drinking some redneck beer. He looked up when he heard me. He was obviously drunk.
"So, the nigger bitches went crying to little brother," he sneered. "Get me another beer, bitch," he said to Jos.
"Shut the fuck up," I told him quietly. "You don't know how bad I want to kick your ass right now. You say one more word to either of them and I'm going to fuck you up."
He got up and bowed up at me. "Yeah, who's going to help you? You think I'm afraid of you? I kicked your ass when we were kids and I still can."
"Go get your stuff, girls," I told them. They didn't move. I could see Jos was very frightened and Steph had an almost eager look on her face.
"Yeah, that's right; these bitches are mine," he sneered. "They do what I say."
"Not anymore," I told him quietly. "I think you should sit down now."
He walked toward me and I could tell he was going to take a swing. He was drunk and slow. I caught his arm easily and punched him in the gut as hard as I could. I bench 420 pounds and I thought I was going to break his backbone. He collapsed to his knees and I bitch slapped him. I grabbed his hair and slapped him three more times.
"You like that?" I yelled in his face. "Who's the bitch now, bitch?" I slapped him four more times and pushed him over on the floor. He puked all over himself and I stepped away from the mess.
"Show's over girls," I told them. "Go get your stuff."
They were frozen in place. "Go!" I said a little louder.
They started and Steph climbed the stairs to her room while Jos got suitcases out of the hall closet. They made trip after trip out to my truck. I helped them carry the heavy stuff and in an hour they were ready. Ruben lay on the floor the whole time, sobbing drunkenly. I walked over to him before we left and knelt down. The stench was horrible. He had pissed himself.
"If you ever bother these girls again I'm going to find you and fuck you up bad," I told him. "If they so much as tell me that they've seen you I'm going to fuck you up. I think you should leave town. If I see you in the street or at the store, I'm going to come back here and fuck you up."
The girls were standing at the door listening and they took my arms in their little hands as we walked to the truck. They didn't say a word until we were almost at my house. Steph was sitting beside me and she was holding my arm with her cheek lying against my shoulder. I petted her mop of curly hair and she rubbed her cheek against me.
"I'm sorry you had to see that, girls," I told them. "I tried to get you to leave. Are you ok?"
Jos nodded and Steph said she was ok. "Jesus, Uncle Sal; you did beat the shit out of him!"
"I hate men that hit women," I told them. "We weren't raised that way. I don't know what went wrong with him. He thinks because he's a cop he can get away with anything. He's had a lot of excessive force charges filed against him. He hit your aunt Beth once when we were all kids. She was thirteen and I was fourteen. That was the last time we fought. He kicked my ass but I hurt him bad enough so that he didn't do it again. Let's forget about him. Did you girls have anything to eat?"
They hadn't and we had pizza delivered. By the time we got their stuff carried in the pizza came. They sat on either side of me on the sofa and we ate. We talked about what they were going to do for a while.
"I know you don't want two girls living with you," Jos said. "I promise we'll be out of your hair as soon as we can."
That hurt my feelings. "Who told you I don't want two girls living with me?" I asked her. "I don't want you out of my hair. So my brother is an asshole. I love you girls and I don't want you out of my life. My God, it would be like somebody tore a hole out of my heart. Maybe you should ask me before you decide what I want."
She looked up at me and her big brown eyes were full of tears. "I'm sorry, Sal. I didn't think ... I thought you ... wouldn't want us." She broke down and sobbed.
"Am I insane?" I asked her. "Who would want the two most beautiful and sweetest girls they ever met to 'get out of their hair?' I want you here as long as you want to be here. You're my family, for God's sake. That means something to me."
She looked back up at me with those red, swollen eyes, her beautiful face bruised where he had slapped her. "God, I love you, Sal," she said. "Why didn't I marry you?"
"I've always wondered that myself," I laughed. "I don't think you should go to work tomorrow, Jos. Why don't we all take a day off and get things settled?"
Steph was all in favor of not going to school. "Will you make me run for missing track practice?" she asked.
.... There is more of this story ...