This Is How It Happened

By: Jo Barrett

For the rest of the night, whenever I was around Mr. Connors, I felt uneasy. When I laughed, I laughed too loudly. That type of thing. Secretly, I thought Carlton’s father believed women should be seen and not heard.

Perhaps it’s because he had a slew of ex-wives. And Carlton told me they were each less challenging than the previous.

Forest Connor’s latest addition to the Connors clan was a blonde bombshell named Holly. She was thirty-nine years old, a former Miss Texas pageant finalist, and a plastic surgeon’s wet dream.

Whenever Carlton saw her blazing toward us in her fire-engine red wedding dress, he’d look at me and say, “Holy Shit. Here Comes Holly!”

“Talk about eye candy,” I said, conspiratorially.

“Stale eye candy,” Carlton said, and we both laughed like criminals.

I know he secretly resented the silky white Mercedes convertible his father had given Holly as a wedding gift—parked outside the hotel entrance for everyone to admire, with a big red bow wrapped around it—especially since Carlton still bumped around in his rusty Honda.

But there was more to it than that, I thought.

“I don’t understand why my dad is never satisfied with one woman. I guess my old man prefers the all-u-can-eat buffet,” Carlton said, as we danced to the wedding band playing an awful rendition of “Brown Eyed Girl.” He encircled his arms around my waist and held me tightly.

“Apples don’t fall far from the tree, babe,” I teased.

Carlton smiled his sexy, sideways smile. “Don’t worry, darlin’,” he whispered. “I’m a single entree kind of guy.”

And I, of course, being the sucker that I am, totally believed him.

Chapter 11

I arrive at The Tavern early, of course. I’m dressed in wrinkled jeans and a stained white T-shirt that says, “South Padre Island.” On the back of the shirt, in tiny blue letters, it reads, STAND STRONG 2 THE WINDS OF CHANGE.

So here I am. In a smelly bar. Waiting for my brother. And standing strong to the winds of change.

The bartender approaches me armed with this smarmy smile.

“You look like you could use a drink, Missy,” is his opening line.

“Thanks, but I’ll just have a coke.”

“Sure you don’t want me to pour a shot of Jack on top?”

“It’s not even noon,” I say.

“Time is what you make of it.”

See, here’s the problem with Austin, Texas. Everyone’s a closet intellect. No one is who they seem to be. Your barman is probably a PhD in Philosophy or English Lit; your waitress, a budding filmmaker.

My closet intellect bartender slides the glass toward me. He looks a little disappointed that I’m not DRINKING drinking.

I sit on the barstool and sip my coke. Ronnie is a former alcoholic and drug addict so I never drink alcohol around him. He tells me it’s okay. “Don’t worry, Maddy. You won’t get me back off the wagon,” he says. But I figure if I was a chocoholic, I’d be pissed if someone wolfed down a Snickers right in front of me.

My brother strolls in the door. He’s wearing a Longhorns shirt, of course, because he bleeds burnt orange. His hair is messed up on top. A serious case of bed-head.

“I’ve been staring at my computer for the past nine hours,” he says, rubbing both his eyes like he used to do when he was a little boy.

“Trying to save the world again?” I ask.

He shoots me a look. “One teenager at a time, Maddy. That’s my motto.

My brother is a rehab counselor for troubled teens. And he takes the hard cases, because he used to be a hard case himself. He says he feels lucky to be alive and that the rehab business is his “life calling.”

I’ve seen him in action. Three nights a week my brother lectures for free at the local community center. He’s gotten quite a following and even started a Monday night volunteer crisis-counseling hotline—where neither he nor any of the crisis counselors get paid. They work all night long. And the phones ring nonstop.

I know because I’ve volunteered. Not a lot. But enough to know my brother is making a difference.

He counsels kids who have abused more alcohol and street drugs than anyone cares to think about. Kids with dim, weary, aging eyes. The kind of eyes that have seen too much in their short time.

My brother calls these kids his “Miracle Teens.”

“Every one of them needs a miracle,” he says.

I motion to the bartender and order a coke, two cheeseburgers, onion rings instead of fries, and extra pickles.

My brother and I have been doing this burger gig a long time.

“So, you want to kill Carlton?” my brother says, most bluntly.


“With poison brownies?”

I slurp my coke out of the straw and don’t answer.

“Like some Grim Reaping Martha Stewart?” my brother asks.

The bartender slides two greasy red baskets in front of us.

I rub my hands together and dig in.

“You’re not answering me,” my brother says.

“Off with his head!” I say, biting into my juicy cheeseburger. I wipe my mouth with my napkin. My brother watches me, carefully.