Chapters:

My Circus...Unfortunately

I’ve considered changing my last name at least a thousand times over the course of the past eighteen years. I’ve been told that the Murphy family name is cursed, and I’ve believed that for the majority of my life. Anything that can go wrong for us goes wrong, and usually at the worst possible time. My personal curse has proven to be that I am incapable of resisting the urge to be nosy, and I almost always end up regretting it.

Take this morning for example. Today was supposed to be a good day. My family is taking my cousin Tina and me on a big trip to Cancún to celebrate our graduations. I just finished high school and she got her BS in Sports Medicine. My parents woke me up ungodly early to send me on a last-minute errand before our trip. I saw something I’m sure I wasn’t supposed to see, and it made me sick to my stomach.

Tina has been engaged to her high school sweetheart, Elliot, for the past two years. They’ve been planning their wedding for the past six months. When I pulled up in the Walmart parking lot at 5:30 this morning, I happened to spot Elliot’s truck and decided to say hi on my way in to grab last-minute travel toiletries.

When I got a little closer, I noticed the truck was rocking and wondered if Tina had slipped away from the house to squeeze in a little last-minute nooky with her fiancé before our flight. Morbid curiosity and a somewhat sick sense of humor led me to start recording video on my iPhone as I peeked in the back window of Elliot’s crew cab.

It took me a second to realize it wasn’t Tina in the back seat of the truck with Elliot. Instead, my cousin’s fiancé was in the middle of screwing a bimbo I didn’t recognize. I stopped recording video and sprinted away from the truck, but I couldn’t get the awful image out of my head.

Elliot was having unfortunately vigorous sex with some kind of five-and-a-half-foot-tall, rail-thin tanning bed junkie with ridiculously oversized breast implants, monogrammed underwear, and cheap box-dyed waist-length brown hair. I almost threw up on the sidewalk, but I got control and rushed inside Walmart, hoping that my errand would distract me from the nightmare I had borne witness to in the parking lot.

It didn’t work. All I could think about as I purchased our flight-approved, travel-sized toiletries was that I had discovered Elliot was cheating on Tina. I even had the video to prove it, but I wasn’t sure what the right thing to do about it might be. Sure, I could put his cheating, scumbag ass on blast, but how will Tina take it if I do? No matter how you look at it, this situation is bad, I thought. I tried to smile at the lady checking out my items, but it came out as more of an uncomfortable grimace. There is literally NO good choice here that doesn’t hurt Tina.

The instant I was back in my car, I pulled out my iPhone and texted my best friend, Rick Moore. My thumbs tried to cramp as I typed out the message, I need advice ASAP.

What did you do now, snoop? I frowned at his response and wished I could argue with his infallible conclusion.

Can you call? I knew he hated talking on the phone, but he’d do it for me if he could.

Seconds later, his call rang through on my Elantra’s speakers and I punched the green answer button on the steering wheel with my thumb.

"Hey, handsome," I teased. "What makes you think the advice I need is snooping-related?"

"It always is," Rick laughed. "You can’t go more than a day without being nosy and wishing you hadn’t."

"True," I grumbled.

"So, what is it this time?" Rick’s voice was suspended somewhere between a tired sigh and an amused chuckle. He sounded like someone making commentary on a dog chasing its tail, and I would have resented it if he didn’t get the best friend pass.

"Mom and dad sent me on a last-minute errand to pick up travel-sized toiletries from Walmart, and I saw Elliot’s truck in the parking lot, so I decided to be nice and say hi since he and Tina are getting married soon, right?" I blew out a gusty sigh, not wanting to say the rest out loud.

"And?" Rick prompted.

"When I got closer to the truck, I noticed it was rocking and decided to prank Tina by getting video of her and Elliot so I’d have something to hold over her head next time I needed a favor. The only problem is that it wasn’t Tina in the truck with him. So, now I have a video of my cousin’s cheating fiancé, and I don’t know what the hell I’m supposed to do in this situation." I blurted it all in one panicked rush.

"Oh, shit." Rick let out a low whistle. "This is bad, Lexie. You haven’t done anything yet, have you?"

"Hell no!" I chewed on my bottom lip for a second. "I have no idea what to do. No matter what I choose, this situation sucks and ends badly for Tina."

"Not to mention you get caught in the fallout either way," Rick sighed. "If you tell her, there’s no guarantee she’ll believe you, and if you show her the video, that raises some ugly questions I’m not sure you want to answer."

"I know," I groaned. "On the other hand, if she finds out I knew and didn’t tell her, our relationship could be destroyed forever. She’s like a sister to me, Rick. I don’t want to lose that."

"It sounds to me like you’re going to have to come up with a creative kind of solution. I wish I could be more help, but I honestly don’t know what to tell you to do. Tina deserves to know the truth, but the only way I see this going is bad," Rick replied.

"This feels like a trap," I complained, still worrying my bottom lip with my teeth.

"It kind of is, but you did this to yourself, you know." Rick’s tone was getting a little too much I-told-you-so sass to it for me to stand.

"I know," I snapped. "It’s the same old story. If I’d just had the sense to mind my own business, I wouldn’t be in this situation. Jeez, Rick. You’re getting as bad as my dad, you know?"

"You’re just cranky because you know I’m right." It was a declaration of fact. Rick knew me better than anybody.

"Thanks for listening, even if you are a smartass," I grumbled.

"Text me when you can so I know y’all are traveling safe, okay?" I couldn’t help smiling at Rick’s gentle, coaxing tone.

"Will do," I agreed.

"Bye, Lex. Try to enjoy your graduation trip," he murmured.

"Later," I chirped, hanging up before my brain could take the opportunity to slip something unfortunate past the filter between it and my mouth.

"How the hell am I supposed to enjoy this trip knowing what I know?" I wondered aloud, letting the question bounce around the confines of my car.

I don’t think it’s possible, I thought as a lump of mingled dread and guilt settled in the pit of my stomach.

***

As if my morning wasn’t crappy enough, things started going even farther downhill in a giant avalanche of chaos the second we got to the airport. We make the McAllister family from the Home Alone movies look like they’ve got their crap together. Dad asked everyone to wait on the sidewalk by the luggage while he parked the car. Naturally, the family followed through for all of about 30 seconds.

Mom got sick and had to bolt for the bathroom. Uncle Ray thought better of each of us just carrying our own luggage and went to find a luggage cart. Aunt Carrie-Lou went to check on Mom, my cousin Tina decided to go see what was taking Uncle Ray so long, and Grandpa Steele decided he better smoke while he could and shuffled off to the nearest trash can with an ashtray on top.

So, when Dad jogged up, I was the only one left standing with the luggage.

"What happened, Lexie? I told everyone to wait here!"

"Did you really think that would work, Dad?" I rolled my eyes and shook my head. "This is the Murphy family you’re talking about. Grandpa Steele is over there having a smoke, Mom’s sick, Aunt Carrie-Lou is with her, Uncle Ray went to look for a luggage rack, and Tina went to look for Uncle Ray. In what world would this not happen?"

"There’s no need to be so sarcastic, Lexie, we’re going on vacation. This is supposed to be fun," Dad admonished, pointedly ignoring the fact that he was stressed out beyond belief and had the potential to lose it at any given second.

I snorted in disbelief and bit my tongue about his usual travel-induced mania, which I knew could rear its ugly head at any given moment. "There is nothing fun about airports, Dad. At all. To me, they’re equivalent to the third circle of-"

"Lexie!" Dad warned. He doesn’t really like it when I’m vulgar. Boy, if he only knew...lucky for me, what he doesn’t know won’t hurt anybody.

"Can we just get everyone together and go?" I huffed and gritted my teeth, handling the travel stress almost as poorly as Dad.

"Just calm down," Dad ordered, as if his will could impose order and calm on the Murphy family chaos. News flash: it hasn’t worked in the past forty-something years, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.  "We’ll get it together," Dad muttered, trying to convince himself as much as me. "Go get your grandfather. I think I see Ray coming with the cart now."

I sighed, resigned myself to the natural order of things for the moment, and strode over to where Grandpa Steele was puffing on the dregs of his second cigarette. "C’mon, Pop. We need to go. Dad and Uncle Ray are loading up the luggage cart now."

"All right, babe," Pop drawled. "Just let me finish this cigarette."

I had to force myself to keep a straight face because he was pretty much just sucking on the filter at that point. I watched as he took his sweet time stubbing out the two embers left clinging to the filter and giggled.

"You nervous about the flight or something, Pop?"

"Damn skippy I am," Pop growled. "I joined the Navy and not the Air Force for a reason. I can swim a hell of a lot better than I can fly. I’m not Superman. I don’t know why we can’t just go on a cruise." He patted the pack of cigarettes in his shirt pocket to make sure they were secure in their place, slipped his lighter in beside them, and shoved his hands in his pockets with a grunt of dissatisfaction.

"Mom said something about wanting more time to tour and see the sights." I shrugged. I didn’t love air travel much more than Grandpa Steele, but my reasons had a lot more to do with other people’s stupidity than my own fears.

“Hmph," Pop snorted, curling his lip in disgust. "Seems like a greater chance of picking up Montezuma’s Revenge if you ask me.”

I laughed so hard my eyes watered and I just about choked. I shook my head and looped one of my arms around his giving it a gentle squeeze of encouragement to get him moving. “Come on, Pop. Let’s go.”

The chaos only increased as we attempted to check in with the automated kiosks that normal people have no problems with. Sometimes I think that my Mom is a mutant, like the X-Men, but her mutant power is sending any electronic thing she touches on the fritz.

It doesn’t matter what she does, she can follow directions to the letter, and electronics will still break down on her. I’ve come to accept this as a rule of the universe. Mom has yet to accept that she needs to just let others handle the electronics for her. So, incidents like this are a source of constant frustration for her.

I sighed, growing exponentially more impatient and irritable by the second. "Can’t we just go check in at the counter?"

"This is supposed to be faster," Dad huffed, snatching the printed check-in information from Mom.

I sucked in a breath and winced, knowing that was the wrong move for Dad to make. Mom’s nostrils flared with indignant rage, and her eyes narrowed like a Doberman going in for the kill.

"Don’t snatch things from me, Frank. You know how I hate it when you get snatchy with me! I was following the directions exactly. The machine just isn’t cooperating."

Dad shook his head and threw his hands in the air, frustration getting the better of him. "I don’t know how this happens every damn time, Liz."

"If we keep this up, we’re going to miss our flight," I snapped, rolling my eyes.

I snatched the papers from Dad even though I knew it would piss him off and marched over to the check-in counter. I only have so much tolerance for bickering shenanigans in the face of swiftly-approaching boarding times. I could feel Dad’s frustrated glare on the back of my neck as I forced a tight smile at the attendant working the counter.

"Hi, we need to check in, and your kiosk seems to be malfunctioning." See, I could be smooth. I didn’t implicate mom’s mutant power in the issue at all. If I appeared to be calm, trust me, I wasn’t. I was sleepy and my gut was tied up in knots about Tina and Elliot. Most of all, I was ready to be in a position to take a nap before I lost my temper and blew up on somebody.

The attendant’s genuine, understanding smile softened my bad mood a little. "All right, hon, how many in your traveling party?"

"Seven, ma’am. Thanks." I picked invisible lint off my "I’m Sorry for What I Said When You Tried to Wake Me Up" t-shirt as the woman clicked away at the computer.

Dad came up and nudged me aside, always the family helmsman in spite of my minor mutinies.

"And what is your last name," the attendant asked, a little surprised when she looked up and saw Dad standing in the spot I’d occupied before.

"Murphy," Dad responded with a sort of grim pride that only a member of the family would truly understand.

The attendant nodded as she pulled up our information, then let out a low whistle. "Wow, you guys are running a little behind, huh? I hope you make it through security in time to catch your flight."

Dad drummed his fingers on the counter in an impatient frenzy as the girl stated the obvious. Every one of us fidgeted nervously as we waited for all the boarding passes to print. With every passing second I grew more and more sure that we were, in fact, going to miss our flight.