“Katherine, come see!”
I turn from the stove in the kitchen of the huge antebellum mansion house that I share with my brothers and father, willing myself not to roll my eyes.
I had the misfortune of getting the brains in my family, while the men got all the cunning and the instinct to make money. I got the chance for mental illness too, a gift from my mother who killed herself when I was young. I guess being smarter is a double-edged sword because it makes you way more sensitive to the world’s failings.
Even though I am young, I know this.
“Kat!” my brother Dave calls. “Seriously, come here!”
“I’ve got jambalaya on the stove,” I call out. “Can it wait?”
“No, you gotta see this!” calls my brother Arturo. “It’s so funny!”
I brush back a lock of my long blonde hair, sighing. Turning the jambalaya down to a simmer, I head out of our large, state-of-the-art kitchen and into the living room. There my three brothers are all standing behind my aging father, who is sitting on the couch. My dad holds an iPad, seemingly entranced by whatever is on the screen.
My brothers are carbon copies of Dad; it’s like the March of Progress diagram in my biology textbook, each of my brothers looking like one of the apes that formed the evolutionary steps to become my dad. At the moment, they are all staring at the iPad with rapt attention, their faces lit with the same dark humor.
It makes me a little queasy when my family has that look. The last time they all looked at a screen like that, I found out that they were screening one of the dogfights that they had set up. Blech.
“What is it?” I ask, skirting the couch to come around behind them all. Tony steps aside to make room for me to see what they are so enthralled by.
Looking at the iPad, and I’m instantly repulsed. The screen shows a young woman, hogtied and gagged, like a pig dressed up for roasting. She is obviously quite frightened and keeps looking at something or someone just out of screenshot.
“This is some chick that Art used to bang,” my father says, chuckling. “If you can even believe that he ever got pussy that hot. I mean, look at her!”
Looking at the dark-haired girl, with her creamy white skin marked by harsh-looking red rope, I feel dread in the pit of my stomach. There are tears streaming down her cheeks, traces of her heavy mascara still evident. She’s trembling, almost frantic, and I send up a tiny prayer that she’s just a really good actress.
Otherwise, if my family’s watching this, and it was shot against her will… that’s something entirely different.
On screen, a man clad in head to toe leather steps into the frame, brandishing a bullwhip. I wince, scowling, and turn away. Sadly, I wouldn’t put watching that kind of screwed up porn together past anyone in my family. To be a Carolla in New Orleans is to live on the edge.
Or at least that’s what the men in the room keep telling me, have been telling me for all of the eighteen years I’ve been alive. The Carolla family is old school mafia, real true gangsters, the last of a dying breed. Our family motto is, “A Carolla never quits.”
That has been drummed into me from birth.
Not that I really got to witness it or experience any of the so-called dirty business. I’m the youngest in my family, protected. But they constantly feel the need to remind me, anyway.
“I really didn’t need to stop cooking to come to see that, did I?” I say, heading back to the kitchen. There is no answer to my question, and I don’t really expect one. Instead, my dad barks an order.
“Bring me a beer, Katherine,” my father commands, absently watching the iPad.
“Beers all around,” says my oldest brother Dave, not looking up from the screen. He just expects that I will obey… and he’s not wrong. I’ve long since found that it’s just easier to do as they say. “Bring them in here like a good girl.”
I don’t say anything, I just move toward the fridge.
“I can’t believe you used to hit that,” my brother Tony says, excited. “I bet she was pretty tight, am I right?”
He’s the nerdiest one of my brothers, and sometimes I think that he just goes along with everything that Dad or Art says. I can almost forgive him for being the weakest one, but his cowardice makes him an uneasy ally. He’s my best friend, but I never know when he’s going to turn on me. He’d sell me out in one second flat if it meant that he got a kind word from my father or oldest brother.
“Hurry up with that beer,” Art calls from the living room. “I’m running dry over here.”
I roll my eyes on the way to the fridge. That’s part of the deal for my family, the not doing anything for themselves. As the only girl, I’m expected to cook and clean, to do laundry and entertain guests. To fend off my father’s drunken advances, when he has a little too much to drink. I’m their perfect little housekeeper.
In exchange, they make all the money. They run drugs and whores, take in money from the slot machines we have all around town. They do things that I could never dream of doing.
As I replace their empty beers with fresh ones, gathering cans and studiously ignoring the video they’re still watching, I take a deep breath. It’s going to be hard to tell my father and brothers that I am leaving for college. But I’m eighteen as of last week, and out of four colleges I applied to, I got into three of them.
Not bad, for someone who has never seen the inside of a classroom. My brothers and I were homeschooled, by necessity. Apparently, no one wanted the kids of one of the city’s biggest mobsters sharing snack packs with their own kids.
Or so I was told, repeatedly, by my father.
At any rate, I did my own research about colleges without ever leaving home. I’m excited about Tulane University, or maybe Loyola University. To be honest, I don’t really know the difference between the two, I just know that you have to live on campus.
After a lifetime of cleaning my brothers’ dirty laundry and listening to my dad drunkenly confess how much I remind him of my mother when she was my age, I’m ready. Ready for college. Ready to meet new people.
Ready to blossom.
I’m just not sure how I’m going to tell my family. I return to the stove and see Tony slink up behind me, leaning against the opposite counter. He doesn’t say anything for a while, and I glance over my shoulder at him a couple times.
As I look at him, I can tell he’s drunk. His cheeks are flushed, and his chocolate eyes are faintly bloodshot. He keeps his dark hair buzzed, like all the guys in my family do. He is thinner than the rest of my brothers, sinew rather than fatty muscle. He also has a habit of hunching and rubbing his hands together. It makes him look like a nervous rat, his eyes are so close together and his facial hair too patchy to be called a beard.
I’m a little uncomfortable with how Tony is looking at me as if he’s deciding my value. He does so silently, leaning a little bit off center. If he fell on the floor, totally passed out, I wouldn’t be surprised. It wouldn’t be the first time.
I don’t say anything to Tony, though. I’ve learned not to provoke any harassment. So, I just let Tony stare as I plate up the spicy jambalaya, spooning the rice and sausage mixture into bowls.
As I am sticking spoons in each bowl, Tony finally speaks.
“You know… you know that Dad’s going to sell you off, right?” He says it slowly and carefully, and I pause. I must’ve misheard him.
“What’s that now?” I ask, my brow furrowing.
Tony continues as if I didn’t say anything. “It’s your fault, really. That’s what Dad says. It’s your fault for looking so much like Mom.” He hiccups. “All petite and curvy. Nice tits and a nicer ass.”
His eyes wander down to my breasts, and I wish my apron could keep his stare off of my body. I turn around, trying to ignore him. He’s my brother. He’s just being pervy and drunk.
This is normal, right? I try to convince myself that the butt pinches and the breast fondles I’ve been dealing with for my whole life are just part of growing up. I know they’re not; I might be isolated, but I do have the internet.
But what am I supposed to do? You’re born into the family you’re born into. So instead of making a scene, I become extra gracious.
“Tony, do you maybe want to go lie down for a little while?” I ask him.
I look back, and he’s sipping his beer. Shaking his head. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Money is tight, and you’re right here in our kitchen. You’re all too available for Dad to marry off to the highest bidder. You didn’t think that they would just let you have a life, now did you?”
I ignore his words, though they make me shake a little. Picking up and balancing the bowls of jambalaya, I offer him one.
“Here, you need to eat something,” I say gently. “I’m going to take Daddy some food now.”
I leave the kitchen, a little shaken, but I can feel Tony’s eyes on my back. As I hand out the bowls, I tell myself not to worry about what Tony said. He’s just drunk.
But later, when I’m done putting the dishes in the dishwasher, I start to worry about it. What if Tony is right? What if Dad really is running out of money, and he thinks that an arranged marriage is the way out of that?
I would totally not put it past my father. In fact, he has jokingly mentioned the idea several times over the years. Maybe I should be scared like Tony said.
I worry my lip as I head upstairs to my room.