She’s that sister. The middle child. The one who’s too loud, too candid, too daring, too audacious, too unpredictable and too emotional. June Calendario hid her swollen eyes behind a pair of Ray-Ban Aviators as she strolled into her family’s home just as they were all sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner. It had been seven years since June set foot in her childhood home, but she couldn’t put it off any longer. Her mother needed her and she needed her mom.
Nicky’s glee was mirrored throughout the room even though he was the only one to jump from his seat. He pushed himself from the kid’s table, then ran toward his bohemian gypsy aunt who only appeared in his life on trips far away from Phoenix. June wasn’t able to spend much time with her nephew, but she made sure that the time they did have together was special. Plus, she always sent the best birthday and Christmas gifts every year. The rest of her family simply stared as if she might only be a mirage. She glowed in backlight from the late afternoon sun shining through the sliding glass door; the way her family was used to seeing her.
“Hey, buddy? Why are you dressed like that? You kinda look like a douche, dude.”
“I have to Butch. It’s Thanksgiving. You know my mom,” the eight-year-old boy said to his aunt, justifying the three-piece suit he was wearing.
June stood before her extended family with her nephew wrapped around her waist looking a little lost and sad, but smiled through her obvious sorrow once she spotted her parents and smelled the aromatic scent that always launched the start of the holidays. The fragrant aroma of garlic, sage, rosemary, and thyme flooded her mind with joyful memories that she needed to cling to so that she could stay strong and keep her tears at bay.
“Butch!” Ernesto bellowed, embracing his daughter as she kissed him and they both walked toward Emily.
June pushed her sunglasses to the top of her head. “Hi mommy,” June said as she hugged her gently.
“Hi, honey. I’m so happy you made it. You can hug me tight; I won’t break you know.” June lifted her mother into a tight embrace, squeezing until her laughter started to cause her to cough.
“That’s enough, Butch put her down,” June’s older sister, May said as she and June’s younger sister, April, set the rest of the food on the table. “It would have been nice if you had called so you didn’t completely interrupt dinner.”
June’s demeanor changed as she turned toward the sound of her sister’s voice. June watched May look her up and down. Once May shook her head with disapproval, June’s feelings of sorrow were replaced with loathing animosity. June choked down her need to defend herself, a constant practice whenever the two women were in the same room. June glared at her older sister knowing that moment wasn’t the time to get into it with May. June was beyond successful, but according to May, she had more money than sense. June’s appearance seemed to confirm May’s critical view of her sister’s artist lifestyle.
June had what could only be described as a party on her wrist. Bangles, cuffs, leather straps, braided silk, ethnic beads, and chunky chains stopped at her forearm, and started with a silver slave bracelet hooked to her middle finger. She was wearing a torn vintage Nirvana concert baseball tee, black leggings and worn, brown leather riding boots. Her guitar was strapped across her back on the right side and the thick strap from her army green duffle bag crisscrossed over the guitar strap and rested on her left side. Her extended family could be seen looking past her body for an entourage and driver bringing in a matching set of Tumi luggage, but it was only June. At home, it was always only June. She had become a star, but when she was home, she was just Butch.
“Oh, hell people, don’t let me interrupt anything. Eat!” June said, tossing her things on the dining room floor. She turned and smiled at her younger sister then winked. “Hey kid, heard you got engaged.”
“Yes, Butch this is my fiancé, Clark. Clark this is my sister, June. But we all call her, Butch.”
“Feel free to call me June. Butch is kind of a family nickname that just won’t go away,” June explained, shaking Clark’s hand. “You’re a tall drink of water. If you take off those glasses do you turn into Superman? I’d love to see you in a pair of tights.”
“June!” Emily reprimanded her daughter in front of all their guests, but June shrugged like it wasn’t a big deal. Flirting with her little sister’s future husband was typical Butch behavior.
Clark cleared his throat before speaking, “It’s nice to meet you, June. April has told me so much about you and I love your music.” Clark looked very embarrassed as June ogled his torso.
“Believe everything you hear, Superman because it’s all true,” June said, rubbing Clark’s chest with her hands.
“Butch do you mind. Daddy needs to say grace and carve the turkey so that we can all eat,” May barked.
June took a deep breath before speaking, “Sure Daddy let’s give some props to the Lord. But how you gonna slice the turkey when May’s got your knife shoved so far up her ass?” June just couldn’t help herself. The words were out before she could stop them.
“June!” Emily snapped again, as June took a seat at the kids table next to Nicky.
“Will you share with me kiddo?” June whispered in her nephew’s ear while her father thanked God for the food.”
After dinner most of the male relatives were watching football while the others were on the front porch smoking cigars. June’s sisters, cousins and aunts packed leftovers and washed dishes while June sat on the patio lounge chair in the backyard of her parents’ Phoenix home, holding her frail mother in her arms as they talked.
“I don’t understand. I thought the surgery was supposed to help, not cause the cancer to spread.”
“Everyone thought that, honey, but this cancer has been too aggressive and I was just too far along when they found it.”
“What else are they doing to help you get well?”
“Nothing. I already have a colostomy bag, I’m bald and nothing tastes good. The only bright spot is being able to smoke this stuff legally.” Emily held the joint up to her daughter’s mouth so she could take a hit. “I don’t want any more chemo, I’m tired. I just want to play with my grandsons and make love to my husband every day until I die.”
“Mom! You can’t give up,” June cried out as if she assumed Emily’s decision was one made in haste or without weighing all her options.
“I’m not. I’ll pray for a miracle until the day I die. I’ll miss you and your sisters so much, but I want to live with a little dignity and happiness. I’m not in pain right now and I’m still alive, so I would like to be able to act like it. I want to feel your father on top of me a few more times before I have to answer to God for my behavior.”
“You’re still such a firecracker, mom,” June said, taking another hit off her mother’s marijuana cigarette.
“Mom! Don’t smoke that in front of the kids,” May scolded, coming out the sliding glass door with her hand on her hip.
“Fuck you, May. This is mom’s house and she can get high if she wants to. What the hell’s wrong with you?”
“Girls don’t fight. May Belle do the kids want to come out here and play?”
“Yes, mom, they do,” May spat in the self-righteous tone June was too familiar with.
“Okay, well give me a couple minutes then bring them out,” Emily said, to her eldest daughter.
“I’ll be right back, mom,” June said, covering her mother with the hand-knitted afghan even though it was eighty degrees outside. Once inside, June found May. She dragged her sister into the kitchen with a firm grip on her upper arm, “What the fuck is your problem?”
May yanked her arm from June’s grasp. “I don’t have a problem,” May looked her sister up and down, “unlike some people.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Stop it you guys!” April demanded, rushing into the kitchen “Can’t you two just get along for two seconds?”
“I would April, if your sister wasn’t outside yelling at a dying woman, who just happens to be her mother, about smoking a little pot,” June screamed in May’s face.
“What? Why May?” April asked.
“I don’t understand how doing street drugs help. And if she is no longer going to do her chemo, she shouldn’t be smoking Marijuana.”
“So because you don’t understand, mom can’t do it? Forget what her doctor’s want and what makes mom feel better, you don’t understand so she doesn’t get to do it? You judgmental little bitch. You haven’t changed a bit,” June yelled in her sister’s face.
“What do you mean she’s not doing her chemotherapy?” April asked confused.
“Mom stopped, said she’s had enough,” May explained, ignoring June.
“What are you girls doing in here?” Ernie asked, as he looked at each one of his daughters in their eyes. Growing up the Calendario sisters looked exactly alike only on a three year delay. Now they stood before their father as grown women with the exact same face, height and weight and the Latina curves their father’s Spanish heritage automatically provided them. Each woman had fair skin, dark hair, and amber almond shaped eyes. They were mirror images of each other, but couldn’t be more different.
May Belle Flowers was extremely conservative in the way she talked, dressed and voted. At the age of thirty-two, she was married to her second husband, and was the mother of two beautiful boys. She met her husband, Jonathon Flowers, CEO of Bouquet Publishing, when his company bought the Phoenix based magazine, Desert Heat where May worked as the editor. Nicky’s the oldest, her son from her first marriage, and Andy was five, Jonathon’s son.
April was the youngest and their father’s favorite. The baby of the family and a chef just like Ernie. She was a lovely woman with a heart of gold. She had recently lost a lot of weight and got engaged to her boyfriend after two years of dating. She met him on a Christian singles website. Clark was the ‘son’ from Lyon and Son Plumbing. April and Clark made a beautiful couple and looked like they should be on a billboard advertisement for milk or a new housing development.
June was a different story. The middle sister. She opted for college in New York after she was accepted at Juilliard. Her mother was thrilled, but the feisty tomboy was torn. She knew her best friend was in Tucson studying medicine and she wanted to be near him, however, he never hinted that he wanted her around so twelve years ago, June Calendario headed for New York and never looked back.
Percussions were what got June into Juilliard. She was the only female drummer in the marching and concert bands at her Catholic high school, but she had picked up the guitar while she attended the college. She desperately needed something to hold and the guitar gave her comfort. June was in Central Park playing with some friends the week after her sophomore year had started. They wanted to help New York start healing after 9/11. A television producer and cameraman asked June what she was doing in the park. She told them that she and her friends were students at Juilliard and they were doing the only thing they knew how to do to help New York heal. She told them the words to the song meant something to them plus, 2,606 died the previous day in New York and nothing else mattered. The cameraman recorded her singing Metallica’s, Nothing Else Matters, and it aired on the evening news, and the 9/11 specials that aired on that channel.
June’s performance got the attention of the Heath Wells’ Band who wanted to hire her to play guitar on their first worldwide tour. She told them she was a drummer and to find her in three years if they were looking for a percussionist. Although June never set out to be a country musician, let alone singer, the Arizona attire she adorned in the television footage included: cowboy boots, a straw cowboy hat and a lot of turquoise jewelry, which had her looking like one. After June graduated three years later, Heath Wells didn’t return, but his friend and producer Jeff Anderson, CEO of Boondock Entertainment did. He was starting his own label and wanted June something awful. Country music fans became mesmerized by the sexy tomboy who chose to wear as little as possible when she performed. She never appeared shirtless like so many male drummers preferred, but she was barely clothed as her arms flung and her sticks twirled effortlessly around her fingers. June’s, ‘let’s give it a shot’ attitude was all Jeff needed to sign her. June’s wildly liberal personality and ‘exotic beauty’ look made the country music industry shake in their boots as they took notice.
June quickly hit the charts with her ballad, Sisters, but it was Boyfriend that went to number one and crossed over to the pop charts. The song’s lyrics were about her losing her virginity to a boy who wanted a whole lot more. Country music’s typical lyrics like pick-up trucks, floppy eared dogs, and barefoot girls disappeared when radio listeners heard June sing about bondage and spankings. Nashville remains undecided about what to do with the provocative rebel, as June continues to embrace her ‘dirty girl’ image all the way to the bank. With no problem being loud and aggressive and wearing as little as possible on stage, June Calendario became a star. For the past seven years, she has been on the road as the opening act for country, rock, and pop artists alike. She finally headlined her own tour two and half years ago, after her second album dropped.
The twenty-nine-year-old musician still didn’t have an address other than her parent’s house in the Arcadia area of Phoenix, Arizona, were all her personal belongings were always sent. Still, she rarely returned home, but she made a point of seeing her parents and nephew as much as possible. When she’s not on tour she arranges lavish trips for her family. April often tagged along, however, May seldom did, even though she allowed Nicky to go on the adventures with his grandparents. The eight-year-old boy had more stamps in his passport than both his parents combined because of his generous aunt.
“Girls why are you fighting?” Ernie asked his daughters, then they all started talking at once. “Uno a la vez — uno a la vez!” Ernie yelled, holding up his hands, like he was calling for a time out.
“Daddy why did mom stop chemo and why didn’t you tell me?” April asked in tears.
“She just doesn’t want the time she has left to be in bed, pumpkin. She wants to live, not sleep.” Ernesto grabbed his youngest and wiped away her tears.
“Daddy tell May that mom can smoke pot in her own home whenever she wants and doesn’t need her daughter’s judgmental looks and reprimanding.”
“Did you do that, May?” her father asked.
“There are children here, Daddy,” May spat appalled.
“Then explain to the children that it’s medicine.”
“I don’t have time for this. I promised Jonathan’s parents we would be at their hotel for dessert and I don’t want their grandson smelling like marijuana, I need to leave. April will you watch Nicky until Brett gets here?”
“Sure, sis,” April said, still holding on to her father.
“How long do you plan on staying this time, June?” May asked her sister in a civil tone.
“A while,” June replied pissed, refusing to look at May.
“Then I suppose I’ll see you soon.” May left with Andy after she kissed Nicky goodbye.
June went back outside as the guests leisurely left the Calendario home one at a time. They all walked to the backyard to say goodbye to Emily as though it might be the last. June sat next to her mother desperately trying to hold back her tears. Once everyone was gone, Ernie, April, and Clark started cleaning up the house.
“Mom, Clark and I are going to take Nicky to the movies. Will you tell Brett when he gets here?” April asked from the sliding glass door.
“Sure, honey. Where’s your father?”
“He’s up in the attic looking for the Christmas lights. I promised Nicky some Froyo after the movie so we’ll be gone a while. Do you want to come, Butch?”
“No, sis, I’ll stay here with mom and dad.”
“Okay. I got my cell if you need us.” April left after Nicky changed his clothes.
“How are May and Brett getting along?” June asked her mother about May’s ex-husband.
“They seem to co-parent well enough. I don’t think she likes me spending so much time with Brett, but May hates when he takes Nicky to his apartment over the bar, so they stay next door at Brett’s parents’ house. It’s great for me because whenever it’s Brett’s turn to have Nicky he’s just right next door. And ever since Charles retired, he and Susan are always traveling leaving the boys to come over here for their meals. You know how your father loves cooking for as many people as possible. And besides, May left Brett. Brett didn’t want the divorce. We have no reason not to still love the boy you girls grew up with,” Emily explained to her daughter.
“That’s good. And Nicky seems so happy.”
“He is and he’s such a bright boy. You need to spend time with him. You should see him with Andy. Ever since his brother was diagnosed with autism, Nicky has been a wonderful helper for May.” Emily began to tear up then started to cough. June left her side to get some water and by the time she got back, Emily was coughing up blood.
“Daddy!” June started to scream as she grabbed the beach towel that was draped across the other lounge chair and held it under her mother’s chin. “Daddy!” June screamed again. “Mom, what do I do?” June asked in tears as she watched her mother struggle for a breath.
“Hey, what’s going on here, Emily?” Brett Carmichael asked, calmly scooping June’s mother up in his arms, then carried her to her bedroom as June followed. “Go get her medicine off the nightstand, Butch,” Brett instructed. June did as he asked not having time to think about the fact she hadn’t seen him in ten years.
“Yeah,” June said, then grabbed every bottle. “Daddy help mom,” June cried when her father appeared at the bedroom door.
“Thanks, Brett. I got her,” Ernesto said, holding his wife up over the sink so that she would spit. “Baby momma’s gonna need to get some sleep. She’ll be fine it’s just been a long day. You go get settled in your room and go through all those boxes that keep arriving here, mom will see you in the morning…”
“But Daddy?” June started.
“Go, pumpkin. Everything’s fine,” Ernesto said, smiling at his daughter. Brett grabbed June’s arm and pulled her out of the room.
“Let go!” June yelled once Brett shut the door to her parents’ bedroom. June looked up into the eyes of the man she once called her everything but hadn’t seen in ten years. She stared long and hard at the man she never would have recognized on the street. Brett Carmichael was no longer the tall, lean, clean-cut handsome, high school running back with the genius IQ. He was gruff, unkempt and overly muscular. He had a beard and mustache with long shaggy hair that looked like it was never combed. He was wearing a short sleeved t-shirt with his bar’s logo and camo pants with black leather motorcycle boots. The boy next door now looked more like a menacing Hell’s Angel you did everything to avoid. “Don’t fucking touch me,” June spat, sucking in her breath and hiding her face as she pretended she wasn’t crying.
“Yeah, nice to see you too, Butch,” Brett said, looking down at the country music star.
June couldn’t look at him let alone deal with their past, as her heart wrenched for her mother. She clutched her chest as she thought about her father and what would happen to him when her mother was no longer around. June turned and ran down the hall, crying hysterically. She continued running to the backyard, past the pool and into her father’s garden, where she collapsed into the rich soil, trying to process the severity of her mother’s cancer. June was on the ground bent over her thighs crying like she hadn’t done since her sister married Brett. Her tears were falling on her father’s squash blossoms when she saw the toes of Brett’s boots beside her.
“It’s not as bad as it looks, Butch. Your mom just forgets she’s sick and overdoes it sometimes. She just needs some sleep,” Brett explained, trying to make June feel better. June started swinging her fists as Brett tried to pick her up. She wanted to hurt something or someone so the pain in her heart would go away. June slapped Brett’s hands away from her body then beat his thighs, but it still hurt so she just slumped back over crying into the moist soil. June stayed in the same position as Brett talked to her back. She finally looked up from her knees and stared at the man, trying desperately to see the boy she once loved. She reached for his belt buckle and unclasped it quickly, then unbuttoned his pants before Brett cupped June’s hands at his zipper.
“What are you doing?” he asked in a harsh tone.
“What do you think?” June replied, trying to move his hand so that she could unzip his pants.
“No! Fuck me, Brett, please. Don’t make me beg,” June pleaded from her knees.
“Where’s Nicky?” he asked still fighting off June’s hands.
“He went to the movies with April. He won’t be back for hours.”
“Are you drunk?” Brett asked, looking for any explanation for June’s behavior.
“No, asshole, I just need a distraction. I just need to get laid. Is that really too much to ask?” June asked from her knees. Brett bent down and picked her up. He used the gate that connected the two family’s’ backyards and carried June into his parents’ home. He sat her on the couch in the family room then walked behind the bar to pour something brown in a rocks glass.
“Drink this,” Brett said, handing June the glass. June shot it back in one gulp then immediately handed the glass back. “When did you get here?”
“A couple hours ago,” June said, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand.
“Did you see May?”
“Did you fight?” he asked, trying to get to the bottom of June’s carnal behavior.
June rolled her eyes. “Listen, asshole, if you don’t want to fuck me that’s fine, but don’t think you’re some pawn in the war between me and my sister.” June got up to leave.
“When did you turn into such a slut, Butch?” Brett asked before June got to the door. June stopped in her tracks, turned and glared at the man she once loved.
“A good case could be made for nine years ago,” she said, looking at him over her shoulder.
“What happened nine years ago?” Brett asked confused.
“The love of my life married my sister,” June murmured in a devastated whisper.