Hank Caskill was busy flipping burgers when Luke stuck his head in. “Yo, Hank. Your cousin’s out back to see you.”
“Which one?” Hank replied. If it was Josie or Deanna or Pete, they could just fuck right off. He did not have time for their shenanigans. They were grown adults, not high schoolers.
Hank sighed and directed his assistant cook to handle the burgers. “Right, tell him I’ll be right out.”
That was one of the benefits — and downsides — to working in a small town where everybody knew everybody, and where you were also friends with your boss and went to poker night with him at a mutual friend’s house every week. Your family members could just stop by and see you whenever.
Hank stepped out the back to see his cousin waiting for him. Lenny had always been lean where Hank was stocky, but otherwise people always said they looked alike: big brown eyes, a perpetual five o’clock shadow, a square jaw and straw-colored hair that wouldn’t stop sticking up at odd angles no matter what Hank did to it.
“Len, c’mon, you know I’m working,” Hank said. “What’s the deal this time?”
Hank’s family was a huge one, and pretty much filled the entire trailer park on the other side of town. Or what had once been the other side of town. The past decade or so, the place had been filling up, turning from a small town outside of a city to a small part of larger in-fill. Hank figured in another ten years, they’d be a proper suburb.
He was not looking forward to it.
For one thing, the developers were giving everyone a hard time. They’d nearly gotten Luke to sell his bar out to them, which definitely would’ve sucked. Hank and the others, his whole family, had been going to Joe’s for years to knock back a few beers and unwind after a long day. Luke had turned the place around, though, and added a kitchen.
Best day of Hank’s life had been landing the head chef job. He got to cook the homestyle food that he loved, with people that he knew and liked, and his family could finally get off his back about pursuing a “fancy career” instead of just going into construction or farming or something like the rest of them.
For another thing, the developers were giving Hank’s family a hard time. And that meant Hank’s family was giving him a hard time. As if he didn’t have enough to worry about in his life already, without his family finding new ways to drive him nuts.
Still, when his family included a dozen cousins, several of whom now had kids, just as many aunts and uncles, and three grandparents, it was a little hard to get away from them.
“It’s the contractors again,” Lenny said. “They’re hounding us about the damn park.”
“You know that if you just sold the place you’d be able to move into nice houses,” Hank replied. “You’d all be set for life.”
He was the only one of his family who didn’t live in the trailer park. This, along with daring to go to culinary school, had marked him as somehow not caring about the family legacy, or whatever bullshit they were pulling this time. When asked, of course, his family always said they loved him, but Hank was aware that loving someone and accepting them could sometimes be two different things.
And when he’d been in high school, he’d been so nervous about coming out as gay after he and Luke had made out under the bleachers. Ha. His family didn’t care who he made out with; they cared that he dashed off to New York for three years of culinary school, and then wouldn’t live in a tiny rundown sardine can of a trailer with the rest of them.
“Nobody’s selling the trailer park,” Lenny shot back. “It’s our legacy.”
Hank rolled his eyes. “It’s a worthless plot of land with a bunch of rusting vehicles parked on it, Len, c’mon. You know the other families want out.”
The thing was, every family in the trailer park owned a share in it. Hank’s family was so large and held so many shares that they basically controlled the whole thing. The other families could move out, but they weren’t able to sell the park to the contractors without a majority vote in favor of the plan … and Hank’s family were the majority.
“It’s our heritage,” Lenny replied, stubborn as ever. The whole damn Caskill family was stubborn.
“It’s dead weight.” Hank folded his arms. “Did you really call me out here in the middle of my shift to talk to me about this?”
“The contractors are going to be sniffing around,” Lenny told him. “We want you to be prepared. Some strange guy comes up and talks to you, don’t tell him anything about the trailer park; they’ll try to get whatever information they can to use it against you.”
What was this, grade school? Was he being taught about stranger danger? “These aren’t lawyers, Len.”
“They might as well be, all the tricks they know.”
Hank sighed. He wasn’t going to call his family paranoid at this point, because they had a right to be. Everyone was on edge the last couple of years, as businesses failed and were scooped up by developers, or people were bullied into selling their homes and shops. “All right. I’ll keep an eye out, sound good?”
Lenny nodded, his expression softening a little. “Thanks, Hank. I know this is, uh, not really something you care too much about. But Grandpa’s all up in arms about it, and Mom’s freaking out, you know, so. Yeah. They just really want you to stay in the loop.”
Hank shrugged. Aunt Lydia could get pretty on edge, and Grandpa had been crusading for the damn trailer park his entire life, as far as Hank knew. “Yeah, no problem. Just wait until the end of my shift next time, okay? We’re lucky that Luke doesn’t care about that sort of thing. but I’ve got customers that need to be fed, and I’m in charge of the line. If someone messes up because I wasn’t keeping things organized, that’s on me.”
Lenny nodded. “Yeah, I get it. We’re having a family meeting and all to discuss it.”
Hank sighed and went back inside. “Everything okay?” Luke asked.
“Yeah, just the usual.” Hank tried to brush past, but Luke grabbed his arm.
“Hey, if you ever want to talk about … all of that.” Luke shrugged. “You know I’m always here. So’s Adam, if you want advice instead of a shoulder to cry on.”
Hank laughed. Yeah, Adam was not exactly good at the whole sympathy thing. He saw a problem and decided how to fix it, and didn’t really bother with the tears in the meantime.
“It’s nothing, really,” Hank said, with a shrug of his own. “I mean, you know how they are. Developers are breathing down their necks again.”
Luke nodded. “I’m lucky this place is doing well enough that they leave me alone now. I could ask Adam and Enid to do something, see if there’s anything…”
Hank shook his head. “No. There’s nothing they or anyone else can do, really. It’s just the developers putting pressure on, and trying to find ways to get around the whole we own the land bit.
“And then my family being stubborn right back at them. It’s a battle of wills. It’ll only stop when one of them gives up and backs down, and I don’t know which one of them will do it first.”
“My money’s usually on the corporation.”
“Yeah, usually. But you don’t know my family.”
Luke snorted. “Yeah, I think I do. Been serving them for years, haven’t I? And they’re stubborn. But a corporation’s got a team of lawyers, and money, and resources.”
Hank shrugged. “And we’ve got our pride. That’ll be the thing everyone remembers about us years later, when we’re all dead; it’ll be, oh yeah, remember the Caskills? Remember how stupidly proud they were? Always getting themselves into trouble because of it?”
Luke sighed. “They’re really giving you shit for not being on their side, aren’t they?”
“It’s a longstanding issue. This is just an excuse for them to ramp it up, say things would be better if I was helping them fight it somehow.” Hank rolled his eyes. “Like I know anything that would be helpful. They just want me to be like the rest of them, get married young, have kids, live in the park, follow the pattern.”
Luke snorted. “C’mon now, don’t tell me you don’t want—”
Sounds of yelling came from the kitchen and Luke sighed. “Never mind. Duty calls and all that.”
Hank rolled his eyes. “I have a feeling I know what you were going to say anyway.” Luke was scheduled to get married in just a couple of weeks, and it seemed that all the guy could think about lately was pairing people up with the love of their lives.
It was endlessly amusing for Adam, Luke’s fiancé, but not so much for Hank, who had yet to meet a guy he had actual, genuine chemistry with. He’d read about the overpowering passion, the whole “spark” that supposedly gave you an irresistible pull towards the other person. But he’d never felt anything more than a mild sort of interest.
Call him ridiculous, but he wasn’t going to settle for anything less than a genuine and powerful connection. He wasn’t even going to be picky like Davis—good Lord, that had taken forever—and insist upon some epic romance. He just meant someone he genuinely, for once in his life, felt attracted to, in a way that he just couldn’t deny.
But anyway. He had work to get to.
“We’re talking about this later,” Luke warned him. Whether he meant about Hank’s family or his perpetual lack of a love life, Hank wasn’t certain, but either way he wasn’t looking forward to it.
“Whatever you say,” he replied, fully intending to slip out with a quick goodbye after closing, before Luke could corner him.
He didn’t need help with his family, and he didn’t need help with his nonexistent love life. He was fine. He’d been handling it all on his own for years and would continue to handle it on his own. He wasn’t the type to want a knight in shining armor.