There’s a lot that you can buy with a stolen 20 bucks. Especially if your mission is to sneak to CVS from school and see how long it takes until your mom notices you’re missing. Then you get to walk down every aisle. When you have $20, anything is possible. Well, anything that you can do with 20 dollars. But there’s a certain kind of freedom that comes with being on your own with money. I browsed through the aisles, getting whatever caught my eye. Oreos, mallomars, . I spotted the aisle with gum and backpedaled before snatching two packs off the shelves. Ooh, nail polish. You can never have enough nail polish; there are millions of shades that can make or break an outfit. While looking out of the massive glass windows, however, I spied a red Tesla pulling into the parking lot. It was Mom’s car! There was no one in the line at the checkout though.
I awkwardly stumbled over to the checkout. I hope no one saw that. I surreptitiously glanced around. No one in sight except for the bored looking checkout clerk who I think was a senior who had nothing to worry about. His faded shirt didn’t look like it had been washed recently so I tried to breathe through my mouth, but he asked me if I wanted a bag. He would have thought I had some sort of problem if I only nodded, so I had to answer.
“Um, yes,” I answered, trying my best not to seem rude, but really? I had seven items (yes I counted correctly for once; the only math skill I seem to possess) of course I wanted a bag!
While the clerk silently put my items into the white plastic bag, I spied my mom walking into the store with a purposeful stride and an ice cold glare, her stylish fall jacket accentuating her silky auburn hair. I knew that my mom would never make a scene in public, so I raced to think of a way to delay the checkout clerk.
“Hey, um, so how much were the Mallomars?” I asked, purposely drawing out the question.
“Uh… they were $3.99,” came his slightly suspicious answer. I don’t think he got asked many questions in this job, and my question definitely came as a surprise to him.
“And if I were interested in joining the rewards program, would I have to pay for it?” I squinted at his cheap plastic name tag with a barely legible scrawl written on it. “And, Alex, what benefits would I get?” My mother had caught up to me by now and was standing next to me. I could practically feel the anger rolling off her in waves.
Alex was definitely confused now. “Well, you don’t have to pay to sign up, but I’ll need your email and or phone number.” He was speaking in the perfected speech that all store employees probably had memorized. “You will get storewide benefits, and rewards such as discounts on everyday items.”
By now, the hairs on the back of my neck were raised from the furious look my mother was giving me. I think Alex had figured out what was happening, based on the surreptitious glances he was giving my mom’s face.
“Would you like to sign up today, or would you like to hear more about the many benefits of the CVS ExtraCare rewards program?” he asked with a pointed look and a small smirk playing at the corners of his mouth.
“That’s ok, we can get going now,” my mother cut in smoothly with a voice that would seem polite to everyone but me. She whipped out a credit card from her clutch with perfectly manicured nails. Alex fell silent while she inserted the card and waited for it to process, tapping her high heeled boots on the floor obnoxiously loud. The slow machine finally finished, and my mom swirled the pen on the screen for a brief second before snatching up the bag and giving a curt nod to Alex. I hesitantly followed her, pausing only to ogle at the Jolly Ranchers on display near the exit. My mom stalked to the car, skirting around a particularly murky puddle. She unlocked the doors and gracefully settled herself into the leather seat.
I could feel the tension in the air; you could have cut it with a knife. Some awkwardly silent minutes later, I took a break from tapping my nails on the dashboard and shattered the silence.
“So….” I started guiltily.
My mom’s shoulders visibly tensed up, letting me know that I was in for it. We had reached home by now, so I pretended to be preoccupied with untying my laces and putting away my jacket. I silently padded up to the kitchen, plopping down at the island to wait for dinner, my stomach grumbling painfully.
There were fifteen minutes of peace in the house. I could usually be found in my bedroom, slaving away at my homework, but given that no one was home I took the chance to lose myself in some quality TV. Then I heard the garage open. Mom was back with Nat. I hurriedly shut off the screen, and made a mad dash to my bedroom, diving onto the bed and taking a nonchalant pose just as the door to my bedroom swung open to reveal a stressed looking Mom in the doorway.
“Hey, Luke. I got her- she was hiding in CVS,” she said tiredly.
I nodded, sighing inwardly. Natalie was being rebellious. Again. Why did you sneak out again? I think. Do you know how much Mom worries about you? Of course you don’t… you think Mom doesn’t care at all. She does, though. A lot. And you really freak her out when you do stuff like this.
Me, I’m the perfect child. After Dad left us, I kept it together, for Mom’s sake. I did what I was told, I didn’t argue with Mom, and my grades stayed constant. But my sister, didn’t. Her grades started slipping, her focus went onto all the wrong things, and she lost her motivation to do anything important. Mom and Nat have been at one another for the past year. Mom will scream at her for being on her phone too much, and then the next thing you know, they’re yelling about how Natalie is a disgrace to our family. Our broken family. It’s in little pieces, scattered around like glass shards on the street. Natalie’s waiting for Dad to come and pick up the pieces and glue them all together. Mom’s waiting for Natalie to attach herself back to us, and pretend that the bottle is back to normal, ignoring the way cracks that are inching up again and the fact that even the slightest gust of wind will send us into little pieces again, meaner and sharper than before. And me? I’m trying to work out how to put the shards back together, but I don’t want to get cut, but the pieces are oh so sharp, and one slip of my hand and I’ll get blood on me.
Michelle (Natalie and Luke’s mom)
I took out my anger by ripping off my unsuspecting stockings. I stood there in my bedroom, with my fists balled. Dinner had been icy, no one talking. Natalie never even made eye contact with me. Slowly, with every minute that passed without conversation, my heart had broken a little.
I automatically looked over at my dresser, at the framed drawing that filled me with love as I examined it. I gently stroked my fingers over the bright, childish colors of the crayon. Nat and I. My daughter and I.
Nat had drawn it, when she was five. She was sitting in her room, drawing it, not even letting me inside her room for fear that I would see what she was doing. The next day, Mother’s Day, I was awoken by small feet climbing over me. She had a frame grasped in one hand, and a plate of bacon and eggs, perched precariously on the bedside table beside me.
“Hi sweetie!” I had said, while stroking her hair away from her face.
“Hi Mommy!” she replied, so lovingly, so happily. “Happy Mother’s Day, Mommy!” She grinned, brandishing her drawing and suffocating me in a hug. It was me, wearing the red dress that she knew was my favorite (a beautiful red triangle), and her, beaming, hugging me with stick figure arms. Framing it was a baby pink frame, bearing the words ‘I love you’ and a teddy bear on it. I had kept it on my dresser ever since, and every day I looked at it before I left for work, to remind me that I loved my daughter and my daughter loved me. Loves me.
But lately, I had to constantly reassure myself of it. I often found myself questioning the fact, and my suspicions were only confirmed further when we had another argument. I reminded myself that my daughter was downstairs, sitting at the island. Safe. Home. But what did home really mean? Was home a place to relax and feel happy? For any of us? Luke, or Nat, or me, even? I would be kidding myself if I said yes.
My mother walked into the kitchen, and upon seeing me on my phone, immediately snatched it out of my hands.
“Wha..?” I was about to start complaining but I knew better than to fan the flames of an inferno waiting to be unleashed upon me.
“You aren’t getting your phone for two days, young lady. And if you have a problem with that, then maybe you should use your phone to text me your location once in a while!” My mother ended in a furious tone that left no room for argument. But, of course, being me, I found some.
“That’s so unfair! Why can’t I have a little freedom without you having to know where I am all the time?” I cried out, making the situation worse.
My mom’s eyes looked murderous. “I am your mother!” she yelled. “And I have a right to know where you are at all times in order to keep you safe! If you sneak off to CVS then how do I know where you are? There could be a terrorist attack in that building and I would think you are safe at home!”
I resisted the urge to roll my eyes but I couldn’t hold back the sarcastic retort that had been circling around in my head.
“Really? Would you really be worried? You don’t even love me.” I challenged vehemently. “I bet you would be glad that your stupid, worthless daughter is dead.”
She glowered at me, but her eyes looked glassy. “How dare you speak to me with that tone? I can’t believe you would think-” her voice wobbled and I couldn’t stay after I said that to her.
I stalked out of the room and slammed my door shut as hard as I possibly could. I curled up on the floor, regretting everything I had just said. Those aren’t words that you could just take back.
My mind kept replaying the way her eyes had looked, when I said that to her.
How could I?
All she had wanted was to know where I was!
One side of my mind tried to convince me that I was justified, and she was being overprotective. But it was fighting a losing battle, as my anger ebbed away and the weight of my words sunk in. I was trembling on the cold floor, with tears running down my face. Trying, trying not to think of my mother doing the same.
Before I could give the topic any more thought, the signature thumping of my younger brother came from outside the door.
“Nat?” came my brother’s voice through the crack at the bottom of the door.
Quickly wiping my face and pasting on a smile, I got up and opened the door to allow him in. With an awkward chuckle, he stepped in and flopped on my beanbag.
“That was…” he trailed off.
“You heard that?” I grimaced. I had forgotten all about Luke in my anger. I was afraid to meet his eyes, knowing they would be frosty and filled with hate. He would never love me again. Not after hearing me say that to Mom.
“They probably heard that in China.” He raised an eyebrow at me. “But they wouldn’t understand anything because they don’t speak English; they speak Chinese!”
I rolled my eyes and laughed a breathy laugh of relief while messing up his hair.
“You know for an eleven-year-old, you’re pretty stupid, Luke.” I grinned at him.
With mock indignation, he turned away from me and buried his face in my throw pillows.
“No!” I shrieked. “You’ll get all your face oil on them!” I yanked them out from under his face.
“Face oil? Really? That’s the best you could come up with?” He laughed and slid to the ground, landing on my plush white rug. “So, anyway, what’s the deal with you and mom?” he asked, turning serious.
Deflecting the question, I squealed instead “OMG, this is one of those rare occasions where you’re serious!”
Pouting at me he went back to his usual goofy state. Phew. I didn’t want to have to talk about that with him. Didn’t want him to think of me as a monster.
“Can you help me with my math homework though? Probability is weird.”
“You must be truly desperate to come to me for help,” I said, imitating Loki, my favorite Marvel character.
“Yes!” He laughed loudly. “Loki is awesome!” He bounded out of the room laughing and cheering all the way.
Giggling, I followed him into his messy room. I nearly tripped over the dirty laundry on the floor, catching myself on a low shelf, which in turn released a torrent of comic books onto the floor.
“Luke!” I howled.
He grimaced. He kicked the comics under the bed with a sheepish grin.
“How is it even physically possible that your room is so filthy?” I exclaimed.
He rolled his eyes and waded through the trash on the floor to what could be considered a desk. Hidden under a mountain of clothes, the custom designed desk was wedged into the corner of his room. On the other side was his bed, heaped with candy wrappers and his homework. I took a flying leap to the bed and I landed on top of him, unleashing a yell of indignation from his lips. I had loaded up on dinner, stress eating, and I probably weighed as much as a baby elephant. Half an hour later, Luke’s homework had been conquered, and I had almost forgotten about the war I waged with my mother. Almost.
My breath trembled as I exhaled. I was in my bedroom- I hadn’t bothered to shut the door, and I could hear everything that was happening in the room next to me. Giggles emitted from Nat’s high pitched voice.
She had probably forgotten about the whole meltdown in the kitchen. I hadn’t, though. Her last words still echoed around my head. I wasn’t sure if this was Natalie being her usual melodramatic self, but the words stung all the same. Was that really what she thought? That I didn’t love her? Had I shown that over the past three years? We certainly had had more disputes than bonding moments… in fact, we had exactly one mother-daughter talk in the past year. Truth be told, Natalie had always been a daddy’s girl. And when he left, to go with a stupid, brainless, bimbo who-
I exhaled sharply to stop myself. I shouldn’t let myself let carried away.
Natalie and her father could always be found together, giggling about something, making something. One week, they had decided to make a treehouse. Natalie had been ten years old, insisting that tree houses were cool. They started building it, and a few weeks later, Natalie had gotten bored. The wood lay, discarded in the tree, the rope ladder dangling uselessly in the wind. Then, the dreaded talk. We sat down both the kids and told them that their lives were about to be flipped upside down. Natalie cried. I heard her, every night, muffled sobs coming from her room. The second I went in there though, she would order me to leave her alone. Luke didn’t talk about anything. He would pretend as if nothing had happened. Every time I had insisted that we talk about it, he had responded with the same answer; “I understand, Mom. You and Dad didn’t get along. It’s okay.” Never being able to get anything out of him, I had slowly given up. Soon after, we became a three-person family. I caught Natalie in the garden, trying to build the treehouse on her own, hauling wood across the yard, drooping under the weight, but I didn’t want to interfere.
Natalie went to her first day of middle school. Luke went into fourth grade. Natalie caused trouble. Luke got amazing grades. Natalie was popular. Luke stayed a role model. And I didn’t think to talk to either of them. Not Natalie, the struggling teenager. Not Luke, the quiet elementary school kid.
Wow. Divorced, and isolated from your children. Not where I envisioned myself to be at this time in my life. With that cheerful thought, I rolled over and tried, unsuccessfully, to fall into the vacancy of sleep.
But I couldn’t help thinking about my kids. Take Luke for example. We had always been closer than Nat and I, going on expeditions to football games and parks together. When the divorce happened, I had spent more time with Nat, trying to pry out feelings and emotions. I had talked to Luke too, of course, but I had never given much thought to the fact that Luke’s answers never seemed realistic. It was always, “Yeah, I understand that,” and “I’m alright, you don’t have to worry about me.” Never answers that we had to talk about at length. And when he saw that I reacted positively to the answers he was feeding me, he realized that those kinds of answers would make me happy. So that’s how he always answered. Trying to please me, not wanting me worried.
I woke up with much difficulty. I lay in bed for a while, listening to the sounds of my mom in the kitchen. The sounds sent a shock through me as I remembered yesterday evening. Heaving myself out of the bed, I began my morning routine slowly. Glancing at the clock as I considered what to wear, my eyes widened in horror. It was 7:25! My bus would be here in less than five minutes! I quickly grabbed an outfit out of my closet, still shoving my arms through the sweater as I ran downstairs. I grabbed a protein bar and yelled a quick goodbye to my mom and Luke, then I slammed the door behind me and speed walked as best as I could with a backpack on to the bus stop.
I arrived just in time, noting the yellow bus turning the corner in the distance. The other kids eyed me, but I was too relieved to worry about them judging me.
It was Monday morning. Most people hated school. I didn’t. Not because I was super smart; I was not, to the despair of my mother. But in school, I was a different person. I was no longer Nat, who was a disappointment to her mom because she wasn’t responsible enough or hard-working enough. I was Natalie Mercier, the most popular girl in school.
My friend’s voice shattered my thoughts, and I came back down to earth in time to hear her say “So then she said no! She said she doesn’t want rejects from the queen bee!” Beth was looking right at me, obviously expecting a reaction.
“Oh my god!” I exclaimed too late.
Beth, not realizing my lack of focus, continued with her rambling talk, trailing off when she noticed me still staring behind her.
She snuck a look over her shoulder and blushed excessively when she saw who it was that I was staring at. A small smirk played at the corner of my lips in anticipation.
“H…hi Ryan!” Beth stuttered, her embarrassment showing on the tips of her ears as she beheld her crush.
“Oh…hey.” Ryan scratched awkwardly at the back of his neck, looking for a way to get out of this conversation.
Deciding against my better nature, I intervened.
“Hey, Ryan!” I exclaimed excitedly.
“Oh hi, Natalie!” He responded with a confused smile. Why was the most popular girl in school talking to him?
“So what are you doing after school today?” I asked, raising a perfectly arched eyebrow.
“Uh, nothing, why?” He asked me hopefully, thinking he knew what was happening.
“Well, Beth’s free too, and she’s been talking about you for a while, so…” I smirked at the disappointed expression on his face, and sashayed off, a crowd of wannabes already swarming around me. They began to talk about mundane, trivial things, not noticing when I zoned out.
Everyone knows me but no one knows me.
No one knows the insecure struggling teenager who goes by the name of an insect. No one knows the girl who only lives with her mom. The girl who was told to go visit her dad every month, but refused, because she wouldn’t swallow her pride. The girl who lost her relationship with her dad, and didn’t try to mend it before it was too late. The girl who doesn’t talk to her dad at all. The girl whose dad left her and now has another kid. The girl who only loves one person in the whole wide world. The girl who doesn’t love her mother, but loves her brother.
No, they know me as the sarcastic, stylish, pretty girl, hated by few, loved by most. And I’m confident. No one tells me what to do. No one can make me feel like the little child I know I am.
Hey. It’s me, Mom. Mama. Mommy. Do you remember when you used to call me that? Seems like a long time ago now. Another lifetime, really. The last time you called me that was when you were eight. You were still in that innocent age where everything is exciting and cool, and you didn’t really care what other people thought. Well, that’s a lie. You’ve always cared about what other people think of you. It’s one of your best and worst qualities. Don’t get mad at me for saying that; hear me out. It definitely makes you a better person. You’re different around others, and you strive to be the best so that others will like you. But sometimes you care too much. And you’ve become such a different person that I feel like I hardly know you anymore.
You think that I don’t care about you except for your grades. You think that all I want from you is a good daughter who also gets a great job and becomes successful in life. That’s true, I do want that for you in life. But I still love you, care about you, want to be there for you. I wish you knew that. I know that I’m not always there. I know that you and Luke have to be there for each other when I’m not. But if we all trusted one another, then we could be a better family, and we could all understand each other better.
Urgh. No. I couldn’t just write a letter for my daughter to try and make up with her. I balled up the letter and tossed it into the garbage. I should just tell her that, to her face. But would it be enough? That was the question. Would this be a solution for all our problems? Would the issue of her father just go away, like that? Would the broken relationships? The icy walls that everyone had put up? No, of course not. We still hadn’t confronted the whole issue together as a family. In fact, I had never really had a serious conversation with Luke about the whole topic. I grimaced inwardly. I hadn’t exactly been the star parent, ever since I became a single parent unit. You would think that it would be easier in some aspects; no other parent to go crying to when the other’s screaming at you, one tyrant- sorry, parent, in charge. Well, no better time than the present, right? I set my shoulders and lifted my chin up high. Today I would talk to my children. Properly.
The front door swung open and I glanced up in time to see my mother enter the room. She looked around and seeing that I was in the living room she smiled at me, before frowning at the TV.
“Luke! I told you no TV on weekdays, until you’ve finished your homework!”
“Sorry, mom,” I said guiltily, not meeting her eyes. My mother was a formidable force when she was angry, and no one wanted to experience that.
Nat walked into the room just then, excitedly exclaiming.
“Luke! I have time now if you want to play that game we were talking about before.” She noticed our mother standing in the doorway and immediately became stone-faced.
“Never mind.” She said with a bitter tone. “I shouldn’t be having any fun; I should only be doing work. Definitely not on a Monday afternoon.”
“Natalie,” Mom sighed exasperatedly. “We are going to have a family meeting at seven, so be ready in fifteen minutes.” Mom turned to leave the room but Natalie interrupted her.
“You mean like how it was before Dad left?” My sister’s voice had lost its meanness, instead it was filled with a sort of sadness and longing. Within seconds, however, she realized that her mask and slipped, and hastily rearranged her face into the stone cold look of anger again.
Mom sucked in a breath. I could tell she was remembering, and it pained her.
“Yes, exactly like how it was before Dad left, Nat,” Then Mom turned away, up the stairs, and into her bedroom.
I looked up at Nat from my position on the soft white couch.
“What do you think it will be about?” I asked her.
She opened her mouth, about to answer, before she realized that she was still fuming at our mother.
“Nothing. I don’t care.” Natalie left the room, leaving me with my thoughts, as usual.
I speculated the cause of the meeting. As Natalie had mentioned, we hadn’t had a family meeting since …the divorce. The separation. The splitting of our world. The disaster that destroyed our family, never letting it be whole again. When for the first time, as a young, sheltered eight-year-old, I had been overwhelmed. Overwhelmed with feelings.
I never shared them of course. Who would I share them with? My father was out of the question. He was gone, living with his girlfriend and his son in a little house in California. My mother, well, my mother was going through a lot. I couldn’t dump this whole load of feelings on her, could I?
So I didn’t answer her questions. She had asked me if I was doing okay. I always answered, “Yes, of course, I am.” She had talked to me about how life was going to change. About how Dad wasn’t going to be there anymore. About how it was ok to be angry, to be sad. I always answered, “Yes, I understand.”
Now, after watching movies, and reading books, I realize that I should have confronted my feelings. But, there was no way to do that. Sure, my best friend, but what would he know? His parents were getting along great. They were even expecting a baby. He could never relate to me. His family was perfect. His mom would offer us snacks, and then his dad would come home from work, and then they would hug, and the mom would ask the dad how his day was and they were all happy.
Who else could I talk to? Natalie, my sister. I don’t know for sure, why I never talked to her. But, truth be told, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to tell anyone how I was feeling. I don’t have secretive issues, like Nat, but sharing such a deep, important, personal part of my soul felt… weird. Those are my feelings, thoughts. Why should I share them with anyone? They couldn’t help me by talking. At least I didn’t think so, even though the evidence from movies and books were blaring in my face. But they would never apply to me.
Talking; does it help? Maybe for other people, but not me. I prefer to listen. To listen to other people’s stories, whose stories are more interesting, more exciting, more important. It keeps me safer. I don’t have to worry about people knowing my personal thoughts. Learning about other people, that’s what I like. Not telling people about my life. I would like to think it’s genetic. My mother bottles everything up, rarely talking about her feelings. And Nat is loud and unapologetic, but when it comes to things that matter, she’s secretive and no one can tell what she’s feeling. It’s a recipe for disaster, according to the laws of a family. We’re all supposed to be open with each other.
I read somewhere that family is the most important thing…
Is it really?
My nails dug into the couch, where I sat next to Luke. Family meeting…family meeting. The words haunted me. The last family meeting I attended had left me destroyed. I remember the swirling storm of despair and loneliness and anger, all bottled up inside me, coming out of me in teenage rants and rages. Only at home, of course. At school, I was a cool kid. I talked back to teachers and students, earning respect from almost everyone. I was cool, and everyone envied me. Few know that my parents are divorced, and the topic has rarely come up in conversations among my peers and I. No one at school knows how my home life is. They know I go on expensive vacations, and that’s it. They don’t know how my dad abandoned us, abandoned me. He promised me that he would always be there after I had a nightmare. But he lied. He did leave. And he wreaked a storm on our family.
Mom strode into the room, and I immediately snapped my head down and inspected my socks studiously.
She hesitated for a moment, before opening her mouth to speak.
“Luke, Natalie,” she gazed into our eyes respectively. Me second, of course I thought to myself angrily.
“We need to have a talk. As a family. I know that all three of us are naturally secretive. None of us opened up to each other, when…” she trails off for a moment. “When Dad left. And I know that none of us confronted our feelings, and we didn’t get over it-”
“Get over it?” I interrupted, angry tears springing to my eyes. “What do you mean, get over it?”
“That’s not the right word-” my mother tried in vain to explain to me. But I was on a rant now.
“We can’t get over it! Don’t you get it? Dad left! We’re not the same family we were before! Now we’re just three! We aren’t the same as we were before!”
My mother wasn’t saying a word, she just stared at me with an unreadable expression in her eyes. It seemed, almost…satisfied?
“Do you know how I felt when Dad left? Do you?” my voice dropped down to a shaky whisper. And then I opened my mouth again, and there was no damming the flood of emotions. And five years of feelings came rushing out.
I gaze at my daughter with a mix of admiration and wonder, urging her to go on.
“Why did he leave us, Mom? He said that he would always be there for us, but now he’s gone. He said he would never leave!” Her voice breaks, and my breath catches in my throat with the emotion in her voice.
“How did it make you feel?” I ask, my voice barely above a whisper. My mind flickers back to books I had read on children and divorce, remembering to not make any assumptions about what she’s feeling.
She hesitates, not sure if she could share these emotions. The familiarity of keeping secrets bottled up was a familiar feeling for me. I silently plead with her to answer the question, to release the feelings that she’s kept tucked away for five years.
She blurts out, “Sad.” she looks at me with tears welling up in her eyes. “So sad. It was like half of my life was gone. I would come back from school, and no one would be waiting there for me. I would come home to an empty house, all alone. Luke was coming back from school, and you were at work. I couldn’t talk to anyone. And I used to go into your bedroom, and just sit there on the bed and cry.”
“Why didn’t you tell me any of this?” I ask gently, not wanting to break the spell.
Her head snaps up and the tears are gone, the only evidence that they were ever there are her puffy eyes.
“You divorced him! It was your fault! If you two had just gotten along, he would have stayed here! We wouldn’t even be having this conversation!”
I’m shocked into silence by the sudden mood change. I blink slowly at my daughter, standing in front of me, trembling with anger and the remnants of sadness. Her fists clench together tightly, the skin a pale white. She suddenly releases them, and her palm is indented with crescent moons.
“We can’t fix this without Dad! If he came back, everything would be sorted! We would all be happy, and we’d be talking and laughing all the time, instead of screaming and crying!”
“Natalie.” I interrupt, with a sudden sharpness in my voice. “Look at me. Dad can’t come back. So we’re going to have to find another way to solve this, without Dad. We can be a family, just the three of us. But to do that, we need to talk about what happened, so that we can put it behind us.” Natalie opens her mouth to interrupt, but I quickly finish my sentence before she can input any more into the conversation. “And go back to talking and laughing and being a family.”
“Yeah, we don’t need Dad to help us!” a voice chimes into the conversation. “We can do this on our own! We need to talk to each other, and help each other move on!” I try my hardest not to stare in shock.
I can feel Natalie’s icy cold eyes on me, and they’re daggers of intense hatred and disgust. I’ve never been the receiver of this frosty a glare, seeing it in action on others instead. It’s as terrifying as my mother’s withering look.
I gulp, nervously, before I continue.
“We don’t need to have Dad here to solve this problem. We can do it ourselves. If we all talk about how we feel, then we can help each other!” I quote directly from a book, not meeting my mother’s eyes, not wanting to see her incredulous expression.
“Did…did you get that from one of my books?” she watches me with creased eyebrows.
“Yeah…I used to go read them after…,” I take a harsh intake of breath. “I figured that I should find out all the information on the topic. I’d have a better success rate-”
“Success rate?!” my mother cries. “What do you mean, success rate, Luke? This is life!” I cringe at the harsh words.
“Well…” I stutter. “There was a problem; the divorce, and so I did my research; reading your books.”
“But Luke, that’s not how it works! Didn’t you pay attention to anything that the books said? We need to talk to one another!”
“But will that really help? I mean, what does talking ever do for anyone? Other people can’t help you solve your own problems…your own feelings!” I answer, doubting my logic even as I say it.
To my suprise, it’s Nat who speaks first.
“Luke,” she says, and my head whips around to look at her.
“I understand I’m a little hung up over Dad,” she corrects herself “a lot hung up over him. But, if we all talk about him, and how it wasn’t going to work out, I would get over it a little.” she seems to be talking to herself, realizing the truth of her words.
“When you talk to other people about your problems, you share what seems scary to you with someone else. And, yes, that’s a little terrifying. But…in the long run, it helps. They can help you, teach you. And in general, it just helps you cope with it. Hearing the words come out of your mouth, you realize things.” She finishes her little speech and she seems…lighter somehow. Her shoulders, once slumped, are now set back proudly. A small smile is growing on her face, and I haven’t seen it in so long that it makes me realize the truth in her words.
She’s right. It does help. I can see the evidence right in front of me. Not from a book, not from a movie, but from my sister, and for me, that’s all the proof I need.
As I say the words, it dawns on me that I’m not just spouting nonsense from one of Mom’s books, or one of the stupid assemblies on bullying. What I’m saying is actually true. With this realization, the weight that had been residing on my shoulders, dragging me down everywhere I went, lifted. The black cloud hovering above me lifted too. My lips started to turn upwards, the ghost of a smile playing on my lips.
I meet my mother’s shining eyes, and she’s smiling at me. Her eyes are so full of love, it’s almost radiating out of her. I offer a hopeful smile back in her direction, and her beam widens even more.
My eyes dart over to Luke, gauging his reaction. His face is morphing, from a timid, unsure expression to one of realization, probably mirroring my own.
And he opens his mouth and words come tumbling out, rushing, falling over each other in a mad rush to get out.
“Nat, you’re right. Thank you. For…” he decides to ditch the sappy speech and cut to the chase- what he’s really been feeling, all these years. His words pierce my soul, the meaning behind them, the emotions behind them having been shoved inside a forgotten closet, one no one bothered to check, but if they had it would have led to Narnia.
By the time he’s done, my eyes are wet, and Mom’s long gone; tears rolling freely down her face leaving sticky tracks.
“Luke, sweetheart, why didn’t you ever tell me any of that?” her voice breaks on the word tell, and I feel a tug at my heart.
“I… I didn’t want you to waste your attention on me,” I see my name start to shape on his lips.
“Luke!” my mother cries “It wouldn’t be wasting! Your thoughts deserve and need to be heard. Don’t ever let anyone make you feel otherwise!”
He opens his mouth to respond, no doubt something selfless again, then he hesitates and shuts it. When he speaks again, the word inspires such sadness in me that a lone tear runs down my cheek.
“Yes. Really,” my mother answers, her voice torn between disbelieving heartache, and a joy that I’ve not seen on any of our faces in a long time.
His eyes flicker up to both of us, and a small tentative smile breaks through. I smile back, a genuine one, filled with all the love I have in my heart and a little more than that.