April . . . who cares what day—okay it’s Sunday. . . Get me off this planet! PLEASE!!!!!!
My Dearest Self,
Have I ever mentioned I hate my life? No? Well, let me mention that little fact.
I hate my life!
My parents won't let me see Rodney! So . . . we’ll have to keep sneaking around to see each other. I see him at school and we meet in the halls. I've snuck out to see him a couple times this month. I hate sneaking around like that, but I don’t know what else to do.
He's so cute—tall, dark hair and dark eyes. He’s a senior and I’m a freshman. I love how he smiles at me. But, I don't know really how to feel about him. I mean, it’s so cool that an older guy thinks I’m hot and worth his time. Only, he wants to do things I know my parents would ground me for life if we did them.
How do you say NO to somebody you think you care about? I don't mind if he kisses me and I like to hold hands, maybe cuddle a little, but—I'm not sure I want to go as far as he wants to go. So—if I’m not sure, then I probably shouldn’t let him talk me into anything.
Why does he have to be just exactly the way Mom thinks he is? Why couldn't he be the PERFECT GUY? You know, the type moms love, instead of the type they warn us about?
Kills me that she's got him pegged so neatly. I want her to be wrong . . . but it's really looking like she isn't.
Sigh. I still want to see him . . . for now, anyway. Till my True Prince comes along . . . if he does.
. . . Oooh, Wonderful . . .
They're downstairs fighting again. They’ve been having disagreements since Friday night. Well, before that, even. Each one seems to get a little nastier than the one before. What a great weekend!
Can't hear what they're saying, just the shouts. Mainly Dad’s. Mom doesn’t usually holler. She is tired of seeing Dad lying around on the couch when there’s so much to do around here. My room could use repair and some paint. And God knows my lazy brothers aren’t going to offer any sort of help! Dorkbrains and meanie heads. The bunch of ‘em!
Okay, maybe not all the time. But for stuff like that, they’re pretty bad! Especially Brady and Tag! Ah, okay, Brady’s only seven. Who’s gonna trust him with a saw? But, he could hand Dad things, and he could clean up after himself! The rest of them are old enough to help Dad fix up the house. But, all they want to do is play video games. While they’re saving virtual worlds they’re destroying ours with their litter of empty soda cans, candy wrappers, dirty dishes and mugs!
O Self, if only you could've been an only child! But, that's a dream that could never have come true. More's the pity!
Well, I can’t concentrate with all this noise going on. Hope Mom finds something amusing about this disagreement soon! Friday and yesterday, she didn’t let Dad get half started before she found something funny about the whole situation. He couldn’t go on, started chuckling himself. I don't know how she can see a funny side to their fights, but she does. Everything's cool once she starts laughing.
Guess I'll go see what's going on and report back later. Nothing else for me to do, anyway, since I'm Marooned On Planet EARTH!!!!!!
“Look, J. E., you’ve practically lived over at your brother’s the past few months. You promised you’d spend more time with us! You promised the kids a spring vacation this year! A real one to Disney World. That’s not far off, J. E! We should have made arrangements by now.”
“X’Laena, I told him I’d help him with the truck! It’s—”
“Yeah, it’s the truck today, his bathroom yesterday, and what was it Friday? You came home later than you did Thursday! And then, you came home just in time to go to work!”
“All right, so what? We finished the job.”
“In time to start a new one when you have things to do right here. Why can’t you get those finished? Seems to me that Joe and the rest of your family owe us a few favors!”
I stood at the top of the stairs, uncertain now, whether I really wanted to go down. Below me was the big hallway, which was more or less round, and off of which were the living room to the back left of the staircase, Mom’s office/workshop to the back right of it and, a tiny bathroom to the right of the office. Straight across was the kitchen and a coat closet. Front and side doors to the outside faced each other on the other two walls, and right in the center of the hall my parents faced off.
Quietly, I dropped down upon the first step. One of Mom’s three cats, Thomasyna, a fluffy tortoise shell, hopped into my lap and made herself comfy there. Absently, I began petting her.
Mom had a point. Dad’s brothers and sisters, and his parents, cried for his help way more than Mom’s ever did. They acted like they had a right to rip him away from his family whenever they wanted to. Like him being married and having a family came way after what they wanted. And he never told them no. Never asked them to come help him do stuff for us. They never offered, either. Pretty much they expected the boys to do it. But, my journal knew how that went!
“J. E.,” Mom’s tone turned pleading, “you know I’m willing to help fix this place up. I’ve got the account at McCloud’s. I’d use my computer money to order what we need! There’s so much we could do with this place, if we—”
Dad interrupted her, throwing a hand up in an expansive gesture. Impatient, too. “Yeah? Look, at this place! Why should I fix anything? You let everything all go to Hell. If you can’t run a house and get a bunch of kids to listen to you, what makes you think you could run a real business and have it succeed? You sit at that computer of yours once you get home from school, devising your little plans while they trash the place. Face it, X'Laena; nothing is going to come of any of it! Even if you managed it, they’d wreck it within the day!”
Owning a business together had been Mom’s fondest dream. Dad really was pretty handy in carpentry when he wanted to be. What little he had already done around here proved that. What he’d done for Uncle Joe, Aunt June, and Gramma and Grampa Scoville proved it more. Geez, he’d built a whole house for Aunt June! But, whenever Mom brought up the subject, he’d blown her off in good shape. Usually told her he hadn’t any intention of ever quitting his job to go into any sort of business with her. She hadn’t the brains for it, and he hadn’t the time to teach her. Always supposing she could learn . . .
I happened to be around once when she’d confided in Aunt X'Lohna about what he’d said. Aunt X’Lohna’s older than Mom, but they’re really close. I always dream that that’s how it would be if I had a sister. We wouldn’t fight much; we’d be best friends, a united front against the machinations of our brothers who would naturally be constantly picking on us.
Gramma Trahern used that word machinations when she spoke about the Devil’s schemes. But it worked for describing those of mischievous brothers just as much!
Anyway, Mom hadn't cried, exactly, but pretty close to it. I felt bad for her, knowing how much she wanted that. Aunt X‘Lohna knew it, too. She’d hugged Mom to her like she was a little kid like John Jerard, and just held her; her own expression very sad. There’d been something else in her look, too, but just then, I didn’t take time to think too deeply about it.
Annoyance verging upon anger, now, Mom flung back, “Look, it was your idea for me to take that job at the school in the first place! And I’ve added it to everything else that you expect me to do! In case you’ve forgotten, J. E., these kids are as much your responsibility as they are mine! How easy it seems to be, though, for you to just dump it all on me and walk away! Why is this? And what? Only you are entitled to your hopes and dreams? Which I’ve never shot down, J. E., as impractical as they might be. Yet, the second I mention mine, you’re sighing and groaning over them as if I’m expecting you to make them come true this instant!”
“Well, it’s going to take a lot to do what you’re wanting—”
“Oh, and driving a Porsche isn’t going to take money? Buying land for a golf course isn’t going to take money? Running it will be free, will it? Or have you decided you want a Lamborghini and land for storage units? Or all four? That why I’m footing all the bills right now, J. E.? You’ve started the ball rolling on your dreams?”
Dad couldn’t seem to look her in the face. But when he spoke, his voice came off resentful and impatient. “Some things came up, is all! I don’t need to tell you about every little bill and expense that comes up!”
“Then, maybe, you don’t need to ask me for the money to pay them!”
Dad started to answer her, none too sweetly, but suddenly realized they weren’t exactly alone. He cast me up a brief glance, turned and disappeared out the side door. Mom gave an impatient sigh, watched him go, a mixture of emotions in her face, and then she went off into her workshop.
Sometimes I went back to my room—if I even came out of it when they fought—sometimes I followed Mom into whatever room she retreated to afterwards. I rarely ever followed Dad. He never seemed to want anyone’s company but Brady’s, no matter what. So, now, while I figured on going back to my room and getting back to the book I was supposed to be doing a report on, my legs took me downstairs and into my mother’s workshop.
It was a fair sized room all set up with books on interior design, carpentry, room plans, painting and stuff like that, a computer, scanner and printer, a table for drawing up blueprints, and three or four different kinds of sewing machines for making drapes and stuff, plus a couple chairs for others to sit in. Boxes of fabric took up a lot of the floor space, and samples of wallpaper and paint chips covered part of the table. This room needed a redesign itself, or, at least, some serious organization but, I didn’t see that happening anytime soon.
The other two cats, Elijah and Chloe, gorgeous Himalayans, sprawled upon the top of the tallest bookcases, taking a nap as if nothing had just happened. Thomasyna followed me in, and promptly deserted me for Mom’s lap.
Mom sat staring at the computer screen, an elbow on the arm of her chair, kind of biting her finger. Usually that meant she was in deep concentration on whatever project she was focused on presently. She let Thomi make herself at home, but beyond that, she paid her no real attention.
By the look in her face, though, I had no difficulty guessing that it wasn’t any of her projects messing with her mind.
She didn’t tell me to leave or even show she knew I existed, so I quietly sat in the chair Aunt X’Lohna usually used when she was over, and I tried to think of something to say. Something that would make her forget her argument with Dad. Erase that look from her face.
I thought about bringing up the subject of her letting me date Rodney. Maybe not date date, but you know—go to a movie or bowling or something. Wouldn't have to be just him and me. I wouldn't care if Wilson came along. Don’t think I'd want Gifford or Taggart coming. Being years older than Wil and me, I think they'd be way too protective of me. Which would take the fun out of it all.
But, anyway, if I said I wouldn't mind if somebody came with us, maybe she'd bend a little. Only, since Rodney was on her S list around the same place Dad probably was at the moment, I sort of figured now would not be a good time.
Before I could find some other topic to engage in, Dad came back looking for Mom. He leaned in the doorway, tapping on the doorjamb to get her attention.
"X’Laena, I’m going now. Taking Brady with me."
Mom looked up at that. She didn't answer him, just gave a slight nod. No forgiveness lived in her eyes for him. Only hurt and anger. Disappointment.
Pushing away from the doorjamb, Dad started to walk away.
“Wait!” Mom called, and he turned back to her. “We need cat food, milk, and bread. Plus, we promised to rent the kids a movie tonight. Get that, would you? Brady knows which one. And some snacks! We’re out of soda, too.”
Dad made a sign of acknowledgement. “Anything else?”
“How long you going to be?” Absently, she drummed her fingers on the keyboard. Rapid and nervous like, yet, a pretty cool rhythm just the same.
Dad shrugged. “I don’t know. Depends on what’s wrong with the truck. Expect us when you see us! I’ll probably run into Thompson’s for this stuff here. They’re open fairly late, and they’ve got a sale going for soda and beer.”
Couldn’t mistake the Oh, yes . . . don’t forget the beer look in Mom’s eyes. She said, “There’s school tomorrow, remember. Don’t be all night!”
“I know; don’t worry about it!”
“Mmm. You’re not the one who has to face the principal every time he falls asleep in class! Like Friday!”
“X’Laena, he’ll be in bed and sleeping by eight. I promise! Back off now.”
For a second, I thought it was going to start all over again. Over more issues than just Brady’s bedtime!
Geez, have I mentioned—I hate it when they fight?
Not that it’s always been this way. A few heated discussions, sure—but nothing major. It turned ugly, suddenly, a few weeks ago. I’m telling you, things got pretty intense until Mom finally saw the humor in the situation!
Maybe Dad would say something kind of dumb or something, and she’d just suddenly break out laughing. Instant peace, just like that. Mom would kiss him, and they’d make up. Occasionally, they’d go to the store and run errands together. Other times, we’d all be going for ice cream, or bowling, or something fun like that.
Yeah, and then we’d all be going over to Uncle Joe’s to mess around there while Dad helped Uncle Joe fix his truck. Yep, he’d’ve broken down if she’d laughed today, and taken us all.
But . . . she hadn’t seen one small thing funny in their confrontation today. The yelling and the arguing was over, but there was no real peace in the house. You could feel the tension like a thick blanket on a sweltering summer night. Dad’s eyes still wouldn’t meet Mom’s for more than an instant at a time, while hers seemed to impale him to the wall.
Nope, was pretty plain their argument wasn't really over.
Brady kept jumping all around Dad, chanting urgently, “Come on, Dad! Come on, Dad! Let’s go, Dad! Come on, Dad!” When Mom didn’t say anything more, Dad pushed Brady ahead of him toward the front door, saying, “All right, let’s go, Bud!”
“Oh, wait!” Brady, in his usual exuberant fashion, twisted away from Dad and ran back in to throw himself into Mom’s arms. “Bye, Mom!” Kissed her and hugged her like he wasn’t ever going to see her again.
He always did that. He was the mushiest kid I’d ever seen! He’d be fifteen one day, and he’d still have to run back, and hug and kiss Mom, I bet! Mom hugged him back and kissed his whole face. He giggled and squirmed away, called “I love ya, Mom!” as he ran back to Dad.
Dad didn’t kiss Mom, though. And she didn’t call him back for one.
Just let them go out the door.
My half brothers, Gifford and Taggart, waylaid Dad in the driveway, and another hot conversation started. Mom got up from her seat, and we moved to stand at the window together. We couldn’t hear the exact words, but the boys’ expressions, gestures, and tones certainly came off as accusing!
Dad’s back was to us, so we couldn’t see his face or hear a thing he said. So even by a tone, we couldn’t determine anything at his end. I wanted to open the window, but it’d long ago been painted shut. Dad had promised he’d fix it so Mom could have some fresh air in here. Even though I knew it would be futile, I tried to open the darn thing so we could hear better what was going on out there.
Dad must’ve heard me trying to force the window up, for he turned a little toward our way. Walking around the boys, then, he opened the car door for Brady to climb across the driver’s seat and get in. He got in after him, and he drove off without looking back or waving to Gifford and Taggart.
Not that they would have seen it if he had.
They took the porch steps two and three at a time, and burst through the front door, calling out, “Irvey! There’s a bunch of duffel bags in the trunk of Dad’s car! He’s leaving for good! Go chase him! Now, quick! Don’t let him walk out on you, too!” Out of breath and excited, they leaned in the doorway, expecting her to hop to instant action.
While Mom looked as if she actually believed them, she didn’t move right away. Just stared at them. Kind of like she didn’t really know what she should do. Or could do. Or maybe even wanted to do.
Tag pushed past Giff and came over to drag on her arm. “Irvey, come on! It’s not a joke! He’s not coming back! And he’s taking Brady with him!” Tag’s small for his age. He’s sixteen, only he looks twelve. Small, but don’t cross him! “Which doesn’t surprise us, but still . . . do you want that?”
“Mom,” Gifford called her Mom most of the time, because he liked her better than his own mother. “Mom, I think he took the money from the cedar box on your dresser. Heard him muttering something about he’d replace it—if his lawyer insists. Got me suspicious, so I went snooping—” He held up the spare keys to Dad’s car. “—and sure enough, there’s the duffels in the trunk! He’s going to do to you guys what he did to us! Go after him! Make him at least tell you that! And, if I were you, I’d check your bank account!”
A glint in her violet eyes banished the hurt there. But when she started to cross the room to go out, something in me snapped.
This wasn’t true! How could they say those things!
Fathers—or at least mine—wouldn’t do those things. If he said he had some errands to run, then that’s what he was doing! He promised to have Brady in bed by eight, so that meant he was coming back! Just because they’d had the worst fight of their history together—the worst I knew of, anyway—didn’t mean they were breaking up! Further, just because he’d left their mother, didn’t mean he’d be leaving mine.
You couldn’t compare Mom to Bernice Mae. Bernice Mae was taller, older, slobby, fat, and dressed mostly in sacky looking house coats, wore her hair in a tightly pulled back pony tail, smoked like a line of factory chimneys, and she drank as much as Dad did. More, maybe. Everyone in Northfield knew Bernice Mae Scoville loved herself and no one else. She’d driven Dad out of her house and her life with her bad temper, her nagging, her squandering of his money, and her constant wish to be first in everything with everybody!
Mom was my height, about five-four, only a few pounds heavier than my 110, so nothing big; we had the same white blonde hair, but hers was longer. Way longer. I didn’t care to have my hair dragging on the floor. Okay, it wasn’t, really. Anymore, anyway. She’d finally gotten it cut last year to just below her waist. Mine’s short—just about at my shoulders. She didn’t smoke, and only drank a wine cooler once a year—which lasted her a week when she did have one. Literally! She never nagged anyone too much and tried to be careful with her money. Walked that fine line between getting some of the things she needed and wanted, and making sure we kids had all we needed and most of what we wanted. Until today, she’d tried to make sure Dad was happy too.
So—why would he want to leave? Who could he find that would be better than her?
Besides that, because of her ready acceptance of his kids, Giff and Tag wanted to stay with us. When Giff was about six, and Tag five, they started coming to the house right after school every day. They didn’t wait for their visitation weekends. Stayed for as long as they could finagle and cried when Bernice Mae made them come home. When they got older, like about ten or so, they’d slip out the windows, slide down whatever was handy, and come right back.
They ran away so often, that, finally, Bernice Mae let them come live with us.
I knew that because I was about five when that happened. I might not have understood exactly what was going on, but I did know my brothers would be staying with us all the time now. I’d been pretty excited about that!
I was excited now, too . . . but not in a good way! Ducking quickly past Mom, I stopped and stood before them all, glaring, challenging them to prove it beyond all shadows of doubt. Daring them to. “He never left before just because of a stupid argument! He is coming back! That’s it!”
“Shut up, Devynn! Mom, you don’t have time to listen to her!” Giff answered impatiently. Reaching out, he hauled me out of Mom's path. “He left us the same way! She told us he just got in the car and never came back. Didn’t even say he was going anywhere. ‘Course, Mom’s a b—well, I won’t say it. But she is! I don’t know what his problem is now! I thought everything was great here! Thought everything was like–well, like it’s supposed to be . . .”
Giff’s seventeen, but just then he seemed like a kid who needed a hug himself. Not that he’d get it from me. Not then!
“You wouldn’t make us leave, would you, Irvey?” Tag asked Mom. He always called her Irvey because that’s what she liked to be called. It’s a form of her middle name which is Irvette. “I mean, if he is leaving, you won’t ship us back to our mother, will you?”
“No,” Mom said, squeezing between us all and heading for the stairs. We all followed her up to her bedroom.
The duffle bags Mom used to pack her stuff in when she went on any overnights, or when we went camping, were still in the closet. But Dad’s were gone. The best of Dad’s clothes were gone. Anything that Mom had gotten him was still there.
She went across to Brady’s room. We trooped over with her, forgetting that John Jerard still napped in there. Johnny’s only two. Guess he was really tired, for he didn’t stir the whole time we checked things out. Brady’s duffels were definitely missing. All of his clothes. Some of his toys.
“Don’t forget to check your account . . . and your cedar box, Irvey.” Tag tapped Mom’s arm. “If all the money is gone—”
“Oh, what’s that gonna prove?” I countered, following the party back to Mom’s bedroom. “Just proves he’s a thief! Or he needed some extra cash.”
“Yeah, for what? He started that fight on purpose, I’m telling you! And if you were down here at the time, you’d know he did! He’s never just taken—”
“Yes, actually he has,” said Mom in rather a calm tone. “Just not from there.”
Okay . . . she would know that. No reason for her to lie about it either. But in my determination to believe that nothing had changed since I got up this morning, I wouldn’t let it go. “Doesn’t prove a thing!”
By this time, we were back in Mom’s room standing in front of the tall dresser she kept her little cedar box on. The lock had obviously been forced open. She reached out a hand to it. Flipped it open.
Not even a wood chip or a lint ball.
There’d been close to four thousand dollars in there. She’d been saving first for a new computer. Which Giff had promised to build her soon’s she had the money for it.
While she’d certainly had it in that amount, she’d put off letting him order the components for it, afraid that some emergency would come up and we’d need it for that. She hadn’t deposited it in the bank because—well, I don’t know why she hadn’t. No one had ever touched it before. We’d all respected her space and her dream. That computer would’ve been the envy of everyone I knew. We were all looking forward to the day Giff would create it for her. It was like, if she had a super computer, her business would take off and succeed beyond belief.
Gifford growled. “I knew it! He’s left us, Momma! No doubt about it!”
Mom fingered the lid of her cedar box a minute. Then, suddenly, she let out a long breath and buried her face in her hands. Just stood there without crying or anything.
My anger surged up like a red tidal wave. Drowned my brain. Then, it turned into a thick rope that tightened around my chest. I couldn’t think straight, and I couldn’t breathe. While Giff had said Dad had started the fight earlier, my mind carried off just one thought. I wanted two parents. Together!
Didn’t matter who started the fight. If she hadn’t let it go on for so long—if she had just healed it with her laughter like the all the times before . . . it would’ve been all okay. She had such an infectious laugh, you couldn’t stay mad at her. Now, because she’d held it back, and held back the peace and forgiveness that went with it, she’d driven him off the same way Bernice Mae had done!
“So, is this it? You’re taking their word for it?” I pushed her a little. “Don’t you think you should go find him? Tell him you’re sorry for all the mean things you said to him!”
Giff whacked me upside the head. “You stupid or something? He said way more rotten things to her than she did to him! What about that?”
“So what? Mom, you always say sorry first! What’s different today? And if he is leaving—well, is that what you want?” I shouldn’t have said it; not in that tone. Well, okay, I shouldn’t have said it at all! But, definitely, not with such a heartless and snotty attitude.
At the time, though, all I wanted to do was make her ashamed for what was happening. Make her go find him and bring him home. I truly did not want to live in a split home. I wanted to be one of the lucky kids with two parents who stayed together till death did them part—after I died at about 155 years old!
She just gave me a look, the mixture of emotions in it that I’d witnessed earlier, and then she strode out of the room. “Stay with the baby! I’ll be back!” she flung at us over her shoulder.
“Oh, no! We’re coming, too!” Tag followed her out, practically in her pocket. “We’re gonna back you up, Irv! That way, he can't say you're lying about anything later. Or that you misunderstood or made it up, or heard it wrong, or however he might say it!”
She didn’t argue. Just kept heading down the hallway toward the stairs. The boys clumped down them after her. I hesitated only a second. If they were going to back Mom, then I needed to go. Dad had his favorite son with him, true. But he might need the support of his only daughter as well. That is, in case all this wasn’t true. No one else was giving him the benefit of the doubt. I would.
I shot across the hall to the little boys’ room and grabbed John Jerard out of his crib. Parked him under my arm and chased after Mom, fearful she’d leave me behind if I didn’t hurry.
And she would have. Especially if I hadn’t had John Jerard clamped to my side. He was groggy and confused. But when he saw Mom at the wheel of her van, he came around enough to cry out for her. No one can resist that sweet angelic face with his eyes as purple as hers and his mass of curls so thick and golden. His tears trembling on long eyelashes, ready to fall any instant.
She stopped the van and let us get in.
Lucky for Mom, none of the Northfield cops were patrolling the streets she chose to navigate. She made the trip to Thompson’s in record time. Four minutes, twenty-seven seconds. Was usually a fifteen minute drive.
We kids swarmed the store. I wasn’t sure what I would say to Dad when I saw him, but I hoped I’d find him first. My territory was the dairy section and frozen foods. Nothing. Dejected, I walked with a dragging step to the bakery section where the others were gathering now.
“He isn’t here!” Taggart reported to Mom, who for once wasn’t looking longingly at the pastries. “We went everywhere, even in the men’s room.”
“Maybe, he decided to go to Northfield Super, instead,” I said icily, “Or maybe, he went home!”
Giff whacked me aside the head again. “Maybe he didn’t come here because he’s running his other “errands” first! If he really has any to run, that is!”
Tag snorted. “He hasn’t been gone long enough to do much of anything and then be home! Don’t be a jerk, Devynn!”
Mom paid no attention to any of us. Ignored even John Jerard who fussed for a Teddy bear sugar cookie with red sugar sprinkles on it, Again, without a word to anyone, she just turned about and headed back out of the store. Giff grabbed the baby from me, and we hustled to keep up with her.
Once she left the parking lot, it was evident she meant to go to Gramma Scoville’s and find out what anyone there might know. No other reason she’d be taking the quickest way out of town.
This wasn’t going to be pretty. Mom and Gramma didn’t get along very well. Gramma’s opinion of Mom wasn’t secret. She seemed to consider her white-gold hair a flag of stupidity and ignorance. Incompetence, too, for she shared Dad’s doubts of Mom ever getting a business of any sort to fly. Maybe when pigs did!
The only good thing I’d ever heard my grandmother say about my mother was that she could make plants grow in a desert. That was it. She knew her way around a garden. Pretty unfair, for Mom had other talents and good points besides getting plants to grow!
Looked like this would be the day Mom would finally tell Gramma all the things she only told Dad when she thought we weren’t listening.
Of course, she could also have been thinking of going to Uncle Joe’s. His place was out this way, too.
We were buzzing along at a good clip. Probably would make it to Gramma’s in way less than the twenty minutes it usually took. The Cumberland Farms store came up on our right. And at it, Mom jammed on the brakes and stopped dead in traffic, making the guy behind us have to squeal on his brakes so he wouldn’t hit us. He blasted his horn, long and ticked off like.
“Holy Moly, Mom—”
”Geez, Mom! We’ve got a baby in here, you know!”
“Irvey! There he is! Get him!”
Which was why she’d stopped like that. She’d seen him even before Tag had.
Whipping into the store yard, she pulled up to the pumps opposite side from Dad. “Taggart, go pay for the gas. Ten bucks—whatever! The rest of you stay in the car, and don’t a one of you interfere!” With that warning, she got out as casual as you please and unscrewed the gas cap. She looked over at Dad. “Forgot to tell you—we need eggs.”
Giff unbuckled and slid over in the third seat so he could see all the action. I had the best spot, though. Mom had parked it perfectly so I could see how horribly off guard she’d taken him. Pretty plain that never in a million years did he expect her to figure him out and come after him! Dad managed to recover his composure, and in a tone almost as casual as Mom’s, said, “All right. I’ll pick ‘em up.”
“Will you?” she asked sweetly, but with unmistakable disbelief. “Will you be there for breakfast, tomorrow, too, J. E.? How about the next day? Or the day after? Supper, at any time?”
Dad looked incredibly guilty, and just about as annoyed. Took him a few seconds to be able to answer her in a reasonable tone. “Look, X’Laena—Xal—Irvey . . . ” For Mom’s look had darkened and her lips parted to hotly protest his constant disregard for which name she wanted to be called by.
This was a quarrel they had way more often than any other.
Dad liked Mom’s first name, but she didn’t. Dad’s name’s John Edmond, but he likes to be called J. E., and Mom always does . . . unless she’s not happy with him.
I could never figure out what the big deal was. Sure X’Laena wasn’t your normal everyday name, but it wasn’t Hortensia, or Ethel, or Bertha! Since I like to write when I have the chance, I’m totally into names. I think Gramma Trahern had a stroke of genius the day she thought that one up! Irvette came from Gramma’s favorite brother, Irving, who died the day Mom was born, so she got the honor of being named for him.
I have Mom’s first name as my middle name, and I’m pretty proud of it!
Taggart came out of the store and signed to Mom she could start pumping her gas. She pulled back the trigger, all the while watching Dad’s face, waiting for him to start explaining.
I wanted him to tell her she was being silly and childish. Of course, he’d be home for breakfast. Be home for supper tonight so Brady could be in bed for eight! Took him so long to answer, I wanted to get out and go take him by his shirt front and shake his answer out of him. Make him say he’d be home. I actually unbuckled my seatbelt, and was ready to get out of the van, when he said,
“I think that you and I both know we need some time apart, X’Laena. It’s been . . . hectic the past few months. You working at the school—then sitting in front of that computer for hours afterwards. The baby—the kids bickering and disregarding every rule of the house. Lazy! Like I said before, the place looks like a cyclone hit it more than once, and no one’s come to clean up the disaster area! There’s never a thing in the fridge to eat, and no dishes to eat off of if there was! What am I working for? Huh? For what?”
“For us!” Taggart answered at once. “Oh—wait! We’re not worth it! Not then, not now!”
Mom, realizing for the first time that he hadn’t gotten back into the van, but was right behind her, shot him a look over her shoulder. “Tag—!”
“And I stuck up for you, Dad!” I interrupted her, getting out to come stand next to Tag. “How can you walk away from us like this? Thought you said a grown up doesn’t run away from problems! Thought you said we all had to learn—”
“What happened last year, Devynn, when your math teacher gave you so much trouble you couldn’t deal with it?”
“What’s that got to do with this?”
“Your mother got you transferred to another class, didn’t she?
I stared at him like he’d turned into a two headed idiotic moron. “I was thirteen! That’s not an adult! Plus,” I added a tad more belligerently, “I wasn’t married to him!”
“Yeah. Well, I’m transferring. I have my reasons just as you did, okay?”
“Transferring?” Mom challenged him.
He gave her a look. “Guess I’ve had my fill of raising teenagers.” With the tone he used and the way he looked at Mom, we knew he didn’t mean just us.
We knew it for sure when she flushed a deep angry crimson. Her chin went up, and she said, “You took that job willingly, J.E.! You’re no saint in doing it, I might add!”
“Take care your little girl doesn’t end up like you!”
“You’re just blowing wind, Dad, to make everyone think you’re the wronged one! You didn’t even have the guts to say you were leaving!” Giff stepped out of the van to toss in his nickel. “Just like the last time . . . and the time before that! What’d you tell Brady? Bet he thinks he’s coming home tonight! Is he?”
I didn’t care about what Brady thought just then. I wanted to know what Dad meant about me ending up like Mom. “What’s he talking about, Mom? What’s that supposed to mean?”
“He’s an idiot, Dev!” Giff told me, hiking it around the side of the van to join us.. “Don’t listen to him! He’s got no real reason to leave, so he’s making stuff up.”
The counter on the pump reached Mom’s limit and turned off. Mom pulled the gas nozzle out and hung it back on the pump with a decided click. Seeing Tag replacing the gas cap for her, she faced Dad again.
Disregarding his last statement, she flung back, “It's always about you, isn't it, J. E.? It was your decision to take the overtime; not mine! Of course, since I don't slave in some miserable factory, what I do doesn't count, does it? You took my money all along, easily enough, though, didn’t you? I don’t know what it all went for . . . or where it’s going to now . . . but you took it.”
She nailed him with that cold look again, but didn’t demand he give back what he’d stolen from her. Instead, she ordered us all back into the van, ripped open her door and got in. Then got right out again. “Just a second. You aren’t taking my son without telling me where you’re going!”
“I'm staying with Joe,” he said, his voice even. “We’ll talk—when I think you can handle it!”
“When I can—!” Mom stopped, sucking in a breath and reigning in her temper. While she didn’t disguise her hurt and anger, she didn't threaten him or demand he tell her anything more. She shot a swift glance at all of us reluctantly climbing into the van, then looked back at Dad. At Brady, now hanging half in and half out of his window, calling hellos to us and hurry ups to Dad.
“I love you, Mom!” he yelled, blowing her a kiss. “I love you the size of the Universe!”
Dad cast Mom a look like he expected her to start a full-fledged custody battle right here at the gas pumps of Cumberland Farms.
Don’t you know . . . suddenly, a good share of the town pulled into the parking lot about then. Cars formed lines on either side of the pumps waiting for their chance to gas up. Others parked to run inside for stuff.
My guts kind of twisted in anxiety. What if some of my friends happened to come along right this second and notice what was happening? Or Dad’s work buddies? Or, geez, Gramma Scoville or any of our other relatives!
Neither of them seemed to notice this. I figured we’d be here another twenty minutes while this horror show over who got Brady played out. I got back in the van, kind of slid down in my seat, hoping no one would recognize me. John Jerard squirmed in his car seat, wanting to get out with Mom.
He kept hitting the top of my head, saying, “Mom-Mom-Mom-Mom! Me out, now!”
“Stop it, John! You don’t want to go out there now! There’s going to be a war any second now! You’re safer in here!”
He stopped whacking my head, put his finger in his mouth and tried to crank himself around enough to stare past me, and out the window at Mom and Dad. Each standing by a fender of their vehicles, facing off like wild west cowboys on some dirt street, Dodge City.
And for what? A seven-year-old wiener-whiner!
Okay, all right; Brady can be a cool kid when he wants to be. He’s a natural actor and comedian. Gotten us rolling on the floor plenty of times! He can play any instrument he picks up. He can draw, he can write, he’s into sports. He’s a whiz in school for his age. They actually let him skip second grade. And like I said, he’s the cuddly kind of kid that’ll sit with Mom for hours, or stop in the middle of his play just to run and tell her he loves her. She really likes that sort of stuff. She’d definitely miss that. Miss it a lot.
Still, he bawled, stamped his feet, and kicked and/or threw things when he couldn’t have his way. Or sat sounding like a car that wouldn’t start. Could keep it up for hours. Everyone wanted to smother him after five seconds!
And he stole stuff. Stole from everyone, but Mom in particular. Seemed to feel that whatever was hers belonged to him as well. She usually let him live. I'd've murderized him. Okay, maybe not that. But, I, at least, made him pay for what he took. Or broke.
But Mom—all he had to do was just smile that famously sweet smile of his and look meltingly at her with those big deep blues, and pretend to be sorry. Yuht, yuht, she usually let him live. Little brat.
So, wait! This could be a good thing if he went with Dad. They had that feature in common, after all.
My chocolates, my pens, my school paper and colored pencils would be relatively safe now if he really left with Dad. And I know he was the one who stole my new necklace—whatever he says—because I saw it hanging around Kym Riverton’s neck the last time I went there to drag Wilson home. Kym has a deep crush on Brady. She’s the same age he is. He’d do anything to win her smile!
Wilson probably wouldn’t miss him much. He was always complaining about him. Loudly and long! He wouldn’t miss Taggart if he left either! They don’t always get along. Tag likes to wrestle too much. Wilson’s not into that stuff. What got me is that he always seemed to manage to be someplace else when Mom and Dad had an “issue” with one another. And, today, he was again over at the Riverton’s, spending the day with his best friend, Davey—blissfully safe from the humiliation of watching his parents officially breaking up in public . . . right here at the Cumberland Farms gas pumps.
There definitely was a story in this . . . I felt it. And characters suddenly made appearances in my head, wanting roles in this not yet even fully formed tale. It’d be a dark one . . . full of tragic events and broken dreams.
Maybe it’d have a happy ending . . . and maybe not.
The mom in my story might pull out a loaded gun and take her kid by force. Or hire a private investigator to find him so she could steal him back. Or she might just—
Defuse the bomb that would start the war.
Which—not surprisingly, I guess—is what Mom chose to do. She didn’t even go get a last hug from Brady—which was surprising. She just called back to him, “You be good for Daddy, Brady. I love you, too. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that I don’t!”
“I won’t! I’ll bring you back a cone, okay, Mom?”
Poor kid. He still hadn’t a clue yet what was going on here.
“Sure, honey.” Mom nearly lost it saying that little bit, and she quickly turned to get back into the van.
Stepping across the pump island, Dad reached out and caught her arm. “You’re letting him go with me? No big discussion? No fight?”
“I'm sure there ought to be one, but that’d be unfair to these other people who’re waiting to get their gas!” she returned with the hard cold tone she'd been using with him since their first discussion back at the house. I think using that tone somehow kept her from losing it in front of us all. If I were her, I wouldn’t want that to happen, either. “We’ll battle it out later. Besides, I’ve got all your other kids. I ought to make you take more than him! But—I doubt any of them would want to go!”
Before he could think of anything to say back to that, she got in behind the wheel and drove off. She was shaking, but still she didn’t cry. Her face was set, and her violet eyes just stared straight ahead at the road.
No one said anything for a few minutes. Then Taggart opened his face. “You should’ve got your money back, Momma. Should’ve told him he could keep Brady . . . for a price!”
Gifford slapped him harder than he’d slapped me. “Shut up, you brainless idiot!”
“Ah! Sorry! I didn’t mean . . . I was just saying . . .” Tag’s words trailed off and he gave a little shrug.
Although I said my life would go on without him—I never thought . . . none of us really thought she’d let Brady go just like that.
Made me wonder . . .
Would she have let me go too . . . just like that?
* * *
My Dearest Self,
The worst has happened, and it didn't have anything to do with Rodney. That argument today was the beginning of the end of our FAMILY. Definitely, a TRAGEDY.
I don't want to go to school tomorrow.
How can she—they—anybody—expect me to learn anything when my brain is full of not knowing how to feel about her and Dad breaking up? Of trying to figure out like, why out of the blue, would he leave? How come this fight ticked him off more than any of the others. Was he hoping for her laugh to end it, and her hugs and kisses to fix it? How come he didn't act like he wanted that?
Why didn’t she just go ahead and do it just the same? She always did before!
It won't be like that for Rodney and me. We'll always tell each other everything. And I'll never look at him like Mom did Dad—or use the tone that Mom used today on Dad. I won't do anything that will make him leave me for anyone else.
Oh, and now, there’s something new I gotta find out. Why Dad said Mom should be careful that I don’t turn out like her. Can’t figure that one. I think she’s great . . . most of the time. She doesn’t smoke, drink, beat us or run us down even when we’re being our little lazy stupid selves. She’s not happy, of course. But she’s never done anything anyone can run her down for.
Oh, wait. Some people don’t need reasons. Any excuse will do.
Wonder if her school life was like mine. I should ask. If she won’t tell me, I’ll ask Aunt X’Lohna. And if she won’t tell me, I’ll try Gramma Trahern. Then, someone’s going to tell me what Dad meant.
I got more to say, but I have to finish my homework even if I don’t want to go to school.
I feel a gut ache coming on . . .
Or no, wait. It’s my heart.