Authors: Lisa de Jong
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Genre Fiction, #Coming of Age, #Romance, #Contemporary, #New Adult & College
To my wonderful husband who supports everything I do.
“Dane, I’m hungry,” Nolan says, tugging at the bottom of my shirt.
“I know, buddy, we’re almost home and then I’ll find us something to eat,” I say, trying to reassure him.
The truth is, my mom is probably passed out on the couch in our living room. We have no money because she spends the checks she gets every month on alcohol. Some days when we get home, we don’t even have electricity. The cafeteria ladies are the only people who ever cook for us, and we’ll be lucky if there’s anything at all to eat when we get home.
The saddest thing about it all…it’s my normal.
When I open the door to the apartment, my mom is where she usually is, passed out on the couch. She’s wearing nothing but an old, ratty t-shirt, which isn’t unusual; she always complains that she’s hot. I hurry to cover up her legs just in case someone knocks on our door, but no one usually does. I never invite friends over.
“Can you get me something to eat?” Nolan asks, still standing near the door. I always tell him when it’s safe to come in. Sometimes Mom has friends over, and they aren’t very nice. On those days, Nolan and I hang out at the park until they’re gone. Today, though, it’s just Mom. I wave him toward the kitchen and begin to go through the cupboards, looking for anything I can make us for dinner. I’m not surprised to find nothing but a bunch of empty cupboards with exception to the one that has Mom’s alcohol in it. We’re not allowed to touch that one.
I try the fridge next, but all that’s in there is an almost empty ketchup bottle. I can’t let Nolan go without food tonight. Last night, we shared the last piece of bread and a handful of Lucky Charms, but that also meant there was nothing left for breakfast this morning.
“Stay here. I’ll be right back,” I say to Nolan. I walk over to my mom who is motionless, her mouth hanging open. I shake her shoulder gently, but she doesn’t budge. I know that if I wake her up when she isn’t ready she’ll be angry and yell really loud like she always does.
I go to her bedroom to see if she has any money on her dresser. There’s nothing, so I try Nolan and my bedroom next. I keep a jar of loose change I find around the house for days like this. I don’t have a lot, but the grocery store always has something on sale. I find sixty-six cents and put it in my jean pocket.
When I enter the kitchen again, Nolan is sitting against the cupboard with his head in his hands, elbows on his knees. His jeans have seen better days; they are filled with holes and grass stains. At least they fit, though. Mine are about six inches too short, and the button broke off months ago. I’ve told Mom that we need to go shopping, and she always says that we’ll go tomorrow. I’m so sick of hearing about tomorrow…it never really comes.
“Hey, we need to take a walk to the store,” I say, reaching for his hand.
“I don’t want to. I’m too tired,” he whines, rubbing his palm over his forehead.
“Come on. When we get home, I’ll make you something to eat and then we can lie in bed and do our homework.” I help Nolan with his homework the best I can, but I suck at math.
He takes my hand, and we start the eight-block walk to the small neighborhood grocery store. Our neighborhood is rough, so I hold Nolan’s hand tight, especially when we walk past anyone on the sidewalk. I see a kid learning to ride his bike with his dad holding the back of his seat, and I think about my dad. I miss him. When he was still here, we lived in a nicer house. He would throw the baseball with me after school, we always had food, and we had Jenna.
When we arrive at the store, I grab an ad and flip through the pages, looking for something I can buy with the money I have in my pocket. Sometimes they have Spaghetti-O’s or soup on sale and we can get a can to share, but no such luck today. The only thing they have is white bread, on sale for fifty cents.
I grab a loaf and go to the front to pay for it. The lady at the register sees us often, at least three times a week. She always looks at me with pity in her eyes. I don’t want her pity…I just want my mom back. I count my change, placing two dimes, one nickel and a bunch of pennies on the counter. She tells me she will be right back, and I’m scared that I don’t have enough money. I counted my change twice and I’m sure I had enough. I start running through other things I could buy with my change when she returns with a hand full of strawberry jelly packets and slips them in the bag with my bread.
“Thank you,” I say, smiling as she hands the bag to me. I haven’t smiled much in the last couple years, but it’s been a long time since I’ve had strawberry jelly. My mom used to make us peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch.
I miss those days.
As soon as we get home I make us each two sandwiches, using one packet of jelly sparingly so that we have some left for the next few days. I figure if we each have one piece of bread for breakfast, and one sandwich for supper, we can eat off this for three or four days. Maybe by then Mom will go to the store and get some more stuff for the cupboards. Maybe my dad will come home soon so we can move back to our old house.
My maybes never come true, but that doesn’t mean I don’t hold onto a little bit of hope. Maybe someday I’ll be happy.
I hadn’t taken a chance on anyone until I met Dane Wright. I thought I needed everyone’s approval all the time, but once I got past that and started living for myself, I realized what true happiness really is. It’s about being who you want to be, and surrounding yourself with people who love you while you’re doing it. It’s about accepting all your flaws and weaknesses and doing the same for the person you love.
Dane makes my heart beat. He’s the reason I get out of bed in the morning. He’s everything I didn’t know I wanted and everything I needed. He’s my ground, my water, my sky…he’s my whole world.
“Is that it?” he asks as he carries the last of my boxes up the stairs to his apartment. I guess it’s our apartment now. This day has been a whirlwind of emotion. When I woke up this morning, I thought I would be moving further away from him for the summer, going to sulk in Jade’s condo in the Hamptons, but now I’m here, moving into his apartment.
“That’s it,” I reply, opening the door for him.
“Good, I don’t think I can fit anymore in this bedroom.” He places the last box on top of the others before coming to stand in front of me. I never thought I would be this close to him again, his eyes locked on mine. God, I missed him. “You’re not going to put girly stuff all over my apartment, are you? I’m allergic to pink and flowers, just so you know.” His eyes are bright and a smile lines his lips.
“Nope, it’s just a few paintings and clothes,” I laugh. He places his hands on my hips to pull me closer to his body. I can feel my heart beating out of my chest as I part my lips in anticipation of his skin on mine. I want him to kiss me; we have lots of time to make up for and I don’t want to waste another minute.
I close my eyes and wait, but nothing happens. I slowly open them to see him staring down at me with a serious look on his beautiful face. “I think we should talk before we get too carried away. There are a few things I need to know,” he says, searching my eyes. My stomach turns; he accepted me back so easily when I came up here today, and now he was going to drop the other shoe. I was stupid to think that it would be so easy.
Not for us anyway.
“Okay,” I whisper.
I have an empty feeling at the pit of my stomach as he grabs my hand and walks us over to the couch. I know we have unresolved issues between us, but it was nice to pretend even for a while that they didn’t exist. But I’m here because I’m done running from my problems. “I think we need to clear the air completely if we’re going to move past the last couple months.” I stare into his eyes and nod.
“Have you talked to your parents?” he asks.
I shake my head. I haven’t talked to my parents since the afternoon I walked out of their house, leaving behind everything I knew. The strange thing is, I feel more at peace without the money and all the expectations that came with it. I think I was meant for a simpler life; I was never meant to be the puppet in my parents’ perfect life.
“What happens if they want back in your life? What happens if your mom shows up tomorrow waving threats in front of you again?”
I place my hand on his thigh. “Dane, they can only come back in my life if they accept me, and part of accepting me is accepting you. I don’t need their approval anymore. I only need you.”