A New Normal
Even though I worked full-time at the grocery store and I wasn’t home that much, the times I was home could get a little boring. I spent most of my time practicing piano in the living room and singing in my room, which I felt a little awkward doing still. Sometimes Brooks and Daniel would play LEGOs in the living room while I played piano. It was usually distracting because they were either fighting or having play wars, but sometimes I swore they liked what I was playing and went quiet to listen.
When I wasn’t practicing or working, I mostly hung out with Gray or watched shows with my dad. Gray had all sorts of things to show me, like the trail in the back where he often went for runs and our grandpa and grandma’s tombstones.
“Why are they buried here?” I asked as we stood under one of the trees in the backyard and looked down at the graves.
“Grandpa died first, and grandma wanted him here still. She used to come out here and read to him.”
“That’s really sad.”
“I wish I would’ve known them.”
“They were nice. You would’ve liked them.”
After a couple minutes, we walked away from our grandparents’ graves and went back to the trail. Gray told me about the types of wildlife we might see at some point and showed me all the blackberries that were beginning to grow along the trail.
“My mom sends us out to collect them, and then she makes pies and stuff.” Gray said.
“That’s really cool,” I said, thinking of Mrs. Parker’s apple pies. She never picked the apples herself, but it didn’t matter. I wished to be with her again, talking while the pie baked and smiling when the smell began to waft out of the oven.
“-- jerky. It’s really good, you’ll have to try it.” Gray was saying.
“Yeah, sounds good,” I said, pulling myself back to the present.
“I can introduce you to my friends sometime,” he offered.
“Sounds like fun. What are their names?”
“Well, Tor is my best friend I think, and he lives on the other side of town. Holly lives down the road though, and her mom is really nice. Then there’s Rocco, Akita, and Meghan, and they live in town, too. I met them at school, but we’ve all gone on camping trips together and stuff. It’s fun.”
“Sounds like it,” I said. “Maybe you can meet my friends sometime.”
“Were you living with them when you were gone? Uncle Jeremy said you were living with good people.”
“Yeah, I was living with them,” I said. “It’s complicated.”
“I have complicated friends too.”
“Yeah. My parents sent me to a boot camp for a while and I made friends there, but they live far away.”
“Do you still see them sometimes?”
“Yeah, we’ve met up a couple times. I just miss them all the time.”
“I understand that. Really.”
“I thought you would.”
“You can see them this summer I bet.”
“Yeah, I think so. Some of them have work though. And bad cars.”
“Yeah, Amoni and Pax only have one car, and it’s falling apart. That’s what Amoni says.”
“Are they brothers?”
I looked at him for more explanation, but he seemed lost in thought. “I bet they’ll be okay.”
“I hope so.”
When Gray and I got back to the house, I went to my room and called the Parkers. It only rang twice before Mr. Parker answered.
“Cam!” he said, fumbling with his phone until it was giving a good view of his face. “I’ll get everyone else.”
I smiled to myself and waited as he walked through the house. “Come upstairs!” he yelled down the stairs to the basement. Then he went up to the kitchen, where Mrs. Parker was drinking tea and reading.
“Cameron’s on the phone,” Mr. Parker said, putting the camera on her.
Mrs. Parker put down her book and smiled. “How are you?”
“I’m good,” I said. “I’m working a lot.”
“Don’t work yourself too hard,” she said. “Make sure you make time to relax.”
“I do,” I promised. “I just came back from a walk with my cousin.”
There was noise in the background, and then Terin was behind his mom. “Hi!” he said, smiling.
“Hey!” I said, tears threatening to spill out of my eyes. I missed him so much. We emailed every day, but it wasn’t the same.
“Is it Cameron?” I heard Melodie ask in the background.
“Yeah,” Mr. Parker said. Chairs scraped against the floor, and Jerico and Melodie came into view for a second.
“Hold on,” Mr. Parker mumbled. He backed up until everyone was in the frame except himself and Annelies.
“Where’s Annelies?” I asked.
Mr. Parker moved the camera so it pointed at the stool next to him, and Annelies made a pouty face. “Come back.”
“I will sometime, I promise,” I told her, smiling.
“This summer. I promise. I’ll get a couple days off work and drive up there.”
“Really?” Terin asked. Mr. Parker pointed the camera at the table again.
“Really,” I said. “I want to.”
Everyone smiled, and then I asked them what had been happening around the house. We talked for an hour before Terin took the phone and went up to the room he now shared with only Jerico.
“Looks like a mess,” I teased. The only time our room had been remotely clean was when Jed was there.
“Just the way we like it,” Terin said, smiling. “Jerico doesn’t come in here much anymore, except to sleep, so I’m going to move all my art in here.”
“Spending time with Melodie?” I asked.
“Always,” Terin said, laughing.
“Think they’re a thing?” “At least on their way to being one.”
“Thanks. It’s honestly not that bad. It just means I spend a lot of time with Annelies.”
“How is she?”
“She’s okay. Just kinda mad at you and Jed for leaving.”
“I think she’ll get over it in a few weeks.”
“Weeks? I’ll probably be there by then, and then I’ll leave all over again.”
We laughed, and then Terin sighed. “I miss you.”
“Miss you too. I like my family, but it’s just not the same.”
“Have you gone to the library there yet?”
“No, I’ve read some of the stuff here though. Mostly I’ve just been practicing and getting to know everyone.”
“What books do they have around?”
“The Bible,” I said, and Terin and I both laughed again. “But otherwise, I guess my oldest cousin, Weston, went through a Ranger’s Apprentice and an Eragon phase, so I’ve been reading those.”
“Are they any good?”
“Yeah, I think Eragon is a little slow pacing wise, but Weston promised that it was good. I don’t dislike it.”
“I might read Game of Thrones.”
“Oh yeah?” I asked. “You’ll have to let me know if they’re any good. My dad wanted to watch it with me, but I told him if we watched it, I’d want to read the books first.”
“Yeah, I wouldn’t want to watch it first.”
“Do you think you’ll like it though? Isn’t it really gory?”
“Yeah, but I want to get into fantasy more.”
“Are you going to learn Dothraki?”
Terin laughed. “You know, that may not be a bad idea. It would be funny, don’t you think?”
“Yeah. If I learned it too, we could send each other notes no one else could read.”
“It’ll be like we’re kids all over again.”
“Back to the good old days.”
Neither of us talked for a bit.
“Do you think your parents will take in more kids?” I asked.
Terin shrugged. “It’s always a possibility. Just depends if they see a kid in need I guess.”
“Yeah,” I agreed. “Do you think Annelies will ever leave on her own?”
“Definitely not,” Terin said, and we laughed again.
“That’s what I thought.” I said. “I hope, when she’s older, that your parents at least encourage her to get a job.”
“They’re encouraging me to get a job,” Terin said. “I don’t really want one, though. I want to go to college.”
“Have you looked into applying anywhere? Have you looked at any scholarships?”
“No, not really.” he admitted. “I’m kind of scared to.”
“No one wants a homeschooled kid. I don’t have any test scores or anything.”
“You could take some tests and your scores would be great, I know it.”
Terin shrugged. “I don’t know where I want to go, so I don’t know what test to take.”
“Come on,” I teased. “There’s an easy solution there.”
Terin sighed. “I know. I’m just scared.”
“It’ll be okay,” I promised. “You want to do art, right?”
“Yeah,” Terin said. “And maybe history. I haven’t decided.”
“I think those would be a good combination. I think I’m going to do music and history.”
“I am worried about money.”
“Me too,” I admitted. “That’s why I got a full-time job. I think my dad is helping me pay, though.”
“I don’t know if my parents could help me.”
“I bet you could get a lot of scholarships. And there’s other financial aid stuff that I bet you’ll qualify for.”
“Yeah, maybe.” Terin said. “It’s a lot to think about.”
“Yeah, I get that. It can be a lot of pressure.”
“How about this? We both make a list of stuff we need to do, like saving money and a list of schools we want to apply to, and then next time I call we can talk about it.”
“Or we can email it if that’s easier.”
“Whichever,” I said. “But I’ll probably call again anyway.”
Terin smiled. We talked about random stuff for a while more until I started yawning.
“It’s a little late for you, isn’t it?” Terin teased.
“Yeah,” I said, smiling. “And I have work tomorrow.”
“Then I should let you go.”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“Talk to you later.”
“Yeah,” I said. “Terin?”
“I love you, brother.”
“I love you too, Cam. I don’t care where you’re living, you’ll always be my brother.”
I smiled. “Bye.”