I was spared seeing the man from the bank actually coming to evict us. My mom handled that all by herself while Chloe and I was sitting at our aunt’s table eating Oreos. I knew what was happening but Chloe was laughing and smiling as she dipped her cookies into the milk, oblivious as only a six year old can be. On the other hand I could not help myself from envisioning a man with a wooden hammer, shouting out prices to people standing around. They would not know what they were buying. They would not know about the laughter of Mandy and I as we ran around the house as small children. They would never know how mom sung me to sleep until Chloe was born and she decided I was big enough to sing her to sleep instead. They would never know about the night when the preacher came over and mom fell onto the stairs, crying so much that I needed to listen in to her conversation later that night with Aunt Barbara to find out that Dad was dead. They would never know about all the boxes I packed and unpacked and how much trouble it was to fit an entire house in a storage unit as big as our garage used to be…
Used to be…
Everything used to be different. Mom was smiling, not crying. Chloe hasn’t changed, but what does she know? If only Mandy was here. She would have known what to do. She always came up with great ideas.
“Are you finished with your milk, honey?” Aunt Barbara asked. I didn’t even realize how deep in thought I had been until she spoke.
“How long is mom still going to be?” I asked as I picked up my glass and brought it to my mouth. Why Aunt Barbara insisted on treating me like a child I would never know. In her eyes I was probably still six just like Chloe.
“I’m not sure,” Aunt Barbara said, a smile on her face although I had no idea what she was smiling for. “She’s going through a lot of things today. Maybe she needs some time on her own.”
“Would you mind if I go play some piano?” I asked Aunt Barbara. Piano was the one thing I was actually good at. Locking my piano away in the storage unit was the worst thing that could have happened. I asked mom if we could keep it, but like she said, we would be living with Aunt Barbara for a while and she just didn’t have any space for one. Luckily Aunt Barbara played as well.
“Not now. I have a headache. Why don’t you take Chloe and go play outside?” she asked with an even bigger grin on her face. I never really liked her. She always looked so fake with that hair that looked like molten chocolate that dripped down her face and never moved. But she was mom’s sister which meant I had to like her.
“I’m also going through a rough time. Piano helps,” I protested, hoping that I could just let my fingers run over the cold keys for five minutes and escape to another world.
“I said no. Now take the baby outside.”
Not Chloe. Not ‘your sister’. Just ‘the baby’. Like she didn’t have feelings. Like she could not hear what was going on around her.
“Come Chloe,” I said as I stood up and held my arms toward her.
“We’re going to play?” Chloe asked, stars I wished I still had shining in her eyes.
“Yeah, we’re going to play,” I answered her as I walked past Aunt Barbara, trying my best not to make eye contact with her as I walked out the kitchen door.
As I watched Chloe run around, trying to catch a butterfly I could not help but hating Aunt Barbara just a little. And my mom. And most of all my dad. If it wasn’t for them I would have been in front of my piano. Or reading a book. Or off to the mall looking for a new hangout spot for when Mandy came home from her holiday. I would not be here babysitting.
My phone buzzed in my pocket and I quickly took it out, only to be confronted by Mandy’s face. I hadn’t even told her exactly what had happened just yet. For a few more days I just wanted to pretend that I was still normal. That I still had a home to go to and not a mattress on a living room floor that I had to share with my sister and mother as well.
Mandy: I’m coming home early bitch! C u 2morrow!
I felt the coldness spread all over me. There wasn’t any days left to pretend that I was normal anymore. There were hours. Hours that was going by quickly.
Cory: Not home 2morrow. Going 2 watch a movie. Meet me @ the mall?
It wasn’t that hard to lie. And in actual fact it wasn’t a lie at all. I would not be home and I would ask my mom if I could go out tomorrow. I will tell her that I just need a breather. Nothing serious. I just probably won’t go see the movie since mom said we needed to save every penny we could until we are back on our feet.
Mandy: Sure! C u @ round 3pm? Bookstairs?
Bookstairs was where I normally went when I wanted to get away from the world. I could sit for hours upon hours browsing in the bookshop until I found the exact book that I wanted to take home with me. Weirdly, no matter how hard I tried to find the perfect book, the books my dad picked always had better stories, plots and characters. He probably knew me better. Or maybe he didn’t know me at all. If he knew me he would have known that the last place I would have wanted to be was on a mattress on Barbara’s living room floor.
Cory: Sounds fine. C u then.
Mandy was the person I wanted to see the most in the world, and at the same time I didn’t want to see her at all. Seeing her meant telling her what had really happened and telling her would make it all real and I just wasn’t ready for that yet. But then again I wasn’t ready to lose my dad, or pack up my house and move in with my aunt, but somehow I got through that no matter how hard it had been.
Chloe was still chasing the butterfly as the door behind me opened and my mom step out into the yard. I could see she had been crying. She might have washed her face and tried to reapply her makeup but her eyes were bloodshot and there was nothing in the world that would take the puffiness around her eyes away.
“Did it sell?” I asked, knowing that she would have stayed at the bank auction until the house was really gone.
“Yes,” she said as she sat down on the grass next to me. “A lovely family bought it. They just had their first baby.”
“Great for them. Building their lives on the tears of others. Wonder how much happiness it’s going to bring them?” I muttered what was on my mind before even thinking.
As I looked up to my mom’s face I immediately wished that I didn’t say it. I could see the bitterness around her mouth and her eyes filling up with tears.
“They don’t know about any tears. To them it was a bargain and a beautiful home. Nothing more.”
She was fighting the tears, but she wasn’t doing such a good job at it. They weren’t streaming just yet, but they were getting ready to make the far jump from her eyes to the ground.
“Probably. So what happens now?” I asked. I didn’t really want to ask her the same day she officially lost the house but I needed to know. I wanted to know if we would become one of those families that would be out on the street and eating out of dumpsters.
“Now we stand up my sweetheart… Now we stand up… You are going to school in a week and I will find a job really soon. Before we know it we will be back on our feet,” she said but somehow I did not believe the words coming from her mouth. It just didn’t seem that easy for everything to be fine again.
“Aunt Barbara was a bit of a bitch. I really needed to play piano and she wouldn’t let me,” I said. It wasn’t like I wanted to complain, but the days preceding this one was just too much to handle.
“It’s strange for her having children in her house. You know how she is. She doesn’t like people touching her stuff, especially her piano…”
“…it was a present from my grandfather when she turned twenty-one. Yeah mom, I know. I just thought because she plays as well that she would understand why I needed it so badly,” I answered.
“Maybe she has a different feeling when playing. You should ask her. Try building a bond with her. I know she’s not the most supportive person in the world and you don’t know her all that well. But give her a chance. She was nice enough to take us in. If it wasn’t for her generosity we could have been out on the street. She has a good heart,” she said as she leaned in closer and put her arms around my shoulders, bringing me in for a hug.
“Is everything really going to be okay?” I asked. Probably a childish question, but still. I needed to know everything was going to be okay.
“Everything will be fine sweetheart. We just have to get over this bump in life and beyond that there will be a smooth road again,” Mom whispered in my ear as if she was telling me the secret to life.
“I’ll try with Aunt Barbara. Maybe if we really had a talk we might like each other,” I answered giving my mom the biggest smile I could muster. Aunt Barbara was right about one thing already. Mom has been through a lot today. It wouldn’t be fair of me to put her through more.
“Thanks Cory. That already takes a huge load of my shoulders. Maybe you can have a nice chat with her tomorrow morning while I’m job hunting.”
As she sat back on the grass I could see her right hand going over to her wedding ring. She had not once taken the huge diamond off her finger since dad had passed away. It was like having the ring meant she still had dad with her in some way. I was so mad at him that if I was her I would have thrown it down the garbage disposal. If it wasn’t for him she wouldn’t be out job hunting tomorrow. She would not have to worry about anything but cooing dinner and playing with Chloe.
“You’re already going tomorrow?” I asked. “Don’t you want to relax for a day or two? We have been working our butts off the past two weeks.”
“We can’t stay with your Aunt forever. We need to get back on our feet,” mom said, the sad smile returning to her face. “The sooner we take that first step the better.”