The sight of the price owed on the gas pump makes me sick. It just keeps rolling to a higher and higher amount and as much as I would love to stop at $42.67, I'll have to fill it to the top if I want to get all my shit home. Knowing that I'm only on my second of three trips, I press down on the handle again and let my Ford Explorer continue to assault my bank account.
The elderly woman on the other side of the pump catches my eye roll and shoots me a look of distaste. She can kiss my ass. I'm in no mood for a stranger's judgement today, even though by now I'm used to it.
I lean against my silver SUV, that is jam packed with nearly everything I own, and begin to run my fingers over the lone tiny braid that I keep hidden in my long hair as I wait.
This trip was so much easier when I left. Now I'm bringing back double what I originally left with. One trip turning into three blows, especially when you're driving across Nebraska to get home. It's quite possibly the most boring drive anyone could suffer through. Seeing a lone tree brought me excitement today, pathetic. Why someone would choose to live here is beyond me. Yet, here I am, crawling my ass back home, just like everyone knew I would.
With a loud click, my SUV is full and I release the nozzle from my tank. Wet gasoline drips down my legs to my favorite lime green and purple Nike trainers, causing me to curse as I slam the nozzle back to its pump. The woman across from me scoffs at my unladylike word choice, immediately sending me into an even more pissy mood.
"Go fuck yourself," I finally greet her with a forced smile as I grab my receipt and shove it into the tiny pocket of my jean shorts. "I wasn't even talking to you, but I can start if you'd prefer."
She turns away from me with her own eye roll.
I was always taught to respect my elders, but if she's going to judge me first...fair game. Like she'd never say the word 'fuck' after getting gasoline on herself. I'm going to have to smell it for another hour until I can shower at my parent's house. Knowing myself, I won't even bother because I don't want to stay in the house that long.
"Bitch," I mutter as I grab a few of the complimentary paper towels to swipe the mess from my skin and shoes.
I know I'm being one too. I know that I just took out my frustration of moving back home out on a lady that only rolled her eyes and and huffed. Get a trip on yourself, Len.
I toss the used paper towels into the trash beside the pump and stand to wait for the lady to turn around again. When she does, her eyes widen and scale me.
"I'm sorry I yelled at you. I'm having a bad day and I didn't mean to pass it on to you."
Her eyes narrow as she opens the door to her Buick. "Did your mother ever tell you that you dress like a tramp?"
Annnndddd... she's a bitch. Totally called it.
"Yes, she has actually. I take back that apology. You and my mother can both go fuck yourselves."
When her mouth falls open, I smile and take that as my queue that my work here is done for the day. I turn my heel and get in my Explorer, to pull back onto the highway in a more sour mood than when I left it.
I glance down at my clothes and roll my eyes. Short jean shorts and a low-cut plain black tank top hardly make me a tramp. My bedpost has one notch in it, a regrettable notch, but just one. That hag has probably had more men between her wrinkled legs than me.
There I go again, assuming, being just as bad as her.
Fuck me. I need a nap.
I sink into my seat and toss my head back against the seat.
One more hour. Then I get to repeat the entire process again tomorrow.
Three round trips with no help is physically and mentally exhausting. I wouldn't have done it any other way though. I know had I allowed my family to help me we would have argued the entire time and then I would have changed my mind... again.
The iron gates wait to be opened as I enter the code for the private neighborhood. When they do swing open, I find myself not wanting to go any further because once I do...I'm trapped. Trapped back into a life that I could escape fast enough. It's been two years, but it feels like just yesterday that I left and I didn't look back.
I'm nauseated as I pull forward to the end of the cul-de-sac. My parent's home stands tall amongst the others (and they wouldn't have it any other way). The tan stucco building with the obnoxiously large dark wood door that should feel homely looks more like a prison to me.
I cut the engine and sigh, staring off at perfectly shaped round bushes that line the drive and the sprinklers that are spraying water to keep the lawn the ideal shade of cash-green.
I don't want to go in there.
The last two times, I just dropped off my things and spoke to my mother for all of ten minutes before hauling my ass back out the door. This time I'm stuck.
I grab my purse and my phone, leaving my shit for later. All the important stuff I need is already in there and waiting for me to put it away. Truth-be-told, I'm contemplating leaving everything in boxes. I have zero plans to stay here longterm and unpacking my things is saying otherwise.
I use the front door, letting myself in with the key that I never gave back when I left. The main foyer is illuminated with bright light from the chandelier above, causing the beige marbling of the floors and stairway to look extra shiny this evening. I ignore the awards, plaques, and memorabilia that line the walls of the hallway as I move straight to the kitchen, knowing that's where most of my family will be.
"That better be all of it," my mother moves around the kitchen, shoving a peanut butter sandwich at my seven-year-old brother and a sippy-cup to the pig-tailed toddler on her hip.
Hello to you too. My drive was boring as hell, thanks for asking. No, no need to help me carry my shit in. I've got it.
I don't even have my damn keys out of my hand yet and I'm already over this.
"That's all of it," I roll my eyes and toss the keys to the counter beside the loaf of bread. I grab the jar of peanut butter and the butter knife and begin smothering a piece of bread with it. I pretend like I'm not noticing my mother stare at me as I do.
"Hungry?" she asks, almost nicely.
I look up to the woman who I share no resemblance to as I shove half the slide of bread into my mouth. "No," I shrug and speak as I chew. I would never do this in front of anyone else. I just like watching her cringe.
"Ugh," she rolls her eyes (I do get that from her) and gives her black hair a toss before turning away. "I see your manners haven't returned with you. You better change before your father sees you in that. You look homeless."
First off, it's her that has an issue with my clothes, not dad. Second, I am homeless! Thus, I am here in this hellhole.
I look down at my clothes. I seriously wore this for this reason. What the hell is wrong with jeans and an AC/DC tee?
"The jeans come with the holes in them. They are supposed to look like this," I point to the denim and argue. "I'm not changing."
"Lennon," her head shakes with disproval as her gray eyes look to them again. "They are trashy."
I could wear a damn black robe and a habit and she would still find something wrong with it. As much as I would love to call her my step-mother, she adopted me at the ripe age of five, four years after my own took off and was never heard from again. She's my mom. We have nothing in common other than my dad and my half-siblings. If I'm real honest, I have nothing in common with any of them anymore. She looks young enough to be an older sister and acts like a grandmother. Anything to keep up with the Joneses; she fancies money and its appearance, not a relationship with her adopted daughter.
I shove the rest of my bread into my mouth and exit the kitchen as she scolds my little brother, Aiden, for getting peanut butter on his shirt.
When I reach the top of the stairs I can already see the light on in my dad's office. I glance between it and the doorway at the very end of the hall, which is my old bedroom, having a mental debate on whether to get in my car and go anywhere else or attempt to get past his office door without being stopped for an argument.
I'm exhausted and I really just want to sleep.
I grab the braid from my hair and twirl it between my fingers as I attempt to dart past the open doorway.
"Lennon?" his tired voice calls out behind me and immediately I take two steps backwards and peek into his office. He doesn't bother looking away from his laptop as he watches game footage, likely some new rookie he's eying. "Find a job yet?"
"Matty got me an interview at a club." I stare down at the ground. "His friend owns it. He says it's nice."
I'm hoping that by mentioning my best friend Matt, that dad won't throw a shit-fit about me working in another bar. He loves Matt like a son and should know that he would never steer me wrong.
"Do you really think that all these bars are good on a resume, Len?" He finally looks up at the same time I do as he tosses the glasses from his face down to his desk. "You can't even mention the last one. You were fired."
"Because the owner pinched my ass!" I argue. "I was supposed to just let him? He deserved to be slapped!"
"Never said he didn't," his head shakes. "I'm saying you should not set yourself up with that type of employment in the first place. I spoke to dean Maddox and he has agreed to let you enroll back into the sports medicine physical therapy program for fall semester where you left off, should you choose of course."
I roll my eyes, for what already feels like the millionth time today, "I already signed up for physical therapy. Same as I've done the last two years. It's not like I'm behind."
"Sports medicine?" he questions just as I'm about to sneak away.
I don't answer and look back at my dad. His short hair that covers his head has turned almost all gray, making him look much older than he is. His white polo is perfectly pressed with not one wrinkle to be seen. He stretches his long arms out in front of himself and then brings them back to run his hands down his face in frustration.
I tell myself that I don't care that I'm the disappointment of the family. It's times like this that I know that's not true.
"You used to love it," he sighs and stares off at a wall that I can't see. I know what he's looking at, a picture of just the two of us, him in his uniform and me on his shoulders at the age of three with his mitt perched on top of my head as we laugh. It was the most amazing day and he's right, there was a time I loved the sport. I would have done anything to be involved with it because my dad was my hero.
"You know why I don't," I mumble, refusing to shed one tear over this damn subject ever again.
I watch as he puts his glasses back on and forces himself to look away from our photo. Once I was the little girl who wanted nothing more than to make her dad proud by studying one of the few job positions baseball had for a female. Now I want nothing to do with him or the sport that my family's lives revolve around.
I walk away, opening the door to my old room and slamming it behind me. After the last time I left this house, I'm surprised that it's honestly still on its hinges with how hard it was slammed by dad.
I flip on the light, instantly regretting it when memories crash into me like a freight train.
"Where do you think you're going?" My dad stands and watches as I toss every piece of clothing within my grasp into a St. Louis Cardinals duffle bag.
My head shakes frantically as tears fall down my neck, pooling at the indent of my collarbone.
"I love him and you won't keep him from me!"
"Lennon, that boy is trouble and you know it!" he spits through gritted teeth, using his pointer finger to jab at the air. "Don't fuck up your life for a fling!"
He's not a fling.
"I'm not fucking up my life! I'm finally living it! So was he until you put a stop to it!" I swipe my face with my sleeve and stare at the man in my doorway as I sniffle.
"I know what boys like him are like, Len!" he steps further into the room. "He'll get signed to the majors before he finishes school and he'll be good, damn good. He's cocky and he knows he's that good. He parties already, do you even know the types of parties I was around all those years? He's going to leave you here and go partying around the country, ruining his potential and yours!"
"You assume the worst in him! You don't know him!" I swing my bag over my shoulder and stand directly in front of my dad, waiting for him to step aside and avoiding his glare.
"I see how he's changed you! You're making a mistake by walking out of this house with him. He will fuck up and you won't be welcome back. He's going to prove me right — just you wait. His intentions with you are not for the right reasons. You're making that choice!"
When I finally get the courage to meet his glare, my chest hurts. I shake my head, and don't think before I say it — "Now I see why mom left you. You're suffocating."
He steps to his right, finally allowing me out the door and motioning to it with his hand, no longer able to look at me. My stomach twists when his jaw trembles; that was low, even for me. He loved her more than anything and she abandoned him and left him to raise me on his own during the prime of his career.
I swipe my face and step forward. My wrist is grabbed to halt me, but I don't dare look up to him. "She left us both. What does that say about you?"
I pull myself from his grip as my tears unleash again.
I rush as fast as I can out of the room towards the staircase. The door of my bedroom is slammed behind me so hard that I can hear the wood of the frame crack. I refuse to look back. I rush down the stairs to the guy who is everything to me. His calloused hand is held out, waiting for me to take it and I do. Our fingers interlock and he moves us swiftly to the front door. I only look back in as I go to shut it behind me, seeing my dad's shaking head with a face filled with tears as he clutches the iron banister of the upper level.
I slam the door behind me and take a deep breath, one that I've been needing to take all year.
"Come on, Lenny," he tugs my hand with his and brings it up for a kiss that he knows I need right now. "Let's go home."
I look to the doorframe and run my fingers along it, finding the splintered wood at the same level has the handle, with a frown. I was damned if I stayed and damned if I left.
I should have stayed. My dad was right. Two months later I was on my own and two years later here I am, back in this room.
The room is just as I left it, now it's just jammed with more of my shit that my dad must have brought up for me. It was all sitting in the garage yesterday. This room is more than double the size of the one I left empty today, yet it feels smaller.
I find my favorite duffle bag and pull it from the pile, placing in atop the teal and purple quilted bedding. I dig through it until I find a pair of comfortable shorts to sleep in.
After I've changed and brushed my teeth, I stand in front of my dresser mirror and begin undoing the little braid that's hidden in my hair, allowing just this small amount to remain crimped in a sea of otherwise straight light brown hair. I take in the sight of myself in this room. This definitely isn't the same girl that used to stand here, that's for sure. My brown eyes are exhausted, sunken from lack of sleep. My skin is no longer a sun-kissed shade of tan from sitting at ballparks all summer, I'm pale from working in bars all night and avoiding the daylight. I look like a recluse.
I pull open a dresser drawer, hoping to find a spare ponytail, but failing as I knew I would. They are everywhere until you need one. I'm too tired to even dig through my shit and find one tonight. I shut the drawer and glance up, seeing the reflection of my bed in the mirror from across the room. There's an object under my it and my heart rate is already quickening because I remember being upset when I left it behind. Now I'm not sure I even want to see it.
I turn and watch the bed, as if it's going to move itself or something, before I drop to my knees and allow my arm to search for the lost mitt. As soon as my hand grips the smooth leather, I feel ill. Slowly, I pull it out, sitting back on my heels and holding an object that once meant the world to me. I run my shaking fingers over the burnt letters, reminding myself that I promised no more tears over the asshole.
R.M. ♾ L.W. 2018
With a few rapid blinks, a few choice curse words and some heavy sighing, I finally toss the pitchers' mitt into the trashcan beneath my desk and stand to turn off my light and sneak beneath the cool covers of my bed.
I turn towards the wall of boxes, trying not to stare at the garbage pail beneath my desk. It doesn't help. For exhausted as I am, my mind won't turn off and I know why.
"Promise me forever," I cuddle in close and look up to him. His brown hair is disheveled from tonight's game and he's still covered in dirt from that amazing sixth inning when he slid into second, but I don't care. I wouldn't want him any other way.
His playful smirk returns and he shakes his head no. I'm already giggling because I know he doesn't mean it.
"Jerk," I pout, trying to hold back that smile.
He takes my hand and begins moving his fingertip across my skin in a familiar shape of a figure eight.
His lips press to my temple and I press my eyes closed, ready to give into sleep.
"I promise you infinity," he whispers.
Without bothering to turn the light back on, I toss the covers off and rush to the trash, pulling the glove back out. I can't see the marking in the dark, but again I run my fingers over the burned-in letters, circling the infinity marking repeatedly.
I go to toss it back to the metal pail. I try to will myself to do it. Instead, I hug it close to my middle and bring it back to the bed with me. Sleep overtakes me as soon as I do.