Mom, dad, is that you?
Mom and dad met in college during their senior year.
They both went to college in New York City to become artists, they did that for some time. They sold their paintings to people all over the world, some of whom were apparently pretty important. They sold their paintings to rich corporate men who just loved digging in their pockets for things they didn’t need, and even to a Prince of one of those obscure countries nobody had ever heard of.
They loved each other, definitely, but then they got pregnant with Jayce when mom was 24 and dad was 26, and then four years later were pregnant again only this time, with twins. The city was too expensive no matter how many overpriced paintings they sold, so they packed up their things and moved to the most irrelevant place on the American Map — an edge of the world coastal town in Louisiana, it couldn’t have even been anywhere cool like New Orleans. Mom kept on painting and dad got a job doing carpentry. After that, they started to hate each other. Their dreams unfolded into reality together, then they unraveled just the same. Dad blamed mom for ruining her life, mom blamed Caroline and Jayce.
When their daughter died, they didn’t see the point in pretending to be in love. Mom spent her days in bed and dad spent his days at work, his nights at just about any strip club in a fifty-mile radius. Most of the girls were hardly older than Caroline. He felt dirty being attracted to them, just not enough to stop himself from emptying out his wallet for them. When they danced on him, pressed themselves into him, he thought about their fathers. Did they know what their daughters were doing, and what would he do if he walked in one day and there was Caroline?
Hey, dad! He imagined her waving from atop a pole, gliding down and spreading her legs into a split, catching money in the thin of her G-string. The image making him want to be sick, and the thought of another man watching her, touching her, tossing dollar bills at her like she was an object, filled him with rage. But he was doing that to someone else’s daughter. Every night as he drove down the familiar dark roads, passed the dirty gas stations all leading up to the parking lot that would be half empty as it always was, he gripped his steering wheel and told himself over, and over again to go home.
Go home, John. He told himself. Go home and hug your daughter, kiss your wife and tell her you love her, help your son. Be a father. Each time was the last time, but it never was.
“You’re home!” Mom shouted the moment Caroline stepped through the purple door at the front of her house. It was so fragile a big enough gust of wind would knock it straight off its hinges. In the kitchen, she stood with a wooden spoon in her hand and a boiling pot of empty water on the stovetop. Her dad, sitting at the table with a blueprint on his lap.
She took cautious steps forward at the unfamiliarity of it all. It had to have been a dream because mom was never awake when she came… from anywhere.
“Caroline honey, did you get the chicken and tomato sauce?”
“Yea mom,” Caroline answered. She shuffled around in her pockets for the change from the twenty mom gave her and placed it on the table next to dad.
“Do you know where your brother is?”
“Huh?” Caroline asked.
“Your brother.” Her mom said again like Caroline was so ridiculous for being confused.
“I don’t know, maybe his friends or something.”
Caroline eyed her dad, wondering when he was going to decide to speak. Hello. Earth to dad. Mind telling your wife where your son is? Oh right, he wouldn’t have the slightest clue. Nobody ever had a clue about Jayce. He went off the rails when he was fourteen and everyone was too busy with themselves to try and fix him. Jayce was practically non-existent now. The black sheep, or try the invisible sheep. Poof. He slept at home some nights, you’d barely notice if he did. The only sign he was home would be the loud slamming of the door. He never got the meaning of the word quiet.
“Can you call him and tell him dinner’s going to be done soon?” Mom poured some boxed macaroni into the boiling pot. “I don’t want it to be cold when he gets here, and I don’t want to wait too long for him.”
Sure mom, Caroline thought. Let me call your son who has a new burner with a new number every other week. Let me call your son who, if he wasn’t balls deep in some random guy he picked up, was probably driving around town dropping off drugs to someone’s house.
Dad stayed quiet and stared down at his blueprint in the exact same spot as when Caroline walked into the kitchen. Now wasn’t the time to pretend to be stupid. Caroline could live with an absent father and an empty mother, but if mom was suddenly alive again, dad should at least pretend to be present.
“Sure mom. I’ll give him a call.” Caroline dialed the last phone number of Jayce’s that she had programmed into her phone. It went straight to DISCONNECTED, not even a voicemail set up. “He’s not answering.”
“Oh.” Mom hummed, sounding sad, making Caroline feel bad. “I’ll just save him some leftovers.”
Any leftovers she kept for Jayce would go bad if somebody didn’t eat them first. When Jayce came home he was gone before dawn. Besides, Jayce was a vegetarian, something mom would know if she decided to leave her bedroom more than once a month. Also, he hated chocolate and just about everything else Caroline loved. They were opposites in every sense of the word. Sometimes she felt like Jayce did that just to spite her.
You’re the one they love. Is something she thought he would say. So let me be everything you’re not since they already don’t love me.
Mom and dad did love Jayce. At least, they did back when he was perfect and undamaged. When he went away to juvie for the first time they got so used to him not being there, that a secret part of them didn’t want him to come back. They were content with Caroline, who they could pretend was Amelia since they looked the same. Dad used to talk to her, and then during their next conversation would pretend she was Amelia. He even let the name slip a few times. He thought Caroline never noticed, but she always did.
Amelia’s shadow was her second home. It kept her close to her sister.
“You know mom, I’m really not hungry. Do you mind if I skip dinner and you and dad eat by yourselves?” This got Caroline’s dad to look up at her with slightly widened eyes. They narrowed as if to say, Caroline, watch yourself, with a low growl. Can’t handle the pressure, dad? Can’t stand the thought of being with your wife for more than five minutes?
“I suppose that’s fine, honey. I’ll save you some too, you and Jayce can eat together when he gets home.” Mom said, but Caroline knew she hurt her feelings. She tried to push away the guilt gnawing at her. Why should she feel bad for not eating dinner with mom when mom hadn’t said a single happy birthday to her in almost thirteen years?
Thinking like that didn’t make the guilt go away, it made it worse. But she was highly un-confident in her ability to sit through a dinner with a suddenly talkative mom and wax-figure dad.
Caroline’s bedroom was split into two halves. Her half of the bedroom was white and empty, just a twin-sized bed with a tv mounted on her ugly brown bedside table. The other half of her bedroom distinguishable by the clean and sharp line of white to pink, was exactly the way it was twelve-and-a-something years ago. Amelia’s side was untouched. Her tiny bed pressed against the corner wall, pink plush pillows on top of her purple velvet blanket. Barbie's were all piled high in a woven laundry basket, even the door to her Barbie Dreamhouse from when she played with it for a few minutes before school was left ajar.
Mom and dad let Caroline change her side of the bedroom when she turned twelve, but mom was stern when she said, don’t you ever touch your sister’s things. Do you understand me?
Not even the wall on her sister’s side of the room.
The quiet tune of a sitcom rerun sang throughout her bedroom. Caroline plopped down on her bed, looking up at the ceiling, admiring the pink to the white and wondering what everything would be like if Amelia didn’t die. She tried her best not to let herself get to wondering, because that was when she fell down the rabbit hole. It always tried its hardest not to let her go. Seeing mom and dad together in the same room made her wonder, she couldn’t help it.
What would mom be like? Would she be one of those proud moms who never stopped bragging about her kids, or would she be a hovering mom who asked you every ten minutes who you were dating?
What would dad be like?
Would he be an overbearing dad who went to every football game his son played, because if she imagined a competent dad, she had to imagine a competent Jayce. Or would dad be the sort to run a background check on all the guys she brought around before trying to scare them off with a gun?
Amelia would have been a cheerleader.
Or a painter like mom and dad.
Or a psychologist.
Or a vet.
Or a famous movie actress.
The list could go on forever.
She could have been anything.
Whatever she was, it certainly wouldn’t have been what Caroline was. Which was an almost nineteen-year-old girl that took two college classes at the community college and used the rest of her college money to go thrift shopping, and order whole pizzas to eat by herself.
Caroline’s phone vibrated twice in her back pocket.
Weird, nobody ever texts me, she thought. On the glowing blue light of her phone, the message UNKNOWN appeared with its contents below, jumping up and down on the mailbox emoticon of her 2011 flip phone. She never got around to buying herself a new one, and it still worked, so why bother?
ARE WE STILL ON FOR THIS WEEKEND? THE PARTY.
The text message read.
A few seconds of pondering ensued and then she remembered Mikey Kemp and his Halloween party that she’d somehow landed an invitation to.
YEA! She responded to his text in bold letters and worried the added exclamation point was a little too much. She had no clue how kids these days were texting, she never did it, never really had friends to send virtual messages to and didn't even have a lap-top to check up on all the new social medias.
Her and Mikey texted all throughout that night. The last time Caroline looked at the clock before she finally put the phone down it was nearing four am. The two had exchanged flirty messages. Caroline’s texts started out stiff and unnatural but by the fourth hour in, she was flirting just as well as Mikey. Her confidence was suddenly as tall as the empire state building.
Is that what high school was like? Is that what I missed out on?
The next few days went by slowly, but things were back to normal. Mom stopped being weird and was back to staring at her bedroom wall all day. Dad stopped coming home in time for dinner, all was as it should be. Except for her and Mikey talking, they texted everyday up until the day of the party.
The day of the party would be the day that changed both of their lives forever. Change being one word for it. There were a few other choice words that would be more appropriate, but change was good enough.
Caroline woke up with butterflies the morning of the party. The butterflies weren’t fluttering — more like punching at her and twisting her intestines every which way. Her mind was immediately on the party and what she was going to wear, how she would do her hair, and if she should mention it to mom and dad. Since it was the weekend, dad was home. He couldn’t use his 9-5 (or 9 to never ending via the strip club) job as an excuse for not being home. Mom moved her vacant stares from the bedroom to the couch in the living room, where she and dad would sit in silence the entire weekend.
It was their usual routine. And she used that as her reasoning behind keeping them in the dark. She wouldn’t want to break up their routine by telling them she was going to a party with underage drinkers, and she would probably be stumbling in late completely plastered.
So she didn’t tell mom and dad, which she would later find out was for the better. She found a plunging black top in the closet of her mom’s bedroom, something she probably wore back in her city days, and a short jean skirt.
Mikey Kemps house was only a block and a half away, she could walk there in fifteen, maybe twenty minutes. She felt the butterflies beating on her again, but this time it didn’t feel the same. The butterflies weren’t because her high school crush Mikey Kemp, who never ever looked at her, had finally looked at her.
The butterflies were from the sinking feeling something terrible was going to happen.
Something terrible was going to happen.
Something terrible indeed.
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