It’s dead at work, no one has come in today. Mr. Marsh has taken advantage and talks to me nonstop about the interview.
“It went fine, they were intimidating but they like me and they have me coming on Sunday to see if it’s a good fit,” I flip to the next page in my textbook before slamming it shut in frustration, “They want me there at six but this math homework might institutionalize me first.”
“I thought Jordan was helping you,” Mr. Marsh stands behind me and looks at the problems I’ve written in my notebook.
“He is, but while it’s getting easier I still don’t fully understand it. We have a test on Monday and Jordan wanted me to try some of the extra practice questions on my own, and I just... I still don’t get it.”
He pats my back, “You’ll get there, maybe if you two do the homework together tonight you can work out a way of explaining it that you understand.”
“Maybe, I just really want to pass this test. It shouldn’t be this hard.”
“Don’t overthink it,” He laughs, “When you think about passing the test and not understanding the question, it’s a lot harder.”
I glance up at him and sigh. Opening the textbook again, I try not to think about the test or homework or anything other than understanding the questions. They still look like random numbers and letters and symbols. With a frustrated groan I bury my face in the book.
The bell jingling over the door poses a welcome distraction. I shoot my head up to see Jordan smiling at me.
“How long has she been working on that?” He asks with a chuckle.
“About forty minutes, give or take, and she’s only abused the book once. What do you need boy?”
“Nails, mom is trying to be crafty... Lord help us,” He rolls his eyes and walks to the nearby aisle Mr. Marsh directs him to.
“You know, she might make her brain explode!” Mr. Marsh calls out.
Jordan pops his head out from behind the shelf, confusion covering his face, “My mom?”
“Me,” I glare at him, “He’s talking about me. I’ve been staring at this for forever and I’ve only done one problem. I don’t even think it’s right.”
Jordan struts up to the register with a box of small nails, “Trade ya!” He hands me the nails I hand him the paper.
I watch him look over my work while I ring up the nails. I’m waiting for his card, but don’t want to interrupt his focus. He scratches his head as he looks up at me.
He pulls out his card to hand it to me, “You got it right, good job!”
“What?” I squeal.
“You got it right, you did the equation perfectly,” He smiles as I run his card through the machine, my jaw still sitting on the floor.
“See, I told you you could do it!” Mr. Marsh gently shakes my shoulder.
My joy fades, “It took me almost thirty minutes just to do that one question. How the hell am I going to do a whole test in less than an hour?”
“We’ll practice, after school, at lunch, at dinner,” Jordan strokes my arm.
“I’ll help you here when it’s quiet,” Mr. Marsh butts in, “You’ve got plenty of people in your corner Rhea. You may not get a perfect score, and that’s ok, but we’ll make sure you walk into that classroom ready and able to try your best.”
I feel my shoulders relax as I look at the two of them, “Thank you.”
Jordan scoffs, “Why thank us for loving you?” I feel my cheeks turn red, “You’re off in what, an hour? Do you want me to just wait for you?”
I look up at the clock, seeing it’s after four thirty, “Oh, ummm, you don’t have to if you have other stuff to do.”
“Nah, mom doesn’t need to hurt herself with her new hobby tonight, I’d rather spend the time with you,” He flashes me his charming smile, his head tilted and his weight resting on his elbows.
I smack his arm, “I’m working, stop flirting.”
He points back at the textbook with a big grin. I stick my tongue out before tapping my pencil on the counter and digging back into the math. I complete two more problems within the next forty minutes while Mr. Marsh and Jordan chat. There’s twenty questions on this page, there will be about the same amount on the test, and it takes me almost an hour and a half to finish three.
"Don’t think about the test,” I remind myself, ”Think about the problem and it’ll be ok.”
I tune out the boys and try to power through in the last twenty minutes before I clock off. I manage to figure out one last equation. Jordan looks them over as I clock out and put up my apron.
“You got four of them right, the last one was a little off, you put the ‘plus ten’ on the wrong side of the equation. But it’s amazing progress. Let’s go get you something to eat, we’ll do the homework together and you do one more problem on your own tonight before bed? Hmm?”
I nod as he wraps his arm around my shoulder, “Bye Mr. Marsh! I’ll see you tomorrow, thank you for the help!” I call out with a quick wave.
“Anytime kiddo!” He calls back as the door closes.
Jordan escorts me to the car, “You really are doing better, I think after this test, if we start fresh with a new unit you’ll be able to figure out by the first quiz.”
“Maybe,” I shrug, dropping my bag in the car, “Depends what it is we’ll be learning, I just really want to do well on this test.”
We climb in the car and he stares at me, “You will, you’ll do better than you have on any other test. You’ve been working really hard and it will pay off.”
I nod slowly as he starts the car and we make our way back to my house.
My dad was still in bed when I got up this morning. He was still sober when I left, he waved goodbye, but I know he isn’t doing well because he called me Sarah... My mother’s name.
I’m not sure what we’ll be walking into tonight.
“Hey, Rhea,” Jordan pulls me from my thoughts, “I was talking to a friend of my dad’s, a doctor, and he said there are options for recovering alcoholics. There are aid programs to help pay for rehab and meds and therapy. He gave me a couple brochures and numbers for programs that can help.”
“Jordan, I don’t know if he’ll still be sober when we get to the house, and if he isn’t and he hears me talking about this he’ll beat me senseless. Even if he is still sober he’s in no condition to talk about this, he’s hallucinating, or was when I left this morning. I’ll be lucky to get him to eat tonight!”
“You can’t live like this forever,” He pleads.
“Keep that stuff out for his next sober spurt. Maybe when he’s fresh we can work something out.”
He sighs in surrender, “Do you have a CD player or iPod or anything?”
“What?” I chuckle, “No, just the radio and CD player in my truck, any word on when it’ll be done?”
“Tomorrow they said, the battery got lost in shipping,” He rolls his eyes, “Go figure.”
I miss my truck. As crappy as it is, it’s my comfort, it’s my space. I want it back, I love riding with Jordan, but I miss what little control my truck offered me.
“Want me to turn on the radio?”
I shake my head, “I’m tired, and my head kind of hurts,” I yawn, “I think I might turn in early tonight.”
“Alright, well when we get to your place, I’ll make some food while you start on the homework. We’ll pound it out and get you warm and cozy in bed before ten. Sound good?”
“Yes please,” I whine, giving him puppy eyes.
He drives down my street slowly, the car humming almost puts me to sleep. He pulls into the driveway and gently shakes my shoulder.
“We’re here babe,” He whispers, “Hand me your bag and let’s get you inside.”
With a groan I shove the bag at him, “I’m warm.”
“I know, but dinner will be soon and sleep is better on a full stomach and with no homework.”
I mumble to myself as I shove open the car door and climb out. Food does sound good, but I could do without the homework.
I’m the first in the door, and I wish I wasn’t because I hear my dad yell out in terror.
“Sarah?!” His voice is strained, “Sarah!”
“What’s going on?” Jordan asks as he pulls me close.
“He’s calling for my mom,” I feel tears spill out.
“Sarah, we can’t be late for the doctor’s appointment! You need your medicine,” I hear him rummaging through the bedroom, “Sarah!”
I cover my mouth to hold the sobs, I’m not ready to deal with this. I was left out of my mother’s medical appointments and meetings because they were scary and painful to listen to, and they still are after her death.
“Should I go talk to him?” Jordan asks.
“I don’t know, I don’t usually know what to do when this happens. I... I usually go to the library, I can’t handle him calling out for her, I can’t...”
He very quickly pulls me into my room and leaves me there, closing the door behind him. I can still faintly hear my dad yelling. It falls silent soon after. It stays silent.
I sob into my pillow until Jordan comes back almost twenty minutes later.
“Rhea?” He whispers as he sits on my bed, “Rhea honey, it’s ok, he’s stopped. I got him to calm down and go to sleep.”
“How?” I rub my salty cheeks.
“I kind of told a lie. I said I was a messenger sent by the hospital. I told him your mom was there and resting, that she was getting her meds and feeling much better. He insisted on going and seeing her so I told him that she needs quiet and rest and he would see her later. He finally calmed down and I was able to get him on his office couch-bed.”
“I’m so sorry,” I cry some more.
His first reaction is to pull me into a tight hug and rock me, “You didn’t do anything. Don’t apologize. Everything is better now, it’ll be ok. Why don’t you rest, I’ll make you some food. It’ll help you feel better. We can watch a movie on my laptop and do homework in here. It’ll be ok, Rhea.”
I sob into his chest as he rocks me back and forth. He pets my hair and gently whispers reassurances in my ear. Eventually he pulls me onto his lap, cradling me, as he continues to slowly rock me back and forth.
“Shhh, don’t cry, it’s alright,” His voice is like a gently melody, like a lullaby playing on a music box.
Back and forth. Back and forth.
“Shh, calm down, I’ve got you.”
Back and forth.
Back and forth.