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More Than Okay
His head hangs low, his eyes wide and the expression on his face similar to the one Macey has- had- when she chewed up something when we weren't at home. It isn't his fault; he was diagnosed with some sort of health problem, one of those fancy terms we can't afford to buy. And that's what I tell Dad, who raises his hands in the air. I know he wants me to shut up because that's what he says: "Just shut up!" with a swear in between but I don't. You don't give in to a drunk when he's about to hit your brother.
He came home around three a.m., banging his way around the house. Our walls are thin, so Sam and I both woke up. I'd been sleeping in Sam's room, like I do every single time Dad hightails it out of here, because something reminded him of Mom.
This time we're lucky, because Dad's had a lot, so he just bends down and hurls. The drunk clutches his stomach with his left hand and anything he can hold on to with his right, and tries to hobble upstairs.
"Shoot," I say once he's gone. Sam starts to laugh. "You want to help me clean up?"
And Sam nods, because he doesn't have anything else to do, when all you and your sister have is a house stinking up with barf, a drunk dad and a dead mom.
. . .
The next day, Sam and I wake up at six fifty in the morning, like we usually do on weekdays. I'm sleeping in Sam's room again, this time because my dad's taking up my room, and his room is uninhabitable.
"I want to sleep in," Sam mumbles when I open up the window. It's May, when the weather's warm enough that I'm certain neither of us will catch a cold.
"Get up," I reply flatly, mulling about the summer job I'm planning to get.
I leave for the bathroom with Sam fumbling around, looking for a clean shirt. He's growing out of his clothes, so I make a mental note to myself, along with all my other mental notes, to ask Dad on a good day to take us shopping.
Dad's snoring; I can hear him from the hallway. He usually doesn't drink on weekdays- if he's not drunk when he makes the decision- since he still has a job. If I were to give him any credit at all, it would be being sober enough to get and keep a job that pays barely enough for the bills and food.
I announce to Sam that breakfast's ready and we both head downstairs together. A picture from two years ago is framed above the front door, which we pass on our way to the kitchen: top row, from left to right: Sam, on my dad's shoulders; bottom row, from left to right: Mom, who looks at me.
And do you know what I'm doing?
It's a camping trip, and I'm freaking texting.
"Can't I eat breakfast at Tommy's house?" Sam asks, waffle in hand. He likes to eat as we walk. Apparently it's cool or something. I nod. I used to want to be cool too.
I grab a waffle, too, and leave the other two for Dad.
Usually I drop off Sam at Tommy's house- who lives a block away from us- while I walk to the bus stop; Tommy's mom feels "obliged" to take Sam and Tommy to school, and to pick them up, too, so I take full advantage of her "obligations". When we arrive at Tommy's house, the conversation goes as shown:
Tommy's mom: Oh hello. It's nice to see you again.
Me: Hi. Sorry I'm burdening you. It's just, you know... and is it possible you also pick him up?
Tommy's mom: Oh, no, no, it's fine. Sure. I'm obliged.
When she was healthy and alive, my mom had friends, good friends like Tommy's mom. She listened to pop music and danced in the living room and the shower and anywhere else you can dance.
She was cool, my mom.
I leave Sam at Tommy's house and finish the waffle on my way to the bus stop. I'm still hungry, but I know Dad can't concentrate when his stomach isn't full, and he's the one earning money as of now, so he gets the extra one.
Once I reach school after a gruelingly boring bus ride- I sit alone now; my friends say I'm drifting away anyway- I find my way to the counselor's office. A new one came last week, but I haven't met him/her yet since I'm only scheduled for monthly visits. Which I didn't ask for, but everyone seems to feel my need for them since, of course, I'm one of those kids. I didn't even do anything wrong, except for be the child of a dead woman.
The offices, plural, are a large pod of rooms- maybe six, seven. After passing the main office, the principal's office, and the nurse's office (they're listed by how much they're used), I knock on the door of the counselor's office.
A woman pokes her head out of the room. She's a redhead, a perky one too by the looks of it, with blueish-gray eyes and a severe overbite. I learned that phrase from when my mom was working- several years ago- and we had money to consider future orthodontists.
"Oh!" she says, a little bit heavily, when she sees me. "Oh, are you Mellie?"
"Melanie." I grit my teeth. My number one pet peeve as of last year is people calling me "Mellie". Because my mom called me that, and only my mom calls me that, and if you're not my mom you can't call me that, and I don't think anyone's going to be calling me that because my mom isn't coming back anytime soon. "Yes, I'm Melanie."
"Okay, Mellie," the counselor says, completely ignoring my emphasis- twice, actually- on Melanie. "Fourteen, right? Skimming my papers... oh, monthly appointments... oh dear. I'm sorry. Your mother."
When she turns around her face is full of pity and I want to slap her, maybe two times for good measure. But I don't, otherwise my monthly appointments would most likely be upgraded to biweekly appointments.
Only there's something else on her face and I can't really tell what it is until she says, "Oh dear. Not Sarah."
"I'm sorry?" I say, with disbelief. I don't know this woman. This woman doesn't know me, unless it's from her papers.
"Sarah Johnson was your mother?" Now it's the counselor who looks at me with disbelief, her wide cloudy eyes staring at me, I don't know with what.
"Is. Death can't change genetics," I reply. "May I sit?"
The counselor slaps her hed, her red curls bouncing off her shoulders. "Shoot," she grumbles. "Yes, yes- please sit- sorry, I'm just so caught up- okay, wait." She sets her hands on the table with a loud thunk. "Let's start over. Shall we?"
I can't do anything else, so I nod.
"I'm Mrs. Smith, the new counselor at your school. And you are Melanie Johnson?" I force a smile. She finally got the name right.
"And you're here for your May appointment?" Mrs. Smith adds. I nod again. I like her better than the old counselor. I'm not ill-wishing or mean or anything, I just like people who mess up. Since I like talking to people about my feelings, if I really have to. "What would you like to talk about?"
"I thought I was here to talk about my mom," I say slowly, hoping she isn't the kind of person who asks you a question and completely dismisses your answer.
"Nobody's making you," the counselor replies. I realize she's about my mom's age, a little bit younger, maybe.
"I still want to talk about my mom." I scratch my head. I'm forgetting something. Of course. "And how you know her," I add.
"Right. And you know that because... I'm sorry, I was being unprofessional and very rude." Mrs. Smith frowns. I shrug. She continues, "I used to volunteer at the hospital your mother stayed at, because they'd asked me to talk to the teenage patients there. There weren't many of them, and I had a lot of time between my sessions. So I wandered around, bumped into your mother and she invited me to talk to her. We became friends soon after that, and... we just had these amazing conversations. Your mother, she was spectacular."
"What happened?" I prod. Mrs. Smith was becoming a little teary. I guess that's unprofessional, but I'd rather have her crying with me instead of asking me to dissect why I'm crying.
"She knew how much time she had left. She knew the situation your father was in- he'd started already then. And she shared these stories about you, Sam, your father... and she was just so proud of you all, and she was proud up to when she passed away." Mrs. Smith turns away and dabs at her eyes.
"I doubt I should be saying this- but when I saw your profile, you looked so much like her. I mean, you and her, daughter and mother were at the back of my mind but I didn't really realize it until it was right in front of me. I'm sorry." Mrs. Smith turns back- all that time she'd been talking to the wall.
But I'd still been listening. I changed my mind.
"One thing," I say. Mrs. Smith's eyes widen. I guess all of her counselor years, she'd been stuck with kids like me who looked forward to the end of their appointments, who thought she was some adult who just won't understand. "I need help," I tell her. "I think A.A. would help my dad, a lot, actually. And Sam has dyslexia- he was diagnosed last year. My mom, she didn't know, because we didn't want to tell her and we didn't want to believe it ourselves. And, could I get a work permit, since I want to get a summer job?"
"Here's what I think," Mrs. Smith begins, looking a little bit surprised, especially at what I revealed about Sam. I kind of grin. Nice for a change not mattering so much what you think but what everyone thinks. "What you said about A.A. is a great idea. The only thing is that we need your dad's opinion on this, because ultimately it's his decision. But I don't think you should get a summer job, because you could spend summer break helping Sam catch up on his schoolwork. You know what I mean? I've got a friend who helps dyslexic children, too, and I'll introduce her to you and your dad sometime."
"My dad?" I say, a little loud.
"Melanie," Mrs. Smith says. "Your dad is your dad. We need to discuss this with him, and I think you know that. So maybe, bring him in one day after school? I'd prefer if Sam wasn't here, but I understand if he has to be."
"Okay," I say. Everything's begun to sink in. I think Mom would want this, I really do. Maybe she's nodding, watching, approving from Heaven.
Some of my agreeing's because it's May, almost summer break, and I don't have to see Mrs. Smith again since I'm in eighth grade and I'll be going to high school, with a new high school counselor next year. And that I know that Dad could use some A.A. And that I want Sam to be able to read, get straight A's, make Mom and Dad and me proud. But most of it's because I want to have a family again, one with happy people.
Yes, a happy family sounds nice.