Me And Sam -- Chapter 11
John's life continues to change.
Sundays will never be the same
I woke up Sunday morning and made my way to the bathroom. Sleeping naked did have it’s disadvantages. I ran from my room through the hall and made it into the bathroom without being seen. I was still half-asleep and sat down to relieve myself. I think I lost three pounds right there. I finished up, flushed, and washed my hands. Looking in the mirror I shook my head. Great, now I have more bits to twist. I rotated the earrings carefully. The new set made it more difficult trying to squeeze my fingers between them. I also noticed while doing so that my fingernails were a deep red. Something that wouldn’t wash off. I, of course, had no nail polish remover. Either Mom or Dad was going to find out about this. I wasn’t sure which would be worse. How did I get myself into such situations?
I finally decided that Mom’s assistance was required. Dad would simply never understand this one. I looked at the clock on my night stand and it was only 8:30. As it was a Sunday morning I doubted that Mom was awake. I was a prisoner in my own room. My only hope was that Dad wouldn’t come bursting into my room. Thankfully, I couldn’t ever remember him doing that. Why had I done this to myself? All right, the ears I could blame on Mom, but my fingers? I held my hands out in front of me. They did indeed look "pretty." Why couldn’t I just be who I wanted to be? Why all the guilt? The shame? As I sat there thinking about it, I almost decided that this was "me." If you like it fine, if you don’t, go screw yourself. If only life were that easy. I found myself staring at the makeup kit that Mom had purchased for me. I really did want to explore its contents further.
I thought about Sam. Things seemed so much easier for a girl who wanted to be a boy than vice versa. She could dress as she wanted, act as she wanted, and no one took notice. If I went out wearing this nail polish alone (and no I don’t mean stark naked!) , people would call me sissy, fag, queer, and god knows what else. I know most girls would disagree with my sentiments. They were the ones who did whatever they wanted with society’s approval. I hadn’t heard any rustling in the hall yet and was loathe to wake up my parents. Dad was probably up and about already. I decided at length to risk it. I put on my clothes from last night and made my way down the hall. Their bedroom door was closed. I figured as long as I remained in the hallway, no one would have to see my nails. I knocked gently on the door. Nothing. I tried again "tap, tap, tap."
I heard stirrings and at last my mother’s voice. "Is that you John? " I heaved a sigh of relief
"Yes Mom, it’s me. Can I come in?" I asked her.
"Sure sweetheart, come on in."
I cautiously opened the door ready to bolt at any sign of Dad. I needn’t have worried. He wasn’t there. "I’ve got a bit of a problem" I informed her tentatively.
"What’s wrong sweetheart?" she asked.
"Well, it’s simply this" I said as I held my hands out in front of me.
"Oh Joan! They’re beautiful!" For some reason her comment made me very happy.
"Thanks Mom" I replied.
"What’s your problem sweetheart?" she asked sincerely. I could tell this wasn’t going to be easy.
"Mom," I said gently not wanting to upset her. "Do you have any nail polish remover?"
"But why?" she started and then came to her senses. "Yes Joan, on my makeup table. Be sure to put it back when you’re done with it."
"Thanks Mom," I said and rushed over to her bed and gave her a big hug.
"I’ll have to remember to get you some of your own." I smiled at that. Hell, what else could I do? No one had put a gun to my head and forced me to paint my fingernails. I hugged her again tightly, found the bottle of acetone, and made my way back to my room. I sat at my desk with a box of tissues and a bottle of the foul smelling liquid. One by one I cleaned my fingers off. Thankfully, I had no cuticles so there was no trace of red left when I was finished. I took the pile of tissues and thought momentarily about hiding them. I realized at length that there was no need.
Seeing all traces of the "red" gone, I felt clean. But, not so clean that I didn’t need a shower. I grabbed some fresh underwear and made my way back to the bathroom. Twenty minutes later I exited feeling "really" clean. It was closing in on 9:30 and I reminded myself of my intentions to call Sam again. Could I do this, I wondered? Well, the worst thing that could happen is that she could tell me to go bleep myself. I picked up the phone and dialed her number without thinking. It was answered on the first ring.
"Sam? Is that you?"
"Hi John," her voice whispered dreamily in my ear.
"How are you?" I asked not sure that I wanted to know.
"I’m fine John. How are you?"
I was so glad to hear her voice I found myself saying "I’m better!" and burst out laughing. Sam laughed too and we sat there giggling till the magic of the moment faded away. "Sam? I really think we need to talk," I said having no idea what else to say.
Surprisingly, she replied, "I think so too." I smiled, yet my stomach began doing flip-flops. I’d been hoping for just such an occasion to clear the air and now, well now I was terrified that it was about to happen.
"You want to get together this afternoon?" I asked her.
"Sure," she said, "where and when?"
"Why don’t you come over here around 12:30?"
"I’ll be there," she replied.
"I’ve missed you." I could feel her smile through the phone line. We said our goodbyes and I sat there wondering just what was going to happen next. I stood examining myself in the bedroom mirror for a minute. Surely Dad would never notice the extra pair of holes in my ears, would he? I played with my hair a bit and made my way down to the kitchen to grab a bite to eat. I was getting sick of cereal every morning and decided on something more substantial. Bacon and eggs over easy with whole wheat toast and fresh blackberry jam. I began making preparations. Soon, I discovered I was not alone.
"Damn, something smells good," my father said.
"Just sit down," I said resignedly. "Breakfast will be ready in a minute." I was hoping that he’d decline, but instead he sat and waited for me to finish. "Would you like some juice Sir?" I asked him playing the part.
"Yes, I would Miss, thank you" he replied. So much for hiding extra holes in my ears.
"Coffee?" I asked without missing a beat.
"Yes please," he returned. My breakfast cooked and served to my father, I’d lost my appetite.
"Will there be anything else Sir?" I asked remaining in role.
"No, thank you Miss, that was perfect." Perhaps he thought this was all a game? Perhaps he was just having some fun at my expense? I’m not really sure, but I never felt so many negative thoughts about my father before in my life. I excused myself and headed into the backyard.
Fortunately, Shandy was there: alert, on guard, and protecting the perimeter. "Woof!" she greeted me. I laughed and called her over. She came bounding at me, nearly knocking me down with her gentle assault. "How are you today girl?" I asked her not expecting a reply. "Would you like to go for a walk?" Her whole body shook and she began licking her chops. I took that as a yes. "Give me a minute Shandy, I’m going to get your leash." I made my way inside to retrieve her leash and spotted myself briefly in the hallway mirror. My lips, I thought to myself; they are naked. I ran upstairs quickly and retrieved the mauve lipstick. I applied it liberally before making my way back outside with Shandy’s leash. She eyed me quizzically for a moment before she realized it was just me and began jumping up and down in anticipation. "Hold still girl" I told her as I attached the leash to her collar. That done, we headed off to the beach. In another few weeks dogs wouldn’t be allowed on the beach after 8 AM. We didn’t dally on the boardwalk and made our way right for the entrance at Longhill Ave. "Hang on girl. I have to remove my sneakers," I said to her though I’m reasonably sure she didn’t comprehend me. Sneakers removed I pulled her down the ramp. "Come on Shandy" I yelled attempting to generate some excitement.
She ran past me and soon it was Shandy pulling me towards the waves. She loved placing her paws down on the not so firm ground. She ran and dragged me along yelping at the impending waves. I ran behind her as fast as I could and felt the ocean’s spray greet me with every step. We continued on like that till I yanked her leash and begged for mercy. I wish I could have removed her chain but it was against the law and my parents informed me long ago that if there was a fine to pay, that I’d be the one paying it. I sat down on the sand and watched Shandy barking at the waves, daring them to hit her. Fortunately, none did. What was I going to say to Sam? What could I tell her about Darla? How did I feel about the both of them? I only knew one thing. I missed having Sam in my life. I wish I knew what to do.
"Come on girl! Time to go home." She wagged her tail and woofed happily. We walked back slowly. At length I figured I’d gauge my comments against Sam’s own. I considered all that had happened and thought that Sam owed me an apology. I’m sure she felt the same way about me, I sighed. Though we were walking at a casual pace, we made the trip back in good time. I brought Shandy into the house with me and fixed her some lunch. Mom would usually set aside some leftovers to mix with her dog food. It was now 11:30 and Sam would be over soon. I ran upstairs and began fretting over what to wear. Did it matter? I finally decided on a pair of cutoffs and a clean tee shirt. The weather was getting warmer and it felt good to be in less restrictive clothing.
I took my time twisting my earrings as I stared into the mirror. I wasn’t really sure just who was looking back at me anymore, but somehow my reflection pleased me. I had a bit of time and decided to check out some of the new lipsticks in the makeup kit. Pink? Nah, not me. Bronze? No again. After trying them all on I realized that my two favorites were the ones I already had. Besides the ones that Sam and Darla had given me were of a much higher quality than those in the "play kit." If Mom was going to get me some nail polish remover, I might as well tell her I needed some cold cream and something to take off the mascara as well. Yes, apparently insanity did run in families. I removed the tube of mascara from the bag. The label said it was waterproof. I worried about that for a moment then realized that if I started crying at least I wouldn’t get raccoon eyes. I took my time applying the goop to my upper lashes. I knew if I tried the lower ones I’d make a complete mess of it and besides it would be so obvious to anyone looking at me. I applied a coat of mauve to my lips and spent a few minutes playing with my hair. Ah yes! Hair spray. Something else to add to the list. Sam would be over in a few minutes. I could feel my heart pounding in anticipation.
The next thing I knew my mother was calling me. "Joan, Sam’s here!" My mother actually sounded happy. Could part of her insanity be due to the fact that Sam hadn’t been around these last few days?
"Tell her to come on up Mom" I shouted down the stairs. I didn’t want to greet Sam in front of my watching mother. My makeup kit was on top of my dresser. I made no move to conceal it.
Sam came into my room, looked at me and said, "Joan, you’re beautiful!" My mascara was going to be tested I thought as tears began rolling down my cheeks.
"I’ve missed you so, Sam!" I exclaimed. She ran to me and hugged me for all she was worth. I hugged her back and we just stood there each of us unsure of what to do next.
"I love what you’ve done to your ears," she said finally.
"Thanks Sam, I like them too," I replied. "I think the next time Mom wants to go shopping though, she’s going to have to go alone." At that Sam started laughing.
"Want to go for a walk?" I asked her.
"Sure," was her reply.
We made our way downstairs and I shouted out my goodbyes. "Sam and I are going for a walk. I’ll be home later," I announced into the air. She looked at me, I shrugged my shoulders and out the door we went. It was at that point that I remembered Jola sitting atop my pillow. If Sam had seen her at least she hadn’t said anything. We began walking towards the boardwalk. I’d never thought about it before, but when I said I was going for a "walk," that’s what I meant. I found myself wanting to reach for Sam’s hand as we walked. I didn’t though and she didn’t reach out for mine either. "So, did you have a good week?" I asked her.
"It started out OK but it was horrible in the end." I wondered if she was talking about us and whether or not she considered this part of last week.
"I know what you mean," I replied. We continued on for awhile in silence.
"How did you do on the history test?" she asked at length.
"You first," I replied. She announced proudly that she’d gotten a 98%. "That’s great!" I said.
"And you?" she asked.
I looked at her and smiled. "I passed." She took that to mean that she’d beaten me once again. I smiled inwardly and let it go. "How are things with you and Billy?" I asked though not really sure I wanted to know the answer.
"How are things with you and Darla?" was her reply. I felt like I was going to throw up.
"Darla’s been a great friend," I said measuring my words carefully.
"So has Billy," she responded. I felt like we were playing a game of chess which neither of us could win. I wanted to attack her for what she’d done. Somehow I knew that she wouldn’t understand that she’d done anything wrong. The tears continued streaming down my face as we walked up the ramp to the boardwalk.
"I need to sit down," I said and made my way for one of the benches on the ocean side of the boards. Sam sat down next to me and we sat there watching the world go by.
After an indeterminate amount of time she grabbed my hand and held it gently in her own. "I’m sorry Joan," she said. I looked at her wondering if she knew what she should be sorry about. I wasn’t sure whether I should parrot her apology back to her.
Instead I heard myself saying, "I love you Sam" She wrapped her arms around me and kissed me.
"I love you too Joan," she said. That should have been the happiest moment in my life, but I found myself thinking of Darla. Darla who had stood by me through all this nonsense. The tears started flowing again. Sam thought they were tears of joy. I let her. I found myself more confused than ever and wondered if I’d ever figure it all out.
"Oh Sam!" I moaned and she held me tighter. Could I tell Sam why I was upset? I didn’t think so. Could I tell Darla? I was pretty sure the answer to that was "yes." We sat there for a few more minutes. My sadness was increasing with every tick of the clock.
"Come on Sam" let’s go play some ski ball. We walked over to the arcade and made our way inside. I got a dollar in dimes and we headed for the machines. I figured five games apiece would be more than enough. Sam was on her game. She beat me that first game by fifty points. I wasn’t sure why but I thought it might help my situation if I actually beat her a time or two. Usually I just released the ball up the alley not caring which slot it landed in. I bowled very carefully after that concentrating on the innermost circle. I did win that series three games to two. Sam wanted to play two more in an attempt to best me. I wasn’t going to let that happen. "Sam, we had a dollar in dimes, five games apiece, I won! What’s the big deal?" It wasn’t a big deal, but to Sam, it was. What was I learning here? Something, but I honestly wasn’t sure what.
"Want to take a walk on the beach?" I asked her.
"I want to play a few more games of ski ball," was her reply.
"Fine Sam. Go ahead. I’ll watch you." She did play one more game but I could tell her heart wasn’t in it. "Can we go for a walk now?" I asked her when she finished.
"All right," she replied sulkily. This wasn’t going at all as I’d hoped. "Something’s wrong, isn’t it Joan?"
"I’m not sure Sam, but I think so," I bawled. Sam began crying too as we made our way to ocean’s edge. "Let’s just sit here for awhile" I suggested. We sat there staring out to sea.
"It’s Darla, isn’t it?" she asked finally. My whole body began shaking and I sat there crying uncontrollably.
"I’m sorry Sam," I said. "I’m not really sure what’s going on with me."
"Tell me about you and Billy?" I begged her.
"There isn’t much to tell," she said as her voice drifted off.
"I saw you two holding hands," I informed her. "Did you kiss him?"
"Well, you obviously kissed Darla" she replied.
"Oh Sam! Stop it and talk to me! Why did you abandon me the way you did?" There was no stopping me now. Either the air was going to be cleared, or it wasn’t. "You’ve treated me without any respect!" I continued as the tears continued to flow. "I came over to walk with you to school and you were gone. Lunch time came and that dweeb Duncan was in my seat. You just sat there and ignored me acting like you were having a grand old time." The flood gates had burst, I couldn’t stop now. "And then, then I thought you’d call me when you came to your senses, but you never did. Yes, Darla has been a lifesaver for me. She befriended me when my only friend in the world, YOU! turned her back on me. Oh Sam!" Was I ever going to stop crying? My sense of loss was overwhelming. Had I stopped loving Sam? Could I ever trust her not to hurt me like that again? I really needed some answers. I only knew that without her in my life I somehow felt incomplete. Still, I’d learned something about myself this past week. I wasn’t dependent upon her for my happiness. "Sam, I do love you. But I don’t think I could handle another week like the one that just ended. You have to tell me what’s going on!" I demanded.
"When I said I was sorry Joan, I meant that I was sorry for all the things you just mentioned" she said. I couldn’t believe my ears! Maybe having two holes in one ear did cause a hearing malfunction?
"Sam, I meant what I said when I said you have to tell me what’s going on."
"Oh Joan! I am sorry! Listen, when you wouldn’t tell me you loved me the other evening, it just sent me over the edge. I’d never felt so rejected in my life. Well, not since my Dad died. I really needed to hear those words from you, but you just walked away. The lunchroom thing was stupid, but when I got to the table Duncan was already sitting there and yes, I was still hurting from your rejection. When I saw you sitting with Darla, part of me died. I’ve always known that she’s had the hots for you. I did my best to give you two your space. The only reason I went to that dance was because I just knew that you and Darla were going to be there. And no, no one told me that you would be, I just knew it. As for your question about me kissing Billy, the answer is no. Not to say that he didn’t try. But, I have no feelings for him in that way."
She’d just said everything I wanted to hear. And yet, something was still wrong. "Sam? I’m sorry." Her tears were flowing as well and we sat there silently just holding one another. What was I going to do about Darla? I really didn’t want to hurt her. But for her brief desertion of me on the boardwalk yesterday she’d been perfect. Still, I knew that she cared about me as more than just a friend and I didn’t know what to do.
"I love your new lipstick" she said and kissed me. I started crying again as the lipstick she was referring to had been a gift from Darla.
"Sam, I’ve got to ask you something. Before you say anything just hear me out. Darla and I have become good friends. I can’t, no I won’t just abandon her to be with you. Do you think you can handle that?" I asked her hopefully. Her eyes filled as she sat there contemplating my question.
"What kind of friends?" she asked at length.
I smiled at her and told her, "not friends like us" and kissed her gently on the lips. "Sam, I’m really exhausted. Do you mind if we leave now?" She seemed pretty tuckered out herself and I was reasonably certain of her reply. She didn’t disappoint me and we made our way home. We walked home in silence holding hands. She intermittently squeezed my hand three times rapidly and I returned the gesture every time. We arrived home and stood outside my front door. "So, I’ll see you in the morning then?" she asked.
"Sam" I sighed. "I have to go to Darla’s in the morning. I left my knapsack over there on Friday and I’ve got to go and pick it up. Will you walk home from school with me?"
"Sure Joan that would be wonderful," she replied at last. Maybe this would all work out yet, I thought. I pulled her close to me and kissed her right outside in front of my house where anyone could see. Sam didn’t seem to mind.
"I love you Sam," I told her. "I’ll always love you."
She smiled at that and said, "I love you too John." I looked at her quizzically.
"You are both John and Joan to me. I’m the luckiest person in the world. I get two loves for the price of one."
"I’ll see you tomorrow Sam" I said as we released one another. I watched her walk off with her loping gait. She didn’t seem to have a care in the world.
I made my way into the house. "John, is that you?" my mother’s voice called to me.
"Yes Mom, it’s me" I replied. I could tell her voice was coming from the kitchen and she continued to speak. "Have you got a minute?" she asked. What’s this? Mom not ordering me about like an indentured servant? I made my way into the kitchen curious as to what was going on. Mom was sitting at the table drinking a cup of coffee and smoking a cigarette. I hadn’t seen her smoke since I was very little. Something indeed must be wrong. "Why don’t you pour yourself a cup and sit down?" she motioned to me. I poured the coffee and took my usual seat.
"Mom, what are you doing?" I asked her pointing to the cigarette.
"Oh this? It’s nothing," was all she said. I waited. "Your father told me that he ate your breakfast this morning. He also told me he called you "Miss" and laughed as he did it: the bastard!"
"It was no big deal Mom," I lied.
"Oh John!" she exclaimed and started crying. "I’m so sorry!" What was she sorry for, I wondered?
"Whatever it is, I’m sure it’s going to be fine," I said softly. She smiled faintly at that.
"I love you John," she said.
"I know Mom, I love you too!" I sat there drinking my coffee and she did the same. Thinking I could change the subject I said to her "Mom, the next time you go shopping, do you think you could pick me up a few things?"
"Of course sweetheart, what do you need?"
"Well, errr?" I began and blurted it out. "I need some nail polish remover, some cold cream, some eye makeup remover and some hair spray."
She laughed her old laugh. "Is that all?" she asked at last.
"Well, it’s all I can think of at the moment," I replied.
"The drug store is still open. What do you say we just go get those things right now?" she asked me.
Her spirits seemed to rise at the thought. "Sure Mom," I said. "Let’s go!"
We got in her car and I noticed that Dad’s car was not in the garage. I decided not to say anything about it. "Do you have any particular preferences with regard to these items?" she asked.
For a moment I’d forgotten what she was talking about and then replied, "No Mom, I haven’t a clue. I’m in your hands!" We made our way into the store which was open till 6 PM on Sundays. We had plenty of time.
"Oh Joan," she remarked upon entering. "Come here" and led me over to the perfume department. "A young lady needs her own scent," she said matter of factly. Anything to keep her mind off her troubles, I figured. "Here, smell this," she said delightedly.
"Too sweet and overpowering," was my reply. She laughed at that and admitted that I was right. At last we decided on "Cool Water." The fragrance was light enough that it could easily be mistaken for an after shave lotion though the label clearly said "Cool Water Woman." She smiled as she added the item to our basket. I couldn’t believe how expensive a tiny bottle of that stuff was. It seemed like a waste of money to me. We continued on with our search.
"The quality of those items in your makeup kit isn’t very good, is it?"
"No Mom, it isn’t," I had to agree.
"Well, I’ll tell you what," she said. "Why don’t you pick out "one" of everything in the quality section?" she asked me. Was I really going to do this? Hell, in for a penny, in for a pound. I started looking over the choices. I surveyed the eye shadows carefully. At length I decided on the one with several shades of blue. The mascara that Mom had purchased was first rate and wouldn’t need replacing. I next found myself looking at the lipsticks. If I was going to be kissing Sam, it just didn’t seem right to be doing it wearing Darla’s lipstick. I decided on a color called "Eternally Mauve." It was very similar to what I already had but by a different manufacturer. Ah! Nail Polish! I couldn’t believe the myriad of choices. Mom almost fainted when I made my selection. It was called "Blue Thunder" a dark steel-blue-gray. I thought it was pretty and reasoned that I might actually find the nerve to wear it out of the house. At last Mom relented and added the item to our basket. She picked up the cleansing items that I’d requested and added a few of her own. "OK girl, I think we’re done here," she said at last. We went to the check out counter and I was glad that I wasn’t paying the bill.
We made our way back to the car and Mom began rummaging through the bag. She found what she was looking for and removed the tube of lipstick. She twisted the rearview mirror so that it was facing me and said, "here, why don’t you try it on?" I did and it was perfect. My lipstick in tact, Mom made her way home. Dad’s car was still missing from the garage upon our return. "What would you like for dinner sweetheart?" she asked me. This was also a bit unnerving to me as Mom usually had these things planned out well in advance.
"Well," I said in a suggestive tone, "what about Dad?"
"Don’t worry about him darling, he’s already had one meal made for him today. That’s enough in my opinion." Still angry with my father for his actions earlier in the day, all I could do was agree with her. "Would you like to go out to eat?" she asked me. Her request told me two things. One, Dad would not be joining us for dinner and two, Mom was totally discombobulated.
"Sure Mom," I replied at last.
"Great!" she said. "Let’s go inside and get freshened up. Then we’ll head out to the steak house." Wow, steak twice in one week? Something was indeed going on, I worried.
We entered the house and Mom began searching through the bag. She pulled out the nail polish, looked at it distastefully, and beckoned me into the kitchen. "Sit," she commanded. I sat. She shook the bottle violently for some seconds and carefully twisted the top loose. "Give me your left hand." I held my hand out for her and she began applying the liquid. "Now, don’t let your nails touch anything while the polish dries," she admonished. Without her asking I then handed her my right. She repeated the procedure.
I found myself wishing that I could wear my nails like that out of the house. "Sweetheart,, go upstairs and fix your eyes and lips. Oh, and make sure you wear your red silk shirt. Oh, and don’t forget your new shoes!" she said at last. I was worried for my mother’s sanity, but also found myself eager to complete the requested tasks. I brought the bag upstairs with me to my bathroom. I tore open the eye shadow and applied the deepest blue. I then grabbed my mascara and expertly applied it to my upper lids. Daring to tempt fate, I coated my bottom lids as well. I fixed my hair, shook the can of hair spray and liberally applied it to my locks. Almost finished, I thought to myself as I touched up my lipstick. I opened the bottle of Cool Water and sprayed it on either side of my neck. It smelled heavenly.
I surveyed my face in the mirror. Damn, I was pretty! I couldn’t remember ever being this happy as I took the bag and made my way back to my room. I grabbed my tightest pair of jeans in an attempt to look as feminine as possible. I found myself digging through the bag wondering if I’d missed anything. Yes! Mom had also bought me some knee-hi stockings. Forget the fact that this was beyond weird, I was having the time of my life. I removed my sneakers and socks and slid the hose gently up my legs. I couldn’t believe how sensual they felt. I ran for the closet and grabbed my maryjanes. I pulled on my jeans and then my new shoes. I examined my completed appearance in the full length mirror. "Hi Joan," I said. A beautiful young girl smiled back at me, but she said nothing by way of a reply.
I couldn’t believe I was contemplating going out dressed as I was. I found my way back to the kitchen where Mom had waited for me patiently. "Oh Joan!" she exclaimed. "You look absolutely adorable!" Forgetting my mother’s mental instability, I rushed over to her and gave her a hug.
"Thanks to you Mom," I replied at last.
"Wait sweetheart," she said. "You need one more thing." With that she handed me a small black leather purse. I was too far gone at that point to object.
"Thanks Mommy!" I squealed in delight. I told her I’d just be a minute and made my way upstairs to retrieve a few bits of makeup to put in my new purse. A girl never knew when she’d need to do some touching up, did she? Carrying the items downstairs and glad I wouldn’t have to stuff everything into the pockets of my too tight jeans, I smiled as Mom stood at the foot of the stairs holding my purse open for me.
"I knew you were going to do that," she smiled back at me. Thankfully, the purse had a shoulder strap so I wouldn’t have to carry it about all evening.
I slung the bag over my shoulder and said to her, "what do you think?"
"I think you look adorable sweetheart," she replied. My heart soared.
We got back in her car and made our way to the Lonestar Steakhouse.. "Well girl, let’s eat!" she imparted. Feeling as comfortable with myself as I had in recent memory, I exited the car and made way for the` front door. "Slow down Joan!" Mom begged. I waited for her to catch up to me. I was starving! I thought back for a minute and realized I hadn’t eaten anything all day. I angrily thought back to this morning when Dad had stolen my breakfast.
"Mom, I’m really hungry," I told her petulantly.
"You haven’t eaten all day, have you dear?" She asked. Remembering that Mom knew about what had transpired with Dad, I decided not to make an issue of it.
"I’m all right," I assured her. With that, she held the door open for me and we entered the restaurant. As it was a Sunday evening, the place was relatively deserted.
The hostess came up to us and asked, "Smoking, or non smoking?" Mom simply replied "smoking" and we were led off to our table. Her answer had given me renewed cause for concern. I thought back to my arrival home and realized that things were changing. We were led to our table and told that our waitress would be with us momentarily. Mom took a cigarette out of her pack and lighted it, inhaling deeply. The ease with which she completed those actions added to my concern.
"What would you like to eat Joan? " she asked me.
Although I hadn’t eaten all day and by some rights I was starving, I replied, "a small steak and a salad." I began to wonder if I wasn’t subconsciously watching my caloric intake.
"You are worried about your figure, aren’t you Joan?" Mom asked me. I had no answers for her.
"You asked me what I wanted and I told you," was my reply. The waitress came over and introduced herself. Her name was "Kim." She asked us disinterestedly if we were ready to place our orders. We had spent several moments surveying the menus which were strategically placed between the bottles of condiments on the back of the table. There was no preamble offered by Kim with regards to what would we like to drink before taking our orders. Mom told me to go first and I did. "I’ll have the 8 ounce princess cut sirloin" I informed her. My mother as she had done yesterday informed the waitress that it sounded perfect and that she’s have the same.
"What vegetable?" she asked. I surveyed the list and told her the steamed broccoli sounded great. Mom smiled at me. "What type of dressing on your salad, Miss?" she asked. I told her the light italian on the side please. Mom duplicated my order but went again for the bleu cheese dressing.
"What can I get you two to drink while you’re waiting?" she asked. Mom ordered a gin and tonic and I stuck with my diet coke.
We sat there sipping our beverages. As soon as Mom was done with one cigarette, she was lighting another. I wished I knew how to stop this behavior. "Mom, why are you smoking?" I asked her. "Don’t you know how bad it is for you?" I couldn’t resist. She replied and told me that she was indeed aware of the risks and to mind my own business. What could I say to that? I already knew the answer as I pondered the question. The answer was "nothing." We sat there sipping our drinks waiting for our entrees to arrive. Kim surprised us by brining two huge salads to our table first. I looked at mine and wondered if I’d be able to finish it all. Mom saw my eyes bugging out of my head and told me that I didn’t have to eat all of it. With that , I relaxed. We sat there and chatted about all the things going on in my life. I was desperate to ask her about Dad, but held my tongue. I guessed that I was going to be yet another kid with a weekend father. The way I felt about him at the moment, I hoped that he hadn’t planned on spending every weekend with me. I knew that he wouldn’t though and I smiled smugly.
Mom and I had always been close. It seemed we were getting a lot closer of late. "Joan darling, are you all right?" she asked me.
"I couldn’t be better," I replied and in some ways I meant it.
"I’m so glad you’re here with me tonight," she said.
"Where else would I be?" I responded cheekily. She laughed at that as she finished her salad. Kim came over and removed our salad plates. Moments later she was back with our main courses. I smiled at her as she placed my dinner in front of me.
"Enjoy it sweetheart," she said as she placed the tiny steak within my grasp.
"Mom, would you pass me the ketchup?" I asked her.
She laughed and replied, "for what? For your broccoli?" I laughed in return and asked if she’d just do as I requested. We sat there eating in silence when at length Mom said. "Joan, I hate to spring this on you now, but our lives are changing." I knew something was afoot but not wanting to presuppose anything I simply responded "Oh?"
"It seems," she said at length between bites, "my marriage to your father has come to an end. We’ve been arguing a lot lately. He seems to be working more and more hours all the time. When he told me what he did to you this morning, I nearly lost my mind as I screamed at him to just pack his things and go! He didn’t offer any resistance to my suggestion. I knew then, in my heart, that it was over."
"Oh Mom!" I screamed. "This is all my fault, isn’t it?" She looked at me as though I’d lost my mind.
"No sweetheart, this has nothing to do with you. You’re old enough now to know that sometimes these things just happen." I wasn’t so sure about that. I sat there thinking about Mom’s increasingly strange behavior and decided that somehow it had to be related to what was going on between her and Dad. At that moment, I felt an affinity for my mother that I’d never felt before.
"Mom, I’m so sorry," I cried. I wasn’t sure if I was more sorry for her or for myself. Sure Dad had been acting more and more the idiot of late, but maybe that was just his way of dealing with the stress of the situation. I knew deep down that my father loved me. I also knew that I loved him too though I guess I never really knew him. I wasn’t sure if that was my fault or his. Perhaps the blame lay somewhere in the middle.
At last Kim returned to our table with a big smile on her face. I cynically figured it must be near the end of her shift. "Can I get you two ladies anything else?" she asked. I told her I’d like a cup of coffee. Mom seeing the look of frustration on Kim’s face told her that she’d like a cup too. I was glad for a moment that I was making someone else’s life miserable besides my own. I laughed as she left the table. I found myself feeling sorry for her and annoyed with her at the same time.. She brought our coffees back quickly enough. We sat there, Mom played with hers trying to make it palatable and I sat there sipping the cup of black liquid in front of me.
"Mom? What now?" I found myself asking her.
"If I knew the answer to that Joan, life would be so much easier," she replied cryptically.
We sat there drinking our brew. Mom, oblivious to what was going on in my world and myself oblivious to her own worries. At length Mom asked me, "are you ready to go sweetheart?"
"Yeah Mom, let’s get out of here." She paid the bill and we made our way back home. We rode on in silence. Arriving home I noticed that Dad’s car was indeed still missing. Mom looked over at the empty space as though she expected it. Her eyes began to fill with tears. Upon entering I caught my reflection in the hallway mirror. I no longer felt "pretty." I felt stupid and ashamed. I told Mom that I needed to go to the bathroom and made my way upstairs. I ran the water in the sink till it was steaming. I grabbed the soap and scrubbed my face thoroughly. Next, I sat at my desk and opened the bottle of acetone. I held my hands out in front of me one more time wishing that I could leave them as they were. I removed the color and wondered just how my life was changing. I took a look at my face. I saw a glimpse of John in there. That felt reassuring somehow. My ears however, belonged to "Joan." I finished changing back into normal attire and went back downstairs. Mom was sitting in the living room with the television blaring away. She appeared lost in whatever it was she was watching. Somehow I knew that wasn’t the case.
"I see you’ve changed back," she said as I entered the living room. I saw no need to respond to the obvious and let her statement pass. I wanted to ask her, Mom? don’t you like me? Why are you trying to change me? I knew she was pretty far gone as it was and I wasn’t going to push her over the edge entirely. I sat down next to her on the couch and asked her what she was watching. She simply replied, "Oh!" as if she had no idea that the TV was on. I knew I’d need some help with her and my heart sank as I realized that I couldn’t ask Dad what we should do. As I’d done so often this last week or so, I began crying. Mom rubbed my back and soothed me with a soft voice. "It’s going to be all right John, I promise." Wanting desperately to believe her, I lay my head against her bosom and within moments I was asleep. "John sweetheart, it’s time to wake up and go to bed," she said chuckling at the silliness of her statement. I opened my eyes and felt better somehow. No, not all sunshine and lollipops better, just better.
"Goodnight Mom," I said to her.
"Goodnight John," she replied. "Oh and John? Thank you so much for this weekend. I wouldn’t have made it without your help." I wasn’t exactly sure what she meant, but I was too tired to think about it. I made my way back to my room and within seconds I was fast asleep.
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