Monday morning finds me moping around. Still no reply from Sam or from any of the companies I have applied at so I decide to check the local thrift shops for a dress. I still have a decent pair of heels and can probably make it without a purse, but going naked isn’t an option.
After Mom leaves for work I get dressed and head out, the walk clears my head a bit. In the second store I find a simple, forest green shift dress. A bit old-fashioned and definitely too long, but the fabric feels nice and the price is fair. I can shorten it at home, maybe add a belt. Remove the puffy sleeves. For 15$ it’s mine and I can check off one thing on my list.
On my way back I swing by the café, after our last awkward moments together I’m not sure how to face Miho, but she only waves and makes me a coffee without a prompt.
“What you got there?” She motions with the chin towards my bag, hands busy with the coffee monster.
“My dress for the dinner party. You don’t happen to have a sewing machine?”
She sets my coffee down, makes grabby hands towards the bag until I shove it into her direction in exchange for my dose of caffeine.
“Pretty. A bit boring maybe. Oh gosh, and those sleeves!” The offending attachments get poked and tugged at, but I don’t mind.
“Yeah, I know. I’m just gonna cut them off. Seam the armhole and done. And I have to shorten it, at least a few inches.”
“My Mom has a sewing machine. I bet you can use it.” She folds the dress carefully, slides it back into the paper bag. “It’s really pretty.”
“Yeah, for 15 bucks,” I snort.
“No. It’s pretty. Period. The color will suit you really well, the green will make your eyes pop.” The bag wanders back into my hands, my shoulders slump but not because of the weight of it.
She brushes me off with a wave, slides a piece of cake over the counter. “So, I guess you haven’t brought your whole wardrobe, did you? If you still need accessories, I have a lot. Earrings are my guilty pleasure, I have dozens of pairs. Come over some time and see if you like something.”
And just like that we are back to our usual chatter, I tell her about the afternoon at the mayor’s house and she tells me about the awkward encounter with Jared this morning.
“I couldn’t even look at him. Simply made his coffee and took his money without making eye-contact once.”
“But he came back here,” I point out in an attempt to cheer her up, make her raise her head from the countertop where her breath condensates on the polished wood. “If he was really put off he would just avoid you.”
“But still,” she insists, cheek pressed to the counter, “I made a complete fool of myself there.”
“Nah, you just got a very peculiar way of flirting.” The spoon she throws at me misses its mark by far, but at least makes her laugh again.
On my way back home the weather takes a turn for the worse, it has been overcast all day and now it rains. Due to the sun and heat lately I haven’t brought an umbrella, try to shield myself with the paper bag. I have the wash to dress anyway.
The awning of a shop offers me shelter, I wipe the raindrops from my face and jump at the vibrations from my pocket.
The number on my phone is unknown to me, maybe one of the companies I applied at.
“Jazz? Where the hell are you?”
“Downtown. Um, who is this?” If this is some scam they are well prepared, even know my name.
“Jake Rosenfeldt. We are trying to call you for ages already! Listen, it’s about your Mom…”
My heart beats painfully fast at his words, I only get half of it. Mom is in hospital after an accident. Mom is in hospital.
“Where exactly are you? I’m going to get you and take you to the hospital.”
“Scotty’s hardware,” I press out, my lips feel numb.
“I’m there in five. Don’t worry, okay? Everything will be alright.”
He hangs up and I stare at the screen. Everything will be alright? Yeah, I doubt that. Nothing was ever alright when Jake was involved.
“Mom!” I tackle her as soon as I spot her, so glad to see her not hanging on some machines, with wires and tubes and all the stuff that immediately pop up in my mind when I think ‘hospital’. Jake is hot on my heels, soaked from the short way from the car to the hospital.
“Mrs. Mann, how are you?”
“Jazzy-bee, hey…” Mom smiles at me dopily, her eyes flit around, unable to focus. Oh great, she’s high. “And Jakey… you’ve grown so handsome.”
“Okay, Mom, save the flirting for when I’m not around, okay?” I let go of her, scan her for injuries. Her left wrist is in a brace, her cheek is red. “What happened?”
“She fell,” Jake says from behind me. “Slipped in the kitchen and fell. Luckily Ben and I were at the house, discussing some things for the dinner party. Ben called an ambulance and I tried to find you.”
Thank goodness Ben was there. He’s so responsible, always keeps a cool head. A nurse comes over, tells me that Mom has a sprained wrist, a bruised rib and some minor bruises.
“We gave her something against the pain, especially the ribs will be unpleasant once the effect of the pain meds will fade. Make sure she’s not moving too much for the next few days. And she has to see a doctor in a week. Could you come and take care of the paperwork?”
I look back at Mom, but Jake nods quickly. “Go and take care of that. I stay here with her.” He turns to Mom, helps her up.
“Mrs. Mann, let’s put your raincoat on, we are taking you home now, okay?”
I follow the nurse, put my signature under some forms. The shiver running down my spine is not from the cold or the rain, but the thought of the dreaded bill this trip to the hospital will entail.
Mom and I sit in the backseat of Jake’s fancy car, only now I pay attention to it. Spacious, with leather seats. The rain is still drumming on the windows and roof, the sound gives me a headache. Mom dozes off and Jake drives smoothly, almost carefully. I can hardly see through the rain, shift and squirm in my seat. I never felt at ease around Jake, a deeply ingrained distrust based on many negative experiences makes me wary whenever I’m with him.
“That brings back some memories, huh?” I ask and draw patterns into the condensed fog on the window.
“What?” Our eyes meet in the rearview mirror, I hold his gaze until he looks back on the street.
“You getting me into hospital. You never took me home afterwards, though.”
“Oh come on, you make it sound as if I have assaulted you on a regular basis.” I can even hear his eyes rolling on the backseat.
“The coffee? The time you hit my head with a basketball? And most important, the pool incident.”
We stop at a red light, Jake drums with his fingertips on the wheel.
“You are good at bearing a grudge, aren’t you?” He stares at me through the mirror again, I tap my ear lightly.
“Sorry, I couldn’t hear you.” It’s funny how a small gesture always makes him clench his jaws.
At Mom’s place Jake parks his car, gives me a hand or two in the task of getting Mom in her hazy state upstairs. Only when the door is closed behind us and we somehow got Mom to bed I realize that it’s the first time Jake is in my childhood home.
“Thanks. You know, for helping me with her.”
He has dried mostly by now, but his hair is disheveled.
“Yeah, don’t sweat it. And since it was a work accident Dad will take care of the bill. Tell your Mom to take it easy, everything will be fine.”
I bite my bottom lip, too many cynical thoughts want to escape through my mouth. Instead I go for the safe bet.
“Can I get you something to drink? Coffee? Tea?”
“No, thanks. I better get going now. I want to tell Dad myself what happened.”
On his way out he keeps looking around, reminds me once again how shabby and old our furniture is, how small the whole apartment. It’s clean of course, but no amount of scrubbing and polishing can turn a piece of coal into a diamond.
“Oh man,” he stops in front of some pictures on the wall, “I remember that.”
He points to one that shows 16 year old me in my Sunday best, smiling so brightly that my retainers sparkle, while the headmaster of my school hands me an award for academic achievements.
“Your Mom was so proud of you. Made this cake and all that. Prepared a party for you in our garden.”
“Yeah, and after we were finished with the cake you spilled your soda all over my only good dress.” I tilt my head, squint at the picture. “You have a habit of spilling beverages on me.”
“Hey, that was an accident! Someone had shaken the bottle and when I opened it-“
“I remember very well what happened when you opened it, thanks. You know what? Might be better if you don’t drink anything when I’m around. I can’t afford new clothes.” I give him a pat on the back and steer him towards the door.
“Listen,” he turns to me before leaving, “I know we are not exactly on the best terms, but if you need anything, or your Mom does, just call me, okay? My number should be in your phone now.” He waits until I nod before he walks away. And I don’t even wait for him to be out of sight to close the door.
As expected Mom panics as soon as she sobers up.
“I can’t just sit here and twiddle my thumbs.”
“True, since one thumb is on your injured hand. Mom, you will only make it worse when you go back to work before you have completely recovered. And anyway, how do you want to work with only one hand? Don’t be silly.” I force her back on the couch, place a cup of tea in front of her. “And don’t get me started on your ribs. That’s not a joke.”
“But the preparations for the dinner party! There is still so much left to do,” she wails, flinches when she moves too fast.
“Someone else will have to do it then. Mom, you are working for the Rosenfeldts for years now and this is the first time you are really, really sick. They will have to deal with it somehow, your health comes first.” I’m quickly losing my calm, Mom is a terrible patient and I’m even worse as a nurse.
“What if they fire me now? What should I do? I need the money!”
And there it was again, the same old story she always brings when something happens.
“The mayor isn’t like that and you know it. Besides, it was an accident at your work place, if he fires you now you could still sue him.”
“I wouldn’t do that!” An outcry and she struggles to get to her feet, her face contorted in pain.
“Mom! Dammit, sit down and stop getting so worked up! I never said you should sue him, only pointed out that it’s a possibility. We both know that Mr. Rosenfeldt is a very nice man and I bet he’ll understand that you can’t work like this. He might have to hire a temp for the dinner party preparations.”
“But he said I would get a bonus for the additional work. And I really, really need that money.” She slumps down, eyes swimming with tears. Here’s hoping it’s an aftereffect of the meds. I don’t want to deal with her if she’s always like that.
“You always really, really need that money. Jake assured me that the mayor will take care of the bill, so it should be fine.” I sit down next to her, snuggle against her carefully.
“No, that’s not it…” She sounds so tired, looks so small, very different to her usual energetic self.
“Mom? What happened to your savings? You know, the emergency money you worked so hard for. Shouldn’t that be enough to put you at ease for now?”
She always told me that she wants at least a few hundred bucks for a rainy day and I always try to put a few dollars aside from every paycheck I get. It sums up after a while.
“Ah, yes… that money…”
I sit up straight, stare directly at her. “Mom?” Putting as much authority as I can muster as her daughter I try again. “Mom!”
“I invested it, okay? Can’t get hold of it right now.”
“You invested it? Your nest egg? The money you always said would make you sleep easier at night?” That sounds fake and I already have an inkling about the kind of investment. Or better, the recipient.
“Mom, when was the last time you talked to Dad?”
I love my Dad, he’s great. Very funny, laid-back, creative. But also completely incompetent when it comes to finances. He always has these huge dreams of great businesses only to run them into the abyss after half a year or so. He was Mom’s first love and she never got over him after he left us.
“He wants to buy a food truck!” she blurts out and I groan, my frustration wanting to make its way out of my body somehow.
“Mom! Why do you keep doing that? I mean, that’s what? – The fourth time? Fifth? – that he uses your savings to pull himself out of the mess he created?” Nothing holds me on the couch anymore, I pace the floor with big gestures, need to get rid of this restlessness.
“You are exaggerating,” she sniffles, sits straight but her eyes flit around, make it impossible for me to hold her gaze.
“I’m not. Last time it was almost 4000 bucks, for what? Oh yeah, his surfboard rental shop. You couldn’t get your car fixed for weeks and had to walk everywhere. Or when you couldn’t pay our rent because Dad put all your money into that stupid pub. And every time, every goddamned single time he fails miserably he moves into another town AFTER coming here to lick his wounds. I love him, heaven knows why, but I love you more, Mom. I can’t keep watching you giving him everything you have and getting nothing in return.”
Her serene smile grates on my nerves, fans my anger into a full-fledged rage.
“It’s not as if I get nothing in return. When you fall in love one day you will understand.”
I hate that phrase. Whenever I question Dad and his latest whim she tells me that I will understand once I fall in love myself. Is there a better way to scare your kid off love in general than living a love that’s destructive as the one between my parents? Who can’t be in the same room for more than five minutes without one of them yelling or crying? But they both swear that they still love the other – at least that’s what they tell me. Not each other.
“You know what? Every time you say that I’m glad that I’m single.”
I ignore her widely opened eyes and the hurt expression, rush out into the hallway in desperate need of space and fresh air. When I come back Mom has gone to bed already and that’s what I do, too.