When I open my eyes on Sunday morning I want to go right back to sleep. I will have to deal with my parents and with Sam today. Plus the dinner party and the mayor’s sons of course. Can’t forget about that.
“Rise and shine, sleeping beauty,” Migo yells from the kitchen. Someone’s chipper already, not sure if she slept at all. But I get it, first date jitters can go either way. Brimming with anticipation or throwing up because of nervousness, I had both already, and every shade in between.
“You kicking me out already?” My best puppy eyes and pout are lost on her, she pushes a cup of coffee into my hands, not even waiting until I got up so I snuggle under the blanket and sip hot coffee.
“Yep. You better buckle up and get your life back on track, Missie, because when I can take the leap so can you.”
She rummages through the kitchen, comes back with some cereals and milk in two bowls.
“Coffee and sugar, the perfect breakfast,” she announces and I scoot over so she can sit on the couch.
“How are you feeling?” Her gaze sweeps over me and seems to find nothing amiss since she quickly focuses her attention on her cereals.
“Better. Not ready to face the world, but yeah, not feeling like throwing up anymore.”
“I call that progress.”
Can’t argue with that and the first spoon full of cereals doesn’t make my stomach churn, so I slowly eat some more.
“You excited about later?” I ask between bites of slightly soggy wheat pops.
“I’m shitting my pants, but yeah, I wouldn’t cancel this for anything in the world. So you better not do something stupid because I won’t be picking up my phone.” An accusing finger hovers in front of my cereal-laden spoon and I nod slowly.
“Got it. No interruptions today.”
Satisfied with my answer she munches some more cereals and afterwards kicks me out – but gently.
With no other place to go now I trudge back to my Mom’s home. Dad’s food truck is parked outside and although I really dread facing them it’s what I have to do. Can’t leave Mom in the dark much longer.
Thank goodness for keys, at least I don’t have to ring the doorbell like some solicitor, trying to sell vacuum cleaners or the word of the Lord. It’s only 8am but Mom is already awake, puttering around in the kitchen as good as she can with that stupid brace on.
She turns around, gives me one of those withering looks as if I had forgotten to do the dishes again. Slightly annoyed, very tired, with a hint of anger.
“I tried to call you.”
“Yes, I saw. I needed some space and time to organize my thoughts first. I’m sorry if I worried you.”
No excuses, no running away.
“Oh no, that’s not even a good start, Missie. You better apologize to your father-”
“No.” I don’t even shout, but she recoils as if I have hit her.
“No, Mom. I love you, a lot, but you have to listen to me for once. And I mean really listen.”
She sets the whisk down, crosses her arms and looks at me. “Fine, I’m listening.”
With the attention of a glacier she listens, and all my bravado wavers. Until I glance through the door into the living room. The couch is empty, not even a pillow or a blanket there. Dad hasn’t slept in the living room, but his truck is still downstairs. I doubt he’s in the guest room either. My mind’s made up.
“Okay, so this is hard for me but I know it will be harder for you, so I just say it. Dad – he’s…” How in the world am I supposed to tell my mother this? Is there a greeting card for it? ‘Congrats, your douchebag of a still but not really husband has knocked up another girl half your age and fobbed both you and your child out of your savings?’ Signed and sent, done.
I fumble for words, unable to just say it. Should have rehearsed it beforehand.
“He’s lying to you, Mom. Do you ever ask him where he is when he’s not here? And with whom?”
Her arms uncross just for her to throw her hands up.
“This again? Honey, I trust your father.”
“But you shouldn’t. You really shouldn’t. He has someone else, and I think he only comes back here every now and then because he knows you won’t-”
“That’s enough. Jazz, I appreciate that you are worried about me, but whatever there is between Brad and me is private and has nothing to do with you.” The whisk is back in her hand, she starts scrambling some eggs.
“It’s not as private as you think. He has someone else.”
“Enough!” The bowl with egg mush clatters, Mom grabs the edge of the counter. But I can’t back down now.
“No, you promised to listen. I have talked to her, she’s actually really sweet but she thinks that Dad is divorced. And – Mom, she’s pregnant.” My throat is tight, I wish I could get a glass of water but Mom is blocking the sink. She washes her hands, grabs a towel with a serious expression.
“I don’t think you should meddle in someone else’s affairs.” Her voice is clear, hard. Like ice.
“Sorry, Mom, but it became my affair when he showed up at my place and asked me for money so he could provide for his new daughter. Asking his adult daughter for money so he could give his baby daughter what he couldn’t give me. Classy guy, really.”
The new information only slows her down for a second.
“Money? What money?”
“My money, Mom. All the money I saved ever since I knew what money was. All the extra dollars I made from working and being frugal to the point of it becoming almost obsessive, never spending money if I could avoid it somehow. All my savings, Mom, all the money I needed to feel a semblance of security. He took it all and promised that he would tell you about the baby and all, but what did he do? Get your money, too, buy a shitty food truck and not even offer really good food! I mean, that stew was bland!” That’s the last straw and she spins around to glare at me.
“So you knew about that other woman all the time and didn’t tell me? And now you come and make a scene because of money?”
“Oh sure, go and shoot the messenger, why don’t you? I was hoping Dad would have enough decency to stick to his promise and tell you what’s going instead of ripping you off, but yeah, be mad at me instead of the one causing this whole mess!”
She’s not the only one hurt by this, not the only one entitled to her anger.
“And after all the back and forth in your marriage ever since I was a kid, do you really think I would just come and tell you when I already know that you will alway, always give him the benefit of the doubt? God, you are so screwed up, no wonder I am unable to allow someone into my life.”
We are more or less screaming now, but I don’t care. I’m so sick of her always taking Dad’s side, always explaining all his failures away, smoothing over the lies and hurts.
“Don’t you dare blaming your commitment issues on me now! I worked my butt off so you had everything and-”
“That’s the point! Dammit, if you had kicked him out years ago you wouldn’t even had to work that hard! You would have been able to save up a bit, maybe take a break every now and then! Maybe pay some attention to your kid instead of only running off to cover another shift!”
It’s unfair to blame her for that, I know. She provided for me just fine, I never went hungry or naked. But I also always had to share her with the Rosenfeldt family.
“Out,” she hisses, a trembling finger pointing at the door.
“Fine!” I run into the guest room, grab my stuff, make sure to pack my laptop just in case Dad needs some extra money – he always does – and rush out. The tears don’t come until I’m around the corner, out of sight from any of her windows.
The thing about a crying woman in public, struggling with her luggage, is that most people are polite enough to ignore her. Ignore me. I keep sniffling, wipe my eyes and nose with my hand since I don’t even have a tissue. Pathetic.
Oh no. Oh. No. Not him, not today, not when I’m such a mess.
“Hey, are you okay?” A hand lands on my shoulder and I turn around.
“Do I look okay to you?” I snap at Ben, immediately regret it. Just because I’m angry and hurt doesn’t mean I can talk to him like that. In my mind I know this, but the rest of me refuses to leave the nice pit of self pity although my fingers are already wrinkly from soaking in it for too long.
“No, you actually look like you need some help. At least with that.” He points at my bags, reaches out for them. “Should I take that for you?”
Last night flashes up in my mind again, I want to curl up and not let him close, but then I remember that he has never been anything but nice to me.
“Yeah, sure. Thanks.” I take the tissue he offers me in exchange for my luggage, dry my cheeks and my nose.
“Where are you heading to?”
That’s a good question. I can’t go to Miho, or better, I don’t want to. But I also have no other place.
“Central station,” I quietly say. There are at least lockers for my stuff and I can leave right after the party tonight. I’m not ditching the dinner party, not after all the effort to find a nice dress. Besides, I have to talk to Jake. And since I’m already at it, with Ben. Not running away anymore.
“Why are you going there? You’re not leaving, are you?” Concern furrows his brow, darkens his handsome features.
“Not right now, no. But I – I planned to go home tomorrow. There are things I need to take care of, job hunt mostly.” His puppy eyes pierce right through my heart. Damned those dimples and hazel eyes!
“Oh. I was hoping you’d stay a bit longer. We barely had time to catch up and spend time with each other.”
Partly because his fiancée kept us apart, but I don’t say that out loud.
“Yeah, but I couldn’t know you would want that when I planned my stay here, could I?” Our banter lacks lightheartedness though. And genuity.
“So, what are you going to do today? I mean, you’re still coming to the party, right?”
“Yeah, I will. Until then… I don’t know, probably just killing some time.”
He walks silently a few steps before his face lights up again.
“If you have no other plans, how about coming with me? I’m off to baseball practice and I think you would like it.”
It’s not as if I have anything better to do but it takes almost a block of him trying to convince me before I say yes.
And it turns out to be the right choice. It’s not High School baseball, it’s a Little League team, boys and girls around seven or eight. They are enthusiastic and energetic, albeit chaotic. Still, they make me feel better with their fresh faces and softball jerseys. In the end everyone gets a snack and a softdrink, proud moms and dads come to pick them up. Some even come to talk to me, want me to join them for a game.
Once everybody is gone I help Ben picking up the balls and bats, equipment strewn across the field and the benches.
“You are good with kids. Very patient,” I say and hand him a kid’s bat.
“Thanks. I hope you had fun. The kids like you.”
Of course, probably because I’m hardly taller than them.
“They were great. A bit rowdy maybe, and definitely loud enough for me to hear even without hearing aids.” I brush my hair behind my ears, stretch a bit. “But thanks, that was a great idea.” The energy of the kids, the sun and the fresh air cleared my head a bit, if not my heart. I did the right thing, telling Mom. Should have done this sooner, but in person was the right choice. Despite the yelling and that she kicked me out. From now on she has to see what she does with the information, I did my part. At some point my heart and guilty conscience will get the memo, too.
“Hey, you wanna go and grab something to eat? There’s no lunch at Dad’s today, the kitchen is swarming with catering staff.” He directs his sunny smile at me, no filter or place for me to hide.
My stomach churns, anxiety and excitement battling for dominance. And hunger.
“Come on, Jayjay, we could get just a sandwich or burger.”
And a tall glass of water. I’m just too thirsty.
“Hey, why do you keep calling me Jayjay? Sounds a bit – I don’t know, silly now that I’m grown up.”
“Huh.” He scratches the back of his neck, the adorable crease between his eyebrows. And just like that I’m not grown up, I’m a lovestruck teenager again, speechless, with weak knees.
“I guess I just like to call the people I care about something else than everyone else does. Like with my brother.”
I never heard him call Jake anything else but his name. “What do you call him?”
“Jerkface.” He laughs, good-natured and without malice.
“You guys really get along, huh?” Despite the obvious differences between them, I never saw them argue either. Unless Jake did something that harmed others. Mostly me.
“Yeah, I mean, he’s my brother. I can’t say I’m always happy with all of his stunts, but at the end of the day he has my back and I got his. No questions asked.”
“So it’s more ride than die.” Sometimes I’m sad that I don’t have a brother or a sister, maybe they could have helped with the whole Mom disaster.
All the baseball equipment is stored away in some shed, Ben acts like he always does. Friendly, polite, a buddy.He’s even back to carrying my luggage. And I follow him like a sheep, it’s easier than thinking myself.
Until my phone rings. Miho.
“Sorry, I have to take this.”
“Sure thing, go ahead.”
I take a few steps away from him, answer the phone.
“Where are you?”
“Right now? Uh, at the baseball park.” Did I forget something? Did something wrong?
“Okay, you gotta haul ass and get over here. I have a clothing related problem and I need your help.”
“Oh god, please don’t tell me he tied you to the bed with a satin tie and somehow knocked himself out and now you can’t get free anymore.”
The short moment of silence gives me the chance to recapitulate my words.
“I think we have to talk about some of the things you do in your free time one day, but right now is not the time.” She’s serious, and so I turn back to Ben, shrug at him.
“Sure, if it’s that urgent I will be there in-” a quick glance at my watch follows “-15 minutes, tops.”
“Good, clock’s ticking.” She hangs up, not aware of my bewilderment or she simply doesn’t care.
“Sorry, something came up, I have to go and help a friend.”
“Is this one of those faked emergency calls? Because it would wound me deeply if you would ditch me here and not even tell me why.” He tilts his head, a silent prompt for me to say the truth.
“No, it’s real. Miho Fujiwara. We hang out all the time since I’m back and she just had a date so I guess something went either really bad or incredibly well.”
“So it’s nothing I did, right?”
I assure him that nothing he did today could make me fake an emergency call and he offers me to take me to Miho’s place by car. I’m ringing her doorbell after less than ten minutes.
I halfway expect her to welcome me in a satin robe, overly dramatic with a cocktail in her hand. The robe was a good guess, but it’s cotton and an unflattering grey, probably once white before too many rounds in the washing machine dyed it its current color.
“What took you so long?” she grumbles and I follow her into her bedroom, shocked by the sight of what seems to be an exploded closet. Clothes are strewn everywhere, blouses, pants, dresses, skirts. Even a few Halloween costumes.
“What happened here?!”
“I told you I need help.” Unladylike she plops down on her bed, sends a few pieces of clothes towards the floor in a small avalanche.
“Yeah, but that could mean anything from ‘I can’t choose between the red and the blue dress’ to ‘help me lace up my leather corset’.”
At least one piece of clothes I haven’t seen lying around here. Yet.
“Jared asked me to be his date for this dinner thing and I have no idea what to wear. Something with his business partners, but everyone can bring dates.”
“You are moving fast.” I pick up a nice lavender dress but Miho shakes her head before I can even say a thing.
“That doesn’t fit anymore.”
“It’s easy to get lost in this heap of fabric so we put back the things she rules out from the start, slowly fill her closet until the floor is visible again.
“I like that blue one,” I point at a dark blue shift dress. “Do you know what he’s going to wear?”
“A suit, I guess.” Hey eyes glass over briefly, I can practically see the inappropriate thoughts running through her head.
“Yeah, figured. I mean what color.” Although matching outfits might be a bit much at this point.
“No clue. Should I ask him?”
“Nah, it’s not the prom. You just pick something you like and feel good in.”
“The burgundy one?” The dress she shows me is nice, but unspectacular.
“No. It should be classy and wha-wha-whoom enough to make his head explode.” I throw a black one towards her. “Try this on.”
While I’m looking for matching shoes she throws it over, turns her back to me so I can zip her up.
“Put a push-up bra on and he won’t be able to walk straight.”
“It’s a classic. Get some colorful accessory, a bag maybe or a shawl. You’re looking like a million dollar and a million reasons to do stupid things.” She’s still turning this and that way in front of the mirror when I’m handing her a pair of strappy heels with some crystals on them. “And paint your toenails red. That’s going to be fantastic.” A dash of color, still classy though.
“Mhmm… yeah, I think that’ll work.” Satisfied she nods, tells me to unzip her again. “Don’t want the dress to get dirty, do we?”
“Not sure. What are you planning?” I lazily throw the remaining clothes on a pile on the bed, my job here is done.
“I’m hungry. Lunch?” Dressed in a light shirt and some shorts Miho ignores the mess and rushes into her tiny kitchen.
“Hungry? You just come from a brunch date!”
“Don’t be silly, I didn’t really eat there.” Her head in the fridge she tsks at me.
“Of course, because you gotta keep up appearance and a girl that eats in presence of a guy is lacking self control.” I trudge after her, take the things she hands me.
“What? Nah, not because of that.” A box with cheese in her hands she turns back to me. “I was – a bit nervous, okay? Could hardly eat, but now I’m starving.”
Fine with me, I haven’t had lunch either so we make some omelets and a salad, lounge on her couch with our plates.
“How was your talk with your Mom?”
And there goes my appetite.
“Loud. And unfair. Both sides, I guess.” I poke at my omelet, push some mushrooms over the plate.
“I hate the idea that your father gets away with this. Should we jam a potato into the exhaust of his truck?”
The idea paints pretty pictures in my mind, but I shake my head.
“Nah, that won’t bring back my money or Mom’s dignity. Plus, it might force him to stay here longer. And I definitely don’t want to give him an excuse for that.”
Begrudgingly she impales a cherry tomato, stares at it long and hard.
“We could go and throw salt into his stew.”
“That would only make it better.”
Giggling like some school girls we plot petty acts of revenge and by the time my plate is empty I’m laughing again. I have to learn to simply let some things go in life, holding grudges won’t help me on the long run. If that also applies to the biggest grudge I hold I cannot say, not yet.
“Will you stay here again tonight?”
I blink, only now emerging back from my drifting thoughts.
“I don’t know. I mean, I already ruined your date last night, I don’t want Jared to hate me. Or you.”
Miho snorts, sets her plate on the coffee table.
“I never said I would stay here, too. I can just give you a key and spend the night at his place if I want to.”
It sounds more tempting than spending god knows how many hours at the station, waiting for the first train out of town.
“If it’s really not too much to ask…”
“I wouldn’t offer if it was. So stop being so humble, it’s no big deal.”
It’s cute how prickly she acts while doing the sweetest things.
“You are aware that you keep checking your phone every five seconds by now, aren’t you?”
She’s right, my phone hasn’t left my hands for anything but eating so far.
“Still waiting for Sam to call me. We have agreed that I shouldn’t be the one reaching out first, because Sam’s schedule can be really hectic and erratic. Responsible job and all.”
“Sounds like a great guy. Good job, principles and not afraid of commitment.”
“Yeah, what is someone like that doing with someone like me?” For a while I almost managed to push the nervousness aside, the nagging voice telling me to give up and move on, I’m no match for Sam anyway.
“Well, as far as I can tell he’s in love with you or he wouldn’t have asked you to move in with him.”
But why can’t I simply accept that and say yes? Move in with Sam and have a happy life?
Without an answer for that question I unlock my phone only to find no messages or missed calls.
“I’m not sure that’s even an option anymore.”
“Well, in that case you still have Ben and Jake up your sleeve.” Miho screeches when I hit her with the pillow, but she definitely deserves it. And she gives as good as she takes.