my little piece of home
'she's a mess', her dresser drawers whisper
'most of the time, and when she cares
to clean, it's done in a rush.'
pens are scattered on her desk, some
uncapped. some are completely dry.
she forgets to fold clothes, so they
sit in the bottom of her hamper
until she remembers a week
she's trying to get better at it. believe her,
she knows she's a human tornado.
sometimes she feels like her world is held together
by stray Extra gum wrappers and puffy stickers from
but she'll make it through.
Minnie didn't get up this morning, I think.
I didn't hear the clomp of her work shoes against the stairs, which usually gets louder as she's heading to the kitchen. I also don't hear the smooth swish of her work skirt, the one with the poodle in the corner. I wake up at seven thirty, as per usual. I stay in bed, still waiting for those familiar sounds. Half an hour later, I still don't hear them. I finally get up and head to the kitchen myself. I'm surprised to see my dad and Minnie sitting at the kitchen table. Minnie's wearing one of my t-shirts as her pajamas. It comes just barely past her knees. It's one of my favorite ones. It's a light green color, with a giant drawing of a sea turtle on it. A mug of tea is set in front of both of them. Both mugs are steaming. My dad is still in his robe - it's a ratty old plaid thing that belongs in the garbage. They don't notice me right away. So I just stand in the doorway and listen to their quiet conversation.
"Grandpa, I said that Denny and I are figuring it out. His family is super..you know.." Minnie trailed off.
"Religious? I know the whole story, Minnie, believe me. But I'm not gonna let some god-fearing Christians coerce you into keepin' a kid you clearly can't keep." My dad was looking her squarely in the eye.
"Then why did you let me keep Minnie?" I blurted out. They both turn to look at me. Minnie looks like what people call a deer in headlights. My dad just looks tired. But not the sort of tired that people look like when they just wake up. It's a different kind that I can't completely read.
"Because, Adam," My dad says. His voice is hoarse. "I gave into Christian guilt. Wendy's mother wouldn't take no for an answer, and when I tried to reason with her, she would spit Bible passages at me. But times have changed. Minnie's a smart kid who deserves a future."
I hate getting angry, especially in the morning. Now that I think of it, I've been angry since yesterday afternoon.
"I was a smart kid, too. I deserved a future. I gave it up to raise her." I look over at Minnie, who looks down at her bare feet.
"Adam, please." My dad runs his fingers through his hair and mutters something else I can't hear under his breath. "Try to be flexible here."
Flexible? I'm plenty flexible. I let out a little scoff, but it's more like a cough, and I head into the living room, where I left my copy of The Great Gatsby. I just made it halfway through before going to bed. I feel worse for Nick now. Gatsby's getting ready to meet Daisy again after years without seeing her, and he's acting like a total maniac. Nick might be a maniac too, going along with Gatsby's scheme. I don't think I really like him anymore.
Footsteps follow after me. A throat clears.
"I'm sorry, Dad." Minnie says. Her voice is shot. It barely goes above a whisper.
I bristle. I want to turn to tell her to buzz off. This was her problem, and she still has an easy way out. I don't say anything and I don't turn around. Her footsteps fall away. i hear the stairs start to groan, and her door click shut.
"..Don't you go and see Doctor Eaton today?" I feel my dad's hand settle on my shoulder. I bristle even more.
"I see her on Tuesdays - or at least I used to." I mutter.
"What?" My dad sounds incredulous. I don't blame him. I've been seeing Doctor Eaton since I was six years old.
"She's retiring." I reply.
"..Shit." My dad grumbles. "You're kidding."
I tuck my book under my arm and shuffle out the front door to the porch. There's a rocking chair in the corner. The seat is made of woven, wooden strips. As I sit down, I catch a glimpse of KE. He's leaning over the railing of his own porch, staring out at the morning sky - it's a mix of light reds and pinks and oranges. He's wearing an expensive looking robe, a velvety-purple one. His hair is perfectly combed in a side part. His glasses are at the tip of his nose.
I don't really know why I call out to him, but I do.
"Good morning," My voice is shaky, and it cracks, but I get it back to normal pretty quickly. He turns to face me, and smiles.
"Morning." KE gives me a little wave, and points. I realize that he's pointing to my book. "Some morning reading, huh?"
"Yeah. The Great Gatsby." I take it out from under my arm and look at the cover. TJ Eckleburg's eyes stare back at me.
"Classic." KE laughs. "Well, I won't bother you anymore. It was nice talking to you.." He trails off, still looking at me. I fill in the gap.
"Adam. Adam Roberts." I sound a little like James Bond, and I smile.
"Knox. Knox Eaton." He replies. "I just moved here from just outside of Boston. I'm taking over my aunt's practice."
KE - That stands for Knox Eaton. My new therapist. The one who likes to dress formally and wears round glasses, and eats Indian food regularly, once a week.
"Oh." I say, and turn around to go inside.
My therapist, my new therapist is my next door neighbor. This has to breech some sort of law.
I have to go to the library. They're sure to have something about it.
Minnie comes home at six o'clock sharp. She's always been a punctual person, and today is no different. I hear her car as it rolls into the driveway. It's a little red Volkswagen, sort of like Doctor Eaton's. My dad got it for her sixteenth birthday as a gift, but also as a 'thank you' for letting him move in her bedroom. He was tired of living by himself. I was happy to let him stay with me; he deserved after spending the first two thirds of his life raising me. That, and he was faithful to Mom, even after she died. He never remarried.
I'm sitting with my dad on the living room couch, reading a book I picked up at the library. I've decided to give all of my medical tomes a break and try to find enjoyment in a book that follows an actual narrative. It's one I remember vaguely reading in ninth grade. The Great Gatsby. I remember not liking most of it. I thought Daisy and Gatsby were shallow, Tom was an ass, and Jordan was unimportant. The only people I really felt for were George and Nick. George lost his wife, and Nick had to sit back and watch everything happen. He just wanted to have a nice, quiet vacation and got dragged into a mess he didn't want to get dragged into.
I was enjoying myself, and the silence I'd created by wearing my headphones. For my birthday, Minnie had gotten me some soundproof ones, ones that weren't made of little foam sponges. I can change the settings on them if I want to; I lower the sound-proofing setting when Minnie wants to ask me a question, and I turn it up when my dad starts snoring.
The front door opens. I lower the setting on my headphones.
Minnie and Denny's voices cross over the threshold first. They're arguing.
"..I need to tell them, Denny. I..I just have to." Minnie's voice is shaking.
"Hon, why can't you just hold off for a moment? You haven't even taken three tests yet. The website said you should take three tests before we know for sure." His voice seems just as shaky, but it's hard to hear over the sound of the TV. My dad's practically glued to the thing, watching another rerun of All in The Family, a show that's even older than I am.
Minnie tries to say something, but she bursts into tears. I slip my headphones down so that they sit around my neck. I set down my book facedown on the armchair of the couch, and shuffle into the front hall - it's connected to the living room, so it's not a far walk.
Denny and Minnie are still in their work uniforms. Minnie's face is buried in his tee shirt, which is covered in a blur of orange, red, and green splotches. His hair has fallen back into its usual stringy clumps. It could really use some brushing.
He's running a hand through Minnie's hair, and trying to shush her with comforting words. "Alright, honey. It's alright. Everything's gonna be fine." He looks up and sees me. His clear green eyes go wide.
"Hey, Adam." He says softly. He smiles at me, but its fake, I think. "How are you?"
"Good." My throat goes tight. I feel my brows knit together. I start to feel angry again. I thought those feelings had gone away earlier, but I thought wrong.
I watch as Minnie lifts her face to look at me. She goes pale, and then turns green. She pushes away from Denny, and tears down the hall to the bathroom. I hear her retch, and retch, and retch.
"What is that noise?" My dad tromps into the front hall, looking disgruntled, as usual.
I slip my headphones back over my ears as Denny rushes after Minnie. He stands in the bathroom door, looking helpless. I turn down the noise setting, and tell my dad that Minnie's sick. He runs a weathered hand through his thick, greying hair.
"Well, I suppose I could make some chamomile tea to help settle her stomach. Let me just get out the kettle."
Minnie pauses to hack and cough, and then she starts retching again. I turn up the noise setting on my headphones and let myself sink back into silence. It's the only thing keeping me from melting down, sometimes.
Minnie stays in the bathroom for hours just throwing up. She usually eats like a bird. I didn't think so much vomit could stew in a person's stomach, but Minnie's living proof of otherwise. Denny stays right next to her the whole time, or at least I think he does. He was kneels by Minnie's side, rubbing her back in circles. He had his hair pulled back in a ponytail, and had used a grimy looking rubber band to keep it up. His leather jacket was crumpled and wrinkled into a little black mass, and was laid askew, right near the brass foot of the antique bathtub that's shoved in the corner of the already-cramped space. Me and my dad tried to get it out of there once. It turned out that it was bolted to the floor. My dad had tried to make her tea, but he ended up drinking it. He made himself comfy again and reclaimed his spot on the couch, which was, of course, right in front of the TV.
"Dad," I put down The Great Gatsby and take off my headphones. I looked at the mug in his hand, coils of steam billowed from the lip. "That's supposed to be for Minnie."
My dad grimaces. "She'll just upchuck it." He lifts the mug to his lips and takes a sip. He lets out a little sigh as the liquid slides down his throat. "That's some good stuff."
"That's supposed to be for Minnie." I say again, but he doesn't seem to care. I reach out to grab the mug, but he pulls it back towards him.
"Dad, please. You said you would make it for her. You're being rude." I know that he knows that. He smirks at me and takes another sip. Minnie coughs again, for the last time, I hope. And I'm right. Denny helps her to her room. About half an hour later, I hear his heavy footfalls come back down the hall towards the living room. He pokes his head in the door. He gives me a tired, weary smile and waves.
"I think I'm gonna head out. " He tells me.
"Alright." My dad replies for me. "If I were you, Dennis, I would drop by the pharmacy and pick up a few packs of Pampers. You're gonna need them eventually."
Denny's mouth drops open. He lets out a little noise, a strangled sound before words start coming out. "Sir, I-I'm..Minnie and I are-"
"Figuring it out, I know. Now scram." My dad waves him off.
Denny leaves without a word. I smile at my dad. He smiles back.
"I think I can forgive the whole tea thing now." I tell him.
"Uh-huh." My dad chuckles. "You always come around, Adam."
The walk home is longer than I would have wanted, but that's only because I chose to walk really slowly through Leester's downtown. It's not really much, but I've noticed that it's become more modernized as the years have gone on. Like, for instance, there's the diner that Minnie works at, The Zip. It's meant to look retro, like its supposed to be on the set of Grease. It's got these overstuffed, cushiony red booths that don't really let you sit down because of how springy they are, pictures of every music icon ever hanging on every square inch of the walls. Vinyl records are plastered to the ceiling. It's like sitting in a moving time capsule.
If that's not enough, the waiters and waitresses have to dress like they're from the fifties. The guys have to slick back their hair with hair gel that hardens after awhile, and wear leather jackets. The girls have to keep their hair up with silky ribbons and wear poofy hoop skirts that make them look like cake toppers. I look into the giant picture window that lets the people walking by peer inside. I see Minnie sitting at the one of the stools at the counter, fastening a little ribbon to her work shirt since she can't wear it in her hair. It's still too short. Below the ribbon is her name tag, that says that she's the manager in big bold letters. Her light blue skirt billows out around her skinny frame, giving her the silhouette of a feather duster. She swivels around to face the window, and I see that she's holding something in her hands. It's long and skinny. She stares at it with tears that are bubbling in her eyes. She closes them and the tears spill down her cheeks. Denny, who's got a comb in one hand and his leather jacket in the other, comes up behind her. His eyes go wide when he sees what's in her hand. He drops the comb and jacket and wraps his muscular arms around her as she cries.
I want to go inside. I want to ask what's wrong. But I'm still mad at her, and I still don't like Denny, but he''s trying to comfort her, and that's good. The door to the restaurant opens, and in walks a man, a tall, skinny guy with butter yellow hair that's brushed into a side part. He has a long, skinny face, and round glasses that make his eyes look twice as big as they should. He makes his way to the counter and picks a greasy looking paper bag from the lineup that's sitting there.
He's probably already paid through his phone. He unrolls the top of the bag and peers inside. His thin lips turn up into a smile. He rolls up the bag again, and heads out the door with a little spring in his step. He bounds past me, and I wait until he's a few steps in front of me before I start walking again. I glance at the window, and Minnie is gone.
I notice that the man is wearing a blue blazer, which would be nothing special, if not for the fact that the back was emblazoned with cursive cut-outs of what I could guess were his initials. KE.
Was it a bold fashion choice? Maybe. Who was I to critique someone else's fashion sense? I wear the same thing every day, except for Tuesdays, which we all know pretty well by now. I quicken my pace. KE doesn't seem to notice that anyone's behind him. We make our way down the whole street, until we come to a crosswalk. I round the curb, and KE follows suit.
We pass a couple of other shops, all of them are high-end-looking. KE stops to take a look at some of the handmade dresses that clothe the mannequins in the window of one specific shop. His gaze lingers there for a moment, but he starts off once again. Soon, we're out of town, and in a neighborhood, my neighborhood. We make a few turns, and we're on my street.
He's heading toward my home. I feel my breathing pick up.
KE'S pace slows as he comes upon the front walkway to the house next to mine, the one that's been for sale for ages. His shoes squelch against the grass as he uproots the FOR SALE sign from his front lawn. He's still holding his greasy lunch from The Zip. He grins to himself, before noticing me. He nods at me.
"Hey, neighbor." His voice is reedy and nasally. I try not to cringe at the sound.
I don't say anything.
KE frowns and he nods again. He tucks the sign under his arm, still holding the bag, mind you, and tromps up his front steps. I do the same, and lock my door behind me. I don't know why, but I don't like that guy, who I guess is my neighbor now.
Today is just unfolding to be not-so-good, I've decided, and of course today just has to be Red Sweater Day.
thinking of yourself as anything other than a human takes away the pain of reality.
according to my own disillusioned reality, i'm a galaxy. pieces of me are scattered
across the sky, each a bright, hot reminder of my past, my present, and eventual future;
then there are the meteors, that i hope will stay lightyears away from my molten core.
it's fragile, and spiteful, and ungraceful, and everything in between.
let's leave behind the celestial talk and bring it down to Earth. maybe i'm a molehill,
made of the ashes of fallen mountains. the bootsoles of a hiker don't acknowledge my
existence. i'd turn to mud afterwards, maybe, after a few days of heavy rain.
i'd trickle down to a tiny stream that runs through the forest, clear and bright, and
then i would become water, filtering through young mouths and fingers alike.
then i would finally be useful to someone until i turn up dry.
Doctor Eaton's waiting room is warm and cozy. There's a leather couch in the corner. The cushions are cracked and peeling, revealing the soft, yellow insides. I plop down on it, and settle in. It smells like home. Next to the couch, there's a bookshelf that's full of thick textbooks. I pull out the one I always read. It's a old copy of Gray's Anatomy. I know it's outdated, but I don't really care. It's fascinating, and it never fails to amaze me every time I read it. Sometimes when Minnie isn't home, I like to look at myself in the mirror, trace the muscles and bones in my face, and whisper them to myself. I roll up my sleeves and trace the muscles in my arm, naming the muscles and bones there, too.
I know that book forwards and back. It's the one thing that makes sense to me. I just wish it had a chapter on the mental side of things, specifically how daughters work. Minnie doesn't seem to like me all that much anymore. The door to Doctor Eaton's office opens. She's an old lady now. She's short and round, and she wears colorful tunics that are covered with patterns, like polka dots, stripes and plaid. Today's she's wearing a light yellow dress with a soft beige cardigan on top. A smile is on her round face.
"Hello, Adam." She sounds sweet, like she always does. But something seems off.
"Hello, Doctor Eaton." I reply, returning her smile. I walk into her office, and make myself comfy in her easy chair. The fabric that its covered in seems scratchy when you look at it, but it's not. It's a nice surprise, really. And I don't like surprises. Doctor Eaton settles in the swivel chair by her desk, and turns to face me. Her chubby legs swing out in front of her as she stops in front of me. She pushes her thick-lensed glasses up her nose and taps her pen against the yellow pad in her lap. "How were things this week, Adam?"
"Good." I say. "I went to the library the day after I saw you. I got a few anatomy textbooks. There were some kids that were being loud in the computer area, so I headed to the diner to get my reading done. Denny always has pancakes for me. I think he's trying to get me to like me better since he's Minnie's boyfriend. I still don't like him, though." My gaze shifts to a giant photo on her wall, it's of Machu Picchu.
"And why don't you like him?' Doctor Eaton asks.
"He's not all that smart, and he's always kissing her. He can't keep his hands to himself."
"Well, that's how young love works. Remember how you and Wendy were?"
"Yeah, except I wasn't a meathead." I retort. I cross my arms over my chest. My back goes rigid.
Dr. Eaton's coral-colored lips spread even wider as she laughed. I smile, too.
"Oh, Adam. Of course you weren't. You've grown into a fine young man." My gaze floats back over to her, but not her face. It's her forehead. It's quite wrinkly now. Her eyebrows knit together into one fluffy line.
"That's why I'm sorry to tell you I'm retiring."
"What?" My gaze snaps to meet her watery blue eyes that are ringed with the frames of her wide, round glasses. "Why? You're not dying, I don't think. But you're old-older, I mean. Like me. I'm thirty-three now. Minnie is eighteen."
Doctor Eaton's smile becomes small, but it doesn't go away. "I've watched you grow, Adam, along with all of my other patients. But I've decided, and it wasn't an easy decision to make, that I have to start focusing on my husband, my children, and my grandchildren, of course."
I didn't understand for a moment. Doctor Eaton went home every single night to her husband, children, and grandchildren. She drives there in her little yellow Volkswagen, with the dreamcatcher that hangs from her rearview mirror. I have to use my masking techniques. I nod.
"I get it. Family, kids..they come first." I know how weak my voice sounds. "So, who's going to take your place? Or am I going to have to go..to the hospital?" I feel myself flinch. My hands curl up into fists. My breathing gets a little quicker.
I hate the hospital. I hate it, hate it. They didn't understand how people on the spectrum work, and chances are they still don't because the people there don't want to understand people like me.
Doctor Eaton sets her soft, pudgy hand on mine. Her fingers are painted a soft shade of red, one that almost matches the color of my sweater. "You're going to meet someone new. He's my nephew. He just finished his undergrad in psychology at Brandeis, and seemed to show interest in taking you on as a patient."
A pool of questions seep into my brain. The rest of our session is a back and forth of questions about her nephew. I learn his name is Knox Eaton, which I think is a funny name, but I don't laugh at it. I learn he's fond of looking formal for every occasion, and his favorite color is blue, or maybe red. Doctor Eaton can't remember. He's tall, abnormally tall, and he wears round glasses, like his aunt. He likes Indian food. We don't have a lot of that here in Leester, but I can respect someone who has a refined palette. I like soft, mushy things. Like pears, and oatmeal with brown sugar on top.
Our session closes with the soft buzzing of her smartphone alarm. She stands, and smooths out the front of her dress. She looks at me again and holds her arms out for a hug. I usually don't like hugs, not even ones from Minnie, or my dad. But when I feel Doctor Eaton's arms wrap around me, I feel some sort of comfort. a warm glow starts up in my belly, and it stays in there when I walk out to the sidewalk in front of the clinic. My daughter is sitting in the drivers' seat of Denny's truck - specifically, in his lap. The truck shaking because of the bass that's blaring from the inside speakers. She's changed out of her sweater- she's wearing a light pink sundress with straps that have slipped down her shoulders. Denny's got one hand in her hair, fingers working their way through her short, cropped locks. He's got the other on her thigh. Minnie doesn't seem to mind. She just keeps on kissing his thick neck.
I remember the five dollars in my pocket Minnie gave me. I take it out and crumple it it in my fist. I head over to the truck, which is still rattling about. I knock on the window. It gets Minnie's attention. Her hair sticks up. Her lipstick is smudged around her lips. She tries to pull up on her dress strap as she reaches for the button that lowers down her window. It rolls down, and I get a clear look at her face without the glass in front of it. Her cheeks are red.
I hope it's from embarrassment.
"Daddy, I'm-- how was your session with Doctor Eaton?" Her voice is shaky. Denny sits up in his seat and runs a hand through his stringy red hair. His squared face is completely pink, right up to the tips of his ears. I give him my best stern look. He raises his brows in confusion. I thrust Minnie's five dollars at her.
"I'd rather walk." I say. My voice is sharp. I can tell it surprises Minnie. Her eyes go wide.
I turn away before she can say anything else.
it's crazy as to how quickly a snippet of your world can be captured with only the shutter of a camera lens.
case and point; my first birthday. my dress was something i would not have chosen, if i had a say in
the matter. it's was a pile of pink tulle, that's edged with delicate lace. on my head is a wayward cardboard party
hat, with Clifford the Big Red Dog on it.
(the theme song to that show still slaps, by the way.)
fast forward, and pause. first school photo. i'm wearing my favorite red dress under a bright orange jumper. this is the first time i was allowed to pick out an outfit on my own, mind you. don't laugh, please.
yes, i know how long my bangs were. i looked like Samara from The Ring if she was raised in a nuclear family unit.
(that would make for an interesting movie, in my personal opinion)
flash, pause, no fast forward. fast forward - just..give me the fucking remote.
oops, let's not get caught up in the waves of middle school. and don't let your head go under. the water, it's so bitter and dark. it takes ages of rising out with Listerine before you can even start to get the taste out.
let's focus on now; the moment, the present. i've learned to smile with meaning again, and my world is pieced together by thrifted sweaters, my running sneakers with the soles that are practically falling off, and my Spotify playlist.
i hope i can stretch this snippet to the end of the world and back.
but hope is too strong of a word to use when riding the waves of life.
my childhood is plagued in an atrociously beautiful mess of colors.
raspberry red reminds me of the slide on my elementary school's playground; it was the holy grail, to be quite honest. lines would stretch all the way to the monkey bars. they were a bright neon orange that attracted kids it to like they were flit-flit-flitting moths loop-de-looping towards a florescent porch light. some walked away from those bars with pinkened scrapes and some walked away with their arms in makeshift splints. the swings were a treat. if you got high enough in the air, you could taste the sugar droplets of the clouds above. the sweetness always melted on your tongue.
then we all grew up, and we planted our roots in the pavements about our high school. we all mellowed out, and fell into the crashing waves of sophomores, juniors and seniors. we blended and blurred until we were even unrecognizable to each other. my world is now pastel yellows, beiges and greens.
but i'll never forget the rainbow of my memories. i'll hold them dear, but only at arm's length.
Minnie's listening to those same autotuned songs on the car ride over to my therapists' office. I can't tell them apart. It's like they're rotating, with no distinguishable end or beginning. But still, she sings along anyways. Her lips form a tiny pink O as she does so. She nudges my shoulder, and I don't know what she wants. I just shrug deeper into my already-snug sweater, that itches and itches, but I'm wearing it for her, and she's doing the same thing for me.
She frowns. The O she made out of her lips flattens into a little pink line. "..Okay. Sorry for..um, well, you know." Her gaze focuses back on the road. But I don't know. What is it that I should know that I don't?
"What do you mean?" I make eye contact with her. Well, really, it's her ear. A little gold hoop is stuck in the lobe. I know a matching one is in her other ear.
"I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable." She says. She's annoyed. I can tell by her tone. Doctor Eaton helped me realize people's feelings with body queues and vocal tones. "I know that you don't like to sing."
"I like silence." I answer back, hoping to start conversation. Instead, Minnie reaches up a hand to the car radio, and switches it off with a twist of a big blue knob. I stare at her again. That wasn't the response I was hoping for, but I really wasn't lying when I said I liked silence. I look out the window as we drive out of our little neighborhood, one with squat little houses that all look identical to each other, but vary in terms of color. Our little house is white, with dark green shutters and window boxes. I think Minnie might have put flowers in them before, but she forgot about them. They turned to little brown nubs by the time summer rolled around.
Little houses soon turn to strips of shops. Some have been here since I was a little kid, and some are brand new. I don't like new things very much. Change is something that I've never dealt well with. The best example I can come up with is when Minnie was born. I was in the waiting room of St. Arthur's Hospital, the only one in the county-area. My dad was sat with me in the waiting room, smoking a cigarette even though he wasn't supposed to. The sign outside the entrance said so, and I told him that. He didn't care. He was a man who didn't take care of himself, but he took good care of me after Mom died, so he expected me to do the same for Minnie.
On the other side of me was Wendy Terren's mom, a lady who always dressed in colors that were too bright. I remember that she was wearing tight neon yellow leggings, that she'd decided to wear with a loose pink tunic and turquoise high heels that clicked against the linoleum floor. She had her blonde hair up in a messy bun. It looked like a birds' nest on her head. She would stare at me, and I would stare back. It was hours before a nurse told us the baby had been born, and she was waiting for us in the nursery. My dad led me to the nursery window. Wendy's mom followed, her heels still clicking against the floor. I covered my ears - it was getting hard to stand.
Once we got to the window, all three of us peered into it, looking for the little girl who was supposed to be mine. My dad spotted her first. She was in the middle of the first row, in a little plastic box like all the others. She was wrapped in a little pink blanket and wore a little yellow hat.
"She has my Wendy's nose." Mrs. Terren let out a hearty laugh. "That sweet little button nose."
"She's got your hair, Adam." My dad said, resting a hand on my shoulder. "Look at it, just peeking out from under her cap." He smiled for the first time that day.
I blink, and we're parked in front of my therapist's office. It's in a tony storefront that's right in between a flower shop and a bookstore. Both are closed. I look over at Minnie, and she's faced away from me, looking out her own window.
"Hey," I say. I undo my seatbelt and reach over to touch her. I press my fingertips to the little pink heart on her collar.
"I love you." The words always make my tongue feel weird when I say it. But this time it feels right.
She turns to look at me. Her hazel eyes meet my own. She smiles again, and laughs. It's soft and jittery. Like Wendy's.
She takes my free hand and presses five dollars she pulled from her pocket into it.
"Have a good session with Doctor Eaton, dad."
I get out of the car, and wave to her until she's out of my sight. It's only when I walk into Doctor Eaton's waiting room that I realize she didn't say I love you back.
I woke up this morning with a chip on my shoulder. Quite honestly, it's nothing new.
I sit up in bed. My sheets scratch up against my skin, like they always do. I look out my window, which is shaded by these filmy white curtains my daughter bought for me at some furniture outlet the next time over. They're nice, I guess, but they let too much sunlight in my room in the morning. I have to blink a few times before my vision focuses, but the numbers on my alarm clock become clear rather quickly. It's seven thirty. I overslept by half an hour, and now I'm going to be late for my meeting. I throw back my covers and look at my legs.
I swing myself over the side of my twin sized cot - that's really all it is. There's no frame, just the mattress and sheets smack dab in the middle of my floor. I stand up, and stretch. My vertebrae seem to pop back into place. I push my hair out of my eyes. My gaze flicks to my desk, piled high with papers, and shoved in the corner of the room. Draped on the back of my desk chair is a red wool turtleneck sweater. The sleeves hang down towards the ground.
There's a knock at my door.
"Come in." I call. My voice is hoarse and my throat is dry. The door opens, and standing in the doorway is my daughter, my Minerva, Minnie. She's tall, much taller than I am. She's thin, and lean. Today her frame is covered by a red wool turtleneck sweater, one that's identical to mine. Right by the collar is a little embroidered pink heart. She runs a hand through her short brown hair and she smiles. Her hazel eyes sparkle as her lips stretch wide.
"Good morning." She sings.
"Hello, dear." I say. I'm not in the mood for singing. "It's that day again."
"Every Tuesday." She says, tone waning. The heels of her boots click against the floor as she walks back down the hall, towards the kitchen. Whatever she's making smells like cinnamon and butter. Maybe it's French toast. I feel my mouth start to water. I shuffle towards my wardrobe. It smells like mothballs, and it's one heavy piece of furniture. It came with the house, but only because the moving guys couldn't get it out of here. I open the door and survey my outfit choices. It's down to a couple faded t-shirts from Wal-Mart, a sweatshirt or two, and seven pairs of jeans, all with ragged hems. I pull out the ones with the least holes and put them on. I look over at the sweater and know that I can't get away with not wearing it. I put it on, and its snug in places it wasn't snug in last year.
I walk out in my bare feet. The uneven slats of hardwood creak with each step I take. I head into the kitchen, and sit down at the table. I let myself sink into the cushiony seats that are at the island my ex-wife had installed before she moved out. She said it gave the place a modern touch. I disagree.
Minnie's standing at the stovetop, pushing pieces of French toast around a skillet with a rubber spatula. She's dancing about to some pop song that's all autotuned. She makes it a little better with her voice. She slides a piece of browned toast on a plate and serves it to me with a glass of orange juice.
"Aren't you going to eat?" I ask her as she turns around to turn off the burner. Someone else walks in. It's a boy, the boy I hate. He's only wearing boxers and wife-beater this morning.
"Hey, Adam." He says gruffly. He scratches at his stubble-covered chin.
I grunt in response. That's all he deserves as a greeting.
He was the quarterback of the high school football team last year. Minnie was a journalist for the school paper who was told to write a two page feature about him last year. The rest is history, or at least it seems that way. He wraps his muscular arms around her waist and presses his lips against the back of her neck.
"In a minute," She sighs and drops her spatula. She turns to face the boy, and they lock lips. I eat my breakfast and shuffle out to the mudroom where my shoes sit in a row. Each pair is the same as the last. White New Balances with navy stripes running down the sides. I slip them on, my feet still bare and cold. I double knot the laces. I sit on the bench beside the row of identical pairs of shoes and wait for my daughter to appear. Her lipstick is smudged around her mouth. She grabs her keys off a hook and tells me that we're going. I suppress a little groan.
Did I fail to mention that I loathe Red Sweater Day?
Well, now you know.