"Your mom wants to know if she can talk to you. I’m going to take Sara out for a bit, and then bring her back so Delilah can talk to her, too."
Mom wants to know if she can talk to me? What a screwed up situation. She shouldn’t have to ask, but I’m glad she did. "Yeah. I… Do you know what’s going to happen?"
Bill takes a couple steps toward me. "I do, but I think it’s better that you wait for her to tell you, but I want you to know, no matter what, we’ll make it work out. You’re welcome in my home as long as you need to be here and," he holds out his hand, "you’re a good man, Carter. I’m proud of you. I know I’m not your father, but I do love you. I’d be honored to have a son like you."
My eyes sting again, but I try to concentrate on shaking Bill’s hand instead. I’m so done with the tears. "Thanks. For taking us in and everything else."
"It’s not a problem, son. You’re a part of my family, too." He looks toward his hallway. "I’m going to grab Sara and we’ll head out. Your mom’s waiting outside and when we leave, she’ll be in."
My voice begs me to shout at him. To tell him no, that I changed my mind and I’m not ready to talk to her yet, but I swallow it down. I have to do this.
Sara and Bill leave a few minutes later. My leg is bouncing like crazy as I sit at the kitchen table waiting for Mom. When I hear the front door creak, I freeze. I don’t know if I can do this. I keep seeing her hands come at me when she tried to fight me. The tears and the screams overloading my brain.
And then she’s there and I don’t have a choice. Even though I’m looking at her, I don’t say anything and she doesn’t say anything, but I notice she looks older somehow. Tired. She’s wearing a long sleeve shirt and I can’t help but wonder how the bruise looks.
Mom lets out a breath and I can hear how shaky it is, and then she comes over and sits down at the table with me. "I’m going into inpatient care for a bit."
The ache in my chest balloons so much I think it could make me burst. Inpatient. Committed? Still, I can’t make myself speak.
"I have…I have a lot of issues to work through, Carter, and they can help me the most."
"What happens there?" I mumble.
"Detox, first. I’ll be in therapy, too. I should have done this a long time ago, because of your grandpa and then loosing Tommy. I need to learn how to deal with it all. If I had, things wouldn’t have gotten to where they are now. I haven’t been dealing and above anyone else, you’ve suffered for it. I’ll never forgive myself—" She chokes out the words. I want to tell her it’s okay, but I know now it’s not. I used to think the only thing that mattered is that she didn’t mean it, that she had to deal with a lot and that she deserved a way to unwind. It’s not true. It’s not okay. None of it.
"What about the store? Sara and I?"
"Your dad’s parents are coming to help. They’ll be here in a couple of days."
My eyes stretch wide. "You called them?"
Mom gives me a sad smile. "I can’t hide anymore. I can’t deny it. And they love us. They want to help. They’re going to stay at the house. You can stay there with them or—"
"No." No way. "Sara’s going to be freaked out enough. I want to stay here with her."
For the first time today, she starts crying. I’m not sure what I said to make her upset.
"I knew you’d say that. I wish Tommy could see you now. You’re better than the both of us put together."
Those are the words that break me. Anger? Pain? A combination? I don’t know. My vision blurs. My chest feels like it’s crushed it. I can’t hold any of it back any more. Because if I was so good, if she knows that so much, why are we here? Why are we dealing with this? "You hit me. All I wanted to do was carry you up the stairs and you. Hit. Me. You were bruised and passed out with my little sister upstairs! You told me I’d leave you, for what? Going away to school?"
I shove myself to my feet so hard, the chair falls over. I don’t pick it up and she doesn’t defend herself so I keep going. Letting out years of pent-up pain. "Do you know what it feels like to see your mom drunk and passed out? To carry her up the stairs? To know where she hides bottles? Did you know I hear it in your voice? Smell it in the house? I’m seventeen years-old and I’m a f**king expert on alcoholics!"
I can hardly see because of tears and anger. My muscles contract, begging me to do something to help them release. "I call you just to hear your voice and know if you’ve been drinking. I pay attention when you wake up, how you wake up, so I know. I watch the stupid light under your door so I know how late you stay up. Do you get that? Do you know how that feels? I watched my girlfriend wipe vomit off my mom’s face."
"No! I’m not done. I’ve lied to my friends, to Bill, to myself. I was scared for Sara, but more scared for you! I kept your secrets. I hated you. I hated myself and you didn’t care! You kept drinking. You told me you’d quit, but you didn’t. You chose boozing it up over me! You cared more about your fix than what it did to us."
She’s crying and I’m crying, but there’s so much anger too. I’m hot, sweating. My hands itch for a basketball. Or to hit a wall. Anything to distract me from her. "Sara was there Mom. Sara." My voice is hardly over a whisper now. "What if I couldn’t protect her?"
I lean against the wall, and slide down. Mom walks over, kneeling in front of me, but still not touching me. "It’s not your job to protect her. It’s mine. I am the one who’s failed you. Failed her. Not you. Not ever. You handled this better than anyone else could, and I swear to you. I know you have no reason to believe me, but I promise you, I will get better for you and Sara. I will spend the rest of my life trying to make this up to you."
"I can’t." I shake my head. "I can’t do it anymore. I can’t handle it anymore. I won’t. This is it. You have to do it. And I don’t know… I still don’t know…" Does it make me a jerk that I don’t know if I can forgive her? That I want to, but I’m scared, too?
"I will. I will. I love you, Carter. So much and I don’t expect you to forgive me. Not now, maybe not ever, but I do love you. And I hope… I hope I didn’t ruin your love for me."
She didn’t. Couldn’t. "That’s why it hurts so much…"
"Oh, baby." She’s crying harder now. "I’m so very sorry for what I’ve done to you." She reaches for my hand, and then stops. "Can I?"
It surprises me, but I actually want it. I nod my head and she pulls me to her. Hugs me the way she did when I was a kid and got hurt on the court. Hugs me like I’m Sara when she has a nightmare.
"I love you. I’m so sorry. I love you."
I don’t say it back and I don’t think she expects me to. I just let her hug me. The tighter she holds, the more she’s letting me go. She’s finally setting me free.
Mom pulls me into a crushing hug the second Kira, Travis, and I walk into the house. It’s just as tight as the one she gave me when we left the school, less than thirty minutes ago. Balloons and streamers hang all over the place behind her. I have no doubt they’re all over the rest of the house, too. There’s a huge cake in the middle of the kitchen table. She definitely went overboard.
"Mom, seriously. I won’t even make it to college if I die from crushed lungs first."
Smiling, she lets me go. "I can’t help it. I’m just so happy. My baby graduated high school."
"Awww, I’m proud of my baby, too." Travis ruffles my hair like I’m five.
"Get off." I try to push him, but Mom’s already pulling him into a hug.
"I’m proud of you too, Travis. Your mom’s in the other room if you want to see her." When she lets Travis go, it’s Kira’s turn. She wraps her arms around my girl and gives her a kiss on the cheek. Mom’s words change when she talks to Kira. "Thank you for everything. I can never repay you for everything you’ve been to us."
"You’re welcome." Kira smiles at her, something passing between them that I don’t understand. They’ve become really close the past seven months.
"Okay, enough of that." Mom pulls away, before touching Kira’s hair. "I like the blue. I think it might be my favorite." She’s wearing a blue camo skirt too. Girls in camo? Hot. Her shirt is a white tank top that she actually drew pictures on. Doesn’t sound sexy, but it is.
"Figured it might be cool to match the school colors for graduation," Kira replies. Feeling a little left out of the conversation, I pull her against me, wrapping my arms around her from behind.
"Don’t lie. It’s really because blue is my favorite color."
Kira laughs as Mom rolls her eyes. "Just like your father." The sadness that used to tint her words when she speaks of Dad isn’t there.
"That’s because we were both cool."
With another head shake, Mom heads toward the family room. Kira grabs my hand before pulling me along behind them. The room is packed with people: friends from school, parents, Dad’s parents came down from Washington, too. Besides the two months they stayed here while Mom was in rehab, they’ve been down a couple other times in the past five months too.
"Carter! Kira! Carter! Kira!" Sara runs up to us, almost tripping in excitement, but I catch her before she falls.
"Hey, Twig. Did you see me on stage? How’d my hair look?" I pretend to smooth it and Sara cracks up laughing. It’s going to be hard, leaving her for college in a couple months, but I know she’s in good hands. Mom’s dealing well with sobriety and Sara is still living with Bill. It was a little confusing for her at first, but Sara looks at everything like an adventure. She sees the good in it all, because she doesn’t know there’s another option. I wish everyone in the world could be a little more like my sister. I’m glad she has that.
"Not pretty like Kira." She unwraps herself from me and hugs Kira.
"Thanks, kiddo. Since it’s summer, we’ll have to do yours sometime."
Sara’s eyes get so big, her smile wide that I can’t help but laugh. Then she falls into her rambling excitement, the words in too much of a hurry to come out right. Still mumbling, she runs off, I’m assuming, to tell Bill or Mom.
Ready to sneak Kira away for some privacy, I groan when someone taps my shoulder.
"Congrats, Carter." Margie gives me a hug. She teaches the class I go to once a week. Who’d have thought? Carter Shaw in a class for teens with alcoholic parents. No one, I’m sure, but I am.
"Thanks. Glad you could come, too."
Next we’re interrupted by my grandparents. Mom’s dad wasn’t invited. They stopped talking when she got out of rehab. At first she tried to make it work, but finally she realized he’d never stop hurting her. She made the choice to walk away because it was best for her. She still pays for his nursing care, but that’s all. Personally, I think we should have thrown a party for that.
Bill comes up to us next, then Mom’s sponsor. Even after seven months clean, five months out of rehab, she’s still doing her meetings, twice a week. She’s gotten pretty close with her sponsor too.
Mrs. Z is next. "Mr. Shaw," she smiles.
"Mrs. Z," I throw back at her and she laughs.
"Still the same kid. Don’t change. And know I’m proud of you. For everything." I started letting her tutor me a little bit. And it actually helped. Helped me organize my thoughts and make sense of what Shakespeare’s crazy ass wrote about.