October 3, 2013
“Thanks so much, Rachel. I had a blast. For like, the first time in a long time,” I say hugging Rachel in the parking lot of the hospital. We stand between my car and Kara’s, which are both running. Kara is sitting in the driver seat of her car adjusting the controls. After Kara got back from Christmas with her family earlier today, she drove me back to my car and is returning to college with Rachel.
“Yep, it was awesome. You have to come back soon. I don’t think Kara will let you stay away for too long.”
“Yeah, I will. I would say you should come here too, but…”
Rachel makes a face. “Yeah, I know.”
“Well, talk to you later, Lee. Thanks for coming.”
Rachel gets in Kara’s car and I get in mine. I drive home slowly, dreading my return and the scolding which is sure to come. When I pull onto the street, I sigh with relief to see that our other car is not parked in the driveway. Maybe I can just go upstairs and act like nothing ever happened once my family got back from wherever they were. Of course, I’m not so lucky. I park, take my things from the car and go into the house. Dad’s sitting on the couch, doing nothing, it seems, but waiting for me.
“Welcome home,” he says politely. “Have a nice time?”
I nod. “The best.”
“Good. You’ve been needing some fun. Some time to get away.”
“Yeah, I really had.” Oddly, I don’t feel in trouble at all. “Bad luck still follows me everywhere, though. Sam showed up on day three.”
Dad’s eyebrows raise in surprise. Apparently Sam had kept his word. “So you were with Rachel?”
“Yeah. And some of her other friends. It was…a nice break.”
“Good,” Dad says. I head for the stairs, assuming he’s done talking. I’ve just reached the stairs when he speaks again. “Hey, Leah? Next time you want to get away, can you just ask me? I’ll take care of Mom, make sure she doesn’t freak too much.”
His words shock me and it takes me a moment to reply. “Uh, yeah. I guess so.” I come back to where I can see him. “You’d really do that?”
He nods. “Sam really has made it hard on you, and your mother only adds to the pressure. I understand that you need a break. And one more thing?”
“Yes?” I whisper. Dad’s words have surprised me so much, I can’t say much more than that.
“When you decide to leave home, don’t be like Rachel. Come back and visit your old man more than once a year. And call. I don’t want you to just disappear.”
I nod and murmur, “Okay.” The conversation once again seems to be finished and I walk upstairs quietly, thinking about what he said. Dad must understand more than I thought.
Awhile later, Mom and Seth come home. I hear Mom and Dad argue a little, but no one comes to my room. Not even when I smell dinner cooking and Seth leaves his room to eat. Intrigued by this newly offered loneliness, I decide to go down and eat with my family.
Everyone looks up as I walk into the dining room. Charlie is here, seated between Dad and Seth. My place at the table is set, but empty. I sit and begin dishing food onto my plate without saying a word.
“Good to see you home, Leah, ” Charlie says to me. “You gave your family quite the scare.”
I shrug, not knowing what to say to that. It’s kind of nice to know that they tried looking for me, enough to enlist Charlie’s help.
The room has a heavy awkwardness lurking about as we eat our meal and it leaves little room for conversation. After they finish eating, Dad, Charlie and Seth all go into the living room to watch TV.
“Do you mind helping me with the dishes, Leah? ” Mom asks. It’s the first thing she’s said directly to me all night.
I nod my head and begin clearing the table. It’s not long before we have everything in the kitchen and are washing the dishes. Mom washes and rinses after which I dry and put everything away.
“So you were with Rachel?” Mom inquires.
“She said you weren’t.”
“Well I asked her not to tell anyone I was there, ” I admit.
“I was so worried, Leah. I wanted to call in the FBI and everything, just to find you. I probably would have, if Charlie and your dad hadn’t stopped me, ” Mom whispers, her voice unmasking her worry.
“I didn’t want to be found, Mom. I just wanted to get away for awhile.”
Mom nods. She’s heard this from Dad, I’m sure.
“Sam did,” I say. “Find me, I mean.”
Mom turns her body towards me with interest. “He did? I didn’t know that.”
“What happened?” Mom asks, having heard the anger in my voice.
I sigh and repeat myself. “I didn’t want to be found.”
Mom nods again. “And you were having a good time? Before that? “
“The best, ” I answer. “Even after he left, it was good. Well, the next day.”
“Well, I’m glad you had a good time. Just don’t scare me so much next time. And sorry about Sam.”
I nod and finish putting away the last of the dishes.
“Going to your room? ” Mom says as I head towards the kitchen entryway.
“Goodnight, Leah. I love you and I’m glad you’re home.” The word ‘home’ makes me cringe. Mom probably notices but continues anyways. “Now maybe I can sleep without having nightmares about you,” she says.
I nod once more and go upstairs. I sit on my bed and doodle, waiting for sleep to set in. Before it comes, though, Seth knocks on my door and I tell him to come in. He closes the door behind him and goes to sit on the second bed that is still in my room. I tried removing it once, a few months ago, but the room was so empty without it that I put it back. Something stops him before he sits, and he turns around, facing my window.
“Where’d this come from?” he asks, gesturing toward my painting.
I don’t answer and he moves closer to it, enough to see my loopy signature.
“You did this? It’s awesome.”
“Thanks,” I reply quietly.
“So you were in Seattle? With Rachel?” He asks as he sits down.
“I got your note. But not until a couple days before Christmas Eve. Before that, I was, like, as worried as Mom,” Seth admits.
“I left the note at last minute. I wanted to just tell you where I was going but I was afraid you’d tell before I could get away.”
Seth laughs. “Probably. Keeping quiet after I found the note was hard.”
I smile. “Yeah. Thanks for doing it anyways.”
“Yep. So what did you do the whole time you were there?”
“Hung out with Rachel and her friends, until they all left for Christmas. And then by myself for Christmas Eve and Christmas.”
“Weren’t you lonely?”
“No. Rachel’s friends were such good company that I was dying to be alone, when I finally got to.”
“Which friends? ” Seth asks, his eyebrows wagging. I swat my hand at him playfully but he leans back and I miss.
“No one you know. Kara, Joey, Camille, Mark, Kayla, Jenny, Fred, and Caden. I don’t even know their last names.”
“Oh,” Seth says. He is quiet for a moment and then he jumps, “Oh! I almost forgot. Here’s your Christmas present.”
He reaches into one of his cargo pockets and pulls out a small driftwood box with my name carved across the top in gold lettering.
“Wow,” I say reaching for it. “Thanks.”
I lift the lid from the box to reveal a closed oyster shell.
“Took me forever to find, days and days of walking down the beach, and some help, but I finally got one. It’s still got the pearl. You can see it through this slit.” He points to a spot on the shell and I peer inside. Indeed, I can see the silver ball shimmering in the small amount of light let in by the holes on the surface of the shell.
“It’s beautiful,” I say.
“Mom says you’ll probably leave after this school year, so I wanted to get you something to help you remember how pretty it is here.”
I feel a pang of guilt mixed with sadness for planning to leave my brother behind. “I’m sorry. I didn’t get you anything. I just kind of skipped Christmas.”
“No worries,” Seth says. “I understand. I got too much stuff anyways. Mom and Dad have your other gifts around here somewhere. There weren’t many and I think it’s mostly clothes and stuff.”
He stands up and I do too, giving him a hug. “Thanks, Seth. You’re the best. I don’t deserve to have a brother like you.”
He moves toward the door but I stop him, calling out, “Wait!”
Quickly, I hop across the second bed and retrieve the painting from the wall.
“Take this. For Christmas. I, uh, want you to have it, ” I say, handing the canvas to Seth.
Seth smiles hugely, “Thanks.”
He leaves then, and I turn out the light behind him. For hours, I lie in bed, replaying the scenes of the day in my head. It turned out to be a much better day than I expected.