Just Me

By: L.A. Fiore

Chapter One

Laughter echoed through the house, so carefree a sound, and yet it sliced through me like a knife, forcing my eyes closed as I absorbed the pain of my reality: I wasn't wanted here.

My mother died, and not from something as tragic as cancer or a car crash, but from her excessive lifestyle. There were times when I thought the suddenness of a car accident would have been better than having to watch her die slowly nine years ago as her liver failed from hepatitis. Holding her hand tightly in mine, I believed that I could keep her with me through sheer will alone. When she told me I was going to be living with her sister’s family—my Aunt Kim and Uncle Eddie—I didn't really understand what she was saying. Three days later, when I stood in the room that would become my bedroom, it still hadn't sunk in that this was my life now. A visit with them would have been fun, but how would I adapt to living there forever?

It wasn't like my life with my mom had been a Hallmark movie—Mom had vices and she loved indulging them. I was the one who had to clean her up, feed her, get her into bed, but that had been my life and I was used to it. My aunt and uncle were both responsible working adults—I no longer needed to make dinner, nor did I need to check the house after mom fell asleep to make sure she didn't leave a cigarette burning somewhere.

The first Saturday after I moved in was the Fourth of July, and for that day I was pulled into the joy of just being a kid. I can still remember the smell of chicken and hamburgers grilling, can still feel the stickiness of the watermelon juice as it dripped down my chin when I bit into it. Pearl River, the small town in New York where my uncle and aunt lived, hosted an annual parade complete with marching bands and floats. When the sun went down and the stars lit the night sky, the fireworks started. I remember the fireworks the most: sitting around the grassy town square with my aunt, uncle and cousins smiling up at the lights burning across that navy-blue canvas.

For just a moment, I thought maybe this family could really be mine. Later that night while I helped Uncle Eddie unpack our picnic hamper, he told me how much I reminded him of a younger version of my mom: the person she had been before she let her demons rule her. It was in that moment that my aunt walked in. The warm smile, that had been on her face all day, was replaced with an odd look. I hadn't given much thought to the encounter at the time. It was only later when I realized her look signified the end of any hope I had had for a happy family life.

I was seventeen, a senior, and next year I would be going off to college. My aunt was practically rabid about that, the idea of me going, just an unpleasant blotch in what she considered her perfect little world. She had plans to redecorate my room, had already consulted an interior designer to discuss the media room she wanted for the girls. He'd been to the house several times already with books that he and my aunt poured over in the dining room discussing new paint colors, new floors, new furniture: effectively erasing any reminder of me. With the twins, Deena and Carol, only just beginning high school next year, my aunt would have four years of biological-family bliss.

Dwelling on the unpleasant was pointless. I reached for my backpack, and as I did almost every time I passed it, my eyes moved to the print of the bronze sculpture, Mother and Child, by world-renowned artist David Cambre. I loved all of David's work, but this piece was my favorite: the smooth lines of the bronze connecting mother to child as if the mother was offering both independence and protection to her babe.

My cousins were obviously excited about the new school year since they were up early. Deena, Carol and Aunt Kim were sharing French toast and laughing over stories as I entered the kitchen. The affection between them was undeniable and I winced at the pang of jealousy that washed over me. Why couldn't I have that? Why couldn't I have what the mother in David's sculpture offered to her child? I told myself it didn't matter and reached for an apple on my way to the door.

“Goodbye,” I said.

Deena and Carol both looked up at me as I passed, “Have a good day, Larkspur.” They were sweet girls and I knew they loved me, but they were hesitant around me. Their mom didn't like me and they both knew it. There were times that they were contrary and were overly nice to me because of it, but I had the sense that the girls were a little afraid of their mom, so those times were few and far between.