Where I Belong (Alabama Summer)By: J. Daniels
Benjamin Kelly was the bane of my existence.
His teasing was relentless, always making sure to point out each and every one of my insecurities whenever I was around him. And because I was best friends with his sister Tessa, I was around him all the time.
“You have food stuck in your braces. That’s so disgusting. Maybe you should just stop eating since you’re so fat anyway.”
“Gross. What is that on your face? It looks like a second head.”
“God, can you even see anything out of those glasses, nerd? How many times are you going to run into things?”
“Mia Corelli is the ugliest girl I’ve ever seen. Oh sorry, Mia. I didn’t see you sitting right next to me.”
I hated him with a fury. I was convinced that his sole purpose in life was to break me down to nothing. And he succeeded on more than one occasion. I never cried in front of him though. I never gave him that satisfaction. I just stood there and took it, saving my tears for when I was alone. Tessa was always standing up for me, throwing every insult she could think of at him. And I was grateful for that, because I didn’t have it in me to give him what he deserved. My bank of comebacks were pathetic compared to Tessa’s. So I’d just sit back and let her handle it.
“You’re just jealous that Mia’s teeth are going to be straighter than yours, loser. Why don’t you go get that giant gap fixed before someone kicks a field goal through it?”
“What’s that on your face, Ben? God, it’s hideous. Oh, never mind. There’s nothing on your face. That’s just how you look.”
“At least Mia isn’t stupid like you, Ben. If you make it out of eighth grade, it’ll be a miracle.”
“Ben Kelly has the smallest penis in the world. He has to hold it with a pair of tweezers when he pees.”
Her comebacks would shut him up temporarily, but when he found his voice again, it was frequently used to take a shot at me. I was his sister’s nerdy, awkward best friend who became his favorite punching bag for five grueling years. I grew some thick skin and became used to the torment, but my insecurities were always there. He’d never let me forget about them. He was the spawn of Satan, the biggest jerk on the planet, and I’d hate him for the rest of my life.
Benjamin Kelly was the worst thing to come out of Alabama. And if I never saw him again, that would be fine with me.
“I don’t have to go. If this is too much on you, I can stay here. It really isn’t a big deal, Aunt Mae.” Closing the door to my mother’s bedroom, I walk down the hallway into the kitchen behind my aunt. “Really. I mean it. Just because she’s doing okay right now doesn’t mean it’s a good idea for me to leave the state.”
My aunt places her hand on my shoulder, squeezing it gently. “You need a break from all of this, sweetie. You’ve been taking care of her twenty-four hours a day for the past nine months. Everyone needs to take some time for themselves.” She tilts her head, her expression softening with a smile. “She wants you to have fun, Mia. Go enjoy your summer and leave all of this to me.”
Sighing, I shake my head, not fully committed to the idea of leaving. “What if she gets really sick and I’m not here? What if she needs me?” The thought of my mother calling out for me while I’m four hours away is enough to cancel this whole trip. She loves my aunt, but I’m the one that’s been here. I’m the one that’s been doing everything for her since she fell ill. She’s used to me, not Mae. I know the look she gets when she’s really feeling bad, but won’t admit it. I know how to get her to eat when she refuses. Me. I don’t need a break, let alone an entire summer off from taking care of my own mother.
“If anything happens, even the slightest change in her condition, I’ll call you.” Her hand cups my face, her thumb stroking the skin of my cheek. “Promise me you won’t let all your worrying prevent you from having an amazing summer with Tessa.”
“I just don’t know if this is the best time. She hasn’t had her strength back for that long.”
Aunt Mae issues me a look indicating that she’s not letting me back out of this. “This is the perfect time. And like I said before, she wants you to go. If you try and stay home now, I’m afraid you won’t only be getting an earful from me.”