By: Jennifer Michael

Perry attempted to call me out at the first meeting. He made assumptions and judgments about my life. He targeted me as the perfect, rich girl, only there to whine about first-world problems. He was so wrong. My biggest issue growing up wasn’t a life of high parental standards; that’s for sure.

“Perry needs a good lay.” The words out of Tatum’s mouth shock me a bit, especially during the meeting.

The middle-aged man’s face turns red with anger as he watches us watching him.

“Are you volunteering? Because I’m sure not.” There is a mock seriousness in my voice.

“No!” Tatum raises her voice a little too high, and a few group members look our way. She continues once their attention leaves, “I’m just saying that it would do him some good to go find someone to work off some issues with.”

“You won’t get any disagreements from me on that one.”

Perry is a bitter man who’s here because he couldn’t control his temper after his wife left him for a real man who actually treated her well. That last bit is my own assumption. I’d guess she cleared out his bank account, too. His attendance here is part of his custody agreement in order to get visitation rights back with his kids. However, it doesn’t seem to be going that well if I’m his biggest concern.

The meeting ends, and I have my freedom back.

No more required meetings! I can’t wait to send my paperwork over to my boss.

“Up for some coffee that isn’t old and watery?” Tatum asks.

“Sure. We seem to have made that a ritual after these meetings. We wouldn’t want to ditch it now.”

We gather our things, and we’re the first ones out the door. We walk and laugh at Perry’s contempt for me.

Inside the coffee shop, the barista smiles and starts to make us our drinks without needing to ask us for our orders anymore. Once we have our caffeine fixes, we take our regular spot in the back corner of the shop.

“Are you happy it’s over?” Tatum asks before taking a sip of her chai tea.

I don’t trust tea drinkers. I’m still trying to get over the fact that she’s one of them.

“I am, but I don’t think anger management was really the therapy tool I needed. I don’t have anger issues. I have childhood issues that go back way further than my lack of impulse control.” That’s probably an understatement on my part.

“What do you mean?”

“When I was very little, I had close to the perfect childhood. I never wanted for anything. My parents were happily married and very involved in my life. My mom was a little wild, but my dad always reined her in. But my childhood was split into two parts—at least, in my eyes.”

Perfect versus damaged.

“What happened?” There is a twinge of concern in her eyes, and I can already see her wheels spinning through all the possibilities.

“My dad died.”

After, I watched everything that was right with my world crumble and was completely powerless to stop it. I’ve attempted to move on, but every once in a while, it still feels like I’m tripping over pieces of debris.

I straighten and try to keep the mask from slipping down my face, stuffing my emotions down deep inside. The ache that takes over my chest when I think about my dad is currently present and accounted for. The silver lining is that I feel comfortable talking to Tatum about this. I feel a small piece of safety with her that I’ve only ever felt with Aria.


Thirteen Years Old

The morning came too soon. Aria still soundlessly sleeps beside me. Her mouth hangs open, and her blonde hair fans across the pillow beneath her head.

She’s been my best friend since I met her at the bus stop on the first day of fourth grade, and she always will be. Despite our parents’ protests, we spend most nights at one or the other’s house. As long as we get our homework done promptly after school, they don’t put up a fight anymore.

I roll back onto my side and attempt to go back to dreamland. My lids are heavy and a yawn tickles the back of my throat.

I close my eyes, but I can hear Mom downstairs, and it gives me pause. Her voice is frantic, almost hysterical, and I open my eyes, wondering why she’s so upset. Her words are muffled, but it’s clear that something isn’t right. Aria stirs beside me, and I’m torn between hiding behind her and shaking her awake. She always knows exactly what I need and how to keep me calm.