A glass of crazy, p.22
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       A Glass of Crazy, p.22

           Tina Laningham
 
Rafa pretty much stayed away from me at school, which made my life a lot easier. Whenever I saw him, he looked like a puppy who'd been spanked for the first time by the person he loved most. I knew exactly how he felt because that's how I felt around Dad, but my feelings toward Rafa hadn't changed. I had zero tolerance for traitors.

  Mom and I spent all our time packing boxes, getting ready for the move. Our new house was half the size of the old house, but Mom said it was perfect, plus it was right around the corner from where we used to live. I liked that it had three bedrooms instead of five and only one living room. With no dad and no more friends, I had lots of empty space inside me and didn't need more all around.

  Still, the fact that we had three million dollars fascinated me. "If we're rich again," I said to Mom, "how come we're packing our own boxes?"

  "We're not exactly rich," Mom said from the kitchen. "This three million is all I'm getting for the rest of my life. I have to make it last." She pulled a stack of dishes out of the cabinet and wrapped one in paper. "I paid cash for the house. Half a million's already gone."

  "I know we'd save money," I said, "but Rafa's brother can't help us move."

  "Oh, I've hired movers," she said, wrapping a glass with paper. "We just need to do our own packing."

  I wanted to tell Mom about the endless teasing and what Megan had written on friendworld, but I didn't dare since the jokes were mainly about her.

  "Wish we'd never sold the furniture," was all I said.

  "Glad it's gone." Mom raised her hand, shooing it away. "Nothing but bad memories for me."

  Good for her, bad for me. I stacked some CDs in a box and tried to ask in my most casual tone, "Are you still friends with Megan's mom?"

  "I think so." Mom paused. "I called when we didn't receive our usual invitation to the holiday party and she explained she simply didn't have our new address, but of course we were invited. She sounded kind of funny, though."

  I stretched packing tape across the box and squished it down. "So we're going?" My voice sounded panicked, which meant I needed to put myself on mute immediately if I didn't want to have to explain anything.

  "I don't care about the prestige of going," Mom said. "I just want to see my friends." She gave me the look. "And I'm not going alone."

  Obviously this was non-negotiable. "God, that's so not fair!" But Queen Doreen had disappeared and as usual, my words hung in the air and died. Nothing could be worse than going to a holiday party at Megan's-I was definitely going to need access to alcohol. Fortunately, at this party, I did not foresee that as a problem.

  I missed Rafa. Even though he looked sad in Mr. Oliver's class on the last day before winter break, I still couldn't get over the fact that he'd told Megan the real story behind our furniture. And was he seriously flirting with Megan behind my back? It was like watching a bad remake of the way Dad treated Mom. Still, I missed talking to Rafa about important things, like the Kat's pregnancy. He would have cracked up and said, "She's having kittens!" Even though Rafa's jokes made reality more bearable, I couldn't forgive him for betraying me.

  When class was over, I left without saying goodbye. I gave Rafa the royal silent treatment; it seemed like the only thing to do. With the Three Ps plus Megan still snickering at me on one side of the room and certain other kids snickering back, I was over it-way over it. Winter break hadn't come soon enough.

  I pulled another track and field trophy out of a box and put it on a shelf in my new room. I didn't even know who that person was anymore, the fastest hurdler in the Houston-Galveston region. My life was complicated now and I didn't have time for trivial sports. Trying to get all the knives out of my back consumed all my time.

  When Mom passed by my door, it hit me-her migraine headaches were gone. No more lying in dark rooms in complete silence with cool cloths on her forehead. No more open bottles of painkillers lying around. Doctors in those drug commercials on TV should tell people three million dollars will cure migraines better than any prescription drug.

  "Mom," I shouted, hoping she was still in earshot.

  She backed up holding a lamp.

  "When's that party at Megan's?"

  "Saturday night," she replied, unwinding the lamp cord from around the base.

  "I'm not going," I said firmly.

  Mom's face dropped. "I need you to go, for me," she said quietly. "It's my first social event without your father."

  "Okay, God!" Megan was not exactly on the list of people I wanted to impress. I didn't even have a list. The only person I ever cared about impressing was Dad, and it was safe to say, he was no longer impressed.

  It didn't occur to me until we arrived at the party that Megan might have invited Rafa. Wearing a red skirt and jacket, Mom tapped the knocker on the door of Megan's nineteenth century mansion. Earlier, when Mom insisted I wear the same red dress I wore last year, I'd cringed. Fortunately, the dress didn't fit anymore and so for the first time ever, I got to pick what I wore. I chose all black: black shirt, black pants, black shoes. Clearly, I was in mourning over all holiday festivities.

  A caterer in a white coat swung the door open, which was a huge relief, considering Megan could have opened the door. Chatter rose above piano music-that song about chestnuts in the fireplace, or something like that. Last year, and all the years before, Mom had orchestrated the timing of our arrival at this party. For Dad to make the most noticeable entrance in a room filled with his constituents, we had to arrive late, but not too late. Apparently, there was an exact science to figuring out what time a politician should arrive at a party. This year, we were just plain late.

  The caterer took our coats and led us through the narrow hallway with wooden floors and ridiculously high ceilings to the grand room designed with contemporary furniture, thanks to Mom the rebel. We couldn't exactly see the furniture because the room was crammed with women in red dresses and men in suits, but I remembered that room from when Megan and I were friends.

  Mom's lips trembled when she put on her best fake smile and I figured she was nervous. To me, it used to matter what other people thought, but not anymore. Nobody liked me anyway and that somehow made my life easier. When a caterer held out a tray of champagne glasses, Mom turned away. I lied to the waiter and said I was taking a glass for Mom, but I downed it before she turned back around and stashed the glass under a napkin on an end table.

  While I was busy suppressing a burp from the sparkly champagne, my eyes met the not-so-sparkly eyes of the triple Ps, standing in V formation with Megan in the center glaring at me. Megan wore a short red dress, Priscilla a shiny gold dress, Presley a polka dot dress, and Paige looked like a red and white striped candy cane. I rolled my eyes and turned to Mom, who was staring at the grownup version of the triple Ps-the mothers of Priscilla, Presley and Paige-who were standing on the other side of the room in the same V formation with Megan's mom in the middle. Seriously. I'm not making this up. In unison they glanced at Mom, whispered to one another, and gazed back at Mom with the most fake looking smiles.

  "What are we even doing here?" I asked Mom.

  With raised brows, Mom replied, "Spending time with friends."

  "Whatever." I went off to the bathroom, figuring that would kill some time.

  In the hallway, a dozen women waited in a line that snaked all the way to the kitchen. I squeezed through the hall to the end of the bathroom line. All the women were Mom's age or older, but they whispered and sneered like girls in the hallways at Marconi High School. When the line moved up enough for me to hear the gossip?let's just say it took a minute for what I heard to even register.

  "I found out last week," said one in a red-beaded dress.

  "I heard it over a month ago," another stated firmly.

  "She's young enough to be his daughter," the one in front of me whispered.

  At first I thought they were talking about Dad, but everyone found out about him four months ago when it was all over the news.

  "Don't believe everything you hear," another lad
y said. "You know how this island is."

  "Do you see him here?" the red-beaded dress lady asked.

  Silence. Some strained their necks to see and others squinted as if trying to remember what they had seen over the course of the evening, while Paige's mom squeezed past me to the end of the line.

  Finally one of the so-called adults said, "If it were true, she would have called off the party."

  "And draw attention to the scandal?" The lady in the red-beaded dress wagged her finger. "No, no."

  This party? Megan's dad? Had to be another holiday party.

  And then by some miracle, it finally came out. It wasn't an actual miracle; it was more like she just couldn't keep all the juicy information she had to herself any longer, even if it meant gossiping about her close, close friend. "He left last summer," Paige's mom said with the voice of authority, "with a nurse. Gwen told me everything the day it happened."

  Megan's mom was Gwen. Gwen Applegate. And Megan's dad was our family doctor. Like I said, it took a minute to register, but when it did, I shot out of line, straight to Megan and the triple Ps, who stood in a huddle biting into small chocolates with their pinkies out. My head got hot like it was going to explode.

  I planted my feet behind Megan and crossed my arms. "So," I said loud enough for anyone to hear, "Your dad ran off with a floozy, too."

  The voice level in the room dropped.

  Megan looked like she had just watched the scariest part of a horror movie.

  I set my jaw. "All this time you've been bashing me at school when your dad was doing the exact same thing."

  "That's a lie!" said Megan.

  "Where's your dad?" I asked. "Is he here?"

  A low murmur arose from the sea of party guests, who discreetly moved their eyes around the room to find him. Megan turned white as a Christmas ghost and collapsed on the rug. Someone gasped and the room went silent, except for the song Hark the Herald Angels Sing that the oblivious pianist began playing. In unison, Priscilla, Presley and Paige lifted their heads and sashayed away, clearly not wanting to be associated with Megan during her moment of public humiliation.

  I'm the one who should have walked away, but I couldn't. I wasn't sure why I knelt down to see if she was okay. Maybe some tiny, weird part of me was still her friend. Or maybe I was the only person in the room who knew how she felt.

  Megan opened her eyes and said, "What happened?"

  "You fainted," I replied, helping her sit up.

  By now a crowd of people surrounded us.

  "Shall I call an ambulance?" someone asked. "Where's her mother?"

  "I'm fine." Megan rose gingerly to her feet.

  I helped her to the sofa where we sat like the two best friends we once were, completely worn out by our own drama. While the room buzzed with the news of Dr. Applegate's scandal, Megan sat in a trance with her eyes all bugged out.

  Slowly, anger brewed in the pit of my stomach. I turned to glare at Megan. "Ghetto Girl? Mono? Unfaithful furniture?"

  "I was just?" Megan sank into the sofa. "I'm sorry," she said quietly.

  "And what's going on with you and Rafa?"

  "Nothing," she said all innocently.

  "Like I should believe a pathological liar?"

  "Do you really think my mom would let me date a guy from a poor family?"

  I peered at her sideways. "Somehow I don't think that would stop you."

  "Look, he's cute and everything, but I like football players."

  "Right." I said squinting. "Then who told you about our furniture? Rafa's the only one who knew."

  "My mom," she said, wrinkling her forehead. "Our moms tell each other everything. That's why I thought for sure you knew about my dad."

  Why do people assume mothers and daughters tell each other everything? Maybe that was normal. I wouldn't know.

  "That's why I made you look bad at school," Megan explained, "so if you said anything about my dad, no one would believe you."

  Rafa was right. Never piss off a crazy person.

  Across the room, Mom approached Mrs. Applegate, who immediately turned her back and strode away. Mom chased after her, which made Mom look completely pathetic. I jumped up and got over there fast.

  "Gwen," Mom said still chasing her, "no one's judging you."

  The problem with trying to carry on a conversation with someone who's clearly walking away is that you have to talk louder so they can hear. That's why when Mom said, "No one's judging you," she practically yelled and the crowded room hushed to an eerie silence, except for the clueless pianist who began playing Go Tell It on the Mountain.

  With flames in her eyes, Mrs. Applegate screeched to a halt and spun on red high heels that matched her cocktail dress. I feared for Mom because I knew that look-I'd seen it on Megan. The only thing missing was a pitchfork, but then I figured out the flames in her eyes were reflections from the fireplace. I kept a steady eye on Mrs. Applegate anyway.

  "I'm your friend," Mom pleaded. "I know what you're going through."

  Ohmygod, Mom was oblivious to the speechless audience.

  "Doreen," Mrs. Applegate said with chilling calmness, "we have nothing in common."

  Mom looked exasperated. "Do you think we're the only ones who got tossed aside for younger women?"

  I couldn't help but smile at my new let's-get-real Mom.

  "I hate to publicly embarrass you like this," Mrs. Applegate said, "since you've had so much of that already." She actually smirked as her eyes danced around the room.

  Mom's mouth dropped and stayed there. That's when I took a giant step toward Mom and squeezed her hand.

  Mrs. Applegate raised her chin. "I would have sent a letter, but like a transient, you've moved three times in the last four months."

  "What letter!" Mom said in the tone she used when she thought I was saying something totally ridiculous.

  "We've discontinued your membership in the Society of Modern Victorian Women."

  "But I'm the president," Mom said. "For God sakes Gwen, we started that club together!"

  Mrs. Applegate spoke slowly, "We have a rather long list of reasons why you no longer belong in our organization."

  "Do tell," Mom said, crossing her arms.

  "We value p-proper-" Mrs. Applegate stuttered, "etiquette."

  "Oh, we are so out of here," I said, tugging Mom's sleeve. "You don't need a friend who thinks it's polite to smile in your face while she's stabbing you in the back."

  When the pianist let out an uncontrollable howl and struck up Auld Lang Syne, I tried not to giggle, but it didn't go very well. All night, the pianist had been listening in and entertaining himself by inserting humorous music that fit the scenario. I liked him.

  "We have a list of reasons," Mrs. Applegate continued.

  I took Mom's arm and pulled, but she wouldn't budge.

  "Oh, please," Mom said. "Before the Victorian era, Shakespeare wrote, 'The lady doth protest too much, methinks.'"

  Dragging Mom out of the room, I added, "And don't forget, 'To thine own self be true.' Also from Hamlet."

  "Ladies, you can keep your Victorian etiquette," Mom said. "I'd rather spend my days with women who have deeper values than deception." Mom touched her forehead to mine.

  For our exit stage left, the pianist selected, We Wish You a Merry Christmas. I gave him a nod to wish him a Merry Christmas back, and I swear when he winked, I saw a sparkle in his eye.

  We shut the car doors and Mom said, "Nothing like a holiday party to put you in the Christmas mood."

  I snorted, trying to control myself, but when Mom busted out laughing, too, I doubled over. In my whole life, I'd never seen Mom even giggle, but that night, in Mom's car, in front of Megan's house, we laughed 'til we cried the good kinda tears.

  - 23 -

 
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