“Where’s your head at, Laney?” Kathy asked, her fingers working the yarn as if it were an extension of her body.
I realized I’d been lost in my own head, thoughts of my mother invading my mind. There were tears in my eyes, tears I hadn’t known were there. I wiped at them quickly, not wanting to show my weakness to the three boys sitting on the floor in front of us, PlayStation controllers in their hands. “Nothing,” I whispered, looking down at my attempt at a scarf.
“Your hands have been in that position for over five minutes,” she said, her voice low, her words meant only for me. But Lucas turned to me, his eyebrows furrowed in confusion.
“Owned you, noob!” Logan yelled, and just as quickly, Lucas turned back around and refocused on the video game.
“Laney.” Kathy dropped her yarn on her lap and freed her hands. She turned to me and said, “You can always talk to me about anything. I know that it’s just you and your dad here, so if things are going on… with yourself, or with your body, or anything else you feel like you can’t talk about with him, I just want you to know I’m here.”
I stared at her—at her sad eyes and her sad smile—and I could feel it in my heart that the words she’d spoken were sincere. The tears pooled again and this time, I let them free, along with the words that would haunt me for years. “I feel like I’m not good enough. My mom hasn’t spoken to me in months… not since my dad and I left her. And now I sit here with you and I wonder why it’s possible to feel more love from you than I felt from her, and I crave it, but I can’t miss it because I never felt it. And I can’t tell my dad because I don’t want him to think that I regret the choice to be with him instead of her, because I don’t. Not for a second.” I wiped at my cheeks, looked down at my hands, and pushed through the giant lump in my throat. “So I wonder if I’m not good enough. If that’s the reason why she can’t seem to find time to pick up the phone and call me. I don’t expect much from her, honestly, but I at least want to know she’s thinking about me.”
Silence filled the room… the video game now paused. I felt four pairs of eyes on me, watching, waiting, and the only sounds that broke the silence were my sniffles as I tried to keep it together.
By the time I found the courage to look up, I was met with Kathy’s tear-stained face. But it wasn’t her who spoke the words which would later define me. It was Luke. “I’m sorry, Laney,” he said, his voice shaking. I refused to look at him, but I felt him stand, felt him come closer until he was sitting on the couch next to me, his hand reaching for mine. “I’m sorry that your mom makes you feel like that because you are good enough. For me. For all of us. And if she doesn’t want you as family then it’s her loss, because now—now you’re a part of ours. Right, guys?”
“Right,” Leo agreed, while Logan shouted, “Your mom’s an ugly, smelly bitch.”
He was eight.
“You can go now,” Laney says, sitting back in the car, the engine idle. “You have time.” She’s looking between the seats and onto the road behind us. I’m looking at her. We should drive, but I can’t. I don’t want to pressure her to talk, but I can’t leave until I know what’s happening because I know it can’t be good. Anything to do with her mother ends in her misery. Sometimes it lasts days, sometimes weeks. And I feel as though I need to plan my next move more than I need my next breath.
I comb my fingers through my hair, pleading words filtering in and out of my mind too fast, and I don’t know what to say.
I don’t bother sparing her feelings. “What the fuck did she want? Why was she here?”
She blinks hard, probably trying to find a response that’ll both satisfy me and keep my mind at peace. I don’t want any of those things. I just want the truth. I raise my eyebrows, relentless. I’ll sit here and I’ll wait for however long it takes for her to speak. Seconds tick by, then she inhales deeply, her words rushed when she says, “When I was younger and my parents were still together, my dad set up a bank account for me.” She’s not looking at me. Not at my eyes, anyway. She’s fixed on my t-shirt, at the faded Nike logo across the chest. “It was supposed to be a college fund.” She swallows. Once. Twice. “For the past few years, we’ve been putting money in there and saving. I guess when Dad set it up, he thought the bank required both signatures to withdraw any money…” Her voice breaks and she looks up at me, her eyes wide, the shape and color of almonds.
I know where this is going, but I don’t want to admit it as much as she doesn’t want to say it, and so I say, hoping, praying she says yes, “So you need you and your dad to sign?” She shakes her head, and my chest tightens. I’ve heard enough of Laney’s stories about her mom to know what she’s capable of. The shakiness in my exhale reveals my fear. “This is bad, isn’t it?” I mumble, moving closer to her.
We’re supposed to have four more years. Ever since we visited Lucy and Cameron at UNC a couple of years ago, this was our dream. We were going to do it together. My athletic scholarship was a sure thing because I worked my ass off to get it. I pushed away other offers. I wanted UNC because Lane wanted it. Because we walked around campus, her hand on the crook of my elbow while she pointed out where she’d be sitting when she sipped her coffee. Or where she’d hide out at three in the morning trying to study because her crazy roommate she’d already named Sasha listened to death metal and dealt ecstasy from their messy, tiny dorm room. She stood at the exact spot where she said I’d one day pass out drunk, but not before sending her cryptic text messages to find me because I’d just beaten a state record in the hundred-meter sprint and had celebrated a little too hard with my teammates.
UNC was our dream.
After clearing her throat, she tells me, “When Dad got back on his feet financially, he looked into the account and saw that it hadn’t been touched, which to him meant that she probably forgot about it. And I guess she did. Until she wanted to switch banks. So when she went to close out all accounts, they must have mentioned my college fund and she—”
“No.” I mentally block my ears. “Don’t say it.”