Not If I See You First
“Not very. But not everyone has to be.”
It takes me a moment to get it—which isn’t like me at all—and now it’s too late to laugh.
I smile. “Touché.”
Aunt Celia’s car pulls up and stops.
“I suppose you can tell if that’s your aunt’s car, just by the sound?”
“Pretty much, yeah.”
“My dog can do that, too.”
I turn my head to face her, something I don’t often bother doing.
“I’m starting to like you, Molly Ray. But believe me, it’s a mixed blessing.”
“Oh, don’t worry. I believe it.”
The car door thunks open. Aunt Celia calls out, too loudly, “Parker, it’s me, hop in!”
I sigh, definitely outwardly.
School was okay. Better than it could have been. Even though half the people didn’t know the other half, everyone knew enough people so it wasn’t too awkward. It’ll take time to get all the noobs up to speed on The Rules, but I have plenty of help.
Some people I don’t know very well were helping me with the noobs. Maybe just to be nice, or maybe it makes them feel important telling other people what to do. Or maybe they were protecting me like I’m the school mascot. That would really suck. I’m nobody’s poster child.
The ride home was quiet, just how I like it now. I don’t know what cars are like when I’m not in them but I get the idea people talk at me more because they think I’m bored sitting there without any scenery. My view never changes, but other than different people and cars on the street every day, I don’t think their view changes much either.
I told Aunt Celia a couple months ago she didn’t need to entertain me while driving; now she doesn’t talk in the car at all. She’s black or white about everything. I said it nicely—I wasn’t telling her to shut up or anything—but she clammed up anyway. Maybe her feelings got hurt but it’s not my fault if people don’t like the truth.
“Hi, Big P,” my cousin Petey calls down from the landing.
“Hey, Little P. How was school?”
He trots down and sits on the third-from-the-bottom step next to me.
“You’re too young to be bored at school. You’re not supposed to get bored until the fourth grade.”
“I was bored in the second grade, too,” he says proudly.
“So was I,” I whisper.
“Why are you sitting here?” he whispers back, probably just because I whispered first.
This truth I don’t want to tell, not to Petey anyway. It’s a tough enough situation as it is, my house filled with relatives—who I used to only cross paths with every couple years—now sleeping in my dead dad’s room and home office. I don’t want to tell him how I miss talking with Dad on the ride home from school, or how we wouldn’t be done when we got home so we’d sit at the kitchen table and talk some more, drinking iced tea, until he finally had to get back to work. I don’t want to tell Petey how I didn’t think about this until I climbed into Aunt Celia’s car today, when the silence—which I created and now can’t break—sucked all the air out of the car until I thought I’d pass out. How I want to sit at the kitchen table and talk to Dad now, but if I do everyone will think it’s weird, me sitting alone in the kitchen doing nothing. I don’t care if people think I’m weird, but they would bug me with questions.
Like Petey’s doing now, because sitting on the stairs doing nothing is weirder than sitting at the kitchen table. But I don’t want to tell him that instead of sitting in my room having a one-sided conversation with my dad where no one can see, I want to do it in a place where I feel him: in the kitchen, in his office (off-limits, since it’s my cousin Sheila’s room now), or at the base of the stairs, where I never sat with him in life but sometimes do in my dreams.
“I’m just resting. It’s been a long day.”
“Wanna play Go Fish?”
Not particularly. But I can’t do what I really want to do either. “Sure thing, Little P. How about Sheila?”
“Her door’s closed.”
We both know what this means. Do Not Disturb.
“All right, you get the cards, I’ll pour the drinks. Last one done has to deal.”
He pounds up the stairs. I sit a moment longer. Aunt Celia makes Petey pick up his room every night before bed but he just throws everything on shelves and never puts anything in the same place twice. He has a few decks of cards but only one braille set he got from me, so it’ll take him a few minutes to find it.
I don’t know if they’re going to let me just sit quietly to talk to you every day, Dad, but I’m sure as hell going to try. I might need to go into my room and close the door like Sheila, because you’re right, everyone has secrets, and that includes me.
Dinner is pork chops—too dry like always—mashed potatoes, applesauce, and canned peas. All of Aunt Celia’s meals are cartoons, like something you might get if you were a captive in an alien zoo and they fed you what they thought people ate from watching TV.
I didn’t offer to help because Aunt Celia always says no thank you. Which would be fine except she only says it to me. She tries to be nice about it with different reasons, sometimes hinting that she’s cutting me a break since I’m “having such a hard time.” It’s really because the best way to help is chopping and she can’t stand seeing a blind girl holding a knife. Whatever. Everything we’re eating tonight is stuff I can prepare in my sleep. I’m glad to have less work if that’s what makes her happy.
“Parker, did you and Sheila see each other much at school today?” Uncle Sam asks.
“Dad!” Petey says, mortified. “Not cool.”
I know what my junior protector means. “It’s okay, Little P. The word see can mean a lot of things, like bumping into someone, or dating them, or understanding them. So no, I didn’t see Sheila today. Maybe she did see me, though, if you see what I mean.”
Petey laughs. No one else does.
“We don’t have any of the same classes,” Sheila says in her why-do-we-have-to-talk-about-this voice. “And our lockers are nowhere near each other.”
Uncle Sam doesn’t point out the small size of the school or the possibility of sitting together at lunch or ask how she knows where my locker is if she didn’t see me. I’m glad. He usually knows when to stop.
“How’s Molly working out?” he asks.
“It always takes a while to break in a new buddy, but she seems promising. She has a lot of Rules to learn.”
Sheila snorts. Well, a burst of expelled air, definitely the eye-rolling kind. I let it go.
“Little P has a good story to tell,” I say.