“You okay, Mom?” I ask, peering into the bowl on the counter. Wilted salad, from two days ago.
“No, I’m not okay.” She turns to me, hand on hip. “I’m not okay at all, and I’ll tell you why. I may not have a job much longer, and your father’s left me with this whole house to pay for.” She waves her arm through the air like a game show hostess. “He doesn’t care how I’m going to pay for it. He doesn’t even care if I lose it and we’re all out on the street.”
Her face is flushed and glistening under the bright kitchen lights.
No matter how crazy what she’s saying is, I know better than to stick up for Dad or try to argue with her when she gets like this. The call must have been about selling the house.
“So, if we sell this place, where’re we going to live?” It seems like a sensible, neutral question.
She picks up her empty glass, stares down into it, and rattles the ice cubes.
“For all he cares, we could end up on the streets.”
Again, the streets. I stop my eye roll just in time. I only want a straight answer.
She tosses the ice into the sink and leans heavily against the edge of the counter.
I look down at my breeches, spotted with mud from the riding ring. It seems like the first part of today was a lifetime ago. It seems like the dream of leasing Octavia and having her be mine to ride all summer was just something I read about in a book, in someone else’s life. Now I’m staring down a tunnel at my real life—moving God knows where, a new school, no horses…and now this—dealing with Mom.
“How about another real estate job around here? There must be lots of others that would want an experienced agent like you. You could—”
The glass crashes against the sides of the sink and rolls around inside.
“I’m not living in the same state as him.”
Jess stands behind Mom’s back, motioning with her hands, pressing them down as if to stop a rising flood. Her face is pale in the harsh light.
By him, she means Dad of course. Now that he has become the cause of all her problems in life. I need to say something that will get this crazy train back on the tracks, something solid, factual. Something I can deal with.
“So, you want to live in DC, near Aunt Liv?”
Jess retrieves the glass out of the sink and sets it on the counter. Always the helpful one. Mom’s shoulders sag. It’s like all the fire has burned out of her. She pulls out one of the kitchen island chairs and collapses into it.
“I don’t know.” Mom covers her face in cupped hands, elbows propped on the counter. Her voice is muffled. “I have no choice. I’ve got to sell the house.”
The other chair screeches along the floor when I pull it out and sit. Mom doesn’t look up. My hand hovers over her shoulders, then drops by my side. “We can look for a smaller place, here in town.” I shoot a glance over her head toward Jess. Jump in any time, coward. “That way we wouldn’t have to switch schools or anything.”
Her head snaps up, and mascara-smeared eyes bore into mine. “It’s not always all about you, Cory.”
A wave of anger pulsates off her and pushes me back in my chair. “I know. I wasn’t saying that.” I glance up in time to watch Jess as she slips out of the kitchen.
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