Life just keeps getting sweeter

Life+just+keeps+getting+sweeter

Story by Emily Hoover, Co-Editor in Chief

Life. My best friend’s over, it’s Christmas Break, and we’re playing Life.

After my first semester of junior year, I don’t have enough brainpower left to contemplate the mysteries of the universe, so I’m in my living room playing a board game and thanking God I haven’t gotten my ACT results back yet.

My mother’s in Hot Springs, and all attempts to reach her have ended with her voicemail.

Well, of course. She’s with her boyfriend (an exceptionally creepy thought), and it’s not like I actually need her for anything.

I lean sideways against our brick fireplace and stare at the game pieces like there’s some strategy I can come up with to win.

There isn’t. We’ve been playing five minutes and I’m already losing. Games of chance don’t generally play in my favor.

Whatever.

I’m not writing a paper, organizing a community drive or trying to convince myself that I care so much about Martin Van Buren’s foreign policy that I need to read the entire chapter again.

Life is good.

A car door slams and I grimace.

Rob walks through the living room, barely glancing at me, then sees Carlye.

“Hey! Carlye, I didn’t know you were still here. Emily, how come you never play games with ME?”

“Mmm, go away.”

He ignores me and asks Carlye if he can play.

I begin a spiel about the integrity of finishing a game you’ve already started, the great dedication we entered into when we began the game of Life; Carlye cuts over me and tells him he’s welcome.

Well crap. I probably need to work on that one.

Rob goes back to his room to put down his things and I begin explaining to Carlye that it really is necessary that she become much meaner.

“Hey Em, Mom called you, right?”

I snort. “Are you kidding? I haven’t talked to her since she left.”

He walks back out of his room to stare at me.

“What?” I’ve seen Rob struck dumb maybe twice in his life.

Still staring, watching my reaction. “Jeez Em…Thad proposed.”

***

We’re sitting in my mom’s new Toyota Camry on the way home from one of my many after-school club meetings.

She turns down the radio, meaning she wants to talk about something. I hate these talks; this is the time she has me cornered and can plan out the week, or give me chores, or tell me I have to be nicer to my brother.

But she’s not looking at me; she’s pointedly staring straight ahead.

Oh crap, what did I do? What did ROB do?

“Emily…I need to talk to you about something.”

Definitely, definitely not good.

“I really…don’t know how to say this…”

Is she shipping me off to boarding school? I read this article about these girls that went to this boarding school in Dallas, and…

No. This isn’t about me. Her hands are gripping the steering wheel and she’s biting the inside of her cheek.

I know these quirks; I inherited them. She’s not mad, she’s embarrassed and nervous.

Oh God. That’s worse.

“I met this guy….”

I’m blind sighted. In a hundred years I would have never guessed that this talk was about my mom meeting a guy.

In the decade since she’d divorced my dad, I’d never even known her to go on a date.

Sure, she was gorgeous…and smart and funny and strong. But she was still my mom.

Have to talk, have to find my voice. Usually I can’t shut up.

Unfortunately, my heart has stopped beating.

“Ummm…that’s great mom. Ummm…I guess you like him a lot then, huh?”

“Yeah. I really, really do.”

It’s not the words, but the way she says them. Soft, sweet, gooey. My strong, single, girl-power mother has gone gooey.

***

We’re driving to Joe’s, because, as Mom jokes, it’s one of the few places that can easily seat six.

This isn’t my first time meeting Thad–or his kids, for that matter. But this will be the first time we sit down to eat a meal out together.

This should be entertaining.

Thad orders cups with lids for Audrey and Will so that when Audrey knocks hers over (which she’s managed twice so far), it won’t go everywhere.

The pizza is taking too long to be cooked; Will is bored out of his mind. Audrey, at least, is enthralled by the iCarly episode playing above our heads.

To see it, she sits up on her knees, holding the back of the chair.

Facing away from us, when she begins laughing at full volume, her blond head thrown back in appreciation, the rest of the restaurant gets more of it than we do.

People look, then smile and turn away.

She’s lucky she’s so darn cute.

Will, at six, is complaining that he CANT HEAR THE TV. Thad tells him he’ll just have to deal with it.

Will slides down in his seat, sulking.

When his father asks him a question, he screws his lips together, closes his eyes, and shakes his head forcefully. No, he will not sit up like a big boy. No, he will not eat the pizza he specifically ordered.

I am entirely unequipped for this kind of thing.

I have never baby-sat, and my cousins have always been older. Rob’s younger than me by three years, but he’s always been reasonably self-contained.

“Lord, grant me patience…”

But I’d be lying if I said they weren’t growing on me. I’m one of the few people Audrey lets pick her up…and Will hates me, which is endearing in its own way.

All the same…

“AAAAAAAHHH!!!” Audrey has hit her hand on the table, and nothing less than a Hello Kitty Band-aid will make it feel better.

Unfortunately, those are in short supply in an Italian restaurant.

The owner manages to dig out a Blues Clues Band-aid from Heaven knows where, and this manages to shut up Audrey until she can get home to her Hello Kitty stash.

Crisis averted.

Except for all the other customers still staring at us.

“Lord, please grant me patience…”

***

I don’t know what to do, where to stand.

My stomach’s in knots, and even though this church is the place in the world that I feel safest, today it’s been given a new task, a new definition.

I feel like I’m sleep-walking.

I’ve spent two hours putting on my dress, my make-up, fixing my hair. Susan, my mother’s best friend and my last year’s English teacher, gives me my choice of flowers.

Then, pictures.

The six of us. Mom, Rob, me and my grandparents. Thad, Will, Audrey and their grandparents. Every living relative we have.

Still, it’s not real.

I watch people come into the church, some of whom I’ve known all my life and some of whom I’ve never met.

Everything is “beautiful,” “perfect.”

My mouth hurts from all the smiling.

The preacher comes out. Bruce. I’ve seen him preach a sermon, hype up a group of kids for Vacation Bible School and christen babies.

I’ve never seen him perform a wedding.

I take a minute to watch my mother. She’s wearing a long blue dress, and her hair looks perfect…in a natural beauty sort of way.

She’s glowing.

I’d always thought that was a sort of myth, but I see it in her, on her.

The six of us stand in front of the altar.

It’s still not real.

Bruce begins.

The service is meant to be short, not even 10 minutes long.

It feels like I’m standing there forever.

My heels are cutting into my feet; I can’t breathe; my stomach is twisted.

I hear Thad repeating his vowels, and I can hear the nerves in his voice.

Suddenly, it’s more real than anything.

Ohgodohgodohgod. I can’t cry. MOM’s not even crying. Ohgodohgodohgod.

I’m getting a stepfather. A stepbrother. A stepsister. A new home, in a new town.

It’s always been my mom, my brother and me. This is as far removed from my reality as anything ever has been, but it’s happening.
Right now. Right this second.

***

Life is the silliest game, you go down the same board a hundred times and something different happens to you every time.

Your car totals, pay $15,000.

You find out you’re pregnant with twins, take a Life tile.

Your baby wins a picture contest, collect $5,000.

At the end, we add up the money and decide we’ve “won” or “lost.” Then we start the whole thing over again.

Real life is nothing like that. You do what makes you happy, you make your own decisions, your own mistakes and triumphs.

In the game of Life, I might have ended up a millionaire.

In real life, I got a family.

You tell me which one’s sweeter.