We ended up sleeping in Bradley’s room. I’m not sure how much he filled them in on, but Bradley talked to his parents and insisted that we be allowed to share his queen bed while he took the couch instead of one of us having to cramp onto the love seat. I gave him the nuts and bolts of the argument with our mother, and let him hold me for a little while, but he understood that what I really needed that night was my sister.
After Marta fell asleep, I slipped into our bedroom through the tree the same way that Bradley had visited me so many times before. The room was a bit of a mess. My mattress had been upended like someone was looking under my bed for something in a rush. Every picture frame we had in there and everything that had been hanging on the walls had been pulled down and thrown to the ground. Broken glass was everywhere. I wondered where all this rage was coming from. I’d never thought of my mother as a violent person. I set about gathering some of our things—not too much because I didn’t want Momma to accuse us of stealing, but a couple sets of clothes, some old books and journals, a sketch pad that Marta was working her way through. A couple other keepsakes from our eighteen years that I knew Marta would like to have. I crawled back into Bradley’s room and fell asleep curled up against her side, like we were seven and I was afraid of thunderstorms again.
I woke up to a gentle tapping on the door and saw Bradley’s mom sticking her head around the door. I sat up a little and she gave me a smile. “Doing alright, angels?”
I nodded and Marta sat up too. “Yes, Mrs. Wilson,” she insisted, “Thank you so much for letting us crash here, especially under such strange circumstances.”
“Not at all dears, you two can say as long as you’d like. But,” Mrs. Wilson looked back out down the hall, “Your Da’s here. He’d like to talk to you and seems calm and civil, but if you two don’t want to talk to him, we’ll send him away. Brad thought we should give you the option.”
I reached out and tapped my thumb against Marta’s knee. “We should see what he wants.”
“I can’t. You can if you want to, but I can’t. I don’t know if I ever want to see them again.” Marta was angry, but I was really hoping she didn’t mean that last part.
“Dad wasn’t angry. I mean, he might have been, but he seemed more shocked than anything else. He might be trying to raise a white flag.” I suggested, hopeful in spite of the evidence to the contrary. Momma wasn’t going to raise a white flag. We both knew that.
“Then go talk to Dad. He can be Momma’s middleman, and you can be mine.” Marta gave my hand a little squeeze. “It’s okay. I won’t hold it against you. I’m going to try to get a little more rest. I’ve been so stressed out about telling Momma that I haven’t slept well over the past couple of weeks. Go.”
I turned to Mrs. Wilson and gave her a smile. “I’m going to brush my teeth, get a little cleaned up, then I’ll come down.” Mrs. Wilson nodded and disappeared out the door. I stood, stretched, and hesitated.
“Go,” Marta insisted, “I’m fine, and you want to see him.”
I headed down the stairs. Bradley was standing near the door, glaring down at my dad sitting on the couch. You’d have thought that He was the protective father and my dad was the boyfriend who brought me home after curfew. Mr. and Mrs. Wilson were sitting on the love seat opposite my dad. No one was moving or making a sound.
When I came into the room, my dad stood up, started to take a step towards me, but then seemed to think better of it. “Avery. Sweetheart, I’m so sorry.”
“It’s okay,” I responded automatically.
“No. It’s not. I’m not happy—uh, disappointed would probably be the right word, but I hope you can find it in your heart to not fault me for that. The way your mother acted was wildly inappropriate, but she’s in shock. I hope you and your sister can forgive her for that in time. But right now, I think we all need time to think and time to process.”
“Momma never wants to see us again. I don’t think that was the shock. I think we’re dead to her.”
My father hesitated, just long enough for me to know I was right. “I understand if you and Marta want nothing to do with either of us. I would not like to write you out of my life.”
“I don’t know, Dad. Marta’s pretty upset.”
“I understand. If you change your mind, call me at work. Anytime. I love you girls. More than you can know.”
Because I knew he wanted it, and because I kind of wanted it to, I walked towards my Dad and gave him a hug. He squeezed me tightly, and I squeezed him back, all too aware that this might be the last hug I’d get from him in a long time. “Your mother’s never going to understand,” He whispered to me, “I’m so, so sorry for that, Ave.”
“It’s okay, Daddy. There’s nothing you can do about that.”
“I wish I could. I’m going to be a grandfather. I wish we could still be a family.”
I stepped out of my father’s arms, and as strongly as I could I told him to go home, be with Momma, and we’ll contact him later when we made more permanent arrangements. Dad nodded, and reached into his pocket and pulled out an envelope with our names on it. “Happy birthday, Girls. I’ll see you when you’re ready to let me back in.”
And then my Dad left. I didn’t know it at the time, but I wouldn’t have a conversation with either of my parents for another six months. What I did know at the time was that a door had just been shut and locked, and all I could do was sit down on the couch and cry.