It was a rainy day in March when I came home to find too many cars in my driveway. Our neighborhood of townhouses didn’t leave much room for on the street parking, so I had to drive back out into the next neighborhood over to find a spot, gather my school bags in a way that was going to make sure nothing important was going to get wet, and triple check that my car was locked since I wouldn’t be able to see it from the house.
So, I was already in a bit of a mood when I finally made it into the house. This was not helped by the sound of my mother yelling. I knew there was only one person in the world who could make her yell like that, so I dropped my bags by the door and headed towards the living room to find my proof.
Sitting on the couch playing Xbox was my cousin Aria, the oldest daughter of my mother’s twin brother. I sat down hard on the couch next to her, turning up the TV volume a few more notches to help drown out the yelling. Aria silently handed me the second controller. We played in the sulky silence that only two seventeen-year-olds can probably manage for a few minutes before I sighed. “Were we expecting you guys?”
“Madison left,” Aria sighed back, going for a rather impress kill shot, “And from the sound of the earlier yelling—she took all his money.”
I let out a slow whistle through my teeth. “This might be the worst one yet.
“A-yup,” Aria agreed, “Dad really messed up this time.”
Aria’s mom had left when she was only seven-months-old. In the sixteen in a half years since, my Uncle Tom has lived with seven different women, encouraging Aria and later her half-brother to consider each woman like their new step-mother. None of them ended well. This one, Madison, had been bad news from the beginning in my humble opinion but had given Aria a half-sister and there was no talking Uncle Tom out of it, especially not with a new child involved.
Mom said it had a lot to do with abandonment issues. Uncle Tom had really loved his first wife, Aria’s mom, and now he felt desperate to cling to each new love, no matter how unadvised that love was.
Despite the Xbox, we heard the end of the argument. We knew it well at this point. It started with “Okay, Tom, I can’t finish this with you right now.”
“Oh, come on, Holly.”
“No, Tom, I need some air.”
Aria paused the game and we both looked towards the stairs. My mom appeared around the bend, pinching the bridge of her nose. After a moment, she realized the room was silent and looked up to see us watching her.
“Oh, hello, lovely ladies,” My mom grinned, coming the rest of the way down the stairs. “Having fun?” Aria and I just kept staring back at her. “Okay,” Mom clapped, “Melody, I need to talk to you in the backyard for a second.
“Mom, it’s pouring out,” I protested.
“Mel, now.” My mom said curtly, already half-out the back door.
“Nngh,” I groaned sinking boneless-ly into the couch.
“I’ll keep it paused till you get back,” Aria offered.
“Nah—I’m just bringing you down anyway.” I stood up and stretched, “When you’re finished, can you try to unlock the new sniper rifle for me?”
“Ten-four, cuz.” Aria was already sucked back into the game.
When I got into the backyard, I found my mother standing with her face turned up to the rain. “I hate my brother,” She said when she heard the door close. “I love my brother, but I hate my brother.”
“I know,” I answered.
Mom turned and looked at me. “Oh, I wish your father was here.”
“I know,” I said again. My dad had been around until I was fifteen months old. I was eleven months old when he was diagnosed with a glioblastoma—a fast-growing brain tumor. After he died, mom hasn’t even looked at dating as far as I could tell. I think Mom had some abandonment issues of her own.
“Melody, I’m going to need you to make a couple of sacrifices in the name of the family,” Mom smiled in that slightly sickeningly way that meant I was about to have to agree to something that I didn’t want to agree to.
“The cousins are staying here for a couple of days, aren’t they? While Uncle Tom goes and sorts this all out?” I sighed, thinking of Aria’s air mattress taking up most of my bedroom floor.
“Not quite,” Mom gave me a look—before launching into the usual over explanations she always had prepared when she was going to ask me for something we both knew was going to be unfair. “Madison took everything, Mel. All his money, the TVs, Aria’s video games—anything that could be of value—she stole it. Your uncle has five dollars in his bank account, $40 in his wallet, and nothing he can even sell to pay the rent.”
I let this information process before what my mom was trying to say fell into sharp relief. “Mom. No. You cannot be saying what I think you are saying.”
Mom put on her best ‘making good of a bad situation’ smile. “Your Uncle Tom and cousins are moving in with us for a while. Won’t that be fun?”