Author: WavesetAurora PM
Leigh always wanted to know what life with her father in Maine would be like, but she never thought it would have to happen. While dealing with her own demons, her troubled brother, and adjusting to her estranged father, she manages to find solace in a group of new friends and one adventurous boy.Rated: Fiction T - English - Family/Romance - Chapters: 7 - Words: 18,819 - Reviews: 1 - Favs: 1 - Follows: 2 - Updated: 06-29-12 - Published: 06-22-12 - id: 3035083
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
The Christmas when I was eight years old, my father came to visit me for the first time in six years. My mother wouldn't let him put his foot on our front porch, but she told my older brother and I that we could go outside to visit him, "if ya' want to." My dad was something we didn't talk about while growing up, not even after the visit. Mom pretended like it didn't happen.
He gave Cooper, who was ten then, a set of white-tail antlers and a guitar, both unwrapped.
I remember him turning to me and smiling. All I could do was stand there and search the face in front of me for any shred of recognition. He leaned down and picked up the unmarked brown box that nestled in the few inches of snow the Ohio Weather Gods had granted us.
"Here Leigh," His demeanor was warm and hesitant, as if he was just as startled to see us again as we were him.
Inside was a dream catcher, with navy colored wrapping, hawk feather trim, and a bear shaped stone at its center.
"It's to keep away any nightmares," he'd said softly
Under the newspaper beneath it was a book of high resolution, color images from all over the state of Maine.
Unbeknownst do my mother; I spent nights when I couldn't sleep, browsing through the book's pages. I knew every image by heart, along with their locations. For some reason, despite the fact that I hardly had a claim to my father, I was intrigued by what his life may be like in the wondrous place. I even imagined what it would be like to live there with him—but I never dreamed that I would ever be experiencing it.
We knew Mom was dying before it happened. A year and a half after our father's visit, she sat Cooper and I down in our tiny living room and told us just that. I started to cry. Cooper grasped her and my hands in his, acting beyond his years.
As he finished high school and I began my junior year, he put off making college plans in anticipation of the date.
"I gotta make sure I'm around to take care of you," he told me
The cancer took its toll and I watched helplessly as the only parent I had whittled away to nothing. She was gone months before her heart stopped beating. Those last weeks had been hectic. Cooper had assumed responsibility for getting me to school and making sure I was keeping up with it, working at Home Depot to put chicken nuggets and sloppy Joes on our table. He was battling off child services, and the parade of local pity that showered the two of us everywhere we went. She passed away at the end of the summer, just before the start my senior year.
Now, as I squirt the last of the mustard on a dinosaur shaped nugget, Cooper briefs me on the funeral, a Marlboro hanging loosely from his lips.
"Closed casket, I got the cheapest one they had…I thought we'd just do the ceremony with Pastor Davis and we can put out a memo or something in e mail. The girls from bridge will come, and the office staff…Do you want to bring anyone?"
I glance at him dully, "Me?"
He sighs, "Leigh…"
"I've told you Coop, I don't even talk to anyone anymore okay?" I don't mean to raise my voice, "Like, I get that you're worried and all, since you still manage to have a life while doing all this shit. But I just… I just…"
He curls his arm around my shoulders, "I know, she's gone." His voice is solemn.
I shove a stegosaurus nugget into my mouth instead of responding. It wasn't as if my mother and I were extremely close. She didn't do a particularly bang-up job of mothering me. But she was there, and she gave me a handful of cash every week or so to walk to the grocery store and buy myself some food.
And as far as my social life went, telling people that your Mom had cancer was enough to make them distance themselves just a little. I widened that gap myself. It's not like my old friends were rude about it, they just don't know what to say. It was easier for everyone if I didn't make them have to think of something. I watched as my childhood best friend Ashley slowly stopped trying to be supportive and continued living her life the way a normal teenager should, dating boys and going to football games and homecoming dances.
The Monday after the ceremony, I skip school. My logic with Cooper is that I didn't miss the day after Mom died, so I can afford to take today off. Cooper ruffles my light brown hair as he leaves for work, orange apron tossed over his shoulder.
We got rid of cable and Internet, we don't get the paper, and the only novels in the house I haven't read are the Harlequin romances Mom owned.
I find the Maine book between my twin mattress and the wall. I sit on the floral patterned couch and listen to the rain as I look through its pages.
Around three there's a knock at the door. I peer through the crack of space allowed by the security chain. Standing on our shallow, uneven porch, is a black woman in her early thirties, dressed in a dark suit. She smiles at me.
"Can I help you?" My voice is monotone
"My name is Mrs. Wright, I'm with child services. Is this the Hammond residence?"
I hesitate, "There aren't any children living here." I close the door a fraction of an inch.
"I'm here on behalf of the State's Protection of Minor's program. You must be Leigh. You're going to need to let me inside sweetheart." Her voice is unnervingly calm
I shut the door and unlatch the chain, then let her in. "What do you need?"
She ignores me, stepping through the doorway and consequently into the living room. "Did you go to school today?"
I make a noise that could be interpreted as either a yes or a no.
I watch as she takes survey of the house. I do my part to clean up, since Cooper can't be bothered with it. But I'm not much of a housekeeper. I follow her to the kitchen where she eyes the stacks of unwashed dishes and empty cereal boxes, which litter the limited counter space. There are about ten ash trays sitting around that all need cleaned badly. She opens the fridge—a door full of condiments, a package of Kraft Singles, and a case of beer. She doesn't comment on the fact that she knows Cooper is only nineteen.
"What did you have for breakfast this morning?" Mrs. Wright asks me
"What is the last thing you ate?"
"A peanut butter sandwich." I lean against the old fridge
"And when was that?" she retrieves a clipboard from her briefcase
"A few hours ago." I lie
She sits down on a stepladder in the corner. "I hear that your mother passed away,"
I nod, "A week ago."
"I'm sorry to hear that…" she's writing details on her clipboard.
I shrug again.
She looks directly at me, "Listen Leigh, I know this isn't easy."
I cut her off, "That's what the last person they sent down said. We can handle it. We're fine, thanks."
"Honey, we really need to sort this out."
My voice becomes pleading, "No, we don't. Coop's an adult, he can take care of us. I'm still going to school! Nothing needs to be sorted out!"
Her eyes turn hard, "Leigh. Call Cooper."
Within the next week, everything changes. I don't have very much to pack. I can hear Coop in the next room, cursing to himself as he tries to fit his life into a few boxes.
"I can't believe she didn't have a will." he mumbles.
While that wasn't exactly true, there is nothing through out the document identifying a new guardian for me. She and a co-worker had written it together after she learned about the cancer. So the state followed it's own rules.
We have specific instructions to load up the Taurus and drive fifteen hours to Portland, Maine, where we will meet our estranged father, Lawrence Hammond. We have to call Mrs. Wright when we pass into every state, like a game—Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts, New Hampshire…
I place my Maine book carefully on top of my folded clothes in a box, and then the Dream Catcher on top of that. I think back to when I used to imagine that my father and I traveled to all of the places in the pictures ourselves, sharing adventures and making memories.
The next morning, we climb into the car, our belongings taking up the back seat all the way up to the head rests. In the trunk is an antique chest that holds several of my mother's belongings that I don't want to part with including necklaces, shoes, clothes, and her favorite bottle of perfume. There is also a plastic pencil box holding all the pictures I could find. The house is being sold by a realtor and any money earned, after my mother's debt is paid off, will be split between Cooper and I.
"Have you talked to him on the phone?" I ask
Cooper knows who I mean, "Yes, briefly. He says he's excited for us to get there."
"Says you get your own bathroom. Whoopee." He adds dryly
"You don't have to do this," I remind my brother, "You're old enough to stay here."
He frowns, "And let you go live with some man you've never met, a thousand miles away? I don't think so."
"It'll only be for another year or so, I'll be okay." I reason
"You're my little sis. … You're my family. And we have to stick together."
"What about your friends?"
He shrugs, "In a year, we'll both move back here, or maybe to Columbus. Sound good?"
I give him a half smile, "I guess…Portland, here we come."
He gives a forced laugh, "Goodbye Plain City!"