I stared at her eyes, framed by the rearview mirror, and tried to remember the way I used to feel when she looked at me. My first memory was of those hazel eyes staring down at me. They were the eyes that had comforted me my whole life. One look in them and I knew that, no matter what, at least one person in this world loved me.
Somehow I had gotten to a point where I felt a strong urge to punch the face those eyes belonged to. It was probably a good thing she no longer looked at me for longer than a millisecond. It made it easier to resist the urge. Not that I would have actually punched her, regardless of how angry I felt. It was one of my dad’s ‘real men’ rules.
A real man never hits a woman—especially his mother.
I’d learned all about that lesson when I was about eleven. I was mad because my mom had taken my game away, and I pushed her while trying to get it back. I didn’t mean to do it so hard, but I had forgotten that when I became as tall as her I also became stronger than her. That night, my dad lit up my butt as he delivered his lesson.
My mom’s eyes finally flicked in my direction, and I didn’t miss my opportunity to repeat myself.
“One hundred and thirteen!” I said each syllable slowly, making sure she’d heard me correctly. She only rolled her eyes before concentrating on the road in front of her. “Mom! Did you hear me? Make her stop.”
“Make me stop what?”
I glanced at Molly, irritated. “You know what.”
Mom let out a loud sigh from the driver’s seat. I crossed my arms, letting out my own sigh, and stared out my window. The sun was fading in the distance, casting a strange orange glow on the clouds near the horizon. It was the same sun and the same sky, yet somehow the sunset looked different than it did back home.
I was lost in my memories of home when Molly’s voice cut in. “Are we there yet?”
I looked at my watch. Only five minutes had passed. “One hundred and fourteen!”
“Benjamin Riley Franklin, if you don’t stop counting I’m going to ground you for the entire summer!”
“Ground me from what? I’ve already lost everything.” I wanted to say that she already took everything, because that was the truth. I didn’t lose my dad, my home, my baseball team, my friends. All those things were taken from me, without warning.
“I’m sure I can figure something out.”
“Seriously, Mom. How can you be annoyed by my counting, but not her constantly asking when we’re going to be there?”
“She’s eight. You’re fifteen.”
I hated that answer. It wasn’t even an answer, but it was the same one she gave for just about every reason why Molly could do something I couldn’t.
“If you let me sit up front, I’ll stop counting.”
She looked at me through the mirror again. I could see that I had pushed her too far, making her angry. I felt a satisfied grin try to surface. Not because I was happy that I had upset her—I actually didn’t like doing that—but because she had finally looked at me for longer than a millisecond. I turned back to my window when the only feeling I could find reflected in her eyes was disappointment.
“Is it too much to ask for you to sit back there and entertain your sister? If you would pay attention to her, she’d probably stop asking when we’ll be there.”
I had no idea what she expected me to do, and it pushed my anger to the limit. I had to clench my fists to keep from striking the back of her set. “How am I supposed to entertain her? She just plays on the tablet and she won’t share it!”
“Then do something else and ignore her.”
“Like what? There’s nothing for me to do except read. Yet I can’t read because it’s getting too dark out, and my reading light distracts you. Why can’t I just sit up front?”
Mom shook her head. “How would sitting up front improve your situation? The lighting up here is the same as back there.”
“My situation would be improved because I’d be more comfortable! My legs are practically numb from being cramped back here—because I had to sit behind you so Molly didn’t have to sit in the sun—and her stupid tutu keeps scratching my leg!”
“Hey, my tutu isn’t stupid!”
“Benjamin, last warning! Just stop, please!” Mom hit the steering wheel with the heel of her hand a few times.
“Mommy, Ben called my tutu stupid!” Molly sounded like she was about to cry. I cringed, certain that I’d be the one to blame for her tears.
“It’s okay, honey. It’s just because he’s a boy. All boys think tutus are stupid. Why don’t you start a movie? We should be at the hotel in the time it takes you to watch one movie.”
Molly sniffed hard and wiped her eyes before pulling up a movie on the tablet. It was the most annoying one she had, made even more annoying by the fact that she’d already watched it twice on the trip. I pulled on my headphones, even though the battery on my phone had died a few hours before. I became frustrated again at Mom’s insistence that I didn’t need to get a car charger for it. At least she let me get the good headphones I wanted, and they slightly muffled the noise from Molly’s movie. I glanced at my little sister, her face lit up with a rainbow of colors projecting from the tablet.
I knew I shouldn’t be mad at her. She was just as affected as me by everything that had happened. But I couldn’t help feeling the opposite. I was jealous of how everyone treated her through the whole ordeal.
Molly needs extra attention right now.
Molly doesn’t fully understand what’s happening.
If that was the case, then why had my parents told her the truth when they didn’t tell me anything?
As I watched Molly smile at her movie, I thought about the night my dad left. He looked at me and said what he always said before he left for a business trip.
“Don’t forget, you’re the man of the house while I’m gone. Look out for your mother and sister.”
That was it. Then he turned and walked out the door. I hadn’t learned the truth until the next day at dinner when I asked Mom when he’d be back.
Mom had said nothing.
It was Molly who said, “He’s not coming back. He doesn’t live here any more, remember?”
Her words hit me like a brick right in the chest. I could feel tears start to prick at my eyes as she continued to talk, but I forced them back. Crying would have been a violation of another of my dad’s ‘real men’ rules.
Real men don’t cry, especially in front of other people.
That was the moment I started resenting Molly. She received a full on good-bye conversation with an explanation, a new stuffed animal, hugs and kisses, and promises of sleepovers in his new apartment.
All I got was his standard ‘be the man’ good-bye message.
It drove me crazy that Molly could view the entire situation as an adventure. She was actually excited about moving to Podunk, Indiana. She thought it would be cool to have two homes with a bedroom in each—one room would be painted pink and the other purple. She loved the idea of having two birthday parties and two Christmas trees—and the presents that would come with each. She talked incessantly about all the new friends she was going to meet and how she was certain her new school would be better than the old one. She thought living with Grandma and Grandpa Asher for the summer would be “so fun.”
I had always thought siblings were supposed to fight on the same side in the war against the stupid crap that parents did. She should have been angry. Like me.
She was upset for about a day when she learned that she would miss her dance recital because of the move. When Mom told her she could wear the stupid tutu for as long as she wanted, her world wasn’t only back to normal it was better than ever.
Molly got to wear the tutu, use the tablet exclusively, and ask annoying questions as many times as she wanted. She got extra hugs, ice cream sundaes, bedtime stories, and the truth.
I got to be a man.
But I didn’t want to be a man. I wanted to be a teenager who was angry because his parents got divorced. And I wanted my mom to love me despite my anger. I wanted her to remember that she promised she would always love me—no matter what.
It hadn’t taken me long to realize that divorce was strong enough to break any promise.