When KayLee opened her Christmas present, she looked at the book, looked at me, looked at the book, then rolled her wheelchair over and gave me a big hug. “You’re the best,” she said. I was embarrassed. The book only cost $1 at Goodwill.
Christmas went downhill from there. Dad gave me some money—too late for my Christmas shopping—and a bicycle pump. “You might need to get places, Court,” he said. I didn’t say what I really need is a new bike.
And Mom gave me a bunch of sparkly hair twisties. I tried to act pleased. She said, “I’m going to do your hair all up pretty before we go to Grandma June’s.”
“Great,” I said.
Mom works at Joyce’s salon—when she can get customers. Her clients get mad when she doesn’t show. Everyone says she is talented; Joyce even says Mom makes old hags look gorgeous. Dad says that Mom likes Jack Daniels more than she likes her job.
I tried it, whiskey. When I was seven. I thought it was apple juice. Mom fell out of her chair laughing but Dad got mad. Usually you can almost forget he’s there. That time he yelled at Mom. Then KayLee started bawling and the neighbors pounded on the wall.
Anyway, KayLee and I were excited about going to Grandma June’s for Christmas dinner. Grandma June is nice and she always has lots of food. Including things like biscuits and homemade dessert. So we were really looking forward to it. Dad was, too, but not Mom. She and Grandma June don’t get along. Mom said she might just stay home but me and Dad and KayLee said that wouldn’t be right on Christmas.
Before we left, Mom did KayLee’s and my hair. She was singing and dancing around and said didn’t I look gorgeous. But then she poured some whiskey in her coffee. Dad glared at her but she ignored him.
When we got to Grandma June’s, Mom said, “Hi, June. I should call you December, not June,” and giggled. Grandma June didn’t say anything. She just pulled me into the kitchen and gave me a big hug.
Yeah, so it was a great meal. We had some kind of meat and potatoes and a salad. The table even had candles and each place had a little present. And Grandma June baked this humongous chocolate cake with vanilla frosting and little candy canes decorating it. We were sitting around the table, totally stuffed, and Grandma June said to Dad, “Now, Charles…”
Dad pulled on his collar and cleared his throat. Mom was leaning back in her chair and her eyes were almost closed.
“Um,” he said, looking at me. “Grandma June was wondering if you would like to live with her. For awhile.”
“What the fuck!” Mom sat up straight. “Why didn’t anybody talk to me? Who the hell do you think you are? Court is my kid, not yours, Charlie.” Which wasn’t fair because Dad has been my dad for as long as I can remember.
Dad was going to say something but Grandma June held her hand out and told Mom to simmer down. “We only want what’s best for Courtney.” They were talking about me like I wasn’t there. Then Grandma June turned to me. “Wouldn’t you like to try living here for the rest of the school year?”
I felt far away, like I was watching a TV show or something. Everything was quiet and everyone was staring at me. The only sound was Mom muttering shit, shit, shit.
Grandma June’s guest room has a big bed and the bathroom’s right next door. I thought about how much Grandma June loves me, how she’s always buying me things I really want. How calm her house is and how dinner is always ready at 5:30. How she has pictures of KayLee and me on the mantel and over the sofa and on her bureau.
Then I remembered Mom singing and dancing around while she fixed my hair. How she tells me I can do anything because I’m brainy and beautiful. How funny she is, and how nice she smells. How she says things to people like, “Courtney’s only 12 but she’s already way ahead of me.”
I thought about how I love them both, Grandma June and Mom, but how hurt Mom would be if I chose Grandma June.
I knew I really only had one choice and I went with it.
© Barbara Burt
[Word count: 742. Not yet published.]