High school senior Ashley St. Helens
has suddenly found herself living a fairy tale life....
Which is not as much fun as it sounds.
Until... the other shoe drops.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Free to Be

Moments ago the mood in this room had been delightful; now, waves of crazy were emanating from the corner desk and no one was speaking. I started cleaning up. Jeff studied the paper. “Photo source: Justin Case,” he read, “wait – he’s a private detective! My dad knows him! Now he’s selling photos to the paper?”

“I sold the photo,” said Sylvia. “To pay for his services.”

“That’s unethical!”

“Well at least I gave him a photo credit,” she retorted. “Besides, what would I know about ethics? I never went to college. I’m not the one with the law degree,” she said, glaring at Harry, completely unaware of the hole she was digging. I could tell Harry was biting his tongue, not wanting to laugh out loud.

“Why would I? I was prom queen,” she went on. “I had four marriage proposals by the end of the night! Everyone but everyone wanted me! But did I marry? NO! I leveraged my assets, managing my looks and social calendar and turning them both into a living over the years. I mean, when the twins came I figured out how to live on child support from both of their dads! It took me years of community service to build my reputation, and to find a man who could love and support me for who I really am, and give my girls the life they deserve… until YOU!” She glared at Harry, furious, then at Jeff, then at me.

With a shriek of frustration, Sylvia swept the contents of her desk to the floor. “Who the hell WAS that girl anyway?” She advanced on Jeff, holding the champagne bottle, having abandoned the pretense of orange juice several swigs ago. “You had no right to choose your own prom queen! All this planning and hard work by adults—and you kids go and do whatever you feel like.”

“Sylvia…” Harry tried to calm her down.

“Children are so ungrateful! They need so much support, and it’s hard for one person to do it all.” She took a swig. “Especially when the person you hoped and dreamed and vowed would be there with you for the rest of your life not only comes with so much baggage,” here she gestured at me, but was clearly appealing to Harry, “...and his constant memory of her, which is bad enough already but then he up and dies on you, leaving you in charge of said person, and so now rather than being taken care of for the rest of your life, you are forced to take care of her, and of that memory of his, and not him, but her face in your face, in your own house! But what’s worse, it’s not even your own house! In his will he leaves it in some trust for her and you have nothing, really, nothing of your own! You have no idea! It’s too much! It’s just too much! I work full time mothering these girls, there are no other options!”

Harry stepped between Jeff and Sylvia, cleared his throat, and commandeered the conversation.

“Sylvia, there’s something I’ve been trying to talk to you about. It might actually help solve your problems. I was trying to invite you out for coffee and do this the nice way, but you’ve blocked me at every turn.” Sylvia just glared, exhausted but still lost in her rage. Harry took a breath and continued. “I found letter from Ashley’s mother from before she died, saying if anything happened to both of them, she’d like her to live with me.”

“What!?” Sylvia stared, stunned.

“What?” I stared, stunned.

“What do you think godparent means?” Harry turned to me. “Ashley, I have a proposal, I mean, a proposition for you. I was hoping to ask you this last night but events took on a life of their own. Can I… I mean, will you… I mean….”

Jeff and I looked at one another, incredulous. “On one knee, big guy, that’s how it’s done,” he teased Harry, and I laughed, falling in love with him just a little more. But Harry was as worked up as Sylvia and didn’t finish his sentence.

“It was a big decision for me, as you can imagine. Becoming a mother? At my age?” Jeff and I cracked up. “Starting with a teenager?” Harry was now relishing his moment.

“I was furious with Sylvia, Ashley, who would never,” he glared at her, “let me even finish my sentence, which may have included the phrase, ‘take her off your hands’ if I’d known how you felt…. I went on a research rampage for the next few weeks, trying to figure out how I could get you out of there without the bit… without Sylvia’s consent. And I finally found out… I realized… ”

“What, Harry?” I had never really considered my legal status before.

“Ashley… you’re an orphan. Sylvia never adopted you. You’re over sixteen. You can be,” He took a breath, “legally emancipated.”

“Emancipated?” It sounded like the end of slavery.

“You don’t have to live with her anymore.”

I sat down, unable to stand for a moment, and stared at him.

“Ashley… if you want to… would you like…would you like…like to live with me?” He stammered, blushed a little. “I could even adopt you, but the fact is that you have a choice in the matter. You’re not a little girl. You are free…free to be…”

Jeff said, “Free to be you and me? Free to be?”

At first I hesitated, wondering what would become of the house if I left, but one look at Jeff’s open, excited face reminded me of Harry’s lecture the night before: What would you think of doing some take? I took. I took the chance—again.”

“Yes, yes,” I nodded. I heard some choking noises from Sylvia’s direction. But I was crying now.
Harry was crying, too. “I mean, when you’re eighteen, you could do whatever you wanted, but until then I thought you’d like to have some options ... We can fix up my spare room. You can have a real bed. You can have rainbows and unicorns... or paint the walls black and be rebellious if you want. I got up and went around the table and sat in his lap and hugged him like I used to when I was little. He kissed my hair.

“I’ll go pack some things.”

“I’ll go with you.” As Jeff and I dashed up the stairs, a stony silence closed on the living room behind us.


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