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 24, 2013

Goodbye, Sylvia

When we came back down the stairs, we heard loud voices and stopped to make faces at each other. Down in the living room, Harry and Sylvia were continuing their argument from the dance floor. Harry was talking about my dad. “He was such a loving person, you destroyed him, and then you moved on to his daughter, to crush her, too.”

Sylvia spat, “You’re just jealous I married him, aren’t you?”

Harry sat down heavily. “I can’t deny that.”

“Hah!” Sylvia cried.

“You know I really loved him,” Harry sighed. “I loved them both. They loved me, too.”

Sylvia startled, then attacked again. “How can you say that to me? How can you be so selfish knowing what I've been through? Get the hell out of my house! I don't want you here! I never wanted you here! You undermine everything I am!” As she flew at him, he glanced up at us and stepped to the door.  “And what the hell were you doing at the prom last night anyway, all dragged up or whatever you call it? I can’t figure you out. Did you just come there to get in my face?”

Harry shook his head with pity. “You really don’t get it, do you? I was there with Ashley.”

Sylvia barked. “Hah, that’s a laugh. She was here at home. Looking like a ‘before’ picture with her sweatpants and tennies. She had plenty to do.”

She looked up as Jeff and I came down the stairs. She saw the dress and was silent. Then it all came clear to her. Tears streamed down her face. She sat down hard, realizing her defeat.

Harry spoke quietly. “Well darling, things are going to change now. You’re going to lose your house slave.”

“Harry,” I said, not wanting to be cruel. It was hard enough that I was leaving. Then I said the words I’d been longing to say. “Goodbye, Sylvia.” Jeff held the door open. Harry followed us out and took my things from me. He put them in the car. The three of us looked at each other, not sure what to say.

“Well.” Said Harry, finally.

“Well,” I said. “Thank you, Harry.”

“Thank you, Harry,” said Jeff.

Harry looked at Jeff, as if for the first time. “Thank you,” he said. “So what was your plan, when you came here?”

“I just wanted to see if Ashley wanted to hang out for a little bit. Maybe go for a drive.” Harry glanced over at Jeff’s car, a brick red vintage Volvo sports coupe, handed down to him by his grandfather on his 16th birthday. He sighed.

“Okay,” he said. “You kids do that. I’ll take your stuff home, Ashley. It will give me time to cool off, and get things ready for you.”

“Okay,” I said, hardly believing how great this was.

“But one thing,” Harry said, as if realizing all at once that a) he was now my parent, and b) I was about to get in a car with a boy, “seat belts.”

“Oh, of course,” said Jeff, a total Boy Scout. “Always.”

“Always,” Harry emphasized. “Even when the car is parked. Understand me?”

Jeff looked him in the eye and said, “Yes, sir.” Then he glanced at me and shrugged. We all laughed.

Jeff and I buckled up for safety and prudence while Harry drove away. Jeff pulled out into the street, but before we had gotten too far, he stopped.


Sunday, February 17, 2013

Who Was That Girl?

Passing Debra’s room, we heard the sounds of sobs. I knocked and twisted the knob. “Juicy” and “Pink” were spelled across the the bed. The sisters sat up and Debra said, “You can come in.”

“I wanted to say goodbye, you guys,” I said.


“You can’t go!” That felt really nice. It could have gone the other way.

“Harry asked me to come live with him,” I said.

“Oh, my, God,” said Donna.

“He’s my godfather,” I said, not wanting to elaborate.

“Is Jeff still here?” Debra asked.

“I’m right here,” Jeff said, sticking his head in behind me. “Hi.”

The girls stiffened, and then Debra said, “We have something to ask you.”

“Ask away,” Jeff said.

“Okay, we know we’re not popular,” said Debra.

“And we know our mom meant well,” said Donna.

“But why? Why not?” said Debra. “We’re cheerleaders, we wear cute clothes, we have hot bods, we have all the latest stuff, we’re friendly and outgoing.”

“We try so hard,” said Debra.

“Maybe because you try too hard,” said Jeff.

“Oh,” they both said, surprised.

“I mean, remember that time you texted me your boobs? Why would you DO that?”

“Um,” said Debra. “I noticed you were looking at them.”

“Well, you were sort of showing them off in that low cut, cropped sweater with the horizontal stripes,” he replied.

“And they were brand new,” said Debra, gazing down at her breasts. “My 18th birthday present. No one said anything.”

“I’m sorry,” said Jeff. “I should have commented. How rude of me.”

“Can you give us any advice?” Donna said. “I mean, in spite of our, our everything, we really have a hard time meeting the right people.”

“Um, maybe,” said Jeff, reaching for my hand, “we could double, I mean, triple date sometime. I have some friends….”

“That would be awesome,” said Donna, her eyes twinkling with excitement.

Debra eyed our hands. “Are you two… together?” We looked at each other, we looked at her, we nodded.

“Then who was that girl….?” Donna looked puzzled. Then Debra got it and she elbowed her sister. They looked at each other wide-eyed, then looked at us again, differently this time.

“Was it you?” Debra asked. We nodded.

“No! WAY!” Donna said. The two of them looked so conflicted, remembering how they treated me last night before they left, remembering their frustration when Jeff chose me, remembering the approval of the crowd and realizing my newfound and immense popularity. Disdain, anger, and admiration flickered over their faces and finally they settled on a feeling. I was glad it was wonder, and approval. The social significance of the event dawned on them much quicker than it did me.

“Oh, my, God,” said Debra. “Our stepsister is the most popular girl in the school!” They hugged each other to celebrate this new victory. Their words sunk in to me and I started to wonder what Monday would be like. I would be rocketed into a new life—if the rest of the student body ever put two and two together—which they would if Jeff ever walked me to class and… Jeff squeezed my hand, as if to reassure me that it would be all right. (It was. Nevada, as it turned out, would show me the ropes and protect me, allowing me to keep my nerdy AP friends and be my introverted self while handling all the stares….)

And there would be my stepsisters. Who, even though my father was gone and we no longer had a legal relationship, would always be my special somethings. Suddenly it struck me the difference between the two of them and me: they had only ever had Sylvia for a mom.

“Do you have something I could write on?” I asked, reaching for Debra's diary, which she kept on a shelf above her bed. I flipped it open to find a blank page—and of course, there were plenty—and jotted some notes down. “For later, when you don't know what to do,” I said.

Debra reached up and grabbed something else from the shelf. “Here. Before you go, Ashley. I want you to have this.” She pulled down a six-inch glass Pegasus with a thick, graceful, arched neck, whose wings stretched forwards as if to gather speed, and whose muscled hindquarters were gathered as if she were about to explode free of the glass base.

“Thank you so much,” I said, hugging her. “You don't know what this means to me.”

Her expression grew as clear as I'd ever seen it. “Actually, I do,” she said.

“You can have my glass unicorn,” I told her. “They lay their horns in the laps of virgins.” She made a face to her sister like I was crazy. “And the pure of heart,” I added. “Plus,” I said, as Jeff and I turned to leave the room, “they can heal anything.”

Sunday, February 10, 2013

My Stiff Upper Lip

“This is where you live?” Jeff had to duck to come through the small arched attic door.

“Not anymore, I guess,” I said, surveying the room. Dust motes twinkled in the stillness of the late spring sunlight streaming in through the small open window, which had crawled like a slow spotlight since I’d awakened down the length of my unmade bed, and was now touching the stack of cardboard boxes, stacked furniture, old trunks and suitcases. I pulled a suitcase out and dumped my old baby clothes onto the bed, then started scooping things up and putting them in.

We talked a little while I packed. Jeff hadn’t been over to the house since before Dad married Sylvia. “I remember the last time I was here,” he said.

“We were studying for something,” I recalled.

“French,” he said. “We were watching The Red Balloon, when the Hills came over for dinner. Debra and Donna were sort of fun back then.”

“Yeah, things have changed a bit,” I said, trying to decide what to take, my senses sharp as I realized I was about to leave my home. I was keenly aware of my parents’ stuff in the boxes and trunks around me. The family photos. The old clothes and trinkets. The antique sewing machine. The lamps and chairs in the corner. The hand-hooked rag rug.

“Maybe we could start watching French movies again at my house,” he suggested.

“The Discreet Charm of the Bourgoise?” I smiled, glancing up at his dancing green eyes. Something passed between us.

“I’m such an idiot for not recognizing you last night,” he said. “I’m so glad you tricked me.
I didn’t know what to say.

“Did you read all of these books?” Jeff was perusing the stacks of hardbacks and paperbacks in the shelves around the knee wall.

“Just up to under the window. I’m going to miss them.” Jeff picked up The Once and Future King. “Can I borrow this?”

I smiled. “Of course.” I looked down in my hands, where I held The Tao of Psychology: Synchronicity and The Self. “You should read this, too; it's great.” He reached out for it, but instead of taking the book, he grabbed my wrist and pulled me to him.

“Hey, speaking of French,” he said, “we were interrupted last night.” My whole body tingled as I slid my hands up his shoulders and leaned in. When his lips touched mine, it was nothing like the big deal I’d always fantasized; it felt normal and natural and, well, quite delicious. I laughed.

“What,” he said.

I touched my mouth. “It’s my stiff upper lip,” I said. “It’s been that way for such a long time.” He tenderly kissed it; neither of us could keep from smiling.

“You’ve probably been keeping a stiff lower lip, too.” He put his mouth to my lower lip.

“Might take some time to un-stiffen them both,” I said. So we worked on that a little bit.

I said, “Can I ask you a question?”

He said, “Would you like to ask me another?”

“Was it the shoes?”

“The shoes are pretty fabulous,” he said, “even a dumb straight jock like me could see that.”

“Jeff, you're not a—”

“Ashley—why did you ask?”

“I mean—" I blushed. "Do you really want to lick my toes?” He laughed.

“Can I?”

“We’ll have to work up to that,” I laughed, and kissed him a little more. Then I grabbed my backpack and took The Dress in my arms. He carried my suitcase downstairs.

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.