“Right now we have to worry about Aerin getting her grades up and getting into a good school. As a matter of fact, if you’re serious about giving up on college swimming, Dawn and I investigated a few colleges for you.” He and Dawn glanced at each other, and she gave me a sheepish smile
“What did you say?” I asked, now on hyperalert.
“Did you know there are some excellent schools right here in Westchester? I called a few and asked them to send us some brochures. I thought we could look at them together over the weekend.” He turned to Dawn. “Honey, get the brochures, please.”
Dawn got up from the table, went to her desk in the corner, and came back with a colorful stack of college admissions brochures she placed before me.
“Why Westchester?” I asked, starting to pick through the pile, seeing which schools they were considering.
“Westchester’s perfect,” my father said. “You could live with us and go to school nearby. Some of the schools have swim teams, if you change your mind.”
“Live with you?” I was starting to get the picture.
“You can commute to schools that aren’t too far from here. I’ll spring for a car, whatever you want, within reason. And you can stay here with us. You can help with the girls.”
“Oh, I get it. I can be the new au pair.”
“Au pair?” Dawn looked confused. “Oh, you misunderstand. Geneviève will leave at the end of the year, but we’ve already arranged for somebody else to take her place. We don’t need you to be an au pair.”
“Then what do you need me for?”
“You can help out by driving the girls to their activities, for example, their piano and tennis lessons,” Dad said.
“Won’t I be studying?” I asked.
“Well, I assume you’ll have some downtime.”
“Won’t that be my downtime?”
“Well, if you’re living here,” he said, “we’d expect you to help in some way.”
“What about the au pair? Won’t she be driving them around? Isn’t that her job?”
“I think we have a misunderstanding,” Dawn said. “We’ve left something out.” She and my father exchanged a glance taut with tension.
My radar amped up. Something else was going on here, and I suspected I wasn’t going to like it.
“We need to back up,” my father said. “I’m sorry, we left out an important detail.” Again, he and Dawn glanced at each other.
My hands were in my lap, fingers entwined as I flexed them, trying to release the tension.
“We’ve got some news. Good news. Dawn’s pregnant. You’re going to have a little brother or sister.”
I didn’t know what I expected to hear, but it certainly wasn’t that. My jaw almost fell into my lap. They were having a baby? Weren’t they a little old for that? After all, I’d be heading off to college in a few months. That’s some age gap. I got the whole picture now.
“Congratulations,” I said. “But what does that have to do with me? You won’t need me to help take care of a new baby.”
“No, we won’t need you to take care of the baby,” Dad said. “Dawn will be here, and she’ll have the au pair. The au pair will help with the girls, too, but we thought that if you went to school here and stayed with us you would be available to help, too. It would be an opportunity to get to know your stepsisters better and to bond with your new brother or sister,” he said.
“Sounds like a great plan,” I said, “except for one thing: I don’t want to go to school in Westchester. And, another thing: I don’t want to live with you. I could be living with you right now, but I’m not, I’m staying with Maggie and Pat because I can’t stay here. I don’t care to know my stepsisters better, and I don’t plan to take care of your new baby.”
Dawn stiffened. “We thought you’d be happy for us.”
I gaped at her, astounded by her arrogance, her lack of understanding. Why would I be happy for them?
I wasn’t happy she’d met my father.
I wasn’t happy he left my mother.
I wasn’t happy they got married.
I wasn’t happy to have two stepsisters.
And, I wasn’t happy to be a big sister to their child, their new family coming full circle, completion.
I would be no better than an au pair. They had no obligation, no commitment, to these foreign girls who came and stayed with their family a year at a time to help them with the care, feeding, bathing, and driving around of their little monsters. I wasn’t sticking around. I was going to college, a college far away so I wouldn’t have to stay with them or help them with their children.
“You know,” I said trying to be as calm as possible, “the two of you act as though you’re the only two people in the world. You’re oblivious to how you’ve hurt my mother and me. You’ve hurt Emily and Avery, too. You’ve turned our lives upside-down so you could be together.
“I can’t forgive you,” I said looking at my father, “for leaving Mom and me at such a critical time. If you want to go on as if no one’s been hurt by your selfish actions, that’s fine. I can’t do anything about that. But don’t ask me to pretend everything’s okay and we’re one big happy family, because we’re not.
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