Chelsea entered the house, looked anxiously around, and then snuck into her bedroom. She didn’t want either parent to question her about where she had been. She needed time to digest the evening.
Just a few short hours ago, she had been trying to coerce Amber over to her side with a beer. Now, here she was wondering what came next in her biblical-learning curve. A lot of what the pastor had said, and what the kids had read, made sense. Some of it, however, was confusing. She wished she owned a Bible, so she could look it up again, read it more slowly.
She threw her coat onto a pile of clothing heaped on her desk, which she never used. She frowned. If she were to become a Christian, would it mean she had to study harder in school? She definitely was not ready for that.
She picked up the television remote and began flipping through the channels. Saturday night, surely something should be on. She wasn’t usually home on Saturday nights. She and Annette would typically cruise either the mall, or the downtown plaza, their girls running behind them. Chelsea felt a stab of guilt over this; she shouldn’t have tried to control the girls so much.
Chelsea turned off the television, having little patience for what those greater broadcasting companies tried to cram down her throat. She wandered around the room, picked up a few things and put them away. They used to have a housekeeper for this, but that was before. Now, her mother expected her to do it. It was a hard adjustment. She was bored. This staying home on a Saturday was killing her.
She lay down on her bed, picked up her stereo remote and turned on her favorite music channel. A love song came on, sappy nonsense about a boy in love with a girl who didn’t have the time of day for him, so typical. She started to push the button, eager to change it to another station, when a sudden image of Charlie came to mind. His dimply smile and wry grin caused a smile to spread across her face. Why hadn’t she noticed how cute he was before? She decided to leave the sappy love song.
A soft knock sounded on the door. “Come in,” she said.
Her mother opened the door, appearing in the doorway as a shadowy figure silhouetted by the soft glow of the hallway light. Panic distorted her face. “Chelsea, honey, what are you doing home? Are you sick?”
She crossed the room, laid a hand across Chelsea’s brow, checking for signs of a fever. Chelsea pushed it away. Irritation rippled through her body, causing her to shiver.
“I’m fine,” she snapped. “Can’t a girl stay home on a Saturday night without having the National Guard called out?”
Linda drew back from the smart retort. “It’s just that you don’t usually stay home on Saturdays. I thought you’d be out with Annette tonight.”
Chelsea thought briefly of telling her mother about her rift with Annette but decided against it. “Annette had other plans tonight.” She didn’t know if that was true or not, but certainly she had to be doing something tonight, and that would constitute other plans, therefore diminishing the lie.
“Well, since you’re home, your father and I were just about to watch a movie. Would you like to join us?”
Chelsea’s face softened. She was sorry for her earlier attitude. “No thanks. I’m kind of tired tonight.”
Linda frowned. The worried expression returned to her face. “Are you sure you’re not sick?”
“I’m sure,” she snapped again, instantly regretting the attack.
“Do you want me to brush your hair?” Linda loved to brush Chelsea’s hair. It was long and silky and reminded her of her own hair; back when she still had her youth. Before age and convention had forced her into a shorter style, back before the gray began crowding out the blonde tendrils.
“No thanks, Mom.” She softened her tone. “I think I’ll just lay here awhile.”
Linda walked to the door. She was just turning the knob when Chelsea called to her. She turned at the sound of her daughter’s voice.
“Mom, do you believe in God?” She tucked her legs up under her, preparing for a good, long, heart-to-heart chat with her mother, but it didn’t come.
Linda, unprepared for the question, stood staring at her. When she finally realized her daughter was expecting an answer she said, “I don’t know, baby,” and turned and left the room. On the other side of the door, she leaned against it. Why had she avoided the question? Was it so hard to answer such a simple question? Why was Chelsea asking such a pointless question? She felt a sudden urge to turn around and walk back in the room. She could so easily cross to her daughter’s bed, pull up her legs—just like Chelsea did and talk about God. She sniffed. What did she know about God? Absolutely nothing at all—that’s what. She turned away from the door and padded down the stairs to join her husband.
Chelsea watched the door close. Her heart ached with disappointment. She wondered—when was the last time she actually had a talk with her mother? She was willing to bet Amber and her mother talked every day.
The phone rang—her own private line, which her father had installed for her on her sixteenth birthday. How long would it be before that, too, was taken away? She snatched it up, shouting into the receiver, “Hello.”
The voice was soft, questioning, and sexy. She smiled and said, “Charlie. I didn’t know you knew my number.”
“Amber gave it to me. I hope that was okay?”
“Good. I just wanted to say good night, and tell you how much I enjoyed having you in Bible study tonight.”
“Thanks. It was different. I’m still trying to figure it out. I wish I had a Bible to read.”
“You don’t have a Bible?” He couldn’t hide the surprise from his voice.
She felt heat rise to her face. She was thankful this was a phone conversation instead of face-to-face. “Yeah, well, my parents aren’t exactly kicking the church doors in.”
“Ah, gotcha. Well, I have to run now. Athletes require a tremendous amount of sleep.” He laughed at his own joke, which Chelsea didn’t particularly find amusing, but laughed anyway. “Will I see you at church tomorrow?”
She had forgotten her promise to go with Amber. She wondered how she was going to get out of the house without her mother finding out. “Sure.” An idea suddenly struck her. “Hey, why don’t you meet me at Java Hut? We can have coffee before church.”
“Okay. That sounds fun. What about Amber?”
“What about Amber? She just said to meet her at church.”
“Okay, I’ll see you at Java Hut, around nine.”
She hung up the phone and sat wondering what to do next. She got up and opened her bedroom door. She could hear the sounds of the television. It sounded like her parents were watching an old rerun of Cheers. She wondered what had happened to their movie.
She picked up her hairbrush and plodded down the stairs, her stocking feet silent upon the lush carpet. She could see the lights of the television flicker from the confines of the family room, a room where only hours before her father had sat with a beer in hand, waiting for…well, she wasn’t sure what he had been waiting for.
Rounding the corner, she could make out the profile of both her parents. They were laughing at the show and, yes, she had been right, they were watching Cheers. They looked up when they saw her enter. Her mother’s eyes traveled to the hairbrush, to which Chelsea was clinging.
“Did you change your mind about the hair brushing?”
When Chelsea was a child, she used to love getting her hair brushed. Her mother would sit for hours brushing the long strands of gold. Chelsea often pretended she was a princess, and her mother was her lady-in-waiting. Her mother played along and, by the time the brushing was done, they’d be engulfed in giggles. There was always certain sadness when the game ended. That was before; way back to when having a mother was cool. Now, Chelsea stared down at her mother and nodded, unable to speak for fear she would start crying.
Her mother picked up a sofa cushion and put it on the floor in front of her. “Here you go,” she crooned, returning to her television viewing.
Chelsea longed to throw her arms around her mother, longed to beg her to make her feel loved again, like the days of old, the fairy princess and lady-in-waiting days, but it had been so long since she had done such a thing that she felt awkward.
“Come on, baby, I can’t see,” her mother urged, moving her body from side to side, trying to see around her. What had happened to the days when, after dinner, they’d all go for a walk or out for ice cream, or sometimes even both. Sometimes they would just sit around talking and laughing. Her father had always been a funny man and could make Chelsea laugh until she thought she’d pee her pants, but not anymore. Now, they would just get up from the dinner table and watch television. Most of the time, Chelsea didn’t even bother to come home for dinner.
Chelsea sighed, handed her mother the brush, and sat down. Her mother absently began stroking her hair with the brush. The brushing felt good, but lacked the intimacy she would have once felt. Within moments, she, too, was laughing at the program. Her parents exchanged satisfied grins behind her back, thinking she was satisfied with watching a dumb television show with them. They were oblivious to the tortured feelings of abandonment she really felt.
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