I knock once and barge into Edward’s bedroom. Well, not exactly, since he was expecting me and I know better because otherwise he’d kill me. He’s lying lengthwise across the bottom of his bed, so I throw myself on top of his pillows with a dramatic sigh.
“I share a name with a French historical short person and have a red afro,” I say. “Who am I?”
. . .
Every September we go to Walmart to get our new clothes for the school year. I didn’t mind when I was ten, but now that I’m almost thirteen, I’m worried about what the butt of my jeans is going to say about me. Levis are okay, but True Religion or Abercrombie might get me accepted at Jessica’s lunch table.
Edward and I follow my mother’s Joe’s Jeans skinny butt into Walmart’s on Saturday morning. She says I’m still too young for a sexy pair of jeans like Joe’s, yet she doesn’t even blink at a mini skirt. Still, who’d be interested in looking at a little stick of a girl like me? The only curve that sticks out on my body is my nose.
“It’s going to rain,” Mom says with a grin. Her auburn hair is tied up in a ponytail that swings against her back as she walks. She looks so young. I wish I looked like her, but I have Dad’s hair. His almost-black, stick-straight hair. “That’s just perfect for a day of shopping.”
Edward huffs. “A day, Mom? It’ll take me 20 minutes, tops.” His jeans are almost as tight as Mom’s because he’s grown so much this year. When Jasper saw them, he called Edward ‘Slutward’ and now I can’t get the name out of my head.
“I was thinking we could do lunch, too,” she continues as if he hasn’t spoken. She does that if she doesn’t like what you have to say sometimes.
“Mom, I have fencing class at one,” Slutward says.
She pauses just inside the glass doors, her eyes wide and her mouth pinched. She looks distressed. “Damn it.”
“Welcome to Walmart,” the greeter says hesitantly. He doesn’t have any hair. I wonder what a bald head feels like.
We stand there inside the entrance of Walmart while Mom visibly debates the pros and cons of whatever’s in her head. George Clooney? Kids who outgrow their clothes too quickly? Maybe lunch? My eyes bounce from her frowny face, to Edward’s, and then to the greeter’s. When he sees me looking, he smiles and rocks back on his feet. Just another crazy family at Walmart, his eyes seem to say.
Welcome to my world, I hope my eyes communicate to him.
“Maybe Edward can eat breakfast while I start looking,” I venture. “I can be done by one.”
He glares at me.
“By noon, I mean.”
Her face completely morphs. “That’s a great idea, Bella. Edward, you go eat and take your time.”
His eyes turn dark with displeasure and he shoves a hand into his hair. Uh-oh. “I already ate at home, Mom. I don’t need to eat again.”
She pulls him to the side as more people enter the store. Her hands raise to cup his peach-whiskered face. I hide my snicker behind my hands as he stares at her like all hell’s breaking loose.
“Now, Edward, if I promise to get you to your fencing class by one o’clock, can’t you just slow down and enjoy your time here at … at … Walmart.” By this point, I figure she realizes how ridiculous she sounds. “I have some things to shop for here, too.”
“Can we split up?” He asks and takes a step away from her to make her drop her hands.
She whips around to look at me. I stiffen and drop my own hands, but it’s too late. Edward saw me. Behind Mom, he raises a closed fist at me. Meanwhile, Mom is giving me the evil eye.
“Edward, you can go. I’ll get Bella started. We’ll meet back at the Pizza Hut, alright? Keep your phone on.”
He sprints away. I’m sure he’ll have his four pairs of jeans, four shirts, and socks picked out by the time I decide on my first pair of pants. Perfect.
“Shouldn’t have done that, Mom,” I say. “You should have gone with him to slow him down. You know, help him choose?”
“Rats,” she says. “Well, maybe you can help him later.”
I’m in the changing room, having just pulled on my second pair of jeans when I hear Mom’s voice.
“Bell, I just got a call from Phil at work. I’ve got to go in and straighten something out. Will you be okay for an hour or so?”
I poke my head out of door. “An hour? Sure! I can take care of myself, you know.”
She hugs me and gives me two twenty-dollar bills. “For lunch. My sweet, grown-up girl. I’ll be back in a bit!”
After she’s gone, I do a little dance in front of the mirror until I’m caught by another girl coming in.
Two hours later, Edward and I are still sitting at the Pizza Hut place in Walmart. My jeans, and his jeans, are slung over the table’s unoccupied seats. More than one employee has given us the stink eye since we’ve been sitting here. I no longer feel grown up and free. I’m no longer hungry, either.
Edward is almost steaming out the nostrils.
“When did she say she’d be back?” He asks for the oompteenth time.
I have to keep my patience, or he’ll lose his. “She asked me if I’d be alright for an hour or two. And it’s been … two now. I’m sure she’ll be here any time.”
“She isn’t answering her phone,” he says. “It’s almost twelve-thirty and it takes at least twenty minutes to get to the other side of town.”
Whoa, he sounds like an adult.
“Why isn’t she answering her phone?” he asks me lowly with an almost-glare.
I do a double-take. “You’re asking me? I don’t have my eight ball today … oh, hey, I wonder if they sell any of those here?”
“Bella.” He pinches the bridge of his nose. “Are you really this naïve?”
Now I’m almost angry. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
He gives me a look like I should know what he means. But I don’t. Nope, not at all.
“Mom. She got a call from work—”
“When she never has before on a Saturday,” he interrupts me.
“—and she had to go in to straighten—”
“And when Dad isn’t around to question her.”
“—something out. What? Why … you think Dad would have asked her about this?”
He rolls his eyes at me. “Definitely. Haven’t you heard them fighting at night? And don’t say no, because your room is right next to mine.”
Yes. Yes, I had heard them fighting. I was just choosing to believe that they were going to work things out. After all, everyone fought. But at the look in his eyes, I am suddenly uneasy in addition to feeling impatient. Where is Mom?
“Try her again,” I tell him and smile at the woman with a Walmart manager’s name tag who passes us for the third time. “She’s probably in traffic and can’t answer, though.”
At one, the female manager finally approaches us. “Are you kids alright? You’ve been sitting here for quite some time.”
Edward smiles up at her and I notice her face softens almost immediately. It’s funny sometimes watching the effect he can have on people. “We’re fine. We’re just waiting for our mother, who’s running a little late. I promise we won’t be here much longer.”
Mom doesn’t show up until one-forty. She rushes up to us at the Pizza Hut patio, all out of breath and on the verge of tears. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,” she says over and over.
Edward is stoic and barely looks at her. I, however, can’t stop looking at her. She looks different somehow, like she’s been taken apart and put back together. Even through the worried cries and tears in her eyes, she seems almost … happy. Which doesn’t make sense, but nothing makes sense at this moment.
I trade a glance with Edward. I feel as numb as he looks, until Mom grabs me up in a hug and begs me to forgive her. I do, of course, because she’s my mom. She loves me. And everything can go back to normal now.
“I know it’s not right of me to ask this of you,” she says when we’re in the car. “But if you could … refrain from speaking of this to Dad, I would appreciate it. You know he’d never let me hear the end of it.”
“You’re right. It’s not fair,” Edward mutters, and it’s clear that he’s not on board with her plan.
“Oh, baby, please. I know you missed your class, but I’ll make it up to you. I promise. I promise.”
But I’m pretty sure he’s not going to swallow that, not after she just broke the one.
“Bella? Please? This will never happen again.”
Edward turns around in the passenger seat to level me with his glare, and I’m torn between what he wants and what Mom wants. I close my eyes and shake my head, hoping that will be enough for both of them.
“Bella,” Edward says.
For the first time ever, I see Mom give Edward a look of something more than just anger and a spark of fear races up my back. What’s happened to her? How can she be mad at him?
Edward isn’t letting me go with his eyes. And suddenly I decide. I can’t let him down, not when Mom is the one who already did.
“I won’t come right out and tell him,” I say. “But if he asks, I’m not going to lie. Mom, you always said we should never lie.”
Mom’s hands tighten on the steering wheel. “I know, honey, and I’m not asking you to. What you’ve agreed to is more than I can ask. Thank you, Bella.”
It’s the first time I remember feeling sick deep inside. Not for myself, but for Edward, who she used to praise for always wanting to do the right thing. And now when she’s in the wrong, she’s trying to shame him? How can she do this? I don’t understand. We’re the kids, we’re ones who are supposed to be creating trouble and trying to lie about it, not her.
. . .
“You okay?” I ask Edward later that night when we’re watching TV after dinner.
“Fine,” he says.
“Edward. I’m sorry.”
He’s short with me because he doesn’t want to talk about this. “Don’t be.”
“She was wrong,” I tell him. “More wrong than a cigar-smoking catfish. More wrong than Mr. Potato Head eating potato chips. More—”
He puts his hand over my mouth, but at least he’s smiling now.
“I goat your back,” I tell him when he releases me. “Baaaaaah.”
And now he’s laughing. Just a little, but I’ll take it.
. . .
It’s still dark when I open my eyes. I look at the clock on my bedside table and see it’s 12:25. But for some reason, I am awake. And then I hear it – a muffled voice. It brings me bolt upright in bed. My heart is pounding in my chest. Somehow, I know it’s Edward. I climb out from under the covers and press my ear against my closed bedroom door. It’s silent, though, almost as if he heard me get out of bed.
I’m out the door and opening his when I hear his voice again. He’s dreaming, but it’s not the good kind.
“—do this. How could … do this,” he mumbles. There are tears on his cheeks.
“Edward,” I whisper and touch his arm. He flinches and wakes instantly. I see him blinking up at me in the dark and sink to the side of his bed. “It’s okay, it’s okay.”
He takes my hand and holds it tightly. “It’s not okay. I don’t think she loves us anymore. You, me, Dad.”
I don’t know what to say to that, so I just hold his hand until his tears dry.
. . .
“Since when do you two drink coffee?” Dad wants to know on Monday morning. He’s five minutes from walking out the door, and can’t get over us sitting at the table with him at o’ dark thirty.
Really, only Edward is drinking coffee. I’m keeping him company (and hiding my winces at the bitter taste from them both because I want to seem as old as Edward).
“I’m growing up,” Edward tells him. “And I wanted to have a cup of Joe with my dad.”
Dad lowers his coffee cup and squints at Edward, who’s still dressed in his pajamas. “Don’t you know coffee stunts your growth, kid? You’ve still got a lot more growing up to do.”
“I’m almost as tall as you, Dad,” Edward boasts.
“No, you’re not.” And he tousles Edward’s hair rough enough that Edward spills some of his drink. I giggle when my head tousle comes and push my cup at Dad.
“Take it! I don’t like it. I’d rather have hot chocolate.”
“Least I have one normal kid,” Dad says with a grin. “Why don’t you two go back to bed? You don’t have to be up at this hour for another week. Better enjoy it while it lasts.”
“We will, after you leave.”
“Well I’m off then.” He pops up out of his seat. “I’ll see you two tonight. Be good … or else.”
We watch him go and listen in silence to the sound of his car driving away. “Let’s watch a movie and fall asleep,” Edward says. So that’s what we do, secure in the knowledge that at least one of our parents is still the same.
. . .
Answer to Bella’s Who Am I question for Edward: Napoleon Dynamite. Hilarious movie, a must-see if you haven’t already.
Edward turned 15 in June and Bella will be 13 in a few days. I’ve skipped ahead a couple of years with this chapter.
Again, I’d be interested in your thoughts, good or bad. Thanks for reading!