Read Kerry Crisley’s Summer of Georgie, one scene at a time! Every Saturday, we’ll post a new installment (62 in all). Can’t wait until next week? Get your copy on Amazon!
Installment 2: Chapter One, Scene One
Eighteen months later
All I’m trying to do is dial a damn phone.
When I attempt to hit five, my finger presses seven. I start over in frustration. Six, six, five – fuck. Seven again. And the next time. Furious, I smash my phone on the concrete sidewalk and move to grind it to dust under my shoe. I miss – of course – and my foot leaves the curb. The sense of falling jolts me awake.
I’m in bed, on my right side and facing the window. I lie there, sensing, listening, remembering. My pulse is fast, throbbing in my chest, my ears, and my throat.
That was the saddest anxiety dream ever. Girl, even your dreams need work.
The clock on my dresser reads 5:36. I could try to doze off again, but these days it’s unlikely. Instead, I get up and pad to the bathroom, careful not to wake Dan. Cupping my hands under the faucet I take in a few sips of water, flooding the desert determined to take up residence in my mouth. In the mirror above the sink, my reflection is glum. Her mascara’s smudged and her dark blonde hair needs a trim.
Lookin’ good, my internal judge and jury whispers.
“What’s up with you?“ I whisper back at the mirror. “You never used to be this mean.”
Well, you used to actually remove your makeup before bed, she reasons.
I give her the finger and stalk away, pausing in front of Max’s door. I ease it open and survey the room. Yesterday’s clothes are strewn inside out across the blue carpet. His hamper is overflowing. On the desk, however, his orange camouflage backpack is neatly zipped, filled with completed homework and ready for school. Max himself is an unmoving hump in the center of the bed, dark brown hair peeking out from under his comforter, his breathing even. He’ll wake rested and calm, as he usually does now. The opposite of me.
I push the last thought away and tiptoe downstairs to the kitchen. The coffeemaker isn’t programmed to start brewing for another 20 minutes. I press “start,” reassured by its familiar clicks and gurgles, and wander into the family room. I sit crosslegged on the sofa, staring at nothing.
Fine, my inner bully sighs. If you must sulk, do it now. Then suck it up and get on with your day.
On the sofa next to me is a pink hooded sweatshirt of Shannon’s. I grab it and press the soft cotton to my face, stifling my hiccuping sobs. I cry for five minutes, then wipe my eyes, smearing tears and day-old mascara onto the cloth.
“Right. Now coffee,” I say out loud, then stare down at Shannon’s sweatshirt. “And maybe a load of laundry.”
Upstairs there are footsteps. A toilet flushes. The day is on.
I get up, arrange my face into the mask I’ve been wearing for months, and head for the kitchen.
Half an hour later I’m back in Max’s room. He’s still in bed. “Max, get up,” I say. “There’s 25 minutes ‘til the bus.”
No response. I grab the corner of his comforter and slide it off his face. His eyes are closed. He is curled up on his side, the quintessential picture of the angelic-looking sleeping child. And it’s all B.S.
“Ooooo,” I whisper, leaning in and pushing a lock of brown hair off his forehead. “I have an idea.” I trace my finger along his forehead and pause. “I think I’ll give him a little tattoo right….here.” He smiles, turning his face into the pillow to hide it.
“Come on,” I say, giving him a few slaps on his hip. “Up, up, up.”
He sits up and yawns extravagantly. “What’s for breakfast?”
“No,” he says, a little too quickly. “Grilled cheese.”
Max looks up. “Really?”
“Sure,” I say as I walk out of his room. “Grilled cheese. With egg and a little bacon.”
“With bacon and A LITTLE EGG,” he shouts down the stairs.
“Get today’s clothes from your drawer, NOT THE FLOOR,” I call back. I stop, causing a family of dust bunnies to skitter over the step. “Not the hamper, either!”
Downstairs, Shannon is sitting at the small breakfast bar munching on cereal and taking an online quiz with my phone. Where Max is an immature 12, Shannon is a wiser than her years 10.
I refill my coffee cup, and retrieve the provolone and butter from the fridge. “Are you a Miranda or a Charlotte?” I ask her.
She looks back at my phone, nearly dipping a chunk of her long blonde hair into the cereal milk. “No. I’m going to find out where we should go on vacation this summer based on how I decorate my apartment.”
“Awesome. Keep me posted.” I start to butter two slices of sourdough bread and turn to Dan, who is scrambling the eggs. “He’s up. Bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich.”
Dan plops a spatula full of egg onto the bread. “I’m a short order cook.”
“You’re just noticing this now?” I ask, winking at him as I place Max’s sandwich on the heated pan.
“Paris!” Shannon announces triumphantly, holding up my phone. “We’re going to Paris, guys.”
Max leaps into view from the dining room, clad in a (relatively) clean t-shirt and shorts. “G-Fest!”
Dan pauses. “G what?”
“G-Fest. Godzilla Fest in Chicago. That’s where we should go.”
“Sit, King Ghidorah,” I tell Max and slide his sandwich onto a plate. I grab his prescription bottle and shake it at him, the pills clattering inside like maracas. “Take your pill, too, OK?”
“Hey mom, if we won the lottery, could we go to G-Fest?” Max asks, starting one of our favorite mealtime conversations.
“Yes,” I say definitively. “We’d fly first class, and stay in the largest, nicest room in the whole hotel, and you would get any figure you wanted, no matter how much it cost.”
“And then,” Shannon picks up the thread. “We’d go to Paris and ride to the top of the–“ she pauses to consult my phone. “Eiffel Tower!”
I turn back to the stove as Dan joins the kids at the breakfast bar to make plans for our imaginary future. Right, I think. Chicago and Paris. With my 22 hours of vacation.
At the thought of work, a small knot forms in my gut. My sizable gut, the criticism comes before I can stop it. It’d been coming a lot since discovering early on that my job move was a profoundly bad one. How much have you gained this year, Georgie? Ten pounds? Twelve? Is it worth it? The weight? The pay cut? Lena? The complete and utter misery?
“Oh, shut up,” I mutter quietly to my inner commentator, shifting the pan on the stovetop so Dan can’t hear me. At least it’s Friday. And yes, you asshole. As a matter of fact, it is worth it.
I give my head a small shake and turn around, smiling. “And then, we would find a beautiful house on a lake and spend the rest of the summer in it. Nothing but swimming, kayaking, and paddle boarding all day.” I pause. “Except if it rains. Then we’d have movie marathons or read on the porch. Because there would definitely be a screened porch.”
Shannon gets up from her stool and puts her empty bowl in the sink. “Would we invite Nana and Bop Bop?”
I place my hands on her small shoulders and plant a kiss on the top of her head. “Well, duh,” I say. “Of course we invite Nana and Bop Bop!”
“Better stock up on gin,” Dan offers, goading me.
“Helpful,” I say, swatting him on the shoulder.
Dan turns back to Max. “Ready for your science test?”
He nods, chewing a bite of his sandwich. “Mom helped me study last night.”
His confidence buoys me. A scrap of goodness I can hang on to until five o’clock.
The next few minutes are a blur. Locating socks (Max’s), signing a field trip form (Shannon’s), arguing over who gets the last snack size bag of popcorn (Shannon), and triple-checking the presence of the homework folder in the backpack (Max’s).
“I’ll be back in a few minutes,” I call to Dan, as I gather my too-long hair into a ponytail. “Can we take a quick look at the summer camp schedule then?” He gives me the thumbs up on his way upstairs to shower.
Max, Shannon, and I step out the front door into the late spring sunshine. The morning is gorgeous, nudging my dark mood aside a little. The patch of phlox in the front yard is peppered with pink flowers. Along the front walk, the coreopsis buds haven’t revealed their cheerful yellow blooms yet. See? I tell my inner critic. That’s another thing to look forward to, right?
Meh. She sniffs, unimpressed.
When we reach his bus stop, Max is three minutes into his latest monologue, summarizing the plot of Godzilla Destroy All Monsters with the laser focus and precision that his particular place on the autism spectrum affords him.
I wave to him as he crosses to the other side of our street, then Shannon and I continue on for the quarter mile walk to her elementary school.
“I don’t want to go to summer camp,” she mumbles, head down. Clearly she’d caught Dan’s reference to the camp schedule.
“I thought you liked the horse riding camp,” I say, lamely. A weak attempt at dodging the real issue.
“That’s just one week,” she clarifies. “Then I’m in that stupid camp at school. I hate spending the whole summer at my school.”
“It’s not the whole summer,” I reason. “We have the week in Vermont, and you’ll be at Nana and Bop Bop’s during the day during the first few days of summer and week of the fourth of July.”
She shrugs as we turn the corner onto her school’s street. Ahead of us, two backpack-laden kids wobble as they propel towards the school on scooters.
I look up at the sky and took a deep breath. “How many more days of school are there?”
Shannon perks up. “Twenty!”
“That’s it? I can’t believe you have just 20 days left of fourth grade. These are your last 20 days at Greenwood, ever. In September you’ll be on the bus with Max. It’ll be fun. Aren’t you excited?”
Shannon looks up at me, and I’m struck – as I always am – by the beautiful pale blue of her eyes. Dan’s eyes. “It wasn’t fun for Max.”
My heart constricts. “No,” I say lightly, waving a thank you to the crossing guard as we step off the curb. “It wasn’t. But it’s better now. And it doesn’t mean that you will have the same experiences that Max did. You and Max are different.”
She nods as we arrive at school, and are buzzed in to join the other students at before-school care. Quiet giggling drifts from the library door, while deeper into the building the thundering sound of feet and basketballs emanates from the gym.
“Who’s picking me up?”
“Nana,” I say. “We’re having dinner at their house tonight.”
“Can I skip before-school for the rest of the year? Can you just bring me at the regular time?”
I wink at her. “So you can sneak some more TV?”
She hides a smile. Busted.
I gaze down at my daughter, feeling the fierceness of my love for her, and give her a hug. “I think we can arrange that. Have fun today. I love you.”
“Love you, too,” she replies. “But I still don’t want to go to camp all summer.” She walks to meet her classmates in the library, her backpack suddenly seeming enormous on her 10-year old shoulders.
Can’t wait for next week? Get Summer of Georgie on Amazon!