“Marigold Jean,” Mom snaps, shoving her wallet into her new, dull, brown purse that matches her sack-like dress, “I am not arguing with you about this. I said you’re coming with us, and that’s final.”
“Why are you even going? We never went before,” I say, not getting up off the stairs. My hands gripped the loose fabric of my pajama pants.
“Because this is important. We didn’t go before because I didn’t know which one to go to after I left Pastor Patrick’s services.” She looks around herself, like the step-dick is waiting somewhere and he might hear her.
Of course, that’s the real reason she’s going, and dragging us along. Because he wants us to go. And it’s also why she’s lying.
“Mom, you may want to do this, but I’m not going to.” There is zero chance she’s getting me to pretend along with her that I share the step-dick’s faith instead of my dead father’s. Zero.
“Damn it, Goldie,” she yells, and shuts her eyes. She’s holding back so much that her body almost vibrates.
I need to keep my mouth shut. If I say too much…if I come close to saying what I’m thinking…I swallow.
“Jewel, just leave her here,” the step dick says, coming in from the garage with his tie crooked. “The only soul she’s risking is her own.”
Don’t speak. Don’t even look at him. Deep breaths.
Mom narrows her eyes. The corners of her mouth tighten as she stares at me.
This is still the right decision. It is. No matter what she does to me in retaliation.
But no matter how much I tell myself that, no matter how true it is, my stomach flips over and I wonder if I will even be able to eat my breakfast after they go.
“Courtney,” the step-dick yells up the stairs. A second later my little sister bounces down behind me.
I lean to one side, but it isn’t actually necessary. Courtney can do a flip over top of me if she wants to no matter how tiny she is.
“Are you really staying here?” she asks as she hops around me to the foyer with her patent leather shoes swinging in her hand and her little velvet dress from the holidays dancing with her movements.
“Yes, Court, but I can help you with your routine later when you get home,” I say. The last thing I want to do is upset my sister. This isn’t her fault.
“Okay.” She bounds toward me and wraps her thin arms around my neck. “Thanks, Goldie.”
“No problem, kid. Now get your shoes on before you’re late.” I hug her back and set her away from me, scooting up the steps a few so she can sit on them to do her buckles.
But Mom still has that calculating look on her face, and my Courtney-induced smile falls away.
Please don’t do something in front of her, Mom. It’s confusing for her when Mom is different to me.
Well, it’s confusing to me too, but I would rather Courtney not need to deal with it.
Courtney waves as she walks out the door to the garage, the step-dick right behind her.
He looks back to Mom, a pointed look with a glance at his wrist. Which only further cements my nickname for him, because he isn’t wearing a watch.
He’s such a dingus.
Mom waits until the door shuts, until I swallow again, and until she walks across the foyer to stand directly at the base of the stairs I’m sitting on.
“If you’re going to play these ridiculous games,” she says, her voice low and harsh, even though a thin smile is spreading on her face, “You’re going to make yourself useful.”
Through her sharp grin, she lists chores I must start doing every day, and every week.
“You are going to make up for abandoning your duties as a daughter,” she says, turning on her heel and marching out the door, jerking the strap of her purse up her shoulder.
My duties as a daughter…
She’s said a lot of things to me over the years, but that’s new.
The garage door rattles as it opens and a couple minutes later closes again.
Only then do my hands start to shake.
No matter how tight my grip on my pajama pants is, their trembling doesn’t stop. It moves up may arms until my whole torso feels like I’m going to rattle apart.
A knock on the door slams through my brain and stops the shaking.
Instead, my teeth grind together as I walk to the front door.
But when I open it, there is a small brown cardboard box leaning against Mom’s Easter decoration.
The address label on it says my name.
“Who sent something to me?” I mumble, grabbing the box and going back inside.
Grabbing the kitchen scissors, I sit with the box at the table, looking at the return address of some office in Olympia. It’s almost the other end of the state and I don’t know anyone from there.
“What is this?”
I should be starting on my new chores, but I need to know what this is.
Opening it up, there is a thin blue box that looks like jewelry belongs inside. No one—and I mean no one at all anywhere—would buy me jewelry.
Except no one bought this.
He earned it.
Inside the box is my dad’s purple heart.
Tears stream down my face as I bring it to my room and set it next to the shadow box with his flag in it, my hand lingering on the medal.
No matter what Mom does, I'm still my father's daughter.