Please Don’t Be Mad Part 1
- Please Don’t Be Mad Part 1
- Please Don’t Be Mad – Part 2
- Please Don’t Be Mad – Part 3
The McCarthy house went quiet for the first time on Wednesday morning after the ambulances had gone. L sat at the kitchen counter, feeling her mother’s cries linger in the walls. Felicity tiptoed down the stairs after checking if Greg and Isabella were still asleep, then took a chair at the kitchen table opposite Carson and Josh, with Katie frowning beside her. L wanted to hear Bartholomew playing video games in the basement, or Abby and Danielle having a soccer match in the backyard and Holly begging to join in, but she knew they were sitting in their rooms, waiting.
“Should we call Grandma?” Felicity whispered suddenly.
“Grandma’s on a cruise, remember?” Carson gave her a dark look, “I can take care of you guys anyway. Besides—”
Katie huffed, slouching in her seat.
“Honestly, Katie, now’s not the time,” barked Josh. He straightened himself up, and L caught the glint of the kitchen light in his glasses.
Katie rolled her eyes, “I didn’t even say—”
“Can you not, Katie?” Felicity sniffed, her bottom lip puckering just a little, “Mom’s been, like, super stressed for a while. She doesn’t need anything else to deal with right now. I wish I knew what had happened. I know CPR.”
“Elliot looked sick. He didn’t need CPR,” L put in, scowling.
“I’m gonna call my boss to see if I can take time off work,” said Carson, standing up. A tinkling sound like wind chimes erupted. Felicity’s phone lit up. “Mom?” Felicity’s voice rose when she answered, “Mom, what’s going on? Are you and Elliot OK?”
L waited, the hum of the fridge masking her mother’s voice on the other end. “OK….” answered Felicity, “Yeah, we can. Carson was going to call off work, but…. Yeah, sure.”
A sudden beep broke through the silence. Felicity gently put her phone down. “Mom says we should ask friends and stay with them,” she said, “She said Miss Carlton is coming to pick up Greg and Isabella.”
The four of them sat in the pale dark, staring at each other. The air conditioner gently rumbled on.
“When Dad comes back,” said L, “he’ll know what to do.”
Katie picked her head up and scowled, “Shut up, twerp ….”
“Well, he will!” snapped L.
“Don’t you know anything? Dad’s not coming back! He left!”
Leaping off the barstool, L stomped past the front door. She expected her mother to drag herself through the door with the fussy baby or her father to come back with his briefcase. He hadn’t been gone for that long. He would come back. From upstairs, Danielle shouted at Holly for touching her things.
L sat on the top step of the stairs as her siblings packed their bags. The deep, guttering rumble of a gargling engine faded away as Katie left with her friends, despite Carson’s shouts. A few minutes later, a car gently pulled into the driveway, the door slamming.
“Mom was really upset,” Abby said for the third time, sitting on her bed and hugging her knees.
“Yeah, but think of it this way: Mom and Elliot might come home soon before we leave,” Danielle swung her duffel bag and cleats onto the floor. “Hey!” whined Holly, dragging out the word, “You’re on my blanket!”
Danielle sighed and tugged at the straps just as Felicity brushed passed L, Isabella on her hip, and Greg trailing after her. “You guys need to finish, OK?”
“I’m done!” piped up Holly. She bounced up and down in a dance just as stomping footsteps came up the stairs. “Ben and his mom are here!” called Bartholomew. He hoisted his backpack straps further up onto his shoulder, “But I need my console!”
“Can’t you just borrow one of Ben’s?” Felicity dove after Greg, who had tottered toward Abby’s things, and started pulling out the top gym shirt from the unzipped bag. “Greggy, no!” snapped Abby. She groaned, “Come on!”
“Carson!” L heard Josh call from downstairs, “Just drop me off at the library—I’m meeting Steph and his mom there.”
L slapped her headphones over her ears just as Greg let out a scream. She tried to bury her thoughts in her copy of The Odyssey as she opened to her bookmarked page, but Greg’s screeches rose as Felicity half-dragged him down the hallway while Danielle’s bag thumped down each of the stairs. Holly skipped after her, clutching her blanket and singing.
L flipped a page, then stared without reading the words. She remembered how Mom had gone upstairs to check on the baby while the rest of them ate breakfast, how the air tensed when she didn’t come down. Before the ambulances arrived and crowded the cul-de-sac, their lights bleeding through the windows. L hadn’t heard her mother crying until she came downstairs with the paramedics. Then the front door shut, and everything went quiet. Mom had come down, not looking at anything, never turning to them, never saying everything would be all right. She had acted the same way when Dad had left. L gripped the edges of her book. She felt the soft paper against her fingers before a page bit back, cutting into her thumb.
“Lucy?” Felicity stood over her, “When’s Miss Stevenson coming to get you?”
L pulled her headphones back. “I don’t know,” she snapped.
Felicity sighed, “OK, Carson just left with Josh and Abby, Danielle and Holly just left too. When Miss Carlton comes, she’ll take me and drop me off at Kayla’s. Now I don’t know when she’ll get here, but can you use the house key and lock things up if she gets here before—”
L nodded, “You can go. I can take care of myself.”
“I don’t know when Mom and Elliot will come back….”
“I’ll be fine,” L gave her an annoyed look.
Felicity straightened up, and L examined her face, the exhaustion in her eyes. “Are you sure?” she finally asked, her voice low, “I can call—”
“Yes!” L straightened her legs out and slammed The Odyssey onto her lap, “It’ll be fine, OK?”
Felicity only bit her lip and headed for the toddler’s room. She stopped in the lighted doorway, next to the vacant baby’s room.
“I wish Dad was here too.”
The downstairs clock ticked louder and louder as L sat at the foot of the stairs with her backpack. The windows had filled with stone gray light, flecks of rain drumming against them. For what felt like every few minutes, L thought she heard a car turning into the street, but the sound always died. She tossed The Odyssey aside and began counting the mismatched shoes piled beside the front door. One—two—three pinks, a black, a green. She shuffled the house key from one hand to the other, feeling the heat of her hands latch onto its sides, then glanced at the clock again. 3:18.
L turned her attention upstairs, and an anxious heat wafted over her head, an insecure feeling that made her stomach drop. The walls seemed cavernous, ready to swallow itself up now that it wasn’t choking.
L weaved around the toys on the carpeted steps and inched up the stairs again. Her footsteps padded like the clock.
The quiet felt different from what it had always been, now that, for the first time, L was alone in the house. It no longer seemed to belong to her. The house had gone hollow, corpse-like, with only ghosts behind the empty doors. At the end of the hall, the baby’s door stood open, yawning like a tunnel while the rest had shut up themselves. The swath of growing gloominess from the outside was kept at bay by a twirling, pale-yellow nightlight, the shafts shaping themselves into moons and stars. The flashes pranced at an angle against the door.
Inside, even the air had gone cold. A blanket dangled against the dark and silent crib. L edged inside, cautious, as if she was intruding, then shuffled forward and peered inside. She didn’t know what she looked for, what she expected.
L jumped as the front door swung open. She hurried out of the room, ready to grab her things when she heard her mother’s purse smack against the kitchen counter.
“Mom?” she called.
She leaned over the empty railing. Her mother stood at the end of the stairs, her face pale, her hair hanging limp, her lakeside blue eyes clouded.
“Lucy!” L’s mother stiffened at the strength of her voice. She shook herself, “What are you doing home?”
L bit her lip, “Uh, Miss Stevenson isn’t here yet.”
L’s mother deflated. She glanced up the stairs, back at L, then aimlessly turned toward the kitchen. Pulling a barstool back, she sat behind the counter, her head in her hands.
“You were all supposed to have left by now,” L’s mother’s voice broke. Drops of tears landed on the counter. L inched a step closer, unsure what to do. She wiped the sweat from her palms onto her pant legs.
“Miss Stevenson will be here soon. Is … is Elliot OK?”
L jumped back as her mother slammed her hands down onto the counter and jumped up. “You should have gone with one of your siblings and been responsible! You shouldn’t be here alone!”
“You’re the last thing I want to have to worry about right now!” L’s mother pointed an accusing finger, her eyes wild.
L drew back. Her entire body felt as if she had been paralyzed. “A-At least you’re home, and the baby is OK. M-Maybe when Dad gets home—”
“Your father isn’t coming back, Lucy! You need to get that through your head right now. I need you to grow up. You need to stop believing in him!”
L felt another blow to the chest. She bit her lip, tears forming in her eyes. She could barely choke out the words, “I’m sorry, Mom. Please don’t be mad. Please.”
L’s mother clasped her hands together and pressed them to her forehead, tears on her face, “I don’t need this. Lucy, I need you to … I need you to—just go. No, I—”
“I’m sorry, Mom, I’m sorry. I—I can call….”
“No, no. It’s all right…. Just stay by the door and wait a little longer. I need to be alone…with the baby tonight,” L’s mother turned toward the stairs and blankly ascended. L waited, listening for the baby’s door to close before she was alone in the quiet. She didn’t even hear her mother crying, though she expected it.
L placed her foot on the first step, “Mom?”
L’s mother didn’t answer.
“Please don’t be mad.”
L heard the baby’s door close.
“I’ll lock the door when I leave, OK?” L reached for her bag. Swinging it over her shoulder, she picked up the keys, yanked the front door open, and hurried outside as the intensity of the rain picked up. L waited for the click of the lock, then dropped her bag on the front porch step. Thunder rumbled. Even with the rain slanting forward with the wind, L sat on the step, waiting, alone, then remembered she had left her copy of The Odyssey on the stairs.