The Ordinary Life of Emily P. Bates

BOOK: The Ordinary Life of Emily P. Bates
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The Ordinary Life

of Emily P. Bates

By: Anna Cackler

 

 

One

              “What do you mean, you’re pregnant?” I squealed. “How could you
do
this to me, Mom?”

              “Do this to
you?

I knew that I had crossed a line, and not even two minutes into the conversation, but I didn’t care. My summer had been pretty all right up until my mother had let those fateful words, “I’m pregnant,” slip out of her mouth. Our cramped living room seemed to fade away before my eyes, only to be replaced by vision after vision of total anarchy in the Bates house. All I could see were mental images of some faceless baby dipping into its diaper for fresh ammo or screaming at three in the morning just because it could.

              “I thought you just had a stomach virus!”

              “That’s what I thought too, but we were both wrong.”

              “This can’t be happening,” I moaned, flopping onto the sofa. I started searching desperately for any excuse to believe that this was all just one big mistake. “Aren’t you too old to have babies anyway?”

              “I am thirty-eight, Emily!”

              “Isn’t that too old?”

              “No!”

              “But I thought it was dangerous for older women to have children!”

              “I’m not that old!”

              “No I’m serious. Jill Knox told me that her little sister has Down syndrome because her mom was so old.”

              I turned to Aaron for help, but he was already a lost cause. My older brother had a thoughtful look on his usually bored face. I could almost see the cogs turning in his brain. If he finally got the younger brother that he’d always wished that
I’d
have been, then maybe he’d finally have a partner in crime worthy of his so-called genius.

              Everyone always said that Aaron and I looked alike. We both had the same brown hair and wide eyes. My friend Shannon once told me that if I cut my hair and grew an extra six inches, Aaron and I could pass for twins. Looking at the conniving expression on my brother’s face just then made me desperately wish that this wasn’t true.

              “Jeez, Mom. This poor kid!”

              “What’s that supposed to mean?”

              “I mean, Aaron’s eighteen, and I’m sixteen. The poor thing is practically going to be an only child. Couldn’t you have caught baby fever ten years ago?”

              Mom’s face was turning a shocking shade of puce, now. If my mother and I ha
d
anything in com
m
on, it’s our temper, and just then hers was in overdrive. “Move,” she hissed at Aaron between clenched teeth.

              “Moving,” Aaron said, stepping lithely out of our mother’s warpath. I braced myself for impact, but she brushed past me, too
,
and disappeared into the bathroom where we soon heard her coughing and retching behind the closed door. The air conditioner clicked on and a draft washed over me, causing an involuntary shiver.

              “How could this be happening?” I groaned, leaning back into the sofa and rubbing my fists into my eyes.

              “Oh shut up and stop feeling sorry for yourself,” Aaron said in a bored voice. He settled down into the armchair with the most recent issue of Sports Illustrated suddenly open in his hand. “You shouldn’t be so mean to Mom. She’s got a lot to deal with right now without you being a pain in her
ass
.”

              “Leave me alone, Aaron.”

              “Fine,” he shrugged, turning the page. “I’m just saying, is all.”

              “What?” I spat. “What are you saying exactly?”

              “I’m just saying that we should look at the situation as an opportunity,” he said calmly, peering at me over his magazine. “This new kid could prove to be a welcome addition to the household, so long as the proper influences are in place from the beginning.” He flashed a sly grin before his eyes flicked back to his magazine.

              “So what, are you plotting the cultivation of your next minion?” I asked in disgust. “Your next partner in crime?”

              “Who said anything about plotting?” he asked indifferently. “The word ‘plot’ has such negative connotations.”

              “I meant for it to be negative.”

              “Emily, you insist on believing that I am a bad person,” he said with a sigh, finally putting down the magazine so he could look me in the eye.

              “You’re a gambler, a jerk, and an apathetic, lazy, terrible brother. What’s not bad about that?

              “Hey!” He looked genuinely affronted. “I am
not
lazy!”

              I shrugged and refused to retract the accusation. Aaron flicked his magazine back in front of his face and ignored me. “Plotting and minions. I ask you!” he muttered to himself irritably.

              I burrowed deeper into the sofa, feeling the onset of a severe wave of guilt coming on. Aaron was right, and that ticked me off more than anything else. I
was
being a pain when Mom needed support more than anything. Dad was in California
on sabbatical
,
and he had only just started his half-semester class at UCLA
. He didn
’t teach much anymore since his books started to do well, but he couldn’t pass up an opportunity to visit California, where his brother lived. Uncle John had been the one to get Dad in touch with the dean there.

Except it turned out this dream trip to Cali was very poorly timed.
He would be gone for another two months, which meant that Mom had to deal with this on her own for a whil
e
–well, except for me and Aaron.

              I glared at Aaron for a while, hoping to silently vent some of my frustrations on him. Why did he have to be so holier-than-thou all of the time? As if he was the Almighty Aaron of the Universe? I groaned and glared at the thick white carpet instead while we waited for Mom to finish puking.

              That carpet wouldn’t be white for much longer, not with a new baby in the house.

              It didn’t take her long to clean up a little. In fact it was less than five minutes before she was panting her way back to the living room, one hand on her stomach and the other over her mouth.

              “All right, where were we?” she breathed. Thankfully it seemed that vomiting helped to relieve her temper a little.

              “You were pregnant,” I reminded her. Just because I felt guilty didn’t mean that anger didn’t make me feel a little better about it.

“Right.” She said, pushing her heavy brown hair off of her sweaty forehead and resting her hands on her wide hips. “Okay, so there are going to be a few changes around the house,” Mom began. “We won’t be able to eat out as much-”

Aaron moved to interrupt her, but she cut him off with, “That includes ordering pizza.” He slumped back into his chair and replaced the magazine over his face.

“Your father had better not take another year and half to pump out another book because we simply cannot make this one advance stretch that long again.
This sabbatical has a nice paycheck, sure, but it’s extremely temporary.

“Emily, we considered having you bunk up with the baby at first. But!” She stopped my half formed complaint with one raised finger. “But we decided that since Aaron will be moving out next year, we’ll let the baby stay in
our
room until we can give it
Aaron’s
room. All right?”

She focused this last statement on Aaron, who would be losing his room completely instead of sharing it after he moved out. He had already graduated high school the previous spring, but Mom and Dad had agreed to let him live at home for a year to work before he went to college. He worked at a wood-crafting workshop just outside of town, making beds and dressers for some hoity-toity furniture store chain based in Little Rock. He made a ridiculous amount of money doing it, too.

Aaron shrugged. “So long as I have someplace to sleep during the holidays.”

“Good. I’m glad you’re okay with that.”

Aaron shrugged again.

“All right. So, Emily. You’re still going to be around for the first two years or so, so I’m asking you now to resign yourself to babysitting from time to time. I figure you owe me after the cramped social life I’ve endured for the two of you.”

I wanted to argue again, but Aaron’s stinging words from before were still fresh in my head. Babysitting wasn’t such an unreasonable request, was it? I shrugged, too, imitating my brother’s indifference ineffectively. Mom could still see the annoyance in my eyes, but thankfully she decided to ignore it for the moment.

“I’ve got a doctor’s appointment on the thirtieth,” she went on. “You guys don’t have to come but you can if you want.”

“Ew, no thanks.” Aaron’s refusal from behind his magazine was prompt and unsurprising.

“I’ll go if you want,” I mumbled.

“I would like that, thank you. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go throw up the rest of my lunch.”

I pulled myself up off of the couch as my mother disappeared into the bathroom again. My stomach was still twisting itself into knots with guilt. I couldn’t take it anymore. I had to get out of the house. “Is it all right if I go now?” I called after her. “I promised Shannon I’d meet her and Finn a
t
two.”

“Sure, honey,” Mom called back wearily. “Be back for supper.”

“Yeah.” Grabbing my rucksack from the coat rack by the door, I left the house and climbed into my old lime green Taurus that my friend Finn had christened Oscar. It was a wheezy old piece that smelled like hot leather, but it ran pretty well so long as I didn’t gun it up a hill. I couldn’t complain anyway, because it meant that I always had a ride wherever we wanted to go, which was more than Shannon or Finn could boast. They had to rely on their dad to give them rides.
Mostly  they just made me cart them around.

I pulled up to a stop light and glanced at the clock. It was almost 2:30. Shannon would be upset with me, but she’d just have to get over it.

Then, if for no other reason than to irritate me, Oscar stalled out and went quiet just in time for the light to turn green. What’s the word for that again? Is it “irony” or “hell?” I suppose it’s the same difference either way.

“Crap,” I muttered, turning the key in the ignition. The engine sputtered and failed to catch. “Crap!” I yelled this time. The car behind me was honking, a red Chevy truck. “Shut up,” I said to myself, turning the key again. This time, the engine caught and roared to life. With a wave of relief, I eased down on the gas pedal and moved through the intersection. The light had already turned yellow, and the Chevy behind me had to stop and wait through another red. I could hear him honking angrily at me as I drove away.

Great, now not only would Shannon be mad at me, but so would this nameless jerk behind m
e. Even though I knew I’d never meet the guy and there was no one around to see me, I still burned red with embarrassment.

When I pulled into the parking lot of Rick’s Coffee Café, Shannon was waiting (tapping her foot no less) for me at one of the outdoor tables. She was wearing jeans and a breezy white top that looked far too fancy for St. John. Then again, Shannon always looked too fancy for St. John. She had deep red hair that fell poker straight down her back and perfect skin with
ou
t a single freckle.
Just now she had a perfect glowing tan after spending all of June as a counselor at Summer Camp. 

Aaron used to try to convince me that Shannon only spent so much time with me because she pitied me. The lie wasn’t that much of a stretch, actually. Where my best friend was pretty and popular, I was miserably average. I got average grades, wasn’t at all social, and was pretty plain in appearance. I had my mother’s dark brown hair, though mine wasn’t nearly as thick and manageable, and my father’s round face and wide eyes. I had always been on the short side, too, which was odd for my family. I only came up to my mother’s nose when we stood side by side.

“Where have you been?” Shannon asked lightly as I slammed my car door shut. The sun raked over my bare arms and legs, making my skin feel tight and dry wherever it was exposed.

“In a family conference.” I told her everything that had happened in the past hour, and she immediately forgot all about the measly little half hour that I’d made her wait alone. “And then she said she was going to go throw up the last of her lunch, and I came here.” I looked around the sun-baked parking lot and outdoor dining area. “Where’s your brother?”

“He got called in to work,” Shannon shrugged off my question with a wicked grin. “I can’t believe you’re gonna be a big sister! That’s so crazy!”

“I know,” I sighed, sinking into a metal chair and scooting it backwards out of the path of the hot sun. My tee shirt was already sticking to my back with sweat and I squirmed
u
ncomfortably. Shannon didn’t burn or sweat, but I certainly did. “If I ever have to baby sit, you’re totally coming over to help me.”

BOOK: The Ordinary Life of Emily P. Bates
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