My Lullaby of You
I would graduate in approximately two hours and twenty-three minutes. I stared at myself in the mirror for the tenth time, recalling the day when I had bought this dress for the ceremony. My mom had insisted I get something else because she thought it was ugly. She was right—it was. The dress was very simple and plain, just black with a lace overlay. It looked like something you would wear to a funeral. I made a face in the mirror and added the pearl necklace that had been a gift from my dad.
My dad. I was anxious to see him. Even though I knew it would be extremely awkward to have him in the same house as my mom, I didn’t care. It had been almost a year since I last saw him, and I missed him. My mom, although remarried, still felt uncomfortable talking about my dad. This would be the first time they’d have to be civil since the divorce five years ago. I saw my dad twice a year (if I was lucky), when he’d pick me up from the house and take me to Myrtle Beach or Asheville for the weekend. Not once did my parents ever have to communicate—until now.
I added the matching pearl earrings and pearl bracelet. They looked classic with the dress, but I still looked like I was about to offer someone condolences. I sighed.
I should have gone for the pink dress, I thought.
I could hear my mom shuffling around in the kitchen preparing for the post-graduation party. She was probably muttering to herself, worrying whether she had made enough food for everyone to snack on. I heard a clattering of pans and then a shatter, followed by a shriek. I winced.
“Honey…are you okay?” my stepdad, John, asked.
John was nothing special, just your typical middle-aged man. He was a project manager for a construction company just outside of town, enjoyed football on Sundays, barbeques in the summer, and the occasional vacation to Florida. He had his rough days every year in the month of July for some reason that he never mentioned. Around that time, he just took long walks and was quieter than usual. Other than that, he was good for my mom, who needed a steady guy she could count on. She was generally a nervous person and very dependent on anyone who was close to her. When my dad left, she depended on me for everything until John came along two years later. He helped balance her, which balanced my life again. I was thankful for that.
I heard a sigh in the kitchen and glass being swept up. I put my heels on and carefully walked into the kitchen.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
“I broke my punch bowl,” my mom replied, inhaling her cigarette.
I forgot to add that she depends on her cigarettes too, every hour.
I didn’t reply and just watched as John swept up the last of the glass. He reached for his wallet in his back pocket and handed me a fifty.
“Can you go buy one from Mitch’s?” he asked. I gave him a look.
“Real quick,” he added.
I sighed and looked at my mom. We shared the same crazy curly brown hair and petite frame, but I felt nothing like her. “Our field is smoke-free, so try to last the whole ceremony without one, okay?” Then I slammed the screen door.
I walked barefoot, with my heels in my hand, to Mitch’s Glass Warehouse. It was three blocks down, just off the main road and past the sign that said “Welcome to Shelby, population. 2473.” The three had been scratched out and changed to a four after Lily Reeves, a girl from my senior class, had her baby and dropped out of school. Shelby was a small beach town where everyone knew everything about everyone. I resented the place just as much as I loved it. We had one of the largest boat docks with a newly constructed boardwalk, minus the splintery withered wood that I missed. Townsfolk boasted that we had the best orange marmalade, but personally I felt we had the best smoothie shack. I worried that I wouldn’t survive without those smoothies if it ever went out of business.
Once I reached the warehouse, I hoped my makeup hadn’t sweated off. After finding the exact same punch bowl my mom had just broken, I paid for it and got out of there as quickly as possible.
I walked back, struggling to carry the punch bowl box and my shoes. I saw a figure walking toward me, waving frantically. I squinted to see who it was but couldn’t make out the face.
“Amyyyyy!” the woman said to me, in a singsong tone that I recognized instantly.
“Hi, Miss Caroline,” I called out as I continued walking toward her.
“Oh, Amy! Your dress is lovely! It seems like it was just yesterday you were twelve, sitting by the window in the library, devouring every book you could get your hands on.”
I smiled. I was probably one of her favorite visitors at the library in the summer. I spent the bulk of my time there catching up on the reading I had missed out on during the school year.
“Have you decided which school you are choosing? Your mother told me you were accepted to a few but hadn’t decided yet.”
I held back a sigh thinking about how this was just one of the many small-town perks I’d miss out on when I left for college. It made me think about the fact that this was the start of my last summer here—and also how my mom didn’t know that just yet.
“Still deciding,” I said to her, smiling. “I have a little while longer before I have to choose.”
She touched my cheek. “I know you’ll do well wherever you go.”
“Thank you, Miss Caroline.” I had always suspected that Miss Caroline had encouraged me to read as a means of escaping my parents’ divorce. She never spoke of it once, but I was grateful for it. She walked away then, and I checked my phone and adjusted the box in my hand.
I now had an hour and a half before graduating, and my feet were already hurting.
“And last but not least, Amy Williams!” our principal announced. I quickly stood up and accepted my diploma. I smiled for the pictures and could see my dad videotaping from the front row. My mom and John cheered quietly for me three rows behind him.
Since kindergarten, I had been the last but not the least student. After being the fifty-fifth name called, I could tell the audience was glad it was over; I was too. We tossed our caps in the air when the principal announced that we were graduates, and then scattered to the welcoming arms of parents.
“Daddy!” l squealed as I turned around, running into his arms. “I’m so glad you came!”
“I wouldn’t miss my little girl graduating!” he said, hugging me tightly. “I’m so proud of you.”
I smiled into his shoulder, letting go when I saw my mom approaching.
“Hello, Daniel,” my mom said stiffly.
“Good to see you, Angela,” my dad said, flashing a big smile, trying to make it less awkward. He turned his gaze to John.
“You must be John; it’s a pleasure to meet you,” he said, shaking hands with John.
“Well,” my mom began, “we should head up to the house.”
“Ames, you want to ride with your old man?”
“Sure.” I smiled. I saw my mom shift, so I gave her a kiss on the cheek. “We’ll be right behind you.”
I rolled down the window, feeling the wind blow through my hair.
“So how’s your mom doing?” my dad asked.
“She’s pretty good. She has John now, so she’s been doing better.”
“He seems like a nice guy. Good for her.”
I looked at him and he winked at me with the same warm brown eyes that I had inherited. I smiled, feeling a pang in my chest. I had missed him so much.
“How long are you staying?” I asked, secretly crossing my fingers.
He sighed. Not a good sign. “Just tonight, honey. I leave tomorrow morning.”
“I know, I know,” he interrupted. “I just got here. Work is hectic right now, and anyway, your mom hates the sight of me.”
“So? I graduated. Not her. You don’t even have to see her.” I knew my voice was starting to get whiny. He was an architect for a major firm in Chicago and work always seemed to be his first priority.
“We’ll do breakfast tomorrow before I leave.” He paused, glancing at me. “Besides, you’ll be seeing me all the time in Chicago once you start at the Art Institute.”
“Sure,” I mumbled.
He gave me a look. “Hey, don’t do that.”
“Do what?” I muttered.
“Get all mad and stubborn. Those are my horrible traits you inherited, I’m afraid.”
“I know. Mom reminds me daily.” I snorted.
My dad chuckled. “Of course she would.”
We reached the house just as others began shuffling in. My dad turned off the car and looked at me.
“She invited her whole family?”
I shrugged. “Maybe she thought she needed backup.”
My dad shook his head and put his arm around me as we walked in. They all applauded when they saw me, and I tried my best to smile, holding on to my dad tighter.
“I’ll call you in the morning when I’m on my way to pick you up,” my dad assured me at the door, kissing my forehead. I urged him to stay later, but he insisted on going.
“You’d better,” I threatened.
He shoved me and laughed, walking toward his car.
“Love you, Daddy!” I called out after him.
“Love you too, sweetie."
I shut the door and went into the kitchen to do the dishes before leaving for the after-party. My mom sat at the kitchen table, smoking. I could feel her watching me, wanting me to say something. I didn’t.
The after-party was in full swing by the time I got there.
It was being held at Mandy Smith’s beach house, also known as the Mandy Mansion. I could see some of my classmates were already drunk, about to drown themselves in the ocean. Just as well.
I went inside looking for Kelly and Sarah. I found Kelly on her boyfriend’s lap, sipping her drink. When she saw me, she got up.
“Where were you?!”
Kelly always worried too much and was overly dramatic about everything: the complete opposite of me. It was surprising that we weren’t enemies, and even more that we were best friends. We probably wouldn’t have been if we hadn’t been glued together since birth.
“I had the army over, remember?” I reminded her.
She slapped her hand to her forehead, causing herself to fall backward a little bit. She was definitely buzzed. I rolled my eyes as she laughed at her own stupidity.
“Remind me why I bothered to come tonight?”
She laughed again. “Well, besides the fact that you promised?” she nearly shouted. “Who else is going to take me home and take care of me?” she fell back into Kevin’s lap.
I raised my eyebrows. “I was inclined to think he would be doing that.”
Kevin gave me a dirty look, and I smirked. Kelly laughed again. She could be really obnoxious sometimes.
I left them and went to find Sarah. Sarah was more like me with her sarcasm, but still seemed to enjoy the occasional parties when she could. I never went to parties. Kelly had forced me to go to one last year after she begged me for a week. Reluctantly, I had gone, only to go home buzzed and grounded. When I woke up the next morning, I swore to myself I would never go to another one ever again. I hated the way I didn’t feel in control, and I didn’t understand the appeal of acting like a complete fool when drunk. Being the only sober one at a party wasn’t fun either, so I avoided them as much as possible. With the exception of this one. I was graduating after all.
I found Sarah sitting on the deck with a group of guys playing cards. They were, of course, playing Bullshit. Sarah was amazing at Bullshit. She was a mind reader, even outside of playing the game. She could pretty much guess anyone’s mood the minute she looked at him or her, and she also knew the minute it changed. It was fascinating—but also freaked people out.
I sat next to her boyfriend, Jared, and watched them play.
“Amy! I’m about to win this one, so grab a drink and come back. You’re playing the next one,” she exclaimed, winking at me.
She knew I didn’t drink, so I stayed put. “All right, I’ll play.”
She slapped my leg. “Lads, let’s call it a game and start over, shall we?” she slurred.
They all groaned.
I situated myself and watched as she dealt the cards. When we were in eighth grade, she told me that her mom had played the game with her since she was little and taught her how to read faces.
“You could do it if you tried,” she assured me once. “You’re observant, like me. Just start watching people and their expressions, the way they shift their eyes or twitch their mouth. It all means something.”
She was right—it did. I practiced on my mom from time to time, but she was easy to figure out. She always had been, even when I was little.
“All right, Amy, you start us off.”
I peered down at my cards and laid down an ace. “One ace.”
And the game began.
At two in the morning, I walked with Sarah toward home. Sarah lived a couple of blocks away from me and didn’t want to walk alone. Jared, who should have walked her, had passed out on Mandy’s couch.
“I think I’m going to break up with him,” she said out of nowhere.
“He’s cheating on me.” She was emotionless.
“Oh.” I paused. “Who?”
“Who does everyone cheat with?” she snorted. “Mandy, of course.”
I shook my head, disbelieving. “Wow.”
She shrugged. “Eh, just as well. I’m going away for college and he’s staying here.”
I remained silent and we continued walking. Sarah seemed to never feel anything too deeply. I had inherited that trait from my dad, and when I met Sarah it was nice to have someone else who understood the feeling.
I wondered, though, if Sarah just concealed her real emotions. As good as she was at reading the minds of others, she was also extremely good at hiding hers. In all the years I had known her, she never gave in to self-pity or ever cried. She could show affection, though, which was something I had trouble doing. I was the expert in insulting my dates and sending them running before the night was over. After a handful of disasters, guys stopped asking and I stopped caring. It bothered Kelly the most that I didn’t try to date. Sarah somewhat understood, but even she asked me why I couldn’t just be nice.
Sarah sighed and put her arm around me. “It’s finally all over.”
Yes it is, I said to myself.