Kris Furillo shuffled across the floor of the apartment, the cold linoleum stinging her bare feet. There was Barb, passed out on the couch mumbling something about playing hopscotch on the moon with giant flamingos with tears running down her face. Frightened, Kris looked around the apartment. No one was there. No one but her. Quietly she walked over to Barb and took her mother's hand in her own. She had never felt more terrified in her life as she stroked the white cold flesh of her mother's arm, just like Juan used to. "Mommy?" she whispered.
"Yeah Kristine?" mumbled Barb.
"Why did Daddy leave us?" asked Kris.
Barb groaned. "Because Adriana scared him away," she whispered.
Kris stayed there until and after Barb fell asleep, trying to make her mother's tears go away while ignoring the futile ones burning in her own eyes.
Six-year-old Kris climbed down off the school bus and slowly made her way up to their apartment. It was exactly one year now since the last time that she saw her Daddy. She could no longer picture his face the way that she could even a few months ago. His fading image haunted her every day.
As soon as she made her way up to the apartment, Kris dialed the number for the Furillo house and was relieved when a young male voice answered the phone. "Hello, is your refrigerator running?" she said.
Jace laughed halfheartedly. "Kris, you know I know it's you."
"You know what day it is, don't you?" said Kris.
"Yeah," said Jace. "Mama is pretty sad. I heard her telling one of her friends that it's been a whole year since her world fell apart now."
Kris didn't say anything for a moment. As far as she and Barb were concerned, Adriana was a monster, a big, fat, ugly, scary monster. She didn't even like to think about her connection to Jace.
"Mommy doesn't even care about him," Kris finally said tearfully. "This morning I said, "Mommy, it's been a whole year since we saw Daddy now," and she said, "Wow, I can't believe it's been a whole year since I could actually afford to pay the heating bill and the water bill at the same time"."
"That's all she cares about?" said Jace. "Why am I not surprised?"
Kris wasn't sure what to say to that. There was a brief pause. "How's school going?" asked Jace.
"I hate it," said Kris. "I mean, recess and lunch are alright, but math and reading are hard and handwriting is horrible!"
"But handwriting is the most important thing you learn!" said Jace. "Reading is kind of important too, because otherwise you won't be able to read labels and signs and stuff and you'll never know where you're going. Anything they try to teach you in math you can ignore though, because that's just useless. Trust me."
"Okay," said Kris, as always, taking her big brother's advice. "But why is handwriting so important?"
"I'll show you next time I come over," said Jace.
"Okay," said Kris again. "Can you come now?"
"Where's your Mom?" asked Jace.
"Still at work," said Kris.
"I'll be right there," said Jace.
"Okay," said Kris. She hung up the phone and her backpack and grabbed an apple from the kitchen to munch on while she was waiting for her brother. Whenever Jace wanted to play with her, he always asked her if her Mommy was at home or not before he came over. It was no secret that Jace felt the same way about Barb that Kris felt about Adriana. Not that he and Kris ever talked about it. They loved each other too much to risk getting into a fight about something so big.
When Jace got there, he and Kris laid around watching TV for a while just like they usually did, made a few prank calls, and then gorged on some store-bought cookies Barb had left in the pantry.
"I miss him, Jace," Kris confessed. "Before he left, Mommy never left me alone in the house, now I'm alone all the time when I'm not at school."
"Mama actually spends more time with me now than she did before he left," said Jace. "But she also spends a lot of time crying."
"Mommy never spends any time with me," Kris insisted. "All she does is make breakfast in the morning, give me my lunch money, and then drop me off at school on the way to work, and I don't see her in the afternoon or the evening unless I'm awake late enough to hear her come home from work. And sometimes on weekends she gets all high and I have to take care of her."
"High?" said Jace. "What's that?"
"You know…" Kris struggled to find the words to explain it. "All happy and crazy-like."
"I see," said Jace, although he didn't understand at all.
There was a pause. "Hey," said Kris. "You never told me why handwriting is important."
"Oh yeah," said Jace. "It's so that you can write notes and have people think you're a grown up. Like this." He pulled out a piece of paper and a pen and wrote:
Would you please give Jace permission to be two days late on his homework assignment? He was ill this past week and spent the night in the hospital, so he was unable to finish it.
Kris's eyes grew wide. "You were in the hospital? When?"
Jace grinned. "I wasn't. That's the point."
It took Kris a moment to catch on. "Ohh." A slow grin spread across her face. "Did you actually turn in this note?"
"Yeah, but I eventually got caught," Jace admitted. "My handwriting looks grown-up enough, but I can never get the signature quite right."
"What's that?" asked Kris.
"A signature?" said Jace. "It's the way grown-ups write their names. And it's really hard to copy. My mom's signature kind of looks like this…" He wrote down his mother's name. "…and the way I copy it looks like this." Jace saw that the two signatures looked identical and frowned. "Actually, let me show you with your Mom's signature, if it's written down anywhere."
"Okay," said Kris. She went and found one a copy of a receipt Barb had signed.
"See," said Jace. "When I try to write her signature it looks like…this."
Kris blinked. "Yeah?"
Kris and Jace starred down at the two signatures. They were interchangeable. Jace's forgery looked exactly like what Barb had written down.
Jace turned to Kris and grinned. "Okay, now we're talking!"