"Why did you cry, Drew?"
The question stops you cold.
You're little. Mom is in the kitchen making your fifth birthday cake. She says it'll be just like the one Batman had for his last birthday. You make no response. You can see her wrinkle her eyes, coming over, falling to the floor next to you and your broken crayons.
You don't say anything as she wipes a tear from your cheek with her worn shirt sleeve.
"Drew, honey," she says. You can't look at her. "Why are you crying?"
You might as well be five years old again.
Eleven years later and you still don't know just what to say. Words are tricky and careful and the world is weird.
But, oh God, now she's looking at you with those sad eyes. You're under scrutiny and you hate it and please, just please, more than anything you want to be alone in the night and the stars and one good song, to forget.
"Why did you cry, Drew?"
She is genuine and confused and as clueless as ever. You want to shake your head. You want to cling to her shoulder. You want to tell her to shove off.
But you don't speak. You can't think the necessary words. You're not ready for this conversation. There was never a time when you were ready. It felt like the conversation's always been thrust upon you.
And you hate it. You bring up a hand to cover an eye. You always hate to let Mom see you cry.
You shudder into yourself ever so slightly. You thought you were over this. You would let Amber tell you how that age old fantasy you've harbored since childhood regarding parents and reunions and big happy traditional families was irrational, idiotic, and completely illogical – childish, even.
But standing here in the doorway, one foot in, one foot out, you don't care that it's irrational and childish and entirely unlikely.
It's Christmas now. You know it instantly even though you only just woke up. You know it, because that's what Amber sings out as she jumps on your bed.
"It's Christmas it's Christmas it's Christmas Merry Christmas, Drew!"
She screams it in your ear.
You have a thought. You wish you had a younger brother to scream things to in the morning… The thought passes.
When you blink, you spot Mom, her hand hanging on the doorknob, watching. Alone.
You blink again. Amber stops her jumping when she sees, yet she keeps singing, softly now, while she catches the tears.
Presently, you just want to ask – no, you want to scream – Why not?
Just, why can't they – you – everyone – be together?
Why ever not?
You almost stomp your foot. You think better of it.
Your head is a mess.
You love them both. You're their son. You can almost recall a time when you were all a family. You just know it existed. You've seen the old family photos. The smiling bright eyes.
Yes, you even know the damage inflicted, too. You've witnessed Mom broken and undone. But that's what love does, doesn't it? Something that... powerful... must be something – as cheesy as it sounds – something of the work of fate? or – heaven forbid – a higher power? You don't know. Just… something.
You can't just believe it was all ever only chance.
It's been years. Years since you've seen him and months since you've spoken. You can count the time past on his face, the wrinkle here, shades of gray there. Mostly all you see are his regretful eyes. You think they might be glassy with tears. But you can't be certain. Your own vision is blurry and soaked and not to be trusted.
All you know is that Dad is clean and it's better now and it doesn't have to be weird anymore.
Because you just know everything, the entire world and everyone in it, is weird. Of that, you are pretty certain.
Mom dating a man significantly younger? A teacher? At your school? Your school friends snapping pictures of them making out? You later catching the two of them... in the act?
All that you can – have – survived. You've handled it. It's weird and getting harder and harder to believe that this is your life, but you're nevertheless handling this.
At least, you thought you were until you heard the news. Getting a half brother or half sister is where your brain won't even try to comprehend anymore. It's too busy – you heart is hurting. Although you always thought of the self-proclaimed "heartbroken" as annoying, overdramatic hypochondriacs, now you feel it, right there in your chest. That childish fantasy, the please-let-my-parents-be-soul-mates-so-we-can-all-be-one-big-happy-family-fantasy finally spoils pops dissolves boils in one silent, massive eruption.
It's no longer even a distant possibility anymore.
And it hurts. God, does it hurt.
And it's clear to you that she's moved on from Dad and with Amber moved out, you may as well be invisible.
But you'll be the big brother. Just the thing you used to ask Santa for Christmas.
You can't even appreciate the irony of it all.
You're young and discouraged and helpless. Still five years old, on that floor in Fresno. The broken crayons litter the living room floor, while Mom blinks those sad eyes at you, curled up on her knees.
"Drew, honey, why are you crying?"
You look her in the eye. Just one word, "Dad," and just one question. "Why?"