Hiiiii. It's been a while. I've missed y'all.
This futuretake was written for the Fandom for Mental Health compilation a few months ago. Someone's having a birthday…
Dad's always joked and called me a partier. Like it's my fault I was born at closing time on the dot at 2:00 a.m. on November 2nd.
I've officially been sixteen for seven hours and six minutes, and I look exactly the same as I did last night. Not that I expected to become a B cup overnight, but I thought something would be different, that maybe I'd look older or smarter.
"Mack!" Mom's voice carries down the hall. "Our appointment's at 9:30. We need to go."
Toby's sitting at the kitchen table with my grandparents, eating Golden Grahams, and swiping the screen of his Kindle.
"Put that away." I lean over and kiss the top of his head. "Talk to Nonnie and Paw. You can live five minutes without Five Night's at Freddy's."
"Happy birthday," Nonnie says. "Have some breakfast."
I grab a muffin from the plastic container on the counter. "Thanks! I'll have to take it with me. We're getting our nails done before the party."
Toby grumbles a "happy birthday," turns off his tablet, and reaches for the bacon. Paw stands to give me a hug before we leave. "We'll see you later," he says. "Have fun."
Mom leads the way through the house and out to her car. She avoids most of the traffic by taking Walnut Grove instead of Poplar, and we make it to Midtown with two minutes to spare. Bella's in the waiting area already, makeup-free and nodding off in her seat.
The bell above the door wakes her, and she looks around. She's not too tired to stand and walk across the room to wrap her arms around me. "Happy birthday." She takes a step back to look at me and shakes her head. "Sweet sixteen. I can't believe it."
The receptionist calls Bella's name, and we walk over to her desk. Mom and Bella split the cost of the "party room" for our pampering today. Bella is friends with one of the nail artists here. Well, she's her eye doctor, but they're friendly. This place specializes in nail art, not just average manicures.
I choose brown and orange, and once the base is dry, a girl with pink hair named Haiku uses nail gel and a special pen to draw leaves on both of my thumbs and on my big toes. Bella chooses black for her polish and asks for bright red cherries with long stems and a green leaf on each nail. Mom gets standard peach. She's got a job interview this week, and the color matches the dress she bought yesterday after hours of looking.
Mom doesn't want to, but she likes Bella. This is the first time we've done something like this, but this is what I asked for my birthday, and neither of them wanted to be the one to say no. We talk about Seth and tonight—my first real date. We don't talk about Dad or joke about how he's handling it.
"Why don't you ride with Bella now?" Mom asks at the end of our hour. "I'll go and pick up Mom, Dad, and Toby, and we'll meet you at Esme's in a little while."
I follow her to the trunk of the car to get my backpack. It's hard to remember which clothes are at whose place. I'm still getting used to having both parents in the same city and floating between two houses, so I keep a backpack of essentials: chargers, makeup, deodorant, my journal, and an extra outfit.
Bella's in the Mustang today, which means Dad must've taken her truck to Grandma's house. Now that Bella finally knows how to drive a stick, she borrows Dad's car all the time. He took us to an abandoned lot and spent a Saturday teaching both of us, although I took less time to get it than she did.
"Can I drive?" I ask. "My test is tomorrow, so I need all the practice I can get."
She tosses me the keys and heads for the passenger seat. "You can take the test in my truck if you want to," she says.
I turn the key and close my eyes when the engine roars to life. "Either's fine."
Bella's easier to ride with than my parents. Mom and Dad like to keep up a constant commentary of what to do and what not to do. Bella relaxes in her seat and lets me drive.
"Are you nervous?" she asks.
Since it's the quickest way to get to Grandma's, I turn onto Poplar. "About the test tomorrow?"
"I meant your date. But are you nervous about your test?"
"Not really. You guys have let me practice a lot, and the Driver's Ed class helped. I think I'll be fine."
"I think so, too."
"And, yeah…" It's also easier to talk about boys with Bella than it is with Mom or Dad. She doesn't judge. "I'm nervous about tonight."
"I wish I could offer you some wisdom, but I never dated in high school. Seth seems like a good kid."
"He is." Sweet, funny, smart. And it doesn't hurt that, between skating and his part-time job at Home Depot, he stays in shape. "It sucks that Dad hates him."
She laughs. "Edward doesn't hate Seth. The other day, he actually complimented Seth for curving the bills of his hats and for not wearing skinny jeans. Be patient with him. He's trying."
Bella's Explorer is parked right behind Poppy's Buick in Grandma's driveway. I ease up next to the curb and stop in front of the house. "Excellent," Bella says. "You're going to rock that test tomorrow."
We get out, and she waits for me to walk around the car before starting across the lawn. "Dad's going to be cool about this, right?" I ask. Seth will be here in a couple of hours, and Dad's had plenty of time to freak out and change his mind, even though he's promised "sixteen"for the last year while all of my friends were busy getting boyfriends. If he changes his mind, I'm going anyway.
But I really, really hate fighting with him.
Bella takes her time answering. We make it all the way to the front porch before she puts her hand on my arm to stop me. "It's killing him, but he trusts you."
"Seth's scared of him. And of Uncle Paul, too, now."
"I don't know a lot about teenage boys, but it sounds like Seth must like you a lot to come over here today and spend time with both of them."
I duck my head and try to hide my smile. The last time I was with Seth away from school was at Jane's house last weekend. Stolen kisses and some handholding, texts and late night phone calls.
The sound of a baby crying on the other side of the door gets Bella moving again. I follow her into the house in time to see Dad lift a wiggling, kicking seven-month-old out of my great-grandmother's arms. The crying stops the moment Carly's nestled against his chest. He's her favorite person in the world.
"Happy birthday!" Grandma says as soon as she notices us.
Dad turns around, and Carly's twin sister, Cameron, squeals in Poppy's lap and reaches for Bella. An unexpected rush of jealousy steams through me. Since I'm not at home—at Dad and Bella's—full-time anymore, I don't get to see my sisters every day. I mean, yeah, I get more sleep on the nights spent with Mom at Nonnie and Paw's while Dad's working, but I'm used to noise and chaos, pacing and helping feed babies at all hours of the night, and untangling tiny fingers from the curls in my hair.
They could at least do me a solid and miss me the way I miss them when I'm gone.
They have pretty cool parents, and they seem to know it.
Dad walks over, stops beside me, and kisses the side of my head. "Happy birthday," he says.
Carly turns her head and rests her cheek against his t-shirt. She butts her forehead, grins so hard she drools, and then reaches for me. I drop my backpack on the ground and take her slowly to keep her from getting too worked up. Since the babies just finished a growth spurt, we're testing a new dosage of her blood pressure medication.
Now that his arms are free, he wraps one around my shoulder in a half-hug. Bella walks over with Cameron, who finally notices I'm alive and reaches for me, too.
"Why don't you sit with them?" Grandma says. "I'd love to take pictures. It's your birthday, and you only turn sixteen once." She pulls out her phone every time all of us are together, but I don't argue with her. Grandkids have always been her favorite pastime. Retirement hasn't changed that, and her Facebook's full of pictures of all of us, especially the twins.
I sit in the center of the couch with Bella on one side of me and Dad on the other. The babies move between us, unable to sit still for too long. My great-grandparents and my grandma all stand a few feet away, aiming their phones at us and making the babies laugh. Cameron's short, blonde hair stands up in every direction. Carly's light, almost white, side-mullet has formula dried in the tips.
The twins' patience runs out eventually, and we put them on the floor on a blanket with some toys for playtime. Neither of them can sit up yet, but they like to roll until they're facing each other and then "talk" to each other while pumping their chunky little arms in excitement.
"How was work?" I ask Dad as we watch them.
"Long," he says, stretching his arms behind his head. "I'm glad it's over."
"No, but when I'm home, you're home." He tips his head back and closes his eyes.
"Take a nap while you can," I tell him. "The others won't be here for a while. I'll help Bella with the babies."
"I'm good." He sits up straight and smiles. "I got some sleep last night at the station—not a lot, but enough. How was school this week?"
"I made a C on my Algebra 2 test. I might have to start staying after school for tutoring."
He laughs a little. "I would've been ecstatic about a C in Algebra," he says. "Talk to Jared. He was a real boss in math."
"I'll ask him if he's up for it," I say. "Apparently, I've got some kind of brick wall going on. Everything else is good."
"Good." He leans forward when Carly gets too close to the table and then relaxes when she turns toward Cameron again.
"I think I might try out for track." I started running with Bella two summers ago and love it almost as much as yoga.
"That's cool," he says.
I almost laugh over the differences between his and Mom's reactions. When I told her, she asked a million questions and gave me a lecture on time commitments. After all that, she said it would look great on college applications and wished me luck.
"Um…" He shifts in his seat.
Here it comes.
"So, what are you and Seth doing tonight?" he asks.
"A movie. It's a Sunday and a school night. Not much to do."
"At a theater, right? Not in his basement…"
"Oh, my God, Dad. We're going to the Paradiso. He's not dragging me off to a basement."
"Home by 9:00."
"Fine. 10:00. It is a school night."
A horrible smell fills the room the same moment Jane and Alec walk in.
"Ewww." Jane waves a hand in front of her face. "Why do they do that every time I show up?"
Carly fusses, then cries. Dad starts to get up, but I stop him. "I'll get it."
Jane scoops her up from the floor and leads the way down the hall. Grandma keeps a changing table in her bedroom. Jane eases her onto the pad, walks to the other side of the room, and falls dramatically onto Grandma's bed.
Carly kicks and grunts when I unsnap her onesie. I have to work to get it up her body and clear of the mess before I open the diaper. The angry red scar on her torso is jarring every time I see it, even though I was there in the waiting room with Bella and Dad the day she got it four days after she was born.
Before the ink was even dry on the adoption papers.
My parents knew it was coming. They'd known since the twins' mom was twenty-one weeks along. That's when the original couple backed out. They didn't want a kid that came with guaranteed heart surgeries. Twins are complicated enough without all the extra.
Like bright green, slimy poop.
"Ugh." I try to cover my nose with my shoulder while holding onto Carly's legs with one hand and wiping her with the other.
"Babies are so fucking gross," Jane says, staring at the ceiling fan above her. "Thank God for the pill."
Even though I don't technically need the pill yet, I have to agree. I'm not sure Dad and Bella realize that the twins have made every teen in this family super paranoid and diligent. They're 100% the reason I asked Mom to go on birth control. The regular periods are a bonus. She says I have to talk to Dad first and get him to agree.
Bella said the same thing when I asked her and said I should to talk to my mom.
I was too ashamed to tell her I already had. So, for now, I've given up.
It's not like I'm in some big hurry, anyway. Jane's had crappy luck with the boys she's been with. It seems like they all get really stupid after the deed's done. But when it does happen, I don't want to end up with one of these for my own.
Carly's much happier once she's in a warm, dry diaper and her onesie is snapped. She claps her hands and moves her head from side to side, dancing on her back and kicking her feet in the air. She laughs and gurgles until I pick her up.
Both of her hands tangle in my hair, and she pulls until her open mouth moves back and forth across my cheek. I'm covered in her drool when Seth and Alec walk into the room.
"Gross, Mack," Alec says, waving his hand in front of his nose. "Say excuse me, at least."
"Ha ha." I toss the rolled up dirty diaper at him. "Take that outside."
He catches it instead of risking the chance of it busting open if it hits something. "So fucking gross," he says, tucking his t-shirt over his nose.
We follow him down the hall, and I'm surprised by how many people are already here. Start times don't mean a thing in this family. Mom and my other family are the only ones who actually show up "on time."
It's weird, at first.
But even Jane has to admit Mom is trying, and Jane hates her more than anyone. "She's so much nicer since she's gotten rid of Peter."
"I know. She's a like a totally different person." We're out on the back porch—me, her, the boys, and Elaine. "Imagine being thirty-six and alone for the first time in your life," I say. "I mean, I love my mom, but she's done some fucked up stuff. I think she's trying to figure out who she is."
Jane sighs. "I hope my mid-life crisis won't be as dramatic as your mom's. I'm glad she's back here, though. I know you missed her."
I never thought I'd say it, but yeah, I did.
She missed me, too, and has spent most of the last year trying to get her shit together for all of us. Toby won't admit it yet, because he still misses his dad, but even he's happier now that it's over.
Grandma calls us inside for lunch. She knows Newk's is my fave, so she's given me a catered lunch and party for my sixteenth. She also gave me a Simon gift card for the mall. Most of my other gifts are more of the same: iTunes gift cards, Amazon gift cards, a stack of used books from Seth, and some badass sunglasses from Bella. There's nothing with my Dad's name on it when I'm done with the enormous pile of cards, though.
He's been quiet today. It's not unusual for Dad, but it seems to get worse as the afternoon passes.
"Can I have a second?" he says when the others start to wander away.
"Come with me." He puts his arm around my shoulder and guides me over to the door leading out to the garage. We walk past Grandma's Nissan, Poppy's Buick, and Bella's truck, and then he walks around to the driver's side of the Mustang.
He gets in.
I stand there for a second, wondering if I'm supposed to get in, too.
He starts the car and messes with the volume on the new stereo he had put in a month ago. After all my years of bitching, he finally has Bluetooth. It takes him a while to settle on a song, and when he does, he turns the volume down to a low hum, anyway.
"Your grandfather helped me buy this car on my sixteenth birthday," he says. "It needed some work, but we fixed it up."
"I know." It's all I can think of to say, because despite whatever peace Dad found a few years ago, he still doesn't talk much about Grandpa.
When he does, I listen.
"I've held on to this car for a long time." He rubs the steering wheel with his palm. "It's almost twenty-five years old."
"It's still cool, though," I say.
He smiles, turns the engine off, takes the key from the ignition, and holds it out to me. "Happy birthday."
I stare at the silver key, dangling from a ring on his finger.
"It's yours." He shrugs. "Well, if you want it, it is…"
"If I want it?" I laugh, maybe a little hysterically. "Of course I want it! But what about you?"
"I need something roomier. We got a new Explorer for Bella, so I'm going to drive her old one."
I sit, silent and stunned, staring at the black dash, breathing in worn leather and faded smoke.
"Thanks, Dad." Tears are running down my face when I reach over to hug him. He meets me in the middle with two strong arms and a scratchy face against my temple. The chops have been gone for almost a year, since they turned on him and went gray.
"I'll take you to get your license after school tomorrow."
"Does Mom know?"
He points and nods. Mom and the whole damn family are outside on the lawn, watching me cry like a baby. I get to see the moment Alec hears the news, and the face he makes is priceless. He's been trying to buy this car since he was five.
"Do you think Alec will recover if I let him drive it once or twice?" I ask, only half-joking.
Moms hold her hands out for Carly, and I can't look away. Bella hands my sister to my mom, talking Mom through how to hold her. There's no hesitation, though.
It's a start.
I don't need them to be best friends. I just want more days like this.
"Are you okay?" Dad asks.
"Yeah." I open the glovebox to steal a Wendy's napkin for my face. "This is the best birthday I've had in a really long time."
A black Tahoe eases into the spot behind us. I tense until I see both my uncles on the porch and remember we're all here.
Bella's dad gets out and hesitates once he's out of the truck. He's freaked that my huge family is standing around in the front yard and looking at the street. Can't blame him.
He takes a few steps forward and shifts a huge pink gift in his arms. "Dad, is that for me?" I ask. "Is he here for my birthday?"
"Well, yeah. I mean, he's Bella's dad. He's technically your family now. Is it okay?"
"It's cool. Really cool." I guess I never really thought of it that way. "I need a minute. Can we just… sit?"
Charlie puts the box on the ground and takes Cameron from Aunt Kim. The baby reaches for his mustache, and he catches her fingers and wags them in the air. Everything's different now—again—but it's finally in a good way.
"Okay," I eventually say. "I'm good." I stop him with my hand on his arm before he opens the door. "This is better than anything I could've asked for. I love it, Dad. I really love it."
The crinkles around his eyes are back, and he thinks they make him look old. I think he looks happy. "After the test tomorrow, it's all yours."
Jane runs over as soon as I step out of the car. "I can't even believe this."
"You really didn't know?"
"None of us did! Well, Bella and Charlotte weren't surprised, but the rest of us were freaking out."
Charlie nods when I finally reach the others. "Happy birthday," he says.
Jane helps me carry the box inside, and the family trickles in behind us. When the family room is bursting at the seam, I rip the pink paper away, but the plain cardboard box isn't giving anything away. I have to borrow a pocket knife from Uncle Paul to cut the tape holding together the flaps.
There's an old record player inside. Nothing fancy, but super cool with big, retro knobs.
"Bella said records are in again and that you mentioned buying one with your birthday money. This has been in my attic since we moved here, but it works."
"It's amazing," I say. "Thank you so much."
"There's a box of old records in the closet of Paul's old bedroom," Grandma says. "Some were your grandad's, and some belonged to the boys."
It gives us an out from the adults for a while. Seth and Alec lead the way upstairs, and some of the littles try to follow us up, but Elaine cuts them off at the top. Uncle Jared offers to take them out back for a Nerf war.
The rest of us listen to hair bands and Elvis and some really old country stuff. Jane and Elaine take the bed, Alec sits on the window bench, and Seth settles on the floor with his back against the wall and me at his side.
"Your dad and Bella are goals," Jane says. "Seriously cute."
"Shit," Alec says. "Bella is goals."
"Gross, man." Seth shakes his head. "She's your aunt."
"Not by blood."
"Stop messing up my fairytale, toad." Jane throws a pillow at him, but he catches it and tosses it back to her. "She's, like, the taken-est newlywed ever. Did you see her kiss that tattoo on his neck?"
"They're always like that," I say.
There's a knock on the door, and Dad pushes it open. "Time for cake," he says.
Chocolate with buttercream icing. And Seth's arm touches mine in the kitchen while he sings "Happy Birthday" with my family. Considering how much I talk about him, introducing him to Mom is awkward but necessary.
She doesn't stay long after ice cream. Nonnie and Paw need to stop at the grocery store on the way home, and they're tired. Toby's actually upset when she calls for him. He and Brady have been thick as thieves all afternoon.
Jane takes off early because she's got a date tonight with her work friends at a Grizzlies game. Alec's working 5:00 to close, so he takes off right after she does.
Seth's too nice to ask me to ditch my party, but everyone else is, too, so that makes my decision to leave a little easier.
"I think we're going to go," I say to Bella. Dad's sitting right next to her on the couch with Cameron asleep on his shoulder.
He eases her forward, rests his hand under her head, and shifts her into Bella's arms next to a sleeping Carly. "Okay," he stands. "Home by 10:00."
We get through the kitchen, out the door, and past the Explorer. "Mack!"
Now? He chooses now to freak out and do this?
I turn around and watch Dad walk toward us. At the end of Grandma's car, he stops. "Be safe," he says.
I brush my fingers over Seth's wrist. "Give me a second."
He walks away without me to cross the street to get to his car.
I walk back the way I came and don't stop until I'm hugging my dad. "I will."
A/N – Thanks to M and Nic for prereading, to Iris for mad beta skills, and to Jeannie and Meagan for all their hard work organizing the compilation.
I've been kind of absent lately, and I'm sorry for that. My only excuse is that I've been writing all the things and still raising those crazy kids of mine. In case you missed it, I wrote a book! It's called Higher Ground and it's available at Amazon, Smashwords, B&N, etc. Search for Nan Lowe and you'll be able to find it.
I'm currently working on a YA novel. A country one. Sort of Down Home-ish, only high school. Thankfully, it's almost done.
I've also had a chance to work on some fic stuff, so there may be a few things to share soon. I hope so, anyway. :)
As always, thanks for reading.