Phil made his way into the dressing room as I fought to
keep the contents of my stomach, in my stomach.
“Your dad told me you weren’t feeling well. Anything I can
do to help?”
Just then I gulped, trying to keep everything in. I had
learned from experience that if the medicine comes out, I had to put it
back in, and start the clock over again.
Phil pulled a chair up behind me, and laying his hand
gently on my shoulder, began praying.
“Sometimes I think dying would be better than this, Phil,”
I said as the current wave of nausea passed.
Phil put his arms around my shoulders from behind, and
gently hugged me. I realized at that moment that I loved him more than
any of the boyfriends I ever had. I’m not talking about loving him as a
boyfriend either. I loved Phil, because of the way he always accepted
me. No matter what I was into at the time, or had come through, he
always tried to help me find hope in the situation. I wished all
Christians would love people like that. I think if they did, there’d be
fewer people in this world, running around trying to shut God out of
“I saw your mom out in the hallway. She said she wanted to
talk to me. Is that big guy her new husband?”
“Jabba the Hutt?” I asked, a smile broadening across my
Phil looked at me inquiringly.
“That’s what his two kids call him. Actually, he’s a pretty
funny guy. He’s got some kind of glandular problem.”
“Okay, I’ll be back in a few, then.”
About the only thing that went wrong, my first summer in
California, was when mom called in the middle of June. She must have
saved my number from the time I called her to thank her for coming to
the police station, but I hadn’t heard from her since then.
“Hey… Yeah, what’s up?” I hesitantly asked.
“Alex,” she said in a voice sweet enough for me to know
that she wanted something from me. “I’m taking a family vacation this
summer with Cecil and his children, and I thought it would be a lot of
fun if you went along with us. I already checked UCLA’s schedule and saw
that you won’t be starting school until the last week of August, so we
planned the trip for the week before that. We’re flying to Barbados, and
meeting Cecil’s children and their families, when we get there.”
“Mom,” I protested. “I have a job for the summer. I don’t
get any vacation. And I don’t go to UCLA, I go to USC.”
“Well, I’m sure they start classes the same week, and
you’ll just have to tell the people you work for that you’ll be stopping
work a week early. Alex, I won’t take no for an answer. I want you to
meet you new brother and sister, and their families,” she told me, like
she was bringing newborns home from the hospital.
“They’re not my brother and sister, mom.”
“Nonsense sweetheart, they are now that I’m married to
Cecil, and I want you to meet them. We already bought the plane tickets,
Alex. You’re in row twenty-one, seat C. I reserved an aisle seat for you
because of your long legs.”
I could see that I wasn’t going to win this argument.
“Alright,” I huffed, thinking I could lose myself once I
arrived there, and knowing that she would probably badger me until I
said yes, anyway.
“Good. You’re share of the trip, is eight-hundred dollars.
That includes all your meals. And, honey? I’ll need to have
three-hundred of that by next week for the deposit we put on our credit
“What!” I nearly screamed into the phone. I thought
she had meant that she was taking me on a vacation – meaning that she
was going to pay my way. “Where in the world am I gonna get that?”
“Alex, that’s two-hundred dollars less than if we hadn’t
had the tenth person,” she told me, as if that was supposed to make me
feel better about the whole deal. “You have a job, Alex. Just put a
little aside each paycheck.”
I suddenly knew exactly why it was so important for me to
meet my new brother and sister – a two thousand dollar discount on a
vacation package! Working for minimum wage, I couldn’t even make the
down payment if I put my entire first week’s paycheck toward it. In
frustration, I hit the “end” button on my cell phone.
“Miss Sally,” I shouted, as I bounded down the steps two at
“Good heavens, Allen, what’s all the ruckus for?” she said,
her eyes twinkling when I found her.
“Was someone in my room today? ‘Cause I think they dropped
this on the floor.”
“Don’t be silly, that’s your room, and I wouldn’t be such a
snoop as to go into your room without asking you first.”
“But, this isn’t my envelope,” I told her, not sure if she
was telling me the truth.
“How do you know it’s not your envelope, Allen?”
“Because there’s five hundred dollars in it, and I don’t
have five-hundred dollars.”
“Well it’s certainly not mine. If it was in your bedroom,
then it must be yours. Finders keeper, losers weeper, they always say.
Judging by the smile that had now taken over Mrs.
Schwartzentruber’s entire face, I was sure that she knew more than she
was letting on – she was absolutely glowing.
“The Lord works in mysterious ways, Allen. I’m sure if you
weren’t meant to have it, then it wouldn’t have been slid under your
I hadn’t told her exactly where I’d found the envelope, so
I knew now that she must have put it there.
“Thanks, Miss Sally, you’re the greatest.”
“I just thought maybe you could use a little extra spending
money this summer, Allen.”
I hadn’t had the heart to tell her again, that my name was
“Alex,” called the man who had lured mom away from me and
dad, from across the terminal, like we were long lost buddies. It was
the first time I met him in person. I really wasn’t expecting to like
him, and it showed. I think the only reason he even knew who I was, was
because mom was standing next to him, pointing to me. Seeing that he
wasn’t getting out of his seat to come and meet me, I stopped to buy a
latte, before walking over and joining them.
“So you’re Alex.” Cecil began,
“What about it?”
“You must take after you dad, with your dark hair.”
“You’re mother’s told me so much about you.”
I glared at mom, wondering exactly what she had told him
about me. That is until Cecil continued.
“Quite the high school athlete, she tells me,” then he
shocked me when he leaned in, and continued with, “and quite the lady’s
man too, I understand.”
I kept looking at mom as he talked, but she wouldn’t look
“Yeah, well,” I answered without taking my eyes off him, “I
spend my time studying now.” I thought about the times that I had spent
with Beth Ann before school ended, even though I had no interest in her
romantically. The way she always came on to me always made me so
uncomfortable. I’m sure if I was even a little bit of a lady’s man, I
could have been in her dorm room on several occasions. I wondered how
she had spent her summer.
“We’ll have to play a round of golf, so you can show me how
it’s done. You’re mother tells me you had the highest average on the
team. Quite an accomplishment, I’m sure.”
I had never played golf in my life, but I at least knew
that the key to playing, was to get the ball in the hole in as few
strokes as possible. What a loser, I thought to myself. Why in the world
would she leave dad for someone as clueless as this guy.
“Yeah, well. I’ve never played before, so I probably
wouldn’t even know how to hold a club.”
Mom glanced over at me, looking a little uneasy.
“Looks like our flights on time,” she announced, trying to
change the subject. “So Alex, tell me about your job here in L.A.
Cecil’s a civil engineer. He inspects elevators.”
I didn’t say it, but I thought, “yeah, if the elevator
can take him all the way to the top floor, and back down again without
crashing, it must be safe.” The man was huge.
Cecil’s son, Stan, and his wife met us at the airport to
take us to the hotel.
“Stan, Becka,” Cecil called across the terminal, just like
he had when he first saw me. “Allie, Alex, that’s Stan and Becka, over
there, he said pointing to the nerdy looking man and woman, waving to
“So who’s watching the little ones while you’re here?”
Cecil asked Becka after we had picked up our bags.
“They’re swimming in the pool at the hotel.”
I figured Cecil mustn’t see them very often, because when
he raised his eyebrows, like he couldn’t believe they would leave them
alone, Stan took the cue, and spoke up. “Dad, Brooke’s gonna be sixteen
in October, and Robert’s already twelve. Didn’t you get the photocard we
sent last Christmas?”
Cecil looked at mom, who did a good job of covering for his
flub. “Of course we did, Cecil. You remember, Brooke had that cute
little black dress with the low cut top on,” she said, peering at me out
of the corner of her eyes, as if I that was supposed to get my interest.
“And Robert was wearing his soccer shirt.”
Cecil evidently was not good at picking up clues, because
instead of acting like he remembered, he simply scratched his balding
head and announced, “I mustn’t have seen it. Maybe you could send
another one when you get home.”
I tried to lay low and look disinterested on the ride to
the hotel, hoping to avoid a lot of “family” talk, but Cecil kept trying
to drag me into the conversation by telling Stan and Becka about some of
the things my mom must have told him about me – most of which was a
stretch from the truth.
I almost came unglued, though, when Stan called his dad
Jabba, and Cecil started roaring with laughter. I had been looking at
Cecil from the back seat of the limo, and had just been thinking about
how much the part of his body that was visible above the seatback,
looked like the slug man in the Star Wars movies. I couldn’t even think
of his name, but the instant Stan called him that, I knew we were on the
Cecil caught me smiling – my first smile of the trip – and
turned to face me as he shook his cheeks and imitated the blubbery sound
that Jabba made when he was mad at someone He roared with laughter at
his own joke.
After dinner that night, mom pulled me aside and scolded me
for being so rude.
“Alex, I don’t care if you don’t want to have any fun on
this trip, but don’t spoil it for the rest of us.”
“A real lady’s man?” I asked, challenging what she had
apparently told Cecil about me, before the trip.
“What was I supposed to tell him? That you like boys? I
just wanted to give them all a chance to like you, Alex. Do you want
his family to hate you?”
“You could always tell them that I was supposed to
be a girl, so it’s perfectly normal for me to have a boyfriend. I’m sure
they’d understand if you explained it to them.”
“When are you going to stop holding that over my head,
Alex? For god’s sake, that was ten years ago.”
“I’ll stop holding it over your head the day one of us
dies. And I’ll tell you another thing, I never heard any apologies for
messing up dad’s and my life either, when you decided to wipe your slate
clean and walk out on us, just because your precious only son
I deserved the slap that I felt stinging my cheek.
“Don’t you bring that up to me – ever! I guess you
never knew about your father and the office assistant; or about your
father and waitresses at the club. You always thought that when he said
he was playing poker with the guys, it meant he was actually with some
other guys. And the time he almost lost his job, because he was turning
in business expenses for hotel rooms and dinners for two, while I was at
home with you boys.”
“No,” I whimpered after a long pause, recalling one
time in particular that I had been up late, and dad had come home drunk,
with lipstick on his cheek. I suddenly realized that I had hated mom so
much, that I had blinded myself to the truth of what really may have
happened. Tears began to roll off my cheek, and for the first time in my
life, mom’s embrace actually felt comforting to me.
She held me in her arms for a moment before, torn with
anguish, I freed myself and ran to my room.
The bedside phone rang at eight o’clock the next morning.
It was Cecil, asking me to join him for breakfast.
“You’re mother told me what happened last night, Alex. I
was hoping the two of us could have breakfast together and talk about
something other than family.”
When I left the hotel by the exit he had told me to use,
Cecil was waiting for me with two rented mopeds. You want to imagine a
funny sight, then think of Jabba the Hutt riding a moped. I couldn’t
believe how free Cecil was in joking about his weight. Most large people
do everything they can to try to have people not notice them, but
Cecil just acted like it was normal for a person to be pushing
four-hundred pounds. When we got to the café for breakfast, I almost
fell to the ground laughing, as he made this loud sucking sound followed
by a pop, as he got off the seat of his moped, and rubbed his behind.
We booked a charter fishing trip for “the guys” and
snorkeling for the entire family, that morning. Stan’s son Robbie wanted
to try to ride a sea turtle, so we booked a guide who had a lot of
success in doing that, too.
Tuesday rolled around before I was ready to leave. Cecil’s
family seemed so… I don’t know, so normal, I guess. I kind of figured
that for anyone to like mom, they had to have a screw loose too, but I
was actually having fun with them, and wished that I had made
arrangements to move into the dorm a day late, so I could stay here a
few more days. Mom, on the other hand, was still the same mom I had
always known – demanding much, and giving little in return. And while
her disclosure to me of my dad’s unfaithfulness certainly put a
different light on the reason for their divorce, it did little to take
away my disgust for her. I hoped God could forgive me all my sins, even
if I couldn’t bring myself to forgive her for trying to convince me to
be her “little girl” when I was young.