I haven't had a parental figure in my life since I was a 14-year-old girl. After the first change, I was pretty well cut off from my first family, and I never really got close to Sam's. So sitting down to dinner with Mrs. Kearn was pretty brutal.
I had no idea how to read her. She was quiet, and I could tell she did not care for the fact that I had come back on my own without her daughters without any concrete explanation as to where they were and why. But I couldn't tell what she really thought about the situation, about Max, and what she wanted to do about it. She was still letting me live in her house, apparently rent-free. That alone was enough to make me want to make any concession she had in mind.
I had faith that Tanya and Melanie would arrive sooner than later. I just had to endure the awkward silence until then. I didn't expect either of them to be better-equipped than I was to handle their new mom, but them being there would make our adjustment easier anyway.
In the meantime, I was sneaking out of the house to go to Max's job. He's a dishwasher, so I wasn't exactly in over my head, and I was able to smooth over things with the kitchen manager so I was able to keep the gig, not that it was all that precious to me. I just needed something to do while I waited and figured out what, if anything, my next move was going to be.
They did show up about a week and a half after I did. Jet-lagged, or maybe body-lagged, they stumbled through the doors looking exhausted, dragging a their luggage with them.
Mrs. Kearn rushed to greet them while I stood coldly in the kitchen doorway, saying "I knew you'd show up" with my eyes. They pushed past me to find their new rooms. I didn't go to confer with them immediately, instead I retired to the basement, figuring Mrs. Kearn would want a night with her daughters to get their story on why they'd left me in Maine.
Apparently they weren't too forthcoming. I was making my bed the next morning, the girls still asleep, when Mrs. K came by to interrogate me again.
"They won't tell me why they left off from you," she said.
"Well," I sighed, "If they ever do, can you let me know? Because I'd like to."
"You're saying two teenage girls just went out on their own in a strange country and you couldn't do anything to stop them?"
"I don't believe me."
"Yeah, I don't believe it either, but that's what happened."
"I can't even believe I let you go on that trip!" She spent another half hour laying into me, but I faded out of focus and just let her go, not really trying to stand up for myself, until she said, "I swear, if I find out you laid a hand on those girls--"
"What?!" I stopped her immediately, "Lady, I don't know what kind of guy you think I--" I stopped myself. I really had no proof even to myself that the old Max wouldn't have hit a girlfriend, but knowing that wasn't the specific case here kept me from being able to take that one on the chin. "It's just... no, okay? I didn't. You can ask them."
She didn't respond, but just left the room the conversation unresolved.
That day, when Mrs. Kearn was out, I asked Tanya what had happened out west to change her mind.
"What does it matter?" she snapped, "We're here anyway, isn't this what you wanted?"
"It's not what I want, it's what has to happen," I explained, "If you think you can make a go of it out in Washington, be my guest, but I have my doubts they'll let your boyfriend resume his duties--"
"You don't say a word about my boyfriend, you don't even talk to him!" she shrieked.
"Woah, calm down, okay? I just want you to know why you're here."
"Uh huh. Why am I here?"
"Because this is what yuor life has become. For better or worse, your life isn't that anymore. Not for now. It belongs to someone else. You can get it back... if you're lucky. But not for a long while. So I'm sorry we got off on the wrong foot."
She muttered, "Yeah," agreeing sarcastically.
It was a tense few days after that. I couldn't speak to anyone in the house. The official story was that "Tanya and Max" had broken up, but Mrs. Kearn was at least willing to let me keep sleeping in the basement, albeit with extreme reluctance. Tanya and Melanie weren't all that interested in sharing the details of the trip with their new mother, who still believed I had traumatized them somehow. Melanie still seemed shellshocked and led around by Tanya, who was on bad terms with everyone else.
It was a week or two later that I was walking by Tanya's room and I heard sobbing. I knocked softly. No answer. I opened the door a crack.
Tanya was lying on the bed with her face buried in a pillow, sobbing her eyes out. She looked up at me.
"Nothing! I just wanted to see if you were okay."
"Do I look okay?!"
"God, don't you ever say the right thing?"
"Apparently not. What's the matter?"
"What's the matter? Are you shitting me? All of this! God, every day that I wake up and I'm still here is just--"
Yeah, she was still taking it badly. I went to sit next to her, to try to break the tension.
She slid just a bit away to make room. She sat up on the edge and rested her elbows on her knees. She wiped some tears and snot from her face with a pink kleenex.
She sniffed, "You must think I'm an overemotional bitch."
"No..." I lied.
"Let me tell you what happened. We got to Washington, we got back to our apartment, and then a week later, we got a call from the new us." I had actually never received a call from the new person in my old body, at least not at that point.
She went on, "They were going to let us stay, Max. They were going to let us stay in our own home and try ti rebuild our own lives, and then for whatever reason [Melanie] changed his mind... and made me come here. I don't understand why."
"Did you ask her?"
"Yeah, but she-- he-- wasn't making any sense. Gave me some of that stuff you were talking about where we belong. I don't know. I was willing to go along with it, but... I can't take this, Max. It's not right."
I rubbed her back and she said, "I guess I've been unfair. None of this is your fault. You're not a bad guy."
"I just... I don't want to be here."
Nobody ever does.
But she did get a bit better after that. More soon as I can manage.
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