I came home from work this afternoon to find the surprise of a lifetime! I’d stayed late at work to grade papers and proofread essays, and when I got home there was a large gathering waiting for me. At first, I thought it must’ve been Raymond. He had been grounded and begging to go to a party, so I thought he had thrown a party at the house and invited my friends to spite me. I looked around confused and a little nervous. Everyone had already settled into groups, talking about their jobs and the weather. I saw Ursula coming quickly toward me, but I couldn’t even hear what she said because I nearly jumped out of my skin when I saw Elisha. At that point I REALLY thought it must’ve been Raymond trying to make me feel embarrassed. It was working.
“Woah! It’s your ex husband!” one of the younger teacher’s aides laughed as I walked through the crowd. I ignored her.
“What is going on?” I asked Elisha. Everytime I saw him I got a flashback of our lives, and it had all diverged into this single moment of us, exes, standing in my living room trying to figure out why we were in the same building at the same time.
“I don’t know. I got a phone call earlier this morning from Basil. He begged me to come. Said he had something to show me. I skipped out on the theater to come see it… I guess he’s got some explaining to do…”
“Yes,” I agreed. “He does. He must’ve invited you for a reason. The kids miss you, and Raymond has been acting out. It’s just been so stressful lately.”
Elisha smiled at me.
“You’re a great mom, Junie. Always were. Always will be.”
He seemed genuine, but I felt like I was in the middle of something that was unintended for me.
“Well, thanks, Elisha. I’m going to go to my room and grade some papers. The kids wanted to see you I think so. I’ll just let this happen, just this once.”
Standing on the stairs was Pepper. She watched us intently. Usually at this time she would be outside playing or catching fish, but she just watched us with a curious look in her eyes. We exchanged a look between us. I knew she understood it by the look on her face afterward.
Are you guys getting back together?
No, Pepper. It’s not going to happen, honey.
Basil ran past his sister and jumped and gave his father a big hug. They clearly needed to catch up, and while they did that, I needed to contact Raymond because he wasn’t home and he definitely should’ve been… That boy was always getting into some kind of trouble.
Basil and Pepper’s next birthday was uneventful. Prom was coming up and with four teenagers in the house, I absolutely needed to cut costs where I could. Basil transformed overnight. His room got messy, but my did he remind me of his father. More and more each day. He expressed to me that he needed to play music. I didn’t think I would enjoy listening to the sound of a guitar wafting through the house. It would bring me back to another time in my life. Instead, I promised him that he’d be getting a nice keyboard. That way he could have access to a wide range of sounds and he could really explore. When he got it, he spent hours locked away in his room. He could really be focused when he wanted to.
Pepper, on the other hand, spent all her time outside, which was no surprised. She was a sweet girl, and I was proud of all my children. Even Raymond, although I had a hard time picking out what to specifically be proud of. But he was still mine, and I couldn’t just cast aside my love for him. I could tell that he would never feel the same for me. I yearned for the mutual bond I thought I’d felt when he was smaller, but he had no trouble expressing his disdain for me and his siblings. Basil always focused his attention on other things, but Pepper was genuinely afraid of her oldest brother. She’d grown shy because of it. She never liked being around new people. She hated being around people who might recognize her as “Ray’s sister”. It seemed like nature was her only true friend, and although I was happy she’d found an escape like I’d found in cooking, I knew that that would never be enough. I worried for her.
When prom came, I was excited for each of my children for different reasons. Basil would get the chance to get off his butt, Pepper would get the chance to interact with others, and Raymond just… well Raymond just needed to have a night where he couldn’t possibly cause trouble.
Of course, I was wrong, though. He got into a fight on the dance floor with a jock, and he ended up offending a teacher. I was shocked, though, that he got Prom King. But should I have been? I don’t know. Raymond did have a reputation. It preceded him. He certainly had a bad boy way about him, and maybe that was charming to his classmates. I hoped that his peers didn’t encourage his behavior…
Basil seemed pretty unhappy when he got home. All in all, he described it as a fun night until someone threw punch on him for asking her to dance. I was furious, but I buried inside. Not only was someone rude to him, but they had messed up his very expensive suit.
Pepper simply described the night as “uneventful”. I talked to Basil about it and he insisted that she just stared at the decorations and drank punch. Of course, she avoided her big brother like the plague and left as soon as he was announced Prom King.
Sometimes it hit me like a ton of bricks that my kids were growing up fast. They weren’t just growing out of old clothes and toys like before. They were growing straight into adulthood. Basil’s personality was turning out to be just like his father’s. It almost creeped me out. He was growing more and more confident in his musical ability, and even though I didn’t want him to, I knew he’d eventually fall right into his father’s footsteps. They were a close pair, and when he wasn’t talking about music with his dad, he was chatting with his new friend, Vince. I’m not really sure how those two found each other. The friendship was unlikely in my opinion, but Basil insisted that Vince was a really good guy. Basil always told Vince about how he wanted to become a musician and travel the world, eventually becoming a big star!
“It’s like it’s not even a want anymore. I feel like I need the music,” he would say.
Vince, on the other hand, was from a pretty noble family. They weren’t very rich, but they had more money than us and they’d been in Appaloosa Plains far longer than I had, so they had connections. Vince claimed he wanted to be a musician and that he loved music, but he was a business guy. That’s what he was being groomed to do. With his mother being a nurse and his father being a small time politician, they wanted him to pursue something more practical than music.
Maybe Basil knew it, too. Maybe he just didn’t say anything to his friend. Whatever the reason may be, they’d built a friendship off of their ambitions. Basil would take his keyboard and play Moonlight Sonata, and Vince would stand there and feel the music. I think that’s what he could do. He wasn’t a real musician, but he felt something about it even though music was probably out of his reach realistically.
Basil would try to teach him. Vince had managed to buy a four string guitar from someone, and he was ecstatic about it, so Basil would teach him simple chords to play with while he delved into more serious things. Although they were on two different levels, they understood each other, and there was something beautiful about that.
Even though Basil seemed to enjoy social interaction at a normal level, Pepper had insisted that she couldn’t take the students at her school. At first I held firm and kept telling her that the public school was what was best for her, but as time wore on, I heard the rumors too about Raymond. Basil could easily brush it all off and become his own person, but Pepper was too shy to carve out a unique personality for herself. She was going to stay in her troublesome brother’s shadow and remain unhappy if nothing so done. So, I homeschooled her. While I worked, she did assignments and studied at home. It was a good thing I already had experience teaching. This was a peace of cake for both of us.
While I was gone, she would usually work hard, but sometimes, her mind got distracted on her computer.
Enter now for a cruise for two!
Al Simhara awaits! Book now!
So many ads about travel, and she’d been stuck in this place under Ray’s thumb. The foreign lands seemed appealing to her, but it was conflicting. If she traveled, she would be surrounded by nature in a new environment and away from Ray… but she would be away from everything and everyone familiar. She knew that she wanted to do it, but she just wasn’t sure when she’d work up the nerve to go see the world.
One day… she promised herself. For now, the simple joys of the plains would be enough for her.
Raymond had been grounded for so long that he knew he wasn’t going to get to do anything until he was about thirty. So he felt like he might as well sneak out and enjoy himself. He wouldn’t let his stupid mother ruin anything for him. Tonight, he was with Laurie. She was President of the student council and had also won Prom Queen. He’d had to share a dance with her which he didn’t care for… but he could see the perks of being with someone with such great standing with the student body.
“So, do you think we could start studying together? I need help with math. Math’s a bitch.”
“Of course! I’d love to help out,” Laurie insisted.
This is gonna be too easy… Ray thought to himself. He just had to continue to work his way into her naive little heart and then he could start taking action.
“You’re pretty awesome, Laurie,” he said, pausing for a second. “You know, your eyes look beautiful.. wow.”
“Maybe after we study, we could… hang out. I’d love to spend time with you alone. Just us.”
“Of course. We can spend lots of time together. I’d love that. See ya then?” she asked with a twinkle in her eye.
“Yeah, Laur. See ya then.”
As Raymond walked away, Laurie couldn’t help but smile. Sure he was a bad boy, but he was a cutie. She knew his tricks. She knew he was up to something. He never just let people get close to him. He was always trying to manipulate a situation to his benefit. In other words, he was trying to use her. But he wasn’t as smart as her. He was sharp, but not that sharp. She’d won over the student body and her teachers with her charm, grace and charisma, and he wasn’t about to mess it up. Her smile grew deeper. They would make a good alliance. She definitely had plans after graduation. BIG plans. If he scratched her back, she’d scratch his too. She just needed to play her cards right. And he damn well better play his right, too.
So… I haven’t been keeping up with my life completely. There’s this man that I met. He’s also a teacher, and his name’s Alvin. He asked me on a date one night. I said no. He was persistent, though, and about two weeks later he asked me again. I said yes that time, but I lied last minute and said I couldn’t make it. Another month went by, and once again he asked me on a date. This time, I said yes and went. I don’t know why I ended up saying yes. His persistance had something to do with it, but I liked Alvin. He seemed like someone I would be friends with. He had a deep, hearty laugh and he actually loved teaching. He was enthusiastic about it which was great, because I needed to see some new perspectives about it so that I’d stay motivated myself.
The night started off slow. We just walked around and talked about our lives. Eventually, it led to me telling him about Raymond, Basil and Pepper. I didn’t get into too much detail since he taught at the school, but I began venting about what I wished for each of them. Then that led to him asking about their father, so I told him about my marriage and what went wrong. It was a bit much for a first date, but I didn’t feel uncomfortable at all. We just relaxed and chatted.
At some point, we found a soft spot in the grass and sat down. I continued blabbering away. He listened patiently. Then when it was his turn to talk he told me about his college years and how he was close to being married once, but the woman ended things before they made it down the aisle. It was nice to just converse with him.
“You know, you’re a really nice person, Junie. I’d love to do this again,” he said.
“I don’t know where this will go, but I liked tonight. I had fun. So, yes, we should definitely do this again. Maybe next time I could cook for you,” I offered.
“I’d like that. I’d like that a lot,” he said, scooting closer to me. I didn’t say anything. I just sat there with him and enjoyed the comfortable silence as the crickets chirped away somewhere in the distance.
Watching the stars, I suddenly felt like everything would be alright. Everything was changing, but all four of us Kays were working towards something in our lives. We all needed inner Even Raymond. Even me.