I gaze around the room and sigh. It’s full of old cardboard boxes, both big and little, that seem to make the tiny room even smaller.
I walk over to the mattress beside me and plop down on it, sending a cloud of dust up into the air. It’s lumpy and covered with an unsafe amount of dust. Probably a victim from Andrews’s college years, which he claims was not that long ago but we all know different.
Andrew is my new stepfather, he’s… fine. He is a middle-aged man with a semi-large bald head and a tall body, six-foot-three to be exact. He’s obsessed with adult cartoons and even has the whole action figure set of the Simpsons, plus posters, clothing, and even three toilet paper holders, one for each of the bathrooms.
There is something odd about Andrew, other than his weird obsession, something that I can't quite but my finger on. It might be the fact that he reminds me a bit of my dad, and maybe it's just a feeling of loss and sadness. I don't know for sure but there is definitely something up with him.
Andrew has three kids, Emma, Brinley, and Noah.
Emma is a 6-year-old girl, with not much to say about her other than she loves unicorns, the color pink, and pretty much anything else a typical 6 year old would like.
She also has a way of being super persuasive by simply looking up at her parents (and any other adult in fact) and smiling her missing-tooth smile to get whatever she wants or get away with anything.
She has extra long blonde hair and dark blue eyes, paired with whatever wild outfit she chooses to dress in that day.
Noah is a 16-year-old boy with a love for skateboarding and surfing.
He will be outside from dawn to dusk, just skating up and down the street if you would let him.
We live only a mile away from the nearest beach, so on most weekends Noah will skate to the ocean with his closest friends and hang there for a few hours before riding back to our house, completely covered in sand.
Brinley is 14, the closest out of all of Andrews’s kids to my age.
She has short brown hair cut into a simple pixie cut and can be found wearing the trendiest and up-to-date clothing, and is the most popular girl in ninth grade.
She has a snarky, sassy, and arrogant attitude, but only around people her age. To any adult, she seems like a princess, to any kids she seems like a queen, but to any of us, she is a monster.
When she found out her dad was dating my mom, she told the entire school that my mom used adult diapers, which is definitely not true.
She refused to go to any of the dinners with my family, gossiped about them behind my back, and continued to make my life worse and worse.
When she got told that our parents were engaged, she waited until I was walking home from school to bring out a pair of scissors and cut off all of my hair, the hair I had grown out for 7 years, saving to donate to the cancer center my dad was in, the one he was in before he passed away.
When I told my mom and we confronted Brinley about it, she broke down bawling and said that the ‘mean’ girl in school, Lilian, actually did it and she ‘tried to save me but it was too late’. My mom believed her, and instead of feeling sorry for me, felt bad for her.
Luckily, she didn’t do anything when she found out our parents were getting married because she was away on a vacation with her mom, which she only sees a few times a year, and when she got back it was almost time for the wedding.
The wedding was fine also, but it was super weird to see my mom kissing, and being so happy, with someone that wasn’t my dad. Brinley and I were bridesmaids, along with Julia, Cristina, and Lou, my mom’s best friends, Reagan and Angela, Andrew’s two sisters, and Colette and Ariya, my mom’s closest cousins.
Emma and Darcy, my 7-year-old sister, were flower girls. They were adorable walking down the aisle in matching fluffy white dresses and their hair piled up in little buns on top of their heads.
Rylan, my 17-year-old brother, and Noah were part of Andrew’s groomsman. They wore long black tuxedos and their hair slicked over to the side, the proper groomsman attire according to my mom.
The wedding was huge, there were tons of people watching my mom and new stepfather getting married. It was so crowded and felt like hundreds of people were staring at me as I walked down the aisle in front of my mom. I wonder what my mom felt like, as she was the star of the show that day.
“Jade! Hurry up sweetheart, we’re just getting ready to do the Thanksgiving prayer!” My mom calls from downstairs, snapping me out of my daydream.
“And don’t forget to wear the dress my mother made for you,” Andrew shouts after her, his hoarse voice hurting my sensitive ears.
I wince, not just from his voice but from the thought of the hideous dress.
For my birthday, which was only a month ago, Andrew's parents gave me a dress, a homemade one. It is made of cloth and yarn, alternating red, pink and purple. It is tightly fitted around the upper part but flairs out into a poofy skirt around and past my hips.
There is a reason that it has been stashed in my closet for the entire time I’ve owned it, it looks absolutely revolting on me. It is bunched up in certain places and ultra-tight in others, it simply does not fit me. Yet, I am forced to wear it to dinner the makers of the dress aren't even attending.
It doesn't make any sense, yet I shove it over my head in order to keep my mom from yelling at me. I look into the mirror and sigh, for the tenth time today.
It looks as bad as I imagine it, wrinkly, clumpy, and horrible.
“Jade! Hurry up,” My mother yells from the dining room, “Andrew is about to say the prayer!”
“I’m coming,” I reply grudgingly, walking out of my room and down the long unfamiliar hallway of the new house.
After my mom married Andrew, we all moved into his house, located a few miles away from my house, or my old house now.
I begged my mom to not make us move but she claimed that our house was too small for 4 extra people. I guess that's true, our previous house was a 3 bedroom, 1 bathroom place. Each of us kids got our own room while my mom took the pull out couch in the living room.
Andrew’s house or I guess my house now, is a 6 bedroom, 3 bathroom house, with a huge backyard. Other than Emma and Darcy, who wanted to share, we all got our own rooms, which I am definitely thankful for. Sharing a room with Brinley? That would be a complete nightmare.
Even though I have been in the house for a few weeks now, it still doesn't feel like home.
As I walk down the unfamiliar curving stairs and into the large dining room, I smell a strong whiff of pumpkin pie.
Pumpkin pie was my dad’s favorite Thanksgiving food. He loved the rich spices, crispy crust and the overall delicious pumpkin taste of the desert. He always made a homemade pie and added special ingredients that nobody knew about, he called it his secret recipe. He claimed he would never share it with anybody and take it to his deathbed. I didn't know it would be so soon that he would be laying there.
I choke down a tear and continue my way over to the dining room table.
Everybody is sitting there, talking loudly with one another and staring hungrily at the feast laid out in front of them. I silently slip into the only empty spot, in between Emma and Rylan, and start to unfold the napkin and carefully set it on my lap.
“Alright everybody,” Andrew booms over the noisy chatter in the room, “Let’s pray before we eat this amazing feast!”
We all grab our glasses, champagne for the adults, and water for the kids, and hold them up towards the middle of the table.
As the noise settles down Andrew clears his throat and begins, “Dear Lord, thank you for this amazing feast in front of us. Thank you for blessing me with my beautiful new wife” - he opens his eyes and looks over at mom, smiling broadly - “and the amazing new family that comes with her. I wish that we can combine families well, which we seem to be doing great already, and hopefully continue to live the amazing life we are graced with. Thank you, Lord, for all you have given us, Amen.”
We all murmur an ‘amen’ and start to dig into the food. I get my share of mashed potatoes, gravy, bread rolls, cranberry sauce, and my personal favorite, the turkey.
We eat and talk for a while until each and every one of us is stuffed full, like the turkey that was devoured within minutes of being brought onto the table.
“Okay, guys! It's time for the annual binge-watching of the Simpsons!” Andrew declares, getting up from his seat and taking his plate over to the dishwasher.
“Annual binge-watching of the Simpsons?” I repeat after him, confused.
The tradition for my family is to eat dinner and then head over to the local apple orchard and pick apples for pies. We would stay out there way past dark, picking apples, laughing, and having the time of our lives.
“Yes!” He replies, looking back at me, “That is the annual tradition in this household. Didn't your mother tell you?”
“No,” I respond looking at my mom who was purposefully looking away from me, “We always go apple picking, that’s our tradition.”
“Well, I don’t like apples.”
Well, not everything is about you, I hold back my tongue in order to not shout back.
“Plus,” he interrupts me, “it’s our family tradition.”
The anger bubbles up inside of me, I feel it boiling over, over like an active volcano. A volcano about to erup-
“No, it’s not!” I yell at him with full rage, “Our family tradition is to go apple picking. We have done that for 10 years and are not stopping now. I am so sick and tired of you intruding-”
“Jade Marissa Lemington,” My mom yells, even louder than I did. Her face is a fire hydrant, bright red. And her eyes are no different, blazing into mine, anger fully showing, “You are being so disrespectful to Andrew who has done nothing but being kind and caring to you. This is not okay behavior.”
I look around the room and see every single person with their heads looking down at their plates, either that or up at us, and their faces flushed as well.
I look over at Andrew, he’s looking down as well. He was embarrassed at my outburst, and Moms.
“Go up to your room right now.” She says, her eyes still blazing.
“Fine, it’s not like I wanted to be with you anyways,” I spat, turning and running upstairs.
I try to get to my room before my eyes burst but I’m not so lucky. Halfway up the stairs, the waterworks turn on and I am bawling before I even reach my room.
This is so unfair, I think, I didn't do anything wrong. He started it all, it's all his fault, if he went along with our family tradition then we would be fine.
But then the good side, the more logical side of my brain starts thinking, Well it kinda was my fault. I did get mad at him instead of just calmly asking. And if we combine families we have to combine traditions, take some and leave some.
I sit there for a few minutes, too embarrassed to go downstairs, before finally grabbing a blanket from one of the boxes and lying down on the lumpy mattress.
Within minutes I’m dead asleep.
A few hours later I hear a small knock on the door. I ignore it, turning over on the bed and trying to go back to sleep. But the sound doesn’t go away, instead, it grows louder.
“Can I come in?
It’s Andrew. As much as I don’t want him to come in… well it is his house.
“I guess,” I reply propping myself up on the bed.
He walks in slowly, as if he is not wanted, which I guess is kind of true, and makes his way over to one of the larger cardboard boxes. He carefully sits down and turns to look at me, with a hint of guilt, sorrow, and anger in his eyes.
Hi? He came all the way up here to say one word?
“Hello?” I respond, a questioning touch in my voice.
He takes a deep breath, “I just wanted to say I’m sorry, I should’ve checked with all of you, not just your mother, to see if it was okay changing your traditions. I know it is hard,” - he stops for a moment, looking at the ground before taking another deep breath and continuing - “My parents got divorced when I was around your age, they only had one kid, me, and I had no other siblings until my mom married another person, then bam! I went from being an only child to being the second oldest of six. It sure was hard, getting used to all their family traditions and trying to fit in, but I did it and now I love them all like they’re my own blood siblings. I had to learn to let some things go, the ones that really didn't matter, and stand by the ones that did”
He looks at me, “And I think that is something you need to learn as well. Something all the kids here need to learn.”
I nod and look down at the faded blanket on my lap, my cheeks and ears both red.
“But it's okay,” he says softly, “I know it's hard,” - he sits there for a minute before beginning once again - “especially since you lost your dad so soon.”
I look up at him and smile, maybe he won't be so bad. Maybe I will learn to like him, “Thank you Andrew. Thank you for giving me another chance.”
“Of course. I know I won’t be like your re-”
“My real dad?” I say, “I know, and thank you for not trying to replace him.”
“Well actually-” He starts, taking a deep breath.
He reaches up to his head, probably going to scratch it but instead rips his hair off to reveal a longer cut.
He extends his hand over to his pocket and pulls out a pair of wire-rimmed glasses and sets them on his face.
I know those glasses and haircut. Suddenly everything slides into place, like a puzzle, I begin to understand.
He turns and looks at me, “I am your real father.”