“Kayla, let me introduce you to my old college friend, Sally.”
“Hi Kayla! Nice to meet you. Your mother’s told me so much about you. You’re six, right?” I gave a small nod. “Cool! Have you met my son Thomas? He’s seven years older than you. Can you do the math? How old is Thomas?”
I clutched my mom’s hand for dear life, wondering who the heck this woman was and if she’d ever shut up. Then my eyes got a taste of Thomas. He was tall and lean with messy blond hair and eyes like a deep lake that I wanted to drown in. He grinned, and his long teeth shined a bright white.
“Kayla, right?” He asked, brushing hair out of his face.
I couldn’t even nod because my jaw had dropped down, making the gap where my tooth was clearer. My eyes were glued to him and I didn’t want to look away.
“You lost a tooth? That’s so cool! Did the Tooth Fairy get it or did you swallow it?” Thomas blinked twice, but it looked like he was winking at me.
I gasped and fell into my mom’s open arms. “Oh my, I think she’s fainted.” My mom bit her lip.
Sally’s eyes went wide, “That’s happened to Thomas before. He was overheated, but I don’t think Kayla’s overheated. It’s actually very cold here. Do you even have a heater? Could you turn it on? Marc’s nose is turning red, and trust me, that’s not a good sign. Should I call the doctor for him? And Kayla too, of course...”
Everything became blurry and a buzzing sound drowned out Sally’s vexing voice. My eyes slowly closed, and the world went dark.
I don’t exactly remember what happened that night, but all I know is that there was something about that guy Thomas. Something that made me wanna be around him all the time and look into his hypnotizing eyes. I didn’t understand it at the time, so when my mom reminded me what happened, I wanted to tell her I had fainted because of Thomas, and that I never wanted to be around him again. I knew that was a lie. I also didn’t end up telling her about what I had felt towards him. In fact, I never told anyone.
“Momma?” I called down the hallway, running a comb through my knotted hair. “Will Thomas be here soon?”
I heard a chuckle and Mom reply, “Sally’s pulling into our driveway now. And doesn’t Thomas like to be called Tom?”
I screeched with excitement, then found my manners. “Right,” I remembered. “Tom.” I tugged the comb through my hair. I had to look my best for Thomas. This was our second official playdate, and it was also my birthday! Tripping down the stairs, I face planted in front of the door. I got up quickly, pulled it open, and flashed my best smile. “Tom!”
He extended his arms and I dove into them. This was our first hug, and it wouldn’t be the last. I nestled my head close to his blonde hair and inhaled the minty scent of him. I didn’t want to let go.
“Thank you for coming,” I whispered into his ear.
“Did you really think I wouldn’t show up for your eighth birthday, Kay-Kay?” I giggled and we let go of each other.
“Tom!” My mom rushed in. “Thanks for coming! Kayla didn’t want a normal birthday party like normal kids, she just wanted to have you over.” Tom gave my mom an extra-long hug too. Maybe even longer than mine.
“I understand,” Tom winked at me and grabbed my hand. “So, Kay-Kay, what do you wanna do?”
“Let’s play with my Barbie dolls!” I dragged him upstairs into my bedroom. “This one’s named Barbie, this one’s named Skipper, this is Stacey, and that’s Chelsea. Get it? I call Barbie and Chelsea. You can have Skipper and Stacey.” I paused, because Tom didn’t really look into it.
“Huh?” He said, focusing on me. “What’d you say?”
I signed and gazed into his blue eyes. “Tom, if you don’t want to do this, we can have the cake now.”
Tom sucked in a breath, “No way, Kay-Kay, I love Barbies. And I won’t ruin your birthday.”
I tilted my head to the side, “How could you ever ruin my birthday?”
Tom groaned, “So many questions. Not enough answers.” He sighed, “Sorry, Kayla. I can’t hold it in. Forgive me one day for ruining your very special birthday.” He took a deep breath, “My parents are in jail.”
I gasped and immediately put my hand over my mouth. “What?”
Tom blinked tears from his eyes and looked away. “It was just an accident. They didn’t mean to.”
“Wait. Your parents Marc and Sally?”
“Yup,” Tom barely managed to choke.
“I’m so sorry.”
“Don’t be. It’s not your fault.”
I shook my head. I couldn’t even imagine my mom doing something bad enough to go to jail.
“I’m living with my aunt and uncle now.”
“Oh.” But then something occurred to me, “Didn’t Sally drive you here?”
“Nope. That was my aunt Jane. She looks a lot like my mom, right?”
I nodded to the floor. “Yeah.”
Tom slowly let a breath out and picked up my Barbie doll. “I bet someone as perfect as this wouldn’t go to jail.”
“Maybe, Tom. But nobody in our world is that perfect.”
We sat there, daring our tears to slide down our cheeks, snapping the Barbie doll’s heads and limbs right off until my mom called us down for cake.
Tears slid down her red and puffy cheeks. She sobbed into his shoulder, shaking violently. “He betrayed me, Thomas! Betrayed me!”
Thomas’s face was calm as he patted my mom on the back. “It’s gonna be okay, Margaret.”
“No,” my mom sobbed. “He sued me, and now we’ve lost so much money. He promised he wouldn’t do that, he promised he’d provide for Kayla and I. HE PROMISED.” She tugged really hard on a stray piece of her hair, “Why would someone abandon their poor wife and eleven-year-old daughter out of the blue? Why!”
Tom gulped and stroked my mom’s back. “He’s a horrible man. And Margaret, if you have any money issues, I’ll ask my aunt and uncle to loan you some money.”
My mom looked up and wiped her tears away. “You’d do that for us?”
“Anything for you guys.” Tom opened his arms wide and my mom dove right into them. Suddenly her sobbing stopped and the world was quiet.
Minutes rolled into hours and I wondered if they even remembered I was here. I took this moment to break down what my mom had said. I knew they were talking about my dad, and that he had sued my mom. However, I didn’t know that my dad had been supporting us. I’ve never even met him. He and my mom divorced before I was even born.
I was about to get up and lock myself in my room when a voice stopped me.
“Kay-Kay, wait.” Tom untangled himself from my mom and patted the carpet spot next to him.
“Okay.” I said, crawling over to him.
“Shh,” he pointed to my mom, “she’s finally asleep.”
I nodded silently.
“So,” Tom put an arm around me, “tell me about your dad.”
“I don’t know a lot about him,” I admitted.
Tom stroked an invisible beard, “But what do you know?”
I snuggled closer to Tom. “I know that he and my mom divorced before I was born. I know that I really want to meet him. I know that he wasn’t nice to my mom. But I didn’t know he was providing for us.”
Tom sighed and glanced at my mom. “It’s gonna be okay, you know.”
“I know.” I closed my eyes. “You know what, Tom?”
“I wish I had a dad.”
“I wish you had a dad too.” Tom flashed a smile where all his white teeth glimmered. “Now, wake your mom up and I’ll drive you guys home.”
Oh. I almost forgot we had driven to Tom’s aunt and uncle’s house. Thank goodness they were still out. “Wait. You can drive?”
Tom chuckled, “I’m eighteen, Kay-Kay.”
“Right.” I took my mom’s shoulders and shook them lightly. I didn’t get a reaction at first so I tried again. My mom yawned and sat up.
“Oh my, how long have we been here?” She glanced around nervously as if she thought someone else was watching her besides us.
“Four hours.” Tom answered, getting up and grabbing our car keys. “I’m gonna drive you guys home. You’ve both had a bad day and you’re tired.”
My mom nodded. “Kayla, go get your stuff. Tom and I will be waiting for you in the car.”
I yawned too and dragged myself around Tom’s house looking for the toys I brought. Five minutes passed and I couldn’t find the last toy. I shrugged and walked out to the car because I knew my mom and Tom were waiting.
I walked up to Tom’s window to tell them I was finally here, when I saw something that I couldn’t unsee.
My mom and Tom were leaned across their seats, holding each other’s heads, and kissing like there was no tomorrow. I gasped and covered my mouth. My mom’s hands were tied up in Tom’s messy sun-colored hair, and Tom’s hands were exploring her body. Suddenly, Tom found the bottom of my mom’s shirt. He carefully pulled it up her back and it was almost over her head. I knew I had to do something. I didn’t know what Tom was doing. I wanted to scream and shout, but no sound left my mouth. So instead, I took my elbow and slammed it against our car. Pain rippled through my body. My mom and Tom quickly broke apart and my mom nervously put her shirt back down. I saw scared but excited glances being passed between them.
“Oops, sorry.” I gulped and opened the car door. “You guys were probably waiting a long time.”
My mom nodded, “Yeah. What took you so long?”
I hopped into the car and buckled my seat belt. “Couldn’t find the toys.”
I glared angrily at my mom and Tom’s hands, which were hooked together right in front of me. Frustrated tears formed in my eyes, and I wished that I could rip their hands apart and yell at both of them for being such children. But I didn’t have the courage. I was silent for the rest of the ride home.
Lips smushed together, their faces became one. Not even opening their eyes to see if I was still there.
I squeezed my eyes shut and let out a frustrated growl. I shook my head. Something had to be done. I slowly opened my eyes to confront them and speak my mind, but they were gone. Vanished into the sky.
The white and fluffy cloud was perfect, unlike my mom and Tom’s kiss. It drifted off into the distance, changing shapes every time a breeze blew by.
It was just a cloud. Irritated but relieved tears ran down my cheeks like rivers. I buried my face in my hands and sobbed.
It had been two years since their first kiss, and many more have appeared after it. I would randomly just walk in on them smooching, and feel really awkward. My mom and my best and only friend Tom? No way. I had to put a stop to it.
“Sorry we’re late.”
I whipped my head around to see not only Tom, but my mom too, with goofy grins plastered on their faces.
“Tom!” I exclaimed, wiping stray tears off my face. I gave him one of our special long hugs. “Mom, what’re you doing here?”
My mom gave a shy smile, “Tom said you wanted to meet him at the park and asked me if I wanted to come too.”
“Besides,” Tom said, “we’ve got something to share with you.”
They gave each other loving looks before my mom held out her hand. A glittering plastic diamond was perched on a metal ring.
“Isn’t it beautiful?” my mom gushed.
“Beautiful.” I echoed. “Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.” I had seen beautiful things before, and trust me, my mom’s ring wasn’t beautiful. It was fake. It was nasty. It wasn’t right.
“I knew she’d like it!” my mom exclaimed, squeezing Tom’s hand.
“We’re getting married,” Tom said, like that wasn’t already obvious.
I shook my head. “No, you’re not.”
My mom narrowed her eyes, “Lemme talk to her.”
“No,” Tom cut in front of her, “Let me talk to her.”
Mom nodded and walked away, eyes glued to her fake plastic ring.
Tom sat down on the bench with me. “Remember when you were eleven, that day your dad sued you and you drove over to my house?”
“Yeah.” I didn’t look at Tom.
Tom sighed, “You said you wanted a dad.”
My jaw dropped open, “I don’t want you as a dad! And you’re marrying my mom because of what I said two years ago?”
“That’s not the only reason,” Tom assured me, taking my small hand. We were silent for a few moments. “I love her, you know.”
I gulped. “It’s wrong. You both have the minds of children.”
Tom was about to say something, but he closed his mouth. He sighed, and it sounded like “That’s mean.”
I clenched my teeth together. “My life has always been a mess, Tom. Thanks to you for making it messier.”
Tom let go of my hand. “I’m twenty, you’re thirteen, you’re mom’s thirty eight.” It sounded even worse when he said it. “Everything’s gonna work out perfectly. We’ll get married, I’ll move in, we’ll have a kid—”
“Wait.” I held my hand up in front of Tom’s face. “A kid? No way. I thought I was enough. I’m moving out if you have a kid.”
“You’ll be in college when we have it.”
“Arg!” I growled. “You have everything planned out, don’t you?”
Tom grinned and nodded.
“Well then, Tom. Great for you.” I was so angry and completely lost for words. I opened my mouth to hurl an insult at him, but Tom had grabbed my face and pulled it in towards his. He let a warm breath out before closing the space between us.
It felt so good to be near to Tom. I knew many people were passing by us and wondering why a young teen and an adult were making out. My hands searched through his hair, and his crawled down my back. I shivered when his cold hands found my bare skin. They crawled back up my back and held me. Minutes passed by and I realized I wasn’t breathing.
I tore apart, gasping. I was definitely in a daze. “What did you just—what happened—why?”
Tom silenced me by putting a finger to my lips. “Let me explain. I’ve loved both of you for a long time, and if I really want to be a part of your amazing family, marrying your mother is my best option.”
I sighed, “Tom.”
“You can’t blame me,” Tom said, sighing too.
“No one can.” I whispered. I would never admit that I had loved Tom this entire time, too. Maybe I was angry because I was jealous of my mom. I don’t know. All I remember from that day at the park was that Tom and I hugged and cried into each other's shoulders until there was no light left in the day.