On Saturday morning, I stumbled out of my room around ten-thirty to find Mom's bedroom door closed and the Dick in the kitchen, trying to pour an empty carton of milk into a bowl of Cocoa Puffs. He looked up when I walked in, a sheepish grimace on his face.
"Out of milk," he said.
Of course we were out of milk. The shopping list I'd been updating over the past few days was still pinned to the fridge, untouched. I glanced at it as I slid past Richard to grab a water glass.
"We're out of eggs and instant oatmeal too," I said. All the staples of our usual breakfast.
Richard hovered behind me as I opened the fridge. I removed the filter pitcher, giving us both a look into the abyss. Aside from the condiments in the door, our refrigerator was basically empty: just a bag of withered-looking salad greens and some yogurt cups that had passed their expiration date. I made a mental note to throw those out later so no one would be tempted to eat them.
"Well, there's plenty of cereal left," Richard said, like we were going to sit around crunching handfuls of Cocoa Puffs dry.
I swallowed my glass of water in one long pull and considered my options. I was trying not to look at Richard, which is what I usually did when we found ourselves in the same room alone. I looked instead at a spot on the counter which looked like some melted cheese or something. Gross. No one was cleaning the kitchen either.
"I can go to Walgreens," I said.
"You don't have to do that," Richard said. "It's a long walk and I heard it's supposed to rain. I'll go—it'll be two minutes in the car."
"I can take care of it. Really."
"It's not your job to buy groceries."
Richard sighed. "I just want to be there for your mother. She's really upset, you know."
"I know. I've noticed."
Suddenly, Richard's dower expression changed to a grin. He snapped his fingers. "I know! There's frozen yogurt from last night in the freezer. We could melt that and use it in our cereal."
Was Richard a bigger idiot than I thought? I stood there staring at him, unable to think of a polite response.
"Bad idea?" he asked.
"I'm just going to go to the store.” I pulled the shopping list off the fridge and crushed it in my fist. "If you want to help, you could give me some money."
"You're sure you don't want a ride?"
I held out my hand.
"Fine.” Richard fished out his wallet and pulled out a twenty. "Here you go."
"Thanks," I said. I didn't like the idea of taking money from Richard, but I wasn't sure what else to do. "Is my mom still asleep?"
Richard checked the clock. "She was twenty minutes ago."
I headed back towards my room, crinkling the twenty in my fist. When I passed the door to Mom's room I paused and ultimately decided to knock.
"Yes?" her voice answered almost immediately.
"Just me. I’m going to Walgreens. You want anything?"
There was a long pause before she answered, "Just what's on the list."
Well, okay. I'd been the only person to add to that list, but I wasn't going to say that. She was bummed, she was exhausted and it hadn’t been that long since she'd lost her job.
I went into my room to pull on my jeans and locate my sneakers. It took me a while to find the left one, which had migrated all the way under my bed. When I came out again, Mom's door was still shut. I almost knocked again to say good-bye, but decided against it.
Was there something I should have been saying or doing that would make her feel better? That would help her get over this faster? I was pretty sure she hadn't left the house all week; she hadn't even put on real clothes since Wednesday.
Maybe this was the kind of stuff I should talk about with the guidance counselor, but a crazy, irrational part of me was afraid that it was also the kind of stuff that might make social services come knocking. That crazy, irrational part of me may have been convinced Mom's new state of inactivity was a permanent change.
Then there was the selfish part of me: that part was almost annoyed with Mom for sitting on her butt all day and neglecting her mom-ly duties. That part resented Mom for being home all the time when I was so used to being a latch-key kid. I liked having the apartment all to myself for an hour or two in the afternoons and I missed sacking out in front of the television myself—it had been one of my favorite things to do! With Mom on the couch every day, I'd been spending a lot of time in my room, half-assing my homework, listening to my bad CDs, jerking off. Mom had let me move the computer in there after Richard bought her a laptop, but our internet connection had always been shaky, practically guaranteed to cut out whenever you really wanted to use it. I suspected I spent more time fighting with the wireless router than I did online.
I made the mistake of expressing my woes to Adam during Community Service Club on Friday.
"So you can't sit at home alone all day?" He’d laughed. "Yeah, that's a real shame."
"Whatever," I said, but I was embarrassed. Adam did have a point—it did sound ridiculous when he said it out loud, like I had no life.
Maybe I didn't have a life. I'd been hoping Adam would ask me to hang out this weekend but he didn't and I felt weird about asking him. What would I even suggest we do? I wasn't sure I even knew how to 'hang out' the way that normal people did. Teek's idea of hanging out almost always involved enlisting me in one of her projects, and I was pretty sure Adam wasn't into things like baking cupcakes or painting an under-the-sea mural on the walls of a bathroom. I was barely into those things.
But what was I into? Aside from sacking out in front of the TV, I was drawing a blank on what would even constitute my idea of a good time. But I did know it wasn't trudging to Walgreens on a Saturday morning, while clouds gathered above my head like a cartoon manifestation of my mood. When I left the store, dragging plastic bags with the straps cutting into my hands, the rain had started to fall. By the time I got back to our street, my shoes and socks were soaked through.
Up next Thursday, Chapter Twelve: Lionel's House