Marooned on Planet EARTH: A Tale of Two Diaries

The world of 14-year-old Devynn Scoville has fallen apart. Her dad has left the family after a heated argument with her mother. And he’s taken his favorite son with him—7-year-old Brady. Surprisingly, Mom is allowing it. No big stink about it.

Making Devynn and the rest of her brothers wonder—would she have let them go without a fight? Just waved them all good bye with no regrets?

Had they wanted to go with him, that is.

Devynn blames her mom for this tragedy occurring in her lifetime. For Mom’s ability to generally find humor in a bad situation didn’t surface during this last quarrel as it had in past ones. If only she had laughed, the Scovilles would still be one big happy family!

Still, she has Rodney. The senior who’s the classically tall, dark, and handsome, athletic type . . . with sleepy brown eyes and a smile calculated to seduce the unwary, the unwise . . .

More vulnerable to his charm than before, believing he’s the one stable thing in her life, Devynn risks all to see him—even though her mom stands implacably by her strict rules concerning dating—especially someone like Rodney Jacques.

Devynn is certain her mother can’t possibly remember what it’s like being a teenager in love. In any case, she made her own choices in life, and Devynn feels she ought to have the right to do the same now. After all, it’s her life, right? People should just butt out of it!

However, the discovery of her mother’s diary changes everything. In fact, Mom might actually have good reason to object to her relationship with Rodney.

The secrets in her mother’s diary are destined to change more than her outlook on her present situation . . . and in ways she never imagined possible!



No Reason to Laugh

March 3

 Dear Self,

 Have I ever mentioned I hate my life? Of course, I have! Well, let me mention it again. I hate my life! Okay, maybe I don’t hate it, hate it, but still, I wish I could have my way for some things more than I do.

Mostly for like being able to see Rodney whenever I want to. Mom keeps saying no to even letting me see him if we’re with a bunch of other people.

So, I hate to have to confess, we meet where and whenever we can. Like, sometimes I say I’m going to Cyndi’s or Keighley’s house, and he and I meet in the park downtown.

He’s sooo good looking!—I know, I know—I’ve told you that before. But, I can’t help it! Tall, with dark hair and dark eyes! He’s a senior, and I’m a freshman. Not that I care about the age difference. I’m going to be fifteen in just a few weeks. So, I’ll be closer to his age. It’s just so cool that an older guy thinks I’m hot and worth his time.

Only, he wants to do things I know my parents would ground me for life if we did them. How do you say NO to somebody you think you’re in love with? And he keeps telling me that if I love him and he loves me, then it’s not wrong.

I like kissing and holding hands—but—I’m not sure I want to go as far as he wants to go. So—if I’m not sure then I shouldn’t do it. Right? Even if I do love him.

I’m sure that’s what Mom must worry about. I keep telling her nothing’s going to happen, but she doesn’t believe it. Says it’s not me she doesn’t trust, it’s him.

Then there’s our principal, Mrs. Robertson, who always says things like, “Boys will be boys.” like it’s a fine and acceptable excuse for them to do what they want to do—right or wrong. But if it’s a girl doing stuff . . . well, she’s a slut, a hussy, a whore . . . (insert other insults here). Don’t you just love the stupid unfair double standards here?! Makes us girls crazy angry sometimes!

Oh, hang on . . now what? Sounds like another argument. What’s up with them lately?

Dad’s yelling at Mom like I’ve never heard him do before. Not like what I’m hearing now, anyway. Mom rarely yells, no matter how mad she gets. I know she’s tired of him always going off somewhere with Uncle Dannie and never coming home till whenever, and who can blame her? There’s tons of stuff to be done around here. My room could use some paint and a new carpet. Other parts of the house need more than that. God knows my lazy brothers aren’t going to offer any sort of help! Lazy loonies.

Okay, Brady’s only seven. Who’s gonna trust him with a saw? But he could hand Dad things and he could clean up after himself! The rest of them are old enough to help Dad fix up the house and clean up after themselves!!

But all they do is eat, sleep and play video games. While they’re saving virtual worlds, they’re destroying ours, trashing the place like a bunch of tornadoes! I pick up my messes—most of the time. Not picking up theirs!

O Self, if only I could’ve been an only child! Alas, I am not!

What would I do, my dear pink diary, if I didn’t have you to whine to? You, my ears for my thoughts, which I hide in different places even though I’ve never caught any of my brothers in here looking for you. Brady looking to steal my treats and my art stuff. I keep your keys with me all the time or hide them . . . not going to tell where.

Okay, I can’t concentrate with Dad yapping at Mom like this. Hope she finds something amusing about this disagreement soon like she did yesterday. Everything’s cool once she starts laughing. He acted like he wanted to keep it going, but then he started chuckling a little himself. I don’t know how she can see a funny side to their fights, but she does. He still left but at least it was a peaceful parting.

Going to go see what’s up this time and report back later.

Nothing else for me to do anyway since I’m Marooned on Planet EARTH for the rest of my life!!!!!

* * * * *

“Oh, come on, J.E.! You’ve practically been living over at Danny’s place for weeks! You do recall you have a family here, right? You promised the kids you’d take them ice skating this afternoon.”

“You can take them. Promised I’d help him with the truck today, X’Leyna. He needs it for work.”

“So, your promises to your brother are far more important than those to your kids!”

“They’re kids. They’ll get over it!”

“Not if you keep breaking your promises, they won’t! And I can’t think of one you’ve kept in the past year!” There was a pause, then, “So—what time can I expect you home tonight? Same time you’ve crawled in the past few nights? Just in time to shower and go to work!”

“Look, Patricia’s been after him about getting the cellar cleaned out. And the garage, so—”

“Oh, yes; what Patricia wants, Patricia gets! So you stayed all night, the last two nights to please her while there’re things right here that need to be done!”

“Well, they are my family, X’Leyna!”

“No kidding! And so are we! I’m your wife! These are your kids! Makes us family, J.E.! ! The one that should come first!”

“What? Am I supposed to quit being a part of my family, X’Leyna? Stop going over; visiting my parents? My brother and sisters?”

“That’s not what I meant, and you know it! But you certainly seem to think I should give up being a part of my family! You gripe and complain whenever I spend a day with my sister and brother! Especially on the rare occasion you decide to stay home for five minutes! You don’t want them coming here, and you whine if I go there.”

“I do not!”

“Yeah, you do. And while you spend countless hours with your family, even spending the night with Danny or Mommy on many occasions, I have to come home after an afternoon’s visit because you say she doesn’t live far enough away to warrant my staying the night, even when the kids go with me. And they always go with me. All of them. You—you go off all by yourself, and you stay as long as you please. And they don’t live far enough away so that you need to spend the night!” She struck a pose, declaring, “I have no intention of ever giving up my family either. I’ve never been a part of yours! ”

I stood at the top of the stairs, uncertain whether I should stay and eavesdrop or go back to my room. Below me was the big hallway, off which were the living room to the back left of the staircase and Mom’s workshop to the back right of it. Diagonally across was our big kitchen with its open arched entrance, and the coat closet at the right of that near the front foyer and the downstairs bathroom on the left. Opposite the foyer was the back door which gave out to a mudroom and the back yard.

There in the center of this layout, standing upon the large target shaped pattern on the floor, tiled in shades of blue, black, gray and white, my parents faced off.

Quietly, I dropped down upon the top step. As long as their attention was focused on each other, I could spectate for as long as I wanted.

Thomasyna, my fluffy tortoiseshell cat who’d been, as ever, my constant companion all day, followed me out and hopped onto my lap, made herself comfy there. Absently, I began petting her.

Mom had a valid point. Well, she had many valid points. He had promised to take us all ice skating over at Nystrom’s Pond. I’d made plans with my friends to meet them there. Usually there was a bonfire on the shore, and we’d roast hot dogs and marshmallows. Yup, even in the cold. Made it special.

Probably Mom would take us anyway. She always does. But we were all excited to think Dad would be spending the day with us for a change.

That’s what we got for thinking.

She was also so right about Dad not liking Aunt X’Lohna or Uncle Xavion all that much. They try to be nice to him if he stays when they come over, try including him in discussions and things, but usually it’s a flop. He acts annoyed and bored the whole time. And if we decide to go to Aunt X’Lohna’s, he whines like it’s a crime for us to want to spend time with them. He always gives Mom a time limit on how long we can stay.

If he does go with us, he acts impatient to leave the whole time. Right after supper, he starts stepping on Mom’s feet under the table. His signal he wants to wrap it up and go. They’ve had some heated discussions on the way home about his double standards concerning family!

Once, when Mom happened to say something about his doing so much for his family to the neglect of us, his youngest sister, Aunt Coralei told her flat out, “John Edmond was my brother way before ever he became your husband, X’Leyna. So I have first claim on him! Goes for all of us!”

And that was the last time we visited her. Or any of the others. Not that we kids care. Hard to have a good time when you know you’re being viewed as a necessary nuisance.

“Fine. Danny needs his truck fixed. So, will our place get some of your valuable attention after that? I opened that account at McCloud’s so we could start fixing this place up. Noticed you’ve used it recently. Had to be for someone else’s project. Danny’s as well? Or Coralei’s? Junia? Your Mommy’s?”

Dad ignored her last observation, threw a hand up in an impatient gesture.  “Fix this place? You’re cute, you know it? Look at this place! What’s the point in fixing it? You let everything go all to Hell. You sit at that computer of yours, once you’re done playing lunch lady, wasting time with your little decorating games! Like that’s actually going to give you experience! Meanwhile, the kids trash the place!”

A pause, then disgustedly, “Cat hair everywhere! Face it, X’Leyna; even if we did manage to make the place better, they’d wreck it within the week—if not the day! Where’s the point?”

Fixing up our house was only one of Mom’s dreams. Becoming an interior designer was her very biggest one. If Dad bothered to pay attention to anything, he’d recognize those programs weren’t games. That, in fact, she was studying for her certification in interior design.

I know because I happened to walk in on her while she was working out an assignment, and the lesson was up on her screen. By the look on her face when she turned to see who’d come in, I knew she wasn’t ready for anyone to know what she was doing with her time on her computer. I’d flashed her a thumbs up and left her alone, impressed that she’d decided to do it despite Dad’s lack of support.

The one time Mom ventured to bring up the subject of the two of them starting a business together with him doing renovations and construction, and her doing the interiors, he rudely told her he hadn’t any intention of ever quitting his job to go into any sort of business with her. He hadn’t the time to teach her, always supposing she had the brains to learn. If she couldn’t get a few kids to listen to her, what made her think she could run a real business? In any case, he was happy at the shop, and he’d be foreman there until he retired with his pension or dropped dead by his machine.

She’d confided in Aunt X’Lohna about what he’d said. Aunt X’Lohna’s older than Mom, but they’re really close. I always dream that’s how it would be if I had a sister. We wouldn’t fight much; we’d be best friends—a united front against the machinations of our brothers who would naturally be always picking on us.

Gramma Jess used that word machinations whenever she talked about the Devil’s schemes. But it worked for describing those of devilish brothers just as much!

Anyway, Mom hadn’t cried exactly, but pretty close to it. I felt bad for her. Aunt X’Lohna’d hugged Mom as if she were a little kid like my baby brother, Jon Jerard, and just held her, her own expression very sad and regretful.

Annoyance verging upon anger now, Mom flung back, “So, you saying I should quit my job at the school cafeteria? You’re the one who told me to find a real job. So I did! One I like as much as you appear to like yours, by the way! If our marriage meant anything to you, John Edmond, we wouldn’t be having many problems with anything! In case you’ve forgotten, these kids are as much your responsibility as they are mine!”

“Your point?”

“Why do you get to ignore that? And why is it that only you are entitled to your hopes and dreams? Which I’ve never shot down, J.E. Yet, on the rare occasion I mention mine, you’re sighing and groaning about them as if I’m expecting you to make them come true that very second! Or, more often than not, trying to make me feel too stupid to even try!”

“Well, it’s going to take a lot to do what you’re dreaming—”

“Oh, and driving a Porsche isn’t going to take money? Buying land for a golf course isn’t going to take money? Running it will be free, will it? Or have you decided you want that and land for storage units?” A look crossed her face, and she said accusingly, “Oh, wait! Is that why I’ve suddenly found all the bills dropping onto my lap? You’ve started the ball rolling on your dreams?”

Dad couldn’t seem to look her in the face. When he answered, his voice came off resentful and impatient. “Things came up, is all! Look, X’Leyna—”

Dad cast an impatient look left, then his gaze traveled up the stairs. Seeing me sitting there, he broke off. He started to say something else, but then just turned and headed  out the front door, grumbling to himself as he went.

Mom watched him go, sighing resignedly. As she went off into her workshop, she cast me up a brief look, and I glimpsed the mixture of emotions in her face. Quite a bit more regret and sadness there then I’d seen in it of late.

Usually, I didn’t even come out of my room when they argued. Kept the door closed. Played some tunes to drown out the drama. Now, while I’d intended going back to my room and get back to the book I was supposed to be doing a report on, my legs took me downstairs and into my mother’s domain.

In it, bookcases housed volumes on interior design, decorating, carpentry, room plans, and such. Her desktop computer tower took up space in the kneehole of her big wooden desk and a thirty inch TV/PC monitor sat on top of it, along with an all-in-one-printer and miscellaneous other things.

Four different types of sewing machines sat on a long table by the windows. There were a couple chairs for people to sit on, one on one side of the desk and the other by the bookcases.

A couple of totes of fabric were stacked along the wall down from the door a little bit. Smaller totes contained samples of wallpaper and paint chips. This room needed a redesign itself or at least some serious reorganization. Maybe one day she would. And we’d see what she’d learned from her online studies in design and decorating!

I hoped it’d be so impressive Dad’s eyes would pop out of his head in amazement!

Mom’s two cats, Elijah and Ezrayia, gorgeous Himalayans, sprawled upon the top of the tallest bookcases, taking a nap as if nothing had happened. Thomasyna, who’d followed me in, promptly deserted me to hop upon Mom’s lap.

Mom sat staring at the computer screen, an elbow on the arm of her chair, kind of biting her finger. Usually that meant she was in deep concentration on whatever project she was focused on presently. If not an assignment, then her hopes for the bathroom or the kitchen . . . a new patio out back.

She let Thomasyna make herself at home, absently petting her. By the look in her face, I had no difficulty guessing that it wasn’t any of her projects messing with her mind right then.

She didn’t tell me to leave or even show she knew I existed, so I quietly sat in the chair next to her desk, and I tried to think of something to say. Something that would make her forget her argument with Dad. Erase that look from her face.

Nothing came to mind right off. Be stupid to bring up her issues with Rodney right then since he probably was on her black list around the same place Dad was at the moment. Very bottom.

Before I could find some safer topic to engage her in, Dad came back, leaned in and rapped on the doorjamb to get her attention.

“Leaving now, X’Leyna. Taking Brady with me.”

Mom turned her head to look at him. “I’m taking the kids skating, John. I’d like to have him with—”

“Take the others, Xee! Brady’s going with me today!” He said it with enough belligerence to warn her not to argue the matter.

She didn’t. Just kept looking at him. No forgiveness lived in her eyes for him. Only hurt, anger, and disappointment, some accusation.

Pushing away from the doorjamb, Dad started to walk away.

“Wait!” Mom called, and he turned back to her. “We need cat food, milk, and bread. Plus, I promised to rent the kids a movie tonight. Get that, would you? Brady knows which one. And some snacks! We’re out of soda, too.”

Dad made a sign of acknowledgement. “Anything else?”

“How long are you going to be today?” She drummed the fingers of her left hand on the desktop. Rapid and nervous like, yet, a pretty cool rhythm just the same.

Dad shrugged. “I don’t know for sure. Expect us when you see us! I’ll run into Northfield Super for this stuff here. They’re open fairly late now, and they’ve got a sale going for soda and beer.”

Couldn’t mistake the Oh, yes . . . don’t forget the beer look in Mom’s eyes. She said, “There’s school tomorrow, remember. Don’t be all night!”

“I know; don’t worry about it!”

“Mmm. You’re not the one who has to face Mr. Frye every time Brady falls asleep in class! Like about every day last week! You sent him home late with Merek, but it would’ve been nice had you brought him home yourself earlier. You know . . . suppertime!”

“X’Leyna, he’ll be in bed and sleeping by eight. So, back off!”

For a second, I thought it was going to start all over again. Over more issues than just Brady’s bedtime!

Geez, have I mentioned—I hate it when they fight?

Not that it’s always been this way. A few heated discussions, sure—but nothing major. Seemed like it turned ugly all of a sudden a few weeks ago. Yeah, things get pretty intense until Mom finally sees some sort of humor in the situation!

If only she would laugh now. But, today, she hadn’t even cracked a smile.

The yelling and the arguing were over, but there was no real peace in the house. You could feel the tension like a thick blanket on a sweltering summer night. Dad’s eyes still wouldn’t meet Mom’s for more than an instant at a time while hers seemed to impale him to the wall.

Nope, this argument wasn’t settled yet!

Brady kept bouncing all around Dad, chanting urgently, “Come on, Dad! Come on, Dad! Let’s go, Dad! Let’s go! Come on, Dad!”

When Mom didn’t say anything more, Dad pushed Brady ahead of him, saying, “All right, let’s go, Bud!”

“Oh, wait!” Brady, in his usual exuberant fashion, twisted away from Dad and ran back in to throw himself into Mom’s arms, squishing poor Thomasyna. “Bye, Mom!” Kissed her and hugged her like he wasn’t ever going to see her again.

He always did that. He’s the mushiest kid I’ve ever seen! He’ll be fifteen one day and still have to run back to get hugs and kisses from her, I bet!

She hugged him back and kissed his whole face. He giggled and squirmed away, calling, “I love yuh, Mom! See yuh later!” as he ran back to Dad. “Bye, Dev! See yuh later, too!” Then he ran back to me and gave me his tokens of affection too. “Love you!”

“Love you, too!” Sometimes!

Dad didn’t come to kiss Mom. Nor did she call him back for one. Just called, “I love you, too, Brady!” and let them go out the door.

Suddenly, Mom rose up and started to go out. At the same time, we heard another hot discussion start up out by the driveway. My half-brothers, Gifford and Taggart, Dad’s kids by his first wife, waylaid him in the driveway, all mad about something.

Mom exchanged a look with me, and we both moved to stand at the windows together. We couldn’t hear the exact words, but the boys’ expressions, their gestures and tones certainly came off as extremely accusing!

Dad’s back was to us, so we couldn’t see his face or hear a thing he said. We tried to open the windows, but both stuck fast. Dad kept promising he’d do something about them so she could have some fresh air in here, but so far they remained stuck.

Pushing past the boys, Dad opened the car door for Brady to climb across the driver’s seat and get in. He got in after him, made him climb into the backseat and buckle up. In a few seconds, he backed out and drove off without looking back. Could hear him gun the motor as he raced downhill; heard the screech of brakes when he got to the stop sign three houses down.

“Wow! What was that all about?” I wondered aloud.

The boys, who could see him driving like a crazy idiot from where they stood gazing down and across those three lawns, turned then, and tore across our lawn. Hopping over the three steps to the porch, they burst through the front door.

Taggart hollered, “Irvey! Irvey! Dad’s leaving! He’s got duffel bags and stuff in the trunk of his car! Stuff in the back seat, too!”

Gifford pushed by him, came and shook Mom’s shoulder urgently. “Momma! You hearing this ? He’s running out on us just like he ran out the first time!”

“You have to go after him, Irvey! Don’t let him get away with it!”

Out of breath and super excited, they stood before her, expecting her to take their word and hop to it instantly.

Mom drew in a breath, letting it out slowly. She looked as if she actually believed them, but she didn’t move right away. Just stared at them. Kind of like she didn’t really know what she should do. Or could do. Or maybe even, wanted to do.

Tag joined Giff in trying to drag her out of her indecision. “Irvey, come on! It’s not a joke! He’s not coming back! And he’s taking Brady with him!” Tag’s sixteen but he looks twelve. Small, but don’t cross him! “Come on . . . do you want that?”

“Momma—” Gifford called her Momma most of the time because he liked her better than his own mother. Other times he called her Irvey as Taggart did because that’s what she actually preferred to be called. It was a form of her middle name which was Irvette.

“Momma, He stole money from your cedar box on your dresser. Heard him mutter something about he’d replace it—if a lawyer insisted. He was coming out of the bedroom at the time. It got us suspicious, so we went snooping while he picked that fight with you.” He jiggled the spare keys to Dad’s car. “—and like I said, there’s his stuff in the car! Go after him! Make him at least tell you that! And if I were you, I’d check your bank account!”

“And make sure Brady comes back with you!”

A glint in her violet eyes banished the hurt there. “Ah, I knew I should’ve—”

Not finishing her sentence about what she should’ve, she moved to go out.

In that instant, something in me snapped.

This wasn’t true! How could they say those things!

Fathers—or at least mine—wouldn’t do those things. If he said he was going to Uncle Danny’s to fix the truck, then that’s what he was doing! He promised to have Brady in bed by eight, so that meant he was coming back! Just because they’d had the worst fight of their history together—the worst I knew of, anyway—didn’t mean they were breaking up. Further, just because he’d left their mother, didn’t mean he’d be leaving mine.

You couldn’t compare Mom to Bernice May. Bernice May was taller, older, fairly chunky, and dressed mostly in drab, sacky looking house dresses, wore her hair in a tightly pulled back ponytail, smoked like a line of factory chimneys—and she drank as much as Dad did. More, maybe.

Everyone in Northfield knew Bernice May Scovill loved herself more than anyone. She’d driven Dad out of her house and her life with her bad temper, her nagging, her squandering of his money, and her constant demand to be first in everything with everybody! That was the talk around town, and probably at Gramma Jess’ dinner table.

Mom was my height, about five-four, only a few pounds heavier than my 112, so nothing big. Her hair was of a gorgeous silver blonde, like mine. But hers was longer. Way longer. I didn’t care to have my hair dragging on the floor. Okay, it wasn’t, really. Anymore, anyway. She’d finally gotten it cut a week ago to just above her waist. Sold it to get money for the new laptop she wanted, and to finish paying off her course fees.

Mine’s short, just past my shoulders.

Mom didn’t smoke and only drank a wine cooler once or twice a year—which lasted her a week when she did have one. Literally! She never nagged anyone much and tried to be careful with her money. Walked that fine line between getting some of the things she needed and wanted and making sure we kids had all we needed and most of what we wanted. Until today, she’d tried to make sure Dad was happy, too.

So—why would he want to leave? Who could he find that would be better than her?

Besides that, because of her ready acceptance of Giff and Tag, they lived with us full time. Bernice May go tired of them running away to our place every day after school and during school vacations that she finally gave them their wish.

I remember that because I was about five when it happened. I might not’ve understood exactly what was going on, but I did know my brothers would be staying with us all the time now. I’d been pretty excited about that!

I was excited now, too—but not in a good way!

Ducking quickly past Mom, I stopped and stood before them all, glaring, challenging them to prove it beyond all shadows of doubt. Daring them to. “He never left before just because of a stupid argument! He is coming back! That’s it!”

“We’re talking now, Devynn! Today!” Giff answered impatiently. Reaching out, he hauled me out of Mom’s path. “He left us the same way! Well, he didn’t take anything with him then. She told us he just got in the car and never came back. Didn’t even say he was going anywhere. ‘Course, Mom’s a b—well, I won’t say it. But she is! I don’t know what his problem is now! I thought everything was great here! Thought everything was like–well, like it’s supposed to be.”

Giff’s seventeen, but just then he seemed like a kid who needed a hug himself. Not that he’d get it from me. Not then!

“You wouldn’t make us leave, would you, Irvey?” Tag asked Mom anxiously. “You won’t ship us back to our mother, will you?”

“No,” Mom said, squeezing between us all and heading for the stairs. We all followed her up to her bedroom.

The duffle bags Mom used to pack her stuff in when she went on an overnight or when we went camping were still in the closet. But Dad’s were gone. Some of his clothes, but anything Mom had gotten him was still there or in his dresser drawers.

She went up the hallway to Brady’s room. We trooped over with her, forgetting that Jon Jerard still napped in there. Jonny’s only two. Guess he was really tired for he didn’t stir the whole time we checked things out. Brady’s duffels were missing along with most of his clothes. Some of his toys. But his favorite teddy bear sat on his pillows. I could swear he looked hopeful of my little brother’s return later on.

“See that?” Giff pointed at the mostly empty closet. “If he was bringing him back, why would he need to pack duffels?”

“Don’t forget to check your cedar box, Irvey.” Tag tapped Mom’s arm. “If all the money is gone—”

“And your bank account. Maybe you should move the money out of it for now.”

Mom shot a look over at Jon Jerard to be sure he still slept, then she pushed past us all to go back to her room.

“That would just prove he’s a thief!” I countered crossly, following the party out the door. “Or he needed some extra cash.”

“Yeah, for what? He started that fight on purpose, Devynn! And if you were down there at the time, you’d know it!”

“Okay, all right! But he’s never gone and taken her money—”

“Yes,” said Mom in rather a calm tone which cut off my hot retort. “Actually, he has.”

Okay . . . she would know that. No reason for her to lie about it. But in my determination to believe that nothing had changed in my world since I got up this morning, I wouldn’t let it go. “Okay. Okay, it still doesn’t prove he’s gone for good!”

We streamed in behind her, our gazes seeking out her dresser top. There sat the cedar box, the hinged clasp pried off and the top open.

Reaching out a hand to it, she tipped it slightly to look inside.


Not even a wood chip or a lint ball.

Gifford growled. “I knew it! He robbed you and left us, Momma!”

“How come you didn’t stick it in your bank account? That was kinda stu—” My accusation suddenly turned into amazed awe. “Ohhh! Whoa!”

For she’d taken a small pen knife from her pocket and slid the blade in at an edge. With a deft movement, the bottom of the box popped out to reveal a false bottom. Very cool!

And, there, safely hidden away was a large wad of cash, some letters tied with red ribbons and a diary.

“Oh, wow! Nice play, Momma! So, what he got wasn’t what he was hoping to get?”

“No, not even close. But now you all know about this, I hope I can trust you to mind your business!”

We will!” Tag promised, “We always have! How much did he get?”

“Enough,” she said noncommittally. Then, suddenly, she let out a long breath and buried her face in her hands. Just stood there without crying or anything.

My anger surged up like a red tidal wave. Drowned my brain. Then, it turned into a thick rope that tightened around my chest. I couldn’t think straight, and I couldn’t breathe. While Giff had said Dad had started the fight earlier, my mind carried off just one thought.

I wanted two parents. Together! Forever!

It didn’t matter who started the fight. If Mom hadn’t let it go on for so long—if she had just healed it with her laughter like she had all those times before, it would’ve been all okay. She had such an infectious laugh you couldn’t stay mad at her. Now, because she’d held it back, held back the peace and forgiveness that went with it, she’d driven him off the same way Bernice May had done!

“So, is this it? You’re taking their word for it?” I pushed her a little. “Don’t you think you should go find him? Tell him you’re sorry for all the mean things you said to him!”

Giff whacked me upside the head. “Stop it! I bet he was the one saying rotten things, and not her!”

“So, what? Mom, you always say sorry first! What’s different today? And if he is leaving—well, is that what you want?” I shouldn’t have said it—not in that tone. Well, okay, I shouldn’t have said it at all! But definitely, not with such a heartless and snotty attitude.

Just then, though, all I wanted to do was make her sorry for what was happening. Make her go find him and bring him home. I truly did not want to live in a split home. I wanted to be one of the lucky kids with two parents who stayed together till death did them part—after I died at about 155 years old!

She just gave me a look, the same mixture of emotions in it that I’d witnessed earlier, and then she strode out of the room. “Stay with the baby! I’ll be back!” she flung at us over her shoulder.

“Oh, no! We’re coming, too!” Tag followed her out, practically in her pocket. “We’re gonna back you up, Irvey! That way, he can’t say you’re lying about anything later. Or that you misunderstood, or made it up, or heard it wrong, or however he might say it!”

She didn’t argue. Just kept heading for the stairs. The boys clumped down them after her. I hesitated a second. If they were going to back Mom, then I needed to go. As no one else was giving him the benefit of the doubt, I, his only daughter, would.

I shot back up the hallway to the little boys’ room and grabbed Jon Jerard out of his crib. Chased like a maniac after Mom, fearful she’d leave me behind if I didn’t hurry.

And she would have. Especially if I hadn’t had Jon Jerard in my arms. He was groggy and confused. But when he saw Mom at the wheel of her van, he came around enough to cry out for her. No one can resist that sweet angelic face with those big purply blue eyes, and headful of curls so thick and golden. His tears trembling on long eyelashes, ready to fall any instant.

She stopped the van and let us get in.