After school I went to Frank’s as scheduled. First we went to Mikey’s to pick up my stuff, then to the grocery store so we could cook dinner, then to Frank’s. And I had to admit, I was pretty excited.
Frank was cool. Not like ‘dark, tall and mysterious’-cool. And he wasn’t really all that hyper or bouncy, as I’m given to understand people think he is. He just had a...
In loss of a better word, a quality.
One that just made me feel better. He didn’t treat me like other adults did. He treated me like an equal. Probably because inside he was still just a kid, himself. So when I hang out with him, I feel like I had a friend.
“So what do you want to do?” Frank asked me when we were putting away the groceries.
“I don’t know. It’s your house, you know what there is to do”, I said.
“Well let’s just make dinner first and then decide. We could make muffins! I have blueberries in the freezer”, he announced, getting excited.
I couldn’t help but laugh. “Yeah, let’s do that. But first, real food.”
“Yes mom”, he said jokingly and caught the cucumber I threw at him.
“You’re in charge of the salad. I’ll make the other stuff.” The fact that I took up the bigger job didn’t bother me at all. I was used to it. And if I’m completely honest; I was worried that Frank would burn the house if he used the stove.
As we worked on the food, we talked a bit. Nothing special, just about my school, his work, and as Frank insisted, the boy I have a total crush on (who didn’t exist).
“Honestly Frank, I don’t have a secret crush on anybody”, I laughed.
“But every teenage girl has a secret crush on some boy.”
“How would you know that?” I asked grinning.
“I have first hand experience! Anyway, I think you’re worried about admitting it because you think that he won’t like you back”, he reasoned, and even though he grinned, the tone of his voice was completely nonchalant.
“Well why would he, he doesn’t even exist”, I argued.
“He’d be lucky to have you”, Frank announced. “Just look at you, in the kitchen, making food for your starving uncle Frank. It’s like your natural habitat.”
The smile disappeared from my face for a moment before it returned as a slightly sad one. “Well, living with my dad, anyone would get used to cooking because no one else would.”
I had my back turned to Frank. He was sitting by the table, chopping the salad ingredients and I was standing by the counter next to the stove, watching over the rice boil and preparing the vegetables for the sauce. But as soon as I had said what I did, the sound a tomato being killed behind me stopped.
I froze as well. I shouldn’t have said that. Why don’t I ever think before I say stupid stuff? For a moment it was completely silent. Then I heard Frank rise from the chair and walk over to me. He gently took the knife from my hand.
“I’ll take it from here”, he said, and his voice sounded soft but firm. It was no use arguing. But of course that didn’t stop me from trying.
“It’s not like I –“
“Gia, come on.”
I sighed and walked over to the chair where he had been sitting just a moment ago. He had finished nearly everything already with the salad, there were just a few tomatoes left. I picked up a new tomato from the table and set it in front of me on the cutting board. But instead of starting to cut it, I stared at Frank. He seemed determined not to acknowledge me. I wished I hadn’t said anything. I didn’t like him acting like this.
“You should turn the heat down or the rice will burn”, I said, but he didn’t say a word. “I’m sorry”, I finally sighed.
At this point Frank turned around and looked at me in confusion. “For what?”
“For saying that and making things awkward. I’m sorry I ruined the evening.”
“You didn’t ruin anything!” he said and marched up to me. Since I was still sitting, he wrapped his arms around my neck (and partly head too) to hug me. It would’ve been really nice if he wasn’t choking me.
“Uh, Frank...” I tried to say, but his arm was muffling my voice. “Frank? Frank. FRANK!”
Now he finally heard me and let go. “What?”
“You’re burning the rice.”
“Oh shit!” he yelled and ran over to the stove, turning the power off and taking the kettle off. “What do I do with it?”
I got up from my chair and went to take the kettle from him. The rice was ready anyway, so I just let the rest of the water go. It didn’t burn that bad.
Frank sat down again, looking completely helpless. “I have got to learn how to cook.”
“Practice makes perfect, right? Learn from this experience”, I smiled.
After we finished making the food, we ate and talked. But both of us were careful to avoid the subject of my dad. It’s not that it was bad to talk about him, since he was getting help after all. It’s just different with Frank. I had never talked to him about dad that much. Frank’s company was more like an escape, not a search for solution.
When we were full of burned rice and perfectly chopped tomatoes, we went to the living room.
It was Friday, so we figured that we could just stay up all night and watch movies. So we brought tons of blankets, pillows, and really anything soft we could find to the living room and set them in front of the couch on the floor so it would be more comfortable.
We settled down on the floor and Frank started the movie. I had no idea what movie it was, but I didn’t really care. The movie had only been on for like five minutes before he put it on pause and groaned.
“What is it?” I asked.
“Okay look, this whole thing with Gerard –“
“Oh come on! Just let it go”, I whined, wanting him to stop worrying about it. I was fine not talking to him about it.
“But it’s obviously bothering you, so it bothers me too!”
I just shook my head, but I knew it was no use fighting it.
“Have you talked about it to anyone?”
“Everyone keeps saying I should”, I sighed. “But not really, no. And I’m planning on keeping it that way.”
Frank completely ignored the mean glare I gave him. “Talk to me. Please?” He took my silence as a sign of agreement, even though it was anything but. “Do you think Gerard would have started the whole drug thing if your mom didn’t kill herself?”
His question took me completely off guard. What was I supposed to say? I had never even thought about it like that.
“If mom was still here...” I started. Then what? “I think he would have. It wouldn’t have changed anything. Except of course, dad wouldn’t have to take care of me all by himself. Still I think that it was unavoidable.” That was my full answer. But my mind started to wander. ‘What if’ became the most important question. What if mom didn’t kill herself? What if mom and dad actually got together and got married? What if dad didn’t become a single parent? How different would it be?
“I only met your mom once, you know”, Frank said, bringing me away from my thoughts.
“Yeah? Tell me about it?”
“I was supposed to babysit you. It was Gerard’s turn to have you and your mom was just dropping you off. I was there. When she found out that I would be looking after you for a few hours, she completely snapped. Screamed at Gerard about how irresponsible he was. She didn’t want me anywhere near you.”
Frank grinned widely. “You’re not gonna like this, but... I once almost dropped you when you were like a few weeks old.”
“You didn’t!” I gasped.
“Hey I caught you before you hit the ground!” he defended himself. “And in my defense, you were heavy.”
“Well thanks a lot”, I scoffed.
“I’m not fat.”
“You were then.”
“Yeah well... You’re weird and scrawny!” I threw a pillow at him, but it missed and landed on the floor next to him.
“Nice”, he laughed. “You throw like a girl.”
“So anyway”, he said, suddenly getting serious. “Back on topic...”
I groaned. Just when I’m having fun, he has to ruin it. Maybe he’s a stupid adult after all, just like the rest of them.
“Did you ever think about leaving?”
I glanced at him. The expression on his face was dead serious.
“Yeah”, I sighed, looking at the ceiling. “I did at first. One time I actually packed my bag and left.”
He didn’t say anything, he just listened intently. In a way, it was nice. And besides, I’d much rather talk to Frank than to some psychiatrist who insists on me telling them how I feel about something.
“I was gone for at least five days before I ran out of food and went back home.” I paused, because I started to get that burning feeling of tears in my eyes. I forced myself not to let them fall before I could continue. “Dad never even noticed I was gone. I was nine at the time.” I remembered running away so clearly. That was when I realized that I had no other place to go. I would have to stay home and put up with my father’s choice of life. “But now I’m happy that I stayed.”
“Because it’s better now. Or it will be, at least”, I said, and then I decided that I had had enough of talking. “Can we please watch the movie now?”
Frank shrugged and pressed play on the remote. I made myself comfortable on the pillows again, and tried to concentrate on the movie. However, it was a little difficult. I had made a decision. The next time dad calls, I’ll bring up the subject about my mom. If I didn’t, my mind would never get peace.
The next morning I woke up before Frank. Yeah, it was supposed to be an all-night movie marathon, but we both ended up falling asleep after midnight. It had been surprisingly comfortable to sleep on the floor. Frank was a genius, no kidding. And when I woke up, I wasn’t tired at all.
I glanced at the clock and saw that it was one PM already. After a while of just laying there, I had gathered enough willpower to reach for my bag that was on the floor not that far from where I had slept.
I took my cell out of the bag and checked if there were any messages. Just one from Mikey, telling me that my dad had called and that he had asked me to call him back when I could.
When I put my phone back into the bag, I noticed the small white jar. They where the iron pills I was supposed to take that Mikey had bought me yesterday. I read the instructions quickly and took one pill out of the jar before I got up from the pillow-made bed and went to the kitchen.
I figured that Frank might be hungry once he wakes up, so I started making breakfast. Scrambled eggs should do. At least that’s what dad wanted to eat when he was able to eat in the mornings. He usually wasn’t.
While the frying pan was heating up, I went to the bathroom to brush my teeth and to take the iron pill and to do the other necessary morning routines. Nothing important.
But when I went back to the kitchen, Frank was already up and sitting by the table. And he seemed oddly alert.
“Good morning”, I said and went to the stove.
“I thought I’d make scrambled eggs. Is that okay?”
“Yeah sure.” He was looking at me oddly, like trying to figure out something. I just thought that he was still sleepy or he had had a nightmare or something. Still, it was weird.
“So, umm... What are we doing today?” I asked, just so he would stop staring at me.
My plan worked. A smile spread on his face and he just looked much happier now. “Let’s go to the mall!”
I snorted. “Seriously, what are you, a sixteen year old girl?”
“Yes!” he announced proudly.
“I’m not going to the mall”, I stated. And that was the end of the mall discussion.
“Fine, let’s stay in and play video games the whole day!”
I had to grin. “That’s better.”
“But first I’ve gotta run some errands”, he said and gladly started to eat the scrambled eggs I placed in front of him. “You wanna come with me or do you want to stay here?”
“What kind of errands are they?”
“Work stuff. And I have to go to the bank, the pharmacy, the garage –“
I made a face. It all sounds very boring. “I’ll stay here.”
When he was done with his breakfast, Frank got up and said: “Well, I’ll go get changed before I leave.”
He ruffled my hair as he walked past me.
“Take a shower too, will you? You stink”, I called after him, and the response I got was a kind suggestion for me to fuck off. I grinned and continued eating my breakfast.
Pharmacy my ass. I had no errands! Or actually I did but I was too lazy to do them. So much trouble to get through all of them.
As soon as I got to my car I sped straight to Mikey’s. I had something to talk to him about. Luckily he was home.
“Hi Frank, what’s up”, Mikey greeted when he opened the door for me.
“Yeah, okay sure”, I said, walking into the house past him. “Listen, we need to talk.”
Instantly he got worried. Mikey closed the door and went to close the other doors too so Alicia wouldn’t hear. Thank god for Mikey’s mind reading abilities! I didn’t even have to tell him that it was extremely private. Or it probably wasn’t. I wasn’t sure just how much Alicia knew.
“Alicia’s great-aunt is visiting”, Mikey explained when he was closing the door that led to the living room. “So anyway, what’s wrong? Did something happen to Gia? Did you lose her?”
“What, no! Why –“ I tried to say, but Mikey cut me off. The look on his face was stern and it scared me a bit.
“Because if you did lose her, I will not be the one explaining to Gerard that his daughter is misplaced. I knew I shouldn’t have let her stay with you.”
I rolled my eyes. “Yeah sure, toaster boy.”
Mikey relaxed and grinned. “Touché.”
“Anyway, Gia’s fine. I think so, at least.”
Suddenly he looked very worried again. “What’s wrong?”
“Well, she had that little ‘phase’ with the drug stuff, right?” I started, realizing that Mikey would probably get a heart attack if I just right out boldly told him.
“She got over it, right?”
“I think so. Why? What do you know?” he looked at me suspiciously.
“Well, this morning I saw her in the bathroom, and –“
Mikey’s eyes instantly widened. “What were you doing seeing her in the bathroom?!”
“I happened to walk past it! The door was open! Anyway, try to concentrate.”
“I saw her take something. Of course it could’ve been like aspirin or something but I don’t know...”
Mikey leaned against the wall with a troubled expression. “She’s seemed to act pretty normal lately though...”
“So you think it’s nothing?” I asked hopefully.
“I’m not sure. Did you ask her about it?”
I scoffed. “Are you kidding me? Last night I called her fat and she said I was weird and scrawny. I don’t want to make her angry! I don’t enjoy being insulted.”
Mikey shook his head. “You’re unbelievable. But anyway. You have to keep an eye on her while she’s at your place. And don’t tell anything to Gerard, you hear me? He’s already under enough stress as is it is.”
“He is? I thought he was doing well?” The last time I had talked with Gerard on the phone was about a week ago, and then he was doing great.
“Well... Let’s just say that old habits are hard to get rid of”, Mikey said. “But don’t tell Gia. Gerard made me swear I won’t tell her. He thinks it would ruin everything for Gia.”
As weird as it sounds, I had to agree with Gerard there. Now that Gia had started to have some faith in Gerard’s possible recovery, it would be cruel to ruin it for her. “I won’t tell her”, I assured. “But I have to go now. I promised Gia I would go to the store in my way back home.”
“Alright. And remember, figure out what she took. And most importantly, stop her from taking it again if it turns out to be something other than pain killers.”