Gia put on her jacket and sat down in the living room. She glanced at the clock on the wall and saw that it was only a few minutes to five. She sighed and sat up straight on the chair, straightening her shirt and picking at the hem.
She and Gerard were supposed to go to grandma’s again, to celebrate her birthday. Since it was Wednesday, Gia had school and Gerard had to work, so they couldn’t go earlier. He was supposed to pick Gia up at the house straight from work at five o’clock.
The next time she checked the time, it was five minutes past five. It’s alright; he’s just a little late. Perhaps he’s stuck in traffic. It’s New Jersey for god’s sake. No biggie.
But as time passed, it became very clear that Gerard wasn’t going to come pick her up any time soon. Gia shrugged and figured that there must be a traffic jam because of a car crash or something. Maybe an airplane crashed on the road and they’re cleaning it up. Yeah.
Gia took off her coat when it was half past five and her phone started ringing. It was her grandma.
“Gia? Where are you? I tried to call Gerard but he wouldn’t pick up? Are you okay?” Donna’s concerned voice asked.
“I’m fine. But... Uh, dad’s not here yet. He must’ve gotten stuck in traffic or something. We’ll be there, just a little late.”
“Okay. Well I hope you make it. Bye.”
“Bye.” Gia hung up and put her cell phone back into her pocket. She turned on the TV and watched Spongebob for a while. It made her lose track of time altogether, and when the episode ended, it was already six.
Gerard was an hour late, and Gia was starting to get worried. What if he got into a car accident himself and died? What would Gia do then? She wouldn’t get Gerard’s money before she’s eighteen so she would have to be in a stupid orphanage until then. And the orphanage keeper would be an old, bitter woman and she would beat up all the kids there. But wait, what if Gerard has had a gambling addiction for years and he’s used up all his money and is now bankrupt! That’s right, all those times he was on a ‘tour’ he was really in Las Vegas, his second life filled with expensive cars and fast women, and maybe he even has a bunch of other kids somewhere and – Wait. No.
Gia shook her head. She had done so much work to stifle her imagination and paranoia, she wasn’t about to let it take over again.
Gia went to make herself a bowl of cereal. Who knows how long that traffic jam will take? She didn’t want to starve while she’s waiting for her dad to come back home. After getting herself food, Gia sat down in front of the TV again and put in the Spongebob DVD she got from Lucas for Christmas. She had already watched it twice and couldn’t get enough of it.
In the house next door, things weren’t going that well either.
Lucas ran up the stairs, making as much noise as he could, knocking down photo frames off the walls and making them crash on the floor.
“I hate you!” he shouted at the woman who followed him.
“Lucas, let’s just talk about this. Me and your father are not going to love you any less because of this”, Tina pleaded, placing a hand on her stomach.
“You’re not my mother! Go away!” Lucas yelled and slammed the door to his room shut. Tears burned his eyes and he quickly wiped them away. He wasn’t a crybaby and he sure as hell wasn’t going to cry because of this. Tina wasn’t his mother and soon he won’t have a father anymore either. Lucas hated both of them.
They could both die for all he cared.
It was seven o’clock and still no sign of Gerard. Gia sighed, turned off the TV and got up from the couch. She was giving up. He had probably gone to Vegas to see his other, better kid and didn’t bother telling Gia because she would just get upset at him.
But when she was going to the kitchen to put away her sandwich plate, she almost screamed of surprise and fear when a hand suddenly hit the kitchen window. It was getting dark outside, and Gia hadn’t bothered turning on the lights inside, so she couldn’t see who it was. The only thing she could make out in the dark was a figure opening the window.
Gia almost wished she had agreed to take those self-defense lessons Gerard once tried to make her go to. Now all she could do was take the frying pan from the table and hold it like a baseball bat so she could at least attempt to beat up the intruder.
She watched as the burglar managed to open the window and tried to climb in through it. There was something very off about the way he moved. Like the connection between his brain and body wasn’t totally working.
He hadn’t noticed her yet, and Gia was ready to smack him with the pan. But she was even more surprised when the burglar started to mumble some nonsense. All she could understand of what he was saying was her own name. And the voice was familiar too.
“Dad?” Gia asked, lowering the frying pan.
He was half way in through the window when the grip he had on the windowsill slipped and he came crashing down, landing on his head. Gia screamed in surprise and dropped the pan. It made a loud clank when it hit the floor, and after it stopped echoing, a deep silence followed.
Gia knelt down on the floor next to the limp body. He was lying on his stomach, head in an awkward position, so Gia tried to move him. It took her a while to turn him around, but when she managed to do so, she went to turn on the light on the oven. If she turned on the lamp on the ceiling, it would only hurt Gerard’s eyes. The oven’s light was dim and barely enough for Gia to see his face.
Gerard had lost his jacket and other shoe somewhere, but at first glance he didn’t look so bad. Even after all these years the smell of alcohol still made Gia want to vomit.
But at least now she knew that he was safe. And she could imagine what had happened. He had just ran into an old friend and gone to the bar for a quick beer to catch up or something along those lines and like so many times before, that one beer turns into ten. And before he even realizes what hit him, he’s drunk out of his mind and doesn’t know which way is up.
“Dad, snap out of it”, Gia said, slapping him lightly, enough for him to feel it but not so he would be hurt.
“Leave me be”, he groaned and pushed her hand away.
“We need to get you to bed, okay? Can you get up?”
“Come on, get up.” She tried to help him get up, but that only irritated him more.
“I don’t need help!” he slurred and pushed her away again. Gerard managed to pull himself up, but he had to lean against the table for support. When the table top ended and he had to manage by himself, he instantly started to fall. He stumbled a few steps before he collided with the cold tile floor.
“Dad, please just let me help”, she pleaded. Gia hated seeing him like this.
He thought he could manage by himself, but in this state, he would only end up hitting his head and getting a concussion. Not that he would notice, he was too drunk.
“Go away”, Gerard slurred and dragged himself on his knees and started to stumble his way to his bedroom. “Go bother your mother, I don’t have time for you now”, he finally said, shooing his daughter off.
Gia froze. Tears started to sting in her eyes again, but she quickly snapped out of it, wiped the tears away and went after him. She knew better than to start bothering him when he was like this, so she just slowly followed him.
Gerard attempted to climb on his bed at least four times before he succeeded. He sprawled his body across it and went for the night table that was on the other side of the bed. He was talking quietly to himself, obviously not realizing that Gia was in the room.
She watched him take a bottle of clear liquid from the small table and open it. Her father took a large gulp from the bottle, but it burned his throat and he started to choke.
Gia immediately went to sit beside him on the bed and hit his back. As a result, he threw up over the edge of the bed and to the floor, splashing the liquid from the bottle all over the bed and floor. Gia had never felt this disgusted. Guess who would have to clean that up.
After he was done, Gerard hiccupped and turned to lie on his back. He looked up at Gia for a moment with drowsy eyes and she wondered what he was thinking about – if he was thinking about anything, which wouldn’t be too surprising if he wasn’t since he was so drunk.
“Come on, go under the covers”, Gia ordered and helped take his remaining shoe off. She didn’t manage to move him much, so she put a blanket over him and a pillow under his head.
“Gia”, he muttered and hiccupped again. “Go play outside. Daddy’s tired.”
“Okay”, Gia whispered. “I’ll just put this away so you can sleep. Good night.” She took the bottle from his hand and the rest of the bottles from his night table and left the room.
When she got outside, she took a deep breath of fresh air. The smell of alcohol and vomit made her want to hurl, too. She took the bottles to the kitchen and poured the rest of the alcohol down the drain.
Then she went to clean up the mess her dad made, and finally she went to sit outside on the porch to make two phone calls. The first one to grandma.
“Hello Gia? Is that you?”
“Yeah. Dad came home, but he’s feeling really sick. I think he’s coming down with something, so I’m sorry but we can’t come to your birthday party.”
“Oh, well that’s fine. I’ll save you two some cake. I hope he feels better soon.”
“Thanks. And happy birthday, from both of us.”
During the phone call, she had tears on her cheeks. She felt bad about lying, but grandma would just... well, react. And that wouldn’t be good.
Gia quickly chose the second number from her phone’s memory. But she didn’t press the green ‘call’ button right away. She hesitated for a moment.
Usually in this kind of a situation she would just deal with everything on her own. She’d go to bed like nothing was wrong and wake up early in the morning to take care of her dad in case he couldn’t sleep long. Gia’s way of dealing with things was had two steps: denial and pretending.
But this time, she couldn’t deal with it by herself. And she didn’t have to. After all, what are friends for, if not this?
Gia pressed the green button. The phone rang a few times before there was an answer.
His voice was hoarse and stifled, which sounded odd opposed to the cheerful voice he usually greeted her with. “What’s up?”
“Are you busy?”
“No, I’m not doing anything. Why?”
“So you’re home?”
Gia bit her bottom lip nervously. “Could I come over?”
“Uh, sure. But can you come through the back door? I’ll let you in.”
“Okay. See you in a bit.” She hung up and went to fetch her coat and shoes. She glanced at the clock quickly before running out of the back door. It was almost nine o’clock.
Lucas was already waiting at the door when Gia got there. He told her to be really quiet and led her quickly up to his room. Downstairs Gia could hear the music coming from upstairs and Tina and Lucas’ dad talking in the living room. She couldn’t hear what they were saying, but she guessed that something was horribly wrong. The whole upstairs was dark besides his room and there was glass and photo frames on the floor.
Lucas sighed in relief when he closed the door to his room after Gia got in.
“What happened here?” she asked. His room was a mess too. Well, it was messier than usually. All the drawers and closet doors were wide open and the clothes and other stuff in them was pouring out. The music coming out of the stereos was loud and too depressing for Gia’s liking.
“This hasn’t been the best day”, Lucas explained. He sat down on the floor, his back leaning against the bed. Gia sat down beside him.
“You wanna talk about it?” she asked. She didn’t really want to talk about her problem anyway; she just had to get away from the house and she didn’t want to be alone.
Lucas fiddled with the piece of paper he picked up from the floor. He took his time to answer, but Gia waited patiently. When he finally spoke, his voice was somewhat similar to what he sounded like on the phone. Only now Gia realized that it was muffled because he was trying hard not to cry.
“Tina’s pregnant”, he finally explained.
His words struck Gia like a lightning bolt. She understood how he must feel. If Gerard told her that he was having another child with a woman Gia hated, she’d be devastated. She understood that Lucas wasn’t only angry and sad, but he was scared. He had already given up his mother to live with his father, and now he was afraid that he’ll lose his father too.
“How could they do this to me? And dad won’t even let me go live with mom.”
Gia didn’t know what she could say to comfort him, but she had a feeling that she didn’t have to say anything. Instead, she reached out for his hands that were still playing with the paper, and slowly she intertwined her hand with his. The paper fell back on the floor and Lucas tightened his grip on her hand.
For a while they just sat there, listening to the music with no lyrics, and strangely, this was the moment Gia realized how much emotion there can be in music, even if there are no words. It was like this moment the two fourteen-year-olds were sharing. Not saying a word, and still they had complete understanding between one another.
It was nice.
Gia looked around the room, letting the music flow through her ears and feeling Lucas’ hand on hers. She noticed that there was a half-full duffle bag on the chair by the writing desk and that the dollar jar on his book shelf was gone.
Suddenly she started to suspect the worst. “Are you leaving?” she asked, breaking the silence between them.
“How could I not?” he asked.
“Where are you going?” Gia demanded to know, instantly worrying.
“I haven’t figured out yet. All I know is that I can’t stay. Dad is starting a new life and I don’t want to be in it if I have to share it with Tina.”
“But...” Gia started, but her words got caught in her throat. She was really starting to get attached to him, and now he was leaving? Her only friend was leaving her. The thought made her want to rip her own head off. Without even realizing it, her hand let go of his, and instantly she felt colder.
“Why’d you come here anyway?” he asked, pulling his hand back too.
“I... Well – It’s not important”, she answered.
“Look, Gia. I know that you’re from a broken home too, but you still have your dad and you’re happy. Your life is good. Mine isn’t. I don’t feel like I belong here at all.”
Gia felt a rush of frustration and anger. “Happy?” she laughed, but the laugh was a cold, mocking one. “You think I’m happy?”
“Well yeah, I mean –“
“You think my life is good? I just watched my father come home drunk, barely able to stand on his own and throw up all over the floors. He didn’t even recognize me at first, and when he did, he told me to go away”, Gia cried. “Do you know what that feels like?”
At first, Lucas was speechless. He knew that Gerard had had a problem with alcohol, but... “I’m sorry. I didn’t know.” He pulled her into a hug, wanting her to stop crying. It worked, and soon Gia was only resting her forehead against his shoulder, but no new tears came out.
“Come with me”, he suddenly suggested.
“What?” Gia asked, pulling away from him and drying her wet cheeks.
“Come with me”, Lucas repeated. “Let’s run away together.”
“Are you crazy? I can’t leave, I have –“
“What? Nothing. You don’t have anything to stay for either. You said it yourself, you’re not happy and your life is shit.”
He was looking at her straight into her eyes. He was dead serious. And so convincing. What was there really nothing to stay for? Suddenly Gia couldn’t think of one good reason. After she leaves, her dad is free to go back to the lifestyle he loves so much, and Mikey and the others will get along just fine without her. Lucas was her only friend, so there was really no one to miss her.
“But where will we go?” she finally asked.
Lucas grinned that mischievous grin of his. “Anywhere. Everywhere. Does it matter? As long as we get away from here. Do you trust me?”
Gia hesitated, but then nodded. “I can’t believe I’m saying this but... I do trust you. Must be out of my mind.”
“Perfect.” He jumped up from the floor and continued filling the duffle bag with clothes and other stuff he’ll need. “I have 200 dollars cash and thousand on my savings account. The only problem is that I can’t find my bank card so I can’t take the money out of the bank. Well, maybe it’s best we forget credit cards altogether or we’ll be tracked down faster than an elephant in a kiddie pool.”
“That’s okay, I have some cash”, Gia admitted quietly.
“A thousand dollars... times two. Plus 400.”
“Holy shit, in cash?”
Gia shrugged. “Yeah, I’ve been saving. I always figured that if I need money and can’t get to my bank account, there should be some backup money.” She knew she was being paranoid and insane, but she didn’t care.
“Okay, well... I’m done packing, so we should probably go to your house so you can pack. Just a sec, I’ll go check the situation downstairs.”
Lucas disappeared for a moment and came back with a frown. “They’re in the kitchen. Do you mind going through the window?”
“Not at all”, Gia assured, but really she was scared. High places, jumping and climbing weren’t her thing. Lucas threw the duffle bag out of the window and luckily it landed on a pile of dirt so it didn’t make any sound.
“Ladies first”, Lucas said and then helped the nervous wreck out of the window. There was a lattice almost right under his window so she only had to fling herself a little to the left and she could get a solid grip of the wall.
Lucas didn’t start climbing until she had gotten all the way down safely. He left the stereo playing so his dad and Tina wouldn’t start suspecting anything, but closed the window the best he could. He also said goodbye to his snake, which he knew Tina would get rid of as soon as she noticed him gone.
Gerard was still sleeping when they got to her house. Lucas stayed downstairs to pack some food from the fridge while Gia went to pack her clothes and get the money. He could hear Gerard talking in his sleep and snoring, which reminded him of Gia’s little outburst earlier. Lucas admired Gerard, but at moment he couldn’t have thought less of him.
“I’m ready”, Gia announced, coming down to the kitchen.
“Me too. Could I use your bathroom before we go?”
Lucas went to the downstairs bathroom and while waiting for him, Gia went to check up on her dad.
He was lying on the bed, and he had thrown up again on the floor. At least he had enough common sense not to throw up on the bed.
Gia suddenly got an idea. She went back to the kitchen, got the note pad from the fridge door and a pen.
For a moment she thought of what to write. When she heard Lucas come out of the bathroom, she quickly scribbled something on the paper and left it there.
“Now are we ready?” she asked him in the hallway.
“Yeah”, Lucas answered and picked up his bag. Gia picked up hers and they walked out of the door. Gia made sure to lock the door before walking away.
“We should take a bus first and then hitchhike or something. There are buses leaving every fifteen minutes”, he said as they started to walk on the sidewalk. It was already over ten in Wednesday evening; no one was up so no one will notice them.
“Is there any place you’d really like to go to?” he asked.
Gia thought for a moment. “No. Not really.”
“I do.” He hesitated before continuing. “I wanna go see my mom. Not talk to her or anything, I don’t wanna get caught, I just... I wanna see her.”
Gia nodded. She would have felt the same if her mother was alive.
She wondered how long it would take anyone to notice they’re gone. And then she started to get second thoughts. Sure, her dad could be a big disappointment and kept messing around with both of their lives, but...
He had his moments.
She shook her head to get rid of those thoughts. No, this was for the best. Lucas was right. And besides, Gerard would be happier this way, too. Everybody wins.