ArrangedBy: Sara Wolf
Mom picks me up at the station in our ancient Acura. She gets out and wraps me in a hug.
“Oh, Rose. It’s so good to see you.”
“I’m really sorry about Grandpa,” I murmur into her blonde hair. Grandpa was her dad. She breathes out, shakily, and brushes my bangs from my eyes. She has dark circles, and her skin’s more wrinkled than I remember. When did she get so old? I haven’t been gone that long, have I?
“C’mon, let’s get going. Your father’s been fretting over a pot roast all day.”
I laugh. “Him and his crockpot obsession.”
“He’s gotten even more obsessed.” Mom’s weary face cracks with a small smile. “He tried to make a cake in it the other day.”
I laugh harder. Loud. So loud it almost seems like sacrilege in the heavy fog of sadness that permeates the car. Mom turns onto the highway.
“How’s business?” I ask.
“We’ve got some new interest from China, so we’re shipping them a sample product, and a cosmetics company in France wants to look at our catalog.”
Mom and Dad own a small artisan soap company. It’s been struggling since I was in middle school, but we’ve always somehow gotten by.
“And Riley?” I ask.
“Has a new girlfriend he’s bringing over for Thanksgiving.”
“That’ll be interesting.”
“Very,” Mom sighs. “We’ll see how long this one lasts.”
The familiar trees and strip malls of my childhood flash past. My neighborhood hasn’t changed either. There’s a new playground, but that’s about it. Our house – a one-story with warm windows and mottled glass door, looks so inviting. Mom pulls into the driveway and pats my hand.
“Welcome home, sweetie. I’m just sorry it wasn’t under better circumstances.”
“It’s alright. I’m glad I could be here for you.”
She smiles and we get out. “I’ll tell your father to bring in your bag.”
I watch her go into the house. The frosty twilight air cools my throat. The last leaves are falling from the giant oak tree in our front yard. The tire swing rotates softly in the wind. I sit in it and spin.
Even though I’m older, this swing never changes.
“Hey kiddo,” Dad’s voice. I jump out of the swing and hug him. He’s balding – brown hair a little flyaway – and the same sadness Mom carries around moistens his eyes.
“Hey. I heard we’re having pot roast.”
“It’s the best pot roast in this universe. It better be, anyway. I spent all day on it.” He fishes my duffel bag from the trunk and stops in the front door. “Come in soon, it’s getting cold.”
I twirl until I feel almost sick. The next time the door opens, it’s Riley.
“Get your ass in here,” He yells. “I’m hungry.”
I heft off the swing and ruffle his hair as I pass him in the doorway. It’s blonde and perfectly gelled. Straight B’s, vice captain of the baseball team at his high school, and with more ex-girlfriends than you can count on your hands, Riley’s always adjusted well. He’s the one who’s balanced, not me.
“Wow, you’re so tan,” He snipes, taking in my pale skin. The hall is warm, the same family photos on the walls.
“They teach sarcasm in high school now?” I quirk a brow.
“Learned it from the best.” Riley points at me and grins. We set the table while Dad adds the finishing touches to the roast.
“So, Grandpa,” Riley starts. “Kinda shitty he had to die.”
“Everyone has to die, Rile.”
“Don’t you start getting emo on me, too!” He sighs. “Mom cries all the time. Dad won’t get off the computer unless it’s to moan about the bills or check on the office.”
“How are the bills?” I ask. “Business wise.”
Riley puts a glass down and leans in. “They won’t let me see, but I heard Dad talking to Betsy the other day. He said something about declaring.”
The pit of my stomach goes cold. “Bankruptcy?”
Riley makes a violent ‘shh’ing motion. Dad comes in with the roast and we eat together in a weird mockery of formality. Dad asks me about classes and I’m honest and Mom asks me about boys and I lie (I’ve been on a few coffee dates with classmates). Riley snorts into his peas. I kick him under the table. He knows me better than anyone and can tell it’s crap.
I don’t eat much, my stomach knotted so tight it feels like I’ll throw everything up. Bankruptcy. They can’t go bankrupt, not with the house mortgage and Riley’s college riding on the company. I burn with anger at myself – if I was smarter I’d be done with college by now, have my own bakery, maybe a chain of them, and make enough money to cover Mom and Dad’s losses. Riley wouldn’t have to stress about school like I did if I was just smarter, faster, better –
“Rose?” Mom touches my forearm. “Did you hear what I said?”
“Sorry, blanked for a second. What was it?”
“Grandpa’s funeral. Do you have something black to wear?”