The End of the World

 

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September 10, 2001 Night

Robbie

 

Robbie attacked his stew with the ferocity of a cat going after a mouse.  It was his favorite meal and wished that they could have it more often.  Of course, Abbie hated it, so he only got to have it on rare occasions—Abbie always got what she wanted.  It must be nice being the oldest child, always the first to get everything, including the parents’ love.  Robbie knew that in his parents’ eyes, he would never match up to his older sister, simply because she came first.  She had three full years with them before he was even born.  When he was little, he tried to do everything he could to stand out to them.  He was good at school, never getting anything lower than a 95 on any of his tests, tutored one of his classmates when he needed help in math, and even won the school’s math bee when he was in the first grade.  None of that impressed his parents.  Sure, they said they were proud, but he knew that they wished it was Abbie they were gushing over.  Nothing he did mattered and so he was less likely to even try any longer.  He would rather play video games, trade his Pokemon cards with his friends,  and root for his much maligned New York sports teams (especially the Mets).

“I take it from the way you’re inhaling your stew that you like it,” said his mother.  She was laughing at him.  Again.  She might not say it, but he knew she was thinking it.

“It’s good,” he replied, wiping some broth off of his chin after it dribbled out of his mouth while he was talking.

“Don’t talk with your mouth full,” criticized Abbie.

Robbie made a face at her, hoping his mother wouldn’t see it because if she did he’d be in a lot of trouble—making fun of Abbie was a big no-no.  Luckily for him, his mom wasn’t paying attention to him, but was watching something on the news instead.  Normally, they watched Jeopardy during dinner, but it was still on hiatus, so the news was on.  The reporter, a pretty woman with blonde hair and a very tanned complexion, talking about some Middle Eastern General who was killed the day before.  Robbie didn’t catch the guy’s name, but it didn’t really matter.  He didn’t even know where the Middle East was.  Africa maybe?  

“It is just so sad,” said his mother.  “The very area of the world where Adam and Eve were created and where Jesus lived can never live in peace.”

“Maybe it has something to do with hanging around with a talking serpent,” snarked Abbie.

“What?”  His mother asked.

Abbie rolled her eyes before responding.  “Well, doesn’t it make sense that if you believe that Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating the apple from the Tree of Knowledge that maybe the punishment wasn’t just for them, but for everyone who will ever live in that area?  I mean, it isn’t as if He didn’t go for whole scale punishment at other times.  Hell, He even flooded the Earth to start over again with Noah’s family.”  

Robbie hated it when Abbie went off like this.  She obviously thought she was the smartest person in the world.  Ha!

“And, by the way.  That whole Noah thing is just disgusting.”

Robbie just stared at her.  Had she just called Noah disgusting?  “Come off it,” he said.

“No, really.  If we believe the Bible, then Noah’s family was the only one saved from the flood, which means that all of mankind is descended from one incestuous family.  I wonder how many of them had webbed toes.”

“Webbed toes?  Really?”  Robbie didn’t know where she came up with this stuff.  She was so stupid.  Noah’s family did not have webbed toes.

“Well, why not?  We were talking about bad DNA in my biology class today and my teacher said that when the gene pool shrinks, we’re more likely to see bad traits coming out—all those recessive ones that disappear in pure punnet squares.  He even said that if we looked at European Royal Families that we’d see all kinds of consequences of inbreeding.”

“Like what?” He asked, interested in spite of himself.

“Well, like insanity.  There were whole lines of royals who at the time were thought of as eccentric, but today would all be pining away in some attic somewhere.  Did you know that George III went nuts in the years after the Revolution?  There’s this whole period of time in which he wasn’t fit to rule and his son, the Prince of Whales was running things.”

“You learned all that in your science class?”  Asked his mother.  He could tell she was skeptical.  That was something—at least she didn’t just believe everything Abbie said.

“No.  Just the part about bad DNA.  The rest I got from one of the books that Lily gave me last year.”

“Oh, then, it probably isn’t true.  Those books will rot your mind.”

Abbie rolled her eyes again, and Robbie knew it was time to finish his food.  Things were about to devolve into ridiculousness very quickly.  His sister didn’t like being told she was wrong and if that information came from one of her romance novels it probably was wrong.

He finished up the rest of his stew and asked to be excused.  He did not want to be around for the rest of this conversation.

“Did you finish your homework?” Asked his mother.

Crap.  He thought.  He still had more to do and his mother would want him to do it at the table.  He’d just tell her he finished it and then stay home sick tomorrow in order to actually finish it.  That had worked for him a couple times last school year, so it should work again this year.  He hoped.

“Yes,” he said, picking his bowl up and putting it in the sink.  He was half way to his room when he heard Abbie say, “No, he didn’t.”  He could hear the smirk in her voice.  “I saw his worksheet before I set the table.  Half of the questions weren’t answered.  Plus, he had at least three other things in his homework pad.”

“I was only supposed to do half the questions,” he shouted from his room.  How dare she try to get him in trouble!  She probably hadn’t done her homework either.

“Give me a break.  I saw your assignments.  Remember?”

“Well, you read them wrong.”

“I’m not the one that wears glasses, ROBERT.”

He hated it when she used his full first name.

“Maybe you should, ABIGAIL.  They’d hide that ugly thing you call your face.”

“Stop!” Screeched his mother.  “Robert, go get your backpack and don’t think about doing anything to your homework pad.  I will know.”  She turned to Abbie.  “Abigail, did you do your homework or were you just sulking in your room?”

“I did my homework on the train home.  I just had to read for history.”

“And what did you learn?”  She asked, obviously checking to see if Abbie actually did her reading.

“We’re learning about the Reformation.  Basically, it talked about the background—you know, Martin Luther nailing the 95 Theses to a church door in Germany and his excommunication from the Catholic Church.”

“They shouldn’t be teaching you that!  You go to public school and religion is off limits.”

“Not when it has actual historical significance,” replied Abbie.

“That’s just more anti-Catholic bullshit.”

“Really?  How is learning about history anti-Catholic?  Contrary to what the talking heads on t.v. like to say, Christians aren’t being persecuted.  Early Catholics being fed to the lions?  That was persecution.  Not being allowed to teach the Bible as fact in public schools? Not persecution.  That’s Freedom of Religion.”  With that she walked away.

Robbie knew she liked pulling their mother’s leg, especially when it comes to religion.

“Robert, what are you doing still standing there?  Homework.  Now.”

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September 10, 2001 Afternoon

Abbie

 

Abbie was dead—or she might as well have been.  Her life as she knew it was over.  Slamming her backpack down on the kitchen table, she ran to her room, turning her stereo up to high blast.  Thankfully, the music that came out was loud and angry.  Hip hop.  It was always better when she was in this type of mood to find the right type of music.  It just wasn’t the same when the music that came on was of the bubble gum pop, Britney Spears variety.  Not that she had anything against Britney, but it just didn’t work with anger.

“Abbie!  Turn that crap down!” Yelled her mother from the kitchen where she was already making dinner.

Abbie’s response was to turn it up so loud that the walls vibrated and people could hear the bass line all the way down the block.  They were probably setting up a lynch mob, looking for whatever black person was assaulting them with the sounds of Nelly’s Country Grammar.  Wouldn’t they be surprised to find that it was the whitest white girl blasting it?

“Abigail Marie, turn that off right now!”  She barely heard her mother that time, so that was something.

Plopping down on her bed, she sneered at the Pocahontas sheet set that her mother refused to take off the bed, a remnant of a childhood, so removed from where was she now that it was almost unrecognizable.  She’d loved that sheet set back in 1996 when she was 10 and gleefully sang along to Vanessa Williams’s version of the movie’s main track.  Not now.  Not any more.

This Abbie was angry.  She hated her new school and all the kids that treated her like a leper all because she started a year late and was stuck taking biology with the freshmen.  It wasn’t as if she wanted to leave her old school over the summer.  She hadn’t had a choice.  Not with the implosion of her parents’ marriage and the sudden chorus of “We can’t afford sending two kids to private school” echoing in her head every day for the last month.  She’d suggested pulling her pain in the ass brother out of St. Sebastian’s and sending him to the local junior high instead.  He wouldn’t be the only seventh grader starting that year.  It made more sense than to make her start all over in a new school a year after starting at St. Maria’s Catholic High School.  But, no.  That wouldn’t be fair to poor, sweet baby Robert.   “You got to finish at St. Sebastian’s, so he should too.”

She rolled her eyes at the ceiling remembering that day last month when her mom sat her down and told her she was going to public school in the fall.  It wasn’t that she had anything against public school, but it was just how things went.  If something would disrupt Robert’s life, it didn’t happen, but if there was a way to make Abbie’s life a living hell, they made certain they did.  It was like being the red headed step child in her own family and she was sick of it.

Robert wasn’t the problem, not this time anyway.  No, this time it was that stupid school with those stupid kids and the stupid math teachers, who didn’t know how to teach.  She failed her first test of the year all because her teacher just assumed that she knew the material because she was in honors math.  Knew the material?  Yeah, right.  Everyone knew she sucked at math; she even told that stupid guidance counselor that honors math would be too hard for her.  But she wouldn’t listen.  Said that because she ended freshman year with a B in her math class that she should do fine in honors.  She argued, but no one listened.  No one ever listened.

It was bad enough that she failed the test.  Did Mr. Clarke really have to tell the entire class that she got the lowest grade on the test?  It just wasn’t fair.  None of it was fair.  But then again, nothing else in her life was fair, so why should this be?

She rolled over onto her side, staring at the wall, as the song changed to something off of Michelle Branch’s newest cd. “Ugh,” she said, getting up to lower the volume.  There was no point in blasting happy music and she didn’t exactly have a collection of angry music she could put on.  She’d never needed it before.  She wouldn’t even know what constituted angry music and she doubted calling the radio station and asking them would be a big help.  They’d probably laugh at her and tell her to search for it online.  Yeah, that would work real well.  Their computer sucked.  It was slow and old and didn’t have those cool color monitors like they have on television.  It was plain old beige.  They never had anything cool and probably never would.  Hell, they only got the internet a year earlier when her cousin convinced her parents that she would need it for high school.  They grumbled about AOL being so expensive, but as soon as they heard that Robert’s teachers were starting to assign homework that could only be completed through the use of the internet, they relented.  Of course, the parental controls they put on it, made it almost useless.  Abbie was able to access Nickelodeon’s website and her email (AbBiEbAbIeXoXo@aol.com), but that was it.  She wasn’t a baby any more and they should stop treating her that way.

There was a knock on her door.  “Abbie?”  Her mother called.

“What?!” Yelled Abbie through the door.

“Open the door, Abbie.”

“I’d rather not,” she replied, locking the door, knowing what was coming next.

Sure enough, the doorknob jiggled as her mother tried to open the door.

“Leave me alone!”

“Abbie, you need to open this door right now.”

“No, I don’t.  This is my room and I want to be alone.”

She turned the music back up just as the last notes of the Michelle Branch song ended, giving way to one of those annoying commercials for adults who were too stupid to go to college when they were supposed to and were now looking to go back.  If they couldn’t do it then, why did they think they could do it now?

Just then, the door slammed open and her mother stood there with a butter knife in her hand.

“You picked the lock!  Who the hell do you think you are?”

“Your mother.  You don’t have the right to ignore me like that.”

“No, I don’t have any rights.  People in jail have more rights than I do.  Get out of my room!”

“That is enough.”

“Why?  Am I disturbing wittle-wabie Robbie?  Am I too loud for him to hear his video games over?”

“Leave your brother out of this.”

“Go to hell.”  Abbie said.

“Excuse me?”

“You heard me.  Leave.”

“I will not and you will show me some respect.”

“Why?  You don’t respect me.  If you did, you wouldn’t have picked my lock.”

“This is my house—“

“No, it is not.  This is Grandma’s house.  If she wanted in, there wouldn’t be anything I could do, but since she doesn’t—“  Abbie gestured with her arm, waving it in the direction of the door.

“Fine.  Dinner is in an hour.  Oh, and you’re dad’s on the phone.”

“He is!  Why didn’t you say so,” she said, running past her mom and picking up the phone in side.  It was corded, so she had to sit on her mom’s bed and talk.

“Daddy?”

“Hi, sweetie.  What took so long?”

“She wouldn’t tell me you were on the phone,” she answered, glaring into the kitchen where her mother was listening in on her call.  She slammed the door, locking it and placing a chair underneath the doorknob just in case.  “Where are you?”

Her dad was driving across country and moving to California.

“Wyoming.  I’m stopping for the night and going to get some KFC for dinner.”

“KFC?  You’re lucky.  Mom’s making stew.  I guess she forgot that it was still summer and close to 80 degrees outside.  But, then Robbie asked for it last night, so that’s all that matters.”

“You know that’s not true.”

“It is.  You should have heard them last night.  He screamed at her because he wanted to stay up late and she promised that if he went to bed, she’d make him stew for dinner tonight.  It was disgusting,” she said, rolling her eyes.

There was silence on the end of the line.  “How was school?”

“It was there,” she answered, giving him the response he used when she asked him about work.

“Cute,” he said.  “Did you get your math test back?”

“No,” she lied.  She wasn’t about to tell him she failed.  Who was ever going to use factoring in real life anyway?  “We had a sub today, so we couldn’t get them back.”

“Ok.  Listen, Abs, I don’t have time to really talk right now.  Could you put Robbie on?  I’ll call you tomorrow night.”

“I guess.”

“Night, sweetie.”

Abbie placed the phone on the old wooden desk that her mom got from a yard sale over the summer and took the chair away from the door before unlocking and opening it.

“Robbie!” She yelled.  “Dad’s on the phone!”

Her brother’s door slammed open and he ran to their mom’s room.  Abbie walked up to her mother.

“How dare you not tell me he was on the phone?  Because you took so long, he had to go.”

Her mother turned to her, tears on her cheeks.

“It is not my fault he left.”

“Yes, it is,” she said, turning on her heel and storming back to her room, slamming and locking the door behind her.

 

Robbie

Robbie raced into his mom’s room to pick up the phone.  He needed to talk to his dad—the Mets lost again yesterday and he knew that his dad would understand his frustration.  Unlike his mom or sister.  His mom was a die hard Yankee fan and they won all the time.  His sister hated sports and constantly said that they should only be on cable.  Robbie didn’t agree.  He and Abbie rarely agreed on anything, but then how could someone as dumb as his sister understand how important baseball was.  She liked dumb stuff like soap operas and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Blech.

“Dad?”  He said, picking up the phone.

“Hey, Buddy.”

“They lost!”

“What?”

“The Mets.  They lost.  Again,” he said, disgust evident.

“Oh, I know.  You better get used to it.  They’ve only won twice since ’62; they’re not the Red Sox, but it is close enough.”

“Oh,” Robbie hadn’t expected that.  He and his dad loved to watch baseball together and if they weren’t watching it they liked to talk about it.

“Did you have a good day at school today?  They start you up on all the Confirmation stuff yet?”

“School was okay.”  Joey just started another rumor about him being gay and Matt kept poking him in the stomach, calling him the Pillsbury Doughboy.  But he wasn’t going to tell him that.  “I got 100 on a math pop quiz today.”

“That’s great, buddy!  I’m not surprised, though.  You’ve always been good at math.”

“Yeah…”  Robbie hated being reminded of that.  It was as if being good at school was the only thing he was good at—as if school was the most important thing in the world.

“I’m one level away from beating the new Sonic game.”

“Wow.  How long have you been playing it?”

“Not long.”  Just since it came out last June.  “A few weeks.”  12 weeks, approximately.

“Hey, Buddy, I don’t want to cut you short, but I’ve driven about 500 miles today and I just want to crash for the night.  I’ll call you tomorrow.  Okay?”

“Okay.  Night,” he said, but there was no answer.  His dad had hung up.  Robbie heard her in the background.  When he spoke to his dad yesterday, he told him that he’d be stopping in either Nebraska or Wyoming, so it wasn’t even six there.  He doubted his dad was going to bed.  At least not alone.

He was almost twelve.  He knew exactly what his dad and that woman were probably doing and sleeping wasn’t it.  He wasn’t supposed to know about sex.  The teachers at St. Sebastian’s treated it like a dirty word and the girls giggled whenever anyone mentioned anything about it.  At mass the other day a bunch of the girls burst out laughing when Father Michael called St. Mary a virgin.  It was all stupid.  He didn’t care about any of it.  Which was probably why those rumors were starting up again.  

Last year, a couple of his “friends” started talking about how he and another one of the guys were into each other.  That was another thing Robbie wasn’t supposed to know about—he overheard his mom telling Abbie all about it, but never told anyone that he knew.  The whole thing was just disgusting.  Not the gay thing, which was weird, but the fact that everyone else cared about what he was or was not doing with people of the same sex.  Which was nothing.  Of course, he wasn’t doing anything with the opposite sex either, but that wasn’t the point.  Why did everything have to be about sex all of a sudden?  Why couldn’t he just go play video games and be done with it?

He placed the phone back and the cradle and headed for his room, where Sonic awaited him, but it just didn’t have the shine to it as it had five minutes earlier.  Everything was changing and he didn’t like it one bit.  Half of his class started dating over the summer—Jon gave Katie a bracelet for her birthday last week and now they were going steady, Pete and Mary were caught kissing in the janitor’s closet on the second floor (they got a week’s worth of detention over it), and Matt was busy making eyes with the new girl.  It was ridiculous.  Although.  The new girl was really pretty.  She had nice…eyes.  And was really smart.  

Crap.  He died, leaving with just one life with which to beat the game.  Odds were he’d lose.  Maybe he should get used to that too.  The only guy in a house full of women?  Even the dog was a girl.  Yeah, the next time he’ll win anything is when he moves out and by then he’ll be too old to do much winning anyway.

There was a knock on his door and he jumped.  Looking up, he noticed that Sonic just missed a jump and died.  Perfect.

“Yes,” he called out and his door opened.

“Did you do your homework, Robbie?”

“I don’t have any,” he lied.  Why did teachers have to assign him homework?  Wasn’t it enough that he had to waste all his time at school when he could be playing Sonic?

“Robbie,” his mom said.

“What?”

“You left your notebook on the table—I know you have homework.”

“If you knew my notebook was on the table, then why did you ask if I did my homework?”  Why must everything be a question?

“I wanted to see if you’d tell me the truth.”

She put his notebook down on his bed.

“You know the rules, Robbie.  Homework before video games.  It won’t even take you that long.  Homework never does.”

“Maybe I’d rather play video games before doing my homework for once,” he replied, a hopeful look in his eye.

“Sorry, bub.  That won’t cut it.  Turn the game off and get your butt on the kitchen chair.  You’ve got some homework to do before dinner.”

“We’re having stew, right?”

“I promised you that didn’t I?”

“Are you making her macaroni instead?”  He asked balefully, glancing at his sister’s door as if he could see into her room.

“Yes.”

“Why?  She should eat stew like us.”

“Robbie, she doesn’t like stew and you need to do your homework.  Let’s go,” she said.  Grabbing his notebook off the bed, he followed her into the kitchen, not at all ready or willing to do his homework, but he knew how to pick his battles.  Homework now.  After dinner he’ll make his case for staying up past bedtime.  It hadn’t worked yesterday, but he was getting stew out of it.

 

Tiffany

 

Eight year-old Tiffany Adams sat tapping her foot on the carpeted floor of her living room, dance bag sitting beside her as she waited for her ride to arrive.  Mrs. Robinson, whose name always caused the adults to snicker and Tiffany to roll her eyes at their strange sense of humor, was late.  This was normal—every Monday Tiffany waited and every Monday Mrs. Robinson was late, making Tiffany late for her dance class.  It drove her nuts.  She was the best dancer in her class, but if she was late all the time no one would ever know it.  Just last week, Miss Dani warned her that if she was late for class again, she’d have to kick her out of the class.  She could not let that happen.  Dance class was the one thing that she looked forward to all week long.  School sucked, but nothing was new about that.   

She looked at the digital read out on the cable box: 4:45.  She was now fifteen minutes late for class.  Perfect.

“Grandma!”  She called to no effect.  Her grandmother was watching Dallas re-runs on SoapNet and despite having seen all of the episodes back when they aired—sometime before Tiffany was even born—she had to watch them all again, every afternoon from 4 until 5.  Then, of course came Dynasty, another one of her old shows that she had to watch.  It made no sense to her.

“Grandma!” She said again.

“Tiff?” Grandma responded.

“Where is Mrs. Robinson?  She’s late!”

Her grandma looked at the time and gasped—this too happened every Monday—before reaching for her old, battered phone book (that only she could understand) and searching for Mrs. Robinson’s number.  Finding it, she picked up the phone and dialed.

Tiffany watched as her grandmother had the exact same conversation she had every week—Mrs. Robinson answering (loudly as if she didn’t quite trust that the person on the other end of the phone could hear her) and realizing that she was late to pick up her charge, swearing that she’d be there in a jiff.  Tiffany wasn’t sure what a “jiff” was, but it usually meant five minutes.  She really wished that her mom would let her take a cab to and from the dance school, so she wouldn’t be late, but her mom told her that it was too dangerous for a little girl to take a cab by herself.  Too dangerous?  It was only five minutes to the dance school.  What could happen in five minutes?  Besides, she wasn’t a little girl.

Her grandmother hung up the phone and looked at her strangely.

“Is Mrs. Robinson coming?”  She asked.

“No, Tiff.  Mrs. Robinson had an emergency earlier and won’t be able to take you today.”

“What?  But she has to?  Miss Dani will kick me out of class if I don’t show up!”

“I’ll call Miss Dani and explain what happened,” she said, opening up her phone book again to find the number for Daniella’s Dance Studio.

“Why didn’t Mrs. Robinson call before?” Tiffany asked before her grandma could pick up the phone again.

“She tried, but she said the phone was busy each time she called.  I don’t see how that could be—I wasn’t on the phone.  It never even rang today.”

Tiffany had a pit in her stomach.  The reason the phone was busy was because she was online even though she wasn’t supposed to be unless it was for school.

“I must have hung the extension in the kitchen up wrong.  You know that one likes to stick.  I’ll just go hang it up now.”

“I’ll take care of it, Grandma.  Your show’s back on,” said Tiffany, not wanting her grandma to realize that if the phone wasn’t hung up right she wouldn’t have been able to make the call to Mrs. Robinson.

Tiffany ran into the kitchen and made as much noise as possible so that it sounded as if she was actually doing something before running back into the living room.

“All fixed,” she said, but again her grandma wasn’t listening.  Looking at the television, Tiffany saw that the guy from I Dream of Jeannie, one of her favorite shows from Nick at Nite, was being shot through an open door.  Too bad Jeannie couldn’t just come and save him on this show, she thought.  Oh, well.

She sat back down on the couch and waited for the show to end because that would be the next time her grandma would take her eyes off the television.  Just as the credits began to roll, her grandmother turned to her, asking, “What time does your dance class end?”

“5:30,” responded Tiffany.

“I’ll wait until then to call Miss Dani.”

“But what if she’s already decided to kick me out of the dance class before you call her?”

“She won’t.”

Tiffany made a face—the one her cousin, Abbie, told her made her look like a Capuchin monkey.

“How do you know?”  She asked.

“I just do.  Once she hears why Mrs. Robinson couldn’t drop you off for class, she’ll understand.”

Tiffany considered that.  “Why couldn’t she?”

“What?” Her grandmother asked, her attention already back on the screen as the opening to Dynasty came on.

“Why couldn’t Mrs. Robinson take me today?” She asked quickly, knowing that if she didn’t, she wouldn’t get an answer until the first commercial break.

“Oh.  She didn’t say?” Her grandmother hedged.

“Grandma.”

“Oh, ok.  Mr. Robinson died this morning.  It was completely unexpected; he was doing so much better, too.”  She shook her head and Tiffany could just stare.

Kind, Mr. Robinson was dead?  Never knowing her grandfather, who died before she was born, Mr. Robinson had been her surrogate grandpa in many ways.  He’d take her for rides in his old car and sneak her candy whenever he walked by the house with his two dogs.

Tiffany knew what death meant since her uncle—her grandmother’s brother—died when she was five, and she didn’t like it one bit.  She knew that by the end of the week she’d be at the back of Our Lady of Perpetual Tears (what a depressing name), wearing her black dress and Mary-jane's, as Mr. Robinson’s casket is carried out into one of those weird death limos that were called hearses for some reason, and then they’d lower it into the ground, where hopefully worms won’t make a meal out of him.  That’s what Robbie and his friend Joey told her would happen to Uncle Tommy when he died, but Abbie told her not to listen to them.

She looked up at the television; she would never admit it to anyone, but she actually kinda liked Dynasty.  There was always some sort of drama going on between Krystle and Alexis and that usually meant a cat fight.  She wasn’t sure why it was called a cat fight when two women fought—she heard her mom and her aunt talking about her uncle liking dirty pussy and at first she thought that meant he liked cats, but quickly realized that they meant his girlfriend, who had always seemed clean to Tiffany.  The only thing she learned from that discussion was that adults are weird and she already knew that anyway.

Today, they seemed to be getting along, which meant that the episode was going to be really boring or get really interesting, but Tiffany wasn’t going to stick around to find out.  Instead, she decided to go see what her Aunt Vicki was making for dinner.  That was the nice thing about having her aunt and cousins living in her house—she got to have two dinners sometimes.  She just never told her mom and made sure that Aunt Vicki didn’t either.  Never one to do things by halves, she full out ran down the steps, through the laundry room with its cement floor, into her aunt’s apartment, and through the narrow hall until she reached the kitchen where her aunt was standing at the stove and stirring something.  It looked like her sauce pot, so hopes high (like the Sinatra song Aunt Jackie played in the car), she asked, “What’s for dinner?”

“Oh, hi, Tiff,” said Aunt Vicki on what sounded like a sniff, but Tiffany ignored that.  “I’m making stew.”

All her hopes were dashed—she absolutely hated stew. It didn’t matter if it was veal stew, which her grandmother preferred to make, or the meatball stew that Aunt Vicki made (because Robbie wouldn’t eat the beef).  It was just disgusting.

“Why aren’t you at dance?”

“Mrs. Robinson couldn’t take me today because her husband died this morning,” she said, trying for nonchalance and failing.

“Poor Mrs. Robinson!  We’ll have to get her a mass card,” said Aunt Vicki as she sat down at the kitchen table.  “Are you okay, Tiff?  I know you liked him.”

Tiffany nodded her head, her blonde ponytail bouncing behind her.  “I’m fine.  Abbie said that Big Girls don’t cry, so I’m fine,” she said, continuing to nod her head.

Aunt Vicki looked at her, “That’s just an alibi.”

“Huh?” Asked Tiffany.

“Big girls do cry.  Don’t listen to Abbie.  She doesn’t know what she’s talking about.”

Tiffany took this in, but said, “I don’t think I’m going to cry, though.  Just in case.”

“Do you want some stew?”  Asked Aunt Vicki, her mind already back on cooking.

“No, thanks,” she said, knowing that Aunt Vicki didn’t like it when she said any food was disgusting.  That’s why she tended to tell people she just didn’t want it.  “Aunt Vicki, could you call Miss Dani for me?”  Grandma said she’d call, but she wants to wait until dance class is over, but if she waits Miss Dani might kick me out of class!”

“If Grandma said she’d call, then she’ll call.  And Miss Dani won’t just kick you out of class.  Besides, your mom paid your tuition for the month and Miss Dani won’t want to refund her that money, which she would have to do if you were barred from class.”

“Are you sure?”  Asked Tiffany, her nose scrunching up, in what she imagined looked like Samantha Stephens trying to cast a spell—Nick at Nite was very big in her house.  Sometimes she thought that she watched more shows from when her mom and aunts were kids than she watched new shows.

“I’m sure.  Don’t worry, Tiff.  Everything will work out.”

“I hope so,” she said, still not convinced.  “I’m going to go and watch t.v. with Grandma.”

“Ok,” said Aunt Vicki, watching as Tiffany jumped up from the chair she’d been sitting in and run back upstairs.

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