“How would you like to go on a picnic?” Momma asked me in the morning.
“With who?” I asked.
“Yule and Noel,” Momma said looking at a loaf of bread. “Yule called this morning and asked if Miss Natalie Matthews was available. Today is his only Saturday off work, and Noel begged him to call us at six in the morning. Thankfully I was up.”
“Sure,” I said relieved it wasn’t a ‘family’ picnic.
“You seem to be getting pretty close to Yule and Noel,” Momma said putting some turkey into a little basket.
“Oh, please don’t start,” I said. “If anything Yule is like a big brother to me.”
Momma dropped the mayo bottle on her foot.
“Are you all right?” I asked as Momma rubbed her foot.
“I gotta get a better grip on things,” Momma joked sitting down. “Can you pack the rest of the basket for me?”
I nodded and put all things in the basket that she asked me to.
“Morning, Riley,” Mr. Steve said walking out of his bedroom.
I rolled my eyes and walked into my room. He didn’t even have the decency to say good morning to me.
I closed my door and let tears fall from my eyes.
“I need help,” I said as I checked today’s temperature. I took off my pajamas. “Why do I feel like Mr. Steve hates me? Everybody says that he doesn’t hate me, but I beg to differ.”
“Natalie, I don’t hate you,” Mr. Steve said standing in my doorway.
“Go away!” I cried closing the door. I was only in my underwear. I locked my door out of embarrassment.
“Natalie, unlock this door!” Mr. Steve shouted with force in his voice.
“Can’t you knock?” I cried grabbing my robe.
“Open this door!” Mr. Steve shouted. I opened the door.
“Didn’t somebody ever teach you have to knock?” I asked.
“Look, I’m sorry,” Mr. Steve said. “You ran out of the room too fast for me to say good morning.”
“You opened my door without knocking just to say ‘Good morning’?” I asked.
“Yup,” Mr. Steve said.
“Goodbye, Steve,” I said closing my door.
I felt my hands tremble. I had never called him just Steve before.
“That is the last straw!” I heard Mr. Steve shout.
“You should have knocked,” I heard Momma say.
“I’ve had just about all I can take of that kid!” I heard Mr. Steve shouted.
Those words felt like a stab in my heart. Isn’t that what I wanted? Didn’t I want Mr. Steve to leave? Nope, not anymore.
“You’ve just got to give her time, Steve,” I heard Momma say.
“It’s the middle of September, Riley, we’ve been married for six months and she’s known me for ten months! How much time does she need?” I heard Mr. Steve yell.
“I don’t…,” Momma started.
“We have to do something about this,” I heard Mr. Steve say. I imagined him running his fingers through his brown hair.
“I agree but…,” Momma started.
“Maybe we should go to a therapist,” Mr. Steve said.
“Therapist?” Momma asked.
“Riley, I can’t take too much more. The child hates me,” I heard Mr. Steve say in a quieter voice. I felt tears splash out of my eyes. I didn’t hate him. Something inside of me was stopping me from doing what needed to be done. I don’t know what that something is, all I know is it was hurting me big time.
“She doesn’t hate you,” Momma said. “So much has happened in less than a year. She just needs…”
“What she needs is a therapist,” Mr. Steve said raising his voice again. “I gotta go or I’ll be late for work.”
I heard the door slam. I walked out of my bedroom door to find Momma near tears.
“No wonder you don’t want to talk,” Momma cried. She looked hurt. I was hurt too. I bet Mr. Steve was hurt too.
God, where is the heaven in this? I asked.
“There’s nothing like Central Park in the early fall,” Yule said as we lounged on the blanket. I had to admit. Central Park was pretty. It was a warm early fall day. I looked up into the clouds and sighed. Had we really been in New York City for a month?
Yule pulled out a cigarette, and Momma frowned.
“How old are you?” Momma asked as Yule lit up his cigarette.
“Sixteen,” Yule said sheepishly. All the color drained from Momma’s face.
“Aren’t you a little young to be smoking?” Momma asked. “I mean you are under the legal age.”
“True,” Yule shrugged as he puffed.
“Can you even smoke here in Central Park?” Momma asked.
“What do I look like? A police officer?” Yule asked. “I don’t know, but I’ve done it before and no cop has ever stopped me.”
“Should you really be smoking around your pregnant sister?” Momma asked. Yule put out his cigarette in anger and got up. He started to walk away.
“Wait! I’m sorry. I’m prying into your personal life. If you want to smoke, that’s your business,” Momma said. There were tears in her eyes and they were about to spill. She looked a little embarrassed. There was something else there but I just couldn’t seem to detect it.
“Oh, Mrs. Matthews,” Yule said smiling at her. “I was just going to the bathroom.”
“Oh!” Momma laughed. “You got up so fast…”
“It’s ok, Mrs. Matthews, really. You’re right. I’m smoking underage and I shouldn’t be smoking at all. You really should have called the police on me, but instead you tried to point out why I shouldn’t smoke,” Yule said. “You’re right. I’m going to stop smoking. It’s not healthy for me.”
The tears slipped from Momma’s eyes. Noel looked over at me totally confused.
“Aw, Mrs. Matthews,” Yule said. He gave Momma hug and I heard Momma start to sob. Yule winked at me and gave a sad smile.
“I’m sorry,” Momma said pulling away. Momma walked over towards a tree and started to cry some more.
“Wow,” Yule said. “I feel really bad now.”
“You really weren’t going to the bathroom were you?” I asked catching on.
“No, I wasn’t. I was going to go smoke somewhere else. But when I saw the look on your mother’s face, I just couldn’t,” Yule said sitting down.
“She really does seem upset,” I said looking over to where Momma was. She had stopped crying, and from what I saw it looked like she was praying.
“My anger caused her to feel bad,” Yule sighed. “Natalie, when your anger hurts others, it hurts you back. Knowing that you made someone upset or cry over as simple as a thing as smoking. It really makes you feel stupid.”
I pondered over Yule’s words for the rest of the day. Was that how I was with Mr. Steve? Was my anger hurting him? Is this why I wasn’t happy when he said he couldn’t take me anymore? I didn’t know anything anymore. I just didn’t know. So this is what it feels like to fall apart.
“Ok, bend your knees,” Yule said. It was another day. Another skateboarding lesson.
“Shift your weight in the direction you want to turn,” Yule commanded. I nodded and shifted my weight.
“You’re doing it!” Yule shouted. “You’re skateboarding! STOP!”
I stopped just before I hit a wall.
“How does it feel?” Yule asked.
“I did it!” I squealed. Yule laughed.
“That explains that,” Yule said. “Come on. Let’s try that again.”
I smiled. It was amazing how something I really had no interest in doing made me feel so good.
I sat in the office of Heaven Everywhere. I tried not to laugh as I thought about my father’s words. It wasn’t a coincidence that the name of the Christian Family Therapist office was Heaven Everywhere. That was confirmation from God.
Mr. Steve had gone to talk to our therapist, Angela Quinn, first. Jaci and Megan stayed at the apartment because they really weren’t the problem here. It was Mr. Steve and I. My skin crawled as I thought about all the awful things Mr. Steve was saying about me.
“Natalie, you can come in,” Ms. Angela said as Mr. Steve walked out. Mr. Steve didn’t look at me as he walked out, and I felt my heart go to the souls of my feet.
“Now, Natalie,” Ms. Angela said with the coolest Irish accent ever. “Your stepfather told me that you didn’t really like the idea of going to a therapist. So if you think you may call me a counselor.”
“You’re not what I imagined,” I said. Ms. Angela smiled.
“Tell me a little but about yourself,” Ms. Angela said.
“Well, I’m twelve but I’ll be thirteen this November 25,” I said. “I love Christmas.” Ms. Angela smiled.
“Do you have a lot of friends?” Ms. Angela asked.
“Not here in New York,” I said shaking my head no. “I have two here. Yule and Noel. They’re more like a brother and sister to me. They don’t know about everything going on but they just seem to know that things are tough. Things are tough for them too so we can kinda relate.”
Ms. Angela nodded.
“Do you have lots of friends back in Florida, Massachusetts?” Ms. Angela asked.
“I know just about everyone there,” I said. Ms. Angela nodded and wrote something down in her notebook.
“Honey, I know how hard it can be to accept a stepparent,” Ms. Angela said putting her pencil down. “When my dad got remarried it took me two years before I really truly accepted my mom. Those two years were the worst in my life.”
“How long should it take me?” I asked.
“Honey, as long as you it needs to take,” Ms. Angela said. “But, Natalie, don’t delay the process. Honey, healing is a wonderful thing. Steve will never replace your father, but I believe that every girl deserves to feel the love of a father. That’s how God intended things to be.”
“I don’t hate him! I really don’t! He hates me!” I cried. I burst out into tears. Ms. Angela got up and gave me a hug.
“Steve doesn’t hate you. He’s just…trying to figure things out. This isn’t easy on him. He’s trying to love you, but you won’t let him,” Ms. Angela said.
“So he doesn’t love me,” I said. I knew it.
“No, I didn’t say that. He loves you. You love him. I know you do deep deep down. I know he loves you. He’s just trying to complicate the situation. You dislike him, so he dislikes you back. He’s fighting fire with fire and the last time I checked you fight fire with water,” Ms. Angela said. “Honey, the man is stubborn. So if he’s not going to make the first move, you’re going to have to make it. Show him that you don’t hate him. Behave and obey him. He’s waiting for you to make the first move, and you’re waiting for him. He won’t make a move unless he feels comfortable with you. He knows you’re not ready. He just feels like you should be.”
“And what if I’m not ready to rip the bandages off?” I asked.
Ms. Angela sighed.
“I have to admit that your mother did marry him a little too quickly. But honey, your wound is infected and the only way to disinfect it is to rip off the bandage. If you don’t rip it off yourself, one day God, the doctor, is going to rip the bandage off for you because it’s what’s good for you. It’s going to hurt a lot to have that bandage ripped off, but trust me. You don’t want to live with an infected heart,” Ms. Angela said.
Everything she said was true; I just didn’t want to believe her. My heart was infected with hate and anger. I didn’t want to admit it. I was tired of this fight, but I didn’t want to be the person to blink first. Boy, do I wish I had though.
I walked out of her office never to walk back in there again.