Lacey Martez Byrd
“There I was, way off my ambitions, getting deeper in love every minute.”
—F. Scott Fitzgerald
“Look up, River.”
My mom lifted me onto the back of my dad’s pickup and I looked up just like she told me to. I smiled when I heard my favorite song playing on the truck’s radio.
“See that, baby? See the sky?”
I nodded, staring at the clouds as they passed with the wind in the hazy evening sky.
“No matter what, you keep this spirit you have now, River. Keep your head in the clouds.”
I could tell she was going to cry and I couldn’t help but wonder what she was talking about.
Even as a kid, I knew she was trying to tell me something without actually saying it.
That was the last time I felt whole, like my life was completely mine and not someone else's life and I was just stuck in it.
It never went back to the way it felt before that day.
The banging on the door jolted me from my sleep. My bedside clock read 12:13. Dread swept over my body. I expected the worst. Dad was down the hall, on the couch, where he always slept. I was probably safe back here, but I worried for him. It hadn’t been very long since last time. That couldn’t be good.
“I know you’re in there!” a man shouted from outside.
I heard the door open, dad’s voice asking the man to calm down.
I blamed dad. Ever since mom died, he was a shadow of himself, slowly becoming less and less human, gambling and drinking both of our lives away. The bank would take our house any day; it was only a matter of time.
The man at the door was not from the bank.
They were cursing now. My heart was pounding in my ears. Why wouldn’t he leave?
I got out of bed and stood there in my pajamas. But there was nothing I could do. It felt terrible.
I thought about Jackson, my older brother. He was stationed in some small town on the coast of North Carolina and always trying to get me to move out to live with him. Sometimes he argued with dad about it on the phone. Dad didn’t want to let me go. I didn’t want to have to go.
I heard the door close and I held my breath. Footsteps came up the hall. My heart leapt into my throat. I couldn’t remember the last time dad came over to this side of the house, so close to their room.
Slowly, my door creaked open.
The lines on his face looked deeper somehow and his hair was almost fully gray.
I loved my dad—I truly did—but I think he might have died the day my mom did. He was never the same, and I didn’t even know if I could blame him for it.
“Jackson keeps begging me to let you go live with him.”
I nodded. I knew this well. Every time I spoke to Jackson on the phone he was telling me how he wanted to get me out of here. He’d already filled out all of the paperwork for my guardianship.
“You’ll be better off there, River. You deserve an actual life… And I’m afraid I’m in no state to give you one. I’m sorry it took this long for me to figure it out.”
There was no emotion in any of his words, and I knew it was because he had shut them all off.
So dad was finally giving up. I probably should’ve been more upset over the whole situation, but I wasn’t.
I’d known for a while that one way or another I’d end up with Jackson.
Dad closed the space between us, leaned down, and placed a quick kiss on my forehead.
I didn’t move a muscle out of shock and then he walked out of my room. The footsteps retreated down the hall, leaving me alone. I sat down on the side of the bed. Out of the emptiness, a small spark ignited inside me at the idea of starting over.
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