Drafting—Christmas Day and Invitation to Tracey’s Friday night party

Molly knew for certain her mother was deeply depressed when she didn’t knock on the bathroom door. Like yesterday morning, Molly had awakened nauseated and rushed to the toilet.

Millie’s slide had begun after she learned of Molly’s pregnancy. Somehow she’d found the energy to go Christmas shopping, but the power emanating from that maternal chore was fully depleted by dinner time. Millie had gone to bed, early, and without eating a bite. Molly had stayed up until nearly 11:00 PM, watching TV and exchanging texts with Alisha.

“Mom. Mom.” Molly stood beside her mother’s bed and kept repeating her name. Finally, Millie opened her eyes and managed the weakest of smiles.

“Here’s your Depokote, and time to open presents.” Molly thought if she acted normal and excited that might persuade her mother to do the same. Or, at least, give it a shot.

Millie sat-up, swallowed her tablets, and untangled from her covers. “I’m sorry,” she managed to whisper, not wanting the most important person in her life to know she was overwhelmed with guilt concerning Molly’s pregnancy. If only she’d never let Colton move in. If, if, if. Millie finally stood and inched to the bathroom, recalling an even worse thought she’d had, or had she dreamed it? Thoughts of suicide. Never before had it gotten this bad.

“Tomorrow, we’re going to see your psychiatrist.” Molly said from the kitchen, thinking of Dr. Ginger Hanover, the woman Millie’s Chicago psychiatrist had recommended.

Without responding, Millie motioned Molly to join her at the table. She’d insisted her mother buy a Christmas tree. Yesterday, she had, one eight inches tall. Now, it was set in the middle of the dining table, surrounded by Molly’s presents, four to be exact.

To the twelve-year-old, the size and shape of the wrapped presents told her they were books, although the larger one, flatter, might be some type of fold-out game board.

“Well, what are you waiting for?” Millie asked.

This was all the prompting Molly needed. She had little doubt Millie would buy her the novels she’d requested. The first one was It Sounded Better in my Head by Nina Kenwood. Since the second grade, Molly had always preferred coming-of-age books where the protagonist was older. Natalie was 18, a high school graduate with separated parents. She despises her appearance and has a skin disorder. Her world falls apart, including her relationship with her boyfriend. Molly hoped Natalie’s experience would help her navigate her new life in New York City.

The second book was Don’t Stop Thinking about Tomorrow by Siobhan Curham. Alisha had recommended it. Fourteen-year-old Stevie is having it rough. Her dad has passed away, leaving her mum severely depressed so she is unable to work. Stevie has a passion for her dad’s music and that is what gets her by in tough times. Again, Molly seeks a pathway to survival, maybe even happiness.

The third book was The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Another girl protagonist. This one, living in a time Hitler was gaining power over Germany. A story of tragedy and suffering, and how the protagonist copes with the pain. No doubt, all three shared the common theme of overcoming hardship to find a better life. Just what Molly needed.

The fourth present was totally unexpected. It wasn’t a board game, but a 12.9‑inch iPad Pro. “Wow. I don’t deserve this.” Molly couldn’t believe her mother had spent so much money, especially now.

Millie managed a smile and reached out and laid a hand on her daughter’s. “It’s not about deserving. It’s about the joy of seeing your eyes sparkle.” Even though she was deeply depressed, buying such an expensive gift was such a small way of saying, ‘I’m sorry for all the pain and heartache I’ve caused you.’ Millie couldn’t erase the nightmare image fixed in the center of her mind, the horrendous reality of Colton atop Molly, legs spread, him thrusting inside her. Her thoughts of payback would have continued if not for her daughter’s request.

“Okay, my turn. Please close your eyes.” Millie complied and Molly stood, walked to her back pack lying on the floor next to her bed, and removed a red and green gift wrapped box without bow. No doubt, a book. She returned, lay the gift in front of Millie, and asked, “well, what are you waiting for?”

The book was Bipolar Disorder for Dummies by Candida Fink. Molly was halfway nervous whether her choice was appropriate but had confidence her mother would know her daughter’s intent was noble. Molly had purchased the combination scholarly, self-help book at Barnes & Noble last Thursday night after her, Alisha, and her parents had eaten out at Miss Ricky’s. If Mr. Maynard didn’t get his fix of Charred Octopus at least once per month he wouldn’t survive.

“Thank you dear. I promise I’ll read it through and take its message to heart.”
The homemade Christmas card tucked inside was intended to motivate Millie to keep a long-range perspective. On the outside front, Molly had pencil-drawn the cabin her and Millie had chosen for their next-summer’s vacation. It was in the heart of the beautiful Catskill’s Mountains, and would be their reward for the trials and hardships they were guaranteed to face during their first year living in New York City.

“It’s just what I need. To the refrigerator it goes.” Millie opened the card and read Molly’s well-crafted words, ‘To the best mother in the world. I love you with all my heart and know we can survive and thrive in our new home. Never forget, we are a team forever and always.’ Millie cried and insisted Molly stand and join her in a long hug.

After thirty minutes of trying to stay awake Millie returned to bed. ‘Oh well, this is going to be a good Christmas,’ Molly thought as she sat on the couch and started flipping channels on the TV. The preliminaries to The Disney Parks Magical Christmas Day Parade were in full force but didn’t spark her interest. Instead, she decided to call Mama and Papa Anderson.

This call was overdue and had been a major point of contention since Millie had made the final decision for her and Molly to move to New York City. Once the two had decided that fleeing Colton and Chicago was their best option, Molly had argued for Sanford, North Carolina. That’s where Mama and Papa, Brad and Charlotte Anderson, lived. It was a small, safe town, with a good school system, and plenty of aunts and uncles around for support.

But, Millie had rejected the idea. For two main reasons, actually three. First, her hometown would be one of the first places Colton would look for her and Molly. Second, Millie didn’t want to work for her father. And third, she wanted to raise Molly on her own; Mama and Papa had been equally dominating when it came to Millie’s upbringing. It would be the same with Molly, even if they didn’t live in the same household.

During the bus ride, Molly had finally convinced her mother they needed to call Papa and Mama and tell them about the move. Millie had agreed they would do this on Christmas Day. Well, it’s Christmas Day and the agreement’s in place, even if Millie isn’t awake to take part. Molly looked toward her mother and listened. The breathing puffs were regular. This meant she was sound asleep.
Molly inserted her ear plugs and walked to the kitchen. It was the furtherest point in the apartment from Millie’s bed that had a wall to block sound waves.
After several rings, Papa answered. “Hello.”

“Papa, it’s Molly. Merry Christmas.” The precocious twelve-year-old’s mind was far advanced for her age but her feelings about the importance of family was underdeveloped. Molly had seen her maternal grandparents once-per-year for eleven straight years, although she didn’t recall the first few times. Out of all these annual visits, Molly had only visited Mama and Papa’s place one time, and that was two years ago. Now, something was motivating her to get to know them. It might have to do with Millie’s illness, and Molly’s fear of bad days to come.

“Hey baby. Merry Christmas to you. Hold on, let me get your grandmother.” Molly glanced around the kitchen corner. Millie was still asleep.

“What a wonderful surprise. Merry Christmas to my only granddaughter.” Mama asked where Millie was. Molly wanted to be truthful, but lied instead. Her mother had instructed her to keep her diagnosis a secret. At least for now.

“We were late sending Christmas presents, and we’ve been trying to call.” Papa said, which led into a discussion of Millie and Molly’s move to New York City and the need to ditch their old phones. She knew they hadn’t received the packages and wondered what would become of them.

“Oh my gosh. You’re mother knows we want you here. This is awful. How could she be so naive, so selfish?” Molly could sense Mama was exactly like Millie described: judgmental and controlling. “It’s always about Millie.” For the first time, Molly was glad her and her mother hadn’t moved to Sanford.

The conversation went silent. Finally, Papa said, “Mama and I are finally taking that vacation we’ve talked about for years.”

“That sounds good.” Molly hoped to travel someday, of being on her own and doing anything she wanted. “Tell me about it.”

“We’re going to Europe. We’ll fly to London, spending our first week in England and Ireland, then hopscotch to Germany, France, Italy. Our last stop will be in Athens, Greece.” Mama said.

“Wish you could come with us.” Papa said, but added, “I guess that’s not a good idea since we’ll be gone a month, and you need to be in school.” Papa sounded excited, but Millie had said since he was a lawyer he could put on a good act.

Mama announced they were leaving on the sixth, before listing all the other cities they would visit. Again, the conversation went silent. The call ended with Molly lying about someone knocking on the door.

There hadn’t been a sound coming from the front door but for some strange reason—maybe Molly’s interest in honesty—she walked outside into the hallway. No one in either direction. Instead of returning to the couch Molly ventured across the hall to an identical door. To the right of the door knob, just past the door frame, was a bronze plaque engraved with the names, Kenneth and Nita Eldridge. “Neighbors.” Molly whispered. She walked down the hall and looked at the other two doors, one across the hallway from the other. There must be four apartments per floor, all likely matching hers and Millie’s, Molly thought then remembered theirs was a studio apartment in a building with at least three different layouts: studio, one-bedroom, and two-bedroom.

Molly made a mental note of the names on the bronze plaques beside these two doors: “Rob Fitzgerald and Taylor Morgan, and Audrey Givings and Hannah Morrison. “Neighbors,” she whispered again.

The elevator dinged and Molly rushed back to her own apartment, noticing for the first time the identical plaque now beside her and Millie’s door. “Millie and Molly Anderson.” She knew it wasn’t there yesterday afternoon. The super must have installed it this morning, she thought.

Millie was still asleep, even more so now since she was snoring. Molly heated two waffles in the toaster and returned to the couch. After connecting her new iPad to the WiFi (thanks Matt or somebody), she began searching for a movie to watch. The ten minute search resulted in The Journey of Natty Gann, a choice which made Molly wonder if it was fate, God, chance, or something else that spun up this uniquely related show.

The protagonist, Natty Gann, is a 12-year-old Depression-era girl. “Now that’s weird; my age,” Molly whispered louder than in the hallway. Natty’s father previously left her in Chicago. “Now, that’s even more weird.” He goes to Washington State looking for work in the timber industry. Natty runs away to follow her father. “Now, that would be totally weird.”

She couldn’t resist. For the next hour and a half, Molly connected with Natty, following her adventures and misadventures in various farmhouses, police stations, hobo camps, reform schools, and boxcars. Molly’s favorite part was Natty being befriended by a wolf that had been abused in dog fights. Her least favorite was the near failure of Natty to find her father. Although they did unite at the end, Molly found the scene unsatisfying, even depressing. Natty is attempting to catch a ride on a truck but it gets away. That’s when she hears a voice calling her name. It’s her father. The best thing about this ending, at least to Molly, was Wolf standing atop a cliff looking down on the reunion.

After the movie ended, Molly lay across the couch and thought of her own father, and what adventures she would experience if she ran away. At least, unlike Natty, she knew exactly where her father was: a small town in North Alabama, a thousand miles away. It was past 2:00 PM when she was awakened by the vibrating of her new cell phone. It was Tracey, Tracey from the Greyhound bus ride.

This also is a little weird, Molly thought as she reached for her phone on the side table. “Hey Tracey.”

“Well, I’m impressed. You saved my phone number.” Molly had entered it into Contacts as soon as Tracey departed the bus in King of Prussia.

“I did, hoping to reconnect.” Things were just strange today. During her hallway investigation Molly had thought about Tracey, even hoping to see her name, Tracey Dawson, on one of the bronze plaques. The thought was silly because her bus friend had told her where she lived, the Glenwood Building, which obviously wasn’t the building her and Millie now called home.
There was some traditional Christmas music playing in the background, a little surprising to Molly who’d pegged Tracey more as an alternative genre type.

“Girl, you’re spot on. That’s exactly why I’m calling. How about Friday night? My place. For dinner.”

Millie was starting to stir. She’d already thrown down her covers and was untangling her feet from the sheet and thermal blanket. “Who’s that?”

Molly held out her phone and whispered. “It’s Tracey. Remember?” The invitation was good news to Molly. She was already tired of being stuck on the tenth floor. She needed something to look forward to.
“Sounds good to me but I better ask Mom.”

“Oh, she’s also invited. It’s just a small gathering of family and friends.” Tracey said, knowing the mother-daughter team might be a little lonely in a city of nine million.

Molly laid her phone on the table and walked to Millie. She was sitting on the edge of her bed staring out the window. “Mom, Tracey wants us to come to her place for dinner Friday night.”

A social event was the last thing Millie wanted but remembered how quickly Molly and Tracey had connected during their bus ride, and the meal they’d shared in Pittsburg. A baby-sitter type, no, a friend and companion for Molly might be needed someday. “I guess we can. If you want to.” Millie paused, stood, and headed toward the bathroom. “Ask her what time and if we can bring anything.”

Molly returned to the couch and her cell phone. “Tracey, we’d love to. What time?”

“How about seven?” The two talked another minute or so, mainly about the remaining bus ride after Tracey departed, and the specifics of her address. The call ended with Molly winning the argument over bringing a dessert. Millie’s Keylime pie was the twelve-year-old’s favorite.

Author: Richard L. Fricks

Former CPA, attorney, and lifelong wanderer. I'm now a full-time skeptic and part-time novelist. The rest of my time I spend biking, gardening, meditating, photographing, reading, writing, and encouraging others to adopt The Pencil Driven Life.

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