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Happiness Comes With a Price

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I don't know how long I was out, but I now find myself at the Illinois train station. I get off the train and check a map and the time. Mom isn't expecting me for another few hours and the bus station is only a few blocks away. I decide that I'll just walk home. I remember the way, after all. In half an hour I'm standing outside of my childhood house. I can't just open the door anymore, so I knock on the wooden frame.

"Just a minute," I hear my mom's voice. She swings open the door, "Charlie?"

"I know you weren't expecting me for awhile, but-" she cuts me off with a tight hug.

"No, no! That's alright! Come in, come in! Let me take those," she rushes on and on as she takes my bags. She reaches up and smoothes my hair, "it's getting a bit long, don't you think?" I smile. I knew she would notice. She stops just inside the living room and hugs me again, "I just can't believe you're really here." She's crying. I'm crying. I'm trying to man up and hide my tears, but I can't. The last time I was here we didn't stay long and the tense air was stale between my mom and dad so I hardly had time to register anything. We hug for a good five minutes before I pull back.

"I have to call dad," I say, "I promised him."

"Of course! He'll want to know you're safe," Mom rushes. I know she still cares for dad, but... everything is just too hard. I dial the number and he picks up in one ring.

"Hello?"

"Dad, it's Charlie," I tell him, "I'm with Mom, now."

"You- you are?" he stutters out, "you aren't due there for another few hours."

"Uhh, not a lot of traffic, I guess," I lie.

"Alright," he then sighs, "so, when are... when are you coming home?" I think about it.

"Right before school starts, maybe?" I say slowly. Dad is silent on the other end.

"Yes. That's sounds good... Buddy," he uses my old pet name.

"Thanks, Dad," I smile, "I'll call you every week. Bye."

"Bye, Son," he hangs up the phone. I hang up the phone and head to the kitchen.

"I was starting to fix dinner. I- um... I don't know what you like now, but I was going to fix pork chops. I know you used to like them, at least," she looks back down at the meat in her hands. I sidle up behind her and put my chin on her shoulder.

"As long as there's no corn for dinner, we're okay," I tell her. She laughs.. I knew this visit would be hard, but I didn't realize it would be this hard on the both of us, "is... is my room still upstairs?" She looks up and nods, sadly.

"I could only get to one room," she tells me with meaning. I have a small inkling as to what she means, but I refuse to believe it until I see it. I take my stuff up the stairs and set it by the door. I quietly open my old door. I take in my surroundings. Everything is basically untouched. I spot my old tomahawk I would pretend to be an Indian with. Further still I look. I breathe in sharply as I spot something that takes me back. I stoop down next to my old nightstand and pick it up. I examine it as I had all those years ago. It's not quite as shiny as it was, but it's still just as mysterious. It's the marble that Emily Book tried to give to me as a peace offering. I hadn't wanted it then, or when I found it directly after she left. But now... now it's a sign of the times before. I pocket it and trudge back down the stairs. Even though this was my house, it feels... cold. Like I could never be happy here. Not that I ever really was. Not that I ever will be... but I can't settle down. I restlessly walk around the main floor. I desperately want to look, but old childish rules hold me back. I lean my forehead against the cool wall just outside her door. I don't remember walking down this hall, but I'm here, now. Slowly, I nudge open the door. It's still a bedroom, but... it's no longer pink. The walls have been painted black and I see little stick on stars on the ceiling. The bedspread is yellow, which is quite a contrast to the walls, and the bed is more of a daybed... it's no longer the bed that Sara slept in. The cabinet that used to be full of Sara's clothes is newly stained and full of little odds and ends. There's a soft knock at the door and I whirl around.

"I..." I can't speak. My mom shakes her head.

"It's alright, Charlie. You're allowed in here. It's just a sewing room," she tells me.

"Only a sewing room..." I whisper to myself.

"Come on," Mom holds out a hand, "dinner's ready."

We sit in almost complete silence. Mom just looks at me every once in awhile. Dinner is halfway over before anything is said.

"So, how are... things?" she asks me.

"Things are... okay," I answer, "Dad and I have a system." It wasn't a lie. He drops me off at school and then goes to work. I skate home on my skateboard and Dad is home by eight. He never asks me about homework, but I always do it. I know Mom would have my head if I didn't.

"Good, good," she says, "are all the girls chasing you, or are they running from that hair of yours?" I freeze. Yes, I had a girlfriend once. But it'll stir up bad memories... for the both of us. I can't tell her here... not now.

"Oh... you know... more into school," I lie. She can see right through me and gives me a look.

"You can tell me, Charlie. You're father and I were there once," she tells me. I take a deep breath.

"Yeah, there was one girl, but we aren't together anymore," I give in, "and that's okay. We just weren't working." Mom nods. I specifically left out the her name... I dated a Sarah.

"It happens. But you'll find someone," she smiles as she stands, "finished? I'll take that." She picks up my plate and carries it to the sink. She turns around slowly as if she just remembered something, "Charlie..."

"Yeah?" I ask. I have a sinking feelings, as if I forgot something.

"Wednesday is..." she turns back around, "never mind." I stand and go over to her.

"No, what is it?" I demand. I want her to say it.

"Wednesday is the anniversary," she says gently. I nod slowly.

"I'll go with you, Mom. Don't worry," I assure her. She nods. I envelope her into a hug. Her head only comes up to my chest; just like on my dad. She pulls back to look at me. She's still gripping my arms.

"When did you get so tall?" she asked, giving me a smile.

"About seventh grade," I answer honestly. She pats my shoulder.

"Well," she sobers up, "what would you like to do?" I think about it and realize I have no plan. I shrug.

"Whatever you would like to do," I tell her.

"There's a movie store just two blocks over. Do you remember where Shirley's Hat Store used to be? That's the building. You can pick up anything you'd like," she says. I take the money from her hand and start walking. When I get there, I rent "The Fugitive". When I get back to the house Mom has made popcorn and is setting up for the movie.

"It's an action movie," I tell her.

"Perfect," she says as she puts the movie in an sits down on the two person couch. She pats the space next to her as the commercials start.

The movie is thrilling and captivating. We have a great time, but before we know it, the movie's over and it's time for bed. "That was a great movie, Charlie. Thanks for picking it out," she says.

"No problem," I reply, "but I'm going to get ready for bed, now." We say goodnight and I head up the stairs to my old room. I change into my pajama pants, wash my face, and brush my teeth. Then, I walk across the hall to my old room. I'm a bit apprehensive about tonight, but I have to sleep so I'm alert for Wednesday.