I packed a bag slowly. Jenny was already gone and having my own room again was nice. Randy stuck his head in to say goodbye, but I didn’t have the strength to have a conversation with anybody just then. I got undressed and put on a comfy pair of leggings and a sweatshirt. The weather had finally turned last week and it was now so cold outside I would need a hat and a scarf. I didn’t bother packing anything nice, I could always borrow something from Brooke if Mom made us dress up which she was sometimes prone to do. I just grabbed a pair of jeans for the weekend, a t-shirt and my laptop bag and got ready to walk to the train.
Outside of my room the hallways were silent. It seemed as if everyone who was leaving was gone already, the only people still here from out of town who couldn’t make it back for the holiday. Randy said they were having their own meal in the lounge, the RA’s who were staying chosen to cook the turkey and everyone else chipping in for side dishes. It sounded fun and if I hadn’t had family on the other side of the bridge I might have considered it but as it was I was excited as hell to get back and see everyone. I barely got to speak to Brooke so I had no idea how it was going in Queens, and traveling there had been out of the question. I had asked a bunch of times the first month of classes she made some excuse how it wasn’t ready and her roommates didn’t want guests until the apartment was set up. I got the feeling she didn’t really want me over and I wanted to question her about it but with school work and then all the hanging out with Jenny I was doing I just didn’t have the time. Now was the perfect opportunity to question Brooke on her distance.
The walk to the train was cold, the wind blowing my hat off my head so that I had to run and catch it before it fell into the dirty gutter. I tucked the ends of my scarf inside my jacket so they wouldn’t whip everywhere and pulled my hat more firmly over my curls. The strands were everywhere, in my eyes, in my mouth, so I tucked them underneath my collar and made it to the train feeling like the three block walk closer resembled the trek up a mountain. The train was empty when I got on, and it was a fast ride into Brooklyn where I transferred to a bus and made it home in good time.
Mom and Dad were already there, and since they took the day off from work they couldn’t drive me back. But they were both waiting for me when I walked through the door, the sweet smell of sweet potato pie baking in the oven the overwhelming scent. I sniffed in deeply the aroma of cinnamon while Mom walked into the front room.
“Parker!,” she called joyfully, opening up her arms. I gave her a big hug. “Sorry we couldn’t pick you up today, did you have a good train ride.”
“It was fine mom,” I said muffled into her shirt. “I’ve missed you.”
“We’ve missed you too honey,” she said back, gripping me tightly. “Come see what I’ve prepared though. Are you hungry, do you want to eat something? Have you been making food there?”
“I’m actually starving,” I said honestly, my stomach giving a big rumble just then. I hadn’t eaten anything today except for my normal breakfast of cereal, having skipped lunch to get ready to come back home. “But I’m not sure if I should bother eating or save my appetite for tonight.” No matter how many people we had over Mom always made enough for leftovers for a week. I was looking forward to her cooking and I wanted to keep an empty stomach for everything. She led me into the kitchen. There was already a table full of things made, green beans, mashed potatoes, a pumpkin pie. The smell was coming from a sweet potato dish that was my favorite that was coming out of the oven in a couple of minutes. The turkey still needed two hours but from experience I knew as soon as it was ready we would all sit down to eat.
“Parker!,” Dad said happily. “Welcome back kiddo.” I ran to him and gave him a hug. He was walking down the stairs looking tired. “I was just napping,” he told me secretly. “Saving my energy to digest all this food.”
“Henry,” Mom called. “I need your help, I told you, can you run to the store and pick up that list I sent you?”
“Sure Honey, I’m going. Want to come Parker?”
“I actually really want to shower.” A shower fully stocked with all the amenities of home. That sounded wonderful. “Is Brooke back yet?”
“Not yet, she’s on her way. She should be here soon.” Dad left and I went upstairs to my room thinking quickly of how to answer the questions that were sure to come. I didn’t want to tell them I was failing school. They would be so disappointed. They were so excited when I got in after working so hard in high school and having no social life. Not that that was by choice. Now that I had more popularity I was realizing that the choices I had made throughout all of my life might have just been based on a deep seated shyness I possessed that once shook off no longer prevented me from going out and partying. I still knew I didn’t want to fail out of college. If I left I wanted it to be my choice, and so far I wasn’t ready to leave yet. So I would just lie through my teeth and tell them how well I was doing and redirect it to Brooke. Hopefully the distraction when they asked her questions would prevent her from noticing what was going on with me. She was always so perceptive to what was going on in my mind but I knew she wouldn’t be happy with my decision.
When I got out of the shower I heard Brooke in her room. I made to knock but heard her on the phone and left it until after I changed.
Mom was in her room and came out to tell me it was a fancy occasion and to put on a dress. Apparently Aunt Stacey was coming, and she would be horrified if I wasn’t looking my best. I rolled my eyes but it was nothing new and decided that now would be a good time to go bother Brooke.
There was a low murmering going on behind the closed door which was almost never closed as far as I could remember, and I knocked quickly, turning the knob to come in. But it was locked. I jiggled it again, confused. Brooke never locked her door.
“Brooke?,” I called. The muttering stopped immediately. There was a pause.
“Hey Parker,” Brooke called. “Do you need something?”
“Um, I wanted to know if I could borrow a dress for tonight? Mom said we have to look nice, Aunt Stacey is coming and I kind of didn’t bring any clothes back from college.” Why was I explaining myself from behind the closed door? “Are you OK Brooke? Can you open the door?”
“I’m fine, hold on!” there was the sound of footsteps and the key in the lock and then the door was open. I threw my arms around her but got a halfhearted pat on the back in response.
“You’re being weird,” I said stepping back. “Who were you talking to before?”
“I wasn’t talking to anyone,” Brooke shot back quickly. “I was just organizing some things. I’m fine, I’m just a little tired, I was out late last night.” She put a bright smile on and I decided to let it go. “So how’s college going little sis? You making everyone proud? Is it hard? Getting good grades?”
I shrugged, trying to look modest. “Oh, you know. It’s alright. I work hard. I’ve become pretty good friends with Jenny. We’re together basically every night.”
Partying but I wasn’t going to say that part. I looked around the room searching for something to ask. “So how is the apartment? You guys finally get everything you need? It has been, like, almost three months.”
“Yeah, everything in order, finally. I’m not home a lot, I’ve been picking up a lot of shifts at the bakery that’s a couple of blocks away from me. I have experience so they hired me pretty fast, but they won’t let make bake anything on my own yet. They say they still need to train me.” She said this all very quickly as if it was rehearsed. I decided to just choose a dress and be done with it. I wanted to have time to do my makeup to impress everyone with what I learned. Hopefully they wouldn’t ask how I had so much time for learning makeup what with all the studying and going to class I should have been doing….
I walked over to her closet and was stretching my hand to open the door when Brooke suddenly said angrily, “Excuse me? What are you doing?”
Shocked, my heart beating fast at the sudden outburst, I turned to her huffily. “You said I could borrow something to wear right?”
“I actually don’t think I did,” she said back nastily.
“Well, can I?”
“Fine,” she said, waving her hand as if she didn’t care. “Go ahead.” She looked at me intensely as I opened the door and took my pick, choosing a black swing dress with lace sleeves. I had some purple tights in my drawer that would look pretty cool with this, and I just wanted to get away from Brooke until she took a nap or something. She was cranky.
“Ok, thank you,” I said shortly and turned to walk out. Behind me Brooke gave a sigh of relief and closed the door practically on my back.
I stalked to my room even though no one was watching me and there was no one to perform for. I just didn’t know why she was acting like such a jerk. We hadn’t seen each other in forever, didn’t she miss me? Maybe she was just tired. I decided to not say anything and wait for her to come around.
Back in my room I continued getting ready, putting a generous amount of mousse in my hair and scrunching it up like Jenny taught me, and then blow drying it slightly so it wouldn’t have that crunchy look and texture. I applied some light mascara and a deep red lipstick and then examined myself critically in the mirror. I wondered if people were going to be weirded out by my changed look? I had always been a huge tomboy, not caring at all about my appearance, but a couple of months of fun with a roommate that fancied herself a makeup artist and voila! I changed. I was still me, I just put a little more effort occasionally into my look. There was nothing wrong with that.
I decided against shoes. I wasn’t going to walk around in heels for god’s sake.
Mom called up to me as I pursed my lips at my phone, taking a selfie for my instagram later, just like Jenny taught me.
“Parker! Can you come downstairs when you’re done please and set the table?”
That was always my job at these fancy dinner events. I tossed my hair over my shoulder, glad that it was keeping its form, and sped down the stairs. I swung around the banister into the kitchen.
“Sure Mom! Fancy china and all? Only Aunt Stacey is coming?”
Mom’s head was in the oven, busy checking the turkey to make sure it was coming out fine. “Yeah, and her boyfriend,” she said brightly, unfolding herself to face me. Her eyes took on an open wide expression. “Parker! You look beautiful! Look at you, all grown up!”
I spun around for her benefit. “Thanks! My roommate finally taught me how to tame my hair and a little bit of makeup advice. You like?” I threw her a kissy face. “I got this at sephora as a sample.”
“Oh, you’re so grown up! Three months away from home and you’re someone else entirely! A woman! Wait until Dad sees!”
“Wait until Dad sees what?,” Dad called from downstairs. Apparently he had heard his name even over the sound of the football game he was watching.
“Parker is coming, Henry!”
I made my way downstairs, feeling foolish that I felt so good. It was just a new look, right? Evidently that wasn’t true.
Dad nodded appreciatively. “You look more beautiful every time I see you kiddo.”
I went to give him a hug and then made my way back upstairs to set the table for six.
There were fancy chargers with the nice china that we had along with glasses and freshly polished silverware. I set a bottle of wine in the center of the table and finished off with the new linen napkins Mom bought going in a roll on the center of each plate. Aunt Stacey was on her way over and Mom said she would be only a couple of more minutes when I finished. Brooke was still in her room, and I was itching for someone to call her down. I had yet to see a change in attitude. I had yet to see her at all. She would have to make it down for turkey though. She loved turkey, and she loved dressing up. Only when Aunt Stacey rang the doorbell did I hear footsteps on the stairs and Brooke coming down wearing an overly large sweater dress that on her looked chic and effortless. Her short hair had grown a little longer and was curling lightly, making a reach towards her shoulders. She smiled at Aunt Stacey and was first to hug her even though I had been sitting in the living room, waiting.
“Brooke! You look beautiful as always. I love your hair. Very in.” She turned to me. “Parker! Wow, you are not the same little girl I saw just a year ago. Little college star now, aren’t we?”
Aunt Stacey was Mom’s little sister, younger than her by ten years and therefore pretty close in age to both Brooke and I. She was extremely tan, as she made her way around the world writing stories for her travel blog. She had a different man every time she came around, and promised that she would never settle. She was a pretty cool aunt to say the least, but she still sometimes liked to act much older than us even though she must have been in her low thirties. Brooke and her were closer when she was younger. Aunt Stacey used to come over all the time to babysit her, and then me as well. But time passed and as I got older, and Brooke and I grew closer, Aunt Stacey stopped coming and found this dream of travel. Sometimes I thought that she only wanted to be a part of the family, one of the kids, but since she couldn’t she traveled as far as possible to get away. We saw her on holidays, though, and for me that was enough. It was as if she resented me ever so slightly for taking away her first and favorite niece from her. None of this was ever mentioned out loud of course. It was all hushed up, family politics. Every family has them.
Brooke gave me a look and motioned me to the kitchen. I followed her in, hoping now there would be an explanation.
“I’m sorry Parker for before. I’m just exhausted and wired and I hadn’t taken my meds….” her excuses rolled on but I was just focused on one thing she said. Brooke took meds. Nothing serious, but she had ADHD and she took ritalin to focus. If I could get my hands on some of that it would be perfect. I could focus and study whenever I wanted and stop with all the things I let distract me. I could pass Professor Ping’s class, as well as all the others I’m sure I was failing but none of the teachers were nice enough to warn me of. I needed to get my hands on some of her pills. Not a lot, not enough that she would notice, but enough for me to pass the semester.
“Hug?” Brooke finished. I caught basically nothing of what she had said but entered her proffered hands and squeezed her back.
We walked back into the living room, Brooke whispering into my ear, “And by the way, you look amazing. Keep that dress, you wear it better.”
I stood up straighter, feeling confident with the compliment.
If you’re wondering why I didn’t ask for help, or how I could steal medication from the person I looked up to most in the world, I really have no answer. I still think about what would have happened if I had just asked Brooke to have it, but at the time I was too embarrassed. I didn’t want her to know how hard school was, how I was barely even trying anymore, and how I was almost failing out. I didn’t want her to know any of that. I just wanted to impress her when I graduated and became something of myself, or when I got a good mark on a paper. She didn’t need to know about how hard it was for me.
She only needed to be proud.
The meal started off fine with Aunt Stacey’s boy toy who was called James delighting us all in some very racy stories involving our aunt. I was feeling a little disgruntled at the fact that Mom wouldn’t let me drink wine even though she let me all the time. But in front of guests she was strict on this. Not until I was twenty one. There was always an image we had to maintain. Everyone else was drinking though and I felt very frustrated. I managed between bringing out the dishes to take a few healthy swallows of the wine Mom used to cook with (read: to drink while she cooked) and felt better with the alcohol swirling around my veins.
They stayed for a while after the meal, Dad falling asleep on the couch and Mom and Stacey gossiping right next to him. I could see James getting bored but avoided entertaining him by offering to bring everything back into the kitchen. Brooke got saddled with babysitting duties.
That night, after Aunt Stacey had said her goodbyes and we were all just slightly drunk and ready for bed, after Mom had piled all the dishes next to think sink begging tiredness and claiming she would do it tomorrow, after everything was quiet and the only that that could be heard in the house was the sound of the ticking clock, I crept to Brooke’s room. I pressed my ear gently against the keyhole to make sure she was breathing evenly. I didn’t know where she kept them so I would need time to search through her room and find any medicine containers. I also wasn’t sure how much she had left. If she was due for a refill soon then I was screwed. I couldn’t take any if it would be too obvious. I didn’t want her to find out about this ever. And if there was a full container of them then hopefully me grabbing a couple wouldn’t make her suspicious. I doubt she counted them out daily to make sure there was a certain amount.
A deep and heavy rhythmic breathing was coming out from behind the door. I breathed a sigh of relief. Ok, she was sleeping, hopefully heavily enough that she wouldn’t hear me creeping around. I slowly turned the knob and pushed the door open.
Except it wouldn’t budge. I jiggled it gently and tried again but the door stayed put. My tired brain put two and two together and I realized that the door was locked.
What the heck? Why would Brooke lock the door? Ever since we were young Mom and Dad had ingrained in us to never lock the door when we went to bed. It was dangerous, if there was a fire and we needed to leave the house quickly then they wanted to know that they could get in and wake us up. It used to scare us so much that when we were kids that we would sleep with our doors wide open and only stopped when we became teenagers and realized it was silly. So why was Brooke locking her door?
I debated going to get a bobby pin and trying to unlock it from the outside, but it would make too much noise as I fiddled around and I nixed the idea. I still had the rest of the weekend to try to steal some, it was only Thursday night. I told myself that I would try again tomorrow. I went back to my room and got under the covers, falling asleep instantaneously. Crime was exhausting work.
The next day the opportunity came quicker than expected. Brooke said she had an errand to run for the apartment, they wanted her to check out some furniture store. She didn’t offer me to tag along and I didn’t ask. This would be a great time to go check her room. I could be as loud as I wanted and take my time. Her bedroom window looked out onto the street and I would get plenty of warning of when she returned home. Not that I thought it would take me that long to find what I was looking for. Mom and Dad were at the office so I really had the whole place to myself.
“Bye Parker,” Brooke called to me while bundling herself up in many layers in order to walk out of the front door. Overnight it had snowed a tiny flurry and while it didn’t stick at all her front windshield was covered in white flakes. She had to spend time scraping it off before she could drive anywhere.
“Bye Brooke!,” I called back, urging her on. I wasn’t going to go into her room before she pulled out of her parking spot, and even then I would wait a couple of minutes to make sure she wasn’t turning back because she forgot something. I’ve seen the movies. I’d rather not get caught with my pants down.
She used a brush to get all the snow out of the way and finally she was out. I finished my coffee in silence, savoring the peace that was denied me while living in a dorm in the middle of New York City. Finally I deemed it safe enough and climbed the stairs to her bedroom. I found myself tiptoeing and laughed at myself scornfully. Her door was closed again and I was nervous it would be locked again as well. I turned the doorknob and felt the catch give and the door slowly creak open. Perfect. I knew I could jiggle the lock and open it myself but I didn’t want to take any time away from the search in case this furniture store escapade turned out to be quicker than I thought.
Her room was tidy as usual, her clothes from last night lying neatly over the back of her desk chair. Her carry on suitcase she had brought home for the weekend was tucked in the corner, empty except for some socks and underwear. That was unfortunate since I had expected them to be there. A terrifying thought came to me just then. What if she had them on her right at that moment? What if she carried them in her purse all the time? I lost my will to keep checking and half heartedly moved around some papers on her desk. Underneath them all was a page full of doodles, and I admired them all. Brooke could draw quite well, even when she wasn’t trying and was whiling away the time, and I saw tiny little fairies and with wings dancing across the page. I put the papers back on top and stacked them back to the position that they were in.
I opened up all her drawers but most were empty. She had moved out, after all. Most of her belongings now resided over in her apartment that I had yet to see. Her toiletry bag was hanging over the closet door and I almost brushed it aside when I saw the notorious bottle in one of the pockets. I opened the zipper and took it out, checking the label to make sure it was what I needed. Across the top it said Methylphenidate, prescribed to Palmer, Brooke. For a second my heart sank but then the smart girl in me did a quick Google search and found out that that was the scientific name. The bottle was clear and through it I could see loads of pills all tumbling around in there, urging to be taken. I eyes them critically. How many could I get away with taking?
And then I immediately felt bad. Brooke actually needed this medication. It was hard for her to focus and while she was no longer in school anymore that was now presented as an issue while she was working. Even sometimes when she wrote songs she would pop one. I didn’t want to deny her her productivity. How much did I really need? I brought up my final schedule and saw which days I had them. If I took only a couple before my math one and my science one I should be fine. I would just have to work extra hard on my other two but those were the ones I was doing slightly better in. They came easier to me. I decided I would take five, since that was the maximum amount that could be taken without being obvious. I shook them out and closed the bottle up again, giving it another look. It didn’t seem as if anything was different. I should be able to get away with it. I placed the bottle back where I found it and hooked the toiletry bag back over the closet door. I walked quickly out of the room, closing the door behind me, my heart beating very fast. I felt relieved that I had gotten them but also a bit sad that that was what I had to resort to in order to pass college. I vowed to myself that I would do better next semester. And never ever would this come to Brooke’s attention.
Brooke came back twenty minutes later and found me lounging downstairs watching TV. It was lunch time and she offered to take me somewhere to eat but I declined. I could barely look her in the eyes, much less spend time sitting across from her at a table with just the two of us. She shrugged and climbed back up the stairs, and I heard pots banging around in the kitchen. She was making pasta, I was sure of it. Pasta with cheese and her homemade tomato sauce. My mouth watered but my stomach flipped over itself with nerves. I knew that if she would take a good look at my face she would know instantaneously what I had done.
I sat downstairs for as long as I possibly could, my eyes staring unfocused at whatever was on the screen. Eventually the aroma of her sauce starting wafting its way down towards me and my stomach gave a rumble.
“Parker! Pasta!,” Brooke’s voice calling down to me. Even though I hadn’t said I wanted any she made extra.
I debated calling up that I didn’t want any but just gave it up. I came into the kitchen and sat down across from her, putting some pasta in a bowl and spooning some sauce over it. She passed me the cheese and I sprinkled some on top. I avoided her gaze.
“Everything all right?”
“M’fine,” I mumbled over my food. “Tired.”
Sleepiness. The best excuse for everything.
“Yeah, me too.” Oh no, now she was trying to get into a conversation with me. I looked down at my bowl. The pasta turned unappetizing and my stomach tied itself in knots. I was in danger of spilling my guts to my closest friend, my confident, if I didn’t abort this conversation, and soon.
“I’m actually not so hungry anymore, I’m going to my room to take a nap.”
I saw her face had a hurt expression on it, I was sure she didn’t understand what was happening but I walked away anyways, the only thing I could do.
Safe in my room I lay down on my bed and thought about my decisions that had brought me here to this moment. I felt alone, so I went out to parties. And then it became too hard for me to balance that and keep up with my classes. But why did I feel so alone? Couldn’t I find people in the school I could hang out with who were also good students? I vowed to study hard but also to stop being friends with Jenny when I got back. She was a bad influence. She made me into this person I hated.