Bobby Big Boy pushes out a few grape-size pellets of poo, squatting somehow regally with a seriously determined look on his face, as if he were a mini sphinx thinking up some kick-ass riddle. I learned all about sphinxes freshman year, when we read Oedipus Rex. If you don’t know this already, Oedipus had sex with his mom, which is very very whack—even more so than Billy Budd spilling soup on Claggart. We have to read crazy books in high school, let me tell you.

I walk to the storage bin under the windows of the passenger side of Hello Yellow, open up her underbelly, and pull out my trash bag of clothes. I sniff armpits and crotches until I find my purple scoop-neck sweater and a basic pair of jeans. Bra and underwear were changed yesterday, so no worries there. Changing outside sucks because of the cold and the snowy slush underfoot, making your socks wet no matter how hard you try to balance on your boots when changing pants.


Dressed for school, still wearing three jackets instead of one winter coat, I walk back into Hello Yellow, BBB trailing in his dapper plaid coat; I grab my backpack, exit Hello Yellow, BBB trailing, and say, “Will you eat something today, Mom?”

“Oh, sure,” she says, lighting up a fresh cancer stick. She forces a smile, but she is looking at something just above my hair and will not make eye contact. I’m afraid she might start crying, so I kiss her on the cheek, walk away, lift BBB over the fence and then hop my way out of the school bus compound.

Mom’s not-eating started at an exact moment, which I can pinpoint. It’s a good moment gone bad. Here is the all-time Amber-and-her-mom moment number six:

Two Thanksgivings ago, when A-hole Oliver was just beginning to show his true colors and Mom was just beginning to slip, she decided that she was going to make this killer traditional Thanksgiving meal with a real turkey and stuffing and cranberry sauce and gravy and wine and candles and everything else that most people have on Thanksgiving. This might not sound like a big deal to you, but Mom and I had never had a real Thanksgiving dinner before, and buying all the ingredients wiped out what little savings Mom had. True.

We got up very early on Thanksgiving morning to get the bird into Oliver’s oven. And then we began preparing all of the side dishes while listening to this CD of Frank Sinatra doing Christmas music, which Mom had bought at the grocery store when she was splurging, because she is a big Sinatra fan.

This very morning—cooking with Mom—is one of my all-time favorite memories, because I had never seen her so happy, the two of us listening to Old Blue Eyes, as Mom calls Frank Sinatra.

Oliver got out of bed around ten and immediately went down the hall of the apartment building to drink with his friend and watch football, which was fine with Mom and me, because we were having such a great mom-and-daughter moment and I hated Oliver from the get-go.

I set the table really nicely, even making origami-swan place cards, and got the candles going so that Oliver’s dingy small apartment actually felt sorta festive and alive.

When the turkey was ready mid-afternoon, Mom had me go down the hall to get Oliver while she cut the meat, but when I knocked on the door of his friend’s apartment, no one answered.

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We waited an hour for Oliver to come home before we started eating without him.

I knew that Mom was really sad that Oliver blew off her big meal—what she had spent all of her hard-earned savings on and spent so much time preparing—so I tried to make a big deal about everything and ate until I felt I was going to puke.

Mom hardly touched any of her food and just sorta stared at her plate while I shot so many compliments at her.

Oliver still wasn’t home by the time we had put the leftovers into Tupperware and washed the dishes.

So Mom and I sat down on the couch and watched TV.

Jurassic Park was playing on one of the few channels we got, and I was all snuggled up in a blanket with my head in Mom’s lap, taking in all the awesome dinosaurs, when she started to cry. So I sat up and held my mom for a long time while she cried and cried.

When she finished crying, she wiped her eyes and said, “Amber, you’re the best thing about my life.”

Oliver walked in all drunk right then, and Mom hustled herself into the kitchen to fix him a plate of food. I watched her dote on him, pretending not to care about his blowing off her meal, while he stuffed his drunken face. From the couch, as I watched them, I knew that I would never allow a man to treat me how Oliver treated my mother. And I began to believe that Mom knew this too—that I really wasn’t going to be like her—and maybe knowing that I would not have an Oliver in my future somehow made her life a little bit better.

I liked being the best thing in my mother’s life, even if I did wish that her life was a whole lot better than it actually was. Her telling me that on the couch as we watched Jurassic Park, it was sorta like a moment for me.

Back in the present, as I walk the cold mile to Ricky’s house, B Thrice circles my heels like a maniac, and sometimes he runs through my legs when I take a long stride. Because I’m a chick, I like to pretend I’m Dorothy, BBB is Toto, and we’re walking on the frickin’ Yellow Brick Road, just about to meet some interesting friends who will help us melt the Wicked Witch. It’s a pretty dumb fantasy, especially since Judy Garland was so super-mega beautiful and most boys would rather kiss the Tin Man—or even a flying butt-monkey—than swap spit with yours truly.

But I like skipping and singing.

It’s maybe even my favorite.

There is no one out on the streets at the crack of ass, so I let loose with a couple of verses and suddenly I’m off to see the wizard in my mind. I’m a freak. True. But it ain’t like I’m hurting anybody, and Bobby Big Boy gets a big bang out of the fantasy too, I know because the very second I start singing and skipping he goes mad, jumping like some tiny furry ballerina. And BBB can JUMP—like—three feet into the air, which is pretty good considering that he is only maybe twelve little inches tall.

And then I’m at Ricky’s, so I key into the back door, using my very own key that Donna made for me a while back.

By the refrigerator, BBB has a little setup—two bowls that are Phillies red, because Ricky likes the Philadelphia Phillies and so does Donna. Donna spoils B3 with the wet stuff in cans. No dry crap for him. I feed my pup and he eats merrily, his little tail going like a frickin’ windshield wiper.

Next I unload the dishwasher, which doesn’t take all that long.

Today is omelet day, so I crack a half-dozen or so eggs into a big old silver bowl, add milk, and then whisk the hell out of it all. I find tomatoes and mushrooms and a red pepper in the vegetable drawer, so I chop that hooey up like a pro, using one of Donna’s super expensive knives and a thick-ass chopping board.

All those sliced veggies go into my silver bowl.

I add pepper, salt, a dash of hot sauce, and a shot of tequila from the liquor cabinet, which is my newest secret omelet ingredient. When it comes to cooking, I can get quite loopy. The alcohol will get cooked out, and it’s only a single shot split between three servings, so no worries about getting drunk before school or anything like that.

I spray the frying pan with Pam, and then let it get good and hot, while I halve oranges and put Donna’s automatic juicer to use.

Bobby Big Boy has finished his breakfast and is lying on his back in the middle of the kitchen floor so that his tiny legs are in the air and I can see he has a stiffy, which is gross. But I don’t want him to feel self-conscious, especially since lying on his back with a full belly is his second favorite, next to pissing, so I pretend I do not notice.

It takes three to four oranges to make a tiny glass of juice, and I end up using twelve, just so Ricky, Donna, and I will get all the vitamin C we need to fight frickin’ colds and whatnot.

The pan is not quite hot enough yet, so I retrieve the newspaper from the driveway, remove the plastic wrapper, and put the paper on Donna’s seat.

I set the table and put on coffee.

The pan is popping now so I pour some omelet jizz onto the metal and let it spread out into a perfect O.

When it gets hard enough, I fold over the yellow O into a D and flip it a few times, until the outside gets golden brown.

“Amber, someday you really have to let me cook for you. I’m getting to feel like Thomas Jefferson every time I come down into my kitchen and see you slaving away. You’re robbing me of all my Mom-ness and making me feel like writing some sort of proclamation or something.”

I just smile dumbly at Donna and shake my head—spatula in hand—like a moron.

Donna is my hero—plain and simple.

Sometimes, when she is being extra cool, I can do little more than marvel at her.

I admire Donna more than anyone.

I want to be Donna.

She grew up on the other side of the tracks, as they say. Her father was a truck driver, her mother died of cancer when she was seven, but she kicked butt in school and got a scholarship to Bryn Mawr College, which is a school for women who do not need a man to take care of them. She kicked butt at Bryn Mawr, earning a scholarship to Harvard Law School, where she became a lawyer. She wanted to have a child but not a husband, so she purchased some sperm and had Ricky, who turned out to be autistic, which did not freak her out at all, even though the sperm was supposedly screened for potential birth defects or something like that. She loves the hooey out of Ricky, and will kick your butt if you mess with her boy.

Donna is model tall with naturally blond shoulder-length hair. She wears these very cool business suits that are sexy in a serious womanly way, and she sports these killer heels every day. Men must seriously dig her, I’m sure. She drives a black Mercedes SUV that can fit all five members of the Franks Freak Force Federation—which is one of the awesome team names me and my closest friends, my boys, call ourselves—we all fit in the SUV if we put Chad on someone’s lap, and Donna is always carting us around, because she digs freaky teenagers like me and the rest of The Five.

Ever since I first made friends with Ricky back in elementary school, she has let me call her Donna, and she is always doing cool things for me, like buying Bobby Big Boy food and letting him crash in her home when I am at school, even after he ripped up her leather couch, because he gets separation anxiety when I’m not around.

Plus, I used to steal her makeup, when I first went through puberty and started feeling the need to look pretty, and Donna wears—like—only the most expensive department store hooey too. I’m not proud of stealing her stuff, but one day when I was—like—fourteen, I went into her bathroom looking to score some makeup, and when I opened the medicine cabinet, there was a little sign that read “Amber’s Shelf,” and on it were all the top makeup brands that she wears. Brand-new gear everywhere. I felt so guilty, I started sobbing in the bathroom, and when Donna heard me, she actually came in and hugged me. I held on to her for at least ten minutes, I felt so shameful. When I stopped crying, she looked me in the eyes and said, “If you ever need something, just ask. Okay?”

That was it.

No reprimand.

No threats to tell my mother.

No guilt trip.

I’ve never stolen anything since—not even a piece of paper from school—and never will ever again, no matter how bad things get. Word.

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