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Thursday, August 10, 2017

Affective Needs--Chapter Twenty Seven

**New chapters posted Wednesdays**


“Can I skip it?”
My mother gave me an exasperated look, “You’re the only kid I have, Ruth. Humor me.”
I nodded and put the cap on so she could bobby-pin it in place. I’d never realized how completely idiotic these caps were, the cheap, wrinkly fabric hugging your skull and flattening your hair. When she finished, she stood back and smiled at me, tears filling her eyes. “I just can’t believe it,” she shook her head. “It seems like just last week . . .” Then her face crumpled completely, and my mother broke down into full-blown crying. “Just last week, you were only a tiny baby—I was holding you in my arms.”
“That was actually about nine hundred and forty weeks ago.” I reached forward and wiped her face. If she didn’t stop this, she was going to make me cry too. And seeing as how I had probably cried more in the last couple months than I had in my entire life, it was something I had promised myself I would get a grip on.
She smiled. “Smart-ass.” She leaned forward and kissed my cheek. “Let’s go or we’ll be late.”

As I sat in my alphabetically arranged folding chair, sweating in the blue polyester gown, a profound sense of anticlimax settled in my gut.
I had probably envisioned this moment several hundred times over my mostly illustrious academic career, and this particular scenario was never a picture my brain created.
At the moment, I was trying my best to ignore Helen Nyugen’s demonstrative valedictory speech.
Later, I would try to not throw up when I had to stand on stage while they announced the honors students. For the last four years, I’d been on track to graduate summa cum laude. With straight As my entire life, my GPA always a perfect 4.0, graduating at the very top was always how I had seen this moment.
However, since acquiring my first two Bs ever, I was wrapped in the second-best cord for magna cum laude.
Up on stage, Helen finished her moment off with her hands in the air, and a roar erupted from the rest of the graduates around me and all the parents and family in the stadium behind us. I was fairly certain that 85 percent of our graduating class had no clue who Helen Nyugen even was. Like me, she had spent the better portion of the last four years ferreted away in the highest-level, least populated academic classes.
I clapped for her.
Five months ago, it could have been me up there—and maybe it should have been. But I couldn’t deny the sense of relief I was currently experiencing. I was happy to not have to get up there and rise to the emotional heights of being inspirational.
Just lately, getting out of bed every day had been a strain.
Even though, ten years from now, I would probably end up regretting letting myself drop the ball so close to the end, right now, I was still preoccupied with thoughts, and worries, of Porter.
They started calling off the names, and after the first fifteen, my palms started to itch from all the monotonous hand clapping. When they announced “Bella Blake,” another roar erupted from our class, and the stadium behind us for no special reason other than that 98 percent of our class did know exactly who Bella was simply because she was genetically gifted all the correctly positioned and pleasing anatomical parts.
I clapped for her.
Up until age twelve, I had loved her too.
I didn’t have the energy to hate her anymore.
When they got to the Cs, I made the mental note that there was no “Creed” called.
I turned in my seat and scanned the stadium crowd for the tenth time. Even if Porter hadn’t been hauled off to a residential home, he was missing too many credits to graduate. Still, I had hoped he might show up today.
My row stood up and headed for the stage stairs.
Porter’s birthday was last week. He was eighteen now, and could have left the home if he wanted to.
“Ruth Robinson,” the principal announced. “Magna cum laude.”
I made my way up the stairs, didn’t trip. I was pretty sure only my mom and dad could be heard clapping in the audience. Hand shake with the principal, accept the fake diploma, the real one would be mailed in three to four weeks, smile for the camera, flash—and it was over.
I walked down the stairs on the other side of the stage, looking at my feet until they were on the grass, then up into the stands with hope in my chest that he was here. That like a scene out of an eighties teen movie, Porter Creed would be spotted, maybe high up in those empty seats, standing alone, eyes on me—only waiting for me to lock eyes with him.
But the empty seats were just empty, and the only person I immediately recognized was my dad, in a shirt so bright orange he could have used it for traffic safety, and my new baby brother, Mountain Stream Robinson, strapped to his chest in a sling. His hands were over his head as he waved at me before cupping them over his mouth to yell—which must have upset the baby because then he looked like he’d made a mistake, and Derry stood up and was trying to get Mountain out of the carrier contraption while my dad continued to wave at me one-handed.
For God’s sake, what a frickin’ disaster that cluster was. In the hospital, Mountain Stream had been Derry’s bright idea for a baby name, but my dad had beamed at her like it was the most inspired thing he had ever heard.
“He’s going to get his ass kicked.” I thought they should know.
“We’re not going to send him to a school with kids like that,” Derry informed me.
Right. “Oh . . . well.” I said holding the poor thing in my arms, already pretty sure I was going to have to spend years running interference for him with both of his parents and every typical kid that crossed his path. “If normal kids won’t be at his school, it’s probably perfectly fine to give him an asshat name.”
What the hell was he supposed to put on a resume when he was older?
In the attempt to lay some normal foundations for the kid, I called him Robinson, Rob for short—Derry corrected me every time. “Ruth, please. His name is Mountain.” She didn’t seem to understand that I was absolutely going to win this power struggle. With the parents he’d been dealt, someone had to give this kid a fighting chance.
Back on the field, in my folding chair, I waited while Roosevelt High filed through the rest of the graduating class. “Eli Tanner,” the principal announced.
I stood up and clapped for my best friend and when he came down from the stage, he defied all the pregraduation rules we’d been given, stepped out of line, and gave me a hug so big he lifted me off my feet.
“We did it, you big bitch!”
I laughed and kissed his cheek, but Ms. Harris was coming over to break up the disruption of order we had created. I pushed him back to his line so we wouldn’t get yelled at. “See you after!”
After Tom had told me Porter was being moved from Tennyson to God knows where, I had broken down and simply begged Eli, Please, this is me on my text knees—I’m sorry, I suck, I miss you, and I really, really, need you right now.
When he didn’t text me back, I imagined him showing the depths of my desperation to Bella and them both having a good laugh—but five minutes later, my doorbell rang.
When I opened the door and saw him standing there, I burst into tears and fell into his arms.
“You are the most stubborn person I know,” he said.
I nodded. “I know.”
“I don’t ever want to do this again.”
I shook my head. “Me either.”
“Where the hell have you been?”
“Suspended.”
Eli looked like I had slapped him. “You?!”
Upstairs in my room, we lay on my bed and stared at my ceiling, eating cold chicken lo mein and telling each other everything that had happened since we hadn’t been speaking.
“I have no idea where Porter is.”
“Bella Blake is as deep as a rain puddle.”
“My dad is trying to act like a human.”
“Jordan moved to New York.”
“I missed you.”
“Me too.”
So my world sucked, but at least it sucked with Eli back in it.
At my house, after Eli and his parents left for their own post-graduation family celebration, I was left with a cake shaped like a graduation cap, too many hoagie sandwiches, my mom and Derry making awkward small talk, my dad feeding Rob a bottle—and my stupid hope that the doorbell would ring and Porter would show up.
He never did. 


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