I knocked on Anna’s door. The January wind was blowing right up my back, so I shifted back and forth on my feet to try to warm up. Funny how I thought of it as Anna’s door, not “Huy’s” or “Dad’s.”
“Loralee!” Anna beamed at me as she opened the door and ushered me in. “You must be freezing.”
“It is pretty cold today.” I stepped into the small entry way. I still didn’t feel particularly at home in this house, but it was at least a little less alien to me now. This was the fourth Sunday I had been over for dinner.
I smiled and went into the living room when I heard my little sister, Brianna, call me. She was only five and couldn’t say my name right so it came out as Lolly. “Hey, rat. What are you doing?”
She showed me her dinosaur toy. “I’m playin’ dinosaurs.”
I took a seat on the sofa. “What do dinosaurs do?”
She grinned. “They stomp stuff!”
Anna smiled over at us. “Huy,” she called to the other end of the house, “Loralee is here. Bradley, Blake, wash up for dinner!” She came over and kissed Brianna’s hair. “You too, sweetie.”
While Brianna went into the kitchen to wash her hands, Huy appeared in the room. My good mood was immediately dampened; he still made me kind of uncomfortable.
“Hey, Loralee.” Huy nodded to me.
“Dinner!” Anna called cheerfully. Ever since I’d started coming over, I’d never seen my step-mother so happy. These dinners meant a lot to her.
Relieved to have an excuse not to talk, I got up and made my plate. There wasn’t enough room at the table, so we all sort of just spread out between there and the living room. I sat down with my siblings.
“So, how’s school going, guys?”
Bradley blew out a big huffy breath. “I hate school! I got D-Hall just cause I got in a fight. It wasn’t even my fault!”
Knowing Bradley’s temperamental nature, I wasn’t positive about that. “That sucks. I’d hate to have to stay late for D-Hall. What about you, Blake?” He was the quietest of the bunch; he actually kind of reminded me of Luc.
Blake shrugged. “I’ve just been reading. There’s this series – “
“He needs to stop reading so much,” Huy cut him off. “He should be more like his brother. Bradley’s always outside and being active.”
“And getting into fights,” I added.
“The occasional fight is good for a boy.”
I bit my tongue so I didn’t say anything else.
“Huy,” Anna said gently, “Blake does what he enjoys. He’s a smart boy.” Huy just grunted in response.
After dinner, Anna cleaned up and the kids went back to their rooms to play before bed. That left Huy and I in the living room.
I looked over at my father and words spilled out of my mouth. “Why weren’t you ever around?” Crap. I really hadn’t intended to say that. I’d been thinking it for a long time, but I didn’t think I was ready for this talk.
Huy didn’t look very surprised at the question, though. He looked over at me impassively. “You look a lot like your mother, you know. You’ve got my hair and all, but your face is all Camille.”
I didn’t see what this had to do with my question. “And?”
“And I hate Camille.” His face hardened. “She’s a lying, cheating whore. Every time I look at you, I see her.”
I don’t know what I’d expected. Some excuse about how he’d been so busy with Anna and their kids that he’d just never found the time to see me. But this?
I jumped to my feet. “Watcher, you’re such a piece of shit, do you know that?” He started to say something, but I didn’t give him the chance. “I’ve been trying to get to know you, I really have. I’ve been trying to put the past where it belongs, but it looks like I was the only one. Newsflash, Huy. You don’t get to use your relationship with Mama as an excuse for why you don’t like your own daughter. That’s petty and selfish. Mama isn’t the reason you’re a shitty parent – you are.” I turned and stormed out of the house. I’d call Anna later and tell her what happened, though she probably heard it herself.
I walked down the sidewalk, fury seething in me. Of all the nerve! I just couldn’t believe he’d had the gall to say that to my face. I bet that custody battle hadn’t even been about being with me. It had all been to spite Mom and Mama. He was an awful, terrible person. I never wanted to see him again. Tears stung my eyes. Well, don’t look in the mirror again, ever. He might say I looked like Mama, but I looked like him too. My hair, my complexion, my eyes. There was so much of Huy Casillas in my face – what about in me? Did I have some horribleness lurking deep inside me, too?
At home, I ran upstairs and stared at myself in the mirror.
“You are not your father,” I said to myself. I repeated it over and over until I almost believed it.
There was a soft knock on my door. “Loralee?”
I sniffed and dashed my hands under my eyes. “Not now, Mom.”
She must’ve heard something in my voice, because she opened the door anyway and came inside. “I heard you talking in here. Are you okay?”
My chin trembled as I tried to keep it inside. I failed. “No, I’m not.” I burst into tears.
“Oh, baby.” Mom came over and drew me down on the side of the bed. “Tell me what’s wrong.”
“It’s Dad – Huy. Tonight he told me that he’s never been around because I remind him of Mama and how much he hates her. But I’m like him too! Just look at me! What if I turn out like him?”
“Baby, no.” Mom wrapped her arms around me. “You’re nothing like your father. Just look at your aunt Chastity. She and Huy have the same parents, but look at how different she is. You and Chastity, you got all the good things from the Casillas family. You father does not define who you’re going to become. You’re your mother’s daughter, too.” Mom smiled. “And mine too, even if I didn’t grow you myself. I still raised you. You really think I’m going to let any child of mine turn out badly?”
I laughed a little. “No.”
She hugged me tight. “You are a good person, Loralee. You’re kind and generous, and you love people. You don’t ever need to worry that you’re going to be like Huy.”
I laid my head on her shoulder and sat with her for a while. I was still afraid of becoming someone I didn’t want to be, but Mom had helped a lot.