Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Home Group (11/29/07)
TITLE: The N.D.C.
By janet rubin
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I plopped into the passenger seat. Slammed the door. Mom started backing out before I was buckled. She took in one of those pre-lecture deep breaths, but I shoved my earphones in and turned up my Ipod. Justin Timberlake sang about “bringin’ sexy back.”
From the corner of my eye I could see mom’s shoulders slump. She gave up easily these days. Had enough problems without trying to figure me out. Not that I blamed her. I just didn’t want to talk. Talking was mom’s way of dealing. Talking to grandma, a therapist, and now a bunch of other single moms in one of our new church’s “flock groups.”
The whole thing annoyed me. First, I thought the name “flock group” was stupid. Like we’re seagulls or something. Second, I didn’t want to be part of a group for messed up families. It wasn’t my fault Dad did what he did (at least that’s what I tried to tell myself). Why should we have to be part of a special group because of him? But mom said we needed to be with people who understood what we were going through. Maybe she did. I’d rather have stayed home to watch America’s Next Top Model.
Soon we arrived at the home of Mrs. Parker, a woman mom said started the group after her husband died of cancer, leaving her to raise four kids alone. The overgrown lawn reminded me of ours, which was getting that same shaggy look without dad around to mow on Saturdays.
Mrs. Parker answered our knock, taking our coats and hugging us even though I hadn’t officially met her yet. The house smelled like a Yankee Candle store, all spicy and sweet. Women sat in a circle of couches and chairs, sipping tea. We were new to the church, but I recognized Kendall Drew’s mother because Kendall goes to my school. When we learned about safe sex in health class, Kendall told how her mom was a pregnant teen.
“Natalie?” Mrs. Parker touched my shoulder. I pulled my earphones out to be polite. “There’s some other middle school kids in the TV room. Want to hang out with them?”
I shrugged. “Sure.” Downstairs I found two boys and a girl. The boys sprawled on beanbags. The girl, who’d been lying on the couch, scooted over, making room for me, and I sat.
“Hey,” I said, trying to be cool. “I’m Natalie.”
“Hey,” said the girl. “I’m Natalie.” She pointed at the boy with her same color of red hair, “That’s my brother Kenny.”
“Sean,” sad the other boy, who I now noticed had red-rimmed eyes.
Kenny grinned. “Welcome to the N.D.C.”
Lizzy laughed. “The No-Dad Club.”
“Right,” Kenny said, “For the paternally-challenged.”
“So, um, what happened to your dads?” It didn’t seem like they minded talking about it.
Lizzy sighed. “Parents divorced. Dad’s in the Navy. We never see him.”
“What about your dad, Sean?” As soon as I asked, I regretted it. Sean looked like he’d start crying.
“His dad committed suicide last month,” Kenny said softly. “Sean, uh, found him.”
My mouth hung open. I couldn’t imagine that. “I-I’m sorry.”
Sean cleared his throat. “It’s okay. It’s just hard, you know?”
I nodded, not really knowing.
“How’d you end up here, Natalie?”
I hugged my legs. I had to share after they all did. The words stuck in my throat, but finally came out. “My dad had an affair with the pianist at our old church.” I took a deep breath. “They moved to Florida…without saying good-bye.”
Saying it out loud felt like letting my heavy backpack slide off my shoulders after my half-mile walk home from the bus stop. My new friends didn’t even get all awkward. They nodded, understanding.
Lizzy pulled a Diet Coke from a cooler and gave it to me. “Have you gotten past the it’s-my-fault stage?”
I grimaced. “Not really.”
“That’s normal. Is your mom a wreck?”
“Yeah. Cries non-stop.”
“Also normal. This group’ll be good for her. The moms get to talk and cry and pray.”
“My mom’s probably praying about my Algebra grade,” Kenny said, getting Sean to smile.
“Hey, it’s 8:00.” Lizzy grabbed the remote. “You like America’s Next top model?”
I grinned, deciding the N.D.C. might be cool.
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