idol prize fight | week 21 | 2065 words
No one ever said you could lose your parents. At first, it sounded like losing your stuffed rabbit by leaving it at the mall the way some baby would, and you would never be that careless. But it didn't happen like that. Instead, your parents lost themselves. They drove into a ditch on a rainy Saturday, and there was nothing you could do to stop it.
So now you are here, at your Uncle Denny's house in Pennsylvania, with its no-swing-set yard and his smelly old dog. You don't even have your own room now, you're sharing with your big sister. Also, there are peas, and you hate peas.
Sometimes you wonder if any of it is real.
Uncle Denny seems nice enough, but... So much is missing. Your sister Robin says he just doesn't understand kids. We have to be grateful, Robin says— because at least we are not Orphans. So you try.
But you are still angry and sad, and you know you are never going home again.
Robin is twelve, and you are grateful for her. You couldn't stand it if you'd lost her too. Robin hugs you when you cry, and she reads you stories at night and tucks you in. It isn't quite the way Mommy did it, but it's close. She tries.
It's more than your Uncle Denny does. He has never tried, not once.
Robin goes to school during the day, so you stay at Mrs. Allen's. There's a two-year-old there who always takes your toys. Now Annie, we have to share, Mrs. Allen says. But it's not sharing if only one of you does it. Then it's stealing.
You tell this to Robin one night, and she smiles one of those far-away smiles. "I remember going through this when you were two."
"So what happened?"
"You got better, around age three," she says.
So maybe there is hope for that kid yet. But in the meantime, you stop taking your own toys to Mrs. Allen's. Except for Mr. Bun, because he is a Special Toy and the rules for that are different.
One day, you ask Uncle Denny to buy broccoli at the grocery store, because you never have broccoli anymore. He's surprised you like it, because he hates it.
"The way I hate peas?" you ask.
After that, broccoli shows up at dinner once in a while, and if there are peas, you don't have to eat them anymore. He even learns how to make meatloaf, because it's your favorite.
The weather gets warmer in the spring, and you find out the dog isn't smelly after he's had a bath. Max likes going for walks and chasing after sticks, and he's always happy to see you.
When you need to talk about things like missing Mommy and Daddy, or not wanting to live in stupid Pennsylvania, he's a really good listener, too. You don't have to worry about making him sad.
Uncle Denny starts making pancakes on Sundays, and you think it's about time. But you're supposed to be polite, so all you say is Thank you. Sometimes he even watches Saturday morning cartoons with you and Max and Mr. Bun.
When summer comes, Robin still has to go to school, which doesn't seem fair. She says it's only for this year, because she missed so much after the accident. She doesn't have as much homework, though, so it's better than regular school. She even gets a day off each week, and you both stay home together. A couple of times, you even make brownies.
She's been smiling more lately. You think maybe you have too.
One weekend, Robin spends the night at a friend's house, which is very not good. You worry about sleeping alone in your room, even though you always did that before. You ask Uncle Denny to read you a bedtime story, and it's not bad. He even does the voices.
Afterward, he tucks you in. You don't wake up 'til morning.
Your birthday comes in July, and you are ready and not ready at the same time. It's not that you thought your parents would come back, not really, but so what if you did? You're just a little kid.
There are games and cupcakes at Mrs. Allen's, and Uncle Denny buys an ice-cream cake and a Barbie Close & Go House you've wanted forever. But you still can't help crying off and on all day. You know this isn't how it's supposed to be.
Robin lets you sleep in her bed that night, which you haven't done in months. It's better the next day, but you still feel sad and tired. You never knew a birthday could be so hard.
Robin's summer school finishes a month later, and Uncle Denny decides to take you on vacation to a lake. It is big—not as big as the ocean, but big. He teaches you how to swim and catch tadpoles, and Robin learns to canoe. Max runs in and out of the lake and tries to steal your hot dogs.
You haven't laughed this much in a long time. You'd forgotten how it felt.
On the way home, Uncle Denny says you have to go to school in a month, like Robin. "But I don't want to," you say. The two-year-old at Mrs. Allen's is still annoying, but the other kids are fun and Mrs. Allen has pretty good toys.
"You have to, though," Uncle Denny says. "It's the law."
You thought school was for older kids who got tired of playing, like maybe when they were six or seven. But how can it be this soon? Nobody ever tells you anything, even though you are five now. Apparently there are Rules.
But rules are stupid.
It doesn't keep Uncle Denny from driving you to school in the Fall. He and Robin walk you up to the door of your classroom and meet your teacher, but then they leave because they have to go to Robin' s school.
"It's nice to meet you, Annie," the teacher says. "Go ahead and find a seat."
You just stand there. This is a lot of kids. You've never seen so many kids your own age sitting in one place.
Some of them look kind of scared, though, and that makes you feel less scared. You sit next to a little girl with blond pigtails who is wearing a blue dress.
At recess, she asks you to play.
Kindergarten is not as bad as you thought. After a few weeks, you decide it's sort of okay. lt hasn't killed you.
It's still not as good as playing, and you can't believe there are kids who don't know their colors and numbers by now. How can you be five and not know what a five looks like? But learning all the letters and their sounds is okay, and the art projects are good.
You talk to the other kids, and find out that some of their families are different, too. Chloe just has a Mommy, and Joshua lives with his grandmother. Some of the kids' parents are divorced, and others fight a lot. But most of the kids seem to be doing okay. Maybe you will, too.
You spot a classmate getting a piggyback ride at the school carnival, and you remember when Daddy used to do that. You pretended he was a wild pony, and you would laugh and hold on tight. The feeling of his warm, strong back and the leftover smell of his shaving-cream hit you, and suddenly you are crying so hard you can't stop.
Robin holds you and Uncle Denny asks what's wrong. "I m-miss D-Daddy," you say.
That makes Robin cry too, and Uncle Denny hugs you both. You go home early, with nothing but a Tootsie Pop for a prize.
When October comes, Uncle Denny asks what you want to be for Halloween. You don't know yet, so the two of you look on the computer for costume ideas. It turns out that Uncle Denny loves Halloween, and is looking forward to going trick-or-treating with you. You wind up choosing a Red Riding Hood costume, of all things.
Robin has a party to go to on Halloween night, but you put on your costume and go out trick-or-treating with Uncle Denny and Max. You carry a wicker basket and skip from door-to-door, with Max beside you as your tiny wolf. You come home tired and happy, with an enormous load of candy. Uncle Denny says it's the best Halloween he's had since he was a kid.
He even lets you sleep in your cape.
For Thanksgiving, Uncle Denny asks what you and Robin want to do. He says he knows family holidays are going to be hard, so he doesn't mind ignoring Thanksgiving this year and doing something different. It has never been one of your favorite holidays, so maybe you don't care as much, but you can tell Robin's feeling sad.
The three of you decide to have Blanks-giving this year, instead. You wear pajamas all day and play Candyland and watch movies. That afternoon, you feast on fried chicken and chocolate cake. It is a much better day than any of you expected.
You are not sure how you feel about Christmas. You're excited, but the thought of Christmas without your parents makes you cry. You make snowmen with Uncle Denny and cookies with Robin, and Uncle Denny makes sure you both write Christmas lists.
But when he takes you to see Santa, you tell Santa you only want your Mommy and Daddy back. That makes Santa cry.
Everyone tells you that you're not in trouble, but you don't know whether to believe them. You go shopping with Uncle Denny to buy presents for Robin, and that makes you feel better. You want Robin to have a good Christmas.
Robin asks the mother of one of her friends to take the two of you to the mall to shop for Uncle Denny, which is sneaky and very smart. You tell her you're proud of her, and she laughs and says she's proud of you, too.
You buy Uncle Denny a matching winter hat, scarf, and mittens, to help him make snowmen and take Max on walks. They are very, very red.
You make cocoa on Christmas Eve, and set out cookies for Santa, just in case he still comes after what happened during your visit. Then you and Robin put on your hats and warm coats, and go outside to look at the moonlit snow.
"Do you think Mommy and Daddy miss us too?" you ask.
"Yes," Robin says. "But they're in Heaven now, and I think they see us even though we can't see them."
"You do? How?"
"There," she says, pointing at the sky. "I think they're up there, watching us from the stars."
You don't feel quite so alone, then, and you realize the two of you are going to be all right. You hug Robin through your puffy coat, and you spin slow circles under the moon. Then you go inside and get ready for bed, and snuggle down under the covers to wait for Christmas.
You slip out of bed the next morning and go into the living room. Max wags his tail when he sees you. You're the only ones awake.
The lights on the Christmas tree are on, filling the room with a warm glow. Your stocking is full, and so are Robin's and Uncle Denny's and even the little red stocking you put out for Max. There are new presents since last night, and you bounce with happiness. Santa came after all!
"Merry Christmas, Annie," Uncle Denny says, rubbing his eyes and yawning.
"Merry Christmas, Uncle Denny!" you say, running over and hugging his legs tight.
"Should we see what Santa brought you?" he asks.
"Yes!" you shout.
You sit down to open your stocking, with Max leaning against your side. There is candy and stickers and a pretty charm bracelet with a seahorse and starfish. "Ooh," you say, and Uncle Denny laughs.
This isn't the Christmas you used to have, and it never will be. It can't.
But you have people who love you, and Max, and it's better than when you first came here. It's good and you're happy.
You and Robin are going to be okay.
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