David cornered Beverly when she returned from grocery shopping. “Have you noticed CarolLee is behaving weird lately?”
“What do you mean?”
“I heard her in her room talking to herself.”
This reminded Beverly of her recent conversation with their daughter, but she suppressed the anxiety this provoked. “Are you sure she wasn’t reading, or reciting something?”
“No. It was like she was talking to someone, but there wasn’t anyone there, and the stuff she was saying wasn’t out of a book.”
“Something about how good she felt– or doing things to make each other feel good.” His face scrunched up as he said, “It was weird.”
David’s phrasing reminded Beverly of one of her recent phone conversations, and she wondered if CarolLee had overheard. She couldn’t have, though, as Beverly had checked on the whereabouts of Adam and CarolLee before she made the call. CarolLee was upstairs in her bedroom, well out of range, and Beverly was downstairs in her own bedroom. Yet, coupled with her earlier conversation with CarolLee, it was yet another suggestion her daughter knew something that could shatter the family. Beverly tried her best to hide her anxiety from David. “Kids talk to themselves when they play. I’m sure that’s all it is.”
“And what’s with Adam?” David continued. “He is so touchy these days. Flies off the handle at the slightest thing.”
“He is only touchy with you,” Beverly said. “What did you say to him?”
“Hey, don’t make this about me,” David said. “I just said one of his friends had hair like a girl, and he stomped off swearing. He swears way too much.”
“And you think being offended because his father said one of his friends is effeminate makes him touchy? Do you ever listen to yourself?”
“I’m sorry,” David said, not apologetically, “but he has hair like a girl.”
“That kid who was hanging around the other day. What’s his name? Brian?”
Beverly slammed the refrigerator door. “Brian is not effeminate. He is a year younger is all, because he was promoted a grade, but he is a freshman just like Adam and all the girls love him. You have a very distorted sense of masculinity. He’s just… sensitive. Women appreciate that, not that you care what women appreciate.”
“Oh, really? You’re going to go there again?” David stepped closer, and forced his voice into a whisper. “I was in an accident, remember? It hurts my neck.”
“It isn’t that you refuse to do it,” Beverly said. “It’s that you don’t make any effort to do… anything.”
“What do you want from me?” he said, the anger infusing his words. “I always let you come first.”
“I would like a little effort, so I don’t feel like I’m just– masturbating.”
David’s stifled his response when CarolLee walked into the kitchen. Beverly resumed unpacking the groceries, and David sipped at his coffee while staring out the window.
The girl eyed the two carefully, then asked, “Can I have a sandwich?”
Beverly smiled, “Again? You must be going through a growth spurt. Peanut butter and jelly?”
CarolLee nodded, and then poured herself a glass of milk while her mother made the sandwich, and put it on a plate with a napkin for her. CarolLee took both items and started to leave the kitchen, explaining she was going to her room.
“Why don’t you eat in the kitchen?” David asked.
CarolLee turned briefly, saying, “He doesn’t like to eat with you because you fight too much.” She turned again, and disappeared.
Both parents stood equally chagrined, unable to look at each other. David was the first to find a response. “Since when is she getting sandwiches for Adam?”
“It can’t be for Adam,” Beverly said. “He hates peanut butter.”
“Then who the fuck is he?”
“I think our daughter has an imaginary friend,” she said.
“It explains a lot of things,” Beverly said, taking a breath. “The talking to herself. All the sandwiches she asks for. She’s feeding him. It’s kind of cute. Don’t you see?”
“Isn’t she a little old for imaginary friends?” David asked.
Adam and Brian played video games for most of the afternoon in the living room. Brian liked playing at Adam’s house because Brian’s mom always got mad about the noise they made when they played at his house. Adam’s family just retreated into the far corners of the small house and left them alone. Only CarolLee dared to intrude. She carried a large drawing tablet in her hand, and seemed to be looking for something. Brian greeted her happily, “Hi, CarolLee.”
She smiled shyly, but said nothing in response as she looked around.
Brian let the controller fall to his lap, “Whatcha looking for, CarolLee?”
“My big eraser,” she said, getting down on her hands and knees to look under the side table next to the couch the boys were sitting on.
“Hey!” Adam yelled at Brian. “Play the game, Butthead.”
Ignoring his friend’s command, Brian got down on his hands and knees and looked for the eraser with her. He could tell she was pleased he was helping, and he smiled at her.
Furious, Adam yelled again, this time at his sister. “Get the fuck out of here, CarolLee. We’re playing.”
The two ignored him until Brian reached under the couch and came out with a large gum eraser. He presented it to the girl, who accepted it gladly, and managed a, “Thank you,” in response.
“Can I see what you’re drawing?” Brian asked.
CarolLee held the tablet of heavy paper against her chest, and looked at the floor until the neatly dressed freshman with a long lock of hair hanging over one eye said, “Please. I like to draw sometimes, too.”
She offered it hesitantly, and Brian turned on the floor and leaned against the couch so he could flip the pages. Most contained partial sketches of hands, either alone or clasped in some manner, as though she had been practicing. Adam had stopped the game, but refused to show any interest in the girl as Brian looked at the images. Brian said, “These are really good, CarolLee. You’re much better than I am at drawing.” CarolLee smiled in a way that told Brian she was pleased. Turning the next page brought a surprised look to his face, and his mouth dropped open in a wordless stare. Brian’s sudden quiet and expression was enough to capture Adam’s attention, and he leaned over to look at the drawing.
It was a well rendered sketch of an uncircumcised penis in a state of rest below a patch of rough hair, and testicles below. Brian wasn’t sure how to respond, but Adam burst into a combination of outrage and laughter, “Holy shit, CarolLee. It’s a dick! You can’t draw a fucking dick. I’m going to tell Mom.” He fell back against the couch laughing, leaned forward to look again, then sputtered more laughter. “I can’t believe you drew a dick.”
CarolLee grabbed the tablet from Brian, and ran upstairs. Brian watched her go, wishing he had said something to make up for Adam’s critical tone.
“She is the dumbest girl ever,” Adam said. “I don’t know why they think she is so smart.”
“Whose do you think it is?” Brian asked.
“You can’t just draw that well without ever seeing one,” Brian said. “Whose dick did she draw?”
“She hasn’t seen any dicks,” Adam said. “She’s too young.”
“She saw someone’s,” Brian said.
Adam found the direction of this conversation disturbing, and he resumed the game saying, “Let’s play.”
“I like your sister,” Brian said, picking up the controller. “She’s cute.”
Adam muttered his response. “You pedo.”