“Toronto is the best city I’ve ever been too.” Sherri pushed her hair back from her face and continued to buff her long, curved fingernails, neglecting to mention how many cities she’d actually visited. Molly knew she’d only been to St. Louis and Chicago. “Blake goes there for his work meetings, conferences, whatever, every year. He always takes me with him and I go shopping while he works. It’s the best place to shop. Better than Chicago.”
“Where’s Toronto?” Brandi asked, twirling a lock of permed hair around her finger.
“Don’t do that, you’ll make the curl fall out.” Sherri said, lifting her eyes from her fingernails. Brandi put her hands in her lap. “It’s in Canada.” She said the word as though she were saying Borneo. Molly had been to Canada, once, to Niagara Falls with her family. She never talked about the vacations she and her family took every summer, even though everyone in the room knew, they all lived on the same block after all. She knew if she spoke of her trips it would be gloating, and she didn’t want to gloat. Besides, Sherri’s trips to Toronto and all the things she and Blake did together were far more interesting than some national park.
Sherri sat on the cream colored couch in the Strickland’s small living room, while Brandi and Molly sprawled on the floor. The room felt smaller with the weight of the frames adorning the buff colored walls, pictures of Sherri and Blake in their wedding garb, Sherri and Blake and their families on their wedding day, and Sherri and Blake with eighteen attendants between them. Molly admired how the bridesmaids and groomsmen all lined the concrete steps in front of the church according to height, forming a perfect pyramid. She wondered if that was by design, or if Sherri and Blake were just lucky enough to like their friends in direct proportion to their height. She was pretty sure it was the latter.
“Molly, you’ve been working on the same math problem for fifteen minutes,” Sherri observed. “Do you need help?” Molly didn’t. What she wanted was to put aside her math and give her undivided attention to Sherri’s tales of buying a two piece and shopping for strappy sandals like Brandi who rarely brought her homework to Sherri and Blake’s. Molly wanted to be the first to hold Baby Kirk when he woke up from his nap and she wanted to hear Sherri laugh at one of her jokes. Besides, she didn’t need help with her math, though sometime she let Sherri help because she seemed to enjoy it.
“Did you hear that Melissa got her—“ Brandi stopped and smiled sheepishly, then whispered, “her period?” Molly felt a sinking feeling in her stomach. She loved to hear Sherri talk about growing up as one of ten girls. She loved the stories of her wedding day, the shenanigans the guys caused by being late after a night out drinking, the girls that gave her special trinkets at breakfast and dancing to The Time of My Life for their first dance. She loved that Sherri trusted her to retrieve Baby Kirk from his crib after his nap, change his diaper and warm a bottle and then carry him around the house balanced on her own twelve year old hip as though he were hers. But she did not want to talk about periods. Periods led to talking about boobs and boobs led to talking about boys and, well, Molly didn’t even want to think about boys and boobs and periods in the same paragraph, much less the same sentence.
Everyone else seemed to love to talk them, though. Brandi was dying to know everything there was to know about all of the above. Sherri had plenty of advice to share. You didn’t swim with your period, nor did you wear white pants. You probably shouldn’t do anything in gym class, either. Bras were very important, you should start wearing one as SOON as you had a ghost of a tit, or your nipples would crawl toward your toes before you were thirty. Bras and panties should match, except during your period, at which time you should just wear granny panties no matter what so as not to ruin your nice ones. Once they talked about trimming your hair down there, but Molly said she needed to go to the bathroom and stayed there until she was sure the conversation had shifted.
As far as Molly could tell, when you got your period, your life was over for the next forty years of your life until something called menopause happened, which meant that you were old and even more miserable. And when it was your time of the month, if you could just hibernate in your bedroom that would be best for everyone.
“Tell me more about Toronto,” Molly said quickly.
“We stayed in this hotel and it had this giant chandelier in the lobby. Oh. My. God. It was bangin’.” Sherri stopped and looked over her shoulder out the window at the car that pulled up in the driveway. “Kinda early for Blake to be home.”
Molly ran to the refrigerator and pulled a can of Miller Lite off the bottom shelf. She was ready—this was the running gag she and Blake had. She stood in the doorway between the kitchen and living room and waited for him to notice her.
“You’re home early,” Sherri said.
“Yeah.” He ran his hand through his hair and glanced around the room at Brandi painting her toenails on the living room carpet, Sherri reading a magazine and finally, Molly standing in the door with his can of beer. He sighed and held out his hand. She grinned and pretended to shake the can. She wasn’t really, she was shaking her body more than the can, and besides, Blake was good at drinking the foam. This time he snatched the can from her hands and turned on Sherri.
“Why is it that every goddamn day I come home and there is a gaggle of kids hanging out in my living room?”
“Because I like them,” Sherri said, staring at her fingernails.
“They don’t belong here! They are not my kids, they are not your sisters, they are just neighborhood kids! I just want to come home and sit on my couch with a beer in peace.”
Sherri looked at Brandi, her face apologetic. Brandi shrugged in response and began to collect her cotton balls and nail polish remover. Sherri turned to Molly, but she’d already backed through the kitchen.
“It’s ok, Molly,” Sherri called, but Molly had slipped through the kitchen door and began to weave her way back through the yards, up the block to her own backyard. She’d left her math homework on Sherri and Blake’s living room rug, she’d have to go back to get it and she couldn’t bear the thought of returning.
The next morning he heard Blake’s voice talking to her father. She hid at the top of the stairs, breathlessly waiting for Blake to leave. She was sure he was telling her father she was never allowed to return, that she took up too much of his wife’s time and energy
“Molly.” Her father stood on the landing and held out her math book, papers sticking out of the binding. “Keep better track of your things. You’re almost a teenager. Act your age.”