<% Set ScriptObject = Server.CreateObject("Scripting.FileSystemObject") pathBase = Server.mappath(Request.ServerVariables("PATH_INFO")) URLEnc = replace(pathBase, "D:\bella", "http://www.bellaonline.com") URLInfo = URLEnc URLEnc = replace(URLEnc, "\", "/") URLEnc = Server.URLEncode(URLEnc) %>
MUSED Literary Magazine.

The Unspoken Rule

Stella James

My mama lived by three simple rules and merely twelve hours after her death, I had broken them all. But what mama don’t know can’t hurt her.

1. Don’t leave the house without your face and hair done.

I tried in vain to fix my short wavy hair, but it poofed out with the humidity the summer morning brought, and I sighed as I moved on to picking out the dried clumps of mascara clinging to my eyelashes. Cody would probably think nothing of me sneaking out, would probably be grateful if anything. No awkward morning after conversation or forced silent breakfast. I was doing us both a favor.

2. Never have more than two drinks on a date.

Could last night even be considered a date? Me, stumbling into his apartment after a few shots and three martinis at the bar doesn’t exactly constitute a date, does it? More like a pity outing. Oh, I’ll throw you a bone in this screwed up fling we have going on cause your mom just died, and at least I’ll definitely get laid. Yes, that’s a much more accurate description of last night’s events.

Even if we had been on a date, I probably would have downed three car bombs just to ease my nerves around him. The daunting question of what we are or better yet, so obviously not, hangs over my head like a storm cloud that only copious amounts of alcohol can fix.

3. Never, not ever, turn to a man to solve your problems. Who wants to marry a hot mess?

I stumbled out of my car, trying to lock it in various ways over my head with my clicker. The strap of my dress eased off my shoulder with every step I took, and one of my heels fell halfway off. I landed on the couch ungracefully, half my body flopped over the side and blew a strand of hair out of my face. What is the definition of a hot mess again? Surely it’s not the girl who had to throw her underwear away in the girls’ bathroom because she was so drunk that she actually peed herself before making it to the toilet.

I flopped over, covering my eyes with my arm to block out the unwanted sunlight, silently lamenting over my lack of curtains. At least Cody thought I was trying to be sexy when I ditched the underwear. He doesn’t have to know the truth. If he figured out a fraction of my truth, he’d be running for the hills. Wouldn’t he? He might get off on crazy and if so, I’m the perfect brand.

It doesn’t change the fact that when mama died, he was the first one I called. My family was already there and my friends would have asked too many questions. He had all the right answers though. “Meet me for a drink, usual place,” he had said. No sympathies, no questions. But I just had to pour my heart out. And cried. Deep wretched ugly crying that stained his crisp white sheets from all the mascara running down my face. So attractive, I know. I was a hot mess. Like look it up and there’s my picture.

I glanced at the clock on the cable box and sighed, noting I could still taste the vodka on my breath. Not a good sign to be breathing vodka right now. I can’t go to work since they gave me the next two weeks off to grieve. It may be a poorly disguised two-week notice. I can’t blame them. I’ve been a mess ever since they gave mama a month left to live.

I thought I fooled everyone around me, hiding my pain behind different glasses at the bar. I’m beginning to think otherwise. My job doesn’t want me there, Cody doesn’t want me the way I need him to, and my friends pry too much. I’m an island. A sloppy, drunk, hot mess of an island. And now I’m a motherless island.

I can’t believe she’s really gone. What the hell do I do now? Should I call dad? Maybe he already knew. Maybe someone more responsible called him, like my younger sister who would be proud to follow mama’s rules to the grave. The grave. Her grave. I need some more vodka.

You’re using me as a crutch. That’s the last thing Cody said to me last night. I took a shot for each word. I wasn’t using him as a crutch, he was staying with me out of pity. We were so happy those first few weeks of dating before mama was given her life sentence. When did I let everything slip?

“You’ve been coming home smelling like vodka for a month now. You need to stop and help me plan the funeral.” Sophie moved the bottle of vodka away from me. I should’ve figured she’d come over, and I regret ever giving her a key. I laid my head on the cool surface of the table and snorted.

“Let Melanie plan it. She’s the oldest and will change whatever we do anyways.” I reached out for the bottle but the thud to the floor told me I wasn’t getting it back anytime soon.

“She is, but we have to agree on certain things. She wants her buried in the cream dress.” I stared at the painting on the wall, admiring how the people in it looked beautiful even sideways.

“Mama never left the house without her makeup and hair done. She even left this world looking perfect.” I pressed my forehead to the table, nose smushed against the wood.

“We will have a luncheon after to celebrate her life and mourn with loved ones,” Sophie continued, ignoring my observation.

“Mama would want Chardonnay available. But only two glasses per guest. Mama never drank more than two glasses.” Too bad I did.

“I think mama broke that rule when she conceived you,” Sophie huffed, clearly unimpressed with my rambling. “Everything is taking place in Nevada.”

My head shot up then, and I glared at my little sister. She obviously saved this for last, knowing it would upset me. She stared back at me, seeming bored. “Mama hated Nevada.”

“Daddy is there. They already bought the plots before they divorced. It will be cheaper on us.” She didn’t even look at me, pinching the bridge of her nose as if willing me away.

“Mama doesn’t let some man solve her problems.” Her chair clattered against the tile as she shot up, slamming her hands against the table.

“Mama isn’t here to solve her own problem, now is she? We’re left to solve it, and Daddy isn’t just some man.” Her hands splayed out on the table in front of her as if she was prepared to pounce at any moment. I leaned away from her and scratched at an imaginary spot on the table.

“Cody says I use him as a crutch.” It came out like word vomit and maybe, just maybe, real vomit would follow.

“Maybe you are.” She shrugged, frozen in place as if pouncing on me was still a viable option. I gave up on the nonexistent smudge and hugged myself around my middle.

“I feel so empty. She told me she loved me every day.”

“She told me that too, but I didn’t make vodka my best friend over it.” She crossed her arms, a sign that she may be holding herself back from strangling me. “Daddy loves you too.”

“Not like she did.” The words come out broken, the syllables choking me. No one can love me like mama did. No one. I suddenly felt something crushing my shoulders and let out a startled yelp. I relaxed as Sophie’s tears hit my shoulder.

“You’re so damn stupid sometimes. Selfish and stupid,” she cried out. And I cried too, wrapping my hands around her arms in a vice like grip. We clung to each other, and when she finally sat down across from me, she finished the vodka with me.

“There was a fourth rule you know. An unspoken one.” We were sprawled out on the carpet, holding hands and watching the fan spin overhead.

“Oh?” It’s the only syllable I could have managed at that point.

“Love is hard, so when things get tough, love harder.” My mind wrapped around the words, having to repeat them to get them straight.

“She loved us hard right up to the end,” I declared with a nod, the room moving with me. I felt Sophie turn to me, and I turned to face her as well.

“I love you so hard.” She smiled, her eyes bleary and red.

“I do too,” I agreed, the tears leaking out of their own volition. Cody doesn’t love me so hard. In fact, I’ve broken all my mama’s rules due to him. No more. I’m gonna do mama proud.

And even if I do end up breaking a rule or two, there’s one rule I will swear to live by. The unspoken rule. I’m gonna love the hell out of my life and if someone can’t love hard with me, then sayonara to them. My mama lived by three simple rules and twenty-four hours later, I’ve realized the unspoken one is the only one that mattered.