Sometimes It’s For Me
By Kelsey Barcomb
Everything changed after Sophie.
My parents changed in the way that I had always wanted them to, but it wasn’t for me. The day they brought Sophie home from China, I was fifteen-and-happily-counting and I had been watching television in the family room when the front door popped open, and my mother appeared in the foyer.
I looked over my shoulder from the couch to find my blonde-haired, green-eyed mother cradling her perfect new foreign baby in her arms. This was what she had wanted—she was the Angelina Jolie of the neighborhood now. I tried not to think so cynically, but I knew my mother.
My dad appeared beside her, holding a suitcase in each hand. As I watched them, it suddenly occurred to me that I had never seen them so happy in so long. They both had wide grins stretched across their faces, and their eyes were glistening.
My mother, as graceful as ever, floated right past me, leaving a trail of floral perfume in her wake. Her designer dress danced behind her in the breeze that had followed them inside. She didn’t even look at me as she walked farther into the house with the baby. Her greeting was simply the sound of five-inch-heels clicking and clacking across the marble floor.
“Audrey, come meet your sister,” my dad, still grinning wildly, said as he placed the suitcases on the floor. He came to stand beside me, and put a hand on my shoulder, squeezing. He looked like he had just fallen in love for the first time.
I took a deep breath, preparing myself, before following my dad upstairs. He loosened his tie as he walked and then ran a hand through his curly brown hair. He told me how wonderful Sophie was already, and referred to her as his “little girl”, and something inside me hurt.
Sophie’s nursery had been waiting for her for three years. There had been a potential baby before Sophie, but the adoption fell through. When I was twelve, my mother hired professional interior decorators to paint the guest room pink, hang expensive art prints, drape tulle across one corner of the room, and arrange the furniture my mother had special-ordered from Europe. It was certainly prettier than the nursery I had grown up in, which had had beige walls, a desk for my mother’s computer, and a Walmart crib that my dad had spent two days trying to figure out. But that had been back in our old life, when I was their mistake. Sophie was their way of trying again.
According to my dad, “Sophie was meant to be ours”, and she would “complete us”.
My dad and I entered the nursery just as my mother was gently placing Sophie into her crib. As she bent over to kiss her baby girl’s cheek, my dad nudged me forward.
“She’s beautiful,” I murmured as I peered down at her. Her cheeks were rosy pink, and she had a tuft of jet black hair on her head. Her little fists were curled up on her chest as she slept. I tried not to feel anything for her, but it was impossible. She was absolutely adorable.
I felt my mother glance at me as she straightened up from the crib. She looked me up and down, and I suddenly felt embarrassed that I was in dirty pajamas and that my curly red hair was tangled.
“Yes, she is,” was my mother’s reply in a clipped tone. She cleared her throat, took a step even farther back from me and put her hands on her hips. “She’s perfect.”
* * *
“You bitch, give that back!”
I giggle as Walker, dressed in nothing but smiley-face boxers, starts tickling me for his pack of cigarettes.
I’m 19 now, and a sophomore in college.
“Y-you’ll get it back after y-you—” I cackle and squeal, wrestling my way free from his grip, “—finish that English paper that’s due next week.”
Walker immediately lets go of what grip he has left of me, and shifts back on his bed, sighing. “Since when do you care about schoolwork.”
The mood suddenly changes, and the room fills to the brim with tension. “Since your parents said they’ll make you move home if you fail,” I snap at him.
Walker shrugs once, his icy blue eyes never straying from mine. “I thought this was casual.”
I pull my knees to my chest and turn my head away. “Why are you such an asshole?”
“Why are you so clingy?”
I struggle to keep my heart from my sleeve. I should be used to these kinds of statements from Walker by now. After all, I’m not the only girl who sees him in his smiley-face boxers every week.
There’s a prolonged silence, and I eventually rise from the bed to collect my things.
Walker drags out a long sigh. “Aud, where are you going.” Everything he says is a statement, even when it should be a question.
“I’m leaving. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and I might as well go home for it.”
Walker stifles a laugh.
I glare at him. “You trust fund brat.”
Walker winks as he snatches his cigarettes from where I’d left them. “Look who’s talking.”
* * *
“Audrey Elizabeth Farrell, just what are you wearing?”
I sigh heavily. I’m standing in the doorway of my parents’ house, and my mother is surveying my appearance with judgmental eyes and a bitchy tone.
“Can I come in, Mother?” I say in the kindest voice I can manage.
“Those jeans are stained. And why is your hair curly? Did you not like the straightener I bought for you?”
I push the door open farther with my toe and stride past her while saying, “I spilled paint on my jeans in class, and I like it when my hair looks like a piece of –“
“Oooookay there, hello darling.” My dad appears from the staircase in record time and frowns at me. “Don’t talk to your mother like that again.”
We are now sitting around a dining table with ten cushioned seats. As my dad carves the turkey and my mother ties a bib around my now four-year-old sister, I think about the Thanksgivings we had when I was a kid. We had a tiny, wobbly round table with three chairs, and my grandmother always cooked for us because my mother was “too depressed”. When she wasn’t sleeping or downing antidepressants, she was writing a book about how I ruined her life and how she was destined for great things, like becoming Miss America and going to visit Paris with her high school senior class. Good thing my dad eventually struck gold with his business venture or she would have never gotten published. Now the world can read about what a problem I was to her, always needing some kind of attention.
“Audwee, wook at my bib!” Sophie squeals, waving at me from across the table. “Pwetty!”
“Yeah, it’s nice,” I tell her, forcing a smile. My parents look at her adoringly. Lucky girl.
I spend the rest of the dinner listening to my parents banter back and forth about Sophie, talking about how her Pre-Kindergarten teachers think she’s destined for Ivy League already. I let my mind drift to thoughts of Walker. I imagine that I’m in his arms again, the room is cloudy with smoke, and he’s kissing me as some band I’d never heard of before plays in the background. In those moments, I always chant to myself, I love you, but I never say it out loud. Sometimes it’s for Walker.
Sometimes it’s for me.
After dinner, I start to head upstairs, but my parents stop me. They tell me that my bedroom has been converted into a play room for Sophie, and I have to sleep in the basement guest room now. It feels like some sort of surreal joke, and the colors around me morph and blend, but I know it’s not. Who am I to complain? I have parents who pay for everything I need. I’m spoiled. I have no reason to feel upset. Sophie needs a play room more than I need a bedroom in my parents’ house.
Sophie needs them more than me and it’s good that my parents are happier than they ever were with me. Because if they weren’t, Sophie would grow up like I did, in a house with a leaky roof, in a room with walls thin enough to hear her mother sob herself to sleep. She’d have an absent father who worked 20 hours a day and slept on the couch. She’d have teachers who worried about her, classmates who mocked her. She’d have to teach herself about periods and sex and how to shave her legs. She’d have to look the other way when her mother brought strange men home.
I nod to myself and accept this as I retreat to the basement. I blink away the tears that cloud my vision.
If Sophie had been me, she’d have to teach herself about love.