Elena sat still, eyes transfixed on her vibrating cell phone. Her pupils focused with laser light precision on the name blinking next to the “missed call” notification. Aaron.
“I should have answered” she thought to herself as she placed the phone on the charger and returned to the kitchen. The smell of burnt garlic accosted her before she could raise the lid on the pan of asparagus sizzling on the stove.
“Erin," she called to her oldest daughter, “I know you smelled this fucking food burning!”
Sixteen year old Erin emerged from the living room with her little sister Jerrica on her hip. She rolled her eyes at her mother before opening the oven to check the salmon and lying to her father. “No, I haven’t seen her,” she muttered before hanging up the phone.
“So ya’ll don’t talk now?” Erin spat at her mother once she was sure the line was clear.
Elena hesitated to answer. So many words were filling her head. Even though Erin was practically an adult she still felt the need to protect her from the harsh reality of the world. How on earth could she tell her oldest daughter that the only father she had known was across the ocean on vacation with someone else? Elena knew he was only calling to “save face.” He knew it was dinner time and that they would all most likely be assembled. Aaron was good for making scenes. Seemed like he only really wanted to be bothered with her or the kids when someone was looking. She also knew he was where he wanted to be with who he wanted to be with. But even so, she longed to hear his voice. She secretly loved knowing that no matter how far away he was, he still had a responsibility to her and their children.
“He’ll call back,” she comforted her daughter. "Let’s eat.” The family ate in silence. Erin spent the majority of the meal on her phone, while both Jerrica and Elena tried to enjoy the portions of the meal that weren't burnt. In her mind, Elena counted the minutes before her nightly duty was over. The sooner they ate the faster she could get out of that house and away from them and the stale burdensome responsibility that had become her life. Usually she would wait until after dinner to make her escape, but since it was Friday night, she didn't want to risk the possibility that Erin would try to make plans before her. She figured she needed to start planting seeds now.
“I hope you are not on that phone making plans,” she said, obviously annoyed. Erin ignored her. “Hey.” she screamed, this time yanking the phone out of her hand, “You hear me. Don’t ignore me.” Erin smacked her lips, and twisted them to the side, but said nothing. Her eyes said enough. Anger, disappointment, shame, it was all there. But all Elena was looking and listening for was even the slightest sliver of disobedience. If Erin talked back, at least she would be able to justify putting her on punishment for a week, without having to pick a fight every night. Tonight, however, Elena had no such luck. Erin just shook her head, cleared her plate and walked quietly into the living room.
Once she was out of her mother’s reach, her tear cracked voice said, “C’mon Jerrica…come with me, mommy is getting ready to go out.” Jerrica looked up from her food for approval before wiggling out of her seat. Elena nodded, “Go head,” she whispered. “Have funny mommy, Jerrica called as she and her favorite stuffed animal curled up on the couch next to her sister.