Cece sat down on the floor, hugged her dolphin, and started rocking. I hadn’t even been sure how much she’d noticed about what was going on. Obviously she had realized Mom wasn’t there, and it bothered her. She just didn’t know how to say how she felt.
“Chris, is your dad around?” Kadie asked softly.
“He’s at work,” I replied. “You can try calling him, but he doesn’t usually have much time to talk.”
“Okay, then can you tell us a little about what’s going on with your mother?” Nina asked. “We shouldn’t even be here without one of your parents.”
“Didn’t Dad call you?” I went over to them so we wouldn’t bother Cece with the conversation. “He said he would call you and tell you what was going on.”
“I didn’t get a call from him.” Kadie looked at Nina, who shook her head. “When did he say he was going to call?”
“Last night,” I replied. “I gave him the cell numbers Mom wrote down, and he said he’d take care of it.” I should have figured he wouldn’t. He’d had too many things going on at once. He probably hadn’t even remembered I’d mentioned the therapists.
That wasn’t an excuse, though. Once again, I had to be responsible for something my parents should have done.
I glared at Cece, who of course didn’t notice since she was still rocking and staring out—or at—the window. None of this was her fault, anyway. She couldn’t help the way she was, and she definitely couldn’t help how our parents were. Maybe if Cece hadn’t had autism Mom would have stuck around, but Cece couldn’t do anything about that. Mom didn’t know how to handle a kid who needed as much as Cece did. Cece couldn’t help needing so much, though. And Mom had had alternatives.
I sighed. “Dad needs to step it up.”
“Your father’s doing his best,” Jillian said. “This isn’t easy for him.”
“It isn’t easy for me either!” I shouted.
The women jumped. Cece didn’t even move.
Words started pouring out of me, and I didn’t bother trying to stop them. “Listen. You don’t know how much I’ve been doing around here. Every day, Mom would take off for a few hours. I don’t know where she went. She said she was running errands. She told me not to tell Dad, because she didn’t want him to get mad at her for leaving me alone with Cece. So I was already doing that. Then I come home Monday and find Cece still sitting in her school van, waiting for someone to come for her, and the driver almost didn’t even let me have her. Then I had to—”
I stopped. All of them were staring at me like I’d gone nuts or something. Maybe I had. After everything that had happened the past few days, maybe going nuts was the sanest way to deal.
“I’ve been doing a lot for a long time,” I said, trying to keep my voice down.
“Your father didn’t know your mother was leaving you alone with Cecelia?” Kadie asked.
I shook my head. “I shouldn’t have said anything. It doesn’t matter anymore. I don’t think Mom will be back.” I glanced over at Cece. She was still staring out the window, so I hoped she hadn’t heard me.
“It does matter,” Nina said. “You shouldn’t have been put in that position.”
“Watching Cece isn’t a big deal.” I was starting to feel really uncomfortable now, like I’d done something wrong by tattling on Mom and by doing what she’d told me to do. Plus Kadie and Nina made it sound like I wasn’t capable of taking care of my sister. Obviously I was, since I’d done okay so far.
“That isn’t the point,” Kadie said. “We’ll talk to your father about it later. Do you think he’ll be home soon?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know. I just know I’m tired of having to do everything, so I hope he is.” I looked at Jillian. “No offense. You’re helping a lot right now, but you weren’t around before.”
“I would have been if I’d known,” she said quietly.
“Yeah. Thanks.” Mom wouldn’t have let Jillian help. She hated letting anyone other than me know she couldn’t handle Cece. The only reason she said anything to me was because she figured I wouldn’t tell anyone else.
Or maybe because she didn’t have anyone else to talk to. She could have made friends with Jillian and some of the other women in the neighborhood if she’d wanted to, but she hadn’t bothered trying. She shouldn’t have been leaning on me, but maybe she hadn’t known what else to do.