Beth struggles with her mother's death but finds hope in another girl's pretty bedroom.
| Mikayla's Room
About 2000 words
Stupid bedroom, Cheryl grumbled to herself as she stomped in, angry about something she couldn't identify. Stupid old room with stupid old faded green wallpaper and stupid old grey paint and stupid old bed and why did mom have to get stupid cancer and die?
Cheryl eased her bedroom door shut, because no matter how busy and distracted her dad might be, a slammed door was something he just wouldn't take. Instead, she grabbed a strip of peeling green wallpaper and yanked. It tore off the wall with a satisfying rip--though not nearly as satisfying as a slam would have been. She wrestled the strip all the way to the baseboard, pulled it free, and hurled it across the room. It left one more strip of dull gray on a tattered wall.
She glanced at her dresser, at the photo of her ninth birthday party with her mom and dad from before things all went wrong. A feeling with knobs and pointy bumps churned and poked inside her, as it had for weeks since her mom's death, but she pushed it down. If her dad didn't cry, then neither would she. Instead, she tore the strip of wall paper into little squares. She threw the bits of wallpaper into her waste basket then threw herself face down on the bed and hugged her pillow. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
Her dad knocked on the door, then opened it and looked over at her. "I just got a call from Chelsea. Little Benny's sick so she can't come over to look after you. I'm afraid you'll have to come with me on this sales call."
"But I have math homework," she mumbled into the pillow.
"You'll have to just bring it along. Let's go." He glanced around the room, but clearly his mind was elsewhere. He turned and left, leaving the door open.
She seized her math text and scribbler from the dresser, stuffed them into her backpack and slung it over her shoulder. On an afterthought, she took it off again and added her pencil crayons and some art paper. Maybe she'd have some free time after the math.
"Let's go, Cheryl," her dad called from the door to the garage. "I have an appointment to keep. Move it, move it, move it."
"Stupid, stupid, stupid," muttered Cheryl, but she ran to the car.
"I don't think this will take more than an hour," her dad said as they drove, "and if I close this sale I'll have made quota early and qualify for a bonus. How would you like a new tablet? Or maybe your own cell phone?
Either one would be great, thanks. Uh, Dad, you've been gone a lot this summer, always working. Once you hit quota, will you be home more, you think?"
"I hope so. Maybe I'll be able to relax a bit."
"Can we decorate my room, then?"
He didn't answer.
"Can we, Dad?"
"Dad?" He was staring straight ahead, his brow furrowed, his lips firm, his hands clenched on the wheel. Well, fine, then. If he wouldn't talk, neither would she.
When they had moved into the house last spring, she and Mom had planned to redecorate Cheryl's bedroom together. They had talked about colors for the walls and curtains for the windows and new furniture. And then her mom had gotten so sick so fast, and her dad had to look after her and the house and business, and everything had gone all wrong.
Thinking about her mom made the prickly, nobby feeling burn inside her. She glared at her father and wished he would say something, anything. She crossed her arms and stared out the side window. They drove on in silence.
Their destination was a large home in a fancy neighborhood. They pulled into a circular driveway and went up a curved walk bordered with shrubs that were filled with hundreds of little yellow flowers that shone in the autumn evening. While her dad rang the bell, Cheryl studied the entry way. There were two large wooden doors with a quarter-round window in each that together made an arch. The windows looked like crystal, Cheryl thought, and the little panes were separated with brass strips that gleamed in the waning sunlight.
A large man, broad-chested and bearded, answered the bell. He was taller and wider than her father, and towered over Cheryl like some ancient Viking warrior. Thinking of him in one of those horned helmets, she smiled.
"Aha, Mr. Jespersen and guest, come in, come in," he invited, smiling back. Cheryl had expected a deep booming voice, but he sounded smooth and mellow like a radio announcer. He cocked a questioning eyebrow at her father.
"Mr. Telford, this is my daughter Cheryl. I couldn't get a sitter, so I hope you don't mind that I brought her along. She has some homework to do, so if she could have a quiet place to work, she won't be in our way while we discuss the group benefits plan for your company."
"Good evening, Cheryl," he said, shaking her hand solemnly. "I have a daughter about your age, but she and my wife have gone out. I'm sorry she's not here to entertain you."
"That's okay, thank you, sir. I have math homework."
"Very well, then. Let's get you settled in the library, and your father and I will retire to the den."
She was led to a large airy room on the second floor, a room with bookshelves and sculptures and lots of windows, and was installed at a table with milk and cookies and math homework.
"Oh, one more thing," Mr. Telford said as he and her dad left for another part of the house. "If you need the bathroom, go up those stairs and turn left."
Except for a murmur of music playing somewhere, the house was quiet. The lights were mostly off, leaving the house cool and dim. She listened hard but could hear no sound of her father and Mr. Telford talking. With a shrug, she opened her math text and got to work.
By the time she had finished the math, she had forgotten what Mr. Telford had said about the bathroom. At the top of the stairs she turned right, and found herself in a bedroom.
It was a girl's room, and it was perfect. Cheryl tiptoed around, staring open-mouthed.
Because it was in the attic, the ceiling was high in the center with roof slopes on two sides. An arched window at the end opposite the door made it bright, and the colors made it cheerful. The ceiling was pale mauve, the slopes and the top of the walls a darker mauve; the bottom half of the walls were pink. The window frame and baseboards were white, and a broad horizontal strip of white separated the mauve from the pink on the walls.
The pretty bedspread and pillow shams matched the room perfectly. The spread was a home-made quilt, with squares of mauve and pink separated by stripes of light lime green. The bed itself had arches at head and foot, made of brown wood. There were matching little tables on either side, and across the room was a matching desk on which rested a familiar Grade 3 math book. It was open to page 58, which had been last week's lesson at her own school.
The little girl who lived there must have liked butterflies, Cheryl thought. A mobile of gauzy butterflies - lime green, various shades of mauve, two blue, and one orange - hovered in a ceiling corner above the window, fluttering gently in the draft from the register. More butterflies made of colored paper perched here and there on the walls. A large ceramic butterfly decorated the lamp on the bedside table. There were even little butterfly slippers tucked neatly under the bed.
Was the little girl who lived there as pretty and perfect as her room? Her name was spelled out in lime-green foam letters pinned to the wall above the bed. Mikayla, the letters said.
Mikayla was so lucky.
Mikayla had a pretty room.
Mikayla was out with her mother.
The room was suddenly overwhelming, and Cheryl threw herself onto the bed, choking back sobs. The knobbly thing that had been roiling and churning inside broke loose with a feeling like shredded wallpaper and torn dreams. She buried her face in the mauve and pink pillow shams and for the first time since losing her mother, she cried.
Later, back at the library table, she burrowed into her backpack for pencil crayons and art paper. Not butterflies, she decided, but flowers. Little bright yellow flowers sprinkled in a broad curved strip slanting up one wall corner to corner, and across part of the ceiling. And a mobile with brass arms and suspended bits of glass crystal to flash in the sunlight.
But that was for the future. For now, she knew where she would start. She took the scissors from her pencil case and was digging in her backpack for the art pad when her father and Mr. Telford came into the library. They both looked satisfied, a little smug like each thought he had gotten a good deal from the other one.
"Close the deal, Dad?"
"Yes, Sweetie. Mr. Telford is now the proud owner of a complete health, vision, and dental benefits package for himself and his employees."
"Thank you, Mr. Telford. Your business is important now that it's just me and Dad."
Her dad laughed. "I don't train her to say that, but obviously she's heard me..." His chuckle died out. "We lost her mother, my wife, last spring. To cancer. It was unexpected and sudden."
"I'm sorry to hear that," said Mr. Telford. Cheryl looked up at him. He really looked sorry. Of course, she thought, he has a daughter my age, and he must be about the same age as dad is. Maybe his wife is about the same age as mom.
On a sudden impulse, she blurted, "Mr. Telford, I accidentally went into Mikayla's room when I was looking for the bathroom. I didn't really touch anything, but it was such a pretty room that I just had to look. I hope she doesn't mind."
"I don't think she will." He studied her thoughtfully. Cheryl ducked her head, trying to hide the red cheeks and slightly puffy eyes that her dad didn't seem to have noticed. After a moment, Mr. Telford turned to her father.
"Chuck, do you golf?" Her dad nodded. He loved the game, Cheryl knew, but between mom's illness, the funeral, and work, he hadn't hit the links all summer.
"Telford Steel is having a little golf outing this weekend, and you and Cheryl are welcome to come. You have my contact info, so give me a call. The girls could meet and play while you and I shoot a round. I think my wife will agree to look after them." He turned back to Cheryl. "Would you like that?"
"That would be great. Then I can apologize for going into her room."
They said their goodbyes and got into the car. Cheryl started fishing in her backpack, but looked up when she noticed that her dad hadn't started the car. His head was leaned against the steering wheel. He was crying quietly.
After a moment, he lifted his head and smiled at her. "Your mom and I used to enjoy golf together. It will seem really strange to tee off without her. Guess you miss her too."
Cheryl nodded. She unsnapped her seat belt and scooted over to lean up against him. He put his arm around her and they sat for a time, crying and sniffling. Finally, he buckled her into the center seat and put the car in gear, still holding her close. They drove home as they had come, in silence; but it was a different silence, smoother and less knobbly than before.
"Sweetie," her dad said as they pulled into their garage. He cleared his throat. "About your room. I don't know anything about decorating and colors and fabrics. Mom was good about that stuff but I'm sure not."
"It's okay, Dad. I remember what Mom suggested, and I know what I want. You can maybe paint and Chelsea can maybe do curtains and stuff if we ask nice."
Back in her room and ready for bed, she studied the wall above her headboard. Taking the scissors and lime green paper, she began to cut out the letters of her name.