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Author: winebabe
Title: Home Sweet Whatever
Story: The Gemini Occurrence
Rating: PG-13
Flavor(s): Apple Cider #23: how sweet the sound; Maple Syrup #30: ride off into the sunset; Wildberry #12: according to plan
Extra(s)/Topping(s): Malt Prompt: lost_spook: “Happiest memory (for Mona).”
Word Count: 3,011
Summary: 2010. Cassandra comes back from her last serious stint in rehab and decides she wants to take her children away from the mess she’s created.
Notes: Mona Lively, Devyn Lively, Cassandra Lively. (I think we all know where this ends up...but I decided to end it on a happier note.)

“She’s coming home!” Mona shrieks, her little hands pressed to the glass of the living room window, smudging it with her fingerprints.

Devyn doesn’t even bother glancing up from his biology textbook. He’s huddled inside five blankets, one pulled up and around his head like a hood, and Mona is running around in her puffy pink winter jacket; the heat has been off for weeks, because no one can pay the bills when the only adult is away at rehab.

Six year old Mona doesn’t care, though. The neighbors have been looking out for her, bringing food by and making sure there’s a responsible adult around when Social Services pays a visit. Devyn pretends he doesn’t need a caretaker, and Mona pretends that Devyn is the only person she needs, but they’re both relieved when Cassandra gets off the bus at the end of the street and heads towards their building, a duffel bag in hand.

Mona’s bouncing up and down in the middle of the room when Cassandra finally pushes the door open, and she screams with all the excitement of well-adjusted child, launching herself at her mother. “Mommy! You’re here!”

“I’m here!” Cassandra echoes, pulling Mona into a tight hug, peppering her dark hair with kisses. “Oh, I missed you, sweetie! My sweet angel. Were you okay without me?”

“We were fine,” Devyn says, his voice hoarse, and flips a page in his textbook. “You can go back if you need more time. Actually, you probably should go back.”

“I was gone for three months,” Cassandra says quietly. “90 days, Devyn. Court-ordered and I completed it all. I’m better.”

Devyn can’t even raise his eyes to look at her.

Mona tugs on Cassandra’s hand, staring up at her with her big saucer eyes. “The heat’s off, mommy.”

“I know, baby,” she says. “It’s freezing in here. How long has it been off?”

“Almost a month,” Devyn says, coughing into a blanket-covered fist.

“Devyn got real sick,” Mona informs her, pointing to the kitchen counter where bottles of NyQuil and boxes of cold and flu pills sit in an organized mess.

“Oh, honey,” Cassandra says, and immediately makes a beeline for where Devyn is curled up with his homework. She sits down on the couch, at his feet, and doesn’t react when he visibly recoils from her. “You’re getting better, though, right?” she asks, reaching out to place her hand on his forehead.

“I’m fine,” he grumbles, staring intensely at the book in his lap. “I can manage.”

“Feels like you have a little bit of a fever,” she tells him, “but nothing we need to run to the clinic for. Is that make-up work?”

“I didn’t miss a day of class.” Devyn finally slams the textbook shut. “Would you drop the act, mom? We know that in, what, a few weeks?--you’ll be back where you were before. You’re just wasting your time pretending that you care.”

Cassandra stares at him for a long time, her blue eyes watery, but he won’t look back at her. “It’s okay, Devyn,” she says. “You have every right to hate me.”

Devyn sighs and drops his textbook onto the floor. “I don’t hate you,” he says, and then swings his legs over the edge of the couch. “I’m going to bed.”

Mona walks over to where Cassandra is sitting on the couch and reaches out to hold her hand, gently stroking her thumb against her mom’s skin. They watch as Devyn grabs the bottle of the NyQuil from the counter and storms off, slamming his door behind him. “He went to my parent-teacher conference for you,” Mona says.

“Yeah?” Cassandra asks, smiling through tears. “He’s a good boy. You both are such good kids.”

Mona inches closer so she can kiss Cassandra on the cheek. “We love you, mommy,” she says, and Cassandra immediately starts sobbing. Mona just keeps holding her hand, standing beside her like a loyal puppy.

That night, while the kids sleep, Cassandra sneaks out to buy some food. She gets eggs, milk, bread, and orange juice; a few packages of cheese and lunch meat, a bag of lettuce; and all the ingredients to make the broccoli-cheddar casserole she knows is Devyn’s favorite. Or, at least, it’s the only recipe she can remember making him when he was Mona’s age.

She brings the food home and puts it all away, and because she still can’t sleep, she tries to clean up the apartment. The counters get scrubbed down, the few dishes in the sink get done, and then she moves on to the bathroom. Cassandra cries the entire time.

In the morning, Mona wakes up bright and early, too excited by the knowledge that her mom is back home, and immediately slips into Devyn’s bedroom to wake him up, too. He’s curled up on his side, covered in a mountain of blankets, but his face is screwed up like he’s having a bad dream, Mona thinks. She puts her hand on his forehead like their mom had done, and then puts the same hand on her own forehead to compare. He feels a lot warmer than she does.

“Devyn,” Mona whispers, gently petting his hair. “Devyn, wake up.”

“Mm.” Devyn frowns and pulls the blankets up to his chin.

“Devyn,” she repeats. Cassandra’s already up, making breakfast in the kitchen, and Mona doesn’t want Devyn to miss it. “Devyn, gotta get up.”

“Okay, Mona,” he says, rubbing at one of his eyes. “‘time is it?”

She looks at his digital clock on the bedside table and reads the numbers back to him. “Six, three, seven.”

“Six thirty-seven,” he corrects her, and finally opens his eyes. Mona hands him his glasses; he slips them on and smiles at her. “Morning, sunshine.”

Mona beams back at him. “Morning! Mom is making breakfast.”

There’s a look on Devyn’s face that Mona can’t quite read, and he pushes himself up into a sitting position. “Cassandra’s making breakfast,” he states, and she nods.

“Eggs! And she got you orange juice because you’re sick. Are you still sick?”

Devyn smiles and shakes his head. “Just barely. I’ll be okay. How’re you holding up, pink marshmallow?”

Mona looks down at her coat and pats one of the raised pockets of padding. “I’m warm enough.”

Devyn nods. “Good. Good girl. Most kids aren’t as strong as you are, you know that?”

“I know that,” she says. “Can we get breakfast now?”

“Of course,” he replies and pulls back the covers.

Mona holds his hand the entire time as they walk out of Devyn’s bedroom and into the living room/kitchen. Sure enough, Cassandra is standing at the stove, a spatula in hand, pushing eggs around in their only pan. There are three places set at each of the stools; Mona’s place has her favorite pink bunny cup filled to the brim with milk, and Devyn’s has a mug of coffee and a cup full of orange juice, a little blister pack of pills sitting next to the juice.

Mona keeps squeezing Devyn’s hand out of excitement, and Devyn gives hers a little squeeze back.

“Morning, angels!” Cassandra says, finally looking up from the food. “Come on, you gotta eat up before school!”

Mona giggles and runs to her place, clambering up the stool while Devyn rushes to her side to make sure she doesn’t fall off. Cassandra scoops eggs onto Mona’s plate, drops two pieces of toast onto the edge of the plate, and sets a jar of strawberry jam and a knife onto the counter.

“Can you help her with her toast?” Cassandra asks Devyn, and he just nods, dumbfounded, as she sets a small, white cap with his prescription medication down next to his place. “Don’t forget to take that.”

Devyn wants to snap at her and say something about how he’s not the one who refuses to take his medication, but instead he nods again, grabbing the knife from Mona’s hand and spreading a thick layer of the jam onto each piece of toast.

Mona begins shoveling her eggs into her mouth like she hasn’t eaten in weeks, and Cassandra watches her sadly. Both of her kids are so thin, so pale, with the same dark shadows under their eyes. They look like they’ve had a rough life, and it breaks her heart.

“Hey,” she whispers, after Devyn has taken a seat and started eating, “I was thinking we could take a trip. A little family vacation, you know? Get out of here for a while.”

“We have school,” Devyn says around a mouthful of toast.

“You can take some time off! You’re already in college, Devyn--at seventeen! Give yourself a break.”

Devyn stares at her, frozen with his fork in his hand. “The reason I’m in college at seventeen is because I can’t afford to give myself a break, mom. I’m trying to make a better life for myself and--”

“It’s just for a few days, Devyn,” Cassandra interrupts. “It’ll be nice! Get you out of this freezing apartment, huh? I don’t care if you do homework the entire time. But don’t you think your sister deserves to have a little fun?”

He glares up at her, angry that she had to bring Mona into it. “Fine,” he says, “but only for a few days.”

Cassandra turns to Mona with a big grin on her face. “Did you hear that, sweetheart? We’re going on vacation!” Mona screams and almost knocks over her glass of milk.

“Hey, Mona?” Devyn asks, holding tightly to Mona’s gloved hand as he walks her to her bus stop, “You know this is just for a little bit, right?”

Mona looks up at him and blinks her eyes; she looks like a little doll, and all Devyn wants to do is scoop her up and carry her around with him to always make sure she’s safe. “What is?”

“Mom,” he says, and Mona’s face falls.

She looks down at her feet as they walk, but doesn’t say anything. The wheels are turning in her head, though; she’s young, but she doesn’t have to think too hard to figure out what Devyn means. Mom is...different. She’s not like other moms, because other moms don’t fall asleep on the floor and other moms don’t get hauled away by the police and other moms don’t have needles that stick out of their arms and bruises on their faces. She knows this because Devyn tells her so, and because Karen and Cici tell her their moms never have any of that stuff happen to them.

At Karen’s house, her mom comes home every night in cute dresses and skirts, wearing lipstick. She’s always so very pretty, and she has money to buy pizza on Friday nights, and she gives Mona leftovers to take home when she leaves for the night.

At Cici’s house, her mom makes home-cooked meals and wears aprons and is always cleaning. She never ever swears and doesn’t like them watching too much TV, and there’s always some kind of craft or art project she wants the girls to do. When Mona sleeps over, which is probably far too often, she makes the girls chocolate-drizzled popcorn and lets them pick out one nail polish each from her collection before she helps them paint their fingers and toes.

Her mom doesn’t do any of those things, and Mona never thought it was strange until she started to go to other houses and see other moms.

“She’s on her best behavior,” Devyn tells her, “like you are after you get in trouble. She’s trying really hard to be good.”

Mona nods. “So she’s gonna stop being good?”

“Eventually,” he says. “I’m sorry. I just--I don’t want you to be too sad when things go back to the way they were.”

“Okay,” Mona replies. “But can I like her while she’s being good?”

“Of course you can.” Devyn pats Mona’s head, on top of her hood. “You can even love her.”

That night, after both Mona and Devyn have gotten back from school, they load up an unfamiliar car with one bag of clothes and necessities each, and Mona falls asleep in her booster seat before they’ve even made it out of the city. Devyn is still coughing, a wet-crackling sound that just makes him all the more irritated, worrying that he should be resting at home and focusing on his schoolwork instead of going on some half-assed road trip.

“We’re not going to make it very far,” he whispers to Cassandra, leaning over to turn the radio down. “It’s like 10 hours to get anywhere remotely warm.”

“I’ll drive all night,” Cassandra says. “You and Mona can sleep. We’ll be there before you know it.”

“And how are you going to accomplish that? Did you take something?” he accuses, and the hurt look on her face does nothing to temper his attitude.

“I slept while you and Mona were at school,” she says quietly. “Devyn, I mean it. I’m going to change this time. I can’t keep living like this.”

Devyn does finally turn to look at her, and she looks sincere. He wants to believe her, but he can’t. “Sure,” he says, turning over in his seat to face the window. “Not like I haven’t heard that one before.”

It’s sunrise when Devyn opens his eyes again; they’re still on the road, and Cassandra looks just as alert as she had when he’d fallen asleep hours ago. He tries to covertly watch her, looking for any sign that she’s used some kind of chemical assistance to keep her awake, but she looks normal. She looks more normal than he thinks he’s ever seen her.

“Hey,” Cassandra says, and Devyn jumps; he hadn’t realized she knew he was awake. “Think you can help me start looking for diners? We’ll need to stop for some breakfast soon.”

“Yeah.” He shifts so he’s sitting upright, facing the window, watching for an IHOP or Denny’s--anywhere Mona can get pancakes with a whipped cream smiley face on top and he can get free refills of coffee.

After a few minutes of silence, without turning to look at her, Devyn says, “Mom, if you’re serious about getting better, I’ll help you.”

“Huh?” The shock is evident in Cassandra’s voice, and the emotion of it makes Devyn wish he’d kept quiet.

“You can’t keep disappointing me and destroying Mona. If you really want to get better, I’ll help you. I’ll do whatever it takes. But this is your last chance.”

Cassandra is silent for a long time before she finally tells him, “You’re way too mature for your age. You sound too adult.”

“Yeah, well, you grow up fast when your parents are junkies.” He does turn away from the window, just long enough to give her what he hopes is a hard, intense stare. “You’re fucked up, mom. But you’re not a horrible person.”

She nods, silent, while tears well up in her eyes.

“Don’t cry, mom,” Devyn says, keeping his voice devoid of any emotion. “That’s not the nicest thing a kid could say to their parent.”

“It’s pretty damn close,” she says, and they both laugh.

“You know, I’m so happy,” Mona says innocently, stabbing a thick stack of pancakes with her fork. Cassandra watches her for a long time, a blank expression on her face, before she finally smiles.

“That’s good, honey. That’s good to hear.”

Devyn adds another flavored creamer to his coffee and stirs it in, staying silent. Cassandra’s right, it’s good to hear Mona say she’s happy, and he’s not going to ruin that for her. She can stay happy for a while longer.

It’s only in the low 60s in Georgia, nowhere near beach weather, but that doesn’t stop Cassandra from dressing Mona up in a brand new pink polka-dotted bathing suit and dragging both her children out to the beach outside their motel to sunbathe.

Devyn brings a textbook out with him to study, but it’s hard to concentrate while Mona splashes in the ocean and shrieks with laughter. Cassandra is right out there with her, lightly splashing water against Mona’s back, laughing as her daughter screams and runs away.

Later, he helps Mona build sand castles while Cassandra runs out to get them a pizza for dinner. She actually comes back, with a stuffed crust pepperoni pizza, and they all sit in the motel room beds and eat while they watch cartoons.

When Cassandra is in the shower that night, Mona climbs into bed with Devyn and presses her little forehead to his, staring at him with her bright eyes. “Is this what having a family is like?” she whispers, and he has to pretend it’s not a heartbreaking question.

“Probably,” Devyn whispers back, and shifts so he can kiss her on the forehead. “Go to sleep. Mom wants to take you to the zoo tomorrow.”

“The zoo!” Mona screams, pulling the covers up to her chin. “Holy cow! Do you think they’ll have jellyfish?”

“You’ll have to wait and find out. The sooner you go to sleep, though, the sooner it’ll be time for the zoo,” he says, and yawns for good measure.

“Okay. I love you!” Mona rolls over, grabbing ahold of her stuffed bunny and closing her eyes.

“I love you, too, Mona,” Devyn says, staring up at the ceiling. He can’t help but wonder when everything is going to come crashing down.

The zoo does have jellyfish, and Mona spends the better part of half an hour staring at the moon jellies, glowing underneath the lights in their tank. Cassandra buys them ice cream, and Devyn takes half a dozen pictures of her and Mona together, standing in front of different animal enclosures. She looks healthy under the sunlight; her blonde hair is pulled back in a ponytail and her face looks older, but her skin looks better than its usual dry, bruised state. When she smiles, Devyn can almost push away the thought that she’s going to go back to her old ways.


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 20th, 2017 08:31 am (UTC)
Awww! That's great. But it's not really happy, it's all the more heart-breaking! ;-p
Apr. 21st, 2017 02:17 pm (UTC)
Haha, I'm just terrible! It is pretty bittersweet, though--I wanted to show that Cassandra really wasn't a terrible mother, but I guess it's all the more devastating for the kids to have to go back and forth between having a loving mother and not having a mother at all.
Apr. 20th, 2017 11:58 pm (UTC)
Ugh. My heart. :(
Apr. 21st, 2017 02:17 pm (UTC)
:( Thank you for reading!
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )


Runaway Tales



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