Odd One Out

Odd One Out

by Sheila Lamb

 


This lady walks up to me at Jack Sheveleski’s funeral.

“I guess we’re in the same boat,” she says. “I’m June. The starter daughter.”

For a minute I think she’s talking about football. Like maybe her family has some Thanksgiving game tradition I’m supposed to know about. Then I get it.

“Right. You’re the daughter from Mr. Sheveleski’s first marriage.”

June nods, her cinnamon curls bounce. She’s about two inches shorter than me. And round. Round eyes, round freckled face, round hair. “That’s me. Sherri Ann told me we should talk. We got stuff in common. I don’t know anyone here, so why not?”

“Uh-huh.” I look around for Sherri Ann, wanting to put her in the ground right next to her daddy. She knows I don’t like strangers.

I walk over to the dessert table in the church hall, where half of Sleepy Creek has gathered to give Sheveleski his send-off. Really, I think they came for the church ladies’ chocolate cake and sweet, sweet lemonade. I cut myself a thick cake slice with extra frosting.

“I’m on a diet,” June says. “Weight Watchers. I used all my points for today eating those buttered rolls.” She points to the hot dish buffet line.

I don’t worry about points or butter. My one black skirt I wore only on occasions such as this was loose around the waist. I run. A lot. I decide right then to train for the Marine Corps Marathon in D.C. come October. I add a side of coconut crème pie to my plate. June stares.

“Guess you’re in shape, aren’t you?”

“Yep.”

I know what Sherri Ann’s up to. Even in the midst of her father’s funeral, she’s trying to fix me up, only not on a blind date this time. She thinks that somehow I’m going to bond with her older half-sister. Only kid from a first marriage, what they call starter marriages. The ones that last a few years, the ones for practice. Sherri Ann barely knows June. Only met her a handful of times.

It’s different with my family. My sisters know who I am. Growing up, I spent weekends with the girls, my father and stepmother. Part of the custody deal. I send them birthday cards and we get together on holidays. Not the same situation at all.

I sit in a cold, metal folding chair at one of the tables covered with white paper tablecloths. June parks herself across from me. I look for anyone else to talk to but of course, most everyone is socializing, paying respects to the Sheveleski family. Minus June.

“You don’t talk much, do you?”

“Nope.” I shove my mouth full of double fudge frosting. My eyes water from the sugar overload. It’s so rich I almost spit it out.

“Sherri Ann said you might be that way.” She leans forward, puts her elbows on the table and props her chin in her hands. Her face is almost a perfect circle.

“What way?”

“Standoffish.”

“I’m eating. It’s nothing personal.” I scoop up a big dollop of coconut crème. My plastic fork squeaks against the Styrofoam plate.

“I understand. Girls like us learn to make it on our own.”

I put down my fork. Firmly. Drops of coconut crème land on the table. June jumps a little in her chair.

“June, why aren’t you over there with your sisters?”

She smirks. It’s the first not-desperate-to-be-your-friend look I’ve seen in the five minutes that I’ve known her.

“You know how it is.”

I shake my head and keep eating. June gets up and heads to the dessert table.

Not the same at all. I see my family. When I decide to make the two-hour drive into D.C. When I decide I want to show up.

“Can’t talk long,” Dad had said last week when I called his cell phone. “We’re eating out at Rays.”

My mouth watered at the thought of one of those steaks, thick, medium rare.

“What’s the occasion?”

“Rachel’s home from Pitt this weekend.”

“Wish I’d have known.”

“Maybe next time. Our food is here. Talk to you soon!”

That’s typical. They’re busy people. Always something going on with the girls. And I’m out here. Never could find my way to leave Sleepy Creek. Dad left soon after the divorce, claiming he needed to be closer to work, like he’d always wanted to throw off the West Virginia hillbilly mantle to become a sophisticated city man.

Mama had plenty to say about it for a time. Early mid-life crisis, younger wife, postcard perfect family. Her ranting never changed my opinion. Dad’s happy, plain and simple. He dusted off the coal to shine.

I would have gone on that trip to London, too. Rachel’s high school graduation present. It was the topic at Christmas dinner. Rachel wanted to go to the West End, the theaters. Dad wanted to go to the Tower, and visit Parliament. Myself, I always did want to pay my respects to Princess Diana. See Buckingham Palace.

“Let me know how much it costs,” I told Dad. “I’ll pay my own way.”

I repeated my statement sometime in March. I hadn’t heard anything more about the trip. Surely they would need airline reservations and passports.

“Sorry, sweetheart. The tour’s been booked solid since we got our tickets. We should have told you earlier.”

I look over my shoulder again at Sherri Ann and her sisters huddled around their mama. People bring cakes and pies over to them. Hugs and tissue boxes are passed around.

June stands on the periphery. The church ladies nod to her, smiles taut, as if they’re not sure what to do with the extra Sheveleski girl. Sherri Ann whispers to her.

Go chat with Sarah, I imagine Sherri Ann saying to June. She’s the eldest of four, just like you. Go on. Go on.

My gut churns watching her, as she waits to be let in.

-refers from the word “father” in Liz Dolan’s poem After the Second Shift.

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