The very best day of my life, I threw up
four times and had a fever of 103 degrees. I was pretty
sure I was going to die, and sometimes by the look on
my moms face every time she took my temperature,
I think she was pretty sure, too. It was all because of
Random Smith, a boy in school who never had any
lunch. Id given him a bite of my sandwich and all of my
crackers, he looked so hungry. Growing up, my mom
wasnt the kind of mom who said never drink from the
same cup as someone else. That stuff didnt occur to
her. So Id given him a sip of my milk, too.
But in addition to being hungry all the time,
Random was also usually sick. People never knew what
he had, so they always just said he had some random
thing which they all thought was hilarious but I just
thought was mean.
That day at home, my mom spent every minute
with me. My older sister and brother were at school,
and my dad was working at my parents restaurant.
I was eight and had never been home alone with just
my mom before, at least not all day and definitely not
with her full attention. The house was so quiet, except
for us two. My mom got into bed with me and read
Charlottes Web. It took all day, and at the end, we both
cried and shared a tissue.
When we finished sniffling, my mom adjusted herself
in the bed so she could look at me. Fern, she said
softly. Do you know why I named you Fern?
I nodded, looking at the drawing of the girl on the
cover of the book.
Why? she asked.
Because Fern is one of your favorite characters?
And why is that?
Because Fern cares, she said. From the moment
you were born, I could tell you had a special soul. I
knew youd be a good friend. A hero.
I looked at my chest and tried to feel my soul buried
in there, deep in my heart.
Its true, my mom said. Not everyone would
share a sandwich with Random Smith.
I smiled, feeling my soul stir a little.
My mom took my hand and kissed it. Im proud
of you, honey, she said. I know youre miserable
now, but you made a little boy feel like he matters. And
I hope you think it was worth all this.
I nodded slowly, thinking about Random and his
dirty face and stinky unwashed hair. I wondered if he
was home sick, too, and if he had a mom next to him
on his bed, reading to him all day and telling him he
was special. But then I started to feel like I was going
to throw up again. So I turned over on my side and my
mother rubbed my back in slow, tiny circles, humming
a lullaby I barely remembered, with fingers on my back
I hardly knew. She was always so busy cooking and
cleaning and working at the restaurant and basically
just taking care of everything else.
I closed my eyes and tried to remember that feeling,
because somehow, even then, I had a hunch that I might
not feel it again.
Two days later, my mom got Randoms bug. But
instead of getting better, she kept throwing up. Every
morning she was sick, sick, sick. And then finally, after
what felt like weeks and weeks, she and my dad sat us
all down and told us the news. My mom was going to
have a baby.
Now Charlie sits in the back of my moms station
wagon between Holden and me. Hes three years old
and thinks no ones looking when he picks his nose,
which is way too often. My mom and sister are in the
front, arguing about how many hours my sister has to
work at the restaurant to help contribute to the family.
Since Sara couldnt get into any good colleges, shes
doing a gap year by staying at home and working at my
parents restaurant. All her friends went off to college,
so on top of everything else, shes lonely and grumpy
and not much fun to be around.
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