Today's Reading

"Just let me be miserable for one more week." Or fifty-two. "And I promise to try to rejoin society again. It's still too fresh. I still get recognized in the streets."

Being looked down on, on the bitter, hard streets of LA is one thing, but getting the cold shoulder in the suburbs of Ohio? Absolutely not. A person can only handle so much.

"I'll give you thirty more minutes," she says, clearly not understanding the meaning of compromise. "I'm hosting Friday church group and I can't have you wandering around the house like a sad, godless puppy. Plus, I told the ladies you'd be joining us." She shoves the bedazzled Bible I didn't notice she was holding into my hands. I'm surprised I don't dissolve into a pile of ash. "Just in case you need to catch up."

"While sitting in the kitchen and gossiping under the ruse of good intentions does sound like a blast, I'm going to have to pass." I return her Bible, only slightly concerned that lying while holding it resulted in one more brick in my pathway to hell. "I promised Dad I'd help him get things for the yard today."

My dad, Anderson Carter, is perhaps the most precious human to ever human. A recently retired pharmacist, he's living his full gardener fantasy. Seeing this six-foot-two-inch, 320-pound Black man fiddling around the yard has been the only highlight of returning home. Unfortunately for me, once I told him that, he became relentless in his pursuit to recruit me into this vitamin D-filled hobby of his. I wasn't thrilled when I finally gave in, but now that it's saving me from an afternoon listening to the Karens—no shade, there are literally three different women named Karen in the group—drone on about how wonderful their boring kids are doing, I'm going to have to buy him lunch...if my bank account will allow it.

"Oh darn. Well, maybe next time." My mom pouts and the fine lines of aging pull on the corners of her delicate mouth, which has never muttered a single curse word. "At least Dad's going to get some quality time with you."

She may not curse, but those lips are well-versed in spewing passive-aggressive jabs.
 
"We watched an entire season of House Hunters last week; quality time doesn't get any better than that." I can almost see the wheels turning in her brain to come up with a retort, but she stays quiet because even she knows it's true. Nothing can bond two humans more than watching incompatible couples argue about a house they can't afford and screaming at a television about gray laminate floors.

"Fine, but if you're set on abandoning me and Jesus, can you at least make sure Dad doesn't forget to get the white oak tree while you're at the nursery?" She steps to the side as I squeeze past her.

She follows close behind as I try to keep my eyes trained on the carpet they replaced last year and ignore the barrage of inspirational quote art littering the walls. The collaged picture frames filled with every single one of my school pictures break up Bible verses, proof of days when I loved overly teased bangs and scrunchies working overtime to keep me humble.

As if I have any pride left.

"Sure, Mom." I pull open the cabinet and grab the "World's Best Dad" mug I gave my dad for Father's Day when I was in third grade. I pour in some of the hazelnut coffee my mom is still trying to convince me doesn't taste like sludge and hope that today will be the day I learn to love it. "Text me the name, though, because I definitely won't remember."

"The white oak." Dad's deep voice bounces off the white cabinets before he enters and drops a chaste kiss onto my mom's mouth. They celebrated their thirty-sixth wedding anniversary in February. He still kisses her every time he enters a room and my mom still blushes each time she lays eyes on him. It's sickeningly sweet. "That's what we're going to get; I had to order it. Noreen called me last night to tell me it finally came in."

"Really?" My mom's face lights up and I'm not sure if it's because she's married to a man who does thoughtful shit like special ordering her trees or because she loves landscaping that much. "You didn't tell me!"

They planted a tree in the front yard when our house was built thirty years ago. Unfortunately, two winters ago, it fell victim to a blizzard that knocked out power lines and roots alike. And while the Reserve at Horizon Creek may be a stifling hellhole put on Earth only to torture me in my lowest moments in life—let's not talk about being one of ten people of color in my middle school of more than a thousand—it's been around long enough that I can't say it's ugly. The trees planted at the inception of the neighborhood have grown into beautiful, mature trees many planned communities can't brag about.
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