Perfect Chemistry (Perfect Chemistry #1)(26) by Simone Elkeles

At the seventh-inning stretch, Colin and I stand and sing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game." We're totally out of tune, but it doesn't matter because right now it sounds as if the thousands of Cubs fans singing are as out of tune as we are. It feels good to be with Colin like this, having fun together. It makes me think I've been overcritical of our relationship.

At nine forty-five, I turn to Colin and tell him we need to start heading home even though the game isn't over.

He takes my hand in his. I think he's going to excuse himself from his conversation with Mr. Lundstrom. Instead, Mr. Lundstrom calls over Mr. Wallace.

As the minutes tick by, I'm getting nervous. There has been enough tension in my house. I don't want to cause more. "Colin . . . ," I say, squeezing his hand.

He puts his arm around me in response.

At the top of the ninth inning, when it's past ten, I say, "I'm sorry, but Colin has to drive me home now."

Mr. Wallace and Mr. Lundstrom shake Colin's hand, then I pull him out of the park.

"Brit, do you know how hard it is to get an internship at HL&W?"

"At this point, I don't care. Colin, I needed to be home by ten thirty."

"So you'll be home at eleven. Tell your mom we got stuck in traffic."

Colin doesn't know what my mom is like when she's in one of her moods. Thankfully I've been able to avoid bringing him around the house often and if he comes over, it's just for a few minutes or less. He has no clue what it's like when my mom goes off on me.

We pull into my driveway not at eleven, but closer to eleven thirty. Colin is still pumped about the possible internship at HL&W while listening to the after-game recap on WGN radio.

"I gotta go," I tell him, leaning over for a quick kiss.

"Stay here a few minutes," he says against my lips. "We haven't fooled around in, like, forever. I miss it."

"Me, too. But it's late." I give him a look of apology. "We'll have more nights together."

"Hopefully sooner rather than later."

I walk into my house, prepared to be yelled at. Sure enough, my mom is standing in the foyer with her arms crossed. "You're late."

"I know. I'm sorry."

"What do you think, that I make up arbitrary rules?"

"No."

She sighs.

"Mom, I really am sorry. We went to a Cubs game instead of a movie, and the traffic was terrible."

"Cubs game? All the way in the city? You could have been mugged!"

"We were fine, Mom."

"You think you know it all, Brit, but you don't. For all I know you could've been lying dead in a city alley and all along I thought you were at a movie. Check your purse to see if any money or your ID is missing."

I open my purse and check the contents of my wallet, only to appease her. I hold up my ID and cash. "It's all here."

"Consider yourself lucky. This time."

"I'm always careful when I go to the city, Mom. Besides, Colin was with me."

"I don't need excuses, Brit. Did you not think it would be nice to call and tell me about the change in plans and that you were going to be late?"

To have her yell at me over the phone, and then again when I got home? No way. But I can't tell her that. "I didn't think about it," is all I say.

"Do you ever think about this family? It's not all about you, Brittany."

"I know that, Mom. I promise next time I'll call. I'm tired. Can I just go to bed now?"

She dismisses me with a wave of her hand.

On Saturday morning I wake up to my mom's screaming. Throwing the covers back, I rush out of bed and run down the stairs to see what the commotion is all about.

Shelley is in her wheelchair, which is pushed up to the kitchen table. Food is all over her mouth and splattered on her shirt and pants. She looks like a little kid instead of a twenty-year-old.

"Shelley, if you do it again you're going to your room!" my mom yells, then places a bowl of her blended food on the table in front of her.

Shelley swipes it on the ground. My mom gasps, then narrows her eyes at Shelley.

"I'll deal with it," I say, rushing to my sister.

My mom has never hit my sister. But my mom's frustration is in overdrive, which stings just the same.

"Don't baby her, Brittany," Mom says. "If she doesn't eat, she'll be tube fed. Would you like that?"

I hate when she does this. She'll talk about the worst possible scenario and not work on fixing what's wrong. When my sister looks at me, I see the same frustration in her eyes.

My mom points her finger at Shelley, then at the food on the floor. "That's why I haven't taken you to a restaurant in months," she says.

"Mom, stop," I say. "You don't need to escalate the situation. She's already upset. Why make it worse?"

"And what about me?"

Tension starts building, beginning inside my veins and spreading to my fingertips and toes. It bubbles up and bursts with such force I can't keep it inside any longer. "This isn't about you! Why does it always go back to how everything affects you?" I scream. "Mom, can't you see she's hurting? Instead of yelling at her, why don't you spend the time figuring out what's wrong?"

Without thinking, I take a washcloth and kneel beside Shelley. I start wiping her pants clean.