January 9th, 2009
“Almost,” I said as gently as I could, having watched Laska struggle for a while. “You just missed the sign here. Remember that anything with a minus sign in front of it becomes a negative for this step,” I said, writing the correct answer next to Laska’s.
I could hear her exhale hard and if she clenched her jaw any harder I imagined she’d break a tooth. Despite my help, Laska had been stuck at the same point for a while, making the same minor mistakes. She seemed to be so close to putting it all together, but I just couldn’t give her the right push or show her the missing link she needed without sounding like a broken, patronizing record. As much as I wanted to be the know-it-all-dad for Laska, I’d reached my limits.
In retrospect it was kind of sad that I had to study up on all the math Laska was learning despite the fact that she was in seventh grade. Sure they were AP classes, but it still stung. Fortunately I was able to find a decent e-book online and had been using that to stay ahead of the curve, but things were looking grim in the near future – she was rapidly catching up to me.
More than a couple times I’d tried to get her to accept help from the tutors at her school – the ones who were around specifically to help kids that were transitioning from normal classes to AP – but she adamantly refused every time.
“You sure you don’t want to schedule a few sessions with Mr. Rosewood? He’d probably be a lot better at this than I am,” I asked, for what was probably the sixth of seventh time in two weeks.
“Yes!” Laska growled, slamming her paws down on her desk and sending her pencil flying and papers fluttering.
“Laska!” I said, raising my voice, then quickly checked myself. “Look, let’s take a break for now.”
The simmering rage knitting her features didn’t fade, but she just stared at me in a way I couldn’t describe. “Why do you keep trying to get rid of me?!”
Get rid of her? That one blindsided me. “What are you talking about? I’m not trying to get rid of you.”
“Then why,” she started, speaking through clenched teeth, “Why do you keep saying I should go to some random jackass to learn this, this shit!” She shouted, flinging the math book off her desk.
My own temper was beginning to flare. She should know better than to act like that, she really should. I thought she’d long been over such childish tantrums, and yet there we were.
“Because he,” I said, forcing myself to keep a level and patient tone, “knows a fair bit more about math than I do, and he knows how to teach it. He would be much better at helping you with this than I can.”
“I don’t care!” Laska protested, balling her paws into fists. “I don’t want to learn this stupid shit anyways! I want to go back to my old classes!”
“You should care. Do you know how many kids don’t get an opportunity like this? Be thankful you have the chance.”
I thought it was sound, fatherly advice. Reasonable advice.
“Thankful?!” Laska shrieked, “For what?! I feel like a dumbass all the time! No one in those damned classes talks to me,” and suddenly, all the rage powering her vanished. In the blink of an eye she deflated and went quiet. “And you don’t want to spend time with me anymore…”
I really had no idea what to say. That she thought I didn’t want to spend time with her absolutely floored me – especially considering I’d just spent the past hour helping her. At that point, I wished I knew if I should be a father or a friend. Which did she need more? Regardless, I had to say something.
“First off, you aren’t a dumbass. You know that, I know that. You’re just, well, being challenged for the first time. Laska, you have a gift—“
Vigor once again filled her and her eyes flashed. Though as she looked up at me, I saw tears had begun to well. “You keep saying I have some ‘gift,’ but I don’t want it, I never did. I just want…” She drifted off, slumping over again.
“I know it’s hard to understand right now, I really do. But when you’re older, you’ll realize how fortunate you really are,” I said softly, laying a hand on her paw.
She laughed. A short, hoarse laugh, then glared at me. “You don’t get it all,” she said, her tears finally cresting and running down in a small trickle. “Just leave me alone. Please.”
Either I chose wrong or this whole fucking situation was fucked from the start. When did Laska start shoving me away? Whatever reasoning I gave myself – hormones, adolescence, school troubles – none of it made it easier to handle. Again I could feel my temper rising from my own frustrations. I had to laugh inside, having caught myself getting worked up just like Laska was.
Taking a deep breath I stood. “If that’s what you want, but please, when you calm down, let’s talk. Okay?”
Laska didn’t reply, instead she teleported from her chair to her bed, face down amongst her pillows. It was a not-so-subtle jab at me, since she knew I didn’t like her using her powers in the house. “Fine, whatever,” I muttered, kicking aside her math book as I left her room.
And sure enough, I was barely out of the room before the door slammed behind me. It was all I could do to not turn around right there and yell at her to knock it the fuck off – I may have even told to her ‘grow up.’ Instead, I stormed off to my office and dropped into my chair and proceeded to stew and sulk.
I knew it was stupid, and I knew adolescence was going to be a trial, but I never imagined it’d be like this. I think what got me the most was how sudden her onrush of emotions had been. She’d been kind of sulky and on a short rope for a while, but then school just made it all so much worse. And here I was, getting angry at her because she was being difficult. Maybe I was the one who had some growing up to do, I thought bitterly.
I needed someone to vent to, but my options were limited. Lydia and Eralia were both at work, and besides, I’d complained almost daily to them. Steve was probably free, but I’d bitched at him plenty in recent weeks. Plus, if anything they were doing worse off with Zoe. The young wolf, though nearly as tall as me, had really come into her own regarding puberty.
Last I’d heard, she was becoming quite the predator at school. Lydia and Steve were doing everything they could to make sure there weren’t any unexpected grandchildren. Chuckling to myself, I was glad that at least Laska wasn’t like that. Yet.
Without much else to do, I whiled away my time by doing a few problems from my algebra book, keeping an ear open for Laska. We’d studied through lunch – or attempted to – so she hadn’t eaten. It was unusual for her to miss a meal, but she’d probably come out at dinner.
Dinner came and went, just like Laska. I’d knocked on her door to let her know food was ready and she emerged a few moments later. She wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows, but it didn’t look like she’d been crying for hours either. Tired or fatigued was probably the best way to describe her.
“Hey stranger,” I said, which got me a weak smile.
“C’mon, let’s eat,” I said, and without further ado, Laska followed me downstairs. I was content to let things be and pretend our little spat earlier didn’t happen, but apparently she hadn’t cooled off enough.
Upon seeing Eralia at the dinner table, Laska’s face froze into a mask. She didn’t say anything, silently heaping up her plate. I thought she’d take her place at the table, but instead she just kept walking.
“Where’re you going?” I asked, only to be ignored. “Hey, I’m talking to you. Laska!”
Nothing. She vanished from the kitchen and then up the stairs. I was about to march after her and tell her to knock it off, but Eralia caught my eye. She was chewing quietly, but with the sort of face that told me to stay put.
Letting out a long exhale I decided she was probably right. “I don’t know what’s gotten in her today,” I said, fixing my own plate. “I can’t remember the last time she was upset for an entire day.”
“She’s at a difficult age,” Eralia said after swallowing. She then pointed at me with her fork. “And you getting upset isn’t helping. If anything, it’ll just make her want to spite you.”
“How can I not get upset? I can understand a lot of things, but that,” I said, pointing towards where Laska had vanished. “Is just disrespect. What’d I do to deserve that?”
Eralia chewed slowly, taking her time before responding. “Didn’t you ever do things just to get at your parents when you were young? For no good reason other than because you were mad or hurt?”
I had to think for a moment. “I don’t think so, I was a pretty good kid.”
She sighed and gave me her trademark look – the one she always used when she knew I was bullshitting her. “Don’t give me that. You know damn well you did.”
“Maybe, but I don’t remember. And don’t point at me with your knife.”
“I’ll point as I please,” she retorted, thrusting the tip in my direction for good measure.
Always hated it when she did that – having knives pointed at me always made me nervous. Of course, that’s the only reason why she did it. Sometimes I wondered why I dated her.
“Anyways,” she continued, “She’s got a lot on her mind. Probably more than most other kids her age.”
I first thought of her being adopted and all. To me, that did seem like a big deal, especially when she’s probably trying to figure out who she is and all that fun teenage fun. “Yeah, I can imagine. She’s had a… complicated childhood.”
Eralia’s eyes lingered on me.
“You know, your innocence is one of the things I love about you,” she said in a way that made it hard for me to tell if she was mocking me or not.
“You’ll understand when you’re older,” she said with a wink.
No wonder Laska got so pissed whenever I said that, regardless of how true it may be. “That doesn’t work when you’re barely older than I am.”
“Hmm, I wonder about that,” she said with a coy smile.
“Still,” I began, wanting to get back on topic – and vent a little. She shot me a little pout for not playing along. “I don’t want to get mad at her, I really don’t, but she’s so… difficult. It’s like she wants me to get pissed off at her.”
“Muhbay she doths,” Eralia mumbled, almost making sense with her packed cheeks.
“Please, swallow…” I said with a wince.
Gulping down what had to be half-chewed food, she licked her lips and wiggled her eyebrows at me. “You know I always do.”
I rolled my eyes and sighed deeply, leveling my best stare at her. This had become a thing not too long after we started going out, and I swear it was getting worse by the week. “Would it kill you to avoid turning every discussion towards sex for like, five minutes? I’m trying to have a serious discussion here.”
“Sorry, sorry,” she said, holding up her paws in resignation. “You just leave yourself so open, I can’t help it.”
“Right, well, you said maybe she does? What do you mean?”
“I mean she wants you to be mad with her,” Eralia said, collecting the few remaining morsels on her plate with her fork.
“What? That doesn’t make any sense. Why would she want that?”
“If I had to guess,” Eralia said carefully, “It’s because she can’t think of any other way to get your attention.”
Before I could blurt out “What” or “Why” again, I forced myself to stop and think. Still, it just didn’t make much sense to me. “I don’t really get it. I mean, I do everything I can to spend time with her.”
“I know,” Eralia said reassuringly. “And she probably knows, but she’s…” Suddenly she looked uneasy.
“Well, she’s used to having a monopoly on you,” she finished hesitantly.
“I figured that out a while ago,” I said, leaning back in my chair. Didn’t take long for me to deduce that Laska was jealous of Eralia, but I’d expected her to behave a little differently about it. “But I thought she’d be clingy or constantly want to be around me. Instead,” I nodded towards her room, “about the only time she wants to talk to me is to ask her to try and tutor her.”
Finished, Eralia scooped up her plate and headed towards the sink. “Like I said, she just doesn’t know how to deal with her emotions right now. It’ll probably take a while before she can sort herself.”
That particular line of discussion got me thinking – and feeling a little guilty. “Do you think it’s my fault? I mean, maybe I should’ve waited until she was older before I started dating?”
Eralia shot me a sidelong glance across her shoulder as she finished rinsing off her plate and tossing it in the dishwasher. “Not at all,” she began, leaning back against the counter. “What she’s going through and feeling now is some pretty heavy shit. The longer you would’ve waited, the worse it would’ve got.”
“I suppose you’re right,” I admitted, finishing the last of my dinner. I held up my plate, along with a pleading look. Eralia sighed and snatched it from me. “Thanks.”
“What would you do without me?”
“My own dishes, I guess?”
That comment earned me a very long eye roll. “At least I’m appreciated for something,” she said dryly, though she couldn’t help but crack a grin.
With dinner concluded, I was at a loss for what to do. I had planned on spending some time with Laska afterwards, perhaps on something that wasn’t school related for once, but I got the feeling that wouldn’t be such a great idea. So I did the usual, just lounged out on the couch and watched whatever with Eralia.
“So,” she began out of the blue. “I’m guessing you haven’t had a chat with Laska about the thing we talked about the other day?”
“Good guess,” I said, absent-mindedly rubbing and squeezing at the paws laid across my lap. The thick, cushy pads were kind of like a fluffy stress-ball in a way. “Things probably would’ve gone from bad to worse if I tried earlier.”
She splayed out her toes as if telling me where I ought to focus my efforts. “True, but – oh yes, right there – we need to decide soon.”
“I know, I know. I’ll try to figure out when to tell her. Hopefully when she’s in a good mood.”
If she was ever in a good mood. If it wasn’t the dead of winter I could’ve taken her out on some trails or something to cheer her up. Meanwhile, Eralia had gone as limp as overcooked pasta. Perhaps I could give Laska a paw massage, but I wondered if that was a good idea at her age. I imagined the last thing she wanted was dad rubbing her feet. Trying to do something inside wasn’t likely to do much, and about the only thing that really seemed to make Laska happy anymore was when she got to spend time with Zoe.
“Say, want to go out tomorrow? All of us, including Zoe and her parents,” I said. “Some place where the kids can go off and do their own thing – besides, we haven’t done anything with Lydia and Steve in a while.”
To Eralia, who had sunk deep into the couch with her eyes closed and a look of bliss, mustering the energy to speak seemed to be quite the ordeal. “Yeah, sure, I don’t have anything going on tomorrow,” she mumbled.
“Great, I’ll go call them now to see if they’re free,” I said, hiking the fluffy feet off my lap.
“Nooo, don’t stop,” Eralia bemoaned, giving me a look of utter despair.
“Sorry, but Lydia isn’t going to call herself.”
She continued to pout at me, peeking from over the back of the couch as I picked up the phone. Sometimes I wondered if the reason Eralia seemed to understand what Laska was going through so well was because she acted the same as her so often I began to suspect she was a third the age she claimed to be.
A quick call later and the plans were set. Fun group dinner tomorrow and springing the news on Laska when she would be, hopefully, a bit less likely to burst into tears.