That would be Mr. and Mrs. Harvey from across the street coming over to eat a bowl of chili and play dominoes with Darla’s mother and stepfather. It was the usual sort of thing at home on a Friday night.
She heard her stepfather ask Mr. Harvey if he wanted a beer, and heard her mother say the bowls were on the counter and the chili was on the stove when anyone got hungry for it. She heard chairs sliding and adults laughing and knew they were settling themselves around the table to play. The sounds were all very familiar to her.
Darla saw a shirt near the foot of her bed that shouldn’t have been thrown on the floor. She found a coat hanger on the floor that shouldn’t be there either and used that to hang it on. She spotted an empty chip bag tucked under her bed while she was bending for the hanger. She dropped it into her waste basket.
Did she think having a clean room would make her mother go easier on her if she did what she planned to do tonight? What she’d promised herself she would do tonight.
Darla’s stomach growled, but she ignored it.
She might have planned ahead. She could have brought some food and a thermos of milk to her room when she first got home from school. If she’d done that, maybe she wouldn’t have to go into the front of the house at all tonight, and the moment of truth would never happen?
No. Darla knew better than that. Avoiding her mother was no solution. Even if she stayed quietly in her bedroom, sneaked quietly to the bathroom and back, didn’t even pass into her mother’s field of vision tonight, the same problem, the same decision, would be waiting for her tomorrow night, or the next night, or the next one....
Darla had worried about this problem with her mother for a long time now, and hated it when her mother made her a part of it! She hated it so much that she had told herself this very morning, promised herself this very morning, that the next time it happened – the very next time! – she would speak up for herself and say no!
Of course, she hadn’t thought about company being in the house when she did. Maybe she should wait until they didn’t have company...?
Darla heard the clatter of dominoes bumping against one another. She finished making her bed. She was running out of things to straighten in her room, and that was just as well, because the later in the evening it got, the less reasonable her mother would be....
Her stomach growled again, pushing her out. Darla caught sight of herself in her mirror looking scared, and she didn’t like it. That pushed her out, too.
Darla left her bedroom and walked to the front of the house.
Mrs. Harvey greeted her, and Darla returned the greeting. Mr. Harvey swore under his breath because the dominoes had fallen badly for him.
Darla ladled out chili and poured a glass of milk.
And it happened, as she’d known it would happen, as it was bound to happen when she came into the kitchen.
“Darla, honey, fix me a vodka and orange juice while you’re in there, would you?”
Darla trembled. Her heart pounded. She carefully replaced the milk carton in the refrigerator and did what she had promised herself she would do. She refused.
“No, ma’am,” said Darla.
The laughter stopped. The four adults around the table turned as one, astonished.
“What did you say to me?” asked her mother, not because she hadn’t heard it, but because she was giving Darla the chance to take it back in front of guests, the chance to avoid getting into trouble.
Darla didn’t take it back.
“I said ‘No, ma’am.’ I won’t fix you a drink.”
Darla picked up the glass of milk and the bowl of chili with paper napkins under it to protect her fingers, and walked out of the kitchen as calmly as she was able, as though nothing outrageous had just occurred. She hoped to get back to her bedroom before her mother reacted.
She didn’t make it.
“Darla Jean, you get back in here!”
Darla stopped. Her one astonishing act of disobedience she had planned in advance. Further acts of disobedience, she had not. She turned around and went back to the table, to the adults, to face her mother.
“What do you mean by telling me ‘No, ma’am!’” her mother demanded.
Darla swallowed hard, but she answered, and told the truth.
“I mean I won’t fix you a drink. You’ll tell me to get you a beer or fix you a drink, then you’ll tell me to get you another beer or fix you another drink. And when you’ve had too much to drink and regret yourself in the morning, you’ll lay part of the blame on me! If I try to make your drink weak, you tell me to make it stronger. But when I do, you say I shouldn’t have made the drinks so strong!
“I love you, Mama, and I’d like to do anything you tell me to do,” said Darla truthfully. “But I don’t like it that you drink so much, and I don’t like being made to help you do it. So please don’t ask me to fix you a drink or bring you a beer or anything like that anymore? Because I won’t.”
There. She’d taken her stand. She didn’t know how to say it any plainer.
Her mother didn’t speak at once. She sat stunned, and hurt, and looked betrayed.
It tore Darla up to see that expression on her mother’s face. It would be easier on her to have her mother jump up from the table and shout at her and ground her for life than to see her mother sit there and look so betrayed.
Still, Darla didn’t take it back. This was too important.
Mrs. Harvey rose from her seat. “Ginny, I’ll make it. I’ll make us both one!”
The look she gave Darla was sympathetic. Mr. Harvey only looked disgusted.
Her stepfather looked down at his dominoes and not at Darla or her mother either one. He knew Darla was right about the drinking, and Darla knew that he knew it. But he wasn’t going to say anything to back her up on it, and Darla knew that, too.
He did mumble, “Guess you’d better go on to your room, Darla.”
She was grateful for permission to go.
Her mother still sat there and said nothing, as though she were too shocked to speak. Or too ashamed? And if she was ashamed, was she ashamed of herself because she knew Darla was right? Or was she ashamed of Darla for saying such a thing in front of company?
Darla supposed her mother would find plenty to say later on. She hoped her mother would be in a reasonable state of mind when she said it.
The thing Darla wanted most to hear her mother say as she made her way to her bedroom was, “No, don’t make me that vodka, Nita. Just get me plain orange juice instead.” Something like that.
But she didn’t hear that, and she wouldn’t hear that, because life didn’t change that easily.
People didn’t change that easily.
Still, she’d changed what she could she change for now. Herself.
Darla closed her bedroom door with her foot since her hands were full. She set down her bowl and her glass and caught sight of herself again in her mirror. She didn’t look scared now. Sad, a little, but not scared.
A punishment was coming for this, and Darla knew it, but she was at peace with that.
She was more at peace with herself now than she had been in quite a while. That’s what came from doing the right thing.