by Melissa Esposito
“Are you feeling any better?” I ask Hannah, handing her a mug of hot chocolate.
“I guess,” she shrugs.
“Do you want to talk about it?”
“Not really.” She is staring into her mug like it holds the answers to the world.
“Are you sure? It might help?”
“I don’t know.”
“Hannah, there’s a reason you took the school bus to my apartment and not home. What is bothering you?”
She wipes her fingers under her eyes, smearing the little bit of eyeliner that mom lets her wear. She continues to look into her mug.
“That’s fine, you don’t have to talk about it.” I turn on the television and click through the channels, desperate to break the silence that settles into every crack in my apartment.
“It’s just that these girls are making fun of me at school. I don’t like a boy that likes me and they think I should. But I don’t want to. And I don’t know how to get them to stop. Mom says to ignore them, but she’s not any help.”
I press mute and set the remote next to me on the couch. “Hannah, first of all, you are in middle school. You don’t have to like anybody, regardless if they like you back or not. Second of all, you gotta cut Mom some slack. She’s just doing her best. She was a teenager once too, but she doesn’t know how you feel; all she can go off of is her own past. You need to tell her how you’re feeling.”
Hannah’s lower lip starts to quiver. I lean over and put my arms around her tiny twelve-year-old shoulders. I try to comfort her, knowing that I don’t do a great job of it. I am the first child and she’s the fourth, ten years my junior, and sometimes we aren’t great at communicating. I don’t exactly understand her One Direction lingo. “Yeah, but she makes it worse. She’s always yelling at me,” she says through fresh tears.
“Oh gosh,” I say, holding in a sigh. “She is probably not yelling. Have you heard her yell at our brothers?”
Hannah nods, her hair hanging over her face.
“Does that compare to how she speaks to you?”
Hannah shrugs and sniffles.
I breathe in through my nose, not quite knowing how to calm Hannah down. I try to see it through her eyes. She’s twelve. When I was twelve any little upset felt like the world was going to crash down around my shoulders. “Look, I want to say that it’s going to get better. But it’s not.”
“Oh thanks,” Hannah says and rolls her eyes.
“You didn’t let me finish. It’s going to get better. Just not overnight. You’re going to have to deal with these people until you graduate. Some will change, and some will stay the same. What you have to remember is to not let them hurt you.”
She drinks her hot chocolate, trying to stop her sniffles.
“Hannah, they are jealous of you. You have someone that has a crush on you and these girls don’t. They want what you have. And it doesn’t stop there. Once you graduate you’re going to have to deal with grown women treating you like this.”
She wipes her nose with her hand. I grab a Kleenex and present it to her. She gladly takes it.
“Look,” I breathe in deeply, formulating words, “not to sound like Mom, but you have to toughen up. If you let those girls get you down they are winning. Just keep your chin up,
She grants me a tight-lipped smile. “They are winning, Riley.”
“I know,” I rub her shoulder, “but try to not let them. And as far as Mom goes, I’m sure she can relate to you somehow. Why don’t you just try talking to her?” I suggest.
“You know what she can be like.”
“Hannah, she’s a person, not a robot. I know at your age she seems like the enemy, but she’s really not.”
“Thanks.” Hannah wipes her eyes with her already wet tissue.
I hand her a fresh one.
“It’s not the end of the world. It’s barely the beginning of your life,” I tell her, taking a sip from my own hot chocolate.
She looks up at me with wet lashes. I can see tears brimming her eyes again. I don’t call attention to them.
Hannah turns away from me, rubbing her eyes.
I give her a minute and turn my attention back to the television. I had ended up on the Lifetime channel earlier in my search for a program. How fitting, I think. We watch the end of a cheesy movie, where it ends and everyone is happy. I let Hannah finish her hot chocolate.
“It’s getting late kiddo, I’ll give you a ride home.”
“Thanks,” she sets her mug on the end table and gets up off the couch. Her fuzzy socks peep out from under the hem of her jeans.
I put on my coat and grab my car keys, holding the front door for her.
Hannah’s tears have dried and she looks up at me. We don’t have to say anything, but we know it will all be all right.