EXCERPT: 'The Kids Are All Right'

Later that afternoon, after Amanda came home from school, I sat midway up the stairs that led to her bedroom, listening to the conversation she was having with Mom. The do not enter under penalty of death sign had been ripped down from her door, but the sentiment remained, as did two paper corners beneath pieces of stubborn tape.

"You cannot wear leather pants to your father's funeral," Mom pleaded. She sounded exhausted. I crawled silently to the top of the stairs and peeked through the crack where the door was ajar. Mom was sitting on Amanda's bed, just beneath the poster of a half- naked Jim Morrison, his arms outstretched in a slacker crucifixion pose.

I loved Amanda's leather pants. She bought them with money she got for her sixteenth birthday, and said she was going to wear them to concerts. She was so proud of them, she even invited me into her room one afternoon to show them off. She had ripped out the lining to get them to fit, and still she had to lie down on her bed, suck in, and tuck her stomach to one side, then the other, in order to zip them up without catching any flesh. Once she was in them, she looked amazing.

"They're black," Amanda said, scowling.

She was slumped in her desk chair, arms crossed.

"We'll go shopping tomorrow," Mom suggested.

"I hate shopping," Amanda said without moving. She was staring out the window, with her back to Mom.

That's when panic first struck me— I had nothing black to wear to the funeral. I ran down to my room and ransacked my closet. Dad had just bought me a cotton sundress for the eighth- grade spring dance, but that was white with purple and turquoise stripes. I also had a Gunne Sax dress, a Christmas gift, but it was pale gray calico with a white lace collar, not remotely somber, not close to black. Dad prided himself on his attire. He always dressed appropriately. Even though he didn't like to ride horses all that much, he had a dashing red coat with a black velvet collar and a matching top hat he wore to go fox hunting with Mom. I needed a black dress.

I ran to tell Mom, now back in her bedroom, her eyes raw but still leaking tears.

"You're too young to wear black, Elizabeth," she said quietly.

A lightning bolt of anger shot up from somewhere deep inside me. "If Dad were alive, he'd buy me a black dress," I said through clenched teeth, my bottom lip stuck out at her instead of my tongue, my top lip clamped down holding back the tears whirling in my chest.

Mom looked as if I had slapped her in the face.

"Well, I'm sorry," she said. "Your father is not . . ."

I don't know how she finished the sentence because I was already running, my hand covering my mouth as my lips were parting against the howling pressure now in my throat. I slammed my bedroom door and flung myself on my bed. For the first time that day, I cried.

AMANDA Yeah, I went to school the next day. I had to get out of that fucking house. Everybody was all crying and weird. And Mom was driving me crazy; she cried nonstop from the time Dad died until after the funeral. It's like, you cry, and then you stop. You don't cry, cry, cry, cry, cry. Don't get me wrong; I cried. I just didn't sit around all day doing it in front of everybody. Also, when Dad died, Mom and I didn't have a very good relationship. I was in the middle of my sixteen- year- old angst, and she was . . . well, she was really annoying. That morning, I just couldn't deal with her, so I drove Dad's Mercedes to school.

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