“Dredgeful. It’s just dredgeful,” Tracy said as they headed home. Home to Ben’s house, not to Emma’s. No one said anything about it, they all just kind of went that way. Ben noticed it, but only because he was trying to pay more attention to stuff like that.
“Dredgeful?” Bruce grinned at Emma, who kind of smiled back with that smile that always flickered and always faced the ground.
“What?” Tracy scowled at Bruce.
“Nothing,” Bruce said, and everyone in the band, plus Lisa laughed.
“I mean, we’re digging up Emma’s private business here. We’re dredging…”
“You’re the one who wanted to do it,” Bruce interrupted her.
“Ok, maybe I was a little hasty. But I thought Emma needed us.”
“I- I – I do, Tracy!” Emma gave her the hurt-puppy eyes, and almost tripped on a crack in the sidewalk.
Justin grabbed her arm and helped her stay on her feet. Bruce gave him a nasty look. Ben wondered what that was all about.
“I still think there should be something we can do about your mean brother,” Tracy grumbled.
“Y-you are!” Emma looked around at each of them. “You l-l-let me sing. You don’t know what that means to me.”
“Hey, we’re counting on you to sing,” Gene said as he turned up the walk way to the house and went up the front steps. He didn’t bother to turn around so the rest could hear. He just talked louder.
Emma flickered a grin at the steps.
Gene opened the door, and they all went in. They sat in the dining room like they were supposed to. When had they gotten so used to his house?
“I want to do more for you, Emma.” Tracy sat across from her and looked sympathetic.
“I’m em-embarrassed. Now you all know I’m weird.”
“Like we didn’t already,” Bruce said, and everyone laughed, except Emma, who turned bright red.
“I’m sorry I’m messed up.” She looked like she’d like to hide.
“Aren’t we all messed up?” Ben looked round the room at each of them. “I mean, my Mom is great, but I’ve got this psychopath for a dad. And Gene’s dad is even worse, and who knows about his mom.”
“Leave my mother out of it,” Gene growled. “My mom is great.”
“You’re mom walked out when you were five,” Ben said, not caring if he rubbed it in.
“Just shut up.” Gene snapped, then he wouldn’t look anyone in the eye.
“He’s right,” Tracy, of all people, said. “My mom just ditched me. And Lisa’s mom is great, but her dad is dead.”
“We aren’t all from broken homes,” Emma mumbled.
“You’re home might have a mother and father, but it’s totally fucked,” Bruce said.
“What about yours? Is yours messed up?” Tracy asked.
“Leave my family out of it,” Bruce snarled.
Tracy nodded, like she just proved her point.
“My family is fine,” Justin said with his chin up. “My mother and father are great and my little brothers are fine. Yeah, we argue sometimes, but it’s just normal. It’s not like you guys.” He nodded toward Emma, who still looked all embarrassed, but like maybe she didn’t have to hide.
“Mine’s fine, too,” Kate said like she was admitting something bad.
“I think if we asked everyone in a classroom it would be like this,” Lisa said. “Most of them are only like that because of divorce, but still. The regular family is the exception, not the rule.”
“Yeah. Uh-huh.” Everyone around the table nodded.
“But it’s alright, right? Because we have each other to sustain us. Right?” Tracy looked around the table.
Nobody said anything for a minute. Ben had to think about it too. Did friends make up for family?
Gene reached across the table and took Tracy’s hands. “Right.” And when he smiled, it was easy for everyone to agree.
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