Both "Merge" and "Appreciation" came out of the same interview with Mark and Michelle Elton, family friends of mine since I was a little girl. I wanted to add some variation to my stories and make The First Year more universally applicable, and I did that by talking to people who had different life experiences than I did.
Mark and Michelle were both married before they married each other. We were all very happy for them, and they're a totally awesome couple, but they had some difficulties, just like everyone, during their first year. Talking to them, I understood the importance of learning to merge two different families into one. For them, it was merging family traditions, kids, discipline tactics, communication, etc. But, every relationship faces this challenge: How do you combine your life, your family, and your traditions with those of your husband? Children certainly complicate the issue, but it's something we all have to learn to deal with.
This story is a little closer to what they told me their first year was like than "Appreciation," but I still dramatized it for my own purposes. The names of the guilty have, of course, been changed to protect the innocent. With those things in mind, enjoy this excerpt from "Merge."
Laurie stood half-concealed behind the wall, clutching the hot laundry to her chest, watching her son and step-daughter argue.
“Where’s my money?” Vanessa asked.
“I took it,” Jared replied. “It was pizza day at school, and I really wanted pizza.”
“That was my money. That’s stealing.”
“We’re family. It’s not stealing if you’re family.”
Laurie rolled her eyes and stepped out from behind the wall. “Alright, that’s enough you two.”
Vanessa turned her big brown eyes up at Laurie. They were filled with contempt. She put her hands on her hips, flicked her brown pony tail over her shoulder, and cocked her head to the side. “I don’t have to listen to you,” she said.
Laurie felt a little pressure build up in her chest. Vanessa had never been thrilled with the idea that her dad was dating someone new, but things got much worse when she and Dave had gotten married. It had been a tough couple of months. “Yes, actually, you do.”
“Because I’m your step-mother.”
Vanessa narrowed her eyes and exhaled loudly before responding. “He stole my money. He has to give it back.”
Laurie gripped the laundry a little harder, trying to swallow her exasperation. “Vanessa, we’re family now, and families are supposed to share with each other.”
“That’s not what we did at my house.”
“Well, it’s our house now. Not just your house. We have to learn how to work together.”
“Then I’ll go back to my mom’s house.”
Dave’s wife had left him and the kids to run back to Puerto Rico with an old boyfriend a while back. Laurie was always surprised by the bitter hatred that rose in her chest whenever she thought about it. “I’m afraid you can’t do that, sweetie.”
“Sure I can. I’ll run away, and I’ll steal your money. Then we’ll see how you like it.”
Laurie sighed. “You can’t run away.”
“Because you’re eleven years old, and this is your family now. You’re just going to have to get used to it.”
Vanessa’s eyes were unblinking as she stared into Laurie’s face. “He stole my money.”
“You left it on the counter!” Jared said. “Anyway, I only took two quarters.”
Laurie turned her gaze on her middle son. He looked down at his feet.
“I’ll give you two quarters, Vanessa. How’s that?” said Laurie, looking back at her step-daughter.
Vanessa glared at Jared. “No. I want him to give me two quarters. He stole my money.”
“It didn’t!” Jared said.
Laurie took a deep breath and looked from Jared to Vanessa and back again. “Jared, apologize to Vanessa.”
Jared started twisting his foot into the carpet like he always did when he knew that he had been caught doing something wrong. “Sorry, Vanessa.”
“Now Vanessa, apologize to Jared for yelling at him.”
“You aren’t my mother.” She turned on the ball of her foot and stomped away.