I’m what you might affectionately refer to as a goody two shoes. I always did what my parent’s told me, got straight A’s, and never met a rule I didn’t follow to the letter. I looked both ways before crossing the street, I didn’t run with scissors and I didn’t take candy from strangers. Or talk to them, either. At all. I might also be called painfully shy, with my insecurities bred into my bones. As the youngest in my family, I have some pretty big shoes to fill. My oldest brother Alexander was the handsome trouble maker, my older sister Sariah was the gorgeous social climber and I was the plain Jane bookworm that just wanted to fade into the wall. I was only in soccer because Evelyn insisted on it, and she did that because she had a crush on the coach’s 15-year-old son. This summer it was soccer. Last summer it was swimming lessons at the Y. It was always something with her. Evelyn had been my best friend for the past 12 years, which is a lot when you’re two weeks shy of 15.
The streetlights lit up with an ominous click and I stopped with a disgusted groan, my hands on my knees and my breath coming in painful gasps. I wasn’t going to make it, so there was no reason to kill myself over it. I dropped my bag on the ground and tried to suck in air that my body had been deprived of in my desperate cross-town dash. My copper-colored hair escaped its tiny ponytail and was clinging to my sweaty scalp. Illinois in August wasn’t exactly the best running weather.
Throwing my bag over my shoulder again, I leisurely strolled the rest the way to my house, dreading my mom’s reaction. Was she worried? How late did your teenage daughter have to be before you could call the cops on her? How much trouble was I going to be in? As our two story white house came into view, the porch light was on. Uh oh.
As soon as I opened the door and saw my mother, I knew I was in trouble. She stood in the hall in a red V-neck t-shirt and khaki shorts, her arms crossed beneath the generous bosom that had thus far seemed to have passed me by. I’m what you’d call a late bloomer, still not having had my first period. In fact, I was significantly behind my classmates in physical development in a lot of ways, but Mom assured me all the women in the family were. I hoped I’d look as hot as here after having three kids, but I wasn’t holding my breath on ever being as hot as her, period.
“You’re late,” she snapped, her eyes quickly scanning me head to toe, that instant assessment only Moms can do. I am always struck with how much I look like my Mom. Her copper hair was a little curlier than mine, and her features were a little less padded. But there was no denying that she was my mother.
“Sorry, Mom, the game ran late and Evelyn was flirting for like, forever, and then the waitress at the diner was really slow, and…” I trailed off, never one to make excuses and pass blame on to another. Growing up at the bottom of the pecking order, I’d learned to own up to my mistakes quickly so no one doubted a denial. “You’re right, I’m late. What do you think, one week grounded?”
My mother sighed in irritation, but the left corner of her mouth was twitching up into a barely repressed smile. “Sometimes I need to be the mother here, Amelia. It’d be nice if my fourteen-year-old would act like one once in a while.”
“If you’d prefer I could go out, maybe find somewhere to get stoned. Oooo, I could try to find some jock who hasn’t destroyed his gene pool with steroids and ask him to impregnate me,” I offered sarcastically, backing towards the kitchen. I turned around with a cocky grin, knowing I wasn’t going to be in any trouble. My mom aimed a half-hearted smack at the back of my head as I walked into the kitchen.
My sister was at the counter smearing jelly on a slice of bread and licking the excess off her fingers. She rolled her eyes at me, clearly realizing I was going to skate on the very offense that had cost her a good third of her summer freedom. She always seemed to take it personally that I was so compliant. That was fine by me, since I harbored resentments of my own. Sariah had thick white-blond hair to her butt in soft Victoria’s Secret curls and green eyes so dark they were almost black. I’m fairly certain it was her body the ancient sculptors kept striving to create. She was a fashion diva and a makeup guru who woke up first thing in the morning looking perfect. She had been the most popular girl at our high school since she was in seventh grade. I knew for a fact that she had lost her virginity at 13, while I, based on the amount of action I’d seen (insert cheesy cricket-filled silence here), was going to die a virgin. I’d never even had a boy outside my family ask me to dance!
Ignoring her I grabbed a bottle of water and jumped up to sit on the counter. After a long chug that drained almost half the bottle I gave her by best “nyah-nyah” look and stuck out my tongue. She opened her mouth to say something but was interrupted by our brother Alexander (though no one ever called him that, just Xander) entering the room. With mischief dancing in his bright blue eyes, he snatched the pb&j sandwich Sariah had just put together and jumped up on the counter kitty corner from me.
“Am I surrounded by heathens?” Sariah asked, her eyes narrowing. I could almost imagine her as a cat with her ears laid back and tail lashing. Xander shrugged and took a giant bite of the sandwich, about a quarter of it gone. I laughed as the ridiculously thick layer of peanut butter Sariah is fond of coated the roof of his mouth, causing him to make silly faces as he tried to get it off. Still giggling I hopped down and poured him a glass of milk. He downed it in one drink, then took another, slightly smaller bite.
“Pig!” Sariah positively hissed at him.
“Witch!” Xander mumbled around his full mouth.
“Alright, settle down, separate corners,” I yelled, the diplomat as usual. Wasn’t that supposed to be the job of the middle child?
Sariah shot Xander a hateful look as she pulled another slice of bread out of the loaf and started over. I took another long chug of my water then tossed the empty bottle into the recycling. I made a mad dash for the fresh sandwich, but Sariah snatched it away before I could nab it.
“You ready for your first day of high school, Lia?” Sariah asked as she took a bite of the freshly made peanut butter and jelly sandwich. She rolled her eyes in exaggerated enjoyment and took a delicate sip of milk.
“Sure. It’s just another school year. I can’t imagine the geography of it could make it that different,” I said with a shrug.
Xander gave me a crooked grin and Sariah’s eyes widened. Then they looked at each, their brows raised in very similar looks of surprise. Sariah shook her head, grabbed her sandwich and milk and walked out of the kitchen mumbling. Xander hopped down off the counter and started to head out too, but he stopped and turned at the door.
“Seriously Lia, things are going to be WAY different soon. You just have to be prepared for anything. And not just at school. Your whole life will change.”
Well that wasn’t ominous or anything, I thought as he left the kitchen. I dropped down off the counter and put away the sandwich makings Sariah had left on the counter. I then took a sponge and wiped up the jelly Xander had dripped on the counter, and took a couple quick swipes where my own hind end had been, just to be on the safe side. I’d always been a neat child, and in the last year it had gotten worse, almost to the point of obsession.
With the kitchen clean, I flicked off the light and headed to my room. It was a comfort to be surrounded by the familiar furniture. It had been the same since I decided I was too old for the fairy princess room when I was 8. I’d always found the familiar greens and browns comforting. The bed was set between two windows on the east wall so I woke to the early morning sun on my face every day. The green and brown comforter on it made me think of moss on an old oak tree. The green curtains were tied back to reveal ivory colored lace. The room hadn’t originally included a closet, so my dad had built one long ago, a walk in with bars for clothes and shelves for everything else on three sides. In the alcove that created I had a massive vanity, the old fashioned kind with a padded bench you could sit on while doing your hair. My dad had adapted it so it now had lights, beautifully incorporated to look like flowers blooming on the vines carved in the old wood.
I rummaged in my dresser for a couple moments and quickly found my pajamas. Grabbing my shower caddy from the table by the door, I headed to the bathroom. I turned on the water, waiting until it got the perfect temperature before adding Sweet Vanilla bubble bath. Climbing into the warm water, I opened my latest teen fiction novel I was reading. I like the kind that are actually rooted in reality and have nothing to do with sparkly vampires of questionable sexuality. This one was a series about teens living after all the adults had up and vanished (ok, maybe only LOOSELY rooted in reality) which was one of my favorites. After a couple chapters I climbed back out, my toes pleasantly pruney. I toweled off, applied my favorite almond scented body butter and dressed. As I walked down the hall with my hair still wrapped in a towel, I heard my parents’ quiet voices drifting up.
“I think we’re going to have to say something soon, Nancy.”
“It’s too soon. I haven’t even seen any signs that it’s starting yet. It will only freak her out if we tell her too soon.”
Interesting, which “she” were they referring to? Was it one of us or someone else? Maybe it was something else entirely. You can’t come into the middle of a conversation and expect to draw the proper conclusions. I started to head to my room again, but their continued voices made me pause.
“You know what can happen if we wait too long.” There was no mistaking the worry in my dad’s voice. I’d never known him to be overly emotional, and it made me take a quiet step towards the railing.
“I think we have time still, maybe even until next summer.” My mom sounded insistent, almost pleading him to agree with her.
“We have to get her out of sight for a while to keep people from asking too many questions,” my father said on a sigh. “Maybe we should send her to be with my mom for the school year.”
Who did they need to get out of sight? My mind went to a Lifetime movie about a girl that got pregnant and was sent away so no one would know. I couldn’t imagine that being the case, but why else would they need to hide someone away? And how was the solution to ship whoever it was off to spend a year with Grandma in Bloomington? Somehow I knew I was the topic of this conversation. I don’t know how I knew, but I did. Well, at least I’d be closer to Normal. Even in my head the local joke didn’t sound that funny. Besides, I didn’t want to go to Bloomington OR Normal.
“Frank, she doesn’t even know about this family, let alone that she isn’t human!” my mother hissed.
I couldn’t help myself, I gasped, my grey eyes getting bigger. I heard footsteps coming out of the living room, but I was gone before they could have seen me. I leaned against the door in my room a long moment with my eyes screwed shut tightly. I heard someone climb the bottom two steps, and stand there. Then, distant enough that I couldn’t make out the words, I could hear the quiet rumble of my father’s familiar baritone voice. I finally breathed as I heard the person at the bottom of the stairs, presumably my mother, walking away towards the kitchen. After a slow count to one hundred, I sighed and opened my eyes. Pulling out the bench to my vanity, I lowered myself onto it carefully; it wasn’t rickety or anything, but I figured a little caution might mean I could pass it on to my own granddaughter one day.
I quickly dried and combed my shoulder length hair straight back away from my face, then tossed the comb down and stared long and hard into the mirror. I focused on the chubby cheeks and the baby face, searching for some sign that I might actually be growing out of this runt-ness that seemed to have me in a stranglehold, keeping me looking like a perpetual ten year old.Deciding it was the same face that had been staring back for the last four years or so, I stood and grabbed my book from the end of the bed, flopped down on my stomach and started to read. I had a couple hours before I needed to get to bed and sitting worrying about things I couldn’t change weren’t going to help me sleep.