I am a cacophony of change, a swirling symphony of contradictions played out by a band who is all-too familiar with the piece, and ever so slightly disinterested in playing the same song again.
I will be 25 years old in 16 days. I live alone with a cat named Pixel, and an ever-changing bookshelf crammed full of young adult novels. (My Masters degree is in School Library Media, and I fall in love with the quick-clip pace of the young adult world time and time again).
I have a desk job at a local university that pays the bare minimum I need to stay alive, but it's a good enough job.
I have a younger sister who is 15 - ten years younger than I am - and I am thrilled to discover over and over again that she is becoming much more of a person and less of "the baby" that we all talked about for years and years.
I just filed my first tax return with a "grown up job" on it and was shocked to learn that I could get $500 returned to me just by working hard. It should be in my account by the 27th and I consider this the best birthday gift I could receive.
I fantasize about taking a bubble bath, but by the time I run the water and get in, I lose all desire to actually be in a bubble bath.
I am overly fond of cats, looking at cute animals on the Internet, talking to stray animals in the hopes that I have become The Stray Whisperer overnight and didn't know it yet, Kroger's version of Diet Cherry Coke, my Tervis tumbler and sleeping in.
I will spend hours on the laptop looking at various things on the Internet, decide I'm done with the Internet for now, turn the laptop off, roll over, pick up my Kindle, and spend even more time doing exactly what I was doing on the laptop on a smaller screen.
I constantly start TV shows and never finish/catch up with them (Supernatural, Chuck, Deadwood).
I have a fervent, surprising love of professional wrestling.
I bite my nails, my cuticles, and the skin around my nails. It's a nervous habit that I never used to do, but started in middle school and have been unable to stop besides in short, ineffective bursts.
I love to buy things, and I love the high that comes with them. I've learned that I get the same "new purchase" high by getting new books from the library, and so I go on a weekly basis to return what I got and get some new finds.
I do not care a lick for fashion. I wear the same ~8 shirts, pair of khakis, and 3 pairs of shoes to work each day. I own one pair of jeans, two pairs of gym shorts, and enough t-shirts left over from college to float me through my off-times.
I have been dieting since January, but this past week has been a lapse. I will pick it back up on Monday, however - my body does deserve better, even if sometimes I squinch my eyes closed and act like it doesn't.
All my life, I have been challenged to think critically. Now that I am older, this has become an ability I cannot turn off - I think critically about everything. "What did he mean when he said that?" or "They abbreviated that phrase, does that mean it's not genuine?" - it's impossible for me to just relax and not think at all. Thanks, school teachers, for instilling anxiety into me from a young age.
I am bound up in inconsistencies, but at the same time, my flaws are all too human and relateable. Join me on my journey to find "me," and I hope that in doing so, you can find some of you, too.
This is part 2 of a two-part piece for week 8 of LJ Idol. If you haven't read part 1, please read it first, here
! Thank you.
Let the record state that I was simply trying to read a book at the time. No more, no less. I was lying in bed with my old childhood copy of Redwall
flopped open across my knees, a whiskey-on-the-rocks at the table by my arm.
"Ashley!" I heard him scream it from downstairs, and I squeezed my eyes shut, counting to ten, wishing, waiting for him to go away. His footsteps echoed up the stairs and eventually he swung into our bedroom, sweat slicking his bangs to his face as he beamed like a six year old. "Ash, guess what!" Using my finger as a bookmark, I closed the cover and leveled my brother a glare. I have never hated him as much as I did right at that moment.
, Rhett?" He didn't detect my annoyance as he launched into his explanation of how he'd been asked to try out for professional football, he was going to play in the big leagues, how he was going to make it big
! Just wait!
Rhett dug through the bag that had been slung across his back, pulling out papers and notes and letting them flutter to the floor, an autumnal rain of white, crisp sheets. A stray football wobbled across the carpeted floor and I locked eyes with my brother, breathing hard in time with him to keep from socking him.
"Great!" I managed, as Rhett thrust a piece of paper at me. A thick slab of cardstock, pasted painstakingly onto a softer, creamy yellow piece, proclaiming the blessed union between himself and the girl he'd been dating for three years: Haven Sanderson. My brother knelt on the floor, a knight proclaiming fealty, and squinted up at the ceiling fan, his lips moving in some odd formation of a prayer, minus the vocals.
"I can't look," he finally said dramatically, peering up at me through those nasty, sweaty bangs. "So you have to look for me, Ash. What day is my wedding?"
"You don't know the day of your own wedding?" I asked, incredulity slipping its way into my voice.
"Just tell me, brother," Rhett asked, his voice laden with desperation. I glanced down at the cardstock, and back up at Rhett.
Rhett rolled over on the floor like he was being exorcised for a demon that had taken him over mind, body and soul. He writhed there on the carpet of our childhood bedroom, moaning to himself about how he was too young and this wasn't fair, it just wasn't fair. I, awkwardly comforting him, the very picture of the "little" (by two minutes) brother.
That night, with a twenty-four pack of beer having been consumed between the two of us, Rhett confessed to me his hare-brained idea. And thirteen of those beers explain why I thought it was a good idea, a great
idea, a foolproof idea.
"... and then we'll switch back that night, at the reception! Nobody will have to know, Ashley." I was red-faced with laughter, the apples of my cheeks flaming hot against my pale skin as I chucked the empty can across the living room into the gaping maw of the trash bag.
"That is the stupidest
thing I have ever heard! You think she can't tell the difference?" but the look on Rhett's face said that he wasn't kidding, he had to go try out and keep his girl and then we'd all be happy and set for life, just wait and see!
"It's just for like two hours, man," Rhett slurred, stumbling his way to the bathroom. "and she's a good kisser anyway, teach you a thing or two at the altar!" I looked down at my arms, self-conscious: I had always had a bit of a crush on Haven, but this just wasn't right.
And all this goes to explain how that evening, when I tilted my brother's fiance's veil away from her face, I saw the faintest flicker of distrust dance across her face. I smoothed her brow with my thumb, smiled deeply, and swept her into a kiss that was the stuff of fairy tales. Cameras snapped, and I grinned, beaming ear to ear.
We took photos in the hallways, at the altar again, beside a tree shaped vaguely like a bird of prey. And as we were ushered into the limo to go to the reception, I watched as Haven bustled her skirts up and shimmied in beside me, the slick leather sending her sprawling into my side. I laughed, offered her some champagne from the mini bar, which she politely declined.
"You know I don't like champagne!" she protested, wrinkling her nose in distaste. Of course I knew that, honey, I was teasing, you know how I get.
We pulled into the venue for the reception, and could hear the screaming and stamping of feet outside the limo. Haven turned to me, eyes shining, resplendent in her white dress. "I love you," she said, leaning over and kissing me butter soft. "I always have, and I always will," she kissed me again, the sweetest look of love on her face. "Ashley
I felt like I had been punched in the gut, and laughed it off, making dismissive hand gestures and murmuring about how silly that was, she knew it was her fiance, her Rhett. Haven made a face and pressed a finger to my lips, quieting me as she took my other hand in hers.
"You're identical," she said, the look on her face rapidly moving from excitement to hysterics, "but my fiance
has a birthmark on his wrist." Haven flipped my wrist over, indicating the lack of a mole that Rhett did indeed have, an anomaly from birth that we had always hated: as children we'd pressed our wrists together over and over, hoping that part would rub off on me so we could be the same again.
I opened and closed my mouth like a fish, unsure of what to say, as Haven gathered up her skirts and threw open the door to the limousine, the bright lights from the venue shining out, making her a martyr.
"Let's go," she hissed under her breath, clenching my hand in hers. "and when your brother gets back, you best go into witness protection." Haven pressed her lips to mine and waved to the cameras, and we grinned and nodded and ducked rice on our way into the reception hall, fear cold as an iron nail in my belly.
This is part one in a two-part installment for week 8 of LJ Idol. Part is a direct sequel to this one, so please make sure you've read this first, and then you can read it here
I have waited for this day all of my life.
Hands fluttering nervously at my sides, I think of the little girl awash in a sea of her mother's makeup, lying on her stomach and flipping through glossy back issues of wedding magazines from when she was marrying my daddy. I would spend countless hours there, licking my index finger between each turn of the page because that's what the adults did on television. My mother would come sweeping through the door with a martini glass in one hand and laugh at me, flicking her cigarette out the nearest window.
," she would laugh. "let's get your cleaned up." And she would put out the cigarette, pick me up and dust me off, and we'd stand at the sink in her bathroom. She'd let me dip my fingers into her vat of eucalyptus-scented face wash and I'd clean the garish blue eyeshadow off my cheeks, humming the songs from the old turntable we used to sing in the kitchen.
"Mama, I'm gonna get married one day," I had always said, standing on my tip-toes so I could see the crown of my head in the mirror. "And he's gonna be tall and handsome like a prince
!" My mother would nod and smile and agree, brushing my hair out of her face, her decorative rings clacking against the metal clip on the hair elastic as she pulled my rat's nest of a brunette mane into a submissive ponytail.
"You sure are, baby doll." She'd say, giving my hair one final yank into position. I'd gallop off, the magazine re-pinned into the crook of my arm.
The day that I brought home Rhett Metcalfe to meet my mother, I knew. We stood arm in arm on the doorstep, his college football hoodie hanging limply on my frame like a dressmaker's dummy. I looked from his face to the doorbell, mentally willing everything to go well. Mom told me that when she opened the door I was beaming wider than Christmas, and that was when she knew, too.
He made his pleasantries between slices of wafer-thin pot roast: twenty-one, an architect, yes ma'am, no ma'am, my mother is a fifth grade teacher and my father is unemployed, a twin brother named Ashley, yes just like Gone With the Wind, no we don't resent it, we are at different universities, we are identical
. I kept my gaze glued to my salad bowl, and when I gave Rhett a kiss goodbye at the doorstep and turned back to my mother, she was standing with her back to the doorframe that led to the living room.
"Got you something," she said, flicking a cigarette lighter with one thumb and shooting me a knowing look above the rims of her cats-eye glasses. "for an old time's sake. You're gonna need it." While I loaded dishes into the sink, lovesick and giddy, my mother pressed a freshly-minted copy of The Knot
into my side and walked away, light on her feet as ever. I spent that night smoking mentholated cigarettes in bed beside my mother, flipping pages and dog-earing things: dresses, color palettes. We both knew. We just did.
And now? Here I was, standing in a little chapel by the water in New Jersey, half an hour from becoming Mrs. Haven Metcalfe. My mother drifted into the room, quiet as a secret.
"Have you seen him today?" she drawled, dropping a cigarette into an ash tray by the door as I smoothed a wrinkle from my crinoline and shook my head no.
"He's been busy since the bachelor party, but I told him he's twenty five and can take care of himself. If that man has taught me one thing about himself, it's that Rhett Metcalfe can damn well take care of himself." My mother stifled a laugh with her arm and nodded.
"You've gotten your prince now, baby," she said, squinting at my face in the mirror behind me and approaching at last to adjust my veil. "enjoy this ceremony, because it's all so fast. Soon you'll be in bed with him and he's not just Rhetty Spaghetti, your college boyfriend and post-graduate lover, but Your Husband, with capitol letters. It's the big leagues now. I didn't know that, I still played like we were in tee-ball, and well ..." she gestured with her left hand to showcase her bare ring finger, saying all she needed to say and letting my mind complete the story.
Before I knew it, I was being escorted down the aisle, drifting as if I were on a cloud. My feet hurt - these shoes pinched - and I could see Rhett's fuzzy outline up there at the altar. Suddenly, his mother was gone from my side and it was just me, Rhett, and the pastor, murmuring some reassuring words about Jesus' love that I wasn't paying attention to because it was hot in here and my God
did my feet hurt.
The words came spilling out of my mouth in a torrent of anxiety and before I knew it, the pastor said something about kissing and Rhett tilted back my veil. I peered up into his eyes with the love I'd held for the past three years, and as he held me in the warm amber pools of his gaze, I felt the faintest flicker of uncertainty. Shrugging it off, I pressed myself into his arms. What could possibly
be wrong? This was my Rhett ... right?
This is the last in a three-part series based on my entries for weeks 4 and 5. :)
"Children are our future?" Gregory laughed in a short, raspy burst, holding out the wafer-thin flyer so that his coworker could see it. "They're what got us into this mess, Debbie!" He dropped it on the floor: just a piece of hospital propaganda, typical in all its normalcy, depicting a smiling mother and child with some polite scribblings about breastfeeding and bonding.
The pale, wispy blonde's skin looked almost yellow, and she shook a bit as she nodded, looking as if she were biting down an oncoming roll of nausea. "Yes, sir," she looked down into her arms and let out a sigh. "But, what shall we do with ... ?"
Gregory strode over to Debbie, two quick bursts of energy, and peered down at the bundle cradled in her lap. "This child," he said, lifting the bundle from the warm safety of Debbie's arms and dropping the blankets from around it, "will be the first of many. This child will know nothing of love. Thank god you found it, Debbie." The infant, suddenly without its warm swaddling clothes, let out a siren-scream of panic. Gregory held it in one large, meaty hand and bounced up and down for a minute. Debbie could have sworn she saw the baby narrow its eyes at him, sizing him up meticulously.
"Yes, sir," Debbie shuffled through the bag at her feet, withdrawing a slip of paper and reading it to herself before saying it out loud. "her name is Piper."
Gregory wrinkled his nose. "From now on, these children will be taken before the parents have a chance to name them. Piper? You don't look like one of those!" he exclaimed to the infant. "Nevertheless, this is the start of something big, Pipes. Just you wait."
Piper McClellan was late for school, and every bone in her seven-year-old's body was worried sick. As she crammed her feet into her soft, shapeless boots she heard another baby begin to wail in the nursery. Piper rolled her eyes and turned to look through the picture window: it was number 206, as always. She stormed to the window and pounded her fist against it: "Shut up!" she screamed through the glass. Not only did number 206 keep screaming, but number 134 and 171 started as well. Great.
"I'm leaving!" she said to no one in particular as she ran down the stairs and out the back door. Luckily school was just a ramshackled house two doors down from her own, so she was a mere ten minutes late as she slid into her seat.
"Piper," her teacher warned as she yanked her books from her backpack and swung them onto the table. She grimaced, but bridged her fingers and fought back tears. "you have got to be on time. You're not starting off on the right foot, now are you, young lady?"
"No sir." she said softly as she opened the cover on her Breeding textbook and traced an image of a woman holding a squirming puppy, both the woman and the puppy were smiling and looking like they were having a lot more fun than Piper.
"We were just about to discuss one of your favorite subjects, Miss McClellan. Boys!" All around the room, the little girls let out nauseated vomiting noises. As the oldest, it was Piper's job to lead by example, so she made a small gagging noise too. "What's wrong with boys, ladies?"
"They smell awful!"
"They don't clean up after themselves!"
"They don't put the wiping paper on the thing in the bathroom!"
The girls turned to look at Piper, who arched an eyebrow before realizing what she was supposed to say, what the phrase was that would bring them all home.
"They get you pregnant."
"Pregnant!" said 24 from the back of the room, conspiracy rife in her little six year old's voice.
"24 is right, as is Piper," her teacher said, pointing to a photograph on the board. "before, when you were born, even, men and women loved each other. They loved each other so much that they would do a very Special Thing, and have a baby. That's where you come from!" Piper felt ill: she hated to be reminded that she was born out of the Special Thing. "But we know better, don't we, class?" a room full of little girls nodded enthusiastically. "What are we doing instead, 32?" 32, a heavyset six year old with curls the color of flame, stood up next to her desk to speak.
"We are starting our own club, where the gross Special Thing only happens when it has to!" she said reverently.
"And what will happen to the men and women who don't do what we do and do the Special Thing whenever they want?"
"Mister Gregory will make them come live with us in our club, where we have all of the money and nice things, because they will be poor and sad. Then they can do the Special Thing, too, at the pre-approved times if they win the lottery!"
"And if they do not come with us?" At that, 32 paused, panic setting in. Piper could see her teacher start to reach for the paddle he kept by the laser board, and Piper vaulted out of her seat.
"They will be em- ... ema- ..." her teacher turned back to the class, a smile creasing his face.
"Emancipated," Piper spat the word out like it was vinegar on her tongue. "Emancipated, sir." The teacher nodded approvingly.
"Good girl, yes they will. 32, what does that mean?" Grateful for the help, 32 inclined her head in a nod of thanks toward her friend before turning back to their teacher.
"It means they will not be in our lives any more, they will be free to go away and do the Special Thing somewhere else so far away it's not even on earth!"
"Yes, ma'am," said their teacher, leafing through his teacher's copy of the textbook. "Class, please turn to chapter eight and read silently to yourselves." Piper paged open to chapter eight - Converting the Breeder - and let her eyes wander around the classroom. She was glad to be Mr. Gregory's daughter, even if it meant she had to take care of all the babies he took. It made her safer than many of the other children, who weren't even really his children ...
(This week's piece is a companion to last week's, due to popular request. You can find its predecessor here
Margaret could not have told you what happened, or why it happened the way it did. She could only tell you that on July 31st, 2043 at 4:30 pm, her water broke. She was standing in the living room, where she had been restlessly rearranging their paper book collection between shelves, when she felt it give.
When David came into the room to see if she'd like to go out for dinner as a special treat, he saw his wife leaning up against the shelves, tears streaming down her face, openly weeping. He paled and swept over to her, stroking her hair as he drew her away from the books. Margaret clutched a battered, war-torn 2015 edition of What to Expect When You're Expecting
to her chest and turned to her husband with wildfire dancing in her eyes.
"We have seven and a half hours," she said in a voice so hoarse from crying it hurt to say a thing. "before they will take our baby. We will play their game, but we will not let them take our baby."
David looked visibly confused. "But sweetheart, it might be a daughter! And you're overdue anyway, it won't be a long labor. Don't worry, we can't worry." Margaret pursed her lips and twisted away from his loving touch.
"We must." she said flatly in a no-nonsense mother's tone, ambling off to get her hospital bag. As David watched her retreating back, he couldn't help but wonder if she knew something he didn't.
Sophia hated putting on her shoes. "Why can't I just go barefoot
?" she squealed, stomping her pale little foot in her father's general direction.
"We have to go
Sophie, come on. Don't you want to go see Mrs. Miller and your friends from school?" Sophia began to make a noise of protestation when he father tossed her sleeping bag at her. She caught it, clutching it to her.
"You can stay up as late as you want." He said quietly. Sophia leaned back her head and looked at her father with reverence.
"I'll do my best, daddy." He kissed her on the forehead and carried her out to the waiting car, one shoe on and one shoe off.
They were given a room to share with another young woman, who was in labor with her firstborn. Neither Margaret's nor her roommate's contractions were too intense yet, and since the outlawing of pitocin to avoid strategic birthing, they could be in for a long wait. Margaret hated that no one got their own room for labor any more, but it had become such a routine process and at this point, babies were born so quickly that the government had given up on regulating birthing areas. Mothers gave birth to their children in their hospital beds, in a room with another woman, all while watching television and eating slushies.
"I'm Bethany," the other woman said, excitement glimmering in her eyes. "my husband's away at work, but he will be here soon. His name is Randall." Margaret waved and politely introduced herself and David, wincing as a mild contraction rippled across her abdomen. Bethany made small talk about the weather, her pet chinchilla, the regulation of spectatorship at sporting events. Then she said something that struck Margaret.
"We don't know if it is a boy or a girl," Bethany said as she gnawed on the straw in her water glass. "we didn't want to. Do you know?" Margaret pursed her lips. Didn't know? Who wouldn't want to know if she were going to have to say goodbye to her baby, as soon as possible?
"It's a girl," Margaret said flatly. How would this other woman have to know, anyway? By the time the baby came out, it wouldn't matter. David looked at her with concern, and Margaret let a small smile trace her face. "I just know it is." David patted her shoulder supportively.
It was 11:32 pm when Bethany gave her final push. Margaret was nearing the end of her labor, but as they drew the thin curtain between the two beds, they knew it was over for Bethany. She squeezed David's hand in sympathy as she heard her roommate scream her way through the pain, and moments later the squall of an infant rang through the air.
"It's a boy!" someone shouted, and Margaret let out the breath she hadn't known she was holding. The nurses kept telling her she was eight centimeters, but eight was not ten, and she was beginning to worry. David smoothed a wrinkle out of her forehead with a thumb, whispering sweet nothings, telling her it was okay, that it was a little girl anyway.
Margaret could hear the police officers out in the halls, getting ready with the bassinets. The sound of a truncheon hitting the floor echoed across the ward. And in that single action, Margaret knew it was to be too late.
She hit ten centimeters at 12:06 am on August 1st, 2043. A line of police officers filed into the room, bringing with them a bassinet and a soft baby blanket. One attempted to smile at her underneath his visor, but it wasn't a very reassuring grin.
Margaret and David's son came into the world at 1:30 am. Margaret couldn't talk, couldn't cry, couldn't speak at all. She gave her final push, the cord was unceremoniously clipped, and the baby was whisked away by the officers in the room, the last of whom gave her a salute and a "have a good day, ma'am."
David crawled into the hospital bed alongside his wife, clutching her to his chest, and they wept bitterly.
It was midnight on Friday when they heard the question.
"Mom, dad?" Sophia's tiny voice threaded its way into the kitchen where her parents stood. Margaret turned around, a serving platter in her hand.
"What is it, Sophie? You know we've got work to do before the party tomorrow night." She smiled, but it was thin-lipped and wan, and she was just sure everyone would know something was the matter. Her husband, David, draped a supportive arm around his wife and pulled her tightly to his side.
"What's up, baby?" he asked the air around him, though it could have been a question for wife or daughter. They heard Sophia's padded footsteps ambling down the hallway, and she poked her head around the door jamb before the rest of her body entered the kitchen behind her.
"I had a bad dream." She said, picking at a piece of cotton fluff on her pajamas. David frowned sympathetically and gave his wife a squeeze, walking over to Sophia and kneeling on her level.
"That's okay!" he said brightly, taking her hand. "Lots of little girls have bad dreams, sometimes dreams are mean when you're three. Let's get you a cup of water and we'll go back to bed, okay?" Sophia shook her head resolutely, her blonde curls bouncing up and down around her face.
"No!" she said. She jerked her hand out of her father's palm and turned to face her mother. Margaret paled, and went back to scrubbing her serving platter. "Mama?" Sophia asked, shuffling over toward the sink. Margaret sighed and plopped the serving tray down in the soapy water, wiping her hands off on a dish towel resting on the countertop.
"Yes, Sophia Angela?" Her tone was no-nonsense, but this didn't seem to affect Sophia at all.
"Are you sure there's a baby in here?" Sophia turned to her mother and reached up, reverently patting the swell of her belly. "I had a bad dream that the baby was going to never come out!" Her father chuckled, good-natured as always, which hid Margaret's gasp.
"Oh, Soph. You know the baby will come out! It just feels like it won't because he has been in there for eight months! You are almost four now, and when you turn four, the baby will come out. You will have a sister or brother in September, isn't that great?" David walked back to his daughter and scooped her up. "Come on now, let's go to bed." Sophia frowned.
"Okay," she said warily. "but I want to use my fish cup." David reached into the cabinet for the cup and carried his daughter upstairs, tucked neatly into the crook of his arm. Margaret could hear them reciting nursery rhymes all the way up the stairs.
She sat the dish towel on the countertop, feeling as if she'd been stabbed. She had too much to do for the baby shower, too much to do entirely. With shaking hands, Margaret opened the ubiquitous junk drawer and riffled through its contents, pulling out an envelope from its recesses. She extracted the most recent sonogram photo, showcasing her and David's healthy, blossoming son, due August 19th.
"A son," Margaret said to herself, tracing her hands over her stomach. "Why, lord? Why a son?" She had told David that they had never told her the gender, never given her a sonogram past the point of gender identification. "I only get one a trimester!" she'd exclaimed, laughing gleefully over the phone that afternoon. "Don't you want a surprise this September, sweetheart?" David had agreed sweetly, damn him, and Margaret had come home, stuffed the sonogram photograph into a drawer and wept into a tea towel while her daughter splashed in the kiddie pool outside.
A postcard was clipped to the bulletin board on the wall of the kitchen, where appointment reminder cards and calendars and the family photographs were kept. A tiny postcard, really, in the scheme of things. But the text, formatted in a bold, blood-red, said all that would ever need to be said on the subject. A postcard just like all the other ones sent out each year, since the Great Shortage of 2042, but so important to anyone trying to start a family these days.
"This year's cull will take place in August. Any sons born in August will be given over to the authorities immediately. Thank you for your cooperation in this matter."
David would never know until it was too late, and Margaret fervently hoped Sophia would forget she was ever meant to be anything but an only child.
My partner for this intersection is banyangirl1832
, whose piece is here
. :) I think they can be read in either order!
"What's good enough for Rosalie should be good enough for me!" Ella Mae Jessup protested, grinding her heel into her mother's newly-steamed carpets. Mrs. Jessup raised an eyebrow and gave her daughter the stink eye.
"Now jus' you wait a minute, Ella Mae. For the hundredth time, you are the first person in our family to go to a degree an' I will not have you wasting your time with that lazy moonshiner's daughter!" Her voice crept up an octave as she reached for the remote control on the coffee table. "If you would take your shoes off an' think for a minute you'd realize how much better off you're gonna be come graduation when that Rosalie ain't got nothin' but a fancy piano degree." Ella Mae felt her heart sink down to the toes of her shoes and a blush that crept across her face as she thought of Rosalie at that piano, or better yet, draped across it.
"Mama, I just want to learn an art! Jus' for the summer!" Mrs. Jessup stifled a laugh.
"Ella Mae, you an' I both know that's not what you want that shiny lib'ral art class for. Now I suggest you go upstairs an' work on your homework before your father gets home." The matter settled, Mrs. Jessup sank into the folds of her sofa and became engrossed in an episode of Duck Dynasty. Ella Mae crept up the stairs to her room, seething. She hated being home for the summer, hated that she had not seen Rosalie in years, and worst yet she saw how many friends Rosalie had over at Sewannee! She wanted to be the only one Rosalie thought of, the only one ...
It was later that evening when her mother informed her that, speak of the devil, "that Rosalie and her fool father are comin' over tonight for coffee!" Ecstatic, Ella Mae dug into the back of her closet, toward the very depth of the suitcases she kept there, ready for the leaves to turn brown so she could escape to a home where people understood her, at Belmont. Her sorority sisters understood her.
Ella Mae unfolded a tightly-wound slip of paper from the crease of her suitcase, hidden where no one but her could find it. She unfurled the paper and her gaze ran over the text, skimming the words, drinking them in. "Now Ella Mae, don't you share a word of this with anyone!" Lisa Tucker had said, rubbing aloe on her shoulders where freckles and sunburn peppered her fair skin. "We just can't have someone blabbing the secrets of our sisterhood, it's better if no one knows." Ella Mae had nodded anxiously as Lisa leaned forward so her girlfriend, Ainsley, could daub some more aloe on the middle of her back. "There's a girl," Lisa said, slipping the paper to Ella Mae. "maybe your summer won't be so boring after all."
She recited the incantation to herself, over and over again, as she labored in the parlor and kitchen, getting rid of all signs that her family used to run moonshine, polishing the awards and the framed high school diploma. Rosalie had always been so much better than her, so much more talented, but maybe if she saw Ella Mae's accomplishments she'd realize it's not all about how pretty you sit. Her thoughts drifted back to Rosalie and the piano, and a shiver swept over Ella Mae's skin. Maybe it was about sitting pretty, precisely.
The Jessup's beaten-up truck crunched over the gravel into their yard, sending a starburst of scavenging squirrels and birds up from the grass to drift into the woods off to the side of the house. Ella Mae glimpsed Rosalie's tangle of red hair come up from the side of the house, and she squeezed her eyes shut as she murmured her incantation one last time.
"Ella Mae! Rosalie and her daddy are here!" her mother shouted from the foyer. Clearing her throat, Ella Mae descended the front stairs, pretty as a picture with her wiry brown hair pulled into an upknot. She reached over to Rosalie and drew her close to her, inhaling the scent of her skin and hair: blackberry wine and secrets.
"Long time," she whispered, "we'll have to catch up." Rosalie visibly shivered, but Ella Mae noticed her eyes twitching toward hers inexplicably, almost like she was trying to avoid eye contact, but was unable to.
"Y-yes," Rosalie said, her arms staying clutched around her friend. "perhaps we will." Ella Mae grasped Rosalie's hand and led her into the house, a wan smile creasing her face. There was a piano in their drawing room, and maybe Rosalie could teach her some tricks ...