Gentle hands rocked me, trying to coerce me from my slumber. The force of their push remained soft but steady as I rocked. A grumble slipped through my lips as I unlocked one eye from sleep. Shadows of darkness stilled my room. Not even the morning glow had penetrated the night yet. No birds sung from outside my window. With a glance at my clock, I groaned and pulled myself into a blanket cocoon.
“My alarm doesn’t go off for another hour and a half,” I whined. You continued to shake me. I knew it was you, though I couldn’t make you out in the darkness. Your perfume coated my room. I’ve forgotten many things in my life, but your smell stays with me. To this day I still hold an empty bottle of your perfume, its scent—your scent—holding strong. Sometimes I’ll open the cap just to smell it and remember you. So few things remind me of you.
“You’re not going to school today,” you said in a whisper that tickled my ears. The heat from your breath brushed my skin in tiny puffs of air.
“Then why are you waking me up so early?”
You laughed and went to turn on the light. I groaned and pulled my head out of the blanket. Your back greeted me as you rummaged through my dresser and closet to pull clothes out for me. It took several years, but you finally gave up trying to make me wear dresses every day. Only on special occasions would I be forced to dress up. The boys had their influence on me. I enjoyed playing in the mud more than I enjoyed having tea parties with my stuffed animals. You’d always wanted a little girl. Dad tells me the story how the boys came to be and you made a pact after S was born, one more child. If you had another boy, you were done. When I was conceived you beamed how you knew I’d be your little girl. Often I wonder if I was the little girl you always wanted or if my lack of enjoyment in girlie things let you down.
I sat up, realizing you weren’t letting me get back to sleep. My feet dangled over the edge of the bed, unable to reach the floor. Even for my age I was small, I had your build. We were both petite and rail thin. The back of my hand wiped the sleep crust from my eyes, freeing them from their binding. Air whistled through the gap in my front teeth as I sighed. You laughed again and tossed clothes on my head.
“We’ll go to McDonalds for breakfast if you get moving.”
“Why aren’t I going to school?”
“The weather's too bad.” Before I had a chance to question further, you left my room. I stood on my mattress, pushing up on the tips of my toes to look out my window. Outside I expected to see pouring rain or piles of snow. Our area never saw a lot of snow, certainly not to East Coast levels, but occasionally there would be enough to put the city in a stand still until they could bring down the snowplows in the nearby mountains. But I saw nothing out my window. The patio roof blocked my view of the sky but the pool cover remained untouched by weather, the grass damp only with dew of the night. Hills of empty fields rolled in the darkness, their form barely illuminated by the moon.
If the weather was too bad, our backyard showed no evidence.
I scrunched my nose and grumbled. Always the stubborn child I took my time getting dressed. Often times I remind my step mom that I am my father’s daughter because she complains about my stubbornness. But then, you were stubborn too, weren’t you? I come by the trait honestly. A smile curved on my mouth as I saw you pulled out my ninja turtle shirt instead of one of my nicer shirts. Simple acts like that had the chance to illuminate me and put the right amount of zip in my step.
As I skipped down the stairs you were waiting in the dinning room, writing a note to dad so he wouldn’t worry. He’d be leaving on a month long business trip that day and you knew by leaving before he woke you wouldn’t get to kiss him goodbye. I giggled as we both drew kisses on the letter; mine was more of a bumpy circle with a line running through it. Yours fit the standard XO.
“Where are we going, Mommy?” I asked as our car pulled onto the freeway. Purple and orange began to sweep across the sky, bringing with it dawn. Not even a single cloud dotted the sky. “I thought you said the weather was too bad out?”
“No, I said the weathers too bad. As in, too bad it’s going to be too nice a day to be indoors.” You laughed and ruffled my still light blonde hair with your hand. I curled up in my seat and watched the world move by us. Commuters gathered at Park and Ride locations or filled the freeway with their cars. We were ahead of the rush and had mostly smooth sailing. On the way we passed several McDonalds and I started wondering if you’d lied to me until we stopped in Anaheim for a bite.