I rise before the sun in the morning. For some reason, I’ve always had to wake up early for fear that I would be wasting my precious life otherwise, and I don’t waste things. I’ll eat an ice cream cone off the floor before I’d throw it away and pay for a new one. I stretch my arms to the sides and wince every time I hear a bone popping. Cracking bones gross me out even more than blood does.
I am startled at the sound of glass shattering on my wooden bedroom flooring. Sage doesn’t even stir in his sleep at the loud crash. Peeking over the edge of my bed, I see a smashed beer bottle. Beer bottles aren’t exactly an endangered species around here, but why would one be in my room? I don’t drink, and neither does Sage for all I know. Maybe he was under the influence – though I couldn’t smell any alcohol on his breath – and it made him want to be a good brother. In that case, he should get drunk more often.
I crawl out of bed and sweep the shards of glass into my hands, then carry them over to the trashcan in my bathroom. As I peek under my bed, searching for any stray pieces, something else catches my eye. A rolled up piece of paper that is about the size of a bottle-rocket, sealed with scarlet wax and branded with the initials KB, is lying on the floor.
Curious, I grab it and begin to break the seal as I sit cross-legged on my bed. The paper crinkles as I unroll it to look at what it says. On the inside, written in scratchy cursive font, is a list:
Kill David Schuler
Kill Molly Schuler
Kill Ginger Schuler
Kill Sage Schuler
I have to reread it several times to grasp the concept of someone – or something – plotting a redneck-slaughter. I’m thinking that the note was inside the beer bottle, and they meant for me to find it. I rip the piece of paper in half. What a stupid practical joke; a hillbilly hit-list. I shake it off, figuring that Ginger and/or Sage are trying to freak me out. The sloppy handwriting could easily be Ginger’s.
To my right, Sage is snoring quietly, his brown hair rumpled messily over his closed eyelids. People used to mistake us for identical twins because we look so much alike. Our parents call us the mutations, since we look nothing like the rest of the family. The gene pool must have made a mistake somewhere in there, because a redheaded mother with blue eyes and a redheaded father with brown eyes does not equal two brunette children with light green eyes.
Ginger looks exactly like papa, plus a few teeth, and he started the whole concept of Sage and I being “mutants”. At the naïve age of thirteen, he told me that I could fly, and trusting in him, I leaped from the staircase and spread my invisible wings. What a shock it was when I landed unexpectedly on the floor. I can only imagine how embarrassed my parents must have been when the ER staff asked how I could crack two ribs, fracture my shin bone, and dislocate my shoulder all at one time, and they had to say that I was connecting with my inner bird DNA and “flying” from the top of the staircase banister. Since then, I have concluded that it’s safer for me to keep my feet planted on the ground.
I open the driver’s door of our practically demolished F-150 (Sage even let me drive this morning). I think the original color of the seats was gray, which makes me wonder why they are now black. The windshield is still busted from Ginger’s accidental collision on the way back from our family bonding over noodling a couple weeks ago. Let’s just say that he put a dent in the pelican population of Mobile County.
At school, the spotlight is on me for once, and I hate it. I am the newest freak show, and they do nothing to make their stares and whispers less noticeable. My ears pick up strange bits and pieces of conversation, but it’s so loud that I can’t concentrate much on what they are saying. I try to think about something else, anything else, to blot out the constant talking, but the jabbering continues and makes my head ache worse than ever before.
As I near my homeroom class – history, with Josh – I begin to smell the aromas of the cafeteria setting up breakfast. Today they are having French toast sticks and strawberries. I can smell the maple syrup and sugary yet bitter berries. I wonder if the hot plates are dysfunctional or if the AC vents are blowing in the smell, because it is pretty strong with the cafeteria being at the very end of the hall. I could never pick out the distinct smells of sweetness and baked bread before.