All day she'd imagined this moment. She'd envisioned running to the door to greet her new family members, grinning from ear to ear and waving exuberantly. She'd imagined them all smiling back, charmed by her enthusiasm and friendliness. Except now that the knock had sounded, she couldn't move. She couldn't run to the door or do any of the other things she'd imagined. But then, she was usually much braver in her daydreams.
She stood still. Her feet remained glued to the carpet. She remained in the center of her bedroom, straining her ears. She heard Nan sigh, and then she heard the pad of her footsteps crossing from the kitchen to the front door. Then there was the swish and scrape of the heavy front door pulled across the granite tiles of the foyer.
"Hello, everyone. Come on in. Nice to meet you girls. I'm your grandmother. You can call me Nan." She spoke using her dripping, sweet voice, the one she used for the dance studio moms and with their extended family during vacations in Massachusetts.
"Hey, Ma." Helene's throaty voice floated down the hall. "You remember Octavio? And these are the monsters you've heard about. Nita." A short pause in which Rachel assumed Helene was pointing. "Amorey."
"Hello, girls," Nan cooed. "Here, we can hang your coats in the closet here. You'll want to meet your sister. I think she's being shy right now."
Rachel squirmed. She didn't want anyone to think she was shy. She just didn't know the best way to introduce herself. She had to make the perfect first impression. She'd never get another one. What she worried about most was the way they might react to her face. Her burns made people feel weird around her. A lot of people couldn't even look straight at her.
There were other voices now. One gruff and low, yet still somehow childlike. The other meandering and high-pitched.
"Hi, your house is cool."
"Thank you, Nita," Nan answered.
"The mouse in the house and the rat in the hat!" the high-pitched voice announced.
"She doesn't talk yet," said the first voice. "She only repeats things, but she can't really tell you anything yet. She just copies us and says stuff she hears on TV."
"It's the wildest thing," Helene added. "I was starting to think she was special. She never said anything till three months ago, but all she does is parrot. There was this one day, me and Nita watched a serial killer movie. Amorey was sitting in her crib yelling 'Help! Help me please!'" Helene laughed.
There was a pregnant pause, and then Nan responded in a terse voice.
"You were watching a serial killer movie with Nita? That doesn't sound appropriate."
Rachel flexed her toes against her pink carpet and pulled at the ends of her long brown hair. She shook her head, mussing it, trying to use it to cover as much of her face as possible. Maybe she would go out into the hall in a minute. But they were all out there taking their time, hanging their coats. As soon as Rachel stepped outside of her room, they would see her. They would all turn to the left and see her standing there at the end of the long hall. They would see her face, and once they saw it, first impressions were over. She would never have a first meeting with them again. For now, she still had time to think of something. Something she could say or do to ease the shock of her face...
"What's going on?"
Rachel jumped. There was a face in her doorway. A squarish, light brown face with full lips and an angular nose. The face belonged to a tall man with thin brown hair that fell halfway down his back. His fluffy locks lay against his wide shoulders in waves. He wore wire glasses, a pair of gray sweatpants, and a well-worn T-shirt that read 'Metallica'and had a picture of a blindfolded lady in a toga holding a set of scales.
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***Long-listed for the Watty's 2018***Rachel lives in constant fear that she will burst into flames. She can feel the heat building in her gut. She keeps buckets of water under the bed. She keeps them to fend off the flames that her body may create...