When I finally get back to the house, ignoring an irritated glare from my mom, I can feel my bitterness starting to slip away. As much as I want to, I know I won’t be able to despise my new home forever. Day by day it will grow on me until I feel at home in the quiet little town. Day by day. I laugh. It’s already beginning to feel more normal.
Sitting down at the kitchen table, I take the strawberries out of the grocery bag and begin slicing them. Their sweet smell fills the kitchen. I can’t help popping one into my mouth. Sugary bliss swims over my taste buds. It is possibly the best strawberry I have ever tasted. My mom has always complained about store bought produce. She misses the homegrown fruits and vegetables she grew up on. I used to think she was just complaining because she didn’t like the city. Now I have to admit she is right.
I sit listening to my mom hum as she turns pancake after pancake. I smile as the pancake stack grows higher and higher. The fluffy tower makes me think of my brother David. He is only one person, but the family’s food consumption has dropped significantly since he moved into his own apartment just before we left Manhattan. My mom still has not gotten used to the change. She even has to put back the extra plate when she begins setting the table and serving the food.
Thoughts of David not being here dulls whatever small bit of contentment I had found earlier.
Despite the allure of the special meal, I just stare at the strawberry covered pancakes, absently mashing them with my fork. My mom keeps glancing over at me with an anxious look, but my funk has settled in again. Strawberries and pancakes are my favorite breakfast food, but I hardly touch the meal. Knowing my mom made the meal especially to cheer me up, plus the staring, eventually wins out. I take a bite with a faint smile.
“Well, I know you wanted to work on your own room again today, but I could really use your help sorting photos. Those movers did an awful job of packing. The album pages have all fallen out and the photos are just in piles at the bottom of the boxes. It will take me forever by myself,” my mom says with a smile after seeing me spoon the food into my mouth.
“Yeah, sure, Mom, I can help,” I say.
My enthusiasm is miles short of genuine, but my mom ignores it. I know she could sort the photos much more quickly on her own, but she probably just doesn’t want me spending another sulky day alone in my room. I have been “arranging” it since we got here. And so far nothing has actually moved. My mom’s obvious plan to speed my progression towards well-adjusted and happy annoys me considerably, but her sigh of relief and pleased smile mellows my irritation.
Taking another forced bite before pushing the plate away, I say, “I’ll go get started,” and leave the table. I see my mom’s smile twitch a little as I get up, but I keep moving. She sighs disappointedly as I leave the kitchen.
The two of us quietly, but slowly, organize the dismantled photo albums. Every so often my mom will pick up a photo of one of us kids, usually me, and tell the story about the day it was taken. I smile at each of the stories, but wish she would just let me work in silence. Or better yet, let me go back to my room.
Pulling another box over to me, I wish it was the last one. When I open the box that had once contained carefully scrapbooked pages of me and David on summer vacations, an overwhelming loneliness settles over me. David and I are very close, or had been before my parents left him behind to prepare for college. I still haven’t quite forgiven him for abandoning me, but at the same time I am excited for him to be on his own.
To my fifteen year old mind, college is a dreamlike escape, a wonderful life silently waiting for me. It is only a painful two years of high school away. When David called earlier this week, I begged him for every detail of what adult life was like. Going to work, living on his own, going out on the weekends. I was so jealous. I long for college life. David, of course, teased me to no end about being stuck in Grainer, but his excitement quickly bubbled to the surface as he poured out practically every hour of his week to me. He is so lucky.
I look back down at the picture I’m holding and am pulled out of my college dreams by a tiny face looking back at me from the photo in my hand. The photo is black and white, slightly yellowed, but the features are still in perfect detail. Raven black hair, beautiful tinted skin, and glittering silvery eyes, just like my eyes, stare up at me.
The girl is about seven years old. She is cute and perky, just like every picture I have ever seen of myself, but I wrinkle my face in confusion when I realize that the little girl is riding a horse. I am absolutely sure this is me. The face is identical to the one my mom already hung on the wall, but I am terrified of horses. I have never ridden one in my life, and if I had, I certainly would not have been smiling about it.
“Mom, when was this picture taken? I’ve never ridden a horse. I can’t stand them. But isn’t this me?” I feel silly asking whether or not I am holding a picture of myself, but I am too confused to care.
My mom takes the picture. She turns it over. In delicate handwriting is printed, Katie Malo, age 7.
“Who is Katie?” I ask.
“Why, this is your Aunt Katie, your dad’s sister. You two do look amazingly similar. The same silvery eyes even. You remember…, no I guess you wouldn’t. She died before you were born and your father never mentions her. I actually never met her, either. I only know who she was from doing genealogy. I asked your father about her once,” my mom says sadly.
“How did she die?” I ask. I am astounded that I have never even heard of this beloved aunt. How can my dad never talk about having a sister? How did that not even once come up?
“It’s very sad. Your father doesn’t talk about her much. He blames himself for her death,” she says. She shuffles through some pictures as if trying to decide what to say.
My mom sighs and continues. “When your father was nineteen, he came back home for the summer after his first year in college to see Katie. She was turning sixteen. Katie loved riding horses, so for her sixteenth birthday she and Robert went out riding. Katie’s horse got spooked and it threw her. The fall broke her neck. I’m sure you can understand why your father doesn’t like to talk about it.”
Neither of us says anything for a while. I just stare at what looks like a ghost now. The aunt I never knew stares back at me from decades past, giving me a glimpse of her life, but leaving me wondering about her death. Only sixteen, I think as I wonder what plans Katie must have had for her life. What did Katie want to be when she grew up? Did she have a crush on some boy from school?
I have so many plans for my future already, especially college in Manhattan, and I deeply regret the fact that I never got the chance to kiss Ezra Lathrup before leaving. It startles me to think that all my planning and dreaming could come to nothing just like it did for Katie. What would that feel like? I shudder and hope I will never know.
I look back at the photo and suddenly want to know everything about my dead aunt. I don’t know why, but I need to hear her story. The picture seems important. It is my only link to her besides our similar appearances. We could have been twins. It seems so odd to me that I should even have an aunt, and I don’t want to forget her like everyone else apparently has.
“Mom, can I keep this picture?” I ask without really knowing why I want it.
“Sure. I doubt your father will miss it. He hasn’t looked at these photos in years,” she says.
Soon, my mom is back to her normal jovial self, sorting through the hundreds of pictures still scattered around the room. I keep sorting along with my mother, but I’m not really looking at the pictures anymore. I can only think about Katie, dead at sixteen. A shiver runs through me, and I suddenly feel the desire to keep digging. I feel as if I have been touched by something from the past, something that did not want to stay in the past.
YOU ARE READING
Escaping FateTeen Fiction
Turning sixteen should mean driving, dating, and breaking curfew. It should never mean certain death. Arrabella's excitement for her upcoming birthday is swallowed up by not only her dismay at being moved to a tiny little town in the middle of nowhe...