When They Were Young

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"In somnis veritas."-- In dreams, there is truth.

When Theodora "Teddi" Donovan was eleven, she was called filth, and she had no idea why. She lived in a perfect house on a perfect street in the middle of a perfect town. Her grandfather was a respected judge, and her grandmother a pillar of the community. Of course, her parents, who'd been dead for less than a year, had not left such an unsullied reputation behind. But Teddi didn't think anyone blamed her for that—at least, until she heard it from her uncle's mouth one Saturday afternoon.

Teddi trudged up the stairs of her grandparents' house, the place she now called home, with a satchel full of her mother's paintings on her left shoulder and a ginger cookie in her right hand. As she reached the second floor landing, the sound of a car pulling up to the house quickened her pace. With swift legs, she made it up the two flights to the attic and propped her paintings in a dusty corner near a pair of old file cabinets. After finishing her ginger cookie, she extracted each painting from the satchel. Two were of the old lighthouse at the edge of town—her mother's favorite subject. The third, however, was Teddi's true candidate for contemplation. It held a watercolor eye on the Brooklyn Bridge beyond the glistening orange and black waters of the East River, the New York City skyline etched into the distance. She sighed, studying the colors and lines of the painting. New York was pretty, but Paris was the city of her dreams these days. It was where her sister Liza had run away to, where she had escaped.

Teddi tapped her lower lip with her finger as she studied the painting. It needed an easel. She knew her grandmother kept one. She searched the spaces between a few boxes and trunks with her eyes but didn't see anything until she came to an old vanity and found what she'd been looking for behind it. Taking the picture stand over to the open space in the middle of the attic, warmth soothed her veins. Her mother was there with her now. She could see her on the front porch of their old house, painting the day away.

"That's the way to handle things, old boy," she heard a male grumble float in from the front lawn. Forgetting the painting for a moment, she went over to the windowsill and slid onto it to look down into the yard. She made out the faces of Dr. Zeke Jessup, a local physician with a long nose and empty blue eyes, and her Uncle Richard. Richard, a tall serious man with a pencil moustache and an engorged belly, laughed, the cold yet jovial sound filling the trees and filtering into the attic.

"The little piece of trash's still here, so I haven't handled much," said Richard. Teddi's stomach soured. Was he talking about her?

"Your mother has a soft spot for that one," said Doc Jessup. "She's all right. Kind of a sweet thing in her own way."

"She's filth, just like her sister," Richard spat. "They'll both be the death of this family." Filth, Teddi thought. The death of the family? Why would her own uncle say things like that about her and her sister? It had to be because of Liza and her parents. She couldn't think of anything she'd done wrong herself. She looked at Richard and knew that he was probably just being cruel. He wasn't very nice to anyone, but he'd never said anything like that to her. His eyes flashed up and spotted Teddi in the window. She gasped, waiting for him to say or do something. Instead of acknowledging her, he looked back at his friend.

"Your troubles are in the past. Don't worry so much. That kid won't do anything. And Liza's long gone." The doctor laughed, then clapped Richard on the back. "Let's go for a drink."

"Sounds good to me. Olive!" Teddi's uncle shouted to his docile new wife, who was somewhere in the house. "Damn woman. Be right back."

Richard flapped the front door open so loudly, it rattled the attic window.

Teddi turned to look at the New York painting, wishing she could slip into it and find her escape like Liza had with Paris. But really what could such a city bring to someone like her? She had never been to Manhattan, but it was a place of her past—her mother's home.

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