Chapter 1- Rel Rel

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Rel Rel hunched over the sheet of paper, chest pressed firmly against the table, head bent, watching every stroke of her pencil. Scribbling against the empty page of her sketchbook, she curled a sharp edge for an ear, scribbling dots for eyes, and quick, wavy slashes for hair. "It's almost perfect", she thought, drawing in clothes that were too large for the rest of the body, and a rectangle tunic over formless stick legs. "Now for the color!"

Rel Rel was thirteen, an awkward youth with tan skin, short, boy-cut black hair and purple bangs. She wore a purple tank top, which turned yellow around her stomach, and a wrinkled pair of shorts. These were the same clothes she'd worn the day before, and she saw no reason to change. Why would she? Rel Rel adjusted her purple, star-pattern socks with one hand, still concentrating on her pad and paper.

She hopped off her stool, leaving the pencil rolling across the paper as she scuttled out of the kitchen, past the counter, and into the hallway. She ran past her mother, who was busily heading to the table with a cup of coffee cupped in her hands.

"Mija, hurry and finish! We'll be leaving soon," Rel heard her mother's voice echo down the hallway.

"Right, yes, finish, I know!" Rel Rel replied, red sneakers tearing over the worn brown carpet. She kicked open the door to her room, spun to her left, and flung the cabinet open.

"Rel, over here, now!" called Father from the kitchen. "Breakfast is getting cold."

She cleared away old drawings, pieces of paper, tossed paint brushes, bottles of ink, and tubes of paint, knocking them to the floor in a hurry. "Getting cold, yes, okay, on my way!" she called back, frantically clearing the area, hands moving quickly to a small, yellow lunch box. Stuffing a wad of paper into her mouth, she chomped down, clutched the lunchbox in one hand, and sprinted out of the room.

Bounding through the hall, she leaped into the kitchen and back into her chair. She spit the paper into her lap, plopped the lunchbox onto the table, and flipped it open. Dirty crayons, some broken, hardly any of them unused, were strewn about inside. Her eyes quickly fell on purple. "Ah, here we are!"

She began to color in the dress, then tossed the purple into the lunchbox. Rel continued with another red crayon as her mother sipped her coffee, her eyes narrowing at the little girl.

Mother was not very tall, slender, dark-eyed, with long curls of shimmering brown hair. A finely pressed, pinstriped business suit was buttoned firmly to her petite form. She glanced over at Father and shook her head.

Father was a large man, round, with eyes that always looked angry, and a wild bush of brown hair and matching eyebrows. Stuffed into a ruffled, button-up shirt and some worn blue jeans, Father glanced at a schedule to his left one last time. He chewed the rest of his eggs, eyes never turning as Rel added the finishing colors to her artwork. He looked back at Mother, then to Rel Rel and said, swallowing, "Put it away."

"Okay," said Rel without looking up, finishing the hair with a green crayon. "Ta-da! Isn't it neato? Check it out." She held it up for them to see, a triumphant smile on her lips. "With time to spare. You like it? I know, it's good, right?"

Father sat up without even looking and moved to the sink to wash his plate, while Mother stared at her watch, sipping the last ounce of dark brew in her cup.

Rel Rel watched them for a moment, the page still in hand, smiling. Maybe they didn't hear her? I mean, how could they deny such artistic expertise! Hopping out of her chair, she waddled up to her Father's side, holding the picture up, eyes hopeful, lips full of pride. "Did you see?"

A sigh left Father's frown, and he said in a gruff voice, without turning to look at her, "I said put it away."

Mother ran her fingers over the coffee cup.

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