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I watched a serene Ella run the steaming iron over my uniform skirt. She had Good Morning America on mute, while her insect-themed stained glass lamps competed with the early morning sun.
“Not very much material here, Little Chickie.” I nodded, unable to process the image before me. Mother Hen Ella. “Did you remember to pack your PE clothes? I can’t believe they refuse to count your year of swimming at your old school. Your dad, he-” Her faraway gaze snapped me to attention.
“I heard you talking to Mr. Howard. You gave it your all.” She chuckled and granted me a regal head nod. The woman tried her very best not to cuss at the Vice Principal. “Dad said he was a decent guy.” Sam Pierce had good instincts about people, so when Mr. Howard promised no one would hold my quirks against me it was enough.
“Go check your backpack one more time.” I wanted to stay put and watch more of Ella humming in domestic bliss. When my words hung in the air for an extra second, I realized I said that out loud. “Here you go.” Without a bit of gruff, she playfully tossed me my pleated dark grey and pink pinstriped skirt. “Don’t you bend over in that thing.” She tossed the pink blouse next and started on Sara’s uniform.
I walked over to the vibrating bouncer and ran my fingers down baby Sam’s face, grinning at my new level of control. As a rule, babies made me dizzy. Unlimited future potential used to mean constant streaming visions. Now it meant an occasional itch to take a peek. The grin faded as soon as I thought of the reasons for the ever-growing control. My parents, the river, Eric’s mind-prison, and lastly, little awful Emily. My guide. My nightmare more like.
“You’re doing the head shaking again. Should I drive you? I’m not sure Betsy’s-”
“You’ll cry all over the place if you take me.”
“I’m banning you from spending any more time with that smart mouth cousin of yours.” I straightened up, volleyed the regal head nod back to Ella, and chuckled my way to the bathroom. I had to get my shower in before Sara woke up.
Last week as a family, we gathered at the dining room table to design a baby/school schedule. Since I woke up the earliest, I took first shift. Ella decided she needed to wake up at the same time so she could cook and iron our uniforms. I thought Betsy’s brain was going to explode with snarky comments, but she shook it off, literally; she stood and wiggled her whole body. “This is me behaving, El.”
The moment I stepped into my bedroom, hot arms banded around me and pulled. The door shut quietly with me on the dangerous near-naked side. I felt his heart pounding and gloried in the fact that this boy was crazy about me. So crazy he risked Ella’s wrath to sneak in morning kissing time.
“Hi,” I said with post-shower hot cheeks.
“Happy first day of school,” Peter whispered in my ear. “Are you sure about me not going with you?” The “Are you sure” question again.
“I can’t think with you around. I have to do a good job.”
“I know you’re not a fan of platitudes like ‘Your parents are proud of you.’” I groaned into his chest. He chuckled. “I like that, Anna.”
“You can’t put your training on hold anyway. Never mind the parents part of this.”
“Okay, never mind the parents part of this. I’ll train while you’re in school. You’ll promise not to talk to any vampires, and then at 3:15 you’re mine.” I was smiling when he slipped a hand behind my neck and held me there for the softest, sweetest kiss.
“You cannot wear your uniform around Jared,” he said on my wet lips. “He’s going to be impossible.” It was his turn to groan.
“I like that, Peter.” I tried for a cool delivery, but snorted instead. I never knew I snorted like the old lady. My parents would have teased me if I had.
“Hey,” he said as he stilled my weaving hands.
“I laughed with them. I’m sure I did.”
“Anna, you laughed till you fell to the ground. Your parents loved it so much.” I worked at blaming the emotional quirks on first day jitters, but I didn’t get those. “I’ll be waiting in the parking lot like those guys in the movies leaning against their cool cars with their hands in their pockets.”
“So my vamp boyfriend will be there with his Subaru wagon doing his best not to bite the student body?”
“Exactly.” He kissed my neck before sneaking in that my parents are proud of me, it’s okay to miss them, and he knows me. He liked saying the last one.
Betsy arrived just as Ella finished magically flipping her pancakes to circular perfection. I watched raptly, but knew I was a lost cause when it came to spatula skill.
“Shit! I’m too late?” I peaked out the kitchen to see Betsy standing next to the ironing board. “You people are like birds.” When my only response was to stare, she threw her arms up. “You know, you wake up at the crack of dawn?”
“Superb conversational skills, weird girl. El, how about ironing Anna’s PE uniform?” I turned around to see if Ella was midway flipping Betsy off. My grandmother continued her happy domestic glow as she plowed through making breakfast for three girls on their way to school.
The little cousin chose a better audience and went upstairs to get ready with Sara. I decided not to say anything about my mom’s number one rule of never leaving your house in pajamas.
“I don’t understand,” I said for the tenth time. Betsy threw Ella’s old person magazine at me.
“Yes, okay. I’m Miss Perfect,” Betsy finally admitted. Pristine uniform with the exact right hem length. Sweet pink lipstick. And blonde hair that makes you squint to catch sight of a glowing halo.
“Angel Betsy,” I cooed.
“Ugh. Don’t even-” Too late. Her hair felt as soft as it looked. The little cousin’s protests faded with the sound of Sara kissing baby Sam goodbye.
The chatter-filled car ride, the early morning wake up, and the previous night’s sneaky make out session hit me at the same time and I fell asleep. Emily tapped her annoying little girl foot and told me, “Again!”
“No more training, little Em.” Emily charged my dream-self. I recognized her expression; it was her “I’m gonna have fun making you cry” look.
“Wake up. We’re here,” Betsy announced loud enough to pull me away from my hellish nap. “Listen, Anna.” She kept her head facing forward as her prettily painted pink nails drummed on the steering wheel. “You should stick to me like glue.” I expected her to lay down conditions, insult me some, then grumble about being saddled with me. “Yeah, that’s what we’re gonna do.” I flipped back and forth between Sara and Betsy, noticing they had a silent conversation going on.
“This isn’t my first day of school ever.”
“Right, then.” The second Betsy climbed out of the car, she visibly transformed from petulant mouthy teen to princess A-student. Sara remained her elegant, gentle self, but there was something in the way she stood, proud like.
I slid out of the backseat and watched them work up a tangible level of excitement. Sara spoke with her hands. Betsy bounced. My little cousin bounced. Then they were swarmed by only one type of teenager. The preppy, stunning kind. The guys were tall. The girls all had shiny flowing hair.
“Who’s that?” one of them asked. For whatever reason my chin jutted out and my eyes narrowed. Betsy visibly paled. Sara gaped. When the pretty people all turned toward Betsy, I shook my head at her. She nodded back. I wanted to shout to her that I was letting her off the hook; I wouldn’t bring her down.
She responded to my self-sacrificing gesture by waving her hand in my direction and saying my name. Sara shouted for me to hurry up, which was odd enough to get my feet moving.
“My island-hopping cousin, Anna,” Betsy said as I made my approach.
“Hey, I read about you online,” a couple of them said at the same time. Who knew what they really looked like? I kept my eyes on the school. Students were piling in, pink blouses moving like those birds in the sky that hop from tree to tree.
“Not very talkative, your cousin.” The voice rumbled as if he was older, so I actually looked at this one. Then I took a deep breath. Not a vampire. Stupid power. For more than one reason I hated the ability to sniff out vamps. First, human girls didn’t do that. Second, I loved the lone power I grew up with even if it turned me into this odd Little Duckie.
“Trent, leave her alone,” a hair flipping, gloss-wearing girl said next to Mr. Tall, Blond, and well-suited-for-the-swim-team. He had that kind of build and face.
“Leave Anna alone,” Betsy said. “She’s my family.” Suddenly the world shifted by a few inches and I realized I’d gone up on my tiptoes. The sun shot diagonal beams of light at us as we stood just outside the front doors to St. Lucy’s, and all I wanted to do was twirl in the warm rays. I was Betsy’s family.
“Moment’s over, Anna,” my newest hero said quietly from a few feet away. We were alone and I had slipped into a twirl.
“Are we late?” I asked.
“No, but you know how to freak out a bunch of spoiled shits.” I wanted so much to ask her why she wasn’t telling me to behave. “I thought your boyfriend was going to go here?” I followed her slow pace to the double doors.
“I can’t think with him around. I need to do a good job.”
“Because your dad enrolled you here?”
“I’m not sticking to you like glue.” She nodded.
“We’ll see.” She bounced ahead as soon as we entered the foyer. Shiny black and white checkered linoleum stretched in all directions. Straight ahead were the main offices. To the immediate right and left were extra-wide staircases. Framed pictures of all the previous graduation classes lined the peach colored walls. My dad chose a Catholic, mostly girls, art deco high school.
Three chimes rang out, a Pavlovian trigger that turned sparkling floors and tall ceilings into a chamber of busy talk and shuffling feet. People passed by in a sort of body-to-body bump/shove/mash while I stood still. Future potential that rivaled babies and little kids slammed into me. So much for control.
“Are you Anna?” Tall, thin, and just barely grown up looking. “I’m Mr. Howard. I’ve been on the look out for you. How about I walk you to homeroom?” I almost hugged his arm. He looked like he would keep me from floating away. He waved to the right. Students continued to struggle their way to freedom despite the grand width of the staircase.
I shook my head. “Homeroom is upstairs? That doesn’t seem right.” He chuckled.
“Doesn’t seem right?”
“You start your day at the bottom and work your way up. That has a better feel to it.”
“First time I heard a theory as to where homeroom should be.” He led the way, so I squared my shoulders (thought it would make me feel braver), and followed the Vice Principal. The moment a wave of aqua hair filled my vision, I lost sight of my helpful school guide.
“Uh, okay,” the girl with the punk hair said. The next person to shove her way in front of me as I made like a turtle up those steps had graffiti-style crosses drawn all over the light blue material of her Jansport backpack.
“You have crosses all over your bag,” I told her.
“Don’t judge. God is cool.”
Before I could ask her why she didn’t write God all over instead of human made torture/death devices, Mr. Howard appeared at my side. He looked up at the now-hostile girl in front of me. “Elizabeth, welcome back. How was your summer?” Bad attitudes must plague girls with that name.
“I prayed for you, Mr. Howard.” His brow rose as a single unit. “I’ll pray for you too.” She looked down at me, I mean, really looked down. “Hey! Watch it!”
The boy who just shoved his way in front of me, consequently propelling Elizabeth two rows of stair climbing teens over, offered a consolation shrug and nothing else.
“Name’s Cody James. Did you want to escort me to my homeroom too?” I instantly thought of Betsy, not school-version Betsy, but the snarky one who always had a comment at the ready. He turned back enough for me to catch his smirking mouth and cute dimples.
“Anna,” Mr. Howard said in a strange sort of parental voice. I stopped staring at the boy with the tangled midnight black hair and completely unironed white shirt, as if he’d snatched it out of a cold dryer only minutes ago, and black pants. Not pants, jeans.
“He’s a rule breaker,” I said without thinking. I caught Cody’s shoulders shaking up and down.
“Good, we have that taken care of.” Cody disappeared in the throng of fellow students all moving at a zombie pace. I stood like a broken dam in the middle of all of it. “You’re to the left, room 203.”
“My grandmother isn’t happy with you,” I said as I finally made my feet move. He chuckled.
“She told me that.”
“Happy first day of school, Anna.” I thought of Peter whispering those words in my ear, same words, very different effect.
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