How Sweet It Is

Head-banging, screamo music blares from my earphones, and I barely discern Mom banging on my door. Yanking the headphones off my head and tumbling out of bed I manage to crawl to the door but I don’t unlock it.

“Yes?” I mumble, wiping the sleep out of green eyes and trying hard to wake myself up.

“William Robert! Unlock this door. How many times have I told you not to lock any door but the bathroom and the front door?”

My eyes close before I can roll them and I mutter, “A perfect Saturday morning wasted on locking lectures.” I grudgingly give in and more audibly say, “Fine, Mom, but I’m not dressed.”

“Nice try. Be downstairs in five minutes.” I hear her footsteps fade as she descends the stairs and, putting my hands behind my head, I roll back into bed. What can she want to talk about at eight-thirty in the morning on a weekend? Sighing, I jerk a pair of jeans over my boxers and then pull a green t-shirt over my head. I don’t know if we’ll be going anywhere or not but I won’t put socks or shoes on.

Pushing my iPod and earbuds into my pocket I slam my door closed and slide down our stairwell banister and right into the kitchen. I find Mom washing last night’s dishes and my older brother, Chris, sitting at the table drinking coffee and working on his latest sketch.

Glancing up for a moment he says, “Good morning.”

I blink once and correct him. “Bad. Bad morning is more like it.” And then I fall into the kitchen chair closest to me. What the heck am I doing up this early? I can’t function; can’t eat; can’t talk; can’t –

“I woke you up because we’re going over to say hello to new neighbors.” As if Mom’s waking me up is annoying enough, she has to go and read my mind.

I almost roll my eyes into the back of my head. Say hello? To new neighbors? Yeah, right. I still can’t believe I woke up from the perfect dream of a tropical paradise, my favorite music blaring, surfboarding on the beach – just to sound like a preschooler holding my mommy’s hand when I walk up to some stupid neighbor’s door and chirp, “Hi-ya! My name’s Billy!”

“Mom, you’ve got to be kidding –” I turn around to face her but the look she throws me is one that conveys, “If you argue with me you’re grounded for the rest of your life.” I unwillingly shut up.

Ten minutes later I find myself blatantly counting the cracks in the sidewalk as I shuffle down the street beside Mom. We reach a white house with dark blue shutters and a porch swing. Mom knocks on the door while I wish I was back in bed, drowning out the rest of the world with my music, flipping through my sports magazine –

The door shudders open. I glance at the person standing in front of us and back to the ground, jerking my head up for a double take. She is a few inches shorter than I, with red-brown hair flowing down to her shoulders. Dark blue jeans, a yellow American Eagle shirt, and reddish velvet coat outfit her. The coat looks silly and is too big for her.

As soon as Mom introduces herself the girl calls, “Mom, neighbors!” and she steps back, inviting us in. We follow her into their living room; it feels homely enough. The walls are painted a dark orange with vivid colored paintings hanging on them. A sofa and huge armchair sit in the middle of a room, both of them a burnt orange-brown. The carpet is fuzzy; my first impulse is to step out of my sandals and feel it between my toes.

Just then a lady who looks to be about thirty strolls into the room. A long skirt swishes around her ankles, covered with indiscernible designs and patterns. A dark purple shirt sits comfortably around her middle and arms, and her hair, wound into a loose bun, is the same color as her daughter’s.

She holds out her hand, first to my mom and then to me, saying, “Hello, I’m Alex Henderson and this is my daughter, Sofia.”

Sofia doesn’t shake our hands. I see the tiniest smile curl at the corners of her mouth; I suppose that’s all the greeting we’ll get. She looks like an artist, a bookworm, and a writer all rolled in one. I shake my head and try to stop my brain from processing any more stupid thoughts.

“I’m Lilly Prat, and this is my sixteen-year-old, William.”

“Will,” I mutter, thrusting my hands into my front pockets and turning my attention to the paintings. While Mom and Alex talk I circle the room, examining each of the pictures and wondering who the artist is. Turning around suddenly, I almost trip over Sofia. “Sorry,” I mumble, and looking everywhere but at her I ask, “Who did all these?”

“Mom and I,” is the short reply, but she continues. “Dad always loved art but no matter how hard he tried he just couldn’t adopt the knack of it. Then he met my mom…” She pauses and I risk glancing at her. The expression on her face looks uncertain, yet also hard and guarded, as if she doesn’t know if she should tell me the rest.

No matter. I’m not really that interested. “Well, they’re cool.” We both stand there awkwardly until I change the subject by jerking my finger at her idiotically and asking, “Why do you wear that big jacket?”

Sofia blushes, an action that surprises me. Already she seems to me more like the kind of girl to shoot back a reply that will catch me off-guard, rather than the blushing-type. I wonder if she’ll answer my question, and prepare to change the subject once more but stop when her expression changes slightly.

In a calmer and quieter voice she does reply. “It was my dad’s. He used to wear it when he wrote his books.” She stops, and that looks washes over her face again. This time, however, instead of stopping and turning red she continues, “I was writing before you came here; wearing it makes me feel closer to him. And,” she smiles now, sheepishly, “I feel like an aspiring writer when I have it on.”

So I am right. She is an artist, a writer, and obviously a reader because all writers have to read what they write and get ideas from other stories and writers. At least, I assume they do, but I don’t write, so I don’t know.

She doesn’t say anything else on the subject so I ask instead from where she’d moved. “Montana,” she replies. This time, the door opens a bit wider, and we talk about picturesque sights – the towering mountains, the rolling hills, the glassy lakes. All too soon Mom says it is time to go, and we leave with the promise to Alex that we visit again, sometime soon. As we walk home I don’t count the cracks in the sidewalk; rather I wonder if I have found a friend in this strange new neighbor girl.


Today. What A Day.

First, I groggily tore myself away from a vivid, deep dream. Of which I could not remember a single thing, except that I was really liking it. The clock showed 8:02, which was two minutes past the time I needed to be up and ready to go. My older sister, Abbie, and I dressed and gathered our things and, at 8:40ish, left the house – ten minutes behind schedule. Our destination was the Women’s Care Center, where we volunteer every third week. Every third week happens to be “Hispanic week” and we have the privilege of keeping an eye on these wonderful, gorgeous little Hispanic kids. Some shy, some missing mommy and daddy terribly, some indifferent, some over joyous, and then – my favorite – some rambunctious,  trouble-making imps.

Second, off to Barnes & Noble to return a book… only to find out that one can only return one’s merchandise up until 14 days of the purchase. (I bought this book a month ago.) <– *mood begins to slide downhill*

Third found us on our way home to shove some food down our throats and rush off to the dentist. Where we end up staying for nearly 3 ours due to 6 of the 7 kids needing a dental checkup. The usual. Boring, with no fun pass-times. During which time I sent a text message to a friend as a joke, but which she took more seriously. I apologized twice, and she said it was ok…

Fourth, babysitting at the Hickle’s – where, to my immense delight, the kids and I had a blast! Don’t get me wrong, we usually have fun, but today was different. When I asked them to do something, they did it without much hesitation and stalling. I managed to keep the arguments low key to none-existent. That is, until Bob (dad Hickle) walked in the door. His first words were: “What? – ugh! Why can’t you guys move this freaking rug?” which of course sends a wrong message to the four little girls on whose cases I jump instantly if they say “freaking” “shut up” or “oh my god.”

Fifth found me in the car with two of my favorite people in the world. We dropped into our ghetto Wal-Mart, then headed back to my best friend’s house, where he was to try and help alleviate my struggle through my tough choir songs. And then the friend I texted? She only reminded me every five minutes what a meanie I was, that it was Not a joke, etc. I apologized, and she continued pretending to be deeply offended. (She may have been a little bit, but not as much as she played at.)

So that’s what landed me in the awful grump I am right now.

Do you ever have a day that starts off groggily, progresses wonderfully, stalls annoyingly, continues awesomely, twists down hill, and ends with a feeling that makes you want to cry even though you don’t really have any good reason to? <–Well. That’s me right now. 😦


Smokey the Bear, Clifford, and Brother Bear Too

The air inside the mask is stifling; it is getting hard to breathe. The nose of the costume is the only place through which I can see what goes on outside, where my heavy feet will thud next.

Walking is another issue. My feet are now twice their normal length, and at least three times as wide – encased and disguised as humongous paws. They drag along the floor as I hold my arms out in front of me, making sure the wall or doorframe leading out of the back room does not plan on bumping into me.

And my head. Oh, my head! The “mask” is actually a head, placed over my own, and attached with a very uncomfortable head brace that keeps sliding over my hair. I have to stand up straight so it will not fall off, even though it is also strapped to the back of my neck with straps connecting to the rest of my costume. Which, depending on what animal I am, looks either dark brown, bright red, or a light, hazelnut brown.

Sweat starts slipping down my legs, arms, and face as a librarian takes my arm and leads me the rest of the way, from behind the front desk, down the main room a little ways, and around the corner…

…Where a large group of little kids eagerly await my arrival. I grin as they jump up from the floor, and I long to laugh as a flow of giggles ensues from their little bodies. The librarian in charge tells them to hush, that “their visitor” – me – is going to help tell a story and dance to a song.

The first time I put on a costume, I was Smokey the Bear: complete with very dark brown fur, blue overalls, and a huge snout. The second time, I was Clifford, big, red, obviously a dog – and with another large snout. My tail dragged a little behind me, and the paws sometimes fell off. This third time, my last time, I appear to the kids as Brother Bear from the little children’s book series and TV shows, the Berenstain Bears. In my wake is Sister Bear, in whom is the librarian’s younger sister.

We listen patiently as the librarian finishes reading a story about the Berenstain Bears, and then hands us egg shakers filled with tiny beans. Music plays, and Sister Bear and I dance and shake until the music cuts off, then we freeze. The children, laughing and shrieking, follow our lead, continuing when the music starts again and suddenly holding still when it stops.

Then, my favorite part comes: it is time to say goodbye, and the children are given the option of giving us high-fives, hugs, or just waving at us. To my infinite delight, most opt for the hugs. Silently I squeeze them back, trying not to crush them with my hardhead, longing to laugh with them but knowing that I cannot. (“You can’t speak, because each child imagines what your voice sounds like. If you talk, you spoil the image in his head,” the librarian explained.)

Finally the time comes to say goodbye. Sister Bear and I wave our large paws at the kids, who gather together in circles or bunches on the ground, their disappointed faces staring at us as they wave regretfully. And there are also those mischievous yet adorable little children who take hold of Sister Bear’s and my hands, grinning up at us and hoping to go wherever we are heading. These the librarians gently extract, but how I wish they could come with us! Not into the back room to change from our costumes, but to the child’s world of imagination, where Brother Bear and Sister Bear, and Clifford, and all those other favorite animals are very alive, and where fun abounds and never ends.

Huh. Sounds kind of like Neverland…


Megan, Sweet Megan

Tonight I babysit for a family by the name of Jehle. When I arrived at 7:05PM respectively, Megan was in need of a bath. \ This being only my 5th night watching the five children, I was not at all sure if the 4-year-old would yet feel comfortable with my helping her bathe. But she surprised me by saying, “Yes,” when asked if she wanted help. Regretfully, she set aside the three containers of nail polish she had held in her hands and rushed to the door to show me. Then we dashed upstairs and plugged up the tub.

Directly afterward we headed for the kitchen table, where I proceeded to paint Megan’s nails — blue, pink sparkles, purple, blue, pink sparkles. On her other hand I chucked that pattern and just did purple, blue, pink sparkles, blue, and purple. Unfortunately, the blue was that cheap little-girl nail polish crap that NEVER stays on. The four times Megan went to the bathroom (she’d had a *lot* of apple juice), she took care to inform me, “Niiiiina! My bdue nail poliss is tumming off…”

“To Grandmother’s House We Go” — or, what I’ve dubbed “the grandma house game” — was played 5 times; I won 2 games and Meg won 3. This game is basically like Candyland, except the play pieces aren’t little colored gingerbread men who trot around the board in attempt to save King Kandy and escape that evil lickerish guy and melted chocolate fatty monster. In fact, all the grandma-house-game pieces are lost, so Meg and I made-do for 2 rounds with 2 little shells (she got the prettier one), and 3 rounds with 2 different rocks (she got the marble-y one while I got the lava-looking rock ;). The cards players flip are either pink, purple, blue, green, yellow, or red, and all the colors are matched with different shapes. The path curves around the board, and the first player to reach Grandma’s House wins.

Apparently, contrary to my former belief (I played the game a few times with her last week), there IS a skill to this game. Because Meg possesses it!

Oh, goodness. I sometimes get such blooming, happy feelings when I’m babysitting. For example, some of the cards for the grandma’s-house-game might have a message: “Smile at a player and draw another card” “Give a player a Big Hug and draw another card”  “Make your silliest face at a player and move ahead two spaces.” The first time we played this game, Jon played with us. (It took a little while for Meg to warm up to me the first couple of weeks, and Jon always had to be present to make things less awkward – for her 🙂 Whenever Megan got one of those cards, she’d to pretty near every single one to her older brother.

Tonight, with only the two of us, she did every. single. one. to me. I was so elated! Since we played the game 5 times over, we got almost all the cards 3 times each. Including the Big Hug one. The first time, I got that card. “Give a player a Big Hug,” I read aloud. I put the card on the board and opened my arms, grinning. “Hug me?” I asked her.

Megan’s grin lit up her entire face and she jumped up and ran into me. “Mmmmm,” I squeeze a few seconds, and as I started to let go I felt her arms still tightly pressed around me. I squeezed again, then began to let go. But she STILL held me tight! After a little while longer, she finally released me.

I couldn’t believe it! I didn’t think she’d EVER do that to me!

Gah. At times like this… I love my job. Even if it is only once a week. ❤

 


Sometimes.

Sometimes I am very seriously convinced I can be the most selfish 17-year-old on the planet. Sometimes, when I’m going through troubles, I let all my problems meld into one big issue and cry about it for an hour. And sometimes I just wish I was anyone but me.


You Will Never Be

The people attending the special dinner were by no means indefatigable for most were breathing harder than usual from the scrambling around they had done, yet all managed to mimic the attitude of those who looked perfectly refreshed. In unison the elegantly clad crowd found and sat in their assigned seats, chatter and gossip rising loudly above the room. As the food was prepared and doled out, I surveyed the room.

Aside from the waitresses, who appeared very much out of place in their Hawaiian skirts and tops, the room gave off a nice atmosphere. The lights were dimmed, the din enclosing was of pleasurable volume, and the aroma drifting from everyone’s plates was heavenly.

The actual dinner could not have lasted more than twenty to thirty minutes; though I did not glance at a clock during this time–for no one would have dared to wear any kind of watch and so ruin their outfits of tuxes and dresses–I felt certain of the time. I could not explain how, or why, I sensed that the evening had been split into time segments, but it did not matter much, as everyone seemed to know.

Suddenly I noticed that the unbefitting waitresses had stopped in various places in between the guests’ tables, stood ramrod straight, dark hair glinting in the candlelight, strange expressions over their faces. In complete sync with each other they clapped their hands twice. Before I had time to register what this could mean, a short girl clothed in a beautifully Caribbean blue dress shot in front of the exit and yelled.

In a great flurry of hands, faces, garments, and food, the crowd began the mad rush around the room to various doors placed around the room. Not certain what else to do, I hurried after my friend Takoda into the big, round hallway. The strange hall was shaped in the likes of a tunnel: complete with torches lining the craggy walls, tossing an eerie glow around as we ran through the passageway.

I almost fell over when Takoda veered quite suddenly to our right, opening a door that could be easily missed if overlooked, yet that everyone for some reason or another knew was there. “Takoda, what are you–”

My words died in my throat as soon as I placed my foot on the first step; it twisted sharply around and around unexpectedly and was much, much longer than I had anticipated. I lost my balance after the first four steps. “Takoda!” I screamed. As I toppled down, however, I swore I heard a voice that did not belong to either my friend or myself.

The view into which I crashed was nothing as I had imagined. I had tumbled inside a cavernous space which appeared lighted, yet no torches or other light sources were in sight. Nothing else in the cave seemed interesting… that is, until my eyes fell upon what lay cowering almost at my feet.

I laughed at Takoda, who sat, looking quite out of place, giggling and scrunched in a ball against what seemed to be an iron railing that stood no taller than two or three feet. It surrounded a small area which, after a slight landing, receded further down a small staircase that led to nothing I could see except darkness.

I jumped over the spiked black railing and positioned myself beside my friend, also smiling – but not two seconds passed when the voice broke out from the darkness below us. My head jerked in the direction from which it came; a gasp escaped me.

Taken and edited by Rob A. Scheribel

A burnt hand reached out from the shadows, slowly followed by matching arms and a grotesquely deformed face. The eyes that defiantly met my own were dark, dark blue surrounded by red, burning up with fever. The hair that surrounded the rash-covered face was stringy, long, and black as midnight. It was not until the sad figure had dragged itself out with its inflamed, gangly arms that I realized that this creature had no legs; only stumps charred black. And that was when recognition hit me.

William? No, no, it couldn’t be him; it could not be my older brother’s best friend. Or, rather, his best friend until the day he disappeared; no one had laid eyes on Will Thrasher for the past two years, no one had any clue to his whereabouts.

“Hi, Reese?” the two dry words that rasped from his throat made me jump. He still remembered me? He remembered my name? Is this where he had been sequestered all this time?

Slowly, I unfolded myself and stood up, arms stuck to my sides in fear, or maybe anticipation, or – I don’t know. My mind still could not grasp the fact that William crawled before me, down in this place that long ago everyone had labeled as The Notorious Dungeon. As far as I knew, no one had ever followed the spiral staircase to the bottom, or opened the large double-door entrance, even though we all knew that we had access to both.

“Takoda, let’s go,” I whispered to my friend, who also stared in wide, blue-eyed fear at the person who lay nearly prostrate at the foot of the steps. Gingerly I held out my hand to help her up and she grabbed it without hesitation.

“Hi, Reese?” Will’s voice had grown louder, and had an unidentifiable edge to it now. I stared just a moment longer, and then, faster than anyone would have suspected an atrociously warped person to be able to do, Will groped at the small steps and began dragging himself up them at an alarmingly fast pace.

I yanked Takoda’s arm and as one we leaped over the cold railing. “We need to go NOW!” I yelled at her. My grip started to slip, and before I knew it I had lost my hold on her dress. My legs gave way underneath me; I fell hard on my back but quickly sat up in time to see blonde hair disappearing up the stairs. Then my view swiveled to the left, at a blur of red and black bounding up the short flight of dungeon steps.

Emitting a scream I jumped off the cold dirt floor and darted toward the large entryway. With heart aflutter I took the stairs four at a time, nearly tripping more than once, but in my fear I managed to wrench the heavy, reeking terracotta doors open just enough to slip out. My head demanded that I run now, but suddenly my heart whispered to turn around. I hesitantly complied, and at the sight of the pathetic creature at the foot of the stairs my entire being nearly melted in sympathy. “Hello, Will,” I whispered, and instantly my instincts kicked back to life – in a flash I ran.

My legs took on the form of jelly as I dashed past corridor after corridor, earnestly scanning every room entrance for at least one other person in the few seconds I allowed myself to slow down. Only when I got a burst of courage did I cry out, which was rare because whenever I turned my head to look behind me, terror racked through my being when my eyes alighted on Will, who always seemed no farther than fifteen yards behind me.

The very walls between which my gaze flicked back and forth parodied my plight, and turned their backs to my perplexity. Then what I dreaded most came to pass.

The golden fabric of my dress caught on something – whether it was a stray rock sticking out of the craggy walls, or William suddenly right behind me grabbing me, I screamed as my ankle cracked beneath me and I tumbled down the flight of stairs that I hadn’t realized I had approached until they were rolling underneath me, or maybe I was rolling on top of them – I was in too much pain to be certain.

My eyes flicked open either moments or hours later; my body was on fire with intense throbbing. The crick in my neck allowed my head to move only enough to face the deathtrap from which I had just fallen. No matter how much I wanted to widen them, my eyes stayed locked in narrow slits as they caught sight of Will, hunched over at the top of the staircase, glaring at me.

“Hi, Reese!” he screamed, his voice full to the brim with contempt. What had I done to earn his wrath? Wouldn’t he have run away, as well, if a former friend appeared suddenly out of the darkness, scarred for life in the most inhumane way?

“Somebody–” I gasped, opening my bleeding mouth for my last attempt to get rescued. In the blink of my eye Will had scurried and fallen down the stairs and was nearly on top of me. “Somebody HELP ME!” I thought that my lungs wouldn’t be able to suck in any more air, but I was mistaken. The shriek I let out as I covered my head in my arms was the loudest, most painful thing that had ever come from my mouth.


Family Affair

Why is it that my siblings and I value our friends over each other? I do not know when it began and, though it has lessened recently, this vice is still among us. For instance, my older sister may loathe lending our little sister a drink from her water bottle; but if it were my older sister’s friend in need of a drink, the former would not have a problem sharing with the latter.

Another example finds me valuing the time I spend with my friends so much that I reluctantly allow my younger brother whenever he asks to join us.

At times when I find myself doing so, a verse comes to mind: (James 3:9-10) “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.”

In my prayers I thank God for the life he has given me, for the friends and family with which he has blessed me (-note the order).  And yet, during those times I hang out with my friends, I begrudge my family the blessing and fun of doing the same.

Lately I have got better at not harboring jealousy against my family for sharing my friends with me. Can you believe how ridiculous I am? Oftentimes I am more possessive of my friends than of my own family, with whom I live and whom I see everyday. My brothers, this should not be.

Just as I value greatly the time I spend with friends, so I should cherish the memories I make with my family by enjoying and living in harmony with them.