GENRE: YA Magical Realism
Chapter One: Commander-in-Grief
Three hundred and sixty-five days are enough for a person to learn almost anything, even how the first day and last one can hurt so much worse than all the ones in between.
The year before I hadn’t known a plane could crash, taking out all the parts of myself I loved most, while I lay hundreds of miles away in a strange bed, covered in chicken pox and a bottle of Calamine lotion, both of which my then three-year-old cousin had generously shared with me.
Now I knew my body could breathe and pulse, walk and talk, even when my spirit struggled to comprehend such a huge loss. I would’ve sworn I’d broken apart so entirely that my pieces should have floated away all on their own.
And I knew today would hurt the most, though I’d pretend otherwise for the sake of familial peace.
I took to the stairs wearing my best “well-adjusted teenage girl” costume. Jeans, non-descript tee, and my favorite sneaks. My book-bag weighed a ton, pushing me toward the kitchen, but halfway there the hushed whispers of my aunt and uncle stopped me in my tracks.
“I’m worried about her, Timothy. With everything she’s been through, and today being what it is . . .”
“Yes it’s difficult, but she has to find her own way. We’re doing the best we can, giving her a safe, loving home.”
“It isn’t difficult. It’s impossible to imagine how devastating today must be for Jocelyn. Losing a sister doesn’t compare with losing a mother.”
Whoa! Enough of that!
I let my bag clunk against the wall the rest of the way down. The voices cut off at the first bang like someone flipping a switch. By the time I rounded the corner to see Gracie sitting in her booster seat contemplating the strawberry swirls in her oatmeal Aunt Catherine stood near Uncle Tim, innocently sliding bacon onto his plate while he wrote last-minute notes on a legal pad for his teaching assistant like every other morning.
Nothing odd here. Certainly no talk of your dead parents, no siree Bob!
“How’re you this morning, cutie?” I asked, bending over to kiss my four-year-old cousin’s beaming, oatmeal-streaked face. Mouth stuffed with breakfast, she giggled and pointed to her lips. “Oh, forgive me,” I grinned. “Miss Manners taught you well, I see.”
The coffee brewed on the far counter making a full-on advance necessary if I wanted my morning I.Q.-booster. I took a mug from the cabinet, catching a frantic glance from one adult to the other shooting over my head. “Aunt Catherine, I’m sixteen. I really don’t think you can blame coffee for stunting my growth at this point.”
Uncle Tim cleared his throat. “It’s not the coffee, Joss. We’re concerned about the date. You could stay home if you wanted, considering . . .”
Houston, we have a problem.
“No that’s fine, really. I’d much rather go--you know, lose myself in the routine and everything. Jules’ll be there and a little factoid like privacy rights won’t keep her from letting you know if I look like I’m in over my head. Besides, you know what they say, ‘School waits for no teenager’.”
He took the hint and changed the subject. “Okay. Well . . . give me a call if you’re coming by for lunch.”
I gulped down a last swallow of liquid brain, looked guiltily at my aunt and downed the glass of orange juice next to my empty plate in atonement for the coffee, then grabbed my coat and scarf. It took me two seconds to say bye and then I escaped out the door to find sanctuary in the BMW idling in my driveway.
My best friend Jules sat behind the wheel, laughing at me. “I wonder if you’ll ever acclimate to Virginia weather, Jocelyn. Honestly, it’s been months. One might think you’re purposely fighting off adaptation.”
“I wasn’t running because it’s cold, dork. Today’s ‘Treat Joss Like a Psych Patient Day’ inside.” I raised a hand to ward off whatever comment might be coming. “And before you ask, no I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Then you’re obligated to love me for rescuing you from something as healthy as confronting your demons.”
“I will love you any time you have a toasty Beamer waiting for me.”
“Don’t forget it’ll be your turn to drive next Monday. And make sure you warm the Eos up beforehand,” she warned, mentioning my new wheels. Apparently, when your airline kills off a girl’s immediate family, forcing piles of money into her reluctant lap is the way to go. Thankfully, the only thing my aunt and uncle had suggested I use some of it on was a car when I turned sixteen.
“I’ll make a mental note. You guys leaving for Aspen right after school?” I asked.
“This evening, or I’d invite you to hide out at my house later.”
I sighed. “Yeah. It’s probably better if I go home, let the legals see I’m not on the verge of slitting my wrists.”
Jules’ face crinkled up in disapproval. “Catherine and Tim care more about you than you give them credit for.”
“I know, but family isn’t like a sports team. You can’t trade out teammates if one goes down. They aren’t my parents and—as much as I adore the urchin—Gracie isn’t Eric.”
As if saying his name summoned him, the image of my handsome older brother filled my mind. He’d inherited Dad’s dark good looks, whereas I mostly resembled Mom, with her porcelain skin and tiny frame, although Eric and I had shared Dad’s dark waves.
“Let’s just get me through today and I’ll work on appreciating them more during fall break. What else would I do while you’re off hitting the slopes?”
Navigating the clogged arteries of Lee High School’s halls required mastering an art form of limb-dodging and squeezing between spaces not normally reserved for the human body.