My brother was the first member of our family to spot the bat as it flew around our kitchen. He was climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa with our father when classes started after Christmas break at our new school in Pennsylvania, and due to the climbing expedition Brandon arrived two weeks into the start of the spring term at Portville Area Junior-Senior High School. I, however, had been forced to be there from the very first day. The intense burst of popularity I had achieved from being the new girl from Texas who talked funny had already died down, but it was immediately rekindled upon Brandon's arrival. Brandon, with his new Tanzanian tan and sun-kissed highlights, was treated like a god from the moment he stepped into the school. So my opinion was soon sought out on issues such as what he looks for in a girlfriend, if he really killed a lion with his bare hands in the African wilderness and whether or not he'd join the football team in the fall.
This renewed popularity had ultimately translated into sitting with Nicole Summers and her posse at lunch time. As the varsity football and basketball cheerleading captain, Nicole was the queen bee of the school's social hierarchy, and when she learned that I had been a stunt cheerleader for my old big city school she had insisted we eat lunch together. So I soon found myself sitting across from her at one of six retractable tables that would be pushed up against the blue cafeteria walls at the end of the day. It was rare for sophomores like me to be granted the pleasure of eating with Nicole, and I was apparently supposed to be honored by it. Nicole was a senior, athletically thin, and wore her wavy, champagne-colored hair in braided pigtails every day. On this day, the small ribbons tied around them were green, perfectly matching the emerald-hued eyes she was focusing my way.
"So did your brother really climb that mountain?" she asked me just as I reached to take a sip of my low fat milk. "I heard he was late to school 'cause he was in juvie for shooting some guy back in Texas."
"Yeah he really climbed it," I said, placing the carton back on my tray. "And Brandon was never in juvie; not everyone in Texas owns a gun."
"Well he wouldn't have to own the gun to shoot somebody with it. Anyway, I also heard your mom was the doctor a bunch of the basketball players went to back in November to get their physicals done." My mother had moved to Portville last November, a month before the three of us had followed her up here. She wanted to start setting up the house and establishing her patient base. Apparently it hadn't taken her too long to do the latter.
"Does it weird you out to think that she's seen them all naked?" she asked. Grinning inanely at the girl who sat next to her, Nicole then rotated her head and coughed twice. I felt blood rush to my face and heat started to radiate from my skin. My hand instantly rose to the silver necklace I wore around my neck and I fidgeted with it, trying to think about what to say. Eventually I conceded that I had no choice but to jokingly dismiss her. While I told myself I would not let her stupid comment affect me, two weeks later I would decline Joey Fulbright's invitation to the fifth-quarter party at his farm.
The bat was first spotted while Brandon and I were in the kitchen decompressing after school by watching a syndicated episode of the Thundercats. We were both brooding over our respective days, and indulging in the childish habit of helping Lion-O and his gang fight for truth and justice made us feel a little better about our current position in life.
"I think it's sexist that Cheetara is the only female warrior. I don't think it's fair that she's the only girl that gets to kick some butt," I said as I got up from the kitchen bar stool to get a glass of water. What flowed out of our tap was spring water, and thus acceptable to drink straight. This idea was still so new and foreign to me that I automatically kept going to the broken water dispenser in the refrigerator door in attempts to quench my thirst.
Brandon was still sitting at the kitchen bar counter where I left him, and in response to my commentary on his favorite childhood TV show he just shook his head.
"Only you would bring up the gender roles of an alien species of feline warriors. They let her talk and have opinions don't they, so they're not that misogynistic. Hey, while you're up can you get me a Dr. Pepper?" Brandon smiled at me, widening his eyes so they twinkled with innocence and merriment.
I rolled my eyes at him, but eventually opened the door of the refrigerator to fulfill his request. While concentrating on shifting the pots of three-week-old gumbo and foil-wrapped Tupperware that the three of us were all too afraid to open in search of the last elusive can of soda, I heard a high-pitched, airborne squeaking that reminded me of the noises made by the dog toys we used to buy for Bartemus when he was a puppy. From behind me and right on the heels of the squeaking came a large clattering sound of metal on tile. This was accompanied by a very loud, very shrill human squeal and by the thud only the body of a seventeen-year-old boy could make as it fell to the floor in fear for its survival.
"Jesus Christ! It's a fucking bat!" Brandon voiced with a squeak I hadn't heard since he was fourteen.
When I first heard him fall, I had turned away from my task to make sure he was okay, but once my brain assimilated what he had said I immediately crouched down on my haunches and attempted to use the refrigerator door as a shield to protect myself from this newest joy of country living.
Four months before I had a bat staying in my house I was still living in Texas. It was mid-December and I should have been filled with the joy of the Christmas season, but instead I was filled with angst over our move to the middle of nowhere. My Dad had realized that I was having a hard time coming to grips with it and decided that we needed to have a father-daughter day to enjoy all of the traditions we shared. For the past five years it had been our routine to jog on the red, cushiony track that ran through the park near our house.
On this day, once we were done with our requisite five miles, we crashed on a small grassy hill and stretched our arms above our heads. It was one of those days in Texas that made you forget it was winter time, where the temperature hovered around seventy five and the sun poked through the overcast sky. We kept the silence for the most part, enjoying the soft breezes that skimmed over us and listening to the agitated rhythm of our breathing as we recovered from our jog. I felt like I was sinking into the grass, delighting in the afterglow of a good workout.
"I'm going to miss this." I said. "I don't run well in the cold." He let out a long sigh and continued to stare into the sky as he responded.
"You'll get used to it, hun." He said. "We'll find a place for you to jog as soon as we get there so you can get used to it." I slowly turned my head in his direction.
"There's no way they will have a track like this one. It's perfectly supportive. Come on, I mean they don't even have a Wal-Mart. Seriously Dad, why are we moving there?" Thinking about missing my favorite exercise location brought to mind all the other things I was going to miss. In a town with two stop lights and no cell phone reception, I wasn't quite sure how I was going to survive.
"This is what your mother's been dreaming about ever since she got out of residency. She worked so hard when she went back to school. We owe her this."
I groaned knowing he was right and then pushed myself up to lean back on the palms of my hands. She had spent the past seven years going through medical school and then residency. Dad was a photographer and could work anywhere, so when she said she wanted to leave, he couldn't tell her no.
"Where's the nearest mall to this town again?"
"An hour. But there's always internet shopping." He gave me a forced grin that let me know he was not looking forward to any of this either. Knowing he was not all that thrilled actually made me feel better. We could get through this together, like we always had.
In the evening we would go to a restaurant called Skeeters, where they let you color on the butcher paper covered tables and then staple your creations to the wall. As usual, I drew a butterfly fluttering under a rainbow. Dad usually drew a hairy blue monster, but on this night he just made nonsensical doodles. We followed up our gourmet dining with cherry icies and popcorn at the latest action flick. Dad customarily flinched during the scene where the leading man seduced the sexy, but neglected house wife, and I grinned, amused by his embarrassment at watching a sex scene with his daughter.
Following the movie, we splurged for ice cream and then meandered down a street with eclectic shops. It was past nine by then so the stores were all closed, but I forced him to stop at each one to window shop.
When we came to the last shop on the strip, I paused at the window like I had done for the others, but this time I remained fixated by the display. The shop was called Serendipity, and laid out on a velvet pillow was an elegant silver necklace. Sleek swans faced each other; their necks hinting at the outline of a heart, and their wings flaring out to the sides. I sighed in appreciation.
I could tell Dad was getting anxious behind me by the sound of him jingling his car keys in his pockets. But I wanted to look at the beautiful necklace for one more moment before we left. Eventually he tugged on my arm and led me in the direction back to our car.
.... There is more of this story ...