Chapter 1: Thanksgiving Afternoon

I shivered as a chill ran through me. Somehow I knew that something really bad was going to happen. I hugged Dan tightly, refusing to let him go.

"Don't go!" I whispered into his chest.

Dan patted my head and chuckled. Then he gently but firmly loosened my arms and pushed me away. He held my hands in both of his and leaned down so that he could kiss my nose.

"Don't be silly, Bec. I'm not going far. I'll be back tonight. I'll be late, though, so it might be after your bed time. I'll definitely see you in the morning."

The panic surged through me. I bit my lip to stop myself from screaming. I don't know what I thought was going to happen — something bad. The list of bad things that can happen is really long — it goes from a car crash or a random shooting all the way up to a meteor hitting the earth or a nuclear war. I didn't know why but something was telling me that if Dan got in his car and drove away, I would never see him again.

"Don't go," I whispered. "Please!"

"I'll say hello to Pearl for you, okay?"

Dan leaned down again and kissed my cheek. Then he got into his car and closed the door.

I couldn't think of anything I could say which would convince Dan not to leave. I was frozen in place by my frustration and my fear. Dan started the engine and tears started tumbling down my face.

"Don't go," I whispered.

Dan backed his car down the driveway and out onto the road. He turned, stopped and then bipped his horn before heading off along the road. I ran down to the road and stood watching. Someone had tied a rope around my insides. The other end of the rope was tied to the back of Dan's car. I staggered at the sudden tug as all of my organs were dragged out of me. I stood and watched as all those bits of me bounced down the road behind the car. My heart came loose and bounced off sideways until it lodged in someone's mailbox. I kept watching until first the car, then my lungs, then my kidneys and finally my intestines vanished around the bend.

"Don't go," I whispered to the empty road.

I waited for a bit — hoping against hope that Dan would suddenly come to his senses and turn back.

He didn't.

Eventually I decided there wasn't any point in watching the empty road any longer. I turned and walked back towards the house. Sam was sitting on the bench, watching me as I walked towards him.

"Why are you crying?" he asked.

I gestured at the empty road. "Dan left."

Sam's forehead crinkled as he thought about that.

"Do you cry every day when Dan goes off to school?"

"Um ... no!"

"So why are you crying now? What's different about today?"

I shrugged and looked around. "Is the earth shaking?"


"Is the earth shaking? Are we having a monster earthquake?"

Sam looked down at the ground then back at me.

"Um ... no?" He said it as a question. That didn't inspire much confidence in me.

"Do you see this huge hole in my chest?"

He looked at my chest and then back up at my face.

"What sort of hole?"

"A huge gaping hole — so big you can see all the way through to my spine."

"Um ... no?"

"Oh!" I looked at him doubtfully.

"If there really were something wrong, you would tell me, wouldn't you?"

"Um ... sure."

"If there were a nuclear war, do you think we would see the mushroom clouds from here?"

"I guess."

I looked around in every direction.

"I can't see anything like that. Can you?"


He said that but I don't think he looked very hard.

"What's going on? Why all the weird questions?"

"I think my brain might be playing tricks on me."


"Do you feel as if something really bad is about to happen?"

"Not really, no."


The panic was gradually fading away and leaving me feeling a little foolish but still worried. I sat down next to Sam and grasped his hand. We sat like that for a minute or so without either of us saying anything.

"Can I hold your hand for a little while?" I asked.

I guess I should have asked before I started holding his hand but it was too late for that.

"Okay," said Sam. He sounded a bit unsure of himself.

There was a distant bang and I jumped.

"What was that? Was that a bomb?"

"I think the people two houses down just put something into the trash."


"Bec?" said Sam and then he paused.


"I don't mind holding hands with you, but can you not squeeze quite so hard?"

"Oh! Sorry!"

I carefully loosened up my grip on his hand.

"I'm sorry," I said. "I think my brain is playing tricks on me."

"Yeah! You said."

We sat in silence for a little while. Outward silence that is. My brain was buzzing away very loudly. All the different parts of my brain were thinking different thoughts. Taken all together, it sounded like a confusing noise but it was really lots of different thoughts all going at once.

"What are you thinking about?" asked Sam, after a little while of sitting quietly.

"Lots of different things."

"Like what?"

"I've thought of twenty-eight different things that could happen to Dan."


"And I was thinking about pecan pie."


"And I was wondering if you could lift me up."


"Do you think you can lift me off the ground?"

"Um..." He looked at me from my head to my toes. "I think so. Stand up."

I stood up and he looked me up and down again. I shifted my weight from one foot to the other while I waited. Then Sam stood right in front of me. Sam's a bit shorter than me. The top of his head comes up to about my nose.

"Put your hands on my shoulders," he said.

I did that. Then he stooped down and wrapped his arms around me at about hip height so that one arm was around under my bum and the other arm was just above it. Then he straightened up and I lifted straight up into the air. I squealed a bit because I felt a bit unsteady. Sam's face was planted right into my stomach. I hoped my stomach wouldn't gurgle right then because he would hear it — very loudly. Then I realized he couldn't see very well with his face like that.

"I don't think you could carry me very far like that."

He squatted and put me back down on my feet. Then he stood up again with a pleased expression on his face. I guess he was pleased about being strong enough to pick me up. I've noticed that boys get excited about things like that. Then he crinkled his face up as he thought about what I'd said.

"I didn't realize I had to carry you. You said to pick you up so I did. If I was going to carry you, I'd probably do that piggy-back style. Come on."

He turned around and bent over slightly with his arms out wide, ready for me to climb on his back.

I looked at him doubtfully. Honestly, I hadn't expected him to actually pick me up. I was asking if he thought he could. But it was kind of fun doing this. I shrugged and did a little hop-jump up onto his back. He staggered a step and then held himself steady. We rearranged ourselves a bit. I had to grip hard with my arms and legs. I couldn't wrap my legs around him properly because of my skirt but it stretched enough for me to get my knees each side of his hips so I could kind of squeeze with my knees. Getting a piggy-back ride from Sam felt a bit weird because I'm used to sitting on Dan's back. Sam is so much smaller. I didn't feel nearly as safe.

"How far do I have to carry you?" Sam asked.

"I don't know. How about down to the sidewalk? Can you do that?"


He set off and I squealed a bit because each step he took bumped me around. I could feel that he was having to use a lot of effort to carry me. But he did it. He carried me all the way. When he made the last few steps, I cheered. He stopped on the sidewalk and I slithered down off his back. I took a moment to straighten up my skirt and then I hugged him.

Sam's face was a bit red from the effort but he was grinning.

"That was fun," he said. "I bet you couldn't carry me back to the bench."

I looked at him and then at the bench.

"I bet I could. But that's up hill. You got to carry me down the hill. It's not the same."

"It isn't that much of a slope. It's practically flat apart from that first bit. That's okay. Girls are weaker than boys — it's a known fact."

I poked my tongue out at him. "I can't believe you said that. I was going to do it anyway. You didn't have to say something stupid like that."

His face suddenly fell. "Sorry."

I felt bad about making him feel like he'd said the wrong thing so I reached out and poked him in the ribs.

"Besides, it is not a known fact. Remember at your birthday? You challenged me to arm wrestle and I won."

"That's because you cheated!"

"I did not cheat!"

"You did too. You distracted me. Then you went all of a sudden when I wasn't ready."

"That wasn't cheating. That was using my superior brain power. Girls are smarter than boys — it's a known fact."

He poked his tongue out at me. We both laughed. I turned around and crouched down so he could climb on my back.

"Come on. I told you I could carry you."

He climbed onto my back and I had to grit my teeth. He was heavier than I expected. I had to lean forward a bit and Sam's head was right over my shoulder so I could feel his breath on my cheek. I felt like I would fall forward at any moment. I ground my teeth together and started putting one foot in front of the other. Before I knew it, I was doing it. I was carrying him. I was so proud of myself. I made it beyond the half way point which was past the steeper bit and the flatter ground made it easier. I felt my face pull into a kind of determined grin.

Then Sam called out, "Giddy up, horsey. Giddy up."

That made me giggle and I lost my rhythm. I felt myself tilt slightly sideways and I started laughing. I staggered a couple of steps and then I lost it completely. I managed to tip myself to the side as I fell so that Sam didn't land on top and squish me. We both ended up stretched out on the grass. I was laughing so hard that I couldn't stand up. Sam was still lying there behind me with his arms and legs wrapped around me. I heard a "phah phah" sort of sound from him then he muttered something about mouthfuls of hair. That made us both laugh even more.

I scrambled to my feet and brushed the grass off my clothes. Sam stood himself up and did the same. We were both still giggling. Sam told me to turn around and he brushed down the back of my hoodie. Then he hesitated and told me I had to brush some dirt off my bum. I did that and then looked over my shoulder but I couldn't see so I had to ask Sam. He said I'd fixed it but his cheeks were kind of pink from blushing.

"You cheated," I complained. "I was going to make it to the bench before you said that."

"That wasn't cheating. That was using my superior brain power."

We both burst out laughing so hard we had to hold on to each other to stop from falling over.

We both flopped back onto the bench and did that thing where you slowly stop laughing until you're just sitting there with smiles on your faces.

"Why did you want to know if I could pick you up?" asked Sam.

"Oh! It's because of my dad — our dad. When they were young and that bad stuff was happening, Dad promised to rescue Aunty Penny. Then, one day when he was about your age, he did. He picked her up and carried her out of there. I guess I wanted to know how hard that was for him to do."

Sam nodded slowly. "Uncle Peter rescued Mama Penny? That's pretty cool."


"I'd rescue you if bad stuff was happening to you."

I smiled at him and patted his hand. Then since my hand was on top of his, I left it sitting there. Then I had one of those sudden big thoughts — the ones that go off in my head like an explosion. It was one of those epiphany things — you know? The ones I don't like having because they hurt so much. Well I know this was one of those because it hurt my brain.

The big thought rolled around inside my head and all the different parts of my brain checked it as the thought rolled past. All the bits of my brain agreed. It was true. It was embarrassing. It didn't make me want to run away. It wasn't that bad. But it was embarrassing enough to make me feel uncomfortable. I bit my lip. I didn't know what to say. I had to say something.

I picked up Sam's hand and carefully weaved my fingers between his.

"Um ... Sam?"


"You kind of, um, like me — don't you?"

He blushed and tried to pull his hand away from mine but I held onto it.

"I'm sorry," he said in a trembling sort of voice.

I tried to figure out why he was saying sorry but I had no idea.

"Don't be. Don't be sorry, I mean. I just feel a bit stupid that I never noticed before now."

"You're not stupid. You're the cleverest girl I know," he said with a fair amount of force.

"Oh!" I bit my lip, again.

"Being clever doesn't stop me from doing stupid things sometimes. It doesn't stop me from feeling stupid when I don't notice things I should notice."

We both sat together quietly for a moment. The problem with having enormously big thoughts is they tend to blast every other thought right out of your head. Eventually another thought peeked out from behind a rock where it had taken shelter.

"Do you want to know what I'm thinking about now?" I asked.


"Pecan pie."

"Yum. I'm starving."

"Let's go then."

I stood up and used our joined hands to pull Sam to his feet.

As we walked toward the front door, I realized that Mom and Aunty Penny were standing in the window. They had their arms looped together and they were watching us with little smiles on their faces. I wondered how long they'd been watching us. If they were going to make a fuss about us rolling on the ground and getting our clothes dirty then they should have said something before we played that football game out the back.

I stopped Sam just before we walked through the front door.

"I'm up to thirty-five different things that could happen to Dan."

He looked at me carefully. "You really are worried something will happen to him. I thought you were just having a panic attack."

I frowned at him. "I was having a panic attack. I was so worried about him that I was having a panic attack. I'm not panicking any more but I'm still worried. I know it's mostly my brain being silly, but I can't help feeling worried."

"You could always call him and make sure he arrived safely."

I felt my jaw drop. That was the second time in two minutes that I'd felt stupid about something. "That's an awesome idea. I will. Thanks."

I lifted up my hand so that I could look at my watch. It wasn't easy to do because I had to do it without letting go of Sam's hand.

"He should be nearly there by now. I might use my cell so I don't have to talk to him in front of the whole family."

We went inside and started to walk through the living room towards my bedroom.

I saw the TV was showing another football game and I stopped.

"Sam, if terrorists attacked Pearl's house, the TV would stop showing the game and report it, wouldn't they?"

"Um ... sure. But why would terrorists attack Pearl's house?"

"They're terrorists. Nobody really understands why they do anything."

"Oh! I guess. Are you going to call Dan or not?"

"Yeah! Come on."

We kept holding hands as we wove our way through the living room. All of the adults were in there. Most of them were watching the game. Mom and Aunty Penny were still standing at the window except they had turned to look at us as we walked through the room. Mom still had that weird little smile on her face. She didn't say anything — she just watched us as we walked through the room. I started to feel nervous. Mom was obviously thinking about something to do with me and I had no clue what it was. I wondered if Mom knew that Aunty Penny had talked to me about her childhood. That might explain the weird looks.

Outside my bedroom I suddenly stopped. It occurred to me that Sam hadn't seen the inside of my bedroom in the last month. That's a good thing. I'm not ready to have Sam see me naked — not even pictures of me naked. I'm not going to be inviting the twins into my room anytime soon either. I've kind of gotten used to having those pictures all over the walls of my room. But they do complicate my life sometimes.

I pushed Sam against the wall of the hallway beside my door and told him to stay there. Inside my room, I picked up my cell phone from its place on my desk and hesitated. If I made my call in here then Sam would be left standing out in the hallway for all of that time on his own and that would be rude. If I went out into the hallway and made the call there then he would be listening to everything I said. I bit my lip. It was an impossible decision to make. One of the painted versions of me — the one where I was leaning against the mirror — smirked at me.

"You be quiet," I told her. "And put some clothes on."

In the end, the rules of hospitality driven into me by The Parents overcame my need to keep the call private.

Sam was still leaning against the wall where I had left him — I guess it was only half a minute or so since I left him so that wasn't too surprising. I took Sam's wrist and led him to the end of the hallway outside The Parents' room — far enough from the noisy living room that I could use the cell in private.

I called up Dan's number and hit the button to dial it. I just about burst into tears when I got the "switched off or out of area" message. I got sent to voicemail so I talked — fast.

"Dan, where are you? What's happened? Why is your cell switched off? Are you okay? Call me. Dan Freeman, if you've gone and got yourself killed, I'm never talking to you again. Call me. Now!"

I had to stop because I was starting to hyperventilate. I hung up the cell and waved it at Sam. I kept waving it until I got my breath back.

"It's switched off!" I told him, helplessly.

"Yeah! I got that. But you left a message so there's not much else you can do. Can we get some pie now?"

I looked at him and blinked a couple of times while I processed what he'd said.


I held my cell in one hand and held out my other hand for Sam.

We walked into the kitchen still holding hands. We took, maybe, two steps into the kitchen and stopped. Mira was sitting on a stool in the corner with a scowl on her face. On the wall above her head an old oven timer was ticking away. It was showing seven minutes. Dad nailed that timer to the wall when we first moved into the house. It's been there ever since and has been used frequently. At the other end of the kitchen, Leroy sat on a similar stool. The matching timer above him was also saying seven minutes.

I let go of Sam and went to stand in front of Mira. Sam walked with me and stood just behind my shoulder.

Mira glared at me. I raised an eyebrow at her.

"You're on the naughty stool," I said.

Mira almost snarled in response.

"What did you do?" I asked.

She rolled her eyes. "I swore at Leroy in front of Aunt Louise."

"And... ?"

"And I refused to apologize."

I nodded at her and turned around to Leroy.

"What about you, Leroy? Why are you on the naughty stool?"

He sighed. "I was mouthing off at Mira. I didn't know Uncle Peter could hear me."

"He called me a slut!" called out Mira.

"I apologized."

"Only because Uncle Peter made you."

Leroy grunted, which I took to mean that Mira was correct.

"I don't see why I have to sit here on this stupid stool," whined Mira. "She's treating me like I'm five years old."

I turned away to stop myself from laughing at her. I steered Sam towards the table and headed to the fridge for the pie.

"Mom's house. Her rules!" I shrugged. "But you knew that already. You've been here before. You've even spent time on that stool before. You must have known what would happen as soon as you refused to do something she asked you to do."

"She's freaking scary. Does she do this to your friends as well?"

I shrugged. "Sure. But we tell our friends the rules and most of them are smart enough to avoid crossing the line."

Laura DiMartino did a stint on the stool soon after she became friends with my sister. The other girls in that gang had been stunned into silence for the entire time. Since then, not one of that group has ever disrespected Mom or Dad — not to their faces anyway. I don't know what they say to each other in private. Of course, it's never happened to Liz. I doubt if she's ever even thought of misbehaving at our house.

In the meantime I had gotten two plates out of the cabinet and a couple of sporks — you know, those forky-spoon things. I put my cell down on the table next to my place and grabbed a sharp knife. I cut a couple of slices of pecan pie, added a spoonful of whipped cream to each and slid one plate in front of Sam. I sat down next to Sam and picked up my spork.

"That looks really good. Can I have some?" asked Leroy.

I shrugged. "Sorry! Not for another six and a half minutes. But when your time is done, help yourself. You saw where the plates are. There are fifty different types of pie in the fridge. Maybe you could offer your sister some. It would prove that you meant that apology."

I raised my eyebrow at him and that stopped him from making the comment he'd been about to make. Leroy and Mira sat in silence and stewed while Sam and I silently enjoyed our pie. I must have checked my cell phone five times — making sure it was switched on, making sure it wasn't ringing too quietly to hear.

We'd nearly finished when Angie wandered into the kitchen.

"Hi there, Angel," I said. "Do you want something? Do you want a drink? Are you hungry?"

"Can I please have some juice, Bec?"

"Sure." I jumped up to pour some juice into a cup for Angie.

Angie wandered over to stand in front of Mira.

"Why are you on the naughty chair?" asked Angie.

Mira sneered down at her. "It's none of your business, midget. Get lost."

Angie pouted and put her hands on her hips. "You hafta tell. It's the rule. Or else it adds another minute."

Tara had come into the kitchen while that was happening. She grinned at Mira.

"Angie's right, you know," said Tara. "Part of the punishment is explaining why you're there to anyone who asks. But for us, it's an extra two minutes. Angie gets one minute extra because she's little. She only gets five minutes on the stool in the first place."

Tara came over to me and took the juice from me so she could pour some for herself.

"That's how you can tell you aren't being treated like a five year old," I told Mira — trying to keep a straight face. "If you were five, you'd only be there for seven minutes instead of the eighteen minutes you two started with."

It's pretty simple math — your age in minutes plus two for luck. Nobody has ever explained what's lucky about the extra two minutes. It's the same rule for everyone — except for Dad. He has his own rule. Mom's told him to sit on the naughty stool a few times for swearing but he only ever has to stay there for ten minutes. I know how old Dad is and he isn't eight. Dad's even put himself there a couple of times when he decided that he'd done something naughty. The naughty stool gets used for all the little stuff — like swearing or pulling your sister's hair or "forgetting" to do your chores. There are two different stools for a reason. I won't give you any prizes for guessing the reason. Tara and I have stared at each other across the kitchen more times than I want to count.

I put the cup of juice for Angie onto the table and told her to come and sit up to the table to drink it. But Angie wasn't ready to do that until she got her answer from Mira.

"By the way," I said to Mira. "Please be careful how you answer Angie's question. Mom won't be happy if you teach her any new words."

Eventually Mira leaned down and said to Angie, "Okay, so I said a rude word. That's why I'm here. Are you happy, now?"

Angie tsked at Mira and then came over to climb into the chair beside me.

Tara sat down across the table from me and looked at me. Her eyes flicked at Mira and Leroy then back to me. Then she rolled her eyes at me. I did the tiniest little nod back at her.

"I don't like the naughty stool," said Angie.

Tara and Sam and I smiled at each other. Sam has a similar stool at his house so he knows all about it. I thought back and realized that it was ages since I'd spent time on the stool. Maybe The Parents are getting more lenient as I get older. That doesn't seem likely. Maybe I'm getting better at not doing the wrong thing. Not the little stuff anyway. Lately I seem to be skipping past the small stuff and going straight to massively wrong stuff — like arguing with The Parents this morning. That was pretty stupid.

I wondered if Aunty Janice realized that Mira sitting on the naughty stool was as much a lesson for her as it was for Mira. Mom wants Aunty Janice to be stricter with the twins. Dad putting Leroy there as well was perfect. He wouldn't have known about Mom's lesson unless he picked it up from her with his psychic powers. He would have just reacted the way he always reacts when a boy shows a lack of respect for a girl. And since this is our house he has the ability to do something about it so he did.

I looked down at my plate and saw that I'd only eaten half of the slice of pie. It was weird. I felt like I should be hungry but I didn't want to eat any more. I caught Tara's eye and lightly tapped my plate with the spork. She looked at it then back at me and thought for a moment. Then she shrugged and gave a little nod. She used a finger to tap her half-finished glass of juice and I nodded straight away.

I pushed my plate so that it slid across the table to Tara and at the same time Tara slid her glass across the table to me. I had to catch the glass carefully so that the juice didn't slosh out. It was a good thing the glass was only half full. The whole thing took seconds and caught Sam completely by surprise. I thought it looked pretty spectacular. Tara immediately scooped up some pie on the spork and stuck it in her mouth. That allowed her to hide a grin and make it look as if she was playing it cool. I took a sip of the juice and kept my face calm, too, but I'm sure my eyes were sparkling.

I suddenly realized that maybe it wasn't clever to do that in front of Angie. If she tried to copy us she was going to make an awful mess. It was too late to do anything about that, though. I did a little internal shrug and took another sip of juice.

My cell phone range and I nearly spilled the juice in my rush to answer it.

"Dan? Is that you, Dan?"

"Hey, princess. What's up?"

It was Dan. My heart couldn't decide if it should speed up or slow down so it did this single big kerthump. I held the cell to my ear and scooted out of the kitchen and down the hallway.

"Dan, I was so worried. I thought something happened to you. And then your phone was off and I didn't know what to do."

"I'm fine, princess. What did you think happened?"

"I don't know. It was just a feeling. It could have been anything."

"Well, one bad thing happened. I stepped in a puddle and it was deeper than I thought so the whole of my left shoe got soaked. Do you think that might have been it?"


I wasn't sure if I should be angry with Dan for teasing me or grateful that he was trying to cheer me up with silly comments. He spent the next couple of minutes reassuring me that he was alright. I listened — just happy to hear his calm voice in my ear. It made me feel so much better — knowing that he was okay. Finally he told me he needed to hang up because he was with Pearl's family and he needed to spend time with them. I made him promise to be careful and then I made him promise to come into my room when he got home and tell me he was home safely — even if I was sleeping. He promised to do both of those things and then we hung up. I felt a lot better so I put my cell phone back in my room and headed back to the others in the kitchen.

Sam looked at me when I came back into the room and his face was asking the obvious question. I gave him a little half-smile to tell him that Dan was okay and then sat down.

Angie had finished her juice and was looking bored. I asked if she wanted to do some drawing. She did, so I sent her off to fetch the box of crayons from her room. By the time Angie was back I had found some sheets of paper for her to use and put them on the table. At the same time, Tara collected the used glasses and plates from the table and put them into the dishwasher.

Angie stood up on the chair and upended the box of crayons, spilling a pile of them onto the table. Then she pushed a sheet of paper in front of Tara, and then another in front of me and Sam got one as well. Angie handed each of us a random crayon that she picked out of the pile while she begged each of us to draw something. I guess she didn't want to sit there and draw with the rest of us watching. Or maybe that's what I would be like. Maybe she just wanted to share the fun. I never need much encouragement to draw and Sam picked up the crayon without complaining but Angie had to work on Tara a bit to get her to draw something. Tara doesn't like to draw at home any more. She's decided she's no good at it. I feel bad about that because Tara is actually okay compared to some of the kids at school. She's just not as good as me and so she doesn't like to do it. Like I said, I feel bad about that but I can't pretend I'm no good so that Tara feels okay about her own drawing.

The two timers went "ting!" within a few seconds of each other.

"That means you can get down from the stools," announced Angie. She didn't need to explain it because both the twins knew that rule already. They came over to sit at the table.

I stared at Leroy for a moment, then I spoke in a soft voice.

"Just so you know, Leroy. If you ever call any girl that word in front of me I won't play around with making you sit on a stupid stool. I'll go straight to slapping your face so hard that your teeth will end up rattling around at the back of your skull."

He stared at me with a shocked expression on his face.

"Do you understand me, Leroy?" I asked in that same quiet voice.

He swallowed and glanced sideways at Mira then back at me. Then he nodded. I understood that glance. He expected violence from his sister but not from me.

"Like they say in that film," said Leroy. "Who are you and what have you done with Bec?"

"I'm still me."

"The Bec I know would never talk to anybody like that."

"Maybe I just got angry. Or maybe you don't know me very well. Did you mean it when you apologized for what you said?"

Leroy screwed his face up and then shrugged. "I guess."

I pushed the pie dish towards Leroy.

"In that case, help yourself!" I said. "You saw where the plates are. If you don't want pecan, there's other pie in the fridge."

I watched as Leroy went to the cupboard and picked out a plate. I cleared my throat noisily to get his attention and then made a big show of glaring at him and then down to the single plate in his hand and then flicked my eyes at Mira and then back to him. I had to do that circuit three times before he got the message and grabbed a second plate.

"Um ... Mira? Do you want pecan pie, or something else?" asked Leroy, a bit doubtfully.

Mira hesitated. "Pumpkin pie would be good. Thank you, Leroy."

Mira sounded a bit stilted and formal — like she wasn't sure how she should talk to her own brother.

I looked down at the paper in front of me to hide a little grin. I put the lime green crayon Angie had handed me back in the pile and chose a mauve one.

Leroy carefully served Mira and himself, put the pie back in the fridge and found a couple of forks in the drawer for his sister and himself. I decided there was maybe some hope for him after all.

Angie wasn't prepared to wait while Mira and Leroy ate their pie. She climbed down from her chair and carried paper and crayons around the table to the twins.

"You hafta draw sumfing too," she insisted.

Mira looked at us suspiciously.

"Is this another weird house rule?"

"No," said Tara, "that's Angie being bossy."

"You hafta," repeated Angie.

Mira took the paper and crayon from her and put it on the table in front of her. Leroy took his without complaint and a satisfied Angie returned to her own drawing.

After a moment of staring at the blank page — and eating more of his pie. Leroy looked around the table.

"What am I supposed to draw?"

I shrugged. "Anything you like. Angie doesn't grade on the curve. She'll be happy with anything you do."

"Can't we play cards, or something?" asked Leroy.

Tara snorted and pointed a crayon at me.

"I'm not playing cards with her!"

"Why not?" asked Mira.

Tara jumped out of her seat and grabbed a pack of playing cards from its home in a drawer.

"Watch this," she said as she came back to the table. She sat opposite me and started flipping the cards over in front of me — one at a time.

"Tara, don't do this," I pleaded. She ignored me and kept flipping cards.

I was complaining but I watched. I couldn't help myself.

"Tara, I hate it when you do this." Tara kept flipping cards.

"It makes me feel like a circus freak!" I kept complaining but Tara didn't stop.

It didn't take long before she'd worked her way through the entire pack. She picked up the pack and turned it upside down, then looked at me.

"First card?" she demanded.

I glared at her, picked out a black crayon from the pile and started blacking in a section of my picture.

"First card?" Tara repeated.

I kept my eyes on my drawing and growled, "Nine of diamonds."

I heard Tara flip the card onto the table. Nobody said anything but I knew I was correct.

"Next?" asked Tara.

I started calling the cards rapidly and didn't even look at the cards as Tara flipped them. I just kept on coloring in with my black crayon.

For the eighteenth card I said I wasn't sure and Tara flipped it and told me what it was. I got the thirty-second card wrong and Tara corrected me. See? I got two wrong. I'm not a complete freak.

There was silence when the pack was finished — except for the sound of my crayon scratching on the paper. And Angie was humming to herself as she drew — she wasn't too interested in my circus act.

"That," said Tara, "is why I'm not going to play cards with Bec."

"How do you do that?" asked Mira in that breathless sort of voice that people get when they see me do stuff like that. It's annoying when they do that because I don't think it's that special. I just have a good memory for pictures and patterns.

I shrugged. "I'm differently brained," I mumbled.

I decided that might have been too quiet so I said it again a bit louder.

"I'm differently brained. My brain is plugged in backwards compared to most people. Stuff most people find easy, I find hard. And some stuff that I think is easy, other people think is hard."

"Yeah! But how do you do that?" asked Leroy. "What's going through your head so that you remember the cards?"

I shrugged and then stopped to think about it. I actually stopped drawing to think about it.

"It's like I see a movie in my head. I just replay the movie in my head and call out what I see."

I shrugged. "It's harder with words. Dad made up a stack of cards with words on them and I could do it but I wasn't as good. I'm better with pictures and patterns."

"That was awesome," said Sam.

I made myself smile at him.

"Can we change the subject now?" I pleaded to the group.

Soon the six of us were busily drawing at the table. I was happy to just sit there and draw but the others were making comments and talking about general stuff. Even the twins were being more or less polite to each other. I didn't take too much notice of what everyone was saying. I was busy using up half the black crayon on my drawing. Crayon is kind of a weird medium to draw with. You can't do anything fine so you're pretty well restricted to fairly thick lines and dots and blocks of color. It smudges and smears easily so you can use that and deliberately smear things if you want to. Also the colors don't blend together well so you're pretty much restricted to the original colors of the crayons. It's a challenge to do art with those restrictions.

Other people came in and out of the kitchen. I guess they were getting drinks or snacks or whatever. At one point, Mom leaned over Tara and kissed the top of her head.

"It's nice to see you drawing, Tara. I wish you'd draw more."

Tara shrugged. "My bossy sister made me draw. I didn't want to."

Mom looked at me and hesitated. "That doesn't sound like Bec, to boss you into drawing."

"No, Mom. My other bossy sister," said Tara.

I saw Mom try to hide a smile as she picked up handfuls of Tara's hair and arranged it down her back.

"Well, I suppose I should thank Angie then," said Mom. She stroked Tara's shoulders and went over to the kitchen bench.

"I made some fresh bread this morning, and I've got some sliced ham and cheese and so on. You could even have cold turkey if you want. I'm going to put it all out and you can all help yourselves when you get hungry instead of having a proper tea. How does that sound?"

"It sounds great, Aunty," said Sam. "We've been eating pie, though, so I'm not hungry just now."

"Pie? Well I suppose the pie wants to be eaten too," said Mom.

Mom frowned at us. She was obviously thinking that we needed to eat something more nutritious than pie. Then she shrugged. I guess she decided that special days like Thanksgiving have different rules.

"I'm putting it all out anyway. The adults will want to eat, anyway. I expect you will all get hungry again in an hour or so — especially you two boys. Don't let Angie eat too much pie — it isn't good for her."

We all muttered agreement and Mom started bustling around the kitchen. Uncle Stan came in and started helping. He glared at the twins and asked why they weren't helping Mom set out the food. Mom hushed him and said they should keep doing what they were doing. As far as Mom is concerned, drawing is more important than food.

Other adults started drifting into the kitchen to grab some food. A few comments were made about the six of us all sitting around the table and drawing with crayons. My picture was finished. The comments made me nervous so I turned my picture face down and slumped in my chair. I tilted my head forward so that my hair fell down and hid my face. Once I felt secure behind my curtain of hair, I let my eyes flick around the room, watching the way people moved and listening to the talk.

Once Mom was finished setting up the food, she came back to stand near the table. She made a fuss about Angie's drawing and listened as Angie described it to her. Then she circled the table and looked at the other drawings in turn. Mira apologized to her in a quiet voice about what she'd said before and Mom waved it off, saying that she'd already forgotten about it. As if that wasn't enough of a clue that Mom was in a good mood, she also found good things to say about each drawing she looked at.

Then she got to me. She stood behind me and ran her hands over my shoulders and down the middle of my chest so that I was held in a kind of half-hug from behind. Then she reached out one hand and flipped my drawing over. She didn't say a word. She just looked at my picture. I felt the arm resting against me go tense when she first saw the picture and then slowly relax again. Mom pulled my hair back from one side of my face and kissed my cheek. She kept her face down close to mine and whispered into my ear.

"Penny told me that she talked to you about her childhood. If you want to talk about it, I'll sit down with you when everyone has gone home. She was worried that she said more than she needed to and that she upset you."

Huh! And I'd been worried about upsetting her by asking her to talk about it in the first place. I didn't think I'd been that upset but when I looked at my picture I could see that maybe I was.

Most of the page was covered by a huge black shadow — the shadow of the top half of a man reaching out with arms distorted and grown oversized by their closeness to the source of light. The hands — stretched almost into claws — reached out to grasp at a small figure crouching near the top of the page. The lack of detail from using crayons meant it was impossible to distinguish who it was — or even whether it was a boy or a girl. The position of the arms and the body showed the child cowering away from the looming shadow.

"That's really disturbing," said Leroy.

I looked up and saw that everyone around the table was looking at my picture. From the looks on their faces, Leroy had said what they were all thinking. I understood them. The picture was dark and scary and frightening and very disturbing.

"What's really disturbing?" asked Dad from the doorway.

I reached out and flipped my picture over again before Dad could see it.

"Nothing dear," said Mom. "Do you want some ham and cheese on bread?"

Mom went over to Dad and led him over to the food where it was laid out on the kitchen counter.

"And you slammed me for being an emo," said Mira in a quiet voice.

I gave her a dirty look and then looked back down at the blank back of my drawing. I picked it up and folded it in half. Then I carefully tore it down the middle. I heard Sam give a little sigh when I did that. I tore it again and again until it was reduced to a pile of confetti sitting on the table in front of me. I carefully swept the confetti together and mounded it up into a single pile. Then I sat there and poked and stirred the pile with a single finger. Occasionally I would find a piece larger than the rest and each time I picked it out of the pile, tore it into bits and added the results back into the mound.

Mom appeared beside me and silently swept my mound of confetti off the table and into a wastepaper basket she held in her hand. She didn't say anything but I sensed her disapproval. Mom's taught me to treat artwork better than that — even art I don't like is supposed to be respected.

I stood up and left the kitchen. I was heading for my room but then I remembered Dan, and I stopped. Dan would want me to break out of this positive feedback loop before I disappeared down a hole. I went into the living room and sat on the coffee table which was still sitting under Mom's painting. The living room wasn't empty but I ignored the people in there. I lifted my feet onto the table and bent my knees up into my chest. I wrapped my arms around my legs and hugged them tight.

A moment later, Sam came into the room and sat beside me. He didn't say anything. He mimicked my position with his knees up to his chest and his arms hugging his legs. We sat together in silence.

I understood why my sister and my cousins found my picture disturbing. It was so black, so dark. At first glance the little child looked so helpless, so hopeless.

I found my picture disturbing too but I found it disturbing in a different way. One of the child's arms was raised to fend off the approaching shadow. The other arm was down and facing out. The tiniest sliver of silver — as thin as I could get it using crayon — projected from the hand and there was a smear of red down its length. It might not have been obvious to the others but I knew what it was supposed to be. It was a knife — long and sharp and already red with blood. A knife already used and ready to be used again. The child was scared but she wasn't helpless. She was angry. She was furious. She was filled with rage. She was armed and angry and dangerous.

That tiny silver knife with its little smear of red blood was the only bright color in the entire picture. Except, that is, for the bottom left corner. That was another part of my picture I found disturbing. And worse still, I didn't remember drawing either of those things. The bloody knife and what was in the corner had come out of my brain without me noticing them and that scared me more than words can tell.

Maybe I was partially right when I felt like something bad was going to happen to Dan. The bit I got wrong was the person it would happen to. Because I was focused on Dan, the idea hadn't even made it to my list of bad things that could happen. I didn't include the possibility that I might disappear.

I felt my body trembling and held on more tightly. It felt like I was holding Bec inside my skin and if I didn't hold on, she would just float out of my body and disolve into the air like a mist. And if Bec disappeared I had a very good idea of what would be left behind.

And that would be a very bad thing.

I closed my eyes and looked again at the picture that I had drawn. It was locked into my memory — my amazing memory for pictures and patterns that other people think is so wonderful. To me, right then, it was a curse because I wanted to forget that picture and I never will. I looked again at the picture and focused on the splash of color in the bottom left corner.

Instead of my usual signature, scrawled into the corner of the picture was a single large blood-red angry-looking letter.


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Story tagged with:
Masturbation / Slow / Nudism /