I eyed the temperature gauge inside my car with complete and utter distain. As if one hundred degrees wasn’t hot enough, the gauge read a smug one hundred and one. It was nine in the morning and I had officially carried two boxes inside the house before retreating to my car and turning the air on max. With my face planted in front of the air vent I called the Electric Company and quite literally begged them to hurry up and turn on my electricity. After pleading my case more times than they ever wanted to hear, I stopped putting off the inevitable and removed myself from my gas-powered freezer.
I heaved a box out of the back of the U haul with sweat already reforming on my brow. I made it all the way to the first step of the porch before sitting it down, panting like I’d just ran a marathon. I used the word Kitchen that was written across the top of the box in bright red marker as inspiration because it at least didn’t have to go upstairs. I whined and pulled it up the next two steps. Once on the porch, I pushed it into the Kitchen listening to it scrape loudly across the floor. I collapsed onto the tile next to the box trying to regain my breath.
I stared up at the ceiling contemplating my certain death by the time I unloaded the entire trailer. I had neither the strength nor the endurance to pull something like this off. There had to be an easier way. I rolled over onto my stomach and pushed myself up to my knees peering around the empty kitchen trying to remind myself that I should feel lucky. I thought about my mother’s death and the fact that I beat up the one person I’ve met who knows her and quickly decided that maybe lucky wasn’t the appropriate word. I should be grateful for the opportunity that my mom had thought about me when deciding her last wishes. I’d been granted the opportunity to finally figure out the mystery of my existence or rather the complexity of it.
During my pep talk realization poured over me. It’s amazing how much I’d trained myself to appear as normal as possible at all times. I was so accustomed to trying to hide my abilities that I hadn’t even considered using them to help myself. I scrambled to my feet and turned toward the box sitting on the floor. It had lost all the edge of the former challenge that it had presented. I peeked over my shoulder out of habit before holding my palm out toward the box as if imagining it could fit in the palm of my hand. Adrenaline surged through me as my palm began to tremble in anticipation. With my attention placed solely on the box, I gently raised my hand laughing at myself as I watched it follow suit. It rose off the floor peacefully gliding through the air until I closed my fist allowing it to drop down on the kitchen counter.
I couldn’t keep myself from smiling. In fact, I did a little happy dance as I squealed excitedly to myself. It was probably the first time in my life that I’d used one of my abilities without fear of getting caught or guilt for doing it behind someone’s back. It felt insanely satisfying. I was eager to try again. This time there was a more pressing matter to deal with than just a mere heavy box. I pulled my shirt away from my body as it steadily tried to cling to me and fanned it a few times. I was completely over the whole sweating like a like boy situation. I closed my eyes and stretched my arms out away from my body and just imagined myself back inside my car, the air conditioning blasting in my face. I could feel the change begin to occur around me. A brush of cool air washed over my skin sending goose bumps up my arms. I concentrated pushing my thoughts out further around me. I finally opened my eyes, my laughter booming through the vacant space as a chill ran down my spine.
I smiled letting the pure enjoyment of releasing myself wash over me. I suddenly felt a spark of inspiration. Just moments ago unpacking felt like a lost cause, but now it was a new source for practicing my skills. I skipped out the front door knowing the room would turn back to its normal temperature by the time I returned, but I reminded myself there was nothing stopping me from cooling it down again. Freedom was awesome like that.
I looked at the boxes over flowing out of the back of the U haul with renewed determination. I had barely even made a dent in it but that was all about to change. I scanned around trying to find the biggest box on the outer edge in order to give myself a real test. I picked one out labeled books and narrowed it in my sights. I felt like a lion, the box my wounded prey. With one swift flick of my wrist the box jerked itself out of the trailer and floated lopsided around the corner. I followed it up the porch letting it come to rest just inside the door.
I joyfully dusted off my hands as I trotted back out to the trailer. This time I chose two of the closet boxes I could see and used both hands to lure them out. As I turned around my attention wavered. Although it was brief, it was enough to send the boxes crashing to the ground with the distinct sound of glass breaking.
I didn’t flinch because I couldn’t. My attention was still honed in on what caused the accident in the first place. Sitting on the railing of the porch was a cat, blue as a cloudless day, staring at me. I’ll admit I may have been a tad bit jumpy but after last night’s invasion I had good reason to be easily frazzled. I held my hand over my heart trying to calm myself. “You scared me!” I hissed at it but the cat had already begun walking gingerly along the railing of the porch.
I blew out an annoyed huff as it curled up on the floor with his head poked between two of the bars. I knew it was just a cat, but I still made sure to check around the side of the house before returning to my previous activities. I continued to look over my shoulder as I raised the boxes back into the air. I’d never had an audience before and it felt weird. The cat seemed unmoved by my activities as I made trip after trip up and down the porch. In fact, it managed to sneak in a little nap while I noisily banged the headboard of my bed through the narrow opening of the door.
By the time the sun started to set the trailer was completely empty. I pushed the doors shut with a loud booming sound, which caused the cat to awake from its nap and scurry across the porch before coming to a halt under a wooden bench at the end. It peeked cautiously out at me and I laughed as I locked the doors. “That’s what you get,” I told it walking back up the steps, “for sleeping while I worked all day.”
It ignored me stretching out its long legs and yawning. Just as I shut the front door I watched it hop off the railing and run into the woods. I looked around the room only to realize that the work had just begun. Everything was officially inside the house, but it would take days to unpack everything. My stomach took that moment to point out that it had been neglected long enough. I agreed knowing that the dry cheerio breakfast I’d had that morning couldn’t be expected to last forever.
I went up stairs and attempted to freshen up. I figured I would go out in search of dinner since I had no other choice. I dug through some boxes to find clean clothes and used the rest of the water I’d bought to wash the sweat off of me. It wasn’t much, but it managed to make me feel refreshed. I locked up and headed into town. I drove around for a while giving myself a tour in hopes of spotting something useful like the post office or a grocery store. After finding one of the two, a grocery store that looked more like a trading post you’d see in old western movies, I gave up and headed to the town square. I knew I’d spotted a few places to eat there during my first visit.
I parked a couple streets over and followed the glow of the streets lamps. I was surprised to find the streets littered with people. Young couples were pushing strollers while their children ran along side them. A group of teenagers ran across the street waving to the car that stopped to let them pass. I spotted other people sitting out on balconies of the old stone buildings eating and laughing as the sound of music drifted out the open windows. I peered up over my head admiring the strings of white lights that hung from building to building giving a soft glow against the retreated sun. I started walking, following the flow of people down the cobble stone sidewalks admiring the atmosphere. The little shops I’d seen during the day were alive and vibrant now. In fact, an antique shop I passed had removed the glass from the windows; you could hear the dinging of the cash register from outside. I continued to walk peaking into the windows of pretty little dress shops and candy stores promising myself I’d come back again when I was in the mood to browse.
As I crossed the street I passed an older couple sitting on a bench talking. I didn’t mean to stare, but the lady caught my eye with her graying hair and bright pink lipstick. She looked like a movie star the way she held herself with such confidence and prestige. I secretly wondered if maybe she had been in her younger days. She smiled sweetly at me before waving. I turned to look behind me thinking surely she was acknowledging someone else, but then I heard her laugh. “You look lost sweet heart,” she smiled up at me, “are you looking for something in particular?”
I slowed letting the people behind me pass. I nervously stuck my hands in the pockets of my jeans shorts.“Yes, actually,” I admitted, “is there any good places to eat dinner around here?”
She looked over at her husband who wore a white dress shirt and blue polka dotted bow tie, squeezing his hand as she smiled. “Any place here is good,” he explained, “but my personal favorite is right up the street.”
“It’s the one with the blue rooster on the door,” the little lady explained never taking her eyes off the man.
“Okay,” I said slowly starting to walk again, “thanks a lot.”
They both smiled as they leaned into each other and continued their conversation. The way he looked at her, as if that moment was the happiest he’d ever been made me feel lonely. The thought was fleeting. I’d conditioned myself long ago to not let other people’s happiness ruin what little I had of my own.
I continued walking, stopping just long enough to peek at the name on each door. Just up the street I found the place they were referring to, because it indeed had a blue rooster painted on the window of the door. I pulled the heavy wooden door open to the sound of people chattering. The place was busy to put it mildly, the young girl working the hostess stand was running back and forth calling out names off her notepad. I stood at the stand and waited for her to return from taking the family of three to their table. I hadn’t even sat down, but I already knew I liked the place. It wasn’t one of those fancy restaurants where you felt you had to dress up. It was casual with its dim lighting and rustic furniture. The art on the wall was impressive, not something you’d find in your upscale snobby art gallery. The pieces were local, you could tell by the depictions of southern blues themes.
The girl finally returned dashing me a smile despite her frantic appearance. Her brown curly hair was stuck out in all directions only to be pushed out of her face by a canary yellow headband. “How many?” She asked pen ready.
“Just me,” I admitted leaning in closer so she could hear me over the noise of the crowd, “can I eat at the bar? I’d sure hate to take a table all to myself on such a busy night.”
She looked over her shoulder following my eyes to the tables behind her. There were only a few tables open, and all of them could fit a family of at least six. “Sure, sure,” she agreed waving me to follow her.
Straight off to the left was a small over flooded bar. I had difficulty sifting through the people to follow her. Everyone around seemed to be watching the TV that was mounted above it as indicated by the in sync yells of triumph and disappointment. She led me down to the end of the bar and pointed to an open seat. I quickly took it as she motioned for the bar tender. “She’s eating at the bar tonight,” she yelled at the lady pouring drinks, “treat her right.”
She gave a quick nod and the girl vanished. I looked around not knowing what else to do before I saw a white napkin slip it self under my arm. “You look like you need a drink to go with that dinner,” the lady smiled.
I did a double take as I positioned the napkin in the right hand corner of my designated eating area in order to please my obsessive-compulsive side. The lady didn’t possess any of the qualities that I would normally associate with a bartender. She was older, early fifties I’d guess and glasses that looked like something from the eighties. However, her hair was cut in an exotic crop pattern causing it to stick out in odd directions giving her a more contemporary look. Her smile was amazing to the point I found myself grinning back at her and I guess a good personality is all you need to serve drinks. “Just the food and some water is good,” I told her.
She handed me a menu and returned with a glass of ice water. “The water is on the house,” she winked.
After ordering I found myself people watching, which turned out to be very enlightening. For instance, I found out that the Saints were going to win the Super Bowl again according the drunk man next to me with the fuzzy mustache. I chuckled and agreed whole heartily even though we were currently watching baseball. A similarly enthused lady across the way reminded me why I never wear tube tops as I tried to act like I didn’t notice her leopard print bra sticking out the top. I wondered if maybe she’d done it on purpose because I’d yet to see her buy her own drink. I laughed to myself and tried to turn my attention away from the bar toward the people dining across the room.
It was funny how close but completely different two places in the same restaurant could be. A young family sat not ten feet away, the toddler climbing in and out of his seat, while the parents talked casually over their food. It was like there was some kind of invisible force field separating the bar from everything else. Maybe people in this town only saw what they wanted to see. Hopefully that meant no one would see me, or at least the real me.
My head turned reflexively as the bell over the door rang. I noticed how the young girl immediately perked up at the sound and ran by me with her notepad in hand. It was an older couple with two young teenagers who they probably drug out for a family night. The boy was peaking down trying to catch a glimpse of the game over the bar while the girl typed rapidly on her cell phone. A sting of jealousy hit me as I watched the kids walk to their table, the boredom evident on their faces. What I wouldn’t give to have a boring family dinner.
I jumped into the bar banging my knee against the wooden paneling as my eyes ran back to the door. Standing at the hostess stand with his hands in the pockets of his ripped jeans and a large, red protruding knot peeking out from under his messy hair was none other than Mister Sunshine himself.
I rubbed my knee under the table, wincing as I tried to slump down on my stool. It was like I had some kind of homing beacon on me. I nervously waited for a siren to start going off over my head alerting him that the freak was in his vicinity. I tried to straighten up as the bar tender appeared in front of me holding my dinner. She looked at me for a second eyeing my odd posture. “You alright there?” She asked setting the plate in front of me.
“I’m just dandy,” I whimpered watching Reid Thomas pass by in my peripheral vision.
I ate my cheeseburger and fries with haste glancing over my shoulder every couple of seconds. He sat just off to my right at a table with three other people. I was kind of surprised to find out he actually had friends.
The girl across from him was easiest to see, she had long brown hair the exact color of his except she wore a bright purple and pink streak through the front that fell just over her eyes. She looked liked him, their noses were almost identical, which led me to believe that maybe it was his sister. That made sense, seeing as how she must feel obligated to hang out with him.
She was leaning over under the arm of the boy next to her. He was stalky, I could see his muscles bulging through his t-shirt but his face held a boyish charm. His hair was honey-blond and fell in wild curls around his eyes that were squinted up in laughter as he kissed the girl on the cheek.
It took some maneuvering for me to see the girl sitting on the other side. I thought maybe she was Reid’s date, but they sat apart from each other lacking all the obvious PDA as the other two. She must be intelligent, I smirked to myself. Her short black hair hung in waves just below her chin. She resembled a modern day hippie if you considered the peasant top she wore with the added beaded band around her head. It was obvious she was the quieter of the two girls as the other was now gallantly telling a story while the others listened intensely.
“Interested?” A voice called as I spun around to find the bar tender grinning at me.
“In what?” I asked twirling my fry in my ketchup.
She nodded behind me, but I didn’t have to turn around to know whom she meant. “He’s single, you know? I could introduce you.”
She gave me one of those wiggly eyebrows to go with her suggestive tone. “No,” I sputtered out accidentally banging my knee on the board again, “that is not necessary.”
She laughed adjusting her glasses. “Just thought I’d offer.”
I turned back to look over my shoulder to find him smiling at the girl across the table who was still talking feverously. I had to admit when he wasn’t scowling at you, he was kind of cute, in that bronzed skinned super hot guy kind of way, which as of yesterday is totally not my type. I scrunched up my nose and turned back around. “So you know them?” I tried to ask casually.
“What do you want to know?” She inquired leaning against the bar towards me.
“It’s just, they look familiar,” I lied drawing circles in the left over salt across my plate.
Her smiled curled into a smirk. “Reid Thomas.” She said pointing to him but I already knew that part. “Cuter than a pound full of lost puppies and sweeter than his momma’s apple pie.”
I raised a questioning eye at her, maybe we weren’t talking about the same person.“Do you get paid for that kind of advertisement?” I mused.
She chuckled, straightening her glasses. “I used to baby-sit him.” She explained. “His twin sister Abby too.”
I turned back around peaking over at the table again appraising the brown haired girl with streaked hair. It was true; they could definitely pass as twins. Yep, she really must feel obligated to hang out with him. “Abby.” I said trying to make myself remember the name. “And the others?”
She seemed completely delighted that I’d asked. “The curly headed blond is Abby’s boyfriend, Grady McGregor. His father owns a shrimping company just off the coast. The other girl, miss free love and peace, is Abby’s best friend, Willa Lawson. Her mother owns an organic food store in town, a little pricey, but it’s some of the best veggies you’ll ever eat.”
I nodded along with her assessment realizing these were the exact girls that Reid had mentioned last night that I wasn’t supposed to talk to. Of course having never lost my teenage defiance tendencies it just made me want to waltz over there and introduce myself. Unfortunately, I wasn’t that brave and I didn’t want to risk the chance of making a bad impression again.
I noticed the bar tender watching me, so I forced myself to turn around to my food. She leaned further down over the bar as I took the last bite of my cheeseburger. “May I ask you what your name might be?”
I raised my eyes only to quickly let them drop back down to my food. She was studying my face a little too intently for my liking. My first instinct was to lie. If this woman knew them so well, then she obviously knew my mother too. The burden of small town life, I guess. Of course, that didn’t mean she would immediately recognize my name as Reid had done, but I didn’t know if that was a risk I should take. I tried to remind myself I came here for one reason and that was to learn about my past and my mother in particular, so I shouldn’t let this guy who doesn’t even know me ruin it. “Emmerson Daniels,” I said softly, looking back up at her.
I expected her to sound shocked, confused or maybe even careless, but I didn’t expect to watch her smile at me laughing. “You could be your mother's twin you know?” She chuckled reaching under the bar to grab a pitcher of water and refilled my glass.
I looked at her confused unable to comprehend her casual response. “I recognized you the second you sat down on that stool.” She continued. “You were either Fiona’s daughter or her ghost.”
“And you just knew?” I asked dumbfounded.
She ignored my question turning her attention back to the table behind me. “May I ask why you are sitting here like you don’t a friend in the world when your family is right there?”
My stomach twisted in knots and she caught the grimace on my face before I could catch myself. I tried to say something but nothing came out but incoherent mumbles. Her face began to grow concerned. “Have you even been by to see Sera yet?”
I solemnly shook my head no. “Its complicated,” I finally managed to get out.
Someone called for her down at the other end of the bar, but she merely held up her hand signaling for them to wait. “How so exactly?” She pressed.
I glanced back over my shoulder to see Reid laughing at his sister. He was swiping his hair out of his eyes making the large knot on his head more prominent. His smile was completely genuine, like the old man staring at his wife. None of them were here out of obligation to the other, I finally admitted, they just merely enjoyed each other’s company. I could feel the corners of my mouth wanting to return the gesture, until I reminded myself that his smile wasn’t meant for me. I turned back around, slowly grabbing some cash out of my pocket and laying it on the table. I pushed back with the intention of getting up, but her hand caught mine. “I think I should just go,” I urged, nervously.
She looked at me studying my expression as she glanced back and forth behind me. “Did he say something to you?” She asked almost shocked.
“No.” I blurted out a little too quickly. “It’s not like that.”
Her eyes narrowed at me. “You lie worse than your mother sweet pea,” she said shaking her head in disappointment.
“Look.” I begged quietly. “I do not want to make a scene. He doesn’t want me to talk to them, so please let me leave unnoticed.”
I knew I’d lost when I saw the fury flare in her eyes. Her free hand slapped loudly against the top of the bar causing the glasses sitting across it to jump. Everyone at the bar turned around startled by the sudden noise. “David Reid Thomas!” She bellowed across the bar and I immediately shrunk down trying to hide myself.
The entire place fell silent, the only noise now coming from the T.V just behind her, as every eye in the room seemed to lock on me. I heard a scratching sound, which I assumed was a wooden chair scraping across the tiled floor. I peeked behind me to see Reid scooted away from his table looking around at the bar.
The lady released my arm and stomped out from behind the bar toward his sitting figure. “What’s up Cari?” He asked confused, but able to keep that radiant smile plastered on his face.
She stopped just short of his table, her hip cocked out to the side. I hadn’t grown up around many women, but I knew enough to know that gesture was a bad sign. This was going to end badly for me. I slid off the stool and started backing up towards the door. Maybe, just maybe, I could sneak out before she could draw attention to me. “I want to know who the hell gave you the right to tell Fiona’s daughter not to talk to her own family?”
Just about the time I made it back to the hostess stand in front of the door she spun around and pointed at me. I quickly jumped behind the curly brown-headed girl and closed my eyes as if somehow that would help. “Well?” I heard the lady apparently named Cari ask again.
I heard the sound of the chair moving again. My body tensed up as footsteps tapped across the floor in the still silent room. “Julie.” His voice was stern, but pleasant. “Do you mind?”
I could feel the girl move in front of me, my barrier being stripped away. I opened one eye to find Reid standing in front of me with an I should have known look on his face. I smiled as innocently as possible at him. Somehow trying to convey that the last thing I wanted to do was bring attention to myself. He rolled his eyes and looked back at the table where his sister and two friends were now standing and peering over at us. Cari still stood in the middle of the room, her hands on her hips, waiting for an answer to her question. I leaned forward and whispered as low as I could. “Sorry, I didn’t know she would make such a fuss.”
He blew out an annoyed huff. “You obviously don’t know Carolyn Hughes. Besides its her restaurant,” he whispered back, “she can make a fuss if she wants to.”
Abby, tucking her hair behind her ear, had now climbed up on a chair trying to peak over the crowd at us. I turned sideways trying to hide my face. “Don’t worry I’m not going to make it worse,” I told him, “I’m leaving.”
I turned to dart toward the door, but he caught me by the tail of my shirt. I stumbled backwards as he stepped forward. “Wait here,” he instructed gruffly.
He walked back to the table passing by Cari offering her nothing more than a hard stare. He went straight to his sister with his hand held out. “May I have my keys back?” He asked.
“Why? What is going on? Is that really her?” She questioned.
“Abby.” He begged. “Please?”
She scrunched up her nose displeased with his answer. She dug in her purse and handed over the keys. “Make sure Grady takes you two straight home,” he told her looking over for confirmation from the boy.
He nodded before Reid turned around and walked towards me. He started pointing towards the door, but I was too caught up in Abby standing back on her chair looking me dead in the eye to realize what he wanted. He finally caught the side of my arm and spun me around leading me through the door. The bell rung over our head as I heard the place erupt in murmurs behind our backs.