All posts by ayamidawn

A Child’s Prayer (2 Versions)

Version 1 (Original):

Nathan had a problem. He had been taught that Heavenly Father answers prayers, but he didn’t know if it was true.

He asked his mom, “Mom, is Heavenly Father really there?” She said, “Of course, sweetheart. And he loves you very much.” Nathan thought about what his mom had said, but he still didn’t know. So he went off to play.

The next day Nathan still had questions. So he asked his dad, “Dad, does Heavenly Father really hear us when we pray?” His dad ruffled his hair. “He does, son. Just like when you call me, he hears you.” Nathan wondered at his dad’s words. How could Heavenly Father hear him when he was so far away? But he didn’t know. So he went to the park with his friends.

The next day, Nathan couldn’t stop thinking about his question. So he asked his big sister, “Jocelyn, does Heavenly Father answer prayers?” Jocelyn smiled at Nathan. “He does, but sometimes not the way you think.”

Nathan thought about what she said. He thought long and hard. And he decided to try.

That night after Nathan had been tucked into bed, he slid to the floor. He knelt like he’d seen his family do for family prayer each night. He folded his arms and bowed his head like he’d been taught in primary. Then he closed his eyes.

“Heavenly Father, are you there?” Nathan asked aloud. He waited for an answer. Pretty soon, though, he began to feel very tired. He got back into bed, disappointed that Heavenly Father hadn’t answered him.

The next day was Sunday. Nathan’s family got ready to go to church. Nathan was still thinking about his experiment the night before.

He was thinking so hard he didn’t even hear the talks in Sacrament meeting. He was so quiet during primary class that his teacher asked if he was feeling all right. Nathan shrugged.

In sharing time, the music leader had them sing “A Child’s Prayer.” As Nathan sang, he listened to the words. He realized that the song asked the same questions he’d had. Then he listened to the second verse.

He wondered if he should try to pray again, like the song said. Maybe he would be heard this time.

When Nathan got home from church, he went to his room and closed the door so no one would bother him. Without changing out of his church clothes, Nathan knelt beside his bed.

He folded his arms and bowed his head. He hoped that this time, Heavenly Father would answer him. “Heavenly Father, are you there?” Nathan asked again. He really wanted an answer. Even though he didn’t get one right away, he stayed quiet. He didn’t let himself be distracted by his toys.

A few minutes later, Nathan felt something. It felt like a hug from his dad. And he knew that it was his Heavenly Father. Nathan also knew that everything his family had said before was true. Heavenly Father was there. And He had heard and answered Nathan’s prayer.

Version 2 (New and Improved):

A Child’s Prayer

1. “Good night, Mom. Good night, Dad,” Nathan said.

2. “Good night, sweetheart. And don’t forget to pray,” Nathan’s mom answered, kissing him on the forehead. Nathan nodded.

3. “Good night, sport,” Nathan’s dad said, giving Nathan a warm hug. His parents smiled and left the room.

3. Nathan slid off his bed and knelt beside it. He folded his arms and bowed his head, and said a brief prayer. Nathan used the same words he always did.

4. After Nathan said “amen,” he got into bed. As he tried to sleep, he found himself thinking, Why do I pray? Is anyone even there listening to me?

5. Nathan was still thinking about his question the next morning. He decided to ask his mom.

6. “Mom, is Heavenly Father really there?” Nathan asked while eating breakfast. Nathan’s Mom smiled. “Of course, sweetheart. And He loves you very much.”

7. Nathan nodded, but he still wondered. So he decided to ask his dad. “Dad, does Heavenly Father really hear us when we pray?” Nathan asked while his dad tied Nathan’s bow tie.

8. “He does, son,” Nathan’s dad answered, ruffling Nathan’s hair. “Just like when you talk to me, he hears you.” Nathan nodded, but he still wasn’t sure. How could Heavenly Father hear him when he was so far away?

9. All the way to church, Nathan thought about praying and why it mattered. He was so quiet that his parents and sister wondered if he was okay.

10. Nathan was distracted during Sacrament meeting. Finally he leaned over to ask his older sister. “Jocelyn, does Heavenly Father answer prayers?” Nathan asked.

11. “He does, but sometimes not the way you think,” Jocelyn answered in a whisper, smiling at Nathan. Then Nathan’s mom leaned over to them.

12. “Shh. It’s time to be reverent so you can hear the speaker. You won’t hear them if you’re talking,” Nathan’s mom said quietly.

13. Nathan was quiet, all through the rest of Sacrament meeting. He was so quiet during primary class that his teacher asked if he was feeling all right.

14. Nathan just shrugged. He was too busy trying to find the answer to his question.

15. In sharing time, the music leader had them sing “A Child’s Prayer,” the song they were preparing for the Primary Program. Nathan had never really listened before. He preferred to talk to his friends.

16. This time, though, Nathan listened to the words as he sang. He realized the child in the song had all the same questions he had! Then he listened to the second verse, and he wanted to try to pray like it said.

17. On the way home from church, Nathan was excited to try his experiment. He went straight to his room and didn’t even change out of his church clothes.

18. Nathan closed his door so no one would bother him. Then he knelt beside his bed. He hoped he would feel something different this time.

19. Nathan folded his arms and bowed his head, like he’d seen his family do for family prayer each night. Then he closed his eyes.

20. “Heavenly Father, are you there? Can you hear me?” Nathan asked aloud. He didn’t feel anything right away, so he waited.

21. (Illustrator’s note: Nathan kneeling reverently beside his bed, listening attentively)

22. (Illustrator’s note: Nathan starts to fidget and gets distracted. Maybe he’s peeking out from under his eyelids, or he spots a toy. Could spread over a few pages, with varying degrees of distraction on each page)

23. (Illustrator’s note: Nathan remembers to be reverent, and goes back to being still and quiet)

24. Nathan got a warm feeling. It felt like the hug his dad gave him every night before bed. And he knew:

24. Heavenly Father heard him. (Illustrator’s note: Nathan smiling at a picture of Jesus on the wall; same page as previous dialogue)

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Thanksgiving Gone Wrong

It was the Monday after Thanksgiving. Kristy’s teacher began class by asking each student how their holiday was. Kristy was excited to share her story.

Finally, Kristy’s teacher called on her. “Kristy, would you share how your holiday was?” Kristy gave a big smile. “I would love to,” she said. She stood up. “It was the best Thanksgiving ever! It went like this,” Kristy said. She tucked her hands behind her back and began her story.

“First, I helped my mom bake the pumpkin pie. But then we were out of cinnamon. All the stores were closed, so we couldn’t go get more. So we baked the pie without it,” Kristy said.

“But you can’t just leave things out when you bake!” said one of the boys in her class. Kristy glared at him. Her teacher cleared her throat. “Please go on, Kristy,” she said.

“Okay,” Kristy said. “After that my mom told me to check on my brothers. They were supposed to decorate the table. But they were arguing about how to do it. I walked in and saw them fighting over the tablecloth. I tried to tell them to stop. But they wouldn’t listen.”

“The tablecloth was on the table, and they ripped it. Everything fell off the table and broke. It was really loud, and there was glass everywhere!” Kristy said. She gestured with her hands to make her point. “My dad had to clean it up. My mom heard the noise and came to see. She saw my brother Todd step on the glass and get cut. She looked really upset. Todd was crying. My dad had to make him better. I made Todd laugh while my dad cleaned the cut.”

“Your Thanksgiving was horrible!” another boy said, interrupting Kristy. She glared at him. “It was not! I haven’t gotten to the good part yet,” she said.

“Then please continue, Kristy,” her teacher said. Kristy nodded.

“When Todd was all better, I smelled something burning. I asked my mom what it was. ‘The turkey!’ my mom answered. She ran into the kitchen. I ran after her. My mom took the turkey out of the oven. It was all black, and smelled nasty. And it was too late to start over.”

“You can’t have Thanksgiving without a turkey!” one girl said with a gasp. Kristy stamped her foot. “Stop interrupting my story!” she said, angry. “I’m just getting to the good part!”

“Kristy is right. It’s rude to interrupt. Please continue, Kristy,” Kristy’s teacher said. “And we’ll have no more comments until she’s done, right?” Kristy’s classmates all agreed. Kristy continued.

“My dad tried to cheer up my mom, but it didn’t work. Then I heard the beeper for the pie go off. My parents were busy, so I got the pie out of the oven. I made sure to use hot pads so I wouldn’t get burned. My mom lets me do it with cookies all the time,” Kristy bragged. Her teacher gently encouraged Kristy to stay on topic. She did.

“Anyway. I was bringing it to the table, when Todd got in my way! I tripped and the pie went flying. It went splat on the floor. I tried to say sorry, but my mom just shook her head. I think she was just too tired of everything going wrong. It was quiet for a minute. Then I heard Todd giggle!” Kristy’s voice suddenly became more excited. She spoke faster.

“I looked and saw him on the floor by the pie. He had it all over him, and was eating it! Then he said, ‘yummy!’. I decided to try some, too. And it was good! ‘Maybe we can still save some,” I told my parents. They both smiled and nodded, and my dad moved Todd so he could save some of the pie.”

“That’s a very nice story, Kristy,” Kristy’s teacher said when Kristy paused for breath. She’d been talking a lot, and very quickly.

“But I’m not done yet!” Kristy said. “There’s more!” Kristy looked and saw that her classmates looked bored. “Please let me finish!” Kristy said. Her teacher sighed, but she nodded. Kristy smiled brightly and continued.

“After the pie was saved, I heard my other brother from the dining room. ‘Come see what I did,” he said. So we all went to see. Jacob had decorated the table with the broken dishes. He wrapped them in pieces of the tablecloth and put them on the table. It looked really cool! Then I said that we should start cleaning up like Jacob did,” Kristy said, even though it was her dad that had said it. She didn’t feel bad for fibbing a little, though. She’d been thinking it!

“We saved part of the pie, and my mom found enough turkey was un-burned to make soup with another day. But I asked what we were going to eat for our Thanksgiving dinner. My mom smiled, and said we’d order pizza. We all cheered. Because pizza is my favorite food,” Kristy said. “And that was my Thanksgiving,” she finished, a big smile on her face.

“But pizza isn’t what you eat for Thanksgiving!” one of her classmates said. Kristy just smiled.

“It didn’t matter what we ate, because Thanksgiving is about family and being thankful. That’s what my mom and dad taught me. And as far as I’m concerned, that makes this my best Thanksgiving ever.”

Finding Home Chapter 3

Chapter 3

 The next day was the funeral, but Mom was still making us go to school until it was time to go. I resented the decision, especially as I wasn’t sure whether it was to give us some kind of normality or she was kicking us out for her own benefit. I didn’t see a point in it, either, as it would be a half-day anyway and it was unlikely we’d learn much. I doubted I’d be able to focus on anything for long, not with that looming over me. Unwilling, I got out of bed and dressed in a black jeans and a grey and green plaid button-down over a white t-shirt, putting a black polo in my backpack in case there wasn’t time to come home beforehand. I might have worn the polo instead of the button-down, but I didn’t want to show up to school wearing all black—it would screw with my image. Everyone would think I was going emo or something. And I wasn’t interested in being scrutinized when I already had enough crap to deal with. I slipped on my tennis shoes, which were black and grey—no way was I wearing dress shoes—then headed to the bathroom. I didn’t feel like trying, but I put some effort into styling my hair, if only to look presentable for the funeral. I spiked up my short bangs, flattening the rest, and then just stared at myself in the mirror for several minutes. It felt like a dark cloud was hanging over me, dragging my mood down farther and deeper with each moment, and it made me feel rather lethargic. It was like my emotion center was shutting down, making it hard to feel anything, including pain. It felt impossible, trying to set my expression into something normal, but somehow, I managed it, and just in time for my sister to appear in the open doorway.

 “You okay?” she asked. I breathed a sigh, turning away from the mirror.

 “As okay as I can be, all things considered,” I answered with a shrug. “You?” I asked, concern touching my voice. Instead of answering right away, Carmandy turned slightly, breaking our eye contact, and bit her lip. I reached out and touched her arm, and she turned back toward me, tears sparkling in her eyes. “Hang in there,” I said quietly. “We can get through this.” She nodded and I released her, leaving her to finish getting ready.

 I returned to my room to get my backpack, then went downstairs. Again, I wasn’t in the mood for breakfast, so I took two granola bars and put them in my backpack on the off chance I got around to eating them. Mom was there, but even though I greeted her, if a little sarcastically as I was still kind of bitter towards her spontaneous announcement the day before, she acted as though I wasn’t even there, like I hadn’t spoken. And it hurt. But I ignored her, and sat down on the couch in the living room to wait for Carmandy to be ready so we could go.

 She appeared about ten minutes later. I’d spent that time staring at the floor and trying to keep up an emotionless mask with limited success. I took a better look at her as my sister approached, wondering how she managed to look so calm when my own emotions were all over the place. She wore her favorite turquoise halter top under a short-sleeved white cardigan, jeans and white flats. Her coppery hair was down and wavy, but pinned away from her face. When she drew closer I could see that she wore more makeup than usual, concentrated around her eyes which, now that I could see her better, I realized were red-rimmed and glistening with tears. Unless you saw her up close, though, it was impossible to tell that she was anything besides perfectly content. But I could see through the mask she put up, and as soon as she was close enough I stood, ready to do or say whatever she needed at the moment. She came closer, and I put both hands on her shoulders. In response she threw her arms around me, pressing her face into my shoulder, and I thought I felt her trembling, ever so slightly. Only a few seconds later, though, she pulled away, taking a deep breath and resetting her mask.

 “I’m assuming you’re not up for breakfast, so let’s just go,” I said, handing her one of my granola bars. She nodded in thanks and tucked it into her bag, then I led the way out of the house. She called back to Mom that we were leaving, even using my name, but Mom replied as though Carmandy was the only one leaving. I tried not to show that it hurt and confused me even more, and just got in the car, my sister right behind me.

 The drive to school was silent, and neither of us were looking forward to it. When we got to the school, I briefly squeezed my sister’s shoulder for encouragement before we separated for our classes. I successfully appeared to be untroubled throughout my morning classes, but as the minutes passed towards the time I was supposed to leave, it grew more and more difficult. I was anxious about the funeral—what my reactions would be, how many people would be there, and how long I’d be able to tolerate the “I’m sorry about your dad” ’s. Plus I could sense  reality trying to sink in, telling me that Dad was truly gone, but I wouldn’t let it. So I was relieved when, about eleven fifteen or so, an office aide arrived with another of those white slips. I knew it was for me this time, and I knew what it was for. I took it from my teacher, gathered my things and bid farewell to my friends, then left the room and headed toward the front entrance where I assumed Mom would be waiting. I met Carmandy halfway there. She drew close to me so our shoulders brushed, and I could see in her expression how much she was dreading the next two hours. Just as I was. As I’d suspected, Mom was waiting for us in the office. She led us out the front doors without a word.

 “Meet me at home. Do not dawdle,” she said firmly, though she was only looking at Carmandy. I bit the inside of my cheek so I wouldn’t shout at her in indignation. Carmandy brushed her fingertips against my wrist as Mom turned to go, offering reassurance but also reminding me to keep my cool. I nodded slightly in acknowledgement, then led the way to our car.

 “Do you want to drive this time?” I offered Carmandy. She hesitated a moment, but nodded.

 “Okay,” she answered. I nodded back and got in the car once she’d unlocked it. A moment later she was buckled up beside me and pulling out of the spot, following the main road home. We arrived moments after Mom had, and we both entered and ate the brief lunch Mom had prepared. Then the two of us headed upstairs to get dressed more appropriately for the funeral. I simply changed my shirt and fixed my hair, then went back downstairs and sat on the couch alone, trying not to think or feel, waiting for Mom and my sister. Carmandy came back downstairs a few moments later dressed in a spaghetti-strap, knee-length black dress, her hair still down and styled as it had been that morning. She was wearing a pair of heeled sandals, also black. She came to join me on the sofa, sitting beside me. Neither of us spoke. Mom came down a moment later wearing black slacks and a black blouse, and herded us into the car. We obliged, and remained silent the entire drive to the cemetery.

 We arrived early, much to my dismay. I didn’t want to wait; I just wanted to get this thing over with. Or for time to fast-forward a few days—or rewind. I had no idea how I was going to react, and I didn’t want to drag anything out. Mom, her face an expressionless mask that even I couldn’t see through though it was a little more like her normal self, saw to the final preparations while my sister and I were stuck waiting. If it weren’t for Carmandy clinging to me for support, I would have been pacing. Instead, I impatiently—and somewhat anxiously—tapped my foot.

 Eventually, the few people Mom had invited had arrived—it was too short notice for more than nearby family and friends to come. Reluctantly my sister and I joined the small crowd around the prepared gravesite. Carmandy’s grip on my forearm tightened and I knew she was close to tears and fighting valiantly to stay them. I briefly touched her hand, knowing she needed me to be strong for her now more than ever. The thing was, I wasn’t sure if I could do it.

 We turned our attention to the minister leading the funeral. Admittedly, I heard very little, and took in even less. I just didn’t care what he had to say; the preacher hadn’t known Dad, and the things he said about religion, about God not wanting us to mourn, meant nothing to me—I just didn’t believe in it. I had a vague belief in some kind of existence after death, but that was the extent of my religious views. I listened a little closer, though, when my uncle—Dad’s brother-in-law—gave his eulogy, and even closer when Mom tried to speak. She didn’t make it far, though, before she found herself unable to speak. She was escorted off the stage by my aunt, or her sister-in-law. The minister then took over again and wrapped up. Carmandy was crying, though silently. I felt numb.

 When the preacher finished, a short precession started passing the casket, and I realized it was open. My breath caught without me knowing why, and my heart was beating fast. My gaze was continually drawn to the coffin where the body was concealed, drawn there as opposite magnetic poles are drawn together. It only got worse as the space between me and it closed. My heart was in my throat when it was finally my turn, after both Mom and Carmandy. Mom was first, and I thought I saw tears on her face before she turned away, her body stiff. Carmandy and I were immediately after her, and then all thoughts of Mom were driven from my mind as I looked into the coffin.

 I couldn’t make myself look directly at the body yet. I placed a white chess pawn to the right of his head as a sort of tribute, then I took a deep breath and actually looked. Hi seemed so peaceful, and if he weren’t so pale I would have thought him sleeping—or biding his time until the perfect moment to leap up and shout, “April Fools!” But I knew that would never happen. Taking a deep breath, I reached out and touched one trembling hand to his. And jerked it away an instant later. His skin was so cold it was like I’d been given an electric shock, and so stiff it was like a wax statue. All at once reality came crashing down on me in that exact moment, a strangled sob escaping before I could stop it. That was Dad lying there, so still and cold and lifeless. It wasn’t a dressed-up dummy. And in just a few moments the lid would go on and he’d be under the ground. He wasn’t coming back. Ever.

 Tears spilled down my face for the very first time with me fully comprehending the repercussions of previous days’ events. I desperately wanted to look away, but it was as if my eyes were glued to Dad’s empty expression. I wanted to run, but my feet were rooted to the ground and I couldn’t move. My mind was racing, every single possible scenario of how this could have been avoided, and what would happen next, running through my head. I barely noticed the hand on my arm until it had tugged me away from the open casket and I suddenly found myself in my sister’s embrace. I didn’t bother to fight it; whatever pride I’d had was gone, and it was taking everything I had not to completely break down. I clung to my twin like she was my lifeline, the only thing keeping me sane and rooted to the earth. Without her I would have been hopelessly lost.

 It was a long time before I was even conscious of anything going on around me. When I did finally start to calm down, the first thing I noticed was the wet patch on my shoulder. Carmandy was—or had been—crying, too. I wasn’t surprised. The end of the viewing passed without my knowledge, and even though I had calmed, I couldn’t make myself release my twin to participate in the symbolic handful of dirt. Even if I had, I wouldn’t have wanted to—it would have made things too permanent.

 I was finally able to pull away as the pallbearers filled the grave and the minister closed the service. I left one arm around my sister, though, for both of our comfort. She pressed close to my side, her hand on my wrist as though to reassure herself that I was still there. Neither of us listened to the preacher’s closing words, nor did we move once everyone began to leave. I barely heard the murmured condolences from various family friends and relatives, and it was a relief when they had all left. Shortly after, I felt another arm around me, and turned to see Mom standing behind my sister and I, an arm around each of us. Closing my eyes against more tears stinging my eyes, I turned my head to lean against Mom’s chest, seeking comfort. I felt her arm tighten around me, and heard a muffled sob from my sister.

 The three of us stood in silence for several moments, then Mom spoke. “Are you ready to head home?” she asked softly. I didn’t even bother to compare her tone and manner now to what it had been earlier. I needed the reassurance more than I needed to stay angry at her.

 I hesitated a moment after she spoke, then shook my head. Now that I fully understood that Dad was gone for good, I wanted to say a proper goodbye—even if he wouldn’t be able to hear me. Forcing my eyes open, I was a little surprised to see Carmandy shake her head as well. Mom sort of nodded, then spoke again.

 “I’m not going to stick around. Are you okay to walk home?”

 “Yeah,” I answered, my voice hoarse from crying. Beside me, my sister nodded in agreement.

 “All right. Be safe,” Mom told us, her voice cracking slightly. She hugged us both, and kissed each of us on the forehead, then left. Carmandy and I stood silently for a moment longer, then, with an unspoken agreement, we approached the fresh grave, not letting go of each other.

 Without my consent, my knees completely gave out just below the headstone, and I landed hard. Carmandy knelt more naturally beside me. I squeezed my eyes shut, fighting to stay in control. Not caring that anyone could hear, I leaned closer to the headstone and whispered how much it hurt, how much I desperately longed to have Dad back, how lost and alone I felt even with my sister’s hand on my shoulder and sensing her right beside me. My voice broke too many times to count and finally tears spilled over once again. It took everything I had to stay silent, to hold back the sobs trapped painfully in my throat. I dimly heard my sister say a few things, but I didn’t try to understand. When she fell quiet, tears streaked her face, and suddenly she threw her arms around me, burying her face in my shoulder. Her entire body was shaking, but she, too, was silent. I put my arms around her and pulled her closer, struggling for control.

 An eternity later, I’d managed to lock the pain away, and shortly after Carmandy pulled away from me. Doing my best to avoid looking at the fresh grave, I pulled her to her feet and gently brushed away the moisture on her cheek, drying my own tears on my shirt sleeve. She hugged me again and gave a whispered thanks as she withdrew.

 “Let’s get out of here,” she said softly, her voice still not quite steady. I just nodded, not sure I could trust my voice, and led the way out of the cemetery. It wasn’t far from the beach, and it wouldn’t be a long walk. I led the way down the street until we reached the shore, then we turned south along the waterline, which would take us home. Carmandy ditched her shoes only a moment later, and I followed suit, rolling up my jeans to mid-calf as well. Carrying our shoes, we continued just above the waterline, waves occasionally washing over our feet. Almost unconsciously, it seemed, Carmandy reached out and her hand closed around my wrist. I let her, taking comfort from the contact myself though I’d never be the initiate. We walked in silence, both of us lost in thought.

 About halfway there I remembered that Byron was going to stop by after school, but checking the time told me it was barely two-thirty, and school didn’t let out until at least three. But I started wondering what I’d tell him, and worrying about how well I’d be able to stay in control when he was bound to ask how I was, not to mention the fact that he could see through almost any mask I chose to wear. Eventually we reached a familiar stretch of shore, and right across the street was our house. I started to lead my sister there, but she released my hand and shook her head.

 “Let me be alone for a bit,” She said quietly, almost pleading.

 “All right,” I told her. I hugged her gently, kissing the top of her head as I withdrew, then I took her shoes from her. “Don’t be long—you mentioned Allie was coming over soon,” I reminded her softly. She nodded, and so I let her be, returning to the house alone. I informed Mom, who was sitting in the living room, that Carmandy elected to stay on the beach for a bit, then went upstairs. I put Carmandy’s shoes near her closet door, then went to my own room, where I tossed my own shoes across the room, not caring when they thudded against the far wall, then dropped onto the edge of my bed, staring at the ground.

 About a half-hour later, I heard the doorbell and a female voice that wasn’t Mom’s when the door was answered. I ignored it, staying where I was. Barely five minutes later the doorbell rang again, and I heard Byron’s voice when it was answered. Not wanting him to find me staring morosely at the ground, I made myself move to my desk and pulled a notebook from my backpack. I opened it to a random page and forced my expression into something more pleasant, even if Byron would see right through it. A moment later I heard a knock on my door.

 “Come in!” I called, trying to sound casual. I pushed aside the notebook as Byron pushed open the door. “Hey,” I greeted him.

 “Hey, Jon,” Byron answered, sitting down on the end of my bed as I’d beckoned him to do as I turned around in the chair so my arms rested on the back of it.

 “So, how’s it going?” I asked, forcing myself to be upbeat. The corner of his mouth twitched in amusement as Byron answered—I knew he could tell I was faking, and trying to delay the inevitable.

 “Same as always,” he said, shrugging slightly. He seemed to sense that I was avoiding the issue, but he obliged me anyway, at least for the time being. “I’ve got a stack of homework being left undone to be here. How are you holding up?” he asked, almost abruptly. Clearly he wasn’t going to let me get away with putting off the unavoidable discussion.

 I held back a sigh. “As well as can be expected, I guess,” I answered, shrugging.

 “That’s what you said yesterday,” he pointed out, and I just shrugged again, indifferent. “How was the funeral?”

 “Open-casket,” I answered flatly, using anger to fight back the pain. “And the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through. I swear, it wasn’t even that bad when the words ‘your father’s dead’ were dumped on me.”

 “I imagine that was because then it was a shock, unexpected.” Byron said with a slight shrug.

 “Not really,” I murmured, too quietly for him to hear. “Oh, there’s one more thing you should know,” I said suddenly, bitterness touching my voice and making him pay closer attention. “We’re moving to Nevada because Mom can’t stand to stay in this house.”

 “Is that what she said?” Byron asked, equal parts shocked and incredulous.

 I scoffed. “Hardly. She used a promotion as an excuse. I know that it exists, but I also know that she’s trying to run away from the pain. I told her as much yesterday, and I tried to talk her out of it. You know what she did? She said that it was none of my business and that what she says goes, no matter what. It was like she didn’t even care what she was doing to me and Carmandy. And then she ignored me the rest of the night. All for the sake of her escaping her memories. I haven’t even seen her properly cry; it’s like she doesn’t care. But she’s making us leave behind everything we’ve known, and Dad’s fresh grave. She’s uprooting all of us, in effect abandoning us when we need her most, just so she doesn’t have to face the pain we’re all feeling. And I don’t even know why.” The anger hadn’t entirely left my voice through my rant, but towards the end it broke more than once. I set my jaw, turning away. Then Byron’s hand was on my shoulder. I took a breath, and raised my head. He offered a slight smile of encouragement.

 “It’s hard, isn’t it.” It was a statement. “I’ve never lost anybody, so I don’t know how it feels.”

 I scoffed again, trying to force back the pain with anger. “You want to know how it feels? Like someone’s stabbed you with a dull, rusted blade right through the heart, then twisted it and left it lodged in your chest. Every time you move the wound gets deeper, more painful. But you can’t bring yourself to remove the blade, because then it will hurt even more,” I said, my voice hard and bitter, but unsteady. But, it didn’t break. “So it cuts away at your heart more every moment, until you can’t bear it any longer.” This time my voice broke and tears stung my eyes. I turned away, my hands tightening into fists as I fought for control. It was all hitting me so hard, all at once, though, that I doubted I’d be successful for long. Byron squeezed my shoulder, but tried to lighten the atmosphere with a joke.

 “You should be a poet,” he teased. I raised my head to glare at him, and his expression was instantly full of concern. His hand tightened on my shoulder, and I accidentally met his eyes. I saw my reflection in his irises, and I realized my tears had spilled over. I blinked hard and turned away again, though I knew it was pointless, trying to regain my lost dignity.

 “I’ve always thought I could imagine how much it would hurt to lose someone close to you, but…I grossly underestimated,” Byron said softly, and I knew he’d seen not just the tears, but the anguish in my eyes. “Because I’ve never seen you cry before. Not when you broke your arm in two places, not when Jess cheated on and then dumped you. Not even when your twin sister was barely hanging on to life after that surfing incident.”

 “Oh, I cried. Just where nobody could see,” I answered bitterly. Byron’s hand tightened even more on my shoulder, then unexpectedly he pulled me into a hug. Taken by surprise, a strangled gasp that may as well have been a sob escaped, and I realized I was shaking. I forced it back, but not before he heard, and before I knew it my best friend had me in a tight hug. In fact it was painfully tight, but I returned it. I refused to fall apart on his shoulder. I doubted he’d really mind much because he was practically my brother, but it took all my self-control not to. Finally, I made myself pull away, drying fresh tears on my arm and hating myself for it, struggling to keep back more.

 “Hang in there, Jon. You can get through it,” Byron said, his voice softer than usual. I managed a nod.

 “Thanks,” I answered. Byron just gave me an encouraging smile. For a moment we sat in silence while I struggled to get a hold on my emotions. Then Byron spoke.

 “So you’re moving. I guess that explains the boxes,” he said. I just shrugged. “Well, I was only able to put work off by an hour, so I should probably be going soon. And since you don’t seem very inclined toward conversation, now seems like a good time,” he continued, probably trying to get a reaction out of me.

 “I’ll walk you out,” I answered, getting to my feet. Byron seemed to sigh, but he let me lead him out of my room and to the door. Before he left, though, I caught his shoulder, and tried not to sigh. “Look, don’t take it personally. You know I’m not exactly myself at the moment. I wouldn’t mind if you stayed just to hang out, but I’d rather not wind up crying in front of you…again,” I said as he turned, trying to smile. Byron returned the smile.

 “I totally understand. And I’ll be here to listen if you want to talk,” he answered. “And…” he gave a sheepish grin, “I’ll miss you. Maybe,” he teased, and I cracked a real smile, however small.

 “I’ll miss you more. Possibly,” I answered, returning the tease. He grinned again and gave me a brief, brotherly hug.

 “See you around, I guess. Don’t wait too long to visit,” Byron told me. I nodded.

 “Definitely,” I answered. “So, see you around,” I repeated, not wanting to say goodbye, and with a last wave, he left. But I watched as he pulled away, waving again as he pulled out of my driveway. I saw him wave back, then a moment later he turned a corner and was gone. I closed the door and started back for my room, finally collapsing to the floor beside my bed, fighting back more tears as the reality of the move sank in alongside the anguish from Dad’s death and hating that I couldn’t recover my earlier numbness and detachment.

 I stayed there until dinner, which I only ate because I knew I ought, even if I was hungry. Mom had gone back to ignoring both me and my sister, and I saw that Carmandy was really struggling, too. There was little I could do about it, though, my own emotions as frayed as they were. I did offer a brief hug of encouragement to my sister before I returned to my room, though. Mom had informed us that Carmandy and I were going to school tomorrow, no excuses, and that the movers would come while we were gone to collect the boxes and furniture. We were to leave out something to sleep on the following night, clothing for that day, and anything we wanted to take in the car with us, before we left for school, and put it out of the way of the movers. Because of that new verdict, I still had some packing to do. I put away everything but my backpack, which would come with me in the car, my sleeping bag and a pillow, and a duffel bag full of miscellaneous stuff as well as three changes of clothes, just in case. I’d strip my bed the following morning before school. The rest of my packing took two hours, and by then it was late enough to go to bed, so I did. I stripped to my boxers as I often did for pajamas and dropped face-first onto the bed, wishing for sleep to claim me instantly. Thankfully, it did.

Finding Home Chapter 2

Chapter 2

The following morning I woke involuntarily a minute or two before my alarm would go off for school. I was disoriented at first, not sure why I was right on the edge of my bed without the comforter over me, or why the first thing I saw was a mass of red hair. But then I remembered, and felt the ache in my chest that I knew would be constant for some time. I didn’t move, not wanting to disturb my sister though she’d probably wake soon anyway, wondering if I could make it through the school day with grief weighing on me—however distant it seemed at the moment—only growing more painful as time passed.

 A few minutes later my alarm went off with its obnoxious beeping, and I felt Carmandy stir against me. She seemed disoriented at first, too, then her hands twisted in the fabric of my t-shirt again. With one arm still sort of draped over her, I felt her trembling. After turning off my alarm I sat up, as did she, then squeezed her shoulders gently, trying to give her reassurance.

 “Morning, sleepyhead,” I teased lightly, and earned a slight smile for my efforts. “Were you planning on attending school today?” I asked her softly, hiding my concern with more teasing. She seemed to hesitate a moment, then, to my slight surprise, she nodded. At my enquiring expression, she explained.

 “If I don’t, I’ll have nothing to do but brood. I want to at least pretend things are normal,” Carmandy answered me, her voice soft and not quite steady. I pushed her hair over her shoulder so it was easier to see her face, coaxing her to look up.

 “Can you make it through the day?” I asked, all teasing gone from my voice. But she brought it back with her reply.

 “Can you?” She countered, clearly trying to lighten the mood, and a smile crept onto my face. I nodded.

 “No reason not to,” I answered, still trying to keep the mood light. “Plus, everyone will want to know why we left so suddenly yesterday. The sooner they know, the sooner they’ll leave us alone.”

 Reluctantly, it seemed, my sister nodded. “Right,” she said, sliding off the bed. I did the same and followed her to the door, though I made her pause before she left.

 “I’m sure we can get permission to leave at any time. Plus, I’ll be there, whenever you need me. I’ll even ditch class if you need me to,” I said gently, but with a touch of teasing.

 Carmandy gave me a small smile of gratitude and kissed my cheek playfully. I made a face in protest. “Thank you,” she said softly. Then her smile grew a little more. “The same goes for you.”

 I smiled in answer. “Thanks.” Carmandy nodded, then with a last smile she left for her room to get ready. Once she was gone, the control I’d managed for her sake started crumbling, and I knew it was going to be a long day.

 Breathing a ragged sigh and dragging my fingers through my hair, I grabbed something random from my closet. I knocked a few other things down in the process, but I didn’t care. I donned the clothing I’d grabbed, barely taking the time to look at what I was wearing. I then headed to the bathroom to try to make myself look presentable. Facing myself in the mirror, it took a moment for me to register what I was seeing. My hair stuck up everywhere, and my eyes were barely open, but that was normal for mornings. Today, though, there was a marked difference in my appearance. My usually tanned face was paler than usual, scattered freckles standing out in stark relief. The black t-shirt I wore only made it more obvious. There were bags under my eyes, but that wasn’t the biggest thing. Usually glinting with mirth, my eyes themselves were duller, deeper, a testament to anyone who cared to look close enough of the grief I felt.

 I closed my eyes and took a deep, steadying breath. After a moment, I opened my eyes again and finished getting ready. Once I’d shaved and run a comb through my hair, I spiked up my bangs with a bit of gel like usual, and I looked almost normal. But though I tried I couldn’t hide the pain in my eyes. Trying not to sigh, I left the bathroom and returned to my bedroom to retrieve my school bag. Then I headed downstairs to discover that Mom hadn’t cooked a breakfast for us like usual. Instead there was a box of Cheerios and a carton of milk. It was my first hint that things would be very different from now on.

 I sighed and retrieved a bowl and spoon and served up the cold cereal for myself. Just as I was sitting down, Carmandy appeared in the doorway to the kitchen. The first thing I noticed was that she wore more makeup than usual—her smoky eye shadow, more obvious than I’d ever seen it except on special occasions, was the only reason I noticed. However, I could see that she faced the same problem I had—she could neutralize her facial expression, but not the expression in her eyes. It didn’t help that her eyes were red-rimmed. There were bags under her eyes that she seemed to have attempted to cover up with excessive makeup, but with limited success. Aside from that, though, she seemed to have gone out of her way to seem normal. She wore a blouse and a pair of capris that I only occasionally saw her wear to school as she claimed they were “too nice”. Plus, she was wearing heeled sandals. And she rarely wore anything aside from flats and sneakers. I stood as she drew even with me, and playfully flipped her hair off her shoulder.

 “You’re trying too hard,” I said, struggling to summon a teasing smile.

 “You’re not trying at all,” she answered with a disapproving look, clearly trying to tease me. I had to admit she was right, at least for the most part—I wore an old t-shirt and torn jeans, and had spent all of ten seconds with my hair. But I smiled in response to her teasing, the offered her the box of cereal. She nodded her thanks and sat down beside me, pouring her own serving into the bowl I’d gotten out for her before.

 When we’d both finished and had brushed our teeth, I called into the house that we were leaving—Mom had yet to make an appearance. I heard a muffled reply, but that was it. No “have a good day” or “I love you” or some other sappy thing that mothers say. Ignoring the increased ache in my chest as I realized Dad wouldn’t be seeing us off either, I steered my sister out of the house and to the car, automatically taking the driver’s seat. It only took a glance to tell me that Carmandy was having trouble just containing her emotions; having to concentrate on driving would probably only make things harder. I was only slightly in better control myself, but I trusted that I could manage getting us to school. Leaving, however, might be a different story.

 The two of us arrived at school in good time, both of us in control, at least for the time being. I gave my sister a brief one-armed hug for encouragement before we split for our classes.

 Everything went fine until about lunchtime. I pretended nothing had happened, and so far nobody had noticed anything amiss but my best friend, Byron. However, he knew that I’d tell him in my own time if I wanted him to know, so he didn’t say anything. At lunch, though, with all my friends gathered, I was bombarded with questions as to why I’d left early the day before.

 “So, exactly what happened yesterday that allowed you to skip half a day of class?” one of my friends, Zackary, inquired. His tone was light, teasing, with a hint of playful jealousy. I rolled my eyes—everyone else who’d been in class with me or in one of my afternoon classes that I’d missed asked practically the same question, almost with the same tone.

 “You remember that day we all skipped school to go to the movies?” I began, smirking as Zack, Curtis, and Will exchanged confused glances.

 “We never skipped school to go to the movies. We went surfing, remember?” Byron, who was sitting next to me, nudged me with his elbow, grinning. I shrugged.

 “Whatever. They found me out.”

 “You know you’re an awful liar, right?” Will pointed out.

 “Okay, you got me. It was a family emergency.” I answered, shrugging, not elaborating further. “Mom wanted the family together for the afternoon.” The others seemed to accept it, but Byron gave me a look—he was not convinced. I tried not to sigh and told him to meet me after school once the others started talking again.

 The rest of lunch and the rest of the day went by all right. Finally, the last bell rang, and I was looking forward to going home more than I was to telling Byron the real reason why I’d gone home early the previous day. But I’d promised, and the sooner I got it over with the sooner I could go. I didn’t see Byron right away, so I headed to the library where I sometimes went to do homework if I didn’t have to worry about getting my sister home. I figured he’d find me there before long. I set my backpack down on a chair and then began idly scanning the shelves so I would look occupied when he got there.

 “Hey, Jon.” The voice came from my right. I closed the book whose summary I was reading—or pretending to read, anyway—and replaced it on the shelf, then turned to see my best friend standing a few feet away. Aside from my mom and my twin sister, he knew me the best of anyone—understandably, since we’d known each other since we were toddlers and spent practically every day together until we entered high school. In fact, he was basically the brother I never had. I knew I wouldn’t be able to get away with downplaying anything—he knew me too well. At least he was considerate enough not to point it out—too often.

 “Hey, Byron,” I answered, forcing a smile. “How’s it going?”

 Byron shrugged. “Fine. Nothing interesting has happened—aside from you disappearing from class yesterday without an explanation,” he answered, smirking a little at the end. I tried to smile back. “What do you think of Mrs. Hunt’s essay homework?”

 I managed a real smile of gratitude this time, and answered while Byron put his bag down near mine, then returned to the bookcase he’d found me at. “Not looking forward to it. In fact, I might just not do it at all. I barely even understand the reason she’s making us do it.”

 “Well, I would assume it’s for practice,” Byron answered, grinning. I just rolled my eyes. “But really, Jon. What happened? And don’t try to lie—I’m surprised the others bought that. That day you said we skipped school? Classes were cancelled because the earthquake damaged the pipes—we weren’t skipping. And you don’t have family emergencies without it being a big deal.”

 I sighed for real this time, slumping against the bookcase and not looking at him. “I was summoned to the front office yesterday, along with Carmandy. That alone was enough to raise my suspicions, since I knew neither of us had committed any offenses. When we arrived, Mom was present. She chauffeured us to the hospital—my father had suffered a myocardial infarction at work. He was admitted by one of his coworkers.” I paused, sort of bracing myself for what I would have to say next. “I…watched him get weaker, then he…he went into cardiac arrest. There was nothing they could do. He…he was gone.” I said, my voice growing slightly softer. For those who knew me well enough—well, really Byron was the only one who ever noticed, aside from my sister—it wasn’t my voice or tone that showed when I was upset and trying to hide it, but rather my word choice. I’d unconsciously used far too many unusual words and phrasings for it to be coincidence.

 For several moments, Byron didn’t speak, trying to absorb what I’d said. Finally, though, he answered me. “Are you all right?” he asked.

 I nodded. “Yeah, I’ll be okay,” I answered. Byron gave me a funny look.

 “You don’t seem nearly as upset as I would have thought,” he observed.

 I shrugged. “It hasn’t really sunk in yet, I guess,” I answered. “Don’t get me wrong; I—I miss him, a lot. I guess I just haven’t realized it’s going to be permanent,” I added, my voice a little softer.

 “When’s the funeral?” Byron asked, his voice touched with concern. I breathed a heavy sigh.

 “Tomorrow at noon. If you can get away, you’re welcome to come, but…” I trailed off with a slight shrug.

 Byron nodded. “I’ll drop by after school then.”

 I nodded. “I appreciate it,” I said. Byron smiled slightly, touching my shoulder, then, surprising me, he pulled me into a brief embrace.

 “Hang in there,” Byron said, his voice quieter than usual as he released me, though he tried to counter it with a playful whack to my shoulder. I just nodded, not wanting to risk losing my composure if I could help it.

 “Thanks,” I replied with a nod. Byron squeezed my shoulder again, as though he knew I was more upset than even I realized. “I told Carmandy I’d meet her at the front entrance. I’d better go.”

 “My car’s in the front lot today. I’ll walk with you,” Byron said. He clapped me on the shoulder, then we both picked up our backpacks and walked side by side toward the front entrance. Neither of us spoke, but his presence was reassuring, and I was grateful to him. It was nice to know I had his support, even if I doubted I’d ever tell him. He probably already knew anyway.

 When we got to the front doors, I glanced around and saw that my sister wasn’t there yet. Though I encouraged him to go on home, that I’d be fine, Byron stayed beside me, talking casually in an attempt to distract me. I appreciated the effort, and obliged as best I could. It wasn’t long before Carmandy emerged from the crowd flooding the lobby and out the front doors, alone, which was odd in and of itself. Even from that distance I could see how hard she was trying not to cry. I said a brief thanks and farewell to Byron, who simply clapped me on the shoulder before leaving. Once he was gone, I pushed through the crowd to my sister. As soon as she saw me she flung her arms around me, taking me by surprise. I could feel her body trembling, could sense how close she was to losing control. But the middle of the main lobby was not a place to linger, especially now when it was crowded with people heading home. I hugged her tightly for a brief moment, then released her and grasped her wrist instead, leading her outside. Once through the doors I put my arm around her shoulders, and she put her hand over mine as if to assure herself I was still there.

 When we reached the car, I touched her shoulder, and when she looked up, I saw there were tears streaking her face. “Why don’t I drive?” I offered, my voice gentle, a touch teasing. My sister nodded dumbly, and so I unlocked the car and let her in, then got in behind the wheel. I gunned the engine and shut off the radio—I didn’t need dumb love songs about loss, even if it wasn’t the same kind, making things worse than it was. I pulled out of the parking lot and the two of us drove home in silence except for one or two quickly stifled sobs from my sister that only made it harder for me.

 I parked in the driveway when we got home and let my sister out, knowing that she needed more reassurance than just words. I kept a tight but still gentle hold on her wrist as I led her to the house and inside. We were halfway up the stairs, both of us longing for just a few minutes of solitude, when Mom called up the stairway:

 “Put your things away and then come back down; I need to talk to you both.” Her voice was stern, clipped, and utterly foreign. It was completely different from her naturally carefree manner, and I’d never heard her sound that way before. Carmandy and I exchanged a glance, then did as she said; her voice had left no room for argument.

 We met her in the living room just off the kitchen. She wasn’t sitting, so neither did Carmandy or I. “What is it, Mom?” I asked, confused. “Does it have to do with the funeral or something?”

 Mom shook her head briskly. “With Dad gone, we don’t have the money to keep this house. I’ve been offered a promotion in my job, and the raise will give us more than enough to live. The job is in Trenton, Nevada. So, we’re moving,” Mom stated, more than bluntly.

 “What?” The question exploded out of me; I couldn’t believe it. My sister said it at the exact same time, though instead of anger, her voice was filled with disbelief.

 “You heard me. We’re moving to Nevada. This will be your last week here; I plan to leave either Friday or Saturday, depending on how quickly we get the house packed,” Mom said firmly. “I’ve already spoken with a realtor; he will sell the house for us.”

 “You can’t do that!” I exclaimed, more in disbelief than in anger. “We may not have the money to stay here, but why can’t we just downsize? Stay in the district? After everything, you’re just going to uproot us, without even asking for an opinion?” My voice was heated, though not loud. I rarely yelled when I was angry.

 “Jonathan, I will not have you speak to me like that,” Mom retorted, anger in her voice now. She seemed to be gearing up for a scolding, but I cut her off.

 “Yeah? What if I said I wasn’t going to move with you?”

 “Jon…” Carmandy’s voice was soft. As such, I ignored it.

 “Jonathan. I already warned you, you will not speak to me that way.”

 “And that gives you the right to speak to me that way?” I countered. Her voice had been cold and accusing. “We’ve just started our senior year of high school. We’ve lived here our entire lives. And you’re just going to throw it all away? And for what? A desert? Just because of one promotion? You’ve turned down dozens of those so we could stay here. Why is that changing now?” My voice cracked twice, but more with stress than grief.

 “Jonathan, I am your mother, and as such, what I say goes. No matter what protests you come up with. We’re moving and that’s final. We won’t stay here any longer,” Mom said heatedly.

 “You won’t stay here? You won’t? Or is it can’t?” I retorted. “You’re willing to leave behind Dad’s grave before there’s even time for a few flowers to bloom over it?”

 Mom opened her mouth as if to respond, then closed it again. Her eyes closed as well. A flicker of emotion crossed her face too quickly for me to identify it. It confused me enough to keep me silent for the moment. In the wake of my silence Mom spoke again. There was nothing but anger in her voice. “I will not stand to listen to this any longer. You and your sister start packing, now. If I hear another word of protest…” She let the threat trail off, probably because she couldn’t think of anything severe enough to convince me to shut up. Then she spun on her heel and walked away from me. There were so many different ways the action could be interpreted, but my mind latched on to the most obvious one.

 “You’re running,” I said, finding my voice and my anger once again. “You’re running!” I said louder, knowing Mom could hear. “That’s why you’re taking this promotion. You don’t want any of the memories. But you know what? Without the memories, what’s left?” I called after her, raising my voice the loudest it’d been since the beginning of the confrontation. “And what about us? Do you even care about how this affects Carmandy and I? If you’re trying leave behind his memories, you’re abandoning Dad. Acting as if he never existed!” Anger bled into indignation, but unbeknownst to me the pain I was unconsciously repressing was lending fuel to the fire. “You’re abandoning us, when we need you most!” I called, but I got no response, even though I knew Mom could hear me despite the study door that had slammed shut a moment before. “It’s not fair.” I said quietly, my voice cracking, and I had no idea what I was even referring to—whether it was Mom’s actions, Dad, or just everything. I fought to stay in control with limited success. Had I been close enough, I would have punched the wall. I bit my lip hard enough I was surprised I didn’t taste blood, shaking my head as though the action could force back the sobs trapped in my chest. I tried to resist the urge to run away, maybe fall apart.

 A moment later I felt an arm around my shoulders, and I raised my head to see my sister beside me. Tears streaked her face and she was biting her lip, but behind the pain was an expression of concern. “How can she do this to us?” I asked rhetorically, lowering my gaze. My voice cracked. “How can she think this is a good idea?”

 “I don’t know, Jon,” Carmandy answered, her voice just as soft. I nodded in acknowledgment, then turned away, fighting for control of my rampant emotions. My twin sister took my hand, gently coaxed my fingers to unclench from the fist, then pulled me into a hug. I didn’t respond, struggling to get a hold of myself. Finally, after what felt like a long time but was only a few moments, I pulled away. I was still unable to meet her eyes. My twin sister squeezed my shoulder in reassurance.

 “Thanks,” I said softly, managing a small smile that Carmandy returned. “Well, since we don’t seem to have a choice, we’d better start packing,” I added, a touch of bitterness in my voice. My sister nodded, and we headed upstairs. After getting a handful of boxes each from Mom’s room, we parted to go to our own rooms.

 Once I entered my room, I sank onto the edge of my bed, looking around my room and picturing it empty, without anything left to claim it as mine. Without warning my throat constricted, making it difficult to breathe. In an effort to overrule the pain, I faked anger and threw a pillow across the room. It was quickly followed by a number of other objects, some of them thudding or crashing to the floor. I didn’t even care if something broke. I was silently cussing quite fluently, and in more than one language, but was unsure exactly what I was cursing. At the very least, it was in injustice for  having a sudden move thrust upon me by Mom’s poorly concealed efforts to escape painful memories.

After a while I finally started to calm down, though tears were stabbing behind my eyes. With a heavy, unsteady sigh, I started picking up the things I’d thrown and putting them in boxes. It wasn’t out of any real desire, though; it was a distraction, something to keep my mind off the pain. I kept at it for hours, until there was nothing left but clothes and shoes, my bedspread and a few other blankets, and a pile of miscellaneous things I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to keep or throw away, and if the former where to put them. Just as I sealed one of the last boxes, I heard Mom calling for dinner. So I left my room and started downstairs, nearly running into my sister as she did the same. She gave me a smile and playfully shoved me aside so she could get ahead of me, though it seemed forced. I let her take the lead and followed her to the kitchen.

 

As we passed through the living room, I realized that there were boxes everywhere, some of them sealed, some only partway full, but clearly Mom had been busy for the last few hours. The kitchen was the same. In fact, nearly all the dishes but for the ones on the table and a few others seemed to be packed away. On the table were two boxes of pizza, both of them the meat supreme. But I wasn’t in the mood to eat, despite my stomach growling. I doubted Carmandy did, either. But we both did anyway, eating enough to satisfy our mother. Though there were few words exchanged in the first place, it seemed that Mom was deliberately ignoring my presence. I tried to pretend I didn’t notice or care, and once I was finished I just went straight back upstairs, where I fell face-down on my bed. I wasn’t about to cry, but I was thoroughly depressed and not in the mood to do anything. Instead, I mused about Mom’s strange behavior. I didn’t understand it. She’d been through hard times before, but she never completely shut down like I’d witnessed that day. Quite the contrary—she’d force herself to be happy for our benefit. I didn’t get why things were different this time. I understood that the loss of her husband was harder than anything else she’d experienced, but it was like her entire personality had changed overnight, completely flipped to its polar opposite. It bothered me, and it hurt me. But I couldn’t figure anything out and so when it was late enough, I showered and got ready for bed, briefly saying goodnight to my sister, then I laid face-down again, eventually falling into sleep.

Finding Home Chapter 1

Chapter 1

“I’m looking to see where you are, since we haven’t done much practice yet, so answer the prompt in short-essay format. Try to be as descriptive as possible.” Mrs. Ainsley was saying as she passed out the writing prompts to my senior English class.

I received mine and passed the rest of the stack behind me, then read the prompt. It was a simple reader-response to a 10-line poem. It wasn’t even an analysis or asking for any deep concepts. Just responding to the poem. I rolled my eyes. That seemed way too simple for senior-level English—it sounded like it belonged in a sixth-grade classroom, not a high school. Plus I hated poetry. I should have signed up for the advanced class. But the assignment was set, so I picked up my pen, twirling it idly in my hands as I skimmed the poem in front of me. I heard the classroom door open behind me, and an office aide approached Mrs. Ainsley in the front of the classroom, handing her a white slip that would excuse someone from class. I mostly ignored it, but couldn’t help wondering who the lucky one was. I hoped it was me, so I could get out of such a stupid assignment. But knowing my luck, it was probably By—

“Jon Mills?” Mrs. Ainsley called, her voice soft so as not to disturb the few people who were actually writing. My eyes widened and my jaw dropped. Byron gave me a jealous look. I smirked at my best friend and put my pen down, then went up to the desk to take the paper from the teacher. I glanced at it, saw my name and a checkmark next to the box that said “front office”. It also said “leaving.” Curious, but not about to pass up an opportunity to miss class, I packed up my stuff and left the classroom. I returned the jealous looks I got from some of my classmates with a grin.

I headed toward the office, backpack slung over one shoulder. Near the cafeteria, I spotted my female clone—aka, my twin sister Carmandy. Her coppery hair was coming out of its messy bun, falling into her face, and she was dressed in the gym uniform: a hawk insignia and black block letters spelling out Kenmare High Hawks on a grey t-shirt and the basketball shorts. Carmandy also carried her backpack, and I realized she hadn’t bothered to change. She merely looked curious, as I was, but upon spotting me, her expression and mine changed to mirror images of each other, eyebrows creasing to reflect confusion and worry. And suddenly I recalled the uneasy feeling I’d had that morning:

I woke late, having forgotten to turn my alarm back on the night before. I had to rush to get ready. I only had time for a quick bowl of cereal, and almost missed the fact that Dad was leaving early for work. But I caught him before he left, wanting to say goodbye—because, for some inexplicable reason, I felt uneasy, had since waking, and hoped he could set my mind at rest. So, I walked with him out to his car, but couldn’t quite find the right words.

“Something on your mind, Jon?” Dad asked me as he put his bag into the car.

I shrugged. “I just have this bad feeling,” I answered, not shy about sharing it because I’d always confided everything in Dad, and he knew when I was lying or skirting the truth. “I don’t know what it means, but…I’m a little anxious,” I admitted.

Dad gripped my shoulder, smiling. “I’m sure everything will be fine. But if it makes you feel better, do you have any last words?” he teased, lightening the mood if only slightly. I smiled back.

“Don’t do anything stupid. Don’t ignore your gut feelings. And I love you,” I said, still smirking as I echoed the words that Dad had often repeated as general advice to me, so often it was practically my life’s motto now.

Dad smiled. “Exactly. And I love you,” he told me, ruffling my hair.

“You got called out, too?” my twin asked me, pulling me out of my thoughts. I nodded, falling into step beside her. I playfully nudged her shoulder, making her stumble. She gave me a glare, then we both turned serious again.

“I hope nothing unfortunate has happened to Mom or Dad,” I responded. “That’s the only reason I can think of that would warrant both of us being summoned.” She nodded in agreement though raised an eyebrow when I said “warrant”. I ignored her. It was hardly my fault I grew up having complicated words bounced off me by Mom when she was brainstorming for her latest manuscript, often without a computer in front of her (she was a novelist). I tended to use those uncommon words when I was stressed, worried, or upset. It was a quirk that had gotten me teased a bit in elementary school. As I got older, though, it impressed people more often than not. It also diverted their attention from whatever had been bugging me at the moment, which was the whole point.

Moments later I pushed open the office door, letting my sister go first. I followed, letting the door close behind me. And got a surprise—Mom was standing in front of the receptionist’s desk, looking stressed. When the door closed, she turned abruptly, and I was surprised at the worry and distress that showed on her face.

“Mom? What’s going on?” Carmandy asked, her eyes widening upon taking in Mom’s appearance.

“I’ll tell you in a moment. Come on,” Mom answered, a little briskly, and she beckoned for us to follow her out of the office. Exchanging a glance, my sister and I followed.

Mom led us into the parking lot and to the ’06 Ford Explorer she and Dad traded off days driving. When Carmandy asked about the car we’d driven to school, Mom said we could get it later. It wasn’t until we were all settled in the car that Mom finally told us what was going on.

“Matt Carmichael, one of Dad’s coworkers, called me earlier this morning. He got Dad to the hospital after he had a heart attack. The hospital called me about twenty minutes ago to tell me, and they said he’s stable—for now. We’re going to see him.” Mom’s voice was dull and emotionless—and it scared me. I’d never known Mom to be so…apathetic. She’d always been open with her emotions. I didn’t know what to make of this change. My sister and I gave a murmured acknowledgement, then the three of us lapsed into a tense silence.

The 20-minute drive to the hospital seemed to take a lifetime. I had no idea of Dad’s condition other than that it was “stable,” and it may not have even been that any longer. I didn’t even know if he was still alive. When we finally arrived, I wanted to sprint to Dad’s ward to see how he was. I knew that sometimes heart attack victims recovered, but I also knew that most people had died because of it. And, frankly, I was scared. But I restrained myself, simply because I didn’t know where to go. When we got out of the car, Carmandy latched onto my arm, as though afraid I would disappear if she wasn’t holding on to me. My throat tightening unexplainably, I gently squeezed my sister’s hand for reassurance as Mom led the way into the building.

Mom headed straight to the reception desk in the lobby, asking after Kenneth Mills, checked in by one Matthew Carmichael. The woman at the desk gave us directions to room 237. With a nod of thanks, Mom led the way, walking briskly. We took the elevator up from the ground floor, and we were the only ones inside. As soon as the doors closed, Carmandy’s grip on my arm tightened, and her left hand joined her right on my upper arm. I glanced sideways at my twin sister. Her expression was determined, her jaw set. But I could see the fear and anxiety in her eyes. I briefly laid my hand over hers, then dropped my hand. It was difficult for me to draw breath, and all I could think that every second we were delayed was another second Dad didn’t have. The elevator chimed and the floor lurched, then it came to a complete stop and the doors opened. Mom headed left her pace quick but measured. Me and Carmandy, who had dropped her hands, followed her. Again I had to restrain myself from rushing past Mom to reach the room faster.

A moment’s walk later, we stopped outside room 237. Seeing the room number, my heart started pounding uncomfortably in my throat, and I noticed that Mom’s hand was shaking as she turned the handle. We were greeted by a doctor, whose name I didn’t bother to learn. He gave us a brief run-down of Dad’s condition. Apparently it was completely spontaneous and unexpected, and rather major, which made it even more mysterious. They didn’t know what had caused it. He was unconscious, stable but weak.

Carmandy had silent tears running down her cheeks as the doctor concluded, and Mom seemed to have shut down—her face was an expressionless mask. I had no idea what my face showed, but my heart was pounding in fright, a thousand what-ifs running through my mind. After a moment the three of us gravitated toward where Dad lay on a hospital bed. I couldn’t make myself look at Dad’s motionless body, so I watched the heart monitor that stood slightly left of the bed. The irregular beeps filled my ears, and I found myself holding my breath for each successive blip on the screen. I heard a rustle of cloth to my right that suggested my sister had approached and taken Dad’s hand. I sensed her gaze on me, but I didn’t dare turn. I was afraid of what my face might show, however hard I tried to keep it impassive. A moment later, I felt Carmandy’s arm fall around my shoulders, squeezing gently, and I realized I was shaking, however slightly. I squeezed my eyes shut, struggling to stay in control.

I sensed my twin about to say something, but then the beeps I’d attuned my ears to suddenly increased. I heard a sharp gasp, then Dad’s voice whispering Mom’s name. It was raspy, hoarse, and quiet, but firmly there. I let out a breath I hadn’t known I’d been holding, feeling my limbs relax. I turned, dislodging my sister’s arm, and met Dad’s eyes. Moving on autopilot, I took two steps toward the bed and grasped Dad’s hand in both of mine, needing to reassure myself that I wasn’t dreaming—that he was really awake, and generally all right.

Dad offered me a strained smile, then he turned toward Mom. He said something, but I didn’t listen—my brain was too busy struggling to comprehend everything. My eyes were locked on Dad’s face, my ears still tuned to the heart monitor. I expected it to go silent at any moment. I didn’t realize how tightly I was holding his hand until I saw him wince slightly, and Carmandy’s hand suddenly covered mine, coaxing me to loosen my grip. I did so, letting out a breath and trying to stay calm. Dad then turned toward us, and whispered my sister’s name. This time he was too quiet for me to catch what he said, especially since Carmandy had to lean closer to hear. Instead, the frantic pounding of my heart filled my ears.

A moment later Carmandy straightened, but her hand stayed wrapped around mine, and Dad’s. Though her face was mostly blank, I saw she was holding back tears. The breaks between the beeps were getting more erratic, and even without leaning closer I heard Dad’s irregular breathing. I begged silently for the monitor not to stop, for it to even out. Then Dad whispered my name.

“Jon…” His voice was strained and barely audible. I had to lean closer to be able to hear clearly.

“I’m here, Dad,” I said quietly, unnecessarily as my grip on his hand tightened at the same time and he could see me.

“Jon. I know I don’t have much time left,” he began, and cut off my protest by squeezing my hand—I was alarmed at how weak his grip was. “Your sister and mother will need you now more than ever. Don’t—” Dad cut himself off with a wince of pain, and my heart was suddenly in my throat, making it even harder to breathe. The monitor was beeping even more erratically, and I sensed the doctor approaching. “Don’t let the grief take over. Don’t be afraid of who you are. Be—” Dad winced again, his face twisting in agony. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the doctor come even closer, as though assessing the situation, but he let us have our space for a moment longer. “Be strong, my son. I love you,” Dad finished, his voice even softer so that I scarcely heard it.

“I promise, Dad,” I whispered, my voice choked with tears I refused to shed.

Dad smiled, then, as loud as he could manage, he said, “I love you all.” Then he seized up, the heart monitor going wild. A flurry of activity followed, and I heard the phrases “cardiac arrest” and “shock therapy.” The doctor quite roughly shooed us all out so they could treat Dad. As the door closed, I heard the heart monitor spike, sputter, and flat-line. It was a long, unbroken, piercing, constant “beeeeeeeeeeep.” My heart clenched, feeling as though someone had just plunged a rusty blade through my chest. And yet it kept beating, when Dad’s no longer would. The door was closed, then, cutting off the sound of the doctors’ attempts at resuscitation.

Almost immediately I started pacing, my heart thudding loudly in my ears. I glanced at the door with every pass, wishing fiercely that I could see through it and know what was going on, because I was unable to bear my ignorance. Out of the corner of my eye I saw my sister wringing her hands, anxiously glancing toward the door every few seconds. Mom stood stoically off to the side, which was somehow worse than the anguish in Carmandy’s expression. I wanted to take her by the shoulders and shake her, demanding to know if she even cared because I didn’t see the evidence.

Finally, after five agonizing minutes of waiting, the door opened. All three of us looked up instantly. The same expression resided on each face, asking for the news. With a solemn expression, the nurse who had opened the door shook her head and beckoned us inside. Upon seeing Dad’s still body, Mom gave a strangled sob, echoed a second later by my sister. My twin latched onto me as if I was the only thing keeping her upright, while my knees threatened to give way. The silence seemed to suffocate me—even the heart monitor was silent. I had nothing to ground myself with. It was like my brain had completely shut down, performing only the necessary functions. It left me unable to comprehend why I felt as if I had been impaled when I couldn’t see the blade protruding from my chest, or why I could scarcely remain standing when my leg muscles were working fine. After a while, my mind started working again, my common sense kicking in. I realized it was pointless to continue to stand there. So I took a deep, slow breath, gently dislodged my sister, and turned around, approaching the doctor who still lingered, watching us.

“What happens next?” I asked, my voice unconsciously soft to fit the atmosphere. The doctor appeared surprised at my composure—well, relative composure—but he answered.

“We’ll take the body to the morgue, where it will stay until your family arranges the funeral,” he said simply.

I nodded, glancing toward Mom. She had heard me speak to the doctor, and was now regaining control of her emotions. A moment later, she approached the doctor and they discussed logistics—cost of the visit, more specifics for the next course of action, etc. Carmandy’s hand closed around my wrist at almost the same moment. I didn’t react, just let her have the reassurance the physical contact could offer. A short time later, Mom nodded her thanks to the doctor and came up between my sister and I. She put an arm around each of our shoulders and led the way out of the hospital. I noticed Carmandy was as close to Mom as possible without tripping them both. I just walked normally, barely reacting to anything around me. My brain was still only functioning at the simplest level, not enough for me to even begin to wonder what would happen next for me.

We got into the car and Mom asked if we wanted to pick up our car from the school right then or wait. We decided to do it then, so Mom drove back to the high school. My sister and I had a minor argument over who would drive home. I wanted to drive by myself, so she could keep Mom company, but she wanted to stay close to me. I wasn’t sure if it was for her benefit or mine, though. Eventually I conceded to her request, and after saying goodbye to Mom, Carmandy and I got in the old Camry and drove home. Though she managed to stay in all the proper lanes and obey all the laws, Mom’s hands were shaking on the wheel. Once or twice I saw a reflection on her face in the rearview that might have been a teardrop.

About ten minutes later I pulled into our driveway, cutting the engine, and got out. I glanced at Carmandy as I did, and saw that she seemed all right on her own. Neither of us showed it often, at least outside the family, but we were best friends as well as twins, and I made sure to always be there for her, no matter what she needed. And right now, I wanted to make sure she would be okay without my physical support. It seemed she was—either that or she was anxious to get inside, because she went ahead of me toward the house. Shrugging to myself, I followed her inside. Carmandy vanished upstairs, and I heard her bedroom door close a bit harder than necessary.

I glanced up the stairs, and couldn’t summon the will to ascend just yet. I slumped against the wall near the back door, my brain finally kicking in properly and leaving me feeling overwhelmed and a bit lost. However, I still couldn’t wrap my head around the idea of Dad no longer being in my life. It was a while before I realized I was crying. But it seemed to be a response to stimulus, what I was expected to do regardless of being alone, rather than real emotional pain. I still felt the sharp ache in my chest, but it felt like a sore muscle, something I could ignore, rather than the stabbing pain I would have expected. Without a thought, I dried the tears, then finally headed upstairs. However, all I did was drop my backpack on the floor and then change into a pair of basketball shorts. Then, barefoot, I went back downstairs, left a note on the table for my mom and Carmandy, and left again, heading for the beach.

I went to the edge of the waterline, then I turned toward the left and just started walking. I had no idea where I was hoping to go, and I barely even registered where I was. My legs moved automatically, my mind strangely blank. I had no idea how long I was gone, but finally I recognized why the sun was directly in my eyes where before it was just a minor discomfort, and I glanced at my watch. I was fairly certain we’d returned from the hospital around three-thirty, and now the numbers read five o’clock. Knowing it would take just as long to get home as it had to get out—wherever I was, I turned around and started back at a light jog.

I got back around six, winded but satisfied with the burn in my muscles. I headed upstairs to change as I’d worked up a sweat, then came back downstairs to find a few boxes of pizza on the table, the kitchen deserted. It seemed Mom hadn’t been in the mood to cook. I couldn’t help but remember the usual banter that filled the room as we prepared and ate dinner as a family. Like last weekend, after Dad and I had finished our usual chess game:

Mom and Dad were working together to wash the dishes to clear space for dinner preparation, talking, laughing, and—to my dismay—flirting. I pretended to protest, but really I liked knowing they weren’t afraid to show their love for one another. I just shook my head slightly, grinning at the display, then I got a damp cloth and started wiping down the countertops, joining in the banter that served as conversation. Another hour or so later, the kitchen was clean and dinner was ready. I helped my sister set the table while Mom and Dad put the food on it, then we all sat down.

“So, how many games did you lose this time, Jon?” Carmandy asked me, smirking as she reached for the potatoes.

“None, but the last one was close. Why? Do you think you could beat me?” I responded, taking the spoon from the bowl of potatoes she had just set down by her plate and dishing them up for myself. She scowled at me, but I just grinned back.

“Of course I could. I can read your mind, remember?” she replied.

“You only wish,” I said, spooning a few scoops of mashed potatoes onto her plate before passing the bowl on to Mom. “So who won the flour fight?” I asked next, grinning as Carmandy smirked and Mom looked a little sheepish though she was smiling. Dad then turned to her, an expression of mock horror on his face.

“You not only allowed, but participated in wasting food?” he asked, askance. I rolled my eyes and continued serving myself from the dishes within my reach.

“Not only that—she started it,” my sister stated plainly, her face blank though I saw a smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. “But I won,” she said after a moment. “Mom got tired of the bread not getting done.”

“Well, I’m glad, because it smells delicious,” Dad said, reaching for the basket of fresh-baked bread that was still warm. I beat him to it, though, snatching the same piece he was reaching for and immediately biting into it. I sensed more than saw my sister roll her eyes, and just grinned.

“Boys. Always thinking with their stomachs,” Carmandy said. Mom nodded in wholehearted agreement.

Without that camaraderie among us, the room felt cold and empty. There were several pizza slices missing, which suggested that Mom and/or Carmandy had already eaten. Without me, which was another discrepancy that sent a pang through my chest. My note had been moved, so I assumed it was Mom. I got out a paper plate and put three pieces on it—in spite of everything, I was starving. I couldn’t even recall if I’d eaten lunch or not.

I was just about to leave when Mom entered the kitchen, a dirty plate in her hand. She didn’t say anything as she went to put it in the sink and then turn around to leave again. I was a bit surprised at how distant Mom seemed. Her eyes were red-rimmed and almost vacant, in a stark contrast to the carefree, playful person she’d been just that morning, flirting with Dad before he left for work. Such a change, and all in the space of less than twelve hours. I couldn’t wait to get out of the kitchen. The oppressive atmosphere was almost more than I could take. The unnatural silence pressed in on me, and I couldn’t even bring myself to make a comment to lighten the mood like I usually did when faced with uncomfortable silence. Before either of us left, though, Mom finally broke the silence. She must have read my confusion and concern on my face.

“The funeral will be Thursday at noon. You’re allowed to skip school tomorrow.” Her voice was dull, hoarse, where usually I could always hear a smile in it. Even when she was scolding me, she never raised her voice and I always heard an undertone of amusement there. “Please let your sister know,” Mom added, then she turned to leave. Before she could, though, I found myself on autopilot again. It didn’t matter that it was weird; Byron would say unnatural. But I approached Mom and gave her a brief hug. As Mom’s arms went around me in response and in gratitude, I found my own comfort even though it hadn’t yet sunk in that I needed it. I even took it one step further.

“I love you, Mom. I miss him, too.” I was trying to let her know she wasn’t alone, even though I still didn’t really feel the absence. But I really meant the first part.

“Thank you, Jon,” Mom answered me softly, kissing my forehead before I pulled away. “I love you, too.”

I nodded, giving her a small smile, and touched Mom’s shoulder before I left to return to my room. It wasn’t particularly late in the evening, but I had nothing to do, so I got ready for bed, taking an unnecessarily long shower just to pass the time. Then I just laid on my bed staring at the ceiling, my mind blank but my chest aching.

About nine, as I was debating whether I should go to sleep or not, there was a knock on my door. “Come in,” I called, and the door opened to reveal Carmandy, dressed for bed in a tank top and soccer shorts, clutching something against her chest with one hand. I sat up and motioned her over, and after closing the door she came to sit beside me on my bed. I flipped my bedside lamp on as she’d turned off my bedroom light. Only once she was closer did I notice how close to tears she was. But I tried to be casual and ignore it for now. “What’s that?” I asked gently, indicating the object she held. She seemed reluctant to let go of it, so I teasingly pried her fingers apart—pretending that it took great strength and earning a small smile for my efforts—to reveal a gold locket shaped like a heart about a half-inch wide laying in her palm.

I reached for it, and when she didn’t stop me, I took it from her and opened it, to reveal a picture in both windows. One was our most recent family picture, taken during the summer with the beach as the backdrop. Dad had an arm around Mom’s waist, his hand on my shoulder. My arm was casually draped around my sister, and Mom’s hand rested on her shoulder. I shifted my gaze to look at the other picture, ignoring the way my throat constricted at seeing Dad’s smile. The second was one of just Carmandy and Dad that I had taken over the summer. Both of them were laughing over the remains of a sand castle that had been washed away by the waves. For the first time I was conscious of the tears that stung my eyes. I clicked the locket shut, handing it back to Carmandy, and turned away. Again I recalled the feeling of uneasiness I’d had that morning and now wished I’d done something about it. Or seen it coming. Or something. A moment later, my sister spoke into the darkness.

“He gave me the locket for my birthday. I thought it was silly at first—why would I need something to remember him when he’d always be around?” Of course, I knew that—she’d complained to me about it, if playfully. I’d gotten something similar, and just viewed it as his own weird way of showing his love for us. I’d mostly forgotten about it, as he’d given me a rugby ball as well, which was so much more interesting than a pendant. But my sister continued. “But now he’s not, and…” she trailed off and raised her head. I turned to see tears glistening in her eyes. “I miss him. It’s not even been a day, but I miss him so much,” Carmandy’s voice caught and I saw her tears spill over. She didn’t even try to hide them. Forcing back the lump in my throat, I took the locket from her again and fastened it around her neck.

“It’ll be all right,” I said softly, hoping to reassure her, but my own voice caught. I averted my gaze, feeling my sister’s eyes on me, then I felt her hand on my shoulder. Telling me that I wasn’t the only one hurting, that she was there and she understood. So I swallowed my pride and turned back, letting my sister throw her arms around my neck as she tried not to fall apart.

Some minutes passed while both of us struggled for control, my sister more than me, but finally she pulled away. Carmandy raised her head, but not her eyes, and after a moment she spoke. “C-can I stay? I-I don’t want to be alone,” she said softly, a vulnerability in her voice that I’d not heard since we were children, when she would take refuge in my room during thunderstorms or cling to me during the infrequent earthquakes that occurred, seeing as we lived in California. It scared me to see her so vulnerable at seventeen. But I realized that I didn’t really want to be alone, either.

“Of course,” I answered my twin, my voice soft. “I’m here for you, whenever you need me,” I told her, kissing the top of her head for additional reassurance. It was a rare gesture, especially for me, but we were close enough that it wasn’t awkward or strange. It was just the way I’d always showed her I cared, even as children. She raised her gaze and managed a small smile of gratitude. With a smile, I brushed the moisture off her face with my knuckles. Then I laid down, turning off my lamp as I did, and felt her curl up against my back. It wasn’t long, though, before I felt her trembling with silent sobs. Her hands twisted in the fabric of my t-shirt. My throat constricting, I rolled onto my back and put one arm over her shoulders, eventually drifting into an uneasy sleep myself.

Finding Home-Prologue

Prologue:

I frowned at the chessboard, looking for possible traps. Seeing none, I lifted my bishop and moved it three spaces diagonally to the right. I left my fingertips on the piece for a moment longer, double- and triple-checking that it wasn’t in any danger, then I released it.

“Check,” I said with a triumphant grin at my opponent.

“Is that the best you can do?” The faint smile on his face belied the threat in his voice. I just raised an eyebrow, smirking, and Dad laughed. The sound was nearly drowned out by the crash of the surf against the shore, just a few hundred yards away from the back porch. The light, brine-scented sea breeze swept across my face and ruffled my short-cropped hair. I absently ran my hand through it, letting my mind wander while Dad contemplated his next move. I heard laughter through the screen door, as well as the scraping of a wooden spoon against a bowl. Mom and my sister Carmandy were making bread, as was typical of Saturday afternoons, just like the weekly chess games I shared with Dad.

“Your turn, Jon,” Dad told me, breaking the silence, a smile in his voice. I turned my attention to the chess board, and saw that he had moved his king left one space to escape my bishop. After a few moments studying the board, I moved a knight in. Then I sat back with a grin—two more moves and then I’d have him. Dad frowned, seeing that I hadn’t moved into the capture range of any of his pieces. I let my mind drift again while he tried to figure a way out of my as-yet-unforeseen trap.

Through the screen door I heard my sister mutter a curse as something clattered loudly into the sink and grinned—it wasn’t English. Carmandy had picked up that habit from me. The previous year, our junior year, I’d taken a German class, and finding regular vocabulary to be boring me and a few friends took it upon ourselves to look up some curse words and commit them to memory. I’d used them fairly regularly since. In fact, being twins we had many of the same habits, and thought alike.

Despite being twins, though, my sister and I were still different. For one, we were fraternal twins—she took more after Mom while I was more like Dad, in looks and personality. Carmandy had Mom’s more delicate cheekbones and slender shoulders, as well as Mom’s tendency to be quiet, sometimes even totally withdrawn and shy, around strangers but pretty lively in familiar company. I had more defined features and a lean, athletic build from Dad, as well as his boisterous attitude. Though, if you put my sister and I side by side and cut off Carmandy’s long, copper-colored hair, there were enough similarities that we’d be nearly identical. We both had the same odd grouping of traits that combined Mom’s hazel and Dad’s blue-grey into the vivid turquoise color of our eyes, a little more blue than green, as well as the uncommon red color of our hair. I called it rust, Mom called it auburn, Carmandy called it copper, Dad just called it red. It was an odd, almost shimmery red-brown-gold combination. I didn’t know where that came from, either, since Mom’s hair was chestnut brown and Dad’s was nearly black.

“Jonny!” My dad’s voice broke through my thoughts, though I heard the smirk in his voice before I saw it on his face. I scowled at him—I let him get away with calling me that until about sixth grade, then insisted on Jon, short for Jonathan.

“What?”

“It’s your turn,” Dad answered me, gesturing to the board.

I glanced at the board, and tried not to grin—the way Dad had moved his pieces made it possible for me to checkmate him this turn. I moved my bishop a few squares back, lining it up directly with where his king now sat, then casually announced, “Checkmate,” while leaning back against the porch railing with my hands lazily behind my head, letting my triumphant smirk come through.

Dad looked back at the board, disbelieving, then groaned in playful dismay. “All right, you beat me. Now tell me where your mind was wandering while I walked right into your trap.”

I shrugged. “Not much, really. Just thinking about how much I enjoy pulverizing you every weekend,” I answered, smirking. Dad shook his head, though he was grinning.

“I really don’t care about the game, you know. Just the time together.”

“Same,” I answered, shrugging again. “That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy the victory.”

“So, what’s been on your mind this week?” Dad asked as he set the board back up for a rematch.

“Not much,” I replied, helping to set up my side of the board. “The teachers are starting to pile on the homework, though.”

“You can take the load,” Dad answered. “You’ve always held up well under stress; I doubt it will be a problem. Now, how about I be white this time? Maybe the color will be lucky.”

I couldn’t help but laugh. “I doubt it. But good luck—you’ll need it,” I told him, turning the board around, and the second game commenced. While we played, we talked about nearly everything, bantered, joked, and just had fun like we did every Saturday. I rarely ever said it, but I really enjoyed the time we spent together. It was one of few opportunities we had as just us to talk and hang out together. I’d never admit it aloud, but I’d always been closest to Dad, even as a toddler. Having the chance to talk through any problems or concerns I had, or just to bond, was something I valued and always looked forward to. The few times it’d been neglected I always felt like something was missing.

We played for another hour or so, just talking about whatever came to mind. I beat Dad twice more, though the last game was really close. We might have played longer, but Mom called us to come in and help prepare dinner. Still chatting, Dad and I collected the pieces and the game board.