It didn’t take long to make supper. Frank came back, didn’t so much as look at me and cooked the steak, and Rachel set the table when she got home, and she did look at me. Glared in fact. I shrugged at her and helped her set the table. Shane and Carmen arrived at precisely six o’clock, Abigail in tow.
“Oh, hello!” gushed my mother, embracing both of them. Shane and Frank shook hands in that manly-man way. Abigail glared from behind her mother, quickly shifting her features into a beaming smile the moment my mother turned to her.
“Hey, Aunt Melody! It’s nice to see you. You too, Haley.”
What a grand ole family reunion. It had been almost six whole weeks since we had last seen them. I returned her super-sweet smile. Prepared for her fashion statement of a frilly skirt and tight blouse, I was wearing a skirt too, and even showered before they arrived. I found that the white folds of the three tiered skirt splendidly complemented my lavender halter top, with the tan I had gotten from being outdoors so much. Abigail’s red hair was piled up on her head, which made her look like an old lady, and I checked off one point for me that I had let my own light brown hair loose down my back. Definitely more stylish.
After the whole meet-and-greet, it was finally time to sit down and eat. Abigail insisted on sitting next to her “dear cousin”, and I wasn’t about to argue. I watched her out of the corner of my eye. Going to school with her was going to be so much fun. She would probably just ignore me, but with how small the school is everyone would know that we were cousins. Aunt Carmen thought it was “just wonderful that Haley won’t have to start school all by herself. You’ll show Haley around on her first day, won’t you Abigail?”
Abigail picked up the plastic pitcher of grape juice. “Yes, of course! It will be so much fun! Won’t it, Haley?” She shot daggers at me with her eyes.
“Yup, it sure will. Pass the juice, please.”
She picked up the pitcher, wet with concentration, and I don’t know if her fingers actually slipped or if it was on purpose, but it landed on the table on its side, effectively emptying itself all over my three-tiered skirt. She shrieked as some of it landed on her, too. Everybody’s mouths dropped open.
“Abigail!” gasped Aunt Carmen.
“I’m so sorry!” cried Abigail insincerely. “It slipped!”
“You did that on purpose!” With unnecessary force, I flicked a handful of juice at her with both fingers.
“Girls!” said Frank, Rachel and my mother at the same time.
“It’s not me! Did you see what she—” we both snapped our mouths shut.
A tear slipped down Mom’s face. “You ruined dinner,” she wept. “When is this stupid fighting going to stop? When?”
We stared at her for a second, glared at each other, and pushed away from the table to storm up to my room.
“What the heck did you do that for?” I hissed, whirling on her.
Smirking, she began riffling through my drawers, which annoyed me to no end. “It was an accident. Considering the way your life turned out, I’m sure you know what an accident is.”
“You are just so mean!”
“And you’re immature. And rock-headed. I told you it was an accident!” She held up a tee-shirt, scrunched her nose, and tossed it aside.
“Leave my stuff alone! Just take that one. If you hadn’t spilled juice on me—” you wouldn’t be wet too. Hmm. Maybe it had been an accident. With a glance at her dripping skirt that I’m sure cost a fair bit of money, I considered that she might not be lying.
“Why do we hate each other?” she asked, so out of the blue that I jumped as though I had been shot.
“I don’t hate you, Abigail. You just get on my nerves!” This was not the time for one of those feel-good family moments where we just realize that all this fighting is pointless and become best friends forevermore. “And you’re mean. Remember that time you put gum in my hair?”
She smiled slightly. “That was classic.”
“That wasn’t funny! See? That’s why I don’t like you.”
“So you don’t like me.”
“You got it.” My dripping skirt made a cringe-worthy thump in the bottom of my hamper, and my shirt followed. The only thing I found fit to wear was a pair of slacks and a blue short-sleeved shirt. Thanks a lot, Abigail.
“Haley, I’m sorry, okay?” I glanced at her wearily. “I’ve actually been thinking. Do you think maybe we could at least try to not be awful to each other? I promise to try if you do.” for the first time, I saw sincere yearning in her grey eyes. A cloud passed over the sun, making her face seem a little bit eerie, and her earnest look was the creepiest part.
“Why do you want to be my friend?” I asked suspiciously.
She didn’t break her gaze. “Because. We’re cousins. And I’ve kind of never had a cousin my age before…I just think it would be sort of cool if we were friends.” We were both done changing, and she sank down onto my unmade bed. “This is a cool bird,” she said, fingering it. “Where did you get it?”
“An old friend from Colorado. He makes them.”
She shrieked. “It’s real?”
This time I smiled at her too. “No, its not. Kidding!” it was all I could do not to fall over with hysterical giggles as she smacked me with a pillow. “Hey? What are friends for?”
Lightning singed the air, illuminating the room. “Wow!” I said, bouncing off the bed to the window. Another one flashed.
“I know, right?” Abigail said excitedly. Of course, we both forgot that with lightning came thunder. It rumbled and rumbled, growing louder until it was deafening.
“Oh no!’ cried Abigail. “What if there’s a tornado?”
“A tornado? What?” Fear prickled up my spine. “I thought we didn’t get tornados around here!”
“Of course we do!” she shouted over a new crash of thunder. Rain started pounding the window, and the wind ripped the neighbour’s flag in half. The pole shook and shuddered like a hand was trying to pull it out of the ground.
And just like that, it stopped. A few minutes later, the sun came out, blinding us with the sudden light. We blinked at each other.
“What the heck?”
We went downstairs, and the adults were engrossed in the first inning of a hockey game. Someone must have scored a touchdown, because they were suddenly all cheering like crazy. I wasn’t a big fan of sports, and never did understand how people could sit at events for hours on end watching other people get sweaty. Uncle Shane and Frank were sitting together on the couch, and it was uncanny how similar they looked. The only difference between them was that Shane was a really nice person. Aunt Carmen, the picture of beauty, held Graham on her lap, and it was easy to see where Abigail got her looks. Rachel was there too, trying to pretend she was all grown up.
“Oh, look who showed up!” she said, nodding at us. Frank frowned.
“If you two have pulled yourselves together, you can clear the table. No dessert.”
We made an ooh, how terrible face at each other when our backs were turned. “I don’t like him either,” whispered Abigail in the kitchen. “Doesn’t he just give you the creeps?”
Nodding, I started loading the dishwasher. Actually, Frank and Rachel were the only ones who had left dishes. What was the big deal?
“Hey, we’re heading out!” said Carmen, grabbing her purse from the counter. “Calling in Sick starts in twenty minutes, and Melody insists that we go! I trust you girls have gotten over yourselves?” The rest of the adults came into the room, Rachel whining that we could take care of ourselves, could she please go out tonight? My mom shook her head. Frank gave us instructions not to watch TV for too long and to make sure we got the dishes done, as if he were our father or something. I avoided Abigail’s gaze as she rolled her eyes.
“You know what we should do?” she asked when they were gone. “Throw a party!”
I laughed. “Yeah, right. Rachel would so not keep that one quiet. I can’t believe they just left like that!”
“I was serious! I don’t think Rachel would mind. Look, there she goes.” Sure enough, Rachel was walking quickly and with purpose down the street towards Marc’s house. My eyes widened.
“Abigail, we are not having a party. They are going to be back in a couple hours. That’s hardly enough time to do anything fun.”
She pouted. “Oh, come on! It’s just a few friends. Five, max. What harm can it do? We will make sure they all go home before anyone gets home. Ok? There won’t be any booze or anything, and if we get caught we can blame Rachel for leaving us alone.”
Getting her back for dissing me at the store was definitely worth it, but… “I don’t know, Abigail. This seems kind of A-list…” she could see I was caving.
“I promise! No harm no fowl or something. Like I said, just five! And you can meet my friends so you will know someone at school.”
What was the harm? It wasn’t technically a party, just a small and intimate get-together. I quickly finished the dishes while Abigail was on the phone, and figured I had better put out some chips or something. I had never done this whole party thing before. The living room was still pretty neat from when we had cleaned it this morning, and I took a few stray unpacked boxes up to my room. Learning from movies, I put all the candles and delicate stuff away. It was only ten minutes later that the kids started to arrive. Or at least, one kid did.
“Hey, Abigail! I got your message!” He gave her a one-armed hug. I crept forward shyly.
“Will, this is my cousin Haley—”
“We’ve met! I didn’t know you guys were cousins. It’s good to see you again.”
Abigail knitted her brow. “Again?”
“Yeah, we met this afternoon…so I guess you aren’t grounded?”
This made me blush. “No, I’m grounded. One week.” I glanced at Abigail. Will looked between us, brilliant smile suddenly gone.
“Oh,” he said. “I see.”
Just then everyone else arrived. All seven of them, including Will, which meant eight. “Abigail!” I hissed, panicked now.
She waved me off. “Relax! It’s only three over. And if you invite Shelly, you have to invite Trisha or else it will be like, major drama, and Howard won’t even come if Bella isn’t there…” she went on like that, telling me how everyone was basically a package deal, and that technically she had still kept the limit. Her gross rationalization was disturbing. It was almost like she had done it on purpose…but no, we were over that now, weren’t we?
“Come on, I’ll introduce you to everyone!” she led me into the living room, where everyone was assembled, lounging all over the furniture. “Hey, listen up! I’d like you all to meet my cousin Haley, and this is her house, and the rents don’t know about this, so when we tell you to get out, you run, okay?” They all sort of chuckled, and I had a feeling Abigail did this more often than she was willing to admit. It was hard to believe she was only twelve. They all were. One guy, Abigail said his name was Preston, seemed older than everyone else, but she assured me that he was only thirteen. He was loud and had the attention of almost everyone as he told some story where he poked the girl beside him a lot. Abigail turned on some poppy music and joined him. The girl he had been poking immediately moved somewhere else so she could sit beside him, and I sat awkwardly on the only empty chair, watching everyone having a good time. I felt ignored. At least I had a good view of the driveway and the road leading to the cinema. I would not be caught off guard if they suddenly came home early. And if Rachel came home for some reason, even though I doubted she would.
“Hey,” said Will, coming to sit in the chair beside me. We were pretty much cut off from the rest of the crowd. His grin was back.
“Hello. Did you get home okay? Was your dad mad?”
“No. it’s my land, remember? He knows I never really go far. I showed him the picture of the bear and he was pleased.”
Nodding, I picked at my slacks. “Yeah, that was a good one. That was so scary! I can’t believe that was only this morning. This”—I waved at the laughing people—“seems kind of mundane after being chased up a tree by a bear.”
“I know, right? Hey, do you think I could see some of the other things that you collected by the river? Is it like, your hobby or something?”
Hobby. Hobbies were for old people. History was my passion. “Sure, um, they’re in my room…” I was going to say something about that, but I reminded myself to be mature. It wasn’t like we were going to do anything. The party atmosphere was getting to my head. We slipped away and headed upstairs, me hoping that nobody would get the wrong idea.
“I’m not quite done packing yet,” I said, tapping the boxes that were on my bed. Wistfully I thought that I should have picked up a little more this morning. Blushing, I kicked a stray bra under the bed, along with a pair of underwear. He pretended he hadn’t seen. Would I ever remain normally coloured around him? I took a box out of my closet. “I brought these from home. The ones I got from around here are reburied in the backyard in another box so my little brother can’t get them—oh my gosh!” I exclaimed. “Graham! I totally forgot about him! Just a minute!”
I almost ran down the hall to Graham’s room. He was up, crying to himself, his little face tomato red. “Poor baby Graham!” I cooed, picking him up. His diaper was extremely wet. “I’m sorry for forgetting you! Poor, poor baby. It’s alright, Shhhhh.” I kept talking like that as I changed him and washed him. He was still upset when I laid him down again, and started crying almost immediately. Groaning, I picked him up and carried him to my room.
“Um, is it okay if he sticks around?” I asked uncertainly. “He doesn’t like being alone.”
His face positively melted when he saw him. Graham has that effect on people. “Of course he can! He’s cute.” Suddenly over his crying fest, Graham beamed at Will. Their wide grins matched each other’s. He played with Will’s hair when I let him hold him, and tried to poke Will in one of his bright eyes.
I picked up a coverless pocket watch from the huge pile on my bed. “So, I got this one by that tree over there, and Jose says it’s from the eighteen-hundreds, even though he can’t tell the exact date since he still lives in Colorado and I can only send him pictures of the stuff I find, and this mirror I found under the swing…the swing too is from the mid-nineteen-hundreds, and I guess little kids lost their mother’s things there or maybe even buried them on purpose.” We both laughed, imagining children swiping precious goods off their mother’s vanities for a good game of treasure hunt, only to forget everything come snack time.
“Is this a shoe?” Will asked.
“Yeah. I think it was a doll’s. Jose said not to put it through the washing machine, so it’s still kind of dirty.” I think it had once been blue.
“You just have to see this place I found the other day. I bet it’s loaded with old stuff.”
“Where exactly is this place, anyway?”
He shook his head. “Just wait till next week when you aren’t grounded,” he said mysteriously.
Just then the door flew open and Abigail stood in the doorway, her face a mixture of horror and revulsion. “Haley!” she said. “We’re busted—” and then I heard it. My mother exclaiming over the mass of people that had accumulated over the short time period that she had been gone. The colour drained out of my face.
“Haley Williams, you get down here right now!” she screamed. Oh no oh no oh no. this was not happening. Abigail gave me one more wide-eyed look before sprinting down the stairs. This was bad. This was very, very bad.
“You know what?” I said to Will. “I think we might have to wait a little longer after all.” My bravely joking words did not make me feel any better. My stomach was in knots as I slowly trudged down the stairs.
“Now!” she snapped. “Don’t take two days! What is going on here?”
Frank, Carmen and Shane were all standing behind her in a semi-circle. I was surprised her face was not purple with rage. “I’m sorry,” I said inadequately. I couldn’t even look at Abigail. This was her fault, yet I couldn’t help feeling responsible. I had had the power to say no…And I should’ve been keeping lookout instead of being upstairs with Will. Speaking of Will, I could only imagine what it must have looked like when he followed me down the stairs.
“Aunt Melody,” Abigail started, “this was all my idea, it’s not Haley’s fault—”
A glare silenced her. “Don’t, Abigail, you don’t have to take the rap for her. Haley’s a big girl now. Apparently, she thinks she’s too grown up.”
My stomach sank lower and lower. All around me, Abigail’s friends were shifting uncomfortably, wishing they could leave. Someone turned off the stereo, plunging us into sudden silence. Frank was looking particularly smug, shooting an I told you so glance at Aunt Carmen. What stories had he been spreading about me now? Anger filled me at the sight of him and his superiority. I had the sudden desire to just be bad all the time, so that he would really have something to talk about. What fun it would be to be a rebel, when nothing your parents say actually makes a lick of a difference to you. You could do whatever you want without guilt. Sure, most teens like that ended up in prison, but I wouldn’t do anything illegal. I just wouldn’t try so hard to make them think I was the good kid. They hadn’t said anything about Rachel. They never said anything about Rachel. That’s it, I needed to be more like Rachel…I never thought I would say the words. Or rather think them.
I crossed my arms and cocked a hip. “It’s no big deal, mom. We were just hanging out, is all.”
Wrong answer. I tried not to cringe, keeping myself empty of all emotion. “I don’t care, Haley! You know you have to ask permission before you have any friends over, and especially if you want to have eight!”
“Aunt Melody, will you please listen, Haley had nothing to do with this! She even tried to stop me! This is my fault!”
“That’s enough, Abigail,” said Aunt Carmen, stepping forward to put a hand on her daughter. She shook it off.
“I was the one on the phone, right guys?” she said, turning to her friends. “And you all saw how Haley sat in the corner like a little mouse?” Unconsciously, her eyes darted to Will, but she quickly regained composure. “We’re not all lying!”
The time it took for my mother to reply was only about a second, but the fact that she paused at all made it feel like an hour. “I don’t care. Haley, I was going to lift your groundage for getting along with Abigail, but now that I see where that has gotten you, you’re grounded for three weeks! Don’t argue, it’s final!” she turned and stalked up the stairs. Suddenly she turned around again. “And how many times do I have to tell you not to leave Graham alone! Make that four weeks!”
My tough attitude melted. I felt empty. Frank caught my eye. “Why do you make your mother worry so much, Haley? What are you going to do when you turn fifteen? Sixteen? Knock her down and kick her?” My jaw dropped, he glared at me as he stalked up the stairs after her and Aunt Carmen tugged on Abigail’s arm.
“We have to go, Abigail. The reason we came back is so that we could get Melody’s cell phone, but I guess we aren’t going back.” Abigail kept her head down as she ducked out the door after her mom. The kids filed out too, Will stopping to brush my arm and smile at me comfortingly. I raced up to my room, sinking against the wall. I was completely and totally alone.
My summer, dead and gone. It was already July, and I wouldn’t be free until the middle of August. That darned Abigail. So that was the only reason she had wanted to be friends. I started tossing my things back into the box, and if Jose could have seen how I was handling the precious artefacts, he would have had a fit. I missed him. Upon booting up my laptop, I saw that I had gotten no new emails from him concerning the purse. When I was ten, I came into the house one afternoon laden with a jackpot of watches, single earrings, dirty slippers, and broken picture frames, when Jose had been having a meeting at the kitchen table with Frank. He had stopped everything to ask if he could look at the things I had found. I remember thinking that it was a strange rarity that an adult had taken interest in my “junk”, as my mother and Frank had called my collection. None of their snide words had ever deterred me. I always knew just where the good stuff would be. Jose introduced me to the word artefact, telling me that one day these would be worth millions. Imagine this statement to the mind of a ten-year-old. I have held on to almost every single thing I have ever found, even the annoying coins that kept turning up. It seemed that nobody really knew how rich in history those spots are. Oh well, too bad for them.
What was I going to do for four weeks? Grounded meant house arrest. Looking for comfort, I picked up the last thing that needed to be put away in the box. It was a diamond earring with no diamond. Even though it was incredibly dirty, I imagined that some British maiden had once owned this, given to her by one of her many suitors as a blatant attempt to earn her affection. I’m sure she turned the gentleman down, much preferring her rugged traveller who gave her nothing but love. This maiden didn’t want presents as shows of adoration. The gentleman was probably really offended, and stole the earrings back one stormy night, dropping them in the rain as he tried to get away before the rugged traveller got to him. He tried desperately to find them again, but the mud had already enveloped them and dragged them under. Whenever he saw that rugged traveller, they exchanged a look, because the traveller never did reveal who had taken the earrings, since he was too kind of a man and decided that the gentleman didn’t have to have his life ruined because he was covetous and vain.
I didn’t realize I had fallen asleep until I woke with a start on the carpet of my room, the earring, bent and diamond-less thrown haphazardly beside me. At this point I also realized that the rugged traveller had lime-green eyes that could dance with a suppressed grin or frown with disapproval, and that the maiden had bright red hair.
So there was more than one reason that Abigail wanted to have that party. I could only guess that Preston was the gentleman, if only for symbolism’s sake.