Family Ties

By Debi V. Smith

General fiction

Paperback, eBook

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452
5 mins

Chapter 1

The roar of a moving van pulling into the house across the street averts my attention from the cherry popsicle in my hand. A sky blue Cadillac convertible, top down, with a family of three seated on white leather interior pulls over to the curb in front of the house.
The tall man’s biceps peek through the end of his t-shirt sleeves as he climbs out of the car. His brown hair reflects the midday sun.
The woman in the passenger seat gets out, taking off her wide-brimmed straw hat. Her long, red hair tumbles over an old t-shirt and khaki shorts that fit close to her body. Her smile is full of comfort.
A girl in a bright blue shirt, black shorts, and dark red hair plaited in a French braid scrambles out of the back seat.
As hot as it is today, I know it’s cooler here than in-land. A perk of living in the coastal city of Encinitas, Cali-fornia.
Maybe I should take the girl a cherry popsicle to wel-come her to the neighborhood.
But the rules are clear:
1. Do not leave without permission
2. No one is allowed inside without permission.
3. Chores first. Homework second.
4. Do not talk about the family.
5. Do not make friends.
6. Do not argue.
The punishment is stiff for rule breaking and I want to stay out of trouble.
I toss my popsicle stick and return to the lawn mower out front, yanking on the starter until it fires up with a loud rumble. By the time I make my way across the yard and back once, the girl is standing in my driveway. I kill the motor.
Her sapphire eyes gleam. “Hi. I’m Arissa.”
“Sara,” I return hesitantly.
“How old are you?” she asks.
“Fourteen.”
“I’ll be fourteen in October!”
“Arissa!” the woman shouts from their doorway.
Arissa flashes a beaming smile at me. “Come on!” She takes off for her house but I remain rooted in place.
Do not leave without permission. Chores first. Do not make friends.
She stops and turns, gesturing for me to follow.
A girl I just met is inviting me to get to know her. The part of me that longs for a friend, something my parents never let me have, pushes the rules aside. I run after her.
“Mom! Can I show Sara our house?” Arissa calls out as we reach her yard.
“As soon as the movers are done, sweetie. I need you to check the furniture placement in your room before we unpack anything in there.”
“Okay!” She runs into the house.
Arissa’s mother walks towards me and I shift back and forth on my feet. “Sara, is it?” she asks.
“Yes, ma’am,” I answer, my fingers worrying at the frayed hem of my denim shorts.
“I’m Rose Jericho,” she says, holding her hand out and smiling with light blue eyes like crystal.
“Nice to meet you Mrs. Jericho. Welcome to the neigh-borhood,” I say, taking her hand.
“You can call me Rose. Which house is yours?”
I point to my house across the street. A plain stucco house with minimal landscaping.
“Pardon me, Sara.” Rose follows the movers inside while giving more directions.
I venture up to the door, watching as Rose points and the men move. She knows how to take command and still be polite. Arissa’s dad hunches over a taped box with a box cutter in hand.
Rose notices me watching and in between directions, invites me in. “Andrew,” she calls.
He stops and looks up at Rose as if he expects a new direction. “Yes, dear.”
“This is Arissa’s new friend, Sara. She lives across the street.”
He straightens himself and steps over to shake my hand. “Nice to meet you, Sara.” His soft smile plays across his lips and into the same deep blue eyes as Aris-sa’s.
“Nice to meet you too, sir.”
He laughs deep and hearty. “‘Sir’ is for men in the mili-tary and I’ve never been a military man. Call me Andrew.”
“Do you need help unpacking?” I ask.
“Don’t be silly,” Rose answers, then addresses Arissa as she bounds down the stairs. “Arissa, why don’t you take Sara up to your room or out to the backyard.”
Arissa grabs my hand and runs up the stairs with me in tow. Boxes are piled up on each other in her room and a black iron daybed stands out against the red walls with a trundle stowed away underneath. A black desk sits beside the bed with a matching dresser next to the closet.
Rose brings ice water while Arissa tells me about mov-ing from Mira Mesa so her dad can start an electrical engi-neering business focused on natural power sources. She turns on a portable radio, tuning in a station as she finishes talking. She cranks up the volume and jumps around the room to an upbeat song I don’t know, grabbing my hands and leading me around with her.
“Arissa!” Andrew yells from the doorway.
I drop onto the bed and stare at the ground with my hands in my lap.
She turns the volume down. “Sorry, Dad.”
“Do I need to move any of your furniture?” he asks.
The interaction is like a new pair of comfortable shoes, unfamiliar and inviting at the same time. It is warm, ten-der, and intimate. Everything I lack.
“No. I like it the way it is.”
His mouth spreads into a bright smile. “You two have fun, then.”
Arissa digs through a box and finds some issues of Seventeen. I join her on the floor with the magazines spread between us. I have no idea who the people in the magazines are and tell her so. She points out her favorites, explaining who they are, but I’m lost without a point of reference.
“Who lived here before?” Arissa asks, flipping a page.
“An old couple. All their kids moved away, so they moved closer to them.”
“Are there any other kids our age in the neighbor-hood?”
“Just my sister, Victoria. She’s ten.”
“I’ve always wanted a sister!”
“You can have mine,” I say.
“Don’t you like your sister?”
“Most of the time, no.”
“Why?” she asks, quirking an eyebrow at me.
“Long story.” Discomfort seeps in and I can’t stay on the floor. I get up with my empty glass in hand and head down to the kitchen with Arissa following. I trip over something in the maze of boxes, unpacked items, and used packing materials. The glass falls from my hand, shattering on the floor around the ice it once held.
I fall to my knees, brushing the glass and ice into a pile with my hands. How careless of me to break one of their glasses.
Rose, Andrew, and Arissa rush to my side. Rose sets a gentle arm on my shoulders. “Are you okay?”
“I’m sorry.” I continue sweeping the glass fragments as hot tears well in my eyes.
Andrew crouches in front of me at eye level, taking hold of my wrists and stopping me. “Sara. Are you okay?” he asks.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to,” I sob.
“Come on, sweetie,” Rose coaxes. “Let me make sure you’re not hurt.”
“I have to clean this up.”
“Let Rose check to make sure you’re okay,” Andrew says softly.
”I have to clean this up,” I repeat, twisting my wrists and turning my palms upwards in an attempt to free my hands from Andrew’s.
My new friend and her parents gasp.
Blood pools around a glass shard stuck in my left palm. I try to slip free again to resume my task, oblivious to the injury and the pain. Andrew and Rose each hook an arm into my armpit, lifting me off the ground.
“No! I have to clean up my mess!” I strain against them.
All I see is a blur through my tears as Andrew turns my face to his. “We are taking you to the bathroom. Rose will clean your hand and check for other cuts or bruises. I will take care of the mess. It will be okay. It was only a glass. We want to make sure you’re okay,” he says in the same soft tone he used earlier.
I relax in their arms.
“Okay?” he asks.
“Okay,” I mutter.
Andrew and Rose let go and I walk with Rose and Aris-sa to the bathroom. I sit on the counter while Rose turns on the faucet. Andrew brings their first-aid kit and smiles at me before leaving.
“This might hurt,” Rose warns, sterilizing the tweezers with rubbing alcohol. She places my hand under the water, rinsing the blood away without a flinch from me. I don’t feel anything. She removes the shard with the tweezers and tapes gauze over the cut. “Put pressure on it to stop the bleeding.” She examines my face, arms, and legs next.
Arissa stands in the doorway watching. “Are you okay, Sara?”
I burst into tears. Rose draws me close, rocking side to side. She releases her embrace as I calm down. Arissa moves next to her, holding a box of tissues. I pull one out.
A knot forms in my stomach and I hang my head. “I’m sorry for the trouble I caused. I understand if you don’t want me to come back.”
“Don’t be silly,” Rose says, pushing my hair out of my face. “You can come over any time.”
“Really?” I ask in amazement, making eye contact.
She smiles. “Yes, really.”
Warmth rushes through me. The knot loosens and sets some butterflies free.
“Mom,” Arissa says, breaking the silence, “can Sara stay for dinner?”
“What time is it?” I ask, panicked, gripping the edge of the counter so hard my knuckles turn white.
Rose checks her watch. “Five fifteen.”
“I have to go,” I say, jumping off the counter and rush-ing to the front door.
“Sara!” Arissa calls.
I stop and look back.
“Will you come over again?” she asks.
“Yes,” I answer, then run out the door for home.
The house is dark and quiet around me. All the bed-room doors are closed and the heavy curtains are drawn throughout the rest of the house. My shoulders drop and the rest of my body relaxes.
Safe.
“Where have you been?” Father bellows.



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