Lightning. The lightning. That’s the only thing that mattered. The loud, clashing storms headed toward her. The lightning was about to strike her; screaming for help didn’t matter now. No one would care. No one would rescue her. She would die, alone.
“…Wake upppp!!” my younger step-sister Rose whined. “Wake upppp!” She continued shaking the bed like it was her package she needed to open.
“Geezy geez, get off first!” I said, irritated but relieved. “I’ll get changed! Jesus!”
Rose beamed. “Mommy! I did what you told me to do!”
I groaned, disgusted. Rose was her mother’s pet. Mother could be proud of Rose for spilling juice on the carpet, but she couldn’t be proud of me for doing the laundry for a year.
5…4…3… I knew what would come next.
“Emma, dear. It’s your turn to do the laundry,” her mother said, the back of her shoulders facing me.
I made a face. “Mother, I don’t want to do it! I did it five days ago!”
Rose stuck her tongue out. “It’s your turn, it’s your turn!” she sang.
“It’s your turnnnn!”
“I don’t care!!!!!!”
“Okayy! I’ll do it!”
“Then do it!”
“Enough!” her mother yelled. “After school, you do the laundry. The decision is final. Go to school.” She sighed carelessly as she went down the stairs with Rose. I exhaled. Five minutes of sleep wouldn’t hurt anyone. Plus, I could take a break from all the arguments.
“You are already late for school, and it’s only the first day!” Rose screeched. She danced happily around Emma’s room.
“Ring a ring a Rosie! A pocket full of posies!”
I covered her ear with a pillow.
“Ashes! Ashes! We all fall down!”
I completely lost it. “Argh! Rose! Get out of my room!”
Her mother came upstairs all of a sudden. She looked at Rose, then glanced at me in shock. “You are supposed to be in school!” she screamed. “Laundry, for a year!”
Rose smirked behind her back.
“Whatever!” I said, flaming. “I’m going to school!”
Her mother left without an answer. I just wearily changed her clothes in despair. Why am I stuck with this lousy family? I thought.
“Class, I will be right back,” Mrs. Lowe announced. “Emma, you may begin while I am back.”
I nodded. What will I say for the ten minutes she will be gone?
“I’m Emmalyn Treyor Andreas, or Emma, for short,” I started. “I am twelve years old. I’m living with my sister, Rose Andreas, and my step-mother. I have two more sisters and two more brothers, but they live all the way in Canada with my step-father. Any questions?”
A girl with short blonde hair named Ella raised her hand. “Why do you have a step-mother?” she asked.
Don’t get stressed out, don’t get stressed out, I thought. I hated when those questions were asked.
“I live with my step-mother because my mother died in a car crash in 2002. My dad is a soldier in the Navy, and we barely see him. Probably twice a month, or less. But on Christmas and other holidays, he comes and stays for a few weeks, then he is gone.”
Several kids murmured in sympathy.
“I have a question,” a boy called out cheerfully.
I was about to say something, but as I looked at him, I was out of words. He had way brown hair, like mine. His dark eyes were like my mother’s. It was a big coincidence.
“Yea?” I say, nodding in his direction. He cleared his throat playfully.
“What are your siblings’ names?” he asked. “I mean, I don’t want to be personal or anything, but… yeah, just wanna know their names.”
His voice… it reminded me of my older brother, Bryan.
I snapped back to reality. “Oh, yes. Um, my siblings? Yeah. The oldest is Amalie, and, the second oldest is… I think Bryan. Yeah, it is. Then it’s Kaylea… and then it’s Donavan.”
He was quiet for a moment as if he was thinking. “Wow,” he said softly.
I didn’t know what was so surprising, but I nodded anyway. “Uh-huh.”
Then it hit me. Well, it sort of did. It was just a theory, not an answer. But all I need is his name, and I pretty much already figured out the answer.
Five more kids raised their hands, and I tried putting my attention toward them.
“If you could change your name to anything you want, what would it be?”
“Um, Melissa. Or… Emma.”
“What is your favorite ice cream store?”
“If you could reincarnate to any animal, what would it be?”
“Um, a panda? Or a dolphin… Or possibly a skunk. Just kidding!”
It went on and on until the teacher came back. It’s only been six minutes, I thought. It felt like twenty.
“You may sit down next to Bryce,” the teacher said. Then, she added, “I hope you are feeling very welcome at our school.”
“Bryan,” he corrected. The teacher waved him away.
“Bryan, huh?” I whisper. “You got a lot of explaining to do.”
Lunch. Lunch was my goal. I will make him confess everything at lunch.
“Okay, fine!” he exclaimed. “Just don’t pin me to the tree. The janitor tried doing that to me after I threw away a plastic bottle in the trash.”
I grinned at him. “Okay. But can you please tell me why you look like me? And your name is Bryan, which explains a quarter of the things here.”
He shrugs, but I caught the shine in his eye. “First of all, how old is this Bryan brother of yours?” he asked me.
I reply, “Very impolite. But I’ll say, thirteen.”
“Then I’ll also be thirteen.”
“Are you, though?”
He laughed. “Yea,” he admitted.
“Do you have any siblings?”
He held up his hands. “Whoa, whoa, there. You never said this was an interview.”
“I’ll say it now. It’s an interview.”
“Fair enough. Yes, I have five siblings.”
“Like I do,” I say in amazement.
“Sure. Hey, look, I don’t want to let you down or anything, but I’m gonna hang out there with my buddies. You ask me those questions later,” he said, winking. Well, at least I think that’s a wink.
“Okay,” I reply, disappointed but excited to discover more new things.
“See ya.” He saluted me and walked away.
I smiled as he left. Voice, I thought. His voice reminds me of my past.
“Step-mom, I’m home,” I say unenthusiastically. “I’m going to go upstairs to do my homework.”
I heard a bird gawk in the distance.
“Mother! I will do my laundry!” I yell in panic. Not even a little whisper vibrated in the air.
“Please, Mother! This isn’t funny!” I put my backpack down, took my shoes off, and raced upstairs in confusion and desperation.
I didn’t see anything. Not even a small thing, like maybe a broken shard from the lamp or scissors on the floor or anything. I heard nothing except the deep breaths I inhaled, and the small blinks as I looked around the empty room.
I raced over to my mother’s room. Nothing. I saw a reflection of me in the closet mirror. My red face was now sweaty, and my neck was blotchy. I was about to cry. But I knew I couldn’t. My hopes faded away. Not yet.
What I saw next was my phone. I was about to text her until I found the latest message that I hadn’t checked yet.
EMMA, the message said in big, white letters.
EMMA. WHATEVER U DO, DO NOT PANIC. I WILL NOT COME HOME, BUT IT IS FOR YOUR OWN GOOD. ROSIE IS WITH ME, PLEASE DO NOT WORRY. I LOVE YOU AND I MISS YOU VERY MUCH.
YOUR VERY OWN—
The message stopped there. Own what? Your very own…
Then it hit me. Mother. She was about to say mother. And she never had the chance to write it for me. She was about to hit send and write mother as its very own message. I tear up at that, my heart still pounding.
I swear, I could hear her say the message to me. Then I check what she wrote above, which was written three hours before this message. It said,
DO YOUR LAUNDRY WHEN YOU COME BACK!
I almost choked.
I’ll do my laundry, I thought. I’ll do it just for you.
And I swear again, I heard the angels in my head, singing and blowing the trumpet in determination.