“Mimi, I have your birthday gift,” Aunt June called as she reached into her bulky, leather purse.
I skipped down my new mansion’s grand foyer to meet her, the new dress shoes my mother forced me to wear clacking with every step. The new dress restricted my movements and my breathing as I tried to go faster. That’s why I think my mother bought it for me and made me wear it—so I couldn’t escape the mansion she recently inherited from her parents. Like the Chinese art of footbinding I saw at the cultural museum field trip my old school took last month.
Behind me with some of her party guests, my mother traipsed down the steps, a soon-to-be-empty wine glass in her hand.
“Junebug,” she cooed at her younger sister, bitterness biting back on her tongue. “Glad you could make it.”
No she’s not. I just heard her cursing out every bad word under the sun when she got Aunt June’s infamous, last-minute, ‘I’m coming’ text. I think it’s because Aunt June calls her a ‘trophy wife that no one wants to win’. The only reason Mother got the mansion from her parents over Aunt June is because she ‘needed it more’.
“If it isn’t the Lady of the Hour,” Aunt June said, looking at Mother. Mother blushed, then scowled at Aunt June turned to me. “The Lady of the Hour: Mimi Fulagon.” She pulled out a small, red satin box. “Happy twelfth birthday, Mimi.”
“It’s my birthday too, Junebug.” Mother gave one her famous forced, thin-lipped smiles.
“Yes, and I’m certain you purposefully planned that C-section that just because you couldn’t stand to have the spotlight on anyone else,” Aunt June said through gritted teeth.
Anger flashed through Aunt June’s eyes. It could see it burning in Mother’s eyes as well. This wasn’t good. Trying to distract them, I said, “Oh, look at this gift…” As I opened it, I found more confusion than a good gift. “A stone?”
It was perfectly circular with a five inch diameter, but only a half an inch high. Crafted from smooth, grey rock, it held a pure white vein slightly off center. It was pretty. For a rock.
Aunt June crouched beside me. “It was my favorite childhood toy when I was your age.”
“And what age was that? The stone age?” I mumbled, shifting the rock in my hands.
“Later, why don’t you go skip it in the lake behind the mansion? I guarantee it'll be more fun than you’re expecting.” She winked.
Criminals and liars wink. This meant nothing.
“Oh my god,” my mother laughed, “You still have that thing? Junebug, look around us.” She gestured to the grand walls with a gold scheme that included literal gold. ‘Just enough to be tasteful’, my mother said.
In reality, it was about as ‘tasteful’ as chicken breasts with no seasoning.
“Mom and Dad gave us anything they wanted as kids, and you fixated at that dumb rock.”
“Look how that turned out,” Aunt June snapped, gesturing to my mother. “You’re a lazy asshole you tried to snatch a rich guy only to find out none wanted your terrible personality.”
I could feel their blood boiling from here.
“Mimi,” my mother said, trying to keep her voice steady, “Why don’t you go throw that rock in the lake now.”
“No, she should enjoy her party with her friends.”
Mother put an oh-woe-is-me hand on her cheek and tried to look sympathetic. “Unfortunately, all her friends’ moms called at the last minute to cancel. It completely shocked me, but they are unwilling to travel a few hundred miles for my poor Mimi.”
A few of my mother’s friends comforted her.
“Oh, how terrible.”
“That’s such shame.”
And Mother lapped it up.
It’s a lie of course. On top of telling me ‘other kids and their dirty little hands are banned from her mansion’, she never even called them or tried to throw me a party. If she did, she would have had to have her party somewhere outside her new, glorious mansion. And she couldn’t pass up the opportunity to brag now could she?
It’s safe to say that even at age twelve, I can see right through my mother’s crap. After all, I’ve been trained to do it since birth.
I shivered. This mansion already felt freezing.
Aunt June rolled her eyes at the fake sympathy. She’s also been trained to see through Mother’s crap. That’s what I like about her.
Though, I hated her gift. I mean a rock? I’m reaching double digits here and I don’t even have a cake.
I held the rock up to the light. What kind of childhood ‘toy’ even is this?
“Mimi, go,” Mother ordered. Her tone as cold and stiff as ice.
Another shiver travelled up my spine and I headed for the door.
Within the several acres of raw forest surrounding the mansion, there was a tiny dirt leading to a small lake. After stumbling on my fifth twisted root, I cursed, “Jesus. For a place as expensive as this one you’d think they could afford a paved path.
Tripping over a sixth, I fell face first into a soft path of dirt. Ugh. Picking myself up, I grabbed the stupid new click-clacking shoes and threw them into the bushes. To my surprise, I was greeted by a splashing sound.
Peeling the brushes back, I discovered a short-cut to the lake. My shoes had found it first, though, and were taking an early swim. Pebbles of every shape and size compromised the rocky shore of the lake. Its pure, purple-blue waters glimmered under the sunlight.
I thumbed over Aunt June’s gift, feeling it’s smooth features fit perfectly into my hand. Like it was made to be.
Made to be skipped, that is.
As I held my hand behind my head, readying the stone, I took a deep breath. I hadn’t skipped a stone in a couple of years. Mother always deemed it ‘unladylike’. Aunt June had to sneak around her with a sly smile on her face just to teach me.
I launched the stone forward, earning one skip before it sank to the bottom of the lake. That was it. I relaxed my muscles and sighed.
Part of it stumped me. Did she just go swimming for the stone every time she threw it? Like those diving toys? I never knew Aunt June was a swimmer. But in this dress, I wasn’t.
Guess that was it. I know, I’m as bummed as you are.
With that, I went back to the mansion and the fighting.
Mother stopped her arguing with Aunt June when she saw me. “Mimi, what are you doing back here so soon?”
“Mimi, where’s the skipping stone?” Aunt June asked.
I shrugged. “I threw it, like you said. I don’t know what you are expecting to happen…”
“Mimi!” My mother shrieked as she took in my dirty outfit. “Look at you. You’re filthy. Where are your shoes?”
I stared at my feet. I must have forgotten them at the lake after I threw them. “They’re back at the lake.”
“Then go get them,” she demanded.
And off I went yet again.
On the bright side, without those terrible shoes slowing me down, I didn’t trip over a single root.
“There you are,” I mumbled, picking up my soaked shoes.
Just as I was about to go back, something caught my eye. A flat skipping stone with a pure white vein…
“No way,” I said, picking up Aunt June’s skipping stone. It had landed in the middle of the lake. How did it get back here?
The lake gently lapped at the stony shore. I didn’t think the waves or any currents were that strong. Whatever. I shrugged it off and threw it back into the lake. Skipping it twice this time. At least as I was improving. Too bad it’s gone forever now.
As I exited back through the bushed, the sound of stones clattering and a girl’s giggling stopped me. I spun around. Sure enough, there was the skipping stone—on top of a neatly arranged tower of rocks that definitely wasn’t there before and definitely couldn’t have been arranged by water.
I dropped the shoes and my jaw.
I stalked closer to the tower, poking the skipping stone a few times—just to make sure it wouldn’t explode on me or anything. Safe.
After feeling it out, I skipped it again. Two skips.
I pivoted to leave, rocks clattered behind me. I jumped around. There it was. And the girl’s giggling. This time, it was louder and longer.
“Hello?” I asked. My voice echoed across the forest.
“Hello?” Another girl’s voice echoed back with more giggling.
I looked to the sky, to the forest. “God?!”
“I go by Idaise, actually. ‘God’ is a little too egotistical for my taste.”
I glanced down at the lake. A beautiful girl a couple of years older than me emerged from the water. Her long hair flowed down her shoulders like water.
I rubbed my eyes. No wait. Her hair was water, connected to the lake. And it wasn’t so much as she was emerging, rather the lake formed her. She smiled and pointed at the skipping stone again. “Are you gonna throw it?”
I skipped it. Three skips.
For a brief second, Idaise disappeared, then reappeared, tossing the stone back at me, landing at my feet. “Woah. What are you?”
She giggled. “What are you?” She asked.
“Kinda like nymphs?”
She rolled her eyes. “Are humans kinda like gorillas?”
“Well same. Naiads are a type of nymph. We’re related, but we’re not the same.” She flipped her water hair. “We’re much better, obviously.” Idiase balanced her head on her hand, intrigued. “So tell me, what’s your name, stranger?”
“Miami? That’s a weird name.”
“No weirder than Idiase.”
She giggled. “True. You like water, Miami?”
“I need to survive… so yeah.”
“Sameis. I think we’re gonna get along just fine.”
Fumbling her way through the forest after she finished fighting, Aunt June found herself at the opposite end of the lake, whispering at the water, “Hey, Osiris. Osiris.”
She chucked a rock in the water. The lake flung it back at her, crashing into a tree, splintering the wood. “Hey.”
The water laughed. “Haven’t seen you in some time, June. What brings you back to this lake?”
Another naiad popped out from the lake with a smile.
Aunt June pointed at me over on the side of the lake, laughing my head off with Idiase. “Just came to check on my niece. I gave her my old skipping stone.”
Osiris whistled. “Woah, would you look at that. She’s already bonded with a naiad.”
“Yeah, she just moved into my parents’ mansion with my sister.”
“Damn, that’s gonna suck.”
Aunt June leaned against the tree. “Yeah, there isn’t much I can do for her about it. I know better than anyone how much it sucks to be stuck in the same house with that narcissistic bitch.” She swatted by the lake’s shore. “You got me through some pretty rough times, Osiris. The mansion is far too isolating. Especially for kids. God, this place was my safe haven back then.
The two friends looked over Idiase and Mimi. “And now, it’ll be hers.”