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“Saturday morning and I’m awake at eight,” Lizzie sighed as she sat up, stretched her arms, and pushed her curly blonde hair from her face, greeted by sounds of her Eva pondering about in the next room and her mom cooking Eva’s eggs downstairs. Before conquering the dangerous route to her bedroom door, Lizzie surveyed the thick, oak bunk beds and wardrobe that had once been her mom’s. The flowery curtains, even the colorful cat pictures on the wall were the same as they had been in earlier years when Lizzie had shared the room with her older sister Sam, who now ran a local restaurant and lived in an apartment downtown. The only new additions were Lizzie’s college textbooks, guitar tabs, and flowy-San Diego clothing which had taken over most of the floor like a bad case of kudzu. Returning to live with her parents in order to finish her degree hadn’t been a fun adjustment for Lizzie, especially after living on her own and traveling across country, but having her own room was certainly an improvement. Lizzie’s feet finally hit the wooden floor and she was able to propel herself down the wood-paneled hall past the small Hawaiian-themed bathroom and towards Eva’s room.
Lizzie sneaked her head around the corner of her sister’s doorframe so as not to disturb her from her quiet play with the small brown bear that Sam and Lizzie had given Eva when she was in the hospital. Through the white lace curtains, the morning sun dappled Eva’s peaceful, happy face and her stick-straight mahogany hair. Although Eva was twenty years-old, wearing light blue and purple striped pajamas, she still resembled the younger girl that Lizzie remembered before Eva had contracted encephalitis from a sick mosquito at age ten. The disease had forced her to relearn everything and especially affected her ability to speak, making each word breathy and nearly a whisper.
Lizzie finally disturbed Eva from her peace on the blue shag rug and asked excitedly, “Ready to get dressed?”
Eva raised a bent arm to her eyes to shade the incoming sun, looked up from in front of her white-painted wooden bed, nodded her head, and wheezed out a ‘yes.’ Upon moving home, Lizzie had made it her duty to help Eva get ready every morning instead of letting mom, Mrs. McGee, do it all herself.
“Bet I can get my pants on before you can!” Lizzie declared to Eva, starting their ongoing game. Before she got sick, Eva had always been competitive, whether it was just in simple races to the car or in her city-team soccer games, and it hadn’t changed since. She awkwardly jumped up, saying “No…you… can’t” in her breathy voice. As Eva hurried to her closet, Lizzie strolled idly back to her own room, giving Eva the time she needed to keep up.
Minutes later, Lizzie called, “Have you got your pants on yet, because I’m about to get my socks!” Eva ran down the hall sporting dark blue jeans, showing Lizzie her accomplishment, then returned for the next article of clothing.
Hearing Eva slow down as she entered her room, Lizzie asked again, “Have you found your socks yet?” This prompt set Eva back to the current task. Lizzie had quickly realized it was easy for Eva to forget what she was supposed to be doing shortly after she had been told. Eventually, Eva appeared in Lizzie’s door, the socks on her feet only slightly askew. Though Eva’s sickness had altered her daily functions, it had not changed her childish grin or her zeal at completing something correctly.
Lizzie smiled at her sibling’s happy disposition, remembering a time when she had seen that same smile on a much younger girl’s face, one dirty with the outside amusement that had encompassed much of Eva’s early life. There had been a time when Eva would be happy for hours on the swing in the backyard, requiring only a push every now and then. But Lizzie also remembered a time when that face, with its smooth features didn’t smile for awhile, a time when trips to the hospital were common and everyone waited for Eva simply to blink her eyes or twitch one of her fingers. Fortunately, those days were long past, and the only thing Lizzie really needed to worry about now was making sure Eva put on her bra before trying to put on her shirt.
Once they were both dressed, Lizzie said, “Alright Eva, I think I’m ready for breakfast. What about you?”
“Yes Lizzie,” Eva nodded, getting excited and heading for the stairs.
“I see you two sleepy-heads finally got up,” Mrs. McGee joked with Lizzie as she and Eva entered their airy kitchen through the hall. Mrs. McGee was well aware that waking up before 10 was not one of Lizzie’s favorite things to do on a weekend morning and received a joking roll of the eyes from Lizzie as conformation.
Mrs. McGee’s frame may have been short and slim, and there might have been wrinkles in the corners of her eyes and smile, but this had yet to make her seem fragile. She was the kind of woman who, even at her age of 54, was considered to “still be kickin’ it.” Her short hair, the style common to most women her age, fitted her face and was a mixture of both Lizzie and Eva’s colors with only a small hint of gray, and her eyes never ceased to give you a motherly smile.
Lizzie headed from the doorway to the far wall of the room where the stove was located between the yellow wall and the white cabinets, picking up a plate on the way to prepare to dish out her own eggs, bacon, and toast. Eva, however, followed a different agenda and sat down at a small table in the corner nook on the left that everyone was so fond of because its window had a great view of their backyard, especially at this crisp time of year when the fiery leaves danced their way onto the ground. As Eva stared out the window, slightly rocking as she watched the wind push the lonely swing under the large tree that was just past the back door of the house, Mrs. McGee busied herself with fixing Eva’s breakfast plate. Caring for others was something that she had always done, even if it meant that Eva didn’t do much for herself when Mrs. McGee was around.
“I realized today that Eva’s been sick for half of her life,” Lizzie said as she waited for her own turn to get breakfast, bringing to life a topic that had been twirling about in her head,
Mrs. McGee nodded, “You know, I hadn’t thought of that, but you’re right. I suppose time passes quickly even more so when you don’t realize it. It seems like just yesterday she would stay home with me all day while you and Sam went to school…” Her voice lost itself in memories for a moment before she shifted her shoulders and snapped back into the present, “But what happened, happened.”
“Yeah,” Lizzie responded, bringing her voice down a little bit, “but don’t you think it’s time that Eva started getting more responsibilities?” Mrs. McGee’s neck stiffened instinctively and the hand that was dishing eggs onto Eva’s plate slowed in mid-air, making Lizzie regret what she had said.
Mrs. McGee took a deep breath, finished fixing Eva’s breakfast, and slowly turned around to meet Lizzie’s gaze. Lizzie was expecting a harsh stare to meet her eyes, one she had come accustomed to in her rebellious teenage years but had forgotten recently; however, Lizzie instead became aware of the sad and unsure weight that suddenly appeared in her mother’s gaze. “What do you suggest we have her do, really? Did traveling to the West Coast and back on that year that you just had to take off college give you all the answers? This isn’t like San Diego, you know,” Mrs. McGee said, almost despairingly, as she glanced at Eva who sat across the room investigating the creases in the tablecloth, oblivious to what was being said about her. “Life isn’t all go-with-the-flow and dance around barefoot as you might think.”
Lizzie ignored her mom’s snide remark and tried to convey the concept they had talked about in her Communications class that past Thursday, “Maybe it’s not about expecting her to do things for herself, but about treating her like we used to. She’s still Eva, no matter what.”
As Mrs. McGee set the plate of food in front of Eva and handed her a fork, Eva, having heard her name, perked up and nodded her head. Lizzie smiled at her sister’s energy, wishing her mom could get past the fear of making Eva worse and stop babying her. But how does someone tell a mother to stop being so motherly?
Mrs. McGee made sure Eva was preoccupied with her scrambled eggs and toast before returning to the stove where Lizzie was getting her food ready and quietly waiting for a reply. “Look, I’m doing what I can with her,” Mrs. McGee finally replied in a relatively calm tone “She’s accountable for what I think she can handle. And she’s happy, what else can you ask for, honestly?”
As she turned to go to the table, Lizzie looked her mom in the eye, shrugged, and casually said, “I really don’t know,” realizing in that moment that nothing else she said would do anything except start a fight. The situation would have to be approached later.
Mrs. McGee helped Eva get her food properly into her mouth while Lizzie chatted about upcoming activities at the university and idly pushed her eggs around the white plate with small red hearts on the edge that mimicked the color of the tablecloth. A piece of grape jelly plopped onto Eva’s lap, making her laugh as Mrs. McGee looked at Lizzie and asked, “Can you go to the store for me? I need eggs, sour cream, and a pack of the tortilla chips that we always get, you know the kind.”
“Yeah, that’s no problem,” Lizzie said as the jelly became a purple scar on Eva’s plain white T-shirt. “What are you making anyway?”
“Oh, I forgot to tell you? We’re nearly out of eggs and I’m throwing together a taco salad because Mr. and Mrs. Ashmore are coming over. They’re new neighbors, and I thought it’d be nice to meet them. Will you be around for dinner?” Mrs. McGee responded.
Lizzie picked up her and Eva’s plates in order to rinse them before sticking them in the dishwasher beside the sink. “No,” she replied, “A group of us from my math class are getting together to study at the Java Jolt in town around dinner time, but I’ll be home shortly after.” Even though she was living in her parent’s house again, Lizzie refused to go by the same rules she had as a teenager.
“Alright, you know that’s fine. I’ll make sure to save you some leftovers,” Mrs. McGee told Lizzie.
“Thanks Mom. I’ll be back in a minute,” Lizzie said, grabbing her hemp purse from the hook by the back door and making sure she had keys and money. Before walking out, she paused and asked, “Hey Eva, you want to ride with me?”
Eva nodded excitedly and deliberately said, “Of course… Lizzie,” as she stood and ambled to the door where Lizzie was waiting.
Lizzie and Eva walked around the back of the house to where Lizzie’s light blue Volkswagen was parked on the far side of their paved driveway, next to her mom’s small silver Toyota and the space where her dad’s red truck had been earlier that morning before he left to the printing office. Humming part of a Joni Mitchell tune, Lizzie twirled around in the wispy breeze, threw up her arms, and sighed contently, “I love this weather! Don’t you, Eva?”
“Oh yes Lizzie,” Eva said, responding as she normally did in few words and only when asked a question first.
After watching to make sure Eva could open the car door herself, Lizzie hopped in and started the engine, popping her favorite mixed tape into the stereo before rolling out of the driveway and onto their house-laden street.
The drive out the gates of their housing district was always an exciting one for Lizzie, simply because she loved leaving the evenly-spaced, similar-looking houses behind her. She loved the freedom of choosing to turn right onto the long, straight, and relatively deserted road that ran for 10 miles into a medium sized town where her university was instead of taking the expected left that led to the center of their tiny, down-home town where every store clerk knew your name, where old men sat on rocking chairs in front of the drug store, and business owners strung lights during the holiday seasons. Mrs. McGee was especially fond of shopping in these comfortable family-owned businesses, but Lizzie liked the feel of something different and usually preferred the small coffee shops where local musicians tried out their skills on Friday nights, the impersonal stores where your business wasn’t everybody else’s too, and the grid-like streets that offered room for expansion.
Lizzie hummed along to The Shins, and Eva nodded her head as they drove. Even though it didn’t take long to get into town, Lizzie always tried to make the best of the drive, especially when Eva was riding with her. “So how many men are you going to pick up while we’re at the store?” Lizzie jokingly asked Eva.
Eva had always hated it when Lizzie made jokes about boys, and vehemently shook her head side-to-side to show that now, but both girls knew that it was really all in fun.
“Oh come on Eva, you know you’ve always been a player. You’ve got those boys hanging all over you. In fact, I don’t know how Mom keeps them out of the house,” Lizzie continued, seeing if Eva would get mad enough to really respond—something she hadn’t done since she had gotten sick, but Eva simply shook her head again.
Giving up for a minute, Lizzie started to sing along with the music until she could tell that Eva was getting excited about something.
Lizzie looked over as Eva took a deep breath and exclaimed, “Lizzie, You egg-hole! Leave… me… alone!”
Never before had Eva said so much or seemed so sure of it. Instinctively, Lizzie’s foot started to hit the brake, but her second thoughts took over so she calmly asked instead, “What’d you say?”
Eva slowly repeated herself, “Lizzie, you’re an… egg-hole!”
Lizzie laughed at Eva’s use of ‘egg-hole,’ a word common in their childhood when Mrs. McGee had strictly enforced her ‘no cursing’ rule. Then Lizzie replied with a smile, “Yeah, I guess you’re right.”
Both girls laughed and carried on like they normally would as Lizzie’s car inched closer towards town. Even though Lizzie knew that the winds were finally changing in her sister’s favor, she did her best not to make a big deal about it. When it came down to it, she was still Eva, after all.