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Something about cardboard always made Liliana think of change. When her mom bought new dishes or furniture, it always arrived in a plain, brown cardboard box. The medicine and equipment doctors had mailed to her father was always wrapped in the thick, rough paper. Without descriptions or labels, it was impossible to tell whether inside awaited a fun surprise or something new to adjust to. Liliana would have to wait and see.
The cardboard that encircled her in every room definitely represented a change. But today there wasn’t any possibility of a fun surprise. Sixteen-year-old Liliana and her mom and sister were packing up all their belongings in preparation for the Newman and Sons moving van that would be arriving at eight o’clock sharp the next morning. From there, the family would drive off to their new home 550 miles away in Colton, Connecticut.
Liliana Owens wiped the perspiration off her forehead with the sleeve of her Lynch High School Cheerleading tee shirt. After three weeks of organizing, clearing, piling, and packing, all that remained in her room was a bed frame and a bookshelf. Liliana flaccidly twisted her auburn hair into a bun and slumped down in front of the shelf to begin clearing out the last bit of personality that lingered in her bedroom.
“I can’t even remember the last time I cleaned this,” she mused as flecks of dust sprayed toward her face when she picked up a thin paperback. “Junie B. Jones? That has to be from before third grade.”
About ten other “beginner” books were tossed into a giveaway pile, while Liliana found herself getting distracted by every other novel she encountered. Each one brought back such distinct memories. She could remember exactly how old she had been when she had read them, whether it was for school or for pleasure, whether her friends had read it too, and whether or not she had actually understood the plot.
By the time her 13-year-old sister, Abby, walked into the room, Liliana was leaning against the bare wall, enthralled in “Meet the Clique,” a novel about catty pre-teens she just “had to have” back in the sixth grade.
“What are you doing?” Abby queried curiously, bending down to see the title of the book her big sister was reading so ardently.
Liliana swiftly pressed the cover to her thighs, embarrassed to be caught by her little sister. “Nothing,” she muttered.
Abby didn’t seem to be in the mood to interrogate her. She slid down the wall next to Liliana and clasped her hands in her lap. Abby’s nails were almost always painted with the sparkly nail polish that Liliana could remember adoring herself when she was in eighth grade, but for once, they were bare and dull.
“Are you sad?” Abby asked. She kept still and focused her eyes on the wood floors below. Her sweet voice sounded high and strained as though she were trying not to cry.
“Yes, I am,” Liliana admitted. She hoped that she wouldn’t upset her little sister who seemed fragile enough as it was.
The two sisters were quiet for a few minutes. The gray clouds outside darkened the empty room, making it look even lonelier. Abby began biting her lips so much that they began turning bright red.
“Abby, stop it,” Liliana warned. “You’re going to bleed.” She knew how much Abby hated when she told her what to do, but her little sister obeyed.
“Why does this all have to happen at once?” Abby blurted after the girls had been sitting silently once again. “Daddy dying was bad enough. What the heck was Mom thinking when she decided we should move away from our friends only two months later?” Abby started blubbering and dipped onto Liliana’s shoulder.
Since their mother had announced the move four weeks ago, Liliana and Abby had discussed the exact same question about ten times a day. There was never any annoyance that someone brought it up again, but there were never any answers.
After their father, Ted, had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the fall of last year, their old life seemed as distant as the moon.
Liliana ignored her mother when she had told her that pancreatic cancer was a fast killer, that Daddy might not make it. Instead she had decided that her father would get lucky. Kind people don’t die of horrible illnesses. Life doesn’t work like that. That’s what she had thought anyway.
Unfortunately, as the months went on, it was clear to Liliana and Abby that their mother was right and that their father, despite being a strong man, couldn’t battle the disease that was destroying him. He passed away a month before their summer vacation.
The Owens family was an emotional wreck after Ted’s passing. Liliana hadn’t expected her dad to live forever, but it was heartbreaking to lose him while she was so young. Abby handled it just as badly, feeling guilty about everything she hadn’t done to help her father. Patricia Owens grieved for her husband, but had to immediately jump into the role as leader of the family. She needed a job, and fast.
Patricia’s best friend, Sandra, worked as an administrative assistant Dr. Vosovik, a well-known doctor in suburban Connecticut, and offered to help her with her job search. Dr. Vosovik was looking for another assistant and while Patricia had never worked in a medical office before, she couldn’t pass by a job that boasted such exceptional pay.
The moment she was hired, Patricia told her young daughters that the whole family would be moving to Colton before the summer was over.
Liliana and Abby couldn’t believe the news. They had lived in the exact same house their entire lives, had the same friends, and known their town like a map, and now, amidst the emotional trauma, they were being forced to pack up their belongings and head off to Connecticut.
“Abby, if Mom didn’t have a job, we’d be living on the streets. Think of how she feels. Her husband just died. She has to raise us by herself with only the money that she earns,” Liliana said bluntly. She could feel her eyes starting to tear.
“Why can’t she get a job here? It’s not that hard!” Abby demanded defensively, yanking her head off Liliana’s shoulders.
“Yes, it is. Mom needs a job that will pay enough money to support our entire family. Do you think she can get that staying here, working full time at Country Kitchen?”
Abby didn’t respond. She stared blankly out the window, hiccupping as her weeping steadied. Liliana hooked her arms around her sister tightly and followed her gaze towards the gray sky. Liliana huffed and whispered,
“I’m glad I’m not going through this alone.”