His hands grip the steering wheel as he leans forward, squinting through the windshield. Trees peel by, only blank figures. I jump in my seat as thunderclaps, lightning almost purple strikes down. His hand pats my leg absently as he mumbles under his breath. My breath quickens and I try to warn him, but no sound comes out.
“Almost there Eve.” His glasses are crooked on his face, his graying hair splayed about he flashes his teeth at me and turns to the road too late. Two beacons stare back at us, and my body tightens waiting for the impact. The car jerks, plowing him into me. My scream slices through the silent night.
I sit up in bed, my cheeks are damp, cold and clammy beads of sweat clinging to my lower back. My room slowly comes into focus, being illuminated by a streetlight from outside. Shadows of trees outside dance around my room. Next to me red numbers glare at me telling me its only 3:25 am.
In the room next to mine Daniel’s bed groans. Little feet pitter across the hall, and I wait staring at my chipping ceiling until my door creaks open. On cue the nightlight in the hallway filters through the crack in my door making my baby brother look like a shadow in the doorway. I pat next to me, and Daniel shuts the door behind him climbing into my bed. He stuffs his snotty, tear streaked face into my chest, and continues to cry quietly. My throat is raspy as I hum the intro to “Somewhere over the Rainbow”. I continue to sing until his breaths turn deep and slow.
Colors slowly fade to a deep blue and the clock reads 5:45. I untangle myself from him, putting a body pillow in my place. His tiny hands wrap around it as he turns onto his other side. I grab my towel on my way to the bathroom along with an outfit for school.
I pat down with my towel, my skin red from the scorching water. I shake my head, trying to clear away foggy thoughts. I don’t bother with makeup today, but I still apply Chap Stick which burns the torn away skin on my lips. Behind my glasses two green orbs blink back at me through the steamy mirror, surrounded by wet, chestnut hair sticking to my cheeks. I tug on a fitted sweater and leggings, and put on fuzzy socks before I head out with everything else in my hands. Back in my room, Daniel snores quietly sprawled out on my rumpled sheets. The clock tells me it’s close to six. I throw my hair up into a messy bun, not bothering to adjust it.
After putting everything in my book bag, I lightly shake Daniel awake giving him a big smile. His little fist rubs his eyes as he sits up, and clings to me for a minute. I pick him up, and practically drag him to his room to get clothes on. He picks out a blue and black stripped shirt and neon green shorts for himself. Eventually I am able to convince him to trade the shorts for dark jeans. With him sitting on the bathroom counter we style his hair in a swoop and brush his teeth.
“Brusha brusha brusha” Daddy sings spitting out toothpaste over the mirror, mimicking the commercial from the movie Grease. I laugh, swallowing more of my own paste that is recommended. We lock eyes in the mirror, his sea gray ones on my hunter green. Really we look nothing alike, but mommy agrees we act the same. I mimic his movements, as he teaches me how to brush my teeth like a big girl. He smiles, foam spilling out of his mouth dripping into the sink.
I blink multiple times, smiling wearily at Daniel as he watches me through the mirror. Wide sea gray eyes blink back at me, and my heart jerks. I shut off the water and wrap things up quickly, ushering him into the kitchen. Mom is just leaving, stumbling back to her room blearily with two bottles sloshing in her hand. I sigh, and steer Daniel clear out of her path. Together we pack lunches, as he tells me about his dream. He says a women all in white was crying red tears and next to her daddy was sleeping. Mommy was yelling at him, at the women, and Daniel went to reach for me but I wasn’t there. His eyes fill with tears, and I change the subject to avoid a meltdown. Daniel just turned seven years old three weeks ago, but since Daddy died two years ago, today, he is still very sensitive.
We begin to walk down the crumbling sidewalk, Daniel swinging his ninja turtle book bag in one hand. He talks excitedly, as the wind nips at his nose turning it red. I realize that I am going to have to bundle him up for our walks soon. The sun is breaking through the horizon by the time I drop him off at his before school program. He gives me a wet kiss before he darts inside the open door.
I tighten the straps on my bag and begin to sprint the opposite direction to my high school. Daniels school is in the opposite direction of mine, and to make it on time I found out the hard way that I have to run. It is only the eight week of sophomore year and I’ve been late eleven times already. I force the burning air out of my nose, my throat getting raw. About a block away from the school I slow to a jog. I drop off my stuff at my locker, fixing my hair and applying more deodorant in the tiny mirror hanging on the door of my locker.
The cafeteria is already in full blast as I pass it. I sneak past the hall monitors, putting on an air of confidence. With four minutes to spare before the bell I get to the art room. Mrs. Sunny, which is a nickname my advanced art class gave her, beams at me when I walk in. “I already emailed all of your teachers telling them about the important project that you have due.” She winks, and her bright features fall a bit. “I know what day it is Everest, and I’m sorry. You are welcome to stay with me if it makes it any easier, or you can go to your classes.” I nod, telling her I will stay here. I can’t say much more than that because I might begin to cry at her offer. First block files in, and Paris bounds up to me. Her curls fling about her face, and she smiles wide squeezing me tight. Paris has been my best friend since birth, and seeing her familiar dynamics makes me feel a bit better. Once settled she slides over a box the size of my palm. It is a green box with trees painted on it. The bow is brown and layered making it look like a tree branch.
“I know what day it is Everest.” Daddy stands above me, a bashful smile tugging at his whiskered lips. The swing set below me creaks, as I swing my legs excitedly. He hands me a little blue box with painted fishes swimming around it. The box is tied in strips of bubble wrap making it look like sea bubbles the fish blew. I tug on the bubble wrap, laughing when a few pieces pop. Before I even open the lid I pop a few more, giggling up at daddy. He looks down at me, smiling. His teeth are perfect, the one lucky trait I got from him. Around his eyes there are three little wrinkles he gets whenever he smiles. Lately those haven’t been there as much when he’s around mommy, but I focus on my gift instead. Inside the box is a new figurine. This one is a little fish, one that looks like the one we saw the day we went to the aquarium. It has puffy little cheeks with a swishing tail curved to the side which has streaks of black that fade into a shimmering orange that makes up the body. Across its belly there is a glimmering black stripe that fades back to the carrot orange. Two little black and white eyes poke out. I pick it up gently in my hand, and twist it around making the light hit it just right until rainbows streak across the inside of it. I run inside, clutching the fish to me to add it to my shelf. Every year for my birthday daddy buys me a new figurine. Mommy calls them dust collectors, but daddy just winks and calls them our special thing.
I open the box and inside sits a little monkey. The belly is a light cream color, and its hickory tail is wrapped around a little yellow banana. Its eyes are huge, bright green similar to mine. My eyes sting, and I close the box gently holding the monkey in my hand. Paris smiles at me sadly, her eyes red as well. She tucks her black curls behind her ear and ducks her head.
“I miss him too. Happy birthday E.” she says this to the rust colored table, but I can hear the pain in her voice. I sniffle and mummer a thanks, stroking the little monkeys head. “Are we still visiting him after school?”
“Yeah, same spot as always.” We share a look, and I continue to sketch out the details to my painting. Paris’s dad left while she was a baby, which means we have been neighbors and friends for just that long. Since she practically lived at my house, my dad raised her in a way. I know he was her dad too so because of this I don’t mind grieving with her.
I cover her mouth with my hand, and she does the same. Our eyes fill up with tears from holding in laughter too long. A few snippets of our giggles squeak out, and daddy stops singing. The bacon sizzles in the pan he is standing over. He freezes, the spatula midair, and thinks out loud. “Hmm I wonder where my little girls are?” at the same time we scamper over the kitchen floor, ducking under the table. We trip like fools over our nightgowns, and push our long hair out of the way. He shrugs, continuing to cook seeming oblivious to our antics. On the count of three we rush out from under the table, attacking his legs. He bellows, scooping us up and twirling the both of us around the kitchen.
The bell rings, hours later, finally signaling the end of the day. In my hands I carry the finished painting like a newborn, as I fight through the congested hallways. Paris finds me at my locker, just as I’m slamming it shut. I leave everything inside of it, and I lead the way back to my house. After making a quick pit stop, we walk silently back to pick up Daniel. Paris carries the little woven basket, and I carry the blanket and my painting. Daniel runs outside to meet us, oddly quiet. I study my shoes and the cracks on the sidewalk as Paris makes small talk with Daniel behind me. When we reach the gates of the cemetery, Daniel abruptly stops mid-sentence. Paris takes control, sensing our hesitation, now leading the both of us to his stone. We set out our picnic, light candles, and share our favorite memories. After a while munching on food, and talking in hushed tones, we run out of stories to tell and tears to cry.
We leave, Daniel in the lead now, with Paris at his heels and me wandering behind them. The sky has turned gray, the moon drifting between clouds, illuminating the graveyard. I stand there, letting the breeze kiss my cheek goodnight, blinking at daddy’s headstone. Underneath of it are three little objects, a mini red racecar with one wheel missing, a snow globe of the Eiffel tower, and a painting of little girls’ bookshelf with glimmering glass.