The smell of bacon hung heavy in the air. Kara breathed in deeply and a smile spread over her acne-ridden face. She slid into her chair, ignoring the chocolate handprints and the unidentifiable smears that covered the wooden seat.
Kara grabbed a piece of homemade sourdough bread and layered it with juicy slices of tomato, lettuce and four pieces of bacon. She handed it to her youngest brother, Mark, who bit into it as soon as it reached his hands. Kara sent a disapproving glance towards Mark and he reluctantly set the sandwich down.
Jim, Lily and Suzie, Kara’s other siblings, ran to the table and darted to their respective chairs. They eagerly grabbed at the food. Dad sat down at the head of the table, Mom in the seat beside him.
“Heavenly Father, thank you for this meal that you have provided. Bless the hands that have prepared it. In your name, amen.”
As soon as Dad opened his eyes, the kids dug into their food with the appetite of a starving dog. Kara just shook her head and took a clean bite of her own sandwich. She loved her siblings, but it was never easy to care for them. Or clean up after them. They were amazing at making messes, but hadn’t yet learned the magic of cleaning up.
“We need to talk to you, kids.”
Dad’s voice broke through Kara’s thoughts. She looked across the table as he put his food down and exchanged nervous glances with Mom.
“We, uh, we’re going to be moving again.”
There were moans around the table, but for the most part the children seemed unconcerned and quickly resumed their meal. Kara’s heart sank. She pushed her plate away and blinked hard.
“Why are we moving again, Dad?”
Dad sighed and his forehead creased in concern. “How long have we lived here, Kara?”
“Three years.” She mumbled through clenched teeth. Other teens lived in one house for their whole lives and didn’t have to move every couple years.
“How many friends do you have?”
She wouldn’t answer. She bit her cheek and blinked back tears. Another thing that wasn’t fair. Was it so much to ask for a just a couple friends who lasted more than a few months? Was she really that unlikable?
“Look, I know moving is hard for you.”
“Not hard for me!” Mark shouted, though his mouth was stuffed full. “I love moving. We always get to stay in fun hotels and go swimming and get doughnuts!”
“I don’t care.” Kara stood up, wiping the crumbs off of her lap as she went. “I’ll be in my room.”
Kara lay on her bed and traced the cracks in the ceiling plaster with her eyes. She’d spent more hours than she could remember lying there, doing that exact thing.
I guess it’s what lonely weirdos do.
She pulled her comforter over her shoulders and felt its warmth surround her. She shoved her face into her pillow and tried not to scream. Warm tears that seeped into the cloth came instead.
“Please, God, don’t leave me alone.” She whispered. “I’m tired of being alone. I need friends. I need a place to belong. Please.”
The minivan had become unbearable. After spending nearly twelve hours in the cramped space, Kara longed to get out and stretch her legs. The smell was awful; a disgusting mixture of pizza, leftover milk, stinky feet and sweat. It was enough to make a normal human gag.
Of course, she reminded herself bitterly, I’m not normal. Guess it doesn’t affect me.
Jim shoved an elbow into Kara’s side. She yelped in pain and smacked him on the head. He retaliated by dumping the last of his soda all over her jeans.
“Mom!” Kara yelled. “Did you see that!?”
Mom barely glanced up from her phone. “Just be quiet, kids.”
“I’m hungry!” Mark wailed. He held up an empty potato chip bag and his eyes filled with tears. “Lily ate my last chip!”
A wail arose. Another filled the air. Then a third. Kara pressed her hands against her ears, but it wasn’t enough to stop the intensity of the noise. Dad shouted something, but she couldn’t understand the words.
She sat up straight as the van slowed to a stop. She grabbed her large travel bag and jumped out as soon as the doors opened. A gust of wind caught a pile of trash from inside and pushed it down the quiet street.
Kara stared at the house in front of her. It was bigger than the last one, but the yard was much smaller. She noticed smudged windows and scuff marks on the porch. She reached for the hand sanitizer that she carried in her bag and sprayed it on her hands. Who knew what germs could be in this new place. Best be prepared for anything. She had certainly seen some strange houses in the past years. She shivered when she thought of the one property that was infested with fleas. She scratched at her back and neck and hoped that this house would be livable.
Dad wrapped an arm around Mom’s shoulders and the other around Kara’s. He smiled.
“Welcome to our new home.” He grinned. “I have a feeling that this little town is going to be really good.”
“Yay.” Kara said, unenthusiastically. She hurried past the huge truck that carried all of their worldly belongings and followed her parents inside of the new house. She sniffed. At least this one didn’t smell like stale cigar smoke.
“Dad and I are going to get some stuff from the store. Kara, why don’t you and Mark walk around town a bit until we get back?”
“Sure.” Kara pushed her Iphone into her back pocket and grabbed Mark’s hand. “Let’s go.”
They walked down a few streets. Kara noticed that this place had a warm, old feeling. She smiled at the thought. She loved antiques and history.
The bookstore ahead called to Kara. She longed to go inside, order a cup of steaming chia, curl up in one of those big chairs and lose herself in another world. A quick look at the hyper little boy beside her told her that it wouldn’t happen today.
“Where’d you want to go, Mark?” She asked, with one last longing glance towards the little store.
Mark bounced up and down and pointed to a tall building in front of them. “There!”
“The ice cream store?”
“Yeah! You can buy us ice cream!”
“Why me? You have money, too.”
“Not as much as you.”
“Fine, but next time, you buy for me.”
Kara smiled as Mark ran ahead and threw open the door. She hurried after him, but stopped in her tracks when she saw what was inside. The door closed and smacked her on the shoulder. She grabbed it and walked inside, still in disbelief.
Mark was standing on his tiptoes in front of the register. In one hand he held a huge sundae. In the other, a wad of napkins. He was chatting merrily with an oldish man with curly grey hair and kind, twinkling eyes.
Mark never talked to strangers. As out-going and annoying as he was around his family, he was deathly afraid of strangers and would refuse to even give his name. Yet here he was, chatting a mile a minute.
“Can I help you?”
The voice of the man broke through her thoughts and she realized that she had been standing in the middle of the room for over three minutes. She coughed and waved awkwardly at the other customers who were eyeing her.
“Uh, no, I’m just here to get my brother.” She crossed the room and tousled Mark’s wild hair.
“Would you like some ice cream?”
Kara scanned the menu. “I guess I’ll have a strawberry shake.”
“Coming right up!”
The man disappeared for a moment. Kara turned to her brother.
“You were talking to him!”
“Yup.” Mark slurped his ice cream. “He was nice. Like Grandpa. Or a reeeeally old Dad.”
“You talked to him.”
Mark looked annoyed. “Yes.”
Kara shook her head. The man returned and handed her the shake with a smile.
“Are you new here?” He asked. “I haven’t seen you around town.”
Why would an ice cream guy care who he saw around town?
“We just moved here a week ago. We’ve been really busy unpacking, and haven’t had time to explore.”
Why is he so curious? Maybe he’s a murderer or a stalker or something. No one cares this much about some weird teen and her little brother.
“Most recently, Missouri.”
“Most recently? You move much?”
And that would be an understatement.
She wiped ice cream off of Mark’s chin and then shyly glanced towards the man’s face. He was smiling down at her, in a kind, grandfatherly sort of way.
“What’s your name?”
“Nice to meet you, Kara.” He shook her hand. “I’m Will Clarkson.”
She wanted to ask who he was. Really was. He couldn’t simply be an ice cream guy. No one that nice should just be selling ice cream for a living.
“How long have you lived here?” She questioned.
He laughed, his round belly jiggling. “It’s been so long I can’t even remember.”
“And you’ve worked here the whole time?”
“Pretty much.” He shrugged and then added, “Why? Is there something wrong with that?”
That prompted a small smile from Kara. “It just seems kind of boring.”
“Boring? Never. I love my job because I get to interact with kids. And teens.” He added with a wink. “There is something so innocent and beautiful about children’s joy. I love seeing that every single day.”
Kara nodded. “Maybe you wouldn’t enjoy it so much if you lived with it 24/7.”
“I have four very loud, very messy little siblings.”
Wania chuckled. “I had nine.”
“Nine? I’m amazed you’re still alive! I can’t imagine having that many people around me. I’m an introvert.”
Wania laughed again. Kara glanced at her watch. They should be getting back to the general store soon.
“Thanks, Mr. Clarkson.”
On their way back, they passed the bookstore again. Kara crossed the street and stood in front of it. Mark was covered in chocolate ice cream. His face was a mess and chunks of hair were glued to his forehead with hot fudge. She sighed.
“C’mon, Kara! It’s hot out here!”
She took a step. But something called her back.
“Let’s peak in this store real quick, Mark.”
“You and your beloved books.” Mark rolled his eyes. “Books are sooo boring.”
As soon as Kara pushed the door glass door open, she felt at home. She stepped inside and basked in the glow of warm, soft lights. She trailed her fingers across a row of books, feeling each gently beneath her fingertips. The coffee that she held in one hand filled the air with a wonderful aroma. She smiled and felt safe and warm inside.
Until she turned unexpectedly and bumped into someone. Books and coffee went flying in opposite directions. Kara watched in horror as the lid broke free from her cup and the brown liquid leapt, with a splash, onto the whitish carpet. Mark laughed. Kara’s momentary happiness was turned to dismay. Especially when she realized that the person she had collided with was a teen around her age.
Kara rarely had good relationships with teenagers. They saw her as aloof, ugly and strange. She saw them as terrifying humans who judged her every flaw. Basically, she just avoided them completely. But here she was, nose-to-nose with someone who might as well have been from another planet. Not to mention the mess that she had caused.
“I’m so sorry!” She cried, as she awkwardly bent to pick up a soaked book.
To her surprise, the teen knelt beside her and grabbed the empty paper cup. She didn’t appear angry or even very annoyed. The lady working the cashier had seen the whole thing, and came over with a roll of paper towels and a wet rag. She handed them to Kara with a tiredish smile.
In a few minutes, the mess had been cleaned up, but Kara was still in shock.
Why didn’t they yell at me or call me clumsy and stupid like I am?
“I’m Miranda.” The teen held out a hand and smiled.
Kara blinked. “Uh, I’m Kara.”
“Nice to meet you.”
The cashier, who had left to throw the paper towels away, returned with two paper cups filled with steaming drinks. She handed one to Kara and the other to Miranda.
“Why are you being so nice?” Kara blurted out, after a sip of coffee. “I just made a huge mess! Your carpet is stained and ruined a bunch of your books! If I were you, I’d be really mad at me.”
The cashier laughed slightly. “It happens more often than you’d believe. Drinks and books don’t necessarily go well together.”
That prompted a chuckle from Miranda. Kara was still too mortified to find any humor in the situation.
“I’m so sorry. I’ll pay for whatever damage I caused.”
Cashier Lady shook her head and placed a gentle hand on Kara’s shoulder. “It’s okay. It happens to the best of us.”
She turned and walked away.
“Did I just hear what I think I heard?” Kara whispered to Miranda. “Seriously, no one is that nice. I remember one time we went to this church fundraiser thing. My brother Mark dumped punch all over a stack of white clothes. We got kicked out immediately.”
Miranda smiled almost apologetically. “People here are different.”
“I’m beginning to see that.”
More later. 😉