Turning, I sprinted for the house. We had found the dead bird near the edge of the woods, which was normally a five minute walk from the garden. In my hurried sprint, it took me a mere minute to arrive panting on our front porch, blood now dripping from my arm, mud caking my shoes. Just as my mother burst to the scene, her scathing glance taking in the mud before the blood, Elijah pushed past me. Her attention quickly switched to his maimed face and without a word she slapped me hard across my cheek.
“You’ll have some explaining to do, young lady.” With a steady hand, she led Elijah inside.
I blinked away the urge to cry as I felt the sting of her slap. Elijah glanced over his shoulder at me, grinning sardonically. He quickly winced from the pain. I snickered, but it was poor consolation for the injustice of it all.
The rest of the evening wore on in some continuous loop of me trying to explain how awful and monstrous Elijah had been to the bird and to me. But my parents heard none of it. They shook their heads and shrugged.
“Boys will be boys,” Mama said.
“You overreacted,” Papa said.
“You’re too sensitive,” they both added.
The terrible ordeal ended with me banished to my room with no supper. That happened a lot. I always saw injustice where others saw normalcy. And it usually cost me a meal or two. Contentious brat, they called me. Just wanting to stir up trouble. Meanwhile, Lorelei floated along blindly. She never even stood up for me about the whole bird thing. I couldn’t blame her, though. Elijah frightened us both. Since that incident with the bird, we tried to avoid him and eventually he outgrew his interest in bullying us.
Lorelei spun her way over to my bed, playfully grabbing my arm in an attempt to pull me to my feet. I groaned more loudly.
“Rachel, come on! Wake up, sleepy head!”
“I am awake,” I moaned.
“Breakfast is almost ready and Nan made biscuits and bacon!”
I sprung up in bed. “Bacon?” We both giggled as I haphazardly dressed myself. I hated Sundays. And I hated my dress. Mama had them specially made for us. Lorelei’s silk pink dress complimented her soft, pale skin and blondish white hair. I wanted red because of my dark, raven-colored hair and deep chocolatey eyes, but Mama said red was an unholy color and so I got stuck with pale blue, which I felt went horribly with my black hair and olive complexion. So I pretended I was Lorelei’s gorgeous orphaned cousin, and that the pale blue dress was Mama’s way of telling me to remember my place in the family. It made me feel special, like a scorned heroine in a novel; Rachel, always the misunderstood, but incredibly smart girl. Even my name was drab. Not anything like Lorelei. Sometimes I could swear I was adopted.
Once I finished dressing, we chased each other down the stairs. The plush carpet beneath our feet barely hid our bounding steps. Our gangly legs brought us to the kitchen where the savory scent of frying bacon and sizzling gravy greeted our drooling faces. Nan swatted our greedy fingers away.
Her succulent cooking and flair for creating enviously elaborate entrées for Mama’s social dinner parties, made her almost a celebrity in our small town. And those who had the pleasure of tasting her culinary artistry, imagined her a rotund woman with an insatiable appetite. But Nan was quite the opposite, at least in regard to her stature. There were those who believed a hunger demon possessed her, that she could never halt her cravings because of its indelible influence over her. They said the more powerful the hunger demon, the skinnier its victim. When I asked Nan about this, she cackled.
“People are so funny about things they can’t explain or don’t understand,” she replied.
“But what if it’s true. What if you do have a hunger demon? Won’t you die?”
“If I do, I’ll die happy. And hopefully over a plate of camembert with blueberry compote, while sipping a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon.” She sighed dreamily, her gaze fixing on an imaginary spot.
I wasn’t satisfied. I didn’t like the thought of Nan dying, even if she was happy to go while munching on her favorite cheese. Nan practically raised us. And when my parents forced me to go to bed with no dinner, she always managed to sneak a snack into my room. I felt closer to her than Mama.
I obsessed over the hunger demon for weeks. I had to protect Nan from this life-sucking entity.
to be continued . . .