VOLUME 1: READY FOR FLYNN
Tearing down the stairs, I felt breathless by the time I reached Aunt Joan's old melamine wall-mounted phone in her kitchen.
“Valerie, it's lovely to hear your voice, sweetheart. You haven't called all week. Are you okay?"
“Oh, sure Mom. Sorry. I've been busy with Auntie Joan. We've been clearing out here. She felt it was time to sort through Uncle Terry's possessions, and one thing led to another. You know how she is. It's been great reminiscing about their lives, though. There's so much I never knew about them, both as a couple, and their lives before they met each other."
Uncle Terry met my Aunt Joan after his first wife died. They married in their forties, and neither had any children. My uncle was an only child, and we were the only family Auntie Joan had left.
"I was talking to her last night, Valerie. Didn't she tell you she called?"
“She did? She never mentioned it to me. I wonder why?"
"Seems you may have outstayed your welcome, honey." Mom chuckled, and I knew she was only teasing. My aunt would have kept me forever if she'd had her way. I knew she'd worried about home-schooling me for a while, but to be honest, I'd welcomed the opportunity to get out of town after the whole situation with Bradley, my ex. Talk about humiliation. I was even more embarrassed by the number of well-wishers who stopped me in the halls at school on a daily basis to tell me what an ass Bradley was, and what a slut my best friend Heidi was for hooking up with him.
"Oh well, I guess I'm coming home," I said, pretending to feel hurt. Inside I felt relieved. I'd been missing everyone, and it was only a few days before Thanksgiving. And best of all, Martin was going to be home.
Martin, my second oldest brother, was my best friend in the family, and had always been. He'd been in college for the past three years at St. Cloud's in Minnesota, and I missed him every day. After he moved out, we didn't see him unless it was a holiday.
I realized I'd drifted off at the mention of Martin's name and tuned back into my mom's call.
"I think she just wants to try to put some normalcy back in her life. Or a new normal, as it will be. It's early on, but she seems okay. She's being practical about the next chapter of her life and wants us to help her with that. Has she told you she's selling the house and moving closer to us, or is that news to you also?"
"No, she never said." Aunt Joan was much stronger than we gave her credit for, but she had recognized the benefits of having her family close by. Over the previous nine weeks, I'd seen her grow from a grieving widow, to slowly regaining her sense of identity. Selling her house and moving meant another period of adjustment, but if anyone could move forward with life after something like that, it would be her.
Uncle Terry's passing wasn't totally unexpected. He'd been chronically ill for a long time, and there were constant references about his health over the years. The initial daily conversation for the previous three months, when my father returned from work each day, had been to ask my mother if Uncle Terry was still with us.
When my mom suggested I go to Michigan and support Aunt Joan after her husband's passing, I'd appeared selfless by agreeing immediately to go. But I had an ulterior motive for packing up and living with the drudgery of home-schooling for a while. I was running away.
Everything happens for a reason, or so I'd heard. My uncle's timely death gave me the ideal excuse to step out of my life and look at it from the side lines. Or in this case, Michigan. Brad's crappy behavior had humiliated me, and staying with Auntie Joan had given me an excuse to not face anyone.
That was the only downside to going home - facing everyone at school again. Trying to hold my head high after Bradley hit a home run with Heidi, and their sickening relationship going viral on the high-school intranet, was pointless. After nine weeks away, I was ready to tough out any comments, but at the same time, I hoped enough time had passed and everyone had moved on.
At least I'd sent a clear message to the boys that, at barely sixteen, I wasn't ready to have a sexual relationship with any of them. Unlike Heidi, who lost her virginity only three days after her sixteenth birthday.
Mom talked for another ten minutes and during that time, I'd argued and won my case to travel home by bus. Auntie Joan wasn't leaving until the day before Thanksgiving, and M
artin would be home on Monday. If I'd stayed and traveled with her, I'd only have had two full days to spend time with him before he flew back on the Saturday.
At six, the Sunday before Thanksgiving, I was climbing on a Greyhound bus, headed for home. An hour later, I questioned my decision to take the bus.
Fat raindrops splashed against the window and were washed away in quick succession by others. My vision was disrupted by the constant stream of new strands from the relentless shower against the glass. The heavens had opened, and the sound of the wet storm battered down on the bus roof as it grew. The force behind it was deafening.
Staring at the tiny rivulets of water against the windowpane, I allowed my mind to wander, contemplating what the holiday would be like. My lips curved into a smile when I saw my brother's face in my mind's eye and wondered if he'd had his hair cut shorter since the last time he'd been home. Dad had teased him about looking like a girl.
I chuckled at that memory.
Martin had always been different my other two brothers. He'd chosen to study Theater Arts and had wanted to do stage design and production for large live events. My father said he would have been better off learning to drive a truck than any of that stuff, but he was secretly proud of his achievements so far. It had been almost three months since he'd been home. He'd been upset when he couldn't make the memorial service for Uncle Terry, due to a college exam.
As I continued to take in the scenery, the rain gave way to a spectacular sunset, and I was enthralled by the iridescent sky as we traveled along the open highway. Glorious oranges, blues, and yellows lit up the horizon. After a while they made way for purple, ruby red, and violet hues until eventually darkness fell.
I arrived at our hometown bus station and my heart leapt at the thought of seeing everyone again. I spotted my oldest brother Kayden before he saw me, as I stepped off the bus. He was on his tiptoes, neck extended, while his head moved left and right, looking past some of the passengers in front of me. I smiled widely when he caught sight of me and pushed his way past people to reach me.
"Valerie!" Kayden voice had me turning in his direction. When we made eye contact, his face broke into an infectious smile. All the girls thought Kayden was adorable. He looked a lot like Martin but less boyish. They had the same eyes and mouth. However, Kayden's hair was light like our dad's while Martin and I were the only two siblings with dark hair and took after our mom, but all four of us had Mom's dimples.
Reaching me, Kayden wrapped a strong arm around my waist and lifted me off my feet.
"Holy hell, Sis, look at you. We're going to have to lock you up now that you're back. You get more gorgeous every time I see you. I'll have to beat the boys back with a stick," he said, then chuckled.
I swatted his chest and hugged him tightly. Kayden's warm embrace and the familiar aroma of his body-wash, paired with the faint smell of engine oil on his clothing, was comforting. Familiar. My brother dropped my feet back to the ground and picked up my bag. We waited around for my luggage to be unloaded. He looked surprised to see me traveling so light, until I explained that Auntie Joan was bringing the rest. While we walked to his car, he filled me in on the town gossip, and I sensed he was avoiding the issue of Bradley and Heidi, so I brought it up.
"They're not together," he said about the two people who had betrayed me.
"I'm over it. I just want everyone else to be over it as well, you know?"
Kayden nodded and glanced up. "She dumped him when she found out he'd filmed it, and no one else will go out with him. I'm proud of you, Valerie. If you'd have let that fucker into your panties, I'd have - "
"Kayden! Stop. This isn't the kind of conversation I want to have with my big brother," I'd snapped cutting him off, "and no one is getting into my panties. I'm fifteen. I want a life first, not a baby." He chuckled and had the grace to look sheepishly back at me. "Sorry. I got carried away with the sick thought that someday some..."
"Enough, already." I smirked as my cheeks flushed with color. I'd been given "the talk" by my brothers several times in the past about saving myself. They were always on my back about it. My friends were envious that I had three older brothers, but sometimes all those protective eyes on me could get embarrassing at times.