Just Me(9)

By: L.A. Fiore

My uncle had really tried to make me feel wanted and loved, but he learned quickly that my aunt had a will of iron. The courts forced me on them, but it didn't mean she had to do any more for me than feed me and keep a roof over my head. Even family dinners turned strained when I joined them; it was only after I left the table that the happy sounds of a close family resumed. A few weeks after I moved in with them, I started taking my meals in my room. I thought someone would object, but nine years later, no one had, though my uncle continued to invite me to share a meal. However, he didn't push it and for that I was grateful.

After that conversation in the kitchen, was my aunt finally going to make an effort to be nicer to me? I fell asleep wishing for just that.

Chapter Two

The following morning as I was leaving the house, I was stopped by my aunt, who attempted to make eye contact without much success. After our conversation last night, was her inability to look me in the eye embarrassment over her treatment of me?

“Your uncle, the girls and I are leaving for Disney World tomorrow and we will be staying for the week. I've already called the Wrights, and they've agreed you can stay with them while we're gone. Pack your things and bring them to school with you tomorrow morning.” Her gaze shifted from my shoulder to meet mine. “You aren't invited, be clear on that. This is my time with my family. So even if your uncle asks you to join us, you aren't wanted.”

Clearly she’d shed her problem with looking me in the eye. After last night, and the hope I had felt at the possibility that my home life was about to improve, her words hurt like hell. “Okay.”

She barely waited for an answer before she turned her back on me and walked away. What changed from last night to this morning? And did she intentionally throw me off last night with feigned kindness so her rejection this morning would hurt all the more? If that was the case, she wasn't just mean, she was also vindictive and more the aunt I had come to expect and not the anomaly I met last night.

An hour later I sat in English Lit sketching and listening to my iPod when Sebastian entered, but instead of accompanying Kira, he was with Jim: the captain of the soccer team. I lowered my head before he could look my way, and busied myself with my drawing. Just seeing him had me feeling edgy, in a good way. Yes, I sported a healthy crush on Sebastian—a boy I didn't know at all. I bet his ink could tell me a lot about him, because being that covered so young, made me suspect what he had done held a great deal of meaning to him.

My head lifted when I felt his stare on me. Looking into those pools of turquoise caused a heat to sizzle all the way down my spine. Time seemed to stop for a moment as our gazes locked, but sooner than I wanted, his attention turned back to the front of the class. Was this what Sophia felt every time she fell in love—the nerves in her belly, the pounding of her heart in her chest, the overwhelming need to touch, taste and explore? If it was, I understood now why she “fell” so often. It was a heady feeling.

After class I waited until Sebastian left before I packed up my stuff and headed out into the hall. I hoped he would be there waiting for me, but when I stepped out into the crowded corridor, he was nowhere to be seen. Disappointment, and a bit of resentment, filled me as I started for my locker because it almost felt as if Sebastian was embarrassed by his interest in me: the only explanation I could think of as to why he didn't speak to me at school.

My oil canvas had already been placed on an easel when I arrived in art class. Because I was in the middle of a project, Ms. Whitney allowed me to work independently. My painting depicted our town square with the white steeple from the Baptist church surrounded by trees in my favorite earth tones: deep russet, goldenrod, burgundy and burnt orange. As I settled behind the easel, I slipped my ear buds in and listened to Yael Naim as I lost myself in my work.

Fifty minutes had passed quickly when Ms. Whitney touched my arm, signaling the end of class. I cleaned up my workspace and headed to lunch to meet the gang. They were already at our table when I entered. Shawn saw me and waved as I walked over and dropped my backpack on the floor.

“Hey guys.”

“Art class?” Sophia asked.