The ferry boat’s damp floor shifts gently beneath me as we plod across Lake Michigan. I inhale the thick foggy air deeply now, enjoying my brief independence. We have just left the port in Muskegon, and my brother is already below deck mingling with our fellow travelers, seeking out prospective odd jobs and making connections. My mother is God knows where, probably drinking somewhere below.
Most people prefer to go below deck where tourist entertainment such as a movie and eatery can be found. But not me; I can’t seem to get enough of the raw river-born air. I stretch my twiggy arms out wide and let my head fall back, displaying my face to the heavens like an offering. For this short transport, I am free. I am not Margaret, twin of Hunter. I am not a quiet and painfully timid fifteen year old girl. I am not my brother’s tiny shadow wraith. And best of all, I am not my mother’s daughter.
My brother despises our mother for dragging us along on these week-long ventures to Chicago. Actually, Hunter despises our mother for a number of reasons. For her weakness, for her selfishness. For her nights spent away without even a note left behind. For paying more attention to her boyfriends than her own children. For the booze and the drugs and—whatever these trips are. I don’t despise her, really. I just want her to see me. I don’t let Hunter see me cast my arms wide and embrace the smoggy air. I feel guilty at reveling in an event that brings him so much anxiety. But I can’t help but love the escape.
Our hometown is faded and small. Our sophomore class consists of only forty-seven students. I am ranked number four. My brother doesn’t go to school much. Mostly he works at the nearby logging company in Muskegon. Its not a problem that he is only sixteen; he looks much older. While I am pale and watered down, my brother is broad and strong. I have wild dark hair and bird-like wrists. The only physical trait that my twin and I share are the mossy eyes of our mother. Hunter looks like her.
My mother is a giant. She is so tall and broad-shouldered with flaring hips and long-fingered hands. Once she glowed. Her skin was like milk and her hair was freshly spun gold. She was like every princess I had ever seen in storybooks, but with bigger breasts and hips. Her looks combined with her second generation German accent made her exotic, shiny, and new. Our starving little town lapped her up. The girls tumbled over themselves to fall in her shadow and the boys would give her anything. The men too. She was a child star in the school and then community productions. Then she was a homecoming queen and a fantasy. Eventually she graduated and was the face of every local business lucky enough to snag her.
Before our town withered away, it had featured the most popular candy store in all of Michigan—which is a feat. The Gingerbread House attracted business from all over the U.S. with its infamous fudges and taffy. My Mother was the face of The Gingerbread House, her picture scattered across America on brochures and billboards. She is still featured in the window of the foreclosed candy shop today, frozen in time like Sleeping Beauty. She is magnificent with thick blond hair, all curves beneath her baking apron. A smudge of flour decorates her cheekbone charmingly. Sometimes when Hunter is working and I am left to walk home alone, I go the extra four blocks out of my way to see that picture. I stare at this strange young woman that claims to be my mother. My eyes linger on the curve of her lips, twisting into a foreign smile. When I take a step back, I see my reflection juxtaposed over hers. A sad excuse for a former queen’s daughter.
A sudden lurch of the boat sends me tumbling to the left. I grab for the railing to avoid slipping on the damp deck and feel my body connect with a solid warm mass. Awkwardly, I gather myself up straight and move away from said mass, feeling clumsy and foolish as ever. I glance up to find a young man, probably just a couple years older than myself, standing perfectly steady in the tumult. He is grinning down at me, likely amused at my impressive lack of grace. “Sorry,” I mutter and retreat to the whipping curtainous shelter of my hair.
“Don’t be,” he replied. I could practically here the toothy grin in his voice. “I generally don’t mind when pretty girls fall over me. Better be careful, though. A tiny thing like you could get blown away in a gust like that.”
As if I weren’t embarrassed enough before, he is making fun of me. “Yeah, thanks.” I mean to sound sarcastic, but I barely emit more than a whisper.
“Hey, I’m only kidding. Don’t--”
Another masculine voice interrupts. This time as familiar as the sound of my own thrumming pulse. “Don’t what? I’m afraid I missed the punch line.” Hunter’s hand falls gently to my shoulder, practically engulfing it. “Come on little sister, the company is better below deck.”
“Hey man, I was only talking to her.” I almost feel sorry for the now flustered looking boy, seeming to shrink under Hunter’s cutting gaze. But then again, he had been making fun of me.
“Exactly.” Before I am even aware of turning, Hunter has me spun around and is leading me towards the steps below. We fall easily into sync, despite one of his steps equaling two of my own. He smiles with half of his face, indicating satisfaction. A full smile, indicating actual happiness, is a rare occurrence. “Good news, Little Sis, I found us a job.”