Kat saw red as she walked slowly home from the mall. In the literal sense because the wind was blowing her hair in front of her eyes, but also in the figurative sense because she knew there would be hell to pay when she arrived. Her Mom had not authorised her impromptu retail therapy and certainly would not approve of her having emptied her wallet to buy the strange old book that was now weighing down her backpack.
Kat couldn’t help herself though. She couldn’t stand another minute of the constant criticism, training and exercises in becoming a lady. At 18 she was technically an adult but that fact didn’t seem to cross her mother’s mind. Every teen novel, girl power movie, coming-of-age story and Disney princess had always told her to be herself and follow her dreams but her Mom was having none of that. For Kat, being herself meant being short, skinny, clumsy and socially awkward. Being herself was supposed to be ok, but Kat’s Mom had only had one child, one daughter and so that one daughter was going to become an elegant, charming young lady if it killed her.
So today Kat had deviated from her normal walk home and decided to treat herself to something nice. Ice cream would have momentarily filled the void in her heart, but then it would be gone and heaven forbid she put on any weight. Jewellery was out of her budget but it was also something a lady might wear and Kat didn’t feel like doing anything her mother might even slightly approve of right now. As she was pondering the issue her eyes had fallen on a dusty antiques shop and very shortly thereafter, bewilderingly fast in fact, she was walking out of it having been parted from every last penny she had on her. Somehow though, she didn’t feel like she’d been conned. The large leather-bound tome looked valuable, or at the very least it was decorative. She even felt a little cultured, like one of those old-fashioned librarians who always seemed mysterious and knew lots of strange facts and ancient tales.
Kat grinned for the first time that day. As long as she had the book she was sure she could endure whatever her Mom had in store for her. It had to be a secret though, otherwise it was likely to be confiscated, so she would take her punishment without complaint and hope her Mom didn’t find an excuse to open her bag. Distracted by her thoughts, Kat barely noticed she’d reached her own house and pulled up sharply at the gate before gritting her teeth and heading inside.
“Where. On. Earth. Have. You. BEEN?!” the immediate tirade began. Kat’s mother wasn’t a tall woman, but she was still nearly a head taller than her daughter and looked imperiously down her nose with a scowl on her face. “You should have been back an hour ago! Do you know how worried I’ve been? Why is your phone turned off? What were you doing?” The barrage of questions didn’t seem likely to stop so Kat interrupted to try and stem the flow.
“I was with Jess,” she began, hoping her friend wouldn’t soon get a call to confirm the made-up story. “She wanted to show me a new ice-cream place she’d found.” Kat’s Mom raised an eyebrow but her daughter hurried on before she could interject. “I had sorbet, don’t worry. It’s mostly water anyway.”
“Good.” Her Mom’s tense shoulders relaxed the slightest little bit. “You’re far too tiny all over but at least you have a tiny waist so don’t go messing it up.”
“I know, I know. Anyway, I lost track of time and hurried home as soon as I realised. I’m sorry.” She decided to keep the story simple. Fewer details meant fewer chances of getting caught out.
“Hmph,” her Mom muttered. “Well next time call and let me know before I send out the search party!” Kat nodded and apologised again.
She was surprised that there didn’t seem to be a punishment coming. Maybe her Mom had actually been impressed when she’d mentioned the sorbet, as if she was pleased her daughter was starting to think about ladylike things for herself without being forced. The search party comment also made her realise that her Mom did actually care and was actually worried about her and she felt a little ashamed about making the whole thing up. Still, it was only her Mom’s overbearing strictness that made lying to her necessary in the first place.
“I won’t do it again, but I’ve got homework so I’ll be upstairs ‘til dinner,” and grabbing her bag the small girl dashed up to her room before any further interrogation could take place. Once there, door closed for what privacy she could get, Kat removed her prize from her bag and laid it on her desk.
The Burgeoning Book
She ran her fingertips over the gold embossed lettering on the leather cover and read the words out loud to herself. Opening the cover there was no author’s note, no contents page, no index or anything, only a title and a short story every few pages. There were so many to choose from she didn’t know where to start.