Two families with a lot of romantic history. mostly young adult, with some humor.
I could remember when our family used to be normal. Back before my oldest sister met the first Richards boy across the street. I was ten. At first it wasn’t so bad, but as each one of my four sisters drifted towards those boys, more drama was created. Not to mention the babies they created.
Seven years later, my life was still filled with my sister’s dramas. I was sitting in my chair, locked up in my room and being quiet so my sister Emily didn’t realize I was home and shove her baby off on me. I loved my four nieces and one nephew and all, but I was sick of helping out with babies. And this one knew that all she had to do was cry and she’d get everything handed to her. Emily was so far the only one of my sisters who seemed to not understand how mothering went. You’d think with three older sisters who happened to be mothers would’ve set an example for her. “Ella!” She yelled, banging on my door. I was discovered. “Pleeease come help me.”
It wasn’t not exactly the ‘pleeease’ that got me to do it. I just knew she’d pound and pound and pound on my door until I gave in and helped her out. It wouldn’t have been so bad if she wouldn’t completely shove Gracie off on me and take off.
I unlocked my door and Gracie immediately ran into my legs, hugging them tight as she cried. I thought it was pathetic that I’d never seen her do that to Emily. “She’s so spoiled,” Emily scowled, pushing the blonde hair that had fallen from her pony out of her face. She looked tired, her eyes drooping and her lips pouty like she was ready to lie face first into some pillows.
“Because you spoil her.” I picked Gracie up and walked to the living room, sat her on the couch, got down to her level and looked into that fake teary eyed face. Being two years old, she had a penchant for tantrums and would not let her get away with it like Emily did.
“You listen to me now, Gracie. I’m not your momma, I won’t give you what you want.”
“Why not!” she pouted, crossing her arms on her chest.
For a two year old, she could talk pretty well. “Because you’re being naughty. When I want something, do you see me crying?” She shook her head. “Because I’m a big girl.”
“I big girl too!”
“Not when you’re crying. Big girls don’t cry.”
Okay, that was so untrue, but she didn’t know that.
After a few more minutes of staring each other down, she finally got the message and settled on just watching cartoons instead of getting snack that she wanted. By the time I left, she was sucking on the edge of her green blanket and about to fall asleep. I went back to my room, only to see Emily sitting on my computer, reading my emails. “What are you doing? Get off of that!” I ran to her and quickly clicked the escape screen.
She just turned and smiled. “What am I doing? What are you doing? I thought you’d never be like the rest of us.”
That meant she was reading the emails between me and Ryan. Yes, he was a Richards’s boy, the youngest like me. He was in his first year of college, and we talked every now and then in e-mails. “It’s just Ryan. I’m not looking to get pregnant like all of you guys.”
She actually looked like I hurt her for a minute, but then bounced back and it was all smiles again. “Well, I bet none of us thought that either. After all, he is a Richards. You probably won’t even know what hit you.” And she got up and left.
Excuse me, but I was not stupid like they were! I wouldn’t dare date a Richards’s boy, because I’d already seen what that led to. True, Ryan didn’t seem like his brothers, but Brandon and Marcus didn’t seem bad either when they were dating my sisters.
I sat down on my computer and deleted the emails from last night, hoping she hadn’t read them all. Not that there was anything private, it was just so wrong reading them knowing that one of them had read our words. After doing that, I got my coat, locked my door, and took the car across town to Amy’s apartment. Amy was the one sister I could tolerate, mostly because she seemed to be the most realistic. Izzy, my oldest sister, was okay too, but I didn’t talk to her often. While Olivia and Emily depended on everyone else to help them with their problems, Amy and Izzy took the independent road. Amy I respected the most, because she always seemed like her life was put together, even with the surprised pregnancy. She had a job in high school, and when she got pregnant with Marcus Junior, she got her own apartment and read all the baby books and took care of him herself without the least bit of help. Marcus helped, but she hated it when he tried to pay for things.
Now, the only thing I didn’t like about her was that she continued to see Marcus. It was so confusing knowing what they’re relationship status was because when they fought, they broke up for awhile, then got back together, then fought, and it started all over again. She obviously still loved him, and he obviously still had commitment issues. Another thing I could give her credit for was not letting it affect his relationship with Marcus Junior. Marcus was actually a very good dad, unlike his brother Brandon. He saw both Marcus Junior and his daughter Madeline (whom he had with Izzy) almost every day. Brandon practically ignored his kids with Emily and Olivia.
When I got to her apartment, Marcus Junior was sleeping in the living room, so she shushed me into her bedroom right away. “Emily being a pain?” she said.
We sat down on the bed and she started paint her toenails as I read Cosmopolitan. When I looked up at her after reading an article about sisters, I thought hard about our physical similarities. There weren’t many. She and the rest of my sisters were blonde with thin lips and petite noses. They all reminded me of the word ‘elfin’. I, on the other hand, had brown hair that was borderline black, my skin was a little bit darker, and my lips were what an ex-boyfriend called ‘big and juicy’. I was also the tallest of my sisters by at least three inches. It was weird how different I looked. Olivia joked that I was the milkman’s baby all the time when I was younger.
“Quit staring at me,” Amy said, sounding annoyed.
“Sorry. I was actually sort of staring off into space,” I lied. I didn’t want to explain what was going on in my head.
I flipped the page of the magazine and she leaned over to see what was on it. “Oh, read that,” she pointed to an article called ‘100 sex questions’. “It’s very educational.”
I felt my cheeks getting red. As she knew, I had yet to have sex, and acknowledging that fact always made me uncomfortable. And being celibate when you were secretly dying to have sex wasn’t easy. “I doubt I’ll be doing half of the stuff they talk about in this.”
She smiled coyly. “You’d be surprised.”
She was already looking back at her toes when I gave her a surprised look. Did she really do some of that stuff with Marcus? Some of it sounded ridiculous, even funny. I didn’t ask, because I really didn’t want her to tell. I flipped the page and saw an ad for lipgloss. I liked the model’s curly black hair. My hair was too straight and dark and I hated it. I tried dying it once, and it turned this ugly orange color, so since then I’d avoided the stuff. Once bitten, twice shy. I closed the magazine and just lay my head on my folded arms. “Can I live here?”
I was only half joking, but she laughed anyway. “Yeah, ‘cause you could afford it.” She blew on her now pink toenails.
“At least I wouldn’t have to worry about you dumping Marcus Junior on me all the time. I’ve had enough of watching babies that aren’t mine.”
“So just stop. Gracie’s not a baby anymore. Emily has to learn how to be a mother some time.” She maneuvered in a way that her toes touched nothing as she lay next to me the same way I was and turned her face my way. “And how’s Ryan?” She asked, raising her eyebrows twice.
I gave her a look. “You know I don’t like you guys teasing me about him.”
“Yeah, yeah, your just friends. I don’t blame you.”
I sighed. It’s not like I didn’t want to date Ryan. He was so sweet and nice and honestly the best of the Richards brothers. Perhaps he learned from his brothers mistakes. But I wasn’t going to give him the chance to prove me wrong. And with the fertility rate between our families, I couldn’t afford to risk sleeping with him. “He’s coming home this weekend. Says he just has to finish up some exams.”
Sometimes his talk of college scared me. After all, I was starting in the fall, and I didn’t have a clue what to expect other than the classes would be harder. “He didn’t flunk any classes huh? I heard Brandon dropped out in the first semester,” she said.
That didn’t surprise me in the least. Brandon was such a loser. “No, he said he did really well. He’s the smart one of the family.”
She pushed my arm. “Don’t play favorites. Marcus is a good guy too, you know. He just made some bad choices.”
“I know. Speaking of the devil, where is he?”
“He has to work until three, then he’s visiting with Izzy and Madeline. He said he’d be here around seven.” Then she had a huge grin as she rolled over top of me, and climbed off the other side of the bed. “Come on. Let’s go shopping.”
“MJ is asleep.”
She shrugged. “He has to wake up anyway. Otherwise he’ll never take his afternoon nap.”
I got up and followed her out to the living room, stopping by the hall mirror to straighten out my hair with my fingers and apply some more lip-gloss to my pale lips. So many imperfections that I wanted to change. The too small nose, the too wide eyes, the mole by my left eye. I wished I looked more like my sisters. I stuck my tongue out at myself before walking into the living room.
After waking MJ up and getting him ready, we took my car to the mall. He was a little over four years old, and surprisingly well behaved, so it was always easy to take him shopping with us. He was such a mellow kid. All we had to do was keep a toy in his hand so he wouldn’t take things off the shelves as we shopped. Another plus was that he wouldn’t complain when we went into Bath and Body Works. He liked smelling our wrists whenever we tried one of the lotions or sprays. When Amy found body butter called ‘mango mandarin’ it somehow got her talking about weddings.
“My bridesmaids will where this color.” She pointed to the orange cap. “And the cake will have orange Calla Lilies on it. I just love this color.”
“What wedding? Do you know something I don’t?” I joked.
She just shrugged and put the lotion back. She looked a little deflated. “I can dream, can’t I?”
I guess I really shouldn’t have made fun of her. I knew how she felt about Marcus. And I complained about everyone picking on me about Ryan and we weren’t even dating! It was just hard to remember to be nice to one of my sisters. “What color will I wear? Isn’t the Maid of Honor supposed to be different?”
I knew I was opening up a whirlwind of wedding talk, but that was just what sisters were supposed to do. She started talking more about orange and the cake flavoring, and the chapel decorations. She even started talking about MJ being the ring bearer. Good thing he had no idea what she was talking about. The conversation carried out of the store and into the food-court, where she got MJ a happy meal and we got some Mongolian chicken and rice at the Mongolian BBQ, then went to the play-area in the center of the mall so he could play on all the little slides and other equipment. “I’m gonna have so much fun planning my wedding,” she smiled happily at her food.
“You wanna do mine while you’re at it? It might be awhile, but it seems to interest you a bit more than me.”
She smiled at me. “When you find the right guy, marriage is all you’ll think about. And sex.” She laughed at my blush. “You shouldn’t be so sensitive about it,” she said, nudging my shoulder.
“I just don’t understand how everyone can be so open about it. To me, it’s a private sort of thing.”
She shrugged. “That’ll pass once you start doing it. And you will tell me when that happens, no matter how embarrassing you think it is.”
I laughed. “Maybe I’ll get over that in the many years it’ll take for that to happen.”
Of course I was interested in sex, but I wasn’t going to just sleep with anybody. I wanted to feel something for the guy I decided to give my virginity to. Why would I hold onto it for 17 years and then just give it to someone I had luke warm feelings for? But once I fell in love, there was no prying me off of the guy! “Oh, I doubt it’ll take that long. Just look at our family history.” She said and laughed.
Yeah, what a great history. Everyone was pregnant by 18, except Olivia, who held out until the ripe old age of 20. “Trust me; I’m going to be the one to break that tradition.”
In no way, shape or form was I going to be a mother before I was at least 23. And even then I’d be married. I had plans. Bigger plans than any of my sisters had. Unlike them, I planned to get out of this town. I was going to move far away and be successful as a clinical psychologist. To anyone else, that wasn’t such a stretch. But to a Miller, it was like becoming president. In other words, the odds were not in my favor.
Every year Mrs. Richards invited my family to her Memorial Day barbeque. At first it was because we lived across the street and our dads got along, but the last couple years I had a feeling that it was just out of obligation. After all, her sons fathered five Miller children (Olivia had twins). But it was never a happy day for Mom and Mrs. Richards, who hated each other. I could guarantee by the end of the day someone would be crying, something would be broken, and someone would be punched or slapped. That’s just how my family operated with the Richards. If the parents weren’t fighting, the kids were having a lovers’ quarrel.
Nonetheless, we all dressed up to look our best. I bought a really cute summer dress with Amy at the mall. It was white with spaghetti straps, and had a black veil-like jacket and embroidered black leaves here and there, so it looked perfect for a summer afternoon. Instead of going over there with the family, I hung back at home for a bit, claiming I had something to do quickly. Honestly, I didn’t want to be associated with them at the party. Of course, everyone there knew I was one of them, but if I avoided them then maybe it would simply slip their mind. I could dream.
I also didn’t want them making a big deal about today, if anyone even remembered. I walked across the street and through the house to the backyard, where I was surprised to find everything running smoothly. Mom was talking to Mr. and Mrs. Richards, and they all had smiles. All my little nieces were playing with other kids there, while MJ played catch with Marcus, using a little blue nerf ball. It was actually a Kodak moment in the backyard. Being polite, I grabbed a napkin and took a hamburger, then sat next to Amy and Izzy. Both of them were watching their children, although I was sure Amy was paying more attention to Marcus senior than Marcus Junior. “That’s seriously all you’re going to eat?” Izzy said to me, an eyebrow raised.
“For now.” And I took a small bite.
Although this was a big social gathering in this neighborhood, I had never been a big fan of the food. Izzy always thought I was just being anorexic or something, but I ate small bites because it was the only way I could stomach it.
I watched and waited for drama to pop up anywhere, but everyone seemed to be on their best behavior. It was actually very creepy. It just wasn’t normal.
After almost an hour of boring conversation, I started walking through the house, to get away. I knew where every room was, including Ryan’s. I had to admit I was curious to see what it looked like with all his stuff packed away at college. Curiosity peaked, I went upstairs and down the hall and slowly snuck into his room. It was pretty empty, except for a lot of blankets on the bed and some random piles of clothes, which you’d think his mother had cleaned by now. I walked to the window and looked down at everyone behind the curtain.
The alcohol was out now. Everyone was holding a plastic cup or a wineglass. People were still laughing every now and then, but I could tell that now that they had alcohol in their systems, they seemed a little less cheery with each other. I sat down on the edge of the bed and kept watching. It was actually more fun watching than joining in.
I thought I felt the blankets move, but assumed I just tipped some clothes over. But then I felt something, skin on skin contact on my arm and it made me scream. I stood up and turned immediately to find that the blankets weren’t just blankets. There was a body beneath them! And Ryan’s toes had poked me. He poked his head out and had a big sleepy grin on his face. “Scared ya.”
Good lord did he look gorgeous! His sandy colored hair was all messed up and his big blue eyes were droopy from sleep. Since he was tired, his normally big smile was held back a little, but it was still enough to make me quiver. Not to mention the stubble growing on his sharp jaw. God, it had been too long since I’d seen him!
I slapped his foot, but couldn’t help but smile a little to keep a playful atmosphere. “I thought you said you wouldn’t be home until late,” I said, sitting back down by his feet.
He propped himself up and stretched his arms out and cracked his back before sitting up next to me. His shirt was wrinkly and I avoided looking at his boxers. “I drove all night so I could make it to the party. And now I’d rather sleep through it.”
I smiled. “You’re not missing much. Everyone is so chipper it’s scary. It’s like they’re brainwashed.”
He smiled again. “So cynical.”
I sat back against the wall and he joined me, just inches away. “I’m a realist. You know what happens at these things just as well as I do.”
“Yes, but I have faith that for once it’ll be different. It’s called optimism.” He said it like it was a magical word.
“It’s called stupidity.” I said just as magically, then laughed with him. “So, how did the exams go?”
He winced like it was physically painful. “They sucked, like any other test. But I think I at least passed them. Probably would’ve been better if I had studied though. But I’m just not the bookworm that you are.” He poked my arm.
I poked him right back. “Don’t make fun of me. I finished with honors because of my studying.”
“Yeah, you got fancy yellow ropes at graduation. Congratulations.” It wasn’t hard to hear the sarcasm in his voice.
“You’re just jealous.”
Ryan’s GPA was only ranked at 131 out of 290 students. To get honors you had to be in the top quarter of your class. I was 13 out of 268. He shook his head. “I’m perfectly happy with my high school history. It doesn’t mean shit once you’re in college anyway.” Then he nudged me with his shoulder. “Speaking of which, where did you decide on for college?”
“What’s wrong with U of OW?”
U of OW was the University of Oshkosh, Wisconsin, where he went. “I liked the Madison campus better. Try not to take it personal,” I joked. “I also don’t want anyone in my family to stop in on me all the time.”
“I didn’t get any unexpected visits.”
“You have two brothers, both of whom work. I have four sisters, only two of them have a job. I think the odds are a bit more in your favor.” I turned my head towards the window and looked at everyone. “At least your family isn’t so embarrassing.”
“Yours isn’t embarrassing. Just eccentric.”
He was always trying to keep my spirits up. Sometimes it was annoying, like he was sticking up for them, but this time I didn’t mind. I just missed talking to him in person. Emails weren’t nearly enough. I was about to say something else when his body seemed to snap to attention. “Oh, I almost forgot.” He jumped off the bed and went to the closet to start digging through his suitcases and bags.
I waited patiently, not really understanding what he was looking for. When he was walking back, he kept it hidden behind his back, so I knew it had to be something for me. He sat back down next to me and presented a small box wrapped in silver paper and a red bow. “Happy Birthday Ella,” he smiled.
I could feel my cheeks turning shades. He was the only one to remember. Birthdays weren’t so big in my family once you were past the kiddie party stage. A card and a ‘happy birthday’ was all you got unless someone decided to be nice one year. “You didn’t have to get me anything,” I told Ryan.
He shrugged. “I wanted to. Besides, it didn’t cost a thing.”
“So you stole it?” I joked, taking it and pulling on the bow strings.
He stayed quiet, just watching me unwrap it. Underneath the paper was a velvet box, about four by four inches. I was afraid to open it. It was obviously jewelry, but if he didn’t pay for it, then did he steal it or is it a joke and there was really something else in it? “The presents inside you know,” he joked at my hesitation.
I pushed his shoulder and opened the box. It was a golden clover pendant, about half an inch big and a diamond was resting in the center, all on a thin gold chain. It looked like it was once a charm on a bracelet. “Ryan, how much did this cost!?” I just stared at it in awe. It looked like real gold and a real diamond.
“Nothing. It was my grandma’s.” He took it out of the box and undid the clasp, holding it out for me to turn around. I did and held my hair up on my head. “She was a superstitious nut, too. I thought this was the perfect gift.”
“Is it real?”
“It’s Black Hills Gold and a two carat diamond.” He confirmed, snapping it on and brushing the nap of my neck with his fingertips. Fire singed down my spine.
“And your parents won’t mind that you gave it to me?” I turned around and looked at him.
He was looking at it. Or my chest, but I’d like to think he was being noble and only looking at the clover. “No, they don’t even remember it.”
I held it in my hand, staring at it. “Well then thank you. You were the only one to remember today.”
“It’s a busy day. They’ll remember.”
He took his eyes off my necklace/chest, and instead focused on my face. I’d seen that look before, only on him though. And I wasn’t foolish enough to ignore what it meant. We had to be around people, before we acted. “Allow me to prove you wrong.” I stood up. “You should probably get dressed. I don’t think that’s the proper party attire.”
He was still looking at me when I turned around and walked out. I knew he knew why I left abruptly. We’d been through it before. Actually, four times, the same number of times that we had kissed. First, when I was thirteen. He was my first kiss. I thought it was awkward having one of his brothers be involved with my sisters at that time. It was even worse when both his brothers were, and we kissed quite a few times when I was fifteen. Those times we’d actually gone into full make out mode before one of us came to our senses and we had ‘the talk’ again. Basically, it went like this; ‘this is stupid. We’re not going to end up like our brothers/sisters. Don’t ever do it again.’ Short, sweet, and simple. So, I knew that look meant trouble.
I rejoined the party, grabbing a napkin and a few chips, and walked towards Amy, who was chatting it up with a few neighbors. She didn’t notice the necklace. I didn’t expect the others too. Was it just me, or were not as many people laughing as before I left? I looked around and saw that most of the smiles were now forced and fake, meaning I missed a powwow between someone. I also noticed my mother was gone. Knowing her, she was stumbling around the house because she had too much wine. She didn’t drink too often, but whenever she had wine she went overboard. “Where’s Mom?” I asked Amy.
“She said she wasn’t feeling well, so she went home.” I could tell by her tone that she knew mom was lying.
I finished my chips, threw away the napkin, and went into the house to look for her. I checked the bathrooms first, then the kitchen and other larger rooms. She was nowhere. I was about to leave when I heard a thud in the hallway. Then a giggle. God, she was probably stumbling around drunk. I went down the hall, opening every door until I finally found her. Only she wasn’t stumbling around drunk. She was in the hall closet with a guy. And not just any guy, Mr. Richards! Their hands were all over each other, and they were making out like there was no tomorrow. They didn’t even register the fact that I caught them. God, there must’ve been something genetic about the Richards boys that attracted us Miller’s if even my mom had the hots for one of them! I just stood there gaping like an idiot until they finally pulled apart and looked at me. Except now I wasn’t the only one standing there.
I didn’t notice when Mrs. Richards came up beside me, but there she was, witnessing what I witnessed clear as day. I was still stunned, but she sprung into action. It all happened so fast. She had grabbed my arm to whip me away before lunging in and grabbing Mom’s hair as they both screamed. Okay, I may not have had the utmost respect for Mom, especially not at that moment, but nobody messed with my mother!
At first I just tried separating them, but then my hair was being pulled and I distinctly remembered a slap, although I didn’t remember feeling it. But then more were joining, and we were probably in the living room because when I got whipped around there was a lot more room to catch my balance. My sisters were screaming and throwing punches, while I was just trying to get my mom out of the middle of it all. Mostly my hair was being pulled or my arm was being tugged, but I didn’t really pay attention to that. I finally had a good grip on Mom’s arm and was about to pull her out of the fight when someone grabbed my other wrist and yanked me so hard that I flew out of the pile of woman and crashed into the end table. The table faired well, but I wasn’t as lucky. I hit the corner of the table with my wrist and I heard the snap before I felt the pain. But when I felt it, whoo-boy did I feel it!
I stayed down, cradling my hand into my chest and rocking back and forth. It was all that helped with keeping my tears held back. I wasn’t sure how long I was down there before Mom bent down next to me, her hair a mess and a bloody lip, and started freaking out. Then it wasn’t long before all the girls involved with the fight were on their knees, apologizing to me and helping me up.
What followed was a lot of silence in the car ride over to the emergency room and painful pokes and prods by the doctors who put my wrist into a cast. And do you want to know what the funny thing was? Not a one of them said happy birthday.