Pepper Island
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Next: PI (2) Anthony

The change will be good.
Your parents both still love YOU.
This is about THEM.
It all happened for a reason.
Everything will be ok.
Teens are resilient, you’ll be stronger from this.

All of the useless platitudes repeat themselves over and over in my head as I watch my mother embrace “Aunt Vi”. Aunt Vi of course isn’t really our aunt. We’d never heard of her before the divorce and she has absolutely no family connection to us at all. But it’s the only thing my mother, Mary-Sue has called her.

A glance at the house and I sigh. I’ve never seen the point in becoming attached to a place. My sister, Angela crumpled to the floor and sobbed when she’d learned we’d be leaving our Pleasantview home. But as we stood here, in front of our new space, I had to admit...I doubt this place could ever feel like home.

“Oh girls, I know you’ll want to make the space your own but I’ve set up your room upstairs, new beds, fresh wallpaper, everything has been aired out. This house hasn’t really had guests in a long time. It will be nice.” Violet turns and tells us. I don’t miss the singular word “room” and I stare at Violet with dread.

“That sounds great.” Angela tells her, smiling. I wonder if she caught the same thing I did, knowing for a fact that Angela would be the first to throw a tantrum at the idea of shared space.

“Come on in.” Violet invites with a warm smile. “I’ve made lunch.”

“Your mom tells me you’re into lore and myths.” Vi says, looking at me. I give a slight nod. Not sure where this is going.

“Well we don’t have any alien abduction stories like you’re used to in Pleasantview, but if you’re patient enough, you’ll find there’s lots of lore here on our little island as well.” She beams and her eyes twinkle. Angela sneaks an eye roll in my direction, mocking my interest in the paranormal. She’d never be interested in anything so frivolous. She was too busy...brushing her hair. When I catch my mom looking at me encouragingly I ask a few questions about the island but Violet doesn’t share any details.

“You might have better luck coaxing some stories out of your mom. She was quite the fairy chaser as a kid.” Violet shares.

Both Angela and I turn to my mother expectantly. I have a hard time believing that my mother ever even believed in Santa Claus, let alone fairies. My mom gives a rare smile and chuckle and shakes her head. Not surprisingly, she doesn’t tell us any fantastical stories from her youth. Some days I’m convinced she’d never even been a child.

As Angela clears the table I notice my mom staring at me...wistfully? I can’t tell what her look is but something seems off and I can’t quite tell what it is.

“You going to help? Or just sit there?” Angela grumbles in my direction as she loads the dishwasher. I get up quietly and help pack up the leftovers.

The rest of the day is uneventful. Angela and I putter around, help out with some things, chat with Violet and sit outside. We start school tomorrow and I’m dreading the idea of our “fresh new start.”

“Got any emails from Duuuuustin.” I tease when catch Angela on the computer. She turns and glares at me. I guess that’s a no.

“We don’t need to talk to each other every second of the day. We’re going to enjoy our space.” She explains, more to herself than to me. I’d been surprised when Dustin had agreed to give “long distance” a try. Though I had a suspicion he wasn’t going to be quite as committed as my dear sister. I’d left someone behind too. We weren’t as foolish. We’d made it a clean break.

“I was just bugging you.” I tell her. “I think it’s sweet that you’re attempting to stay together.”

She stares me down to see if there’s any sarcasm in voice. When she realizes there isn’t she just nods. I plunk down in a chair behind her and stare at the ceiling. It’s desperate times when I’d rather be in the company of my sister than be alone.

As the day turns to evening, Mary-Sue finds her friend playing the piano and she stands to listen for awhile. When the music stops, Violet turns to her and smiles.

“How are you holding up?” She asks. Mary-Sue shrugs. She’s used to telling people “Oh, I’m ok.” But with Violet, she can be honest.

“This is harder than I thought it would be.”

Violet nods towards the couch and they both go to sit down. The house is quiet as the girls have gone up to their rooms to unpack and get ready for school the next day.

“I’m glad you came out here.” Violet says quietly. “I know with everything going on with you and Daniel, finding a new house and all that would be a lot. It will be nice to have a busy house for awhile. Please stay as long as you need.”

Mary-Sue nods. She knows the invite is genuine but there’s something else she needs to confess.

“Vi…” She starts. She has to do this. She can’t leave without an explanation. She owes her friend that much. Her friend who was about to be so much more. Violet waits patiently.

Mary-Sue takes a deep breath. “I’m not staying.”

“You’re...not…” Violet repeats carefully, not sure she’s understanding. “Where will you go? I thought you said there weren’t really other options for you and the girls until you bought somewhere and you wanted to wait until the market was better?”

“The girls will stay. I’m not staying.” Mary-Sue says.

Violet stares at her for awhile and then simply asks “Pardon?” Surely she’s misheard. Mary-Sue leaving the girls? That wasn’t what they’d talked about. Violet’s life didn’t have room to RAISE two teenagers. She was the only veterinarian on the island and she was rarely home. Between pets and farm animals, and managing the stock all on her own…

“Mary-Sue, you can’t be serious. You just fought for months to get the girls from Daniel and now you’re going to leave them? Why don’t you see if he can have them for awhile? Until you … work this out?” Violet reasons.

“Is that a joke?” Mary-Sue snaps. “You know what he did. And you KNOW he only fought for the girls because he didn’t want me to have them. That man and his dirty little maid are not raising my daughters while they work through their mid-life crisis.”

Violet hasn’t spent time with her friend in years and is surprised at her vehemence. “How are you any better if you just fought for them and are leaving them? How long would you be gone? Mare- I can’t raise your children for you. I work. I don’t have time. I don’t want kids. This isn’t what we agreed to.” Violet’s voice is calm but firm. She is not agreeing to this.

“I know your life has just shifted in a major way, but Mare, running away isn’t going to be the solution.” Violet reasons with her friend. “And you can let life slow down a bit here. You know that. You’re not working for awhile, the girls will settle. There’s no rush for you to leave.”

Mary-Sue nods and takes another deep breath. Violet reaches and squeezes her hand reassuringly.

“Everything will be ok.”

Mary-Sue sighs. Another useless platitude.

“You notice something odd with mom? She seemed off.” I ask, slowly pulling my things out of the brand new luggage that I think was bought to cheer us up.

“I don’t know, Lil, could it be that she’s moving into her friends house because her husband cheated on her and left her to raise two teenagers on her own?” Angela replies sarcastically. I look over at her and she’s not even unpacking. Just sitting on her bed watching me unpack. She’s probably hoping I’ll get fed up with her mess and put her crap away too.

“You know that’s not what I mean.”

“I just...she had a vibe. I don’t know how to explain it.” I tell her. She just shrugs and yawns. It’s been a long day. The island is ‘just’ off the coast of Pleasantview but involves a 2 hour drive and then a ferry ride in. With all of our physical luggage and mental baggage, we’re both exhausted.

“She probably just needs a good night’s sleep.” Angela says after a bit. She shoves her suitcase and it clatters to the floor and announces that she is getting ready for bed. I decide to follow suit, closing my luggage and carefully moving it behind my bed.

When I wake up to the smell of pancakes there’s almost a full minute that goes by before I remember where I am. I groan. First day at a new school. At least mom has the decency to make us a hot meal. Not something she normally does. I trudge down the stairs in my PJ’s and plunk down at the table.

“I think I have a fever” I grumble, holding the back of my hand to my forehead dramatically.

“Haha.” My mom replies, handing me a plate of pancakes. “I bought the good syrup.” She winks, knowing my weakness. I grab the bottle and pour it on. She opens her mouth to say ‘that’s enough’ but stops. She knows today will be torture. She’s trying to appease me. I pour a little extra on while she watches and rolls her eyes.

Angela joins us shortly after.

“No Aunt Vi?” She asks sleepily.

“Aunt Vi leaves before the sun rises. I think she caught the early ferry out to pick up a shipment for the vet clinic.” Mom explains. I’m usually a light sleeper but didn’t hear a peep. I must have been tired. We eat a nice breakfast and my mom seems better. Almost...cheerful. Maybe she did just need a good night’s sleep.

“Ok, bus comes in 15 minutes, you girls better hustle unless you’re going to school in your pajamas.” She tells us.

“OMG! 15 minutes!” Angela cries while at the same time I grumble about having to get on a school bus.

“Just go get ready, girls.” She says smiling.

I may have been joking about the fake fever to my mom but I still wasn’t completely sure I’d be attending school today. When she watches us get onto the bus like it’s the first day of kindergarten, waving and blowing kisses, I realize it’s going to be harder to bail than I thought.

“Good morning, Pleasant Girls!” The bus driver smiles cheerfully. “It’s not often we get new stops for the high school!”

I smile at her but groan inwardly. I don’t hate school. I’m actually really good at it. Better than my sister. What I hate are high schoolers. And I can’t imagine that “small town” high school is any better than Pleasantview High School. I thunk down in my seat beside my sister who is already chatting with someone behind us and start daydreaming about the life I’d left behind.

Once the girls were gone, Mary-Sue heads back up to her room and grabs her single bag of luggage. The cab will arrive any moment and she wants to be ready. She smiles at the wonderful morning with the girls. She feels bad for not telling them but after Violet’s reaction to her plan to get away, she couldn’t imagine how it would go with the girls. Angela could be quite theatrical.

She wouldn’t be gone forever. But she didn't know what her plan was and didn’t want to commit to a time frame. She’d spent her entire adult life with a man she thought had loved her while at the same time messing around with every passing female. She’d worked hard to raise strong girls. They’d be ok. She’d worked hard to make money and live a good life. She wasn’t exciting or sexy. she knew and accepted that. That’s not what was important in life. But now...she wasn’t sure WHAT was important in life. And she needed some time alone to figure that out.

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