R. F. Mechelke

Puzzle Pieces

Emma pretended to not hear her mother calling her as she stood in front of her floor-length mirror. She turned to one side and the other and frowned. Not right, she thought. She slipped her dress over her head and walked to her closet. Her mother knocked as Emma was reaching for another dress, and she pulled back, annoyed.

Emma cracked the door, and said, “What, mother?”

Emma’s mom pushes the door open, with little resistance, and as she walked into Emma’s room, she says, “Look, young lady, I know you heard me. Answer next time when I call you.”

Emma forms a quizzical look, and opens her mouth to speak, but is immediately cut off by her mom: “Don’t try me, Em.”

“Fine, mother,” Emma exclaims as she turns away. Her mother caught her arm, and pulls her to face her, and says, “Another thing. Drop the mother thing. I don’t like the tone of it.”

“Okay, mom,” Emma says with one eyebrow turned up.

As her mom rummages through her sundresses, Emma says, “Please leave my dresses alone. What did you want, anyway? I am in a hurry.”

Emma’s mom stops, and turns holding a dress up, saying, “This is the perfect dress for you tonight.”

Emma immediately saw what her mom saw, but crossed her arms, lips pouting, and says, “Whatever, I don’t have any more time now to pick out another dress.”

Her mother’s knowing smile irritated her more than it should have, she thought. Her mother shut the closet doors, and turned to leave, but stops and says matter-of-factly, “Oh, you are taking Lily with you tonight,” and lifted her hand, as soon as she could see the protest forming on her daughter’s lips, and added, “It can’t be helped. Your father must head into the office and I have to go to Mabel’s house to help her with her daughter’s wedding. She’s panicking.”

“Mom. What are you doing to me? I just got home from college, it’s summer break, and I want to have some fun without having to drag little Miss Weirdo with me everywhere.”

“Hey, she’s your sister, and you should spend time with her. She is just going through a difficult time, now. She is unsure of herself. Now hurry up, so you don’t rush. Make your sister feel comfortable with your friends. And don’t leave her alone. Understand?”

“Yes, mom,” she responded.

Lily was quiet as she stared out the window. Emma navigated the turns of the road, with Aerosmith blaring on the radio, tapping her fingers on the steering wheel. The annoyed feeling still lingered in the pit of her stomach, but she was determined that Lily would not spoil her fun tonight. She deserved this night. Emma could see Lily stealing glances her way, with sad puppy dog eyes. Her heart softened a bit, and she broke the uncomfortable silence.

“So, squirt, how did you like your freshman year?”

Without taking her eyes off the tree line of the road, Lily replied, “Bitchin. Is that what you want to hear?”

That annoying feeling crept back into the pit of Emma’s stomach. “Now, Lily, I want to hear the truth.”

Lily turned in her seat, with tears streaming down her face and said, “It was horrible. Everyone teases me. I’m an idiot, and I can’t make any friends. And you are just like all of them. Worse in fact. I heard what you called me when you were talking with mom upstairs!”

Emma was taken aback. Not sure what to say, she changed the radio channel to the soft rock station. They sat in silence, staring through the windshield, listening to Air Supply singing, “I’m all out of love. I’m so lost without you…”

When the song ended, Emma said softly, “I’m sorry, Lily. I didn’t mean it.” Emma could see the sincerity of her apology register on Lily’s face as it puckered a little.  This made Emma feel a little better. They passed the last few miles in silence. Emma could see Lily’s budding beauty. She had always been jealous of Lily’s beautiful, soft blonde hair and her green eyes, all from their father. Emma had her mother’s Italian dark hair and eyes. But she was grateful to have her mother’s full, enticing figure, wild and dark fire.

Emma pulled up to Olivia’s house, her roommate from college. Cars filled the driveway and lined the street in front of the giant house. She had to turn around to park on the other side. Lily followed just behind Emma as they walked to the front door. Music escaped from the windows with warm, shadowy light, with figures moving about, talking and laughing. Emma glanced quickly at Lily, and said before ringing the doorbell, “Just find some food and drink and sit someplace where I can see you. And don’t even think about trying any alcohol. Mom would kill me.” Lily nodded.

Olivia answered the door, and Lily rolled her eyes as she watched them both hugging and jumping up and down and squealing like little piggies. Emma introduced Lily, and they all walked into the sunburst of light and purple sound. Olivia pointed Lily in the direction of the kitchen, and Emma gave a look as to say, Stay out of trouble and don’t bother me. Lily took off for the kitchen, and Emma followed her with her eyes halfway. When certain Lily was headed in the right direction, Emma turned toward Olivia and smiled, and Olivia took Emma by the hand, leading her to a group hanging out in the study.

Emma was impressed and a little intimidated by the wealth each room exuded. The walls of the study were lined with bookshelves. Many of the books were bound with leather and there was one bookshelf with locked glass doors, filled with books she could only assume were worth a lot of money. She is not a reader, so she could only pick out a few recognizable titles on the shelves, books most people would know, such as A Tale of Two Cities. Olivia’s friends were standing by a fireplace with a very large marble mantel. She looked back to check on Lily, who had seated herself on the sofa, with a plate of food on the coffee table. Olivia introduced her friends to Emma. They were several years older, most in graduate school. The group returned to their conversation that Emma could vaguely follow.

Lily walked into the study, looking for her sister. One of Olivia’s friends, a girl named, Roxanna, watched Lily approaching, and her eyes went wide, and she says, “I dig your shirt! Where did you get it?”

Lily stops and looks around, uncertain whether Roxanna was speaking to her. “My shirt?” She finally asks.

“Yes.” responds, Roxanna, “Hemingway, All the Way.” I totally dig it.”

Lily smiled, and said, “I bought it at an art festival. I love Hemingway.”

Emma stood amazed as Olivia and her friends surrounded Lily, asking what other writers she liked. Lily’s eyes sparkled with flecks of orange from the fire on this cold spring day. Emma found herself alone, swept to the outskirts of her roommate’s inner circle, a circle that excluded her, but accepted her sister. Emma could hear Lily talk about one writer or novel to the next, going on about what she liked about them, with Lily looking like she belonged, and from Lily’s excited voice and flashing smiles, Emma could see hot relief on Lily’s face, in her realization that she was finally fitting in, that the years of being shunned at school for being an awkward nerd, but was in fact, she found,  too sophisticated for her classmates, that she was on a different plane than them. And Emma fell back in the chair behind her as she realized too, that Lily was too sophisticated for her. Lily found her kindred spirits, people who got her, who were genuinely interested in her thoughts, and then Emma could see that Olivia, Roxanna and the others were Lily, the grown up versions of Lily, and that Lily would one day live in a world where Emma could only dream about being a part of. Lily stood with confidence, with excitement, as happiness danced in her smile. A glow of hope filled Lily’s face, a hope that this night would never end, or she could somehow time warp to the future and join her new friends as her grown up self.

On the drive home, Lily couldn’t stop talking about how much fun she had and thanking Emma for taking her to the party. Emma stewed in silence, but she couldn’t figure out why she felt upset at Lily. It was true, she thought, that she felt upset for being excluded from Olivia and her friends. But that wasn’t Lily’s fault. She recalled how happy Lily looked in finally meeting people she could relate to. Emma smiled in turn, and said to Lily, “I’m glad you came, too, squirt. Maybe we could do it again, soon.”

“You think so, Em? Oh, thank you, thank you. That would be wonderful.” Lily exclaimed.

But then Emma began to cry, remembering all the times she made fun of her sister, calling her a geek in so many mean ways, that she thought she was a weirdo, to be hidden away.

“Why are you crying, Em? Asked Lily.

Emma wiped her tears, and managed to say, “I’m fine, Lily. I’ll be fine.”

Lily still looked a little concerned, but she continued to rattle on about the evening and how much fun it had been.

By the time they walked through the front door, they were laughing and smiling, and Emma saw an expression on her mother’s face she recognized from earlier. It was that knowing smile, and Emma began to wonder if this evening was orchestrated by her. Nah, she thought, and went upstairs to listen to records with Lily. Halfway up, she thought she heard her mom say to her dad, “See Fred. It worked.”

Whatever, Emma thought, and said to Lily, “Race you!”

© R. F. Mechelke

R.F. Mechelke holds a B.S. from Marquette University and a Masters from Cardinal Stritch University. He was born and raised in Florida, and now lives in the Chicago area. His short stories have been published in the Blue Lake Review, the Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, the Sci Phi Journal, and the Lowestoft Chronicle. His flash story, Country Talk, is forthcoming in the Winter issue of the MoonPark Review. More about R.F. Mechelke can be found at www.RFMechelke.com.

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