I sigh and get off the window bench I “slept” on that night. Daniel and mom know I have insomnia, but I’m not sure if they know how bad it is, that I sometimes go days without it just to crash randomly. I once crashed in the middle of a street, which I played off to the cops and mom as a drunken black-out. Well… I was a little tipsy that day. Regardless, that nap I had in the park earlier this morning will likely be the only sleep I have until next week, which is the exact thing you want when you’re in a new school. I gently shove Penn’s shoulder as I strip off pieces of clothing and chuck them across the room. As I’m undoing my bra to replace it with another, Penn suddenly jolts awake. I can see her quickly sit up in bed, her big brown eyes wide and frantic, like a deer who knows it’s met the end. The movement startles me enough that I reflexively cover my breasts with my arms until I realize nothing is wrong. Angry floods my face as I return to dressing myself.
“Lynn…” Penn says in her chime-like voice, so soft that if I hadn’t lived with this little pipsqueak for three years I wouldn’t have heard her.
“Yea?” I reply, kicking off my pants and grabbing another pair from the growing mound of dirty and semi-clean clothing around me.
“I had a n-nightmare.”
Where did I put my plaid shirt?
She sits there, like she’s expecting me to hug her or… I don’t know, comfort her in some way. And I stand there like a jerk, looking this way and that to avoid her gaze. I mean I get it, nightmares suck. But no one kisses my head when I have them and no one strokes my hair when I cry in the night… at least not anymore. Why should she? She needs to face reality, it sucks. But because she’s only 6 and because I figure I should show some sisterly concern with her I walk over to her, in my half dressed shirtless sockless state, and I sit beside her on the, my, bed. I pull her sleepy body to mine and rub my hand over her head, down her tossled and knotted curls, and then to the middle of her back, before I slowly return my hand back up her back. I repeat the motion while I ask her what happened in her dream.
Penn describes to me a beast who looked like a grey rhino, chasing her down the hall of her old home in Stanton. Penn runs past her “old mother’s” workroom, filled with alcohol and a broken computer, past her parents room, where her mom hits Daniel in the jaw, sending him backwards into the closet door, and then into her old room with the faded wallpaper. I’d seen the house and I knew the aftermath. She doesn’t have to describe it to me because I know what she means when she says “the house in Stanton”. That was the day Daniel asked Natasha for a divorce and then was subsequently sucker punched in the jaw. He ended up having to go to the hospital, but not before Natasha, in her drunken stupor, tried to stab him. Penn actually saved him. She was three and she hit the blade with her hand, which caused it to skirt down her palm, wrist, and midway down her forearm. She spent weeks in the hospital, my mom and Daniel cooing over her. I didn’t see her much during that time. That was when I found the Methodist church and lived like I wanted. That time was tough for all of us. Well, not my mom or Daniel. They caused this crap to happen. If Daniel hadn’t asked for a divorce Penn wouldn’t have been hurt. If they hadn’t been selfish we could have been spared the pain.
I act like I’m listening to Penn, but I’m really trying not to relive those months, try not to think about my dad leaving me to deal with the fallout. I feel wetness on my chest and figure Penn is crying. Great. Kindergartener tears on my boobs. I pull her away from me, slowly like I’m still being consoling and totally not trying to just get her to not make me anymore wet.
“It was just a dream Penn. You’re fine. You have your first day of school today. Aren’t you excited?”
“But what about the rhino?” she says as she stares over my shoulder.
How long has she been doing that?
“The one from your dream?”
“The one over there.” She points over my shoulder and continues to stare. I peer over my shoulder and see a large, grey rhino-like creature 3 feet from me. Its horns a dark yellow at the bottom and the point spins around itself. It’s eyes are a deep red color. The ears are pointed, almost cat like in appearance. It growls at me and I can see its black and jagged teeth. I scream and immediately I’m gone.
The room is gone and replaced with the Serengeti. No other animals are in sight and the landscape is flat with little trees. The not-rhino is charging for me. I turn and run up the closest tree and thankfully my feet don’t fail me as I scale the tree for the first time in months. I look down in time to see the rhino slam its twisted tusk into the tree. The force knocks me back, but I manage to hold on to the stronger limbs. I continue scaling the tree until I reach the top. The rhino has now start to climb the tree itself, not only bending the tree but also the laws of animal science. I quickly think for a solution and my mind immediately thinks the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever thought: a tornado that could sweep the rhino and tree far far away from me. I shake my head and look around to find some way to get out of this tree and far away from this rhino when I spot it: the tornado I longed for in this moment. It swirls and kicks up dust around it and approaches rapidly in a straight line towards me, the tree, and the rhino. Screaming, I leap from the tree as the tornado overtakes not-rhino and the tree. As I land, I try to tuck myself into a roll to lose momentum, but only end up smacking my head against the sandy landscape.
“AISLYNN!” I hear as I open my eyes. My mother’s face completely takes over my vision, wrinkled from aging twenty years in three and her green eyes reflecting mine. I sit up and look around. Penn is outside our room, hiding behind the door frame.
I fell asleep.
“Are you OK?” My mother asks as she rubs my freckled arms up and down. I shake off her hands and get off the bed, grabbing my red plaid shirt that was laying underneath a pile of clothing by my bed and I grab my iPod from my discarded dirty jeans from last night. Not caring if the shirt is clean or dirty, I hastily throw it on and walk out of the room.
“Aislynn Rae!” My mother calls out to me, but I don’t dare stop now. Racing down the steps and out the door before I can hear her worthless ultimatums, I briefly pause to slip on my chucks before I run outside. Whatever my mother decides to do to me won’t top the worst punishments I’ve faced this year. Listening to her at this point is moot. Knowing that she’ll call my school to check in on me, playing that good mother card, I decide to head there. I’ll scope the place out and find it’s weak points for when I need a place to escape to or from in the coming days. The walk to the school isn’t far from the piece of crap house Daniel bought. He got a horrible deal, but mom pressured him to get us to a new town as soon as possible. She felt that Stanton held too many bad memories for all of us and I kept getting put in Juvi up there. As soon as I finished my probation term…
the Court was just as surprised I completed too…
We took off into the great and fabulous new town and adventure known as Willow’s Creek. And yes, I’m being sarcastic. Daniel had to move out so fast that he took the first job and house he could, which meant mom had to start working again. I could tell it irked her. She never had to work when my dad was around. He always treats her like a queen and me a princess. No way he’d have made her get a job. But she ruined that happiness instead of treasuring it.
They were able to make the move to this crap town in the summer so Penn could have a proper first day. No one in that family talked about my first day in a totally different school with none of my old friends. Everything focused on Penn in this new family. I shrugged off my jealousy as the school came into view. Putting on a blank expression and straightening my shoulders I charge into the school like I’m going into battle.
Carrying my bloodied sword at my right side and my shield dangling from my fingertips on my left, I walk with my head held high. My dress has been torn, half of the petticoat is missing and the dress now ends at my knees. My bodice is in tatters, my bare arms and chest visible through the missing fabric. Half of my face is bloodied and my hair sticks to my head and neck. Though my battlemates have been slain and all that remains is me, I will fight to my last breath. I see their flags and hear their laughter. They think they’ve won the battle. But I will win the war. With a mighty scream I raise my sword and charge.
I blink and look around. I’m standing in the middle of a room with desks and other kids my age. Plain white walls, except for the occasional motivational poster surround me. There’s also a whiteboard with smart technology, about a decade older than the models I saw in Stanton, and an angry teacher about 3 feet from my face.
What’s with everyone wanting to be in my face today?
“I’m… uhh… sorry?” I saw as I quickly try to remember what I was doing outside of the battleground.
“You barged into my classroom and screamed bloody murder while raising your hands like you were going to hit someone! Now what is your name?” Old-fart asks me as she angles her glasses in order to look down on me over the tops of them. I sigh and give my name. “Aislynn Rae Raymond.”
“Hmm…” she hums as she scans her list. “I have an Aislynn Rae Peterson on—“
“It’s supposed to be Raymond,” I say impatiently. I can’t believe my mother registered me under that last name. That might be her new name and she might have forgotten about dad, but not me. I’m a Raymond forever and always.
“Well until you can get it changed you’ll be Ms. Peterson. Now sit down!” She yells out the last two words. I squint my eyes and huff like the Big Bad Wolf about to blow down the three little pigs houses. She stands there, unflinching. I huff one last time and take the first desk I can find in the back. I’m in the very last row in the very back corner of the classroom. In front of me is an empty desk so I place my feet through the desk backing and recline my seat. As I’m reclining and looking around for escapes and outside doors during the first-day lecture stuff I’m sure will be repeated in every class I have today, I see out of the corner of my eye a bronze skinned girl with long, frizzy brown hair and a baseball cap. She stares at me and I turn to look at her. She smiles and I notice her eyes instantly. A deep hazel color that reminds me of chocolate milk and trees, a memory that instantly reminds me of the time dad and I drank it until we were sick while laying in my incomplete treehouse, stargazing. He taught me what stars were which and how to find my way home if I ever got lost.
Mrs. Old Fart clears her throat and we snap back to attention. When she turns away again to write down instructions on the board, I go back to looking at this girl. My mind instantly tries to find the imperfections, because that’s how I rationalize she’s not like my baby step-sister. While I find it, acne here and there like me, a gap between her two front teeth, dirt under her chewed off nails, I can’t help but to still be amazed by her eyes. The bell can’t ring any sooner and I’m out of the door in a flash, pushing past a few people even to get away from the hazel eyed girl.