“She’s beautiful. Isn’t she beautiful, Michael?”
Emery could hear the home video playing downstairs. It meant that her mother was still awake, even though it was two o’clock in the morning. Maybe Emery wasn’t the only one who was restless in that house.
“What should we name her?”
She sat on her bed with an oversized sweatshirt and shorts on, watching as Matt got dressed. He was slipping on his jeans, socks, shoes, shirt last, of course—Emery knew he wanted to make a spectacle of himself—and eventually came over to reach for her hand. Emery felt comfortable with him like with quiet mornings and hot coffee: languid and calm. She had to wonder sometimes, though, if that was enough.
“Emery. We should name her Emery.”
Emery grabbed Matt’s hand and led him to the window. She was ready for him to go. The fact that her mother was awake downstairs made it even more clear to her. Emery reached into her closet and pulled out the fire escape ladder, lowering it carefully down the side of the house and securing it on the windowsill. She took extreme care when it came to making no noise. Matt, however, didn’t seem to notice the stealth that she was trying to have. As Matt began his descent, he stretched his neck back up to give Emery one last kiss, knocking loudly on the side of the house.
Emery shushed him, gave him a kiss, and ushered him farther down the ladder.
“Our little girl.”
After Matt was gone and the fire escape ladder was back in her room, Emery tip-toed downstairs to see her mother.
Amelia McQuain was sitting on a couch in front of the living room TV watching a younger version of Emery ride a bike for the first time. Amelia had tears in her eyes, and Emery wasn’t sure if she should comfort her mother or roll her eyes. After graduating from high school a few weeks ago, Emery had gotten a front row seat for her mother’s nostalgias. So, Emery decided on responding with a balance of the two.
“Mom,” she said gently, touching her mother’s shoulder.
Her mother reached up and grabbed her hand, giving it a soft squeeze. Amelia continued to cry, letting the tears flow in front of Emery. That was one thing that her mother never did. Amelia McQuain never wiped away her tears. Emery was always told that tears were there for a reason and shouldn’t be wiped away.
Amelia looked up at Emery, “I thought I heard something,” and then continued, raising her eyebrows questioningly, “Can’t sleep?”
Emery blushed and turned her head away, feigning stretching her neck. “Yeah, just restless, I guess.” Emery came around to the front of the couch and sat down next to her mother. Emery took the remote and paused the video, tired of seeing her own memories on the screen. “You need to stop watching this video, Mom,” Emery teased as she bumped her mother’s shoulder.
Amelia bumped her back and looked at the paused image on the screen. It was a blurry image of Emery—four years old?—riding her “big girl bike” for the first time with her shoulders pressed forward for more speed.
Emery looked over at her mother’s face. It had grown dark, some gray cloud passing over her features. “Mom, are you okay?” Emery asked.
“I-I—” Amelia started, the tears coming back down her cheeks. Her creative, slender, paint-stained fingers came up to hold the necklace around her neck.
“You know I’m just going to the local college, right?” Emery joked. “I’ll still be staying here.”
Amelia’s face stretched into a smile but Emery knew it wasn’t a real one. Emery watched as her mother shook her head, wiped away her tears, and pulled her into a hug.
Her mother began to say something about it being alright and her being okay, but Emery barely registered any of it. Amelia had wiped away her tears and Emery knew something was wrong. Something a lot deeper than her graduating high school.
Amelia McQuain had breakfast ready the next morning. Although, Emery was the only one who was awake and coming downstairs. Jaxx, Emery’s eleven-year-old younger brother, was always waking up late—if even at all—during the morning. It may have been summer, but Emery knew that her parents would not let Jaxx sleep in too late. Michael, her father, would always ask her to wake Jaxx up. It was like clockwork every morning at breakfast. Emery knew it was her mother’s idea, though. Amelia would just get her husband to implement the tender command.
Emery watched her mother’s artist’s hands as they piled a plate full of eggs and bacon for Emery. Emery always thought her mother was the most creative person she had ever known. Amelia could paint, draw, and write, but painting was her passion.
All over their two-story home, original paintings hung on the walls. Some had quotes, some were landscapes, but all were done by Amelia—including the original quotes that were painted onto the canvases. In the kitchen, though, where Emery was about to sit down to eat breakfast, there were sketches and only sketches. The only one who did not have a portrait was Amelia because none of her children had inherited her aptitude for creativity. Jaxx and Emery had both tried, but their portraits of their mother looked more clunky and abstract than her realistic sketches.
“You look a little tired, sweetheart,” Amelia said with a smile as she placed the breakfast in front of Emery.
“I could say the same thing about you, Mom,” Emery teased. Emery raised a mouthful of eggs to her mouth right as her father walked into the kitchen.
“Go wake your brother, Emmy, and stop picking on your mother!” Michael McQuain said to his daughter.
Emery, resigned, lifted herself from the chair she was sitting on to go back upstairs. Her parents were both laughing—the epitome of bad parenting—as she climbed the stairs, but she was smiling, too.
Jaxx’s blue framed black door was closed. As she entered Jaxx’s room, she could not help the disgusted look that was plastered on her face. The odor was horrendous, and just the sight of his room made Emery want to gouge her eyes out. Jaxx’s room was decorated to look like space, but it looked like a starry-filled trashcan to Emery. Everything was a wreck: clothes strewn across the floor, dirty dishes stacked by the bed, a piece of moldy pizza crust on top of one. She did not think pizza crust could mold, but here she was being disproven.
Emery silently stalked across the room, seeing her attack in the form of a half-empty water bottle on Jaxx’s nightstand. She slowly opened it, saw her eleven-year-old brother sleeping peacefully with his glasses askew on his face, and dumped the water onto him.
She bolted from the room as Jaxx yelled in surprise. Emery threw herself through the black door and was just barely able to close the door as some unknown object hit it with a bang.
Emery smirked to herself as she walked back downstairs into the kitchen. She reached for her phone out of the back pocket of her jeans to check the time:
Thursday, 7:32 AM, May 23
She was meeting up with Matt and Zoe for coffee at eight, so she knew she needed to hurry if she was going to be there on time. So, Emery sat down at the table in the kitchen and started eating from the plate her mother had given her earlier.
“Thanks, Mom,” Emery said in between a heaping spoonful of eggs.
Jaxx came into the kitchen then looking just as peeved as Emery imagined he would be. His hair looked slightly damp and Emery could not help but chuckle to herself. Jaxx shoved her as he sat down at the table.
Emery watched her mother put a plate with just as much food as hers in front of Jaxx. Amelia’s hair was held up with a paint brush—a used one at that—and Emery noticed the paint on her mother’s collarbone, right next to the necklace that was always around her neck. It was a peculiar necklace that Emery never quite caught the meaning of. It had one very small gold ring, a slightly larger silver one, and an even bigger bronze ring. They were all connected, tied together by each other and the chain itself. It was a dainty necklace that Emery always thought fit her mother perfectly.
Emery’s father wrapped his arms around Amelia’s waist and planted a kiss on her cheek. Emery stood as her parents were caught in that embrace and reached for her keys on the countertop just as her father reached for his.
“Michael, Emery, don’t forget that we’re going out to eat tonight as a family.”
“And we’re using my new telescope after!” Jaxx piped up.
“Of course, Mom. Wouldn’t miss it.” Emery looked over to Jaxx and shrugged, “Might have to miss the stargazing, though.”
Jaxx threw a piece of bacon at her and Emery ducked easily.
“You know I’ll be there, Jaxx,” she said as she went over to ruffle his hair.
He swatted her hand away.
Emery walked over to her mother and kissed her on the cheek, watching as her father smiled. It was not a smile that Emery was used to seeing on her father. It was off in some way, but she did not stay long enough to find out why.