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Arcadia's Gift

By:Jest Lea Ryan

Chapter 1

The day before…
Yellow morning light seeped through the pink curtains of my bedroom, intruding on my Ian Somerhalder dream and nudging me awake. I brushed the crust out of my eyes and rolled over to check the time. Ugh! Why did I always have to wake up ten minutes before my alarm was set to go off? I dropped my head back onto the pillow and pulled the covers over my head. It was no use and I knew it. Those extra ten minutes of sleep were gone forever. The wisps of my dream faded away like smoke.
The sounds of morning in my house seeped into my warm blanket cave. My sister, Lony, was getting ready for school down the hall in our shared bathroom, her little radio tuned in to the local morning show. Every so often, she’d giggle at something the host or his sidekick said. Lony got up a half hour earlier than me every day so she could claim the shower —and eighty percent of the hot water —first.
In the kitchen below me, my mother hollered threats down the basement steps at my brother, Aaron, to coerce him into getting up for school. We only lived two blocks away from our high school, but Aaron still managed to be late at least twice a week.
Although I couldn’t hear him, I knew my father must be sitting at the kitchen table drinking coffee and checking the sports section for last night’s baseball scores.
Moisture tickled the insides of my eye lids, threatening to spill my grief. This would be Dad’s last morning here with the family. He was moving out this weekend into one of the rental properties they owned, the one where the hallways between the apartments smelled like stale Vietnamese cooking.
I turned onto my side and hugged my down pillow to my chest. It was best to get the crying done and over with now. It wouldn’t do any good to break down in front of the kids at school.
Anyone with two eyeballs in their head could see my parents hadn’t been happy for a long time. They used to argue at night after we went to bed, usually about money, but a lot of times, just nit-picking at each other. We’d hear them down in the kitchen snapping and hissing, trying not to wake us. I should’ve known things were really bad when the arguing stopped. One or both of them must have given up the fight.
I had to get up if I was going to see my dad off to work. On a normal morning, I wouldn’t have bothered, but today, it was important. I rubbed my face dry with the sleeves of my pajamas and crawled out from under the covers, turning off the alarm before it beeped. Time to boot Lony out of the bathroom. I crossed the hall and pushed open the door without knocking. My sister did her best to ignore me.
Everything about Lony’s face was glittery and pink, from eye shadow to blush to lip gloss. She stood in front of the vanity methodically sectioning and flat-ironing her natural waves into a perfectly disciplined curtain that would hang down the middle of her back. Seeing her was like looking at myself in a funhouse mirror. Technically, we’re identical right down to the DNA, but these days no one ever mixed us up. I’m more the “wash and wear” type.
“What’s wrong with your eyes? Auditioning for The Walking Dead?”
I ignored her, stepping past to flip on the shower. I dropped my pajama bottoms and tugged my t-shirt over my head. Lony was the one person that I could change in front of without being self-conscious.
“Cady! Why do you have to fog up the mirror while I’m still getting ready?” Lony complained.
“Get ready in your room,” I snapped back, stepping into the hot water and drawing the curtain closed. I heard her yank the electrical cord out of the wall and stomp off toward her bedroom in a huff. She came back a minute later to get her radio.
I took the fastest shower of my life, not even bothering to blow dry my hair. I threw on my clothes and hurried down the stairs. But when I got to the kitchen, the table was empty. Dad’s coffee cup sat abandoned in the sink. He was already gone.

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Chapter 2

“Girl, your sister is a piece of work,” Shawn declared as he slid into the bench seat across from me at the lunch table and set his tray down hard. Shawn Cole has been my friend since kindergarten, but as much as he liked me, he could never hide his aversion to my sister.
“What did she do now?” I asked, jamming a fork full of pasta salad into my mouth.
He rolled his eyes and complained, “Mr. McDonnell paired me up with Lony for our semester long chemistry project. We both know I get better grades than she does, but I just spent the last half hour having her dictate to me her ideas and how she insists we’re gonna do things. I refuse to be bossed around for the next sixteen weeks by the Cheerleader from Hell. Any advice for me on how to handle her?”