Ariana had her first child, Lillian – Lily for short, after our mother’s favorite flowers. Lily was a quiet child but content – always smiling or blinking at you as if she understood everything.
A few weeks after Lily’s birth, Dad was sleeping in layer than usual. We didn’t think much of it until lunchtime, when he still hadn’t emerged.
I knew what it was before I went into his room. I could feel the stillness on the other side of the door and I knew.
Dad has passed on, joining our mother. The books beside him on the bed were all journals – both in his handwriting and hers. Later on, after the funeral and burial, Ari and I looked through them. Hers chronicled everything from the day she left the farm for college until the day before her death.
Some of it was mundane, some of it was about her fantastical life – her undead mother, her demon brother.
Our father’s journal, however, began two weeks after Mom’s funeral. Each entry was a new love letter from the other side of the grave, telling her what happened on the farm; how I was growing up; how the grandchildren were; and most of all, how much he missed her and cherished her and couldn’t wait to be reunited when his time came.
Ariana was convinced Dad’s ghost was lingering in that bedroom. She had taken to drinking a lot, though, and I had a feeling a lot of it was grief delusions. She hadn’t been taking care of Lily since Dad’s death, so I took it upon myself as one of my many, many tasks (along with caring for the animals and children while Julian worked his hectic schedule as fire chief).
I honored my mother and father a little differently than Ariana chose to. Instead of drinking, I got inked. My father had never been that great of an artist, but he had sketched up a tattoo design (of my mother, of course) he had always wanted to get.
I took it down to the tattoo parlor and got it placed on my lower back.
It wasn’t long after that Ariana started having a mid-life crisis. One morning I woke up and her room was empty. Her things were gone, some of my jewelry had been taken, and all she left was Lily. She abandoned her daughter, left her, and a quickly scrawled note on the crib.
Some days were easier than others, of course. As time went on, I would find that some mornings all I could do was go into town, buy some flowers, and cry at my parents’ graves. It was hard on me – being on the farm alone while Julian worked and the kids were at school, surrounded by a house and family grave that reeked of my beloved mother and father.
But, time heals all wounds.
Fennec became a strapping teen with an attitude and quicksilver tongue. He began asking about getting in contact with Beau, which we forbade him from doing quickly. He didn’t get what the big deal about talking to his real dad was. I was quick to remind him that his sperm donor killed my mother and that Julian was the only man who had shown any parental guidance to him – ever. So that made Julian the real dad. That shut him up rather quickly, to my surprise.
Becca became a willowy, pale skinned and freckled beauty who looked nothing like my mixed Hispanic and everything like Beau’s Irish heritage. She was sweet and quirky and still swore up and down that Jelly Bean was real. She didn’t mention him too much anymore, only when prompted. I assumed she was realizing how crazy it sounded to have an imaginary friend at her age.
When I caught her kissing midair I couldn’t help but laugh, which resulted in an epic melt-down type of hysterics. But not the kind I expected.
“MOM! Can’t you see I need some PRIVACY?”
I rolled my eyes. Teens. “Whatever, princess,” I said as I breezed past her and into the kitchen, going for a carton of ice cream for breakfast. Weird, but I was craving it.
“Mom, I have the best idea.”
Oh great. I had been a lot more irritable lately, and the kids were really driving me nuts with their constant high school dramas.
“I want to go to boarding school. In France. I know it’s sudden and it will cost a lot, but I don’t want any birthday or Snowflake Day presents to compensate. Okay? Can I? Please?”
I blinked. Boarding School? Didn’t we used to threaten Boarding School when they were younger and misbehaving? Didn’t they fear it above all else?
“What school?” I asked finally.
She looked started, like she didn’t expect me to ask that. “Oh. Um. LeFromage? The, um, art school?”
I narrowed my eyes. “You made that up, didn’t you?”
She shook her head, her long tresses of flaming red hair spiraling around her. “No! No, really, it’s there. And I want to go.”
“Go where?” Fennec asked, sounding bored, as he walked past.
“Boarding School,” Becca replied quickly. “In France!”
“Why does she get to go?!” he demanded, flying into a sudden and intense rage that startled me. “I want to go!”
“Hold on, Jesus, calm down!” I exclaimed. “Why do both of you want to go?”
“Art,” Becca said quickly.
“Women,” Fennec said just as quickly.
I looked between the two of my children tiredly. “I’ll ask your father,” I sighed.
Becca whooped. “He’ll for sure say yes!”
He said yes. They left three days later on an early morning flight, excited and attempting to speak in French with what they had learned from three days of surfing the internet (and, in Fennec’s case, French porn).
My children were now on a plane going to France, farther away from me than they’d ever been. It hurt my heart for them to be away from me, even though they were exhausting. It hurt to be left with only my sister’s abandoned toddler and my stomach pains.
Julian left for another shift of three days on so he could come home for four straight days. I spent the first two days in a stupor, cleaning the house and trying to entertain Lily.
When I woke up the third morning, what I saw didn’t make sense. There was some kind of dream monster looming above me, his gleaming teeth glistening with saliva. His red eyes glowing.
I was stunned into silence as I watched him lean in and grab me by the arms, hoisting me out of the bed.
When hos mouth lowered closer to mine, his teeth dripping the spittle and, who knows, maybe venom, I began screaming. Lily, still in her crib, began to cry, her voice shrill.
The demon’s mouth covered mine and I lost all consciousness.
“What the fuck, Ella!”
I awoke with a start, blinking blearily at Julian who looked pissed. “When was the last time you changed Lily! She’s been in here screaming since I got home!”
I pulled myself up. I felt terrible, like I had been hit by a train. “What…”
Julian was shaking his head, going over to the crib and letting Lily out. “Jesus, Ella! She’s been sitting in her own filth all day?! Are you on something?”
I’d never heard him so angry. I stood and trudged over, trying to take Lily from him. He batted me away. “I got this,” he said gruffly, walking her into the next room, which contained her changing table.
We were silent at dinner until the tension got to be too much. “I’m sorry,” I apologized again. “I don’t know what happened. I don’t even know how I slept that long or didn’t hear her. It must be the…” my voice faltered and I realized I had missed my period – two months now.
He raised an eyebrow at me.
“I’m pregnant,” I groaned.