+ Angelique was lost in a fantasy novel when the train ground to a stop. Dark pine forests, captured between swaths of pale green pasture, filled the landscape. Swinging her feet to the floor, her brown hair over her petite figure. She grabbed a heavy suitcase from the rack above her and stepped outside. The air washed over her in a warm summertime bath filled with blooming flowers and insect calls. Her uncle, Joe MacKitrick, was waiting for her on the platform. A tall man with blonde messy hair, he had the same blue eyes as her father, but they lacked the twinkle of amusement. And his lips were firmly squared instead of curving upwards like her father’s. He always seemed like of paler cut of cloth, missing the vibrancy that exuded from her father.
“Hello Angelique,” he boomed, grabbing her suitcase. “Welcome to Waunakee. Your aunt would have come too but she had to go to a meeting today.” Angelique gave him a quick hug; and then shrank back. She was fond of her uncle but wasn’t used to spending time with him alone — without her father. They were always teasing each other the way siblings do, which put her at ease. We have a lifetime worth of jokes, her father had once explained. She felt the same about her aunt and cousin, friendly, but a little foreign. A different set of unwritten rules pulled the levers between them.
She jumped in her Uncle's car and Joe chatted about what crops they had planted while they drove. His words slid out the window as Angelique gazed at this new landscape. Her last visit had been in winter, and the countryside had changed completely, unfolding in its newfound freedom. The sun's rays slanted across the rolling hills and the fields, brilliantly green in new growth. The smell of pine wafted in the windows as they passed through patches of woods with babbling creeks. Places for secret forts and treehouses, or maybe even fairy glens, Angelique thought.
“Angelique!” “Yes,” she turned to Joe quickly. “Although you’re our guest, I do expect you to help out with the chores. Everyone in the family helps, including Tommy, and so will baby Derrick when he’s older.”
“Yeah, of course… I will.” She fidgeted, adults were always so practical when they could be having fun instead. Soon, they arrived at a modest farmhouse and barn perched on a small hill, surrounded by a sea of speckled green and yellow fields flowing to the forest beyond. The air filled with the smell of cut grass, like her of weekend afternoons at home, spent reading on the porch with the lazy noise of mowers in the distance.
“Come on Angelique, I’ll show you around before dinner.”
They circled around the farm buildings with a pair of German shepherds following Joe, waging their tails eagerly. Several horses grazed slowly, and cats darted around every corner. Angelique stopped to pet the cats, dogs, and horses but Joe kept marching stubbornly on, looking back at her impatiently. Angelique sighed. Little paths lead down to the mysterious looking woods, but there was no time to explore. Uncle Joe pulled her along from one building to the next until it was dark.
At the dinner table that night, her Aunt Elizabeth, or Lizzie, beamed at her and asked if she wanted more casserole, repeatedly. Angelique smiled and said no. It was rubbery and heavy, and she wished she didn’t have to eat it at all. Her cousin Tommy was seated next to her, loudly slurping a glass of milk. At 14, he was only two years older than her, but his legs and arms seemed a bit too long, as if he didn’t quite fit in his body. Angelique smiled tentatively at him, but he looked away. They used to play together at family gatherings when they were younger, building Lego sets in the basement of Angelique’s house. Now that he was older however, he seemed to avoid her, seeking out the company of other boys.
Angelique ate her dinner quietly, over Joe and Lizzie’s conversation of church events and neighbors. She felt like she had landed in some foreign land — this was nothing like the dinners at home. Those were filled with animated conversation and delicious food. She had wanted to stay at home, take gymnastics classes, and spend time in the Boston parks with her friends. Her parents had been firm, and insisted she spend the summer in New England because of her mother’s condition. Her mother would need to go through multiple tests and treatments over the next few weeks. They had reasoned with her that the fresh air on the farm would be good for her, a better environment than Boston. Last night, her father had explained that her mother would need surgery to remove the cancer, if she didn’t respond well to her treatments.
“It would be hard on you, too hard,” he’d said. “You'll have more fun with your cousins and Uncle Joe.” Angelique didn’t like any of it. The whole thing made her sick to her stomach, the illness, being sent to the farm for the summer, and now her cousin’s loud slurping. She wished they could go back to last summer, when everything had been fine. When had she realized what was happening? The feeling had crept slowly in, like the sensation of morning light, as the color on her mother’s cheeks had gradually faded. Her skin was almost translucent now, like she might melt into the sunlight around her, evaporating from this world. Lately, she had put a nightlight in her room, to keep away the nightmares. It didn’t work though. Nor did her arguments to stay at home for the summer. So far being at the farm did not seem so wonderful, at least at home she was asleep for the worst of it.
Earlier that day, she had hugged her mother fiercely. Her scent of roses had lingered on Angelique’s clothes. Wrapped in a bathrobe that didn’t hide her thin figure, she stroked Angelique’s hair.
“We’ll be up to see you soon, I promise.” Angelique wanted to protest one last time but her father shook his head no. Angelique blinked back tears, and grabbed her bags. Her father took her to the train station and held her hand while they waited. His eyes were filled with a grayness and depth she rarely saw in a man so easy to laugh. He had hugged her as her train approached and made her promise she would call as soon as she arrived. When she called him at the farm, his voice sounded tinny and strained, like he was a million miles away.
“Angelique, would you like to serve dessert?” asked Lizzie, smiling. “Or would you like to hold Derrick?” Her baby was squawking loudly.
“Ah, I’ll get dessert.”
“We have pie and ice cream. Joe can you help her?” Joe started cutting slices of pie and placing them onto plates. Angelique grabbed a huge container of country French vanilla ice cream from the freezer, and an ice cream scoop. She turned around, and jerked back with disgust. The pie was spreading into a black pool, its edges running across the pink flowers on the plate.
“What kind of pie is this?” she whispered to Joe. Joe, smirked at her, and said quietly,
“Shoo-fly pie. Your aunt’s favorite.” She dabbed her finger in the black puddle, it tasted of sickly sweet molasses. Joe raised his eyebrows at her, and Angelique smirked. He winked, and cut her a slim piece of pie and piled several scoops of ice cream over it, and did the same for himself. Angelique carefully ate only the ice cream while Tommy inhaled the entire dish.
When he was done, Tommy slid back his chair with a screech and darted into the living room. Joe sighed and carried Tommy’s plate to the dishwasher. Tommy and Joe spent the rest of the evening watching football, shouting animatedly at the TV. Angelique wavered between the kitchen, where Lizzie was sewing, and the living room, not knowing which was worse. The game was boring but Lizzie kept trying to get her to hold the baby, which burst into painfully loud shrieks. Lizzie, finally noticed the pained look on Angelique’s face,
“Dear, you must be exhausted after your trip! I’ll show you to your bedroom. It’s Tommy’s old room before we had Derrick, and it’ll be his once he’s old enough.” They went upstairs to a pale blue room. It had a narrow bed with thin green comforters, Star Wars posters sagging on the walls, and dressers covered with plastic soldiers and trucks. Lizzie fussed around the room, showed her where everything was, and told her to ask if she needed anything. Finally, she shut the door to let Angelique sleep. A feeling of unease and unfamiliarity crept under her skin as she lay on the uncomfortable mattress, watching the blinking fluorescent clock, and hearing the water swishing through the pipes in the walls. Soon, however, fatigue overcame her, and she fell asleep.
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