Death to all Snails, Unmade Beds, and Record Players

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Unfortunately for Franklin things felt kind of bleak, things always felt kind of bleak the day after a birthday. He woke up later than usual to find that Rosalie had long since left the room. Her pajama sleeve was poking out from behind her pillow and she had done a terrible job in making up her bed. Franklin figured it was because she was only four and not as superior in bed making as he the six, nearly seven, year old was. When he made up his mind that he was hungry he fixed up Rosalie’s bed, without making up his own, before going out into the hall. Both Zelda and Zoey’s doors were open, and loud music could be heard coming from Poppy’s room. It was why Zelda and Zoey had their doors open. Franklin was in a mood and usually when he couldn’t find his mother right away he settled for Zoey because she babied him. He was two steps from entering her room when he heard, further down the hall, the bathroom door open and Ida step out with the steam, in her bathrobe.

“Mommy!” Franklin called lighting up.

Ida turned with warmth only she could give, holding out her arms. “Bet you can’t run into these arms.”

Franklin took the bait sprinting as fast as his little legs could take him. He didn’t know why, but every time he ran towards his mother he always had a fear that she was going away for a long time. Ida crouched down but Franklin was running so fast they fell backwards laughing. He kissed her face all over because he knew she liked that.

“Hi mommy!” he cheered.

Ida wrapped her arms around him, “Hi Frankie, I thought you were going to sleep the day away.”

“Did you miss me?”

“More than I can say.”

There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that Franklin loved Ida however when Leo also stepped out of the bathroom in his bathrobe, coldness washed over him. Now Franklin is too young to register exactly why Ida and Leo would shower together. He just didn’t like (at least for the time being) Leo being around all the time. It’s not like he didn’t like Leo. In fact Leo was his hero, but Leo was intruding on his special mother time. It was bad enough he had to share with Rosalie, but she was his sister so he had made do. Leo had no blood connection whatsoever yet he was following Ida around, in Franklin’s opinion, like he had any right to her time. Ida felt Franklin’s coldness as if he were literally freezing on top of her. She tried to hug him tighter as if to prove she hadn’t chose Leo over him.

“I couldn’t find my face towel so I used yours.” Leo said as he dried his head. He noticed them on the ground, “What are you guys doing?”

Ida’s smile was a little sad, “We fell over, didn’t we Frankie?”

“Yes.” Franklin said turning his head.

“Frankie just woke up.” Ida said. Then in a way only a mother knows how, got up from the floor without ever once putting Franklin down. “Where’s your sister?”

Franklin shrugged.

“Will you find her for me and make sure she’s dressed? You get dressed too we’ll go to the park.”

Putting his head on her shoulder: “I don’t want to go to the park.” Franklin looked at Leo before forcing his mother to put him down.

Even Leo was aware of Franklin’s moods and respected them. Telling Ida she should be worried if Franklin didn’t care who she spent all her time with.

“Well,” Ida kept smiling trying to prove to Franklin that everything was alright, “could you find your sister for me anyway?”

Without saying anything more Franklin walked off.

Had he gone into Zoey’s room he would have saw her passionately kissing one of the first floor borders who took to being enamored with her. If Franklin did walk in and Zoey saw, she would have scooped him into her arms crying. She felt as though they were a family and kissing the boarder would make her feel like she was trying to break up that family. Zoey would feel ashamed.

It can’t be told if she heard the exchanges from the hall, but abruptly she pulled away from the border. He was beaming at her but like Ida Zoey became a little sad because of it. She stood up from the loveseat glancing at her bed looking for No Face, the doll she longed to hold. In not finding it she chose to cradle her arms instead.

“You’re a superb kisser.”

Zoey pretended not to notice the word ‘superb’. Why couldn’t he say great? It was the common thing to say after kissing someone. If he was trying to impress her then she should warn him that words don’t do a damn thing to her.

“Thank you.” She said going over to the window that looked out to the front of the house.

Outside on the sidewalk Zoey saw AndyJames sitting on the ground with her back towards the window and No Face sitting right beside her. On the other side of her was a thing of salt that she kept picking up at intervals to pour on something that couldn’t be seen. Then suddenly after a final pouring she hurled the salt shaker across the street. It rolled to the gutter on the other curb. Not satisfied AndyJames took hold of No Face and was going to toss her too, but as her arm rose she caught sight of No Face’s clown red hair in the sun. She stared at it a long time before clutching it how Zoey wanted to do, and putting something in her pocket. Slowly she stood up and turned to face the house. Zoey went back to paying the boarder attention when she saw Franklin going over to AndyJames.

“What’s out there?” the boarder asked.

Fondly Zoey said, “Funny Face is playing with salt.”

The border was unimpressed.

“Who’s that?”

“AndyJames, she’s-”

“That weird girl?”

“She’s not weird she’s smarter than the both of us.”

“Oh yeah? The border laughed thinking she was making a joke. “Just this morning I saw her in the living room reading a book to a doll she had propped up in a chair. The funny part of it was that she wasn’t even in the chair with the doll, she was on the floor!”

“AndyJames will read to anything.”

The boarder was surprised by the sincerity in Zoey’s voice. He sat up a little serious.

“There is something not right with that girl.”

Zoey turned back to the window used to this familiar line of conversation. Outside Franklin, who was still in his mood, kicked AndyJames in the leg. Her not doing anything about it unsettled Zoey. Franklin kicked her again saying things Zoey couldn’t hear with the window shut.

“There is something not right with all of us.” Zoey got up still watching them. She meant that personally.

“You know what I mean. Someone said they talked to her for ten minutes once and at the end she looked at them and it looked as though she had never seen them in her entire life.”

AndyJames turned to walk down the street but Franklin ran in front of her seeming as though he were yelling. He hit her again so AndyJames held his head down with one hand. Franklin started swinging wildly but couldn’t get to her.

The boarder continued: “Amy said, the other day at the party Lena Poppy-”

“Funny Face doesn’t go to Poppy’s parties.”

AndyJames yawned before letting Franklin go. She turned to go the other way down the street, again Franklin ran in front of her.

“The other day at Lena Poppy’s party,” the boarder tried harder, “someone said that it was a widely known fact that she’ll go into anyone’s room. Actually almost everyone seemed to have agreed to have known that.”

Again Franklin hit her; instead of holding his head down AndyJames took something out of her pocket that looked no bigger than a rock. Her lips were moving making Franklin change from anger to slight fear. He took a step back as AndyJames pointed to whatever she had been pouring salt on that Zoey still could not see. Then she pointed to the salt shaker in the gutter across the street. Tears as big as any cartoon characters welled up in Franklin’s eyes. He started crying hard. Simply because no one but AndyJames was around to see him; His mood was changing and AndyJames stood there letting it. Reverting back to his old self, really AndyJames was the sole person to get him to; he clung to AndyJames and wiped his eyes on her shirt. Without saying anything, and he still holding on to her, they picked up the things AndyJames had pointed to, and went into the house.

Zoey turned back to the border with a made up mind. “If someone got AndyJames into their room it’s only because they want to harm her.”

“Harm?” the border laughed. “What kind of harm do you think happens when two people get alone? Surely no more harm than I have done you just a second ago…”

Considering this Zoey drew closer to the connecting door betwixt her and Zelda’s room. Her fingers were on the door knob, “If someone see’s a girl who is clearly not a child carrying dolls around and playing with toys and still want to get-or worse have gotten her into their room, it’s because they want to do harm to her.”

Before the borders response Zoey slipped through the connecting door locking it behind her. She took a tired breath her eyes casually taking in Zelda’s room. She had wanted to see Zelda since she woke up this morning but had been purposely avoiding it though she didn’t know why. When she saw her soundlessly napping with Rosalie in her arms Zoey was filled with some kind of happiness she couldn’t make heads or tails of. Quietly she closed Zelda’s door so Poppy’s music wouldn’t wake them. Taking the magazine left on the nightstand Zoey sits down on the love seat with her feet up.

This is how the vision of the napping Zelda and Rosalie should look. They lay in the center of the well made bed with light streaming in from the windows behind. Zelda is in an outfit that can’t be described as anything but flowing and dark purple like her room. Her hair doesn’t cover her face. This is an important fact because Zelda has never once hidden behind her hair. Also little Rosalie is drowned in her own hair and overgrown bangs. Zelda lies on her side facing Rosalie and holding her tightly while Rosalie faces her more so allowing herself to be enveloped in. Rosalie’s face is in Zelda’s neck and Zelda’s chin on the top of Rosalie’s head.

Zelda’s eyes move rapidly behind the lids before gradually opening. She smiles to herself when she realizes she had taken a nap with Rosalie, and was going to go back when she caught a faint whiff of honey or brown sugar. Or at least a type of smell that implied candles or baking and therefore meant Zoey was nearby because this was almost her natural musk. The whole morning Zelda had been aware that Zoey was avoiding her and was happy that she chose not to anymore.

Knowing Zoey was behind her on the couch she said: “How was breakfast?”

“Alright,” Zoey said looking up from the magazine. “Sleeping?”

“A bit.”

There were only two people Zelda felt truly sorry for, AndyJames for literal reasons and Zoey for personal ones. Sometimes she liked when Zoey would avoid her, hoping that it would be the start of their drifting apart. Not that she wanted to drift apart, Zoey is her best friend. But because Zoey is her best friend Zelda knew her too well, knew the things she really wanted, that she tried to hide away from Zelda, who was involuntarily holding her back. Zelda, aside from Poppy, is the most independent person who lived at Lena Poppy’s. Yet it felt like she got in the way of Zoey’s plans. That is the most infuriating thing for an independent person to feel…in the way.

Zoey got from off the couch taking timid little ballerina steps to Zelda who was still facing away from her. She put one hand out to touch Zelda then thought better of it.

“I’m hiding out from someone.”

“Erick and the shower?”

“No, I think Ida’s in there.”

When Zelda didn’t inquire further the silence fell so hard it viciously ate Zoey’s guilt. Rosalie stirs unconsciously rolling out of Zelda’s arms, having been notoriously known as being a wild sleeper if she isn’t held still. However, for how much of a bad sleeper she was, Rosalie still needed the comfort of knowing someone else was in the room with her. As much asleep as ever she reached for a part of Zelda to hold on to, frowning more and more the longer she couldn’t find any. Zelda and Zoey watched her wondering what kind of personality did a child receive from growing up in a boarding house. Zelda gently pushed the hair out of Rosalie’s face and she quit squirming. Deeply moved by Zelda in a way that can never be explained, Zoey turned away from them.

“I thought you didn’t want any children.”

“I don’t, I just want that child, and Frankie.” Zelda said getting up. She stretched and looked for her cigarettes.

“Do you think we spend enough time together?” Zoey asked.

Zelda laughed, “Is the connecting door not enough for you?” she found her cigarettes amongst her underwear. Taking one out she goes over to the window and sits on its sill. “Maybe we could get Poppy to let us tear down the whole middle wall.”

Zoey sat down next to her and as Zelda was about to light the cigarette Zoey stopped her. “Please don’t yet.”

Lowering her hand and staring, “What’s the matter?”

“I kissed that border-the one Shelly always makes fun of.”

Zelda raised her hand again, “Oh,”

Zoey lowered it again, “You’re not angry?”

“That you kissed someone? No, you have to kiss someone when-”

“I wanted to kiss him.”

“Oh,”

“Stop saying oh!” Zoey pleaded looking away.

“Zoey,” the other said turning her head back to her, “what do you want me to say?”

Something…”

“Something?”

Zelda smiled trying to keep things light knowing if they kept treading this water Zoey would end up in tears. At the core she was as sensitive as they come. Zelda tried again.

“I can’t determine what you think is good for you.”

“I don’t want you to.”

“Then what is this?”

Silence penetrated once more and it was so long Zelda thought the conversation was over. She put the cigarette to her lips and was bringing up the lighter again when again Zoey stopped her.

“Do you care a lot about me? I mean really care Zelda.”

“Well,” Zelda looked away with a slight smirk it being hard for her to be as emotionally honest as Zoey, “you’re my longest friend that’s for sure.”

“That answer doesn’t go with that question Zelda.”

Zoey” Zelda was pleading with her eyes begging her not to make her say.

“What?”

“Alright,”

“Alright…?”

Alright, I care a lot about you, you are my closest friend…but that doesn’t mean I want to tell you what to do.”

Zoey relaxed completely, “I don’t want to tell you what to do either, but you do care?”

“Should I draw a diagram?”

Finally a smile crossed Zoey’s lips as she shook her head, “If you do I won’t look at it.” She took the lighter from Zelda to light the cigarette herself before kissing her on the forehead. “Guess what I read about in Vogue while you were sleeping.”

“What?”

“That you should let me polish your nails to begin with,”

Zelda chuckled, blowing smoke out the window, “Not bloody likely.”

When Rosalie came from her nap she had been asleep for two hours and forty-five minutes. On the loveseat was Zelda flipping through her magazine while Zoey sat on a foot stole enthusiastically painting her nails, having already done Zelda’s nails. Rosalie sat up rubbing her eyes with her index fingers. Her bangs were so long they tickled her nose, yet she insisted on wearing them. In pink socked feet she stood up in bed wanting Zelda.

“Zelda,” she sort of whined.

Both Zelda and Zoey looked up.

“Hello Rollie,” Zelda says.

Zoey stood up carefully minding her wet toe nails, arms outstretched, “Rollie!”

“Hi Zoey,” Rosalie says taking one of her index fingers to scratch her thigh.

“What’s the matter?”

“Can you hold me?”

Zoey nodded, “Mm, jump.”

Rosalie walked to the edge of the bed doing what she was told. In the midst of catching her Zoey had to take a step back causing Zelda to pick up the nail polish remover so it wouldn’t get knocked over. She mumbled ‘careful’ but was smiling as she too stood up. Rosalie reached for Zelda but as Zelda lifted her arms Zoey yelled ‘no’, holding on tighter to Rosalie while jumping on the bed causing the smaller to laugh. Mockingly Zelda put her hands on her hips before going over to the bed and trying again. Zoey jumped up and down yelling ‘no’ some more and jumping off on the other side of the bed. Rosalie was laughing so hard Zoey didn’t know if she was holding on to her harder or kicking away. Zelda was in a mood to play so she chased them around her room. When Zoey got near the door she put Rosalie down grinning but pretending to be afraid.

She opened the door, “Save yourself Rollie!”

“I’m going to get you!” Zelda yelled coming towards them.

Rosalie screamed before dashing out feeling like she was helping Zoey slam the door shut. A little pant escaped her lips as she put her ear to the door listening to Zelda and Zoey laughing on the other side. There was some muffled dialogue but they sounded happy so Rosalie stepped away satisfied. Her original plan was to go downstairs and see if anyone was in the kitchen to make her lunch. Only on seeing her bedroom door open she took her tiny foot off the steps and walked with caution to her room.

If Franklin was in there and in a good mood he’d ask her to sit down and play with him. He’d wisely explain his game to her then get some advice from her. Usually Rosalie’s advice consisted on needing one or two stuffed animals in the mix. Most times Franklin would be okay with that as long as he could get the smoking monkey in the straw hat. Should Franklin be in an awful mood he would yell at her to go away and play alone. This would upset Rosalie so she would take her stuffed rabbit and either go play under the kitchen table or on the back porch. Thankfully Franklin wasn’t in the room at all so she didn’t have to guess which way the conversation would go.

On entering the room she noticed that Franklin did not make up his bed and haphazardly disposed of his pajama’s on the middle of the floor. It’s not like Franklin would be yelled at or beat with a red hot poker if their mother saw. In fact if Ida did see the unmade bed she would just make it up herself, put up his clothes, then remind him that that is supposed to be his chore. Still, Rosalie liked when Ida had no troubles on the horizon, because at four unmade beds after a mother suggested they should be made was catastrophic. So Rosalie made Franklin’s bed and put up his clothes, neither knowing that Ida would know that each did the other. The giveaway would not be that Franklin is a better bed maker and Rosalie a lazy one. No the giveaway would be that a stuffed animal would not be on Rosalie’s bed because Franklin purposely knocked it off, but there will be one on his because Rosalie purposely put one there.

In the whole house there were two sets of rooms that had connecting doors. Zoey and Zelda’s and Ida’s with her children. Reader is warned that Rosalie could throw such fantastic tantrums it gave Patty Duke a run for her money. Should Rosalie ever discover a singing voice she would need not even a minute of Broadway training. Rosalie picked up the rabbit Franklin had forced off her bed and swung it back and forth whilst singing The Ants Go Marching. She stopped at the connecting door to listen, music was dripping from Poppy’s room, but Rosalie thought very vaguely she could hear her mother moving around.

She tried for the door knob but it was locked. Her eyes widened, grip grew tighter of the rabbit, and she tried again. Still locked. A panic went through Rosalie as she started to frantically twist the knob. When it wouldn’t unlock itself she started shaking and hitting the door. Tears where in her eyes as she stopped and waited, but no one came to let her in. She screamed and hit the door again, falling down on the floor, and banging her fist as she wailed. All the time calling out for Ida who would not come; If possible Rosalie’s cries got louder and the tears came streaming down as snot threatened to spill out. Standing up she goes out of the room to Ida’s bedroom door. This too is locked so again Rosalie dropped to the floor in a fit. With her feet she kicked Ida’s door until she tired out and lay crying in the middle of the floor.

Ida’s head snapped up in the direction of the connecting door, she could have sworn she heard someone at it. Her ears concentrated but all she could hear was the music from Poppy’s room. A little relieved, but still highly unsure, Ida continued putting on her blue sweater. She tucked it into her jeans before turning to Leo on the other side of the room who was still buttoning up his shirt. He smiled at her and she knew they loved each other. Another sound came from the connecting door making Ida’s head snap again.

“What?” Leo asked.

“Do you hear that?”

Leo listened but as he did the sound Ida thought she was hearing suddenly stopped. “No?”

Ida relaxed as she took up her hair brush, “I thought I heard something.”

“Probably Frankie and Rosalie playing…”

This reassured Ida.

“Frankie must feel better.”

“Better?”

“He was kind of down when he woke up.”

“I thought so,” Leo considers his words for a second, “because of me.”

There is a pause.

“No,” Ida said but looked away anyway. “He adores you.”

“Ida, he can be angry with me if he wants too. I would be angry too if some guy kept hanging around my mom.”

“But you aren’t some guy.”

Leo sat on the bed to put on his shoes, “Sure I know that and you know that-and probably everyone in this house knows that, but children don’t know that. They don’t like to feel uncertain.”

Ida faced him and Leo was reminded of how sweet and a bit naïve she is. “How can he? You’ve been the nicest…you all have.”

“Yes, still children like to be told what’s what whether they like it or not. Franklin would appreciate a roof and a floor don’t you think?”

Ida was going to answer when a loud pound came from the bedroom door. This time Ida and Leo were both capable of hearing what Ida thought she heard earlier. The pounding was repetitive and sporadic all at one time. Momentarily Ida was shocked into the same feeling of guilt Zoey had an hour before her. Leo knew for the rest of her life Ida would always be ashamed that there was a section of her children’s life she was not there for. Therefore she felt their pain deeper than mothers who owned scrapbooks. When the pounding stops Leo opens the door because he knew Ida couldn’t because she was realizing the first sound she heard was her ignoring one of her kids.

The door opened, and there was a four year old Rosalie clad in a pink dress with a white tutu over it, crying. The momentary shock flushed out as Ida rushed to Rosalie, getting on her knees and holding her close.

“I’m here,” she cooed and whispered, “mommy is right here.”

Rosalie put her arms around Ida’s neck to hide her face in her chest, “I couldn’t find you!” Rosalie wailed. “I couldn’t find you!”

“I know Rollie I know, I’m sorry.”

Rosalie continued to cry and Ida continued to rock. Eventually Rosalie’s tears slowed and when she was able to she stopped hiding her face to touch her mothers.

“Don’t go mommy, don’t leave.”

Tears came to Ida’s eyes so now she was hugging Rosalie to hide her face. When Ida had to go away Rosalie hadn’t made two yet, but those were the exact words that dived out of Franklin’s mouth when she kissed him goodbye. Ida didn’t hold Rosalie out from her until the tears had successfully concealed themselves.

“Never,” she fought for a smile to show itself. “Never, never…”

Behind her Leo was also touched by the moment. Like Franklin, and the only way a mother knows how, Ida got up without having to put the smaller down. She kissed her and tickled her and asked if she was hungry for lunch. Rosalie, safely in her mother’s arms, was now silly and yes she was hungry, didn’t her mother know it was lunch? Still with kisses for her daughter Ida gave a hand to Leo whom she was in love with and said:

“Let’s go make you a sandwich.”

“Can I have the chips inside the sandwich this time mommy?” Rosalie asked.

They descended the stairs.

Ida pretended to be gagging, “Who taught you that awful habit?”

“Leo! He always makes my sandwich that way!” Rosalie cheered.

Leo shook his head causing Rosalie to laugh more and want him desperately. “You traitor,” he said.

“Leo, Leo! Can you put me on your shoulders?”

“No thank you.”

A child is taken from her mother, the lover, leans in close with a smile to say, “Your love is graceful, but the love from your children is almost too much to bear.”

Ida made her, Rosalie, and Leo a sandwich, with instinct commanding her to make another for Franklin. Who showed up with dirt all over him from the back porch; He waited to see if AndyJames was going to follow him in because she was just as dirty and should clean her face as well. AndyJames did not follow instead she climbed over the little fence of the backyard, stuck her hands in her pockets, and went down the street like she had wanted to do all day. Franklin shrugged, it was just as well. He stuck his little shovel in his own pocket as he took in the kitchen crowd. He thought better of his shovel, opened the screen door, and tossed it in the backyard. Now he took in the kitchen crowd.

“You want a sandwich?” Ida already knew the answer.

“Yes.”

“And do you want the chips inside the sandwich?”

“No I hate that.”

Franklin sits at the table.

“Hate Frankie?”

Ida’s back was still towards him so Franklin rolled his eyes, “Strongly dislike.”

“Hate is so cruel Frankie, remember that.”

Rosalie got down from Leo to sit in the horse shoe table booth with Franklin. She sat too close, Franklin scooted over. Ida presented them their sandwiches and chips. After a bite of his Franklin looked over to see Leo tearing the crust off of his own sandwich; Franklin did the same, making sure his crusts were on the same side of the plate as Leo’s.

“Is that true Leo?” he inquired with his head cocked and his feet swaying underneath. “Is hate cruel?”

Leo shrugged leaning up against the fridge, “All I know is that I heard some guy say it once and meant it, and he dropped dead in front of my eyes.”

“Really?” Franklin sat up interested, “But I just said it and nothing happened.”

“Well you’re not ten.”

“Ten?”

“Yea ten,” Leo nodded having never once stopped from his meal, as if he were relaying obvious facts. “You see right now words have simple meanings, I love you means I love you without the implications-” he glanced at Franklin who was watching him seriously and decided to take another approach. “When you turn ten the meaning of things starts to change and if you say hate at ten then a part of you will start to believe you hate things. At first it will be simple things like chips in sandwiches or going to the bank. But the more you say it the more it grows then you’ll hate basketball practice or the shape of someone’s nose. And if you can hate someone’s nose then you can hate their face and their clothes and their weight. Then you’ll get tired of that and hate people altogether, and if you hate enough people you’ll drop dead and no one will care.”

Quiet hit the room because Franklin needed to think. Leo finished his sandwich and ate his crust causing Franklin to do the same. He glanced at Rosalie who would take a bite of her sandwich, open it up, take a chip out to eat, and then put another chip from the bowl she was given as extras, back into the sandwich.

“How many people do you have to hate?”

“It depends on how many things you’ve already claimed to hate.”

“Oh…” Franklin reviewed his half a dozen life, “I guess I don’t hate anything.”

“Me either, it’s why I paint so good.”

“Not even the Damn Seahawks?” Rosalie chimed in.”

“Rollie!” Ida chided but her back was still turned, now doing the dishes, and smiling.

Leo laughed, “No Rollie not even the damn Seahawks, and don’t say that in front of your mother.”

Now Ida was accidentally laughing, “What?”

“Can we still go to the park?” Franklin said.

“Sure,” Ida, finished with the dishes, turns to them with her own sandwich in hand, “but Frankie you have to clean your face and help Rosalie find her shoes.”

As they turned the corner Shelly was deliberately trying to break Erick’s hand. He made the mistake of telling her she was pretty and a better artist than Leo, but that there was a section in one of her paintings that looked a little rushed. She smiled politely taking his hand and when he thought she wasn’t going to get mad she bent his hand back. Eric was in pain but laughing as he remained hunched over.

“Okay, okay,” he teetered through, “your painting section is not rushed.”

Shelly bent his hand back farther, “And?”

“You create far better works than a single line I could ever even hope to write.”

“That’s better.” Shelly said dropping his hand.

Eric grabbed her by the shoulders, “Alright now give us a snog.”

“No!” Shelly tried pushing him away but he was stronger than her, which she liked about him. “And your accent is shit!”

Eric all but held her down to kiss her, “Shelly you and I know that you are in love with me.”

“Fuck off!” she said but she was laughing.

As they came nearer to the house they saw Rosalie hop out onto the porch on one foot. She was humming a song to which she knew the tune but not the words. Franklin came out after her with his baseball bat and mitt. He saw Shelly and Eric first, running down the porch steps to meet them. He held out his hand trying to make his voice deep like Eric’s.

“Hi Eric can I have a dollar?”

Rosalie ran down the steps, “Me too, me too!”

“This is why we are called starving artist.” Eric said sticking his hand in his pocket for his wallet.

“No they call you a starving artist. My paintings always sell.”

“Well blow me down Picasso.”

Eric gave each of them a dollar. Rosalie examined hers before handing it back to Eric who picked her up.

“What’s the matter Roll, you don’t like me anymore?”

Rosalie shook her head and Franklin moved on to practicing his swings on the sidewalk because he had got what he wanted.

“No.”

“Why not, surely you know I’m devoted to you?”

A little embarrassed Rosalie glanced at Shelly, “You went on a walk without me.”

Both Eric and Shelly smiled but it was Franklin who spoke.

“Of course he did Rollie, he doesn’t really love you he likes Shelly.”

“What?” Eric purposely dragged out the word and accidentally blushed. “Who told you that?”

“Mommy was talking to Zelda and Poppy and when Zoey came into the room she confirmed it.”

Shelly was smirking although trying to be serious, “Frankie, what have you been told about listening to people’s conversations?”

“I wasn’t listening on purpose. I was playing under the porch steps before they came and sat out there.”

“It’s fascinating that you are always somewhere before anyone else.”

Franklin continued with his swings. Eric and Shelly go back to Rosalie who had taken to seeing how many times she could wrap her hair around her head. When she realized the attention was back on her she became shy and reached for Shelly who happily took her.

“Aw come on Rollie,” Eric pleaded squeezing his hands together. “I won’t live a day without you! I’ll die, you’re my prize.”

“What?” Shelly put the hand that was not holding Rosalie on her hip trying not to laugh. “And I guess I’m chopped liver then?”

“Shelly-”

“No!” Now the hip hand was being raised up, “No, I won’t let you toy with my emotions anymore.” She put Rosalie down to put her hands on her shoulders. “Take care of him for me Rollie.” She said before covering her face and pretending to cry as she ran into the house.

Eric stood confused at first, but when Rosalie started to laugh he felt better and picked her up again.

“Will you ever let me be free?”

“No!” Rosalie giggled.

At this time Ida and Leo stepped out of the house. Ida holding Rosalie’s bike and Leo Franklin’s bike and soccer ball just in case; On Rosalie’s definite “no” Eric tossed her into the air, both of them finding it extremely hilarious. However on the third toss Ida’s maternal feelings kicked in and she rushed toward them telling Eric not to throw her daughter so high. He did it one more time out of spite and when Rosalie was safely on the ground again Ida punched him. Not in anger, Eric just had the type of personality that needed a good hitting from time to time. He, Ida, and Leo exchanged a few words, with Leo inquiring whether or not his sister was really crying. After Eric explained she really wasn’t, he bent down to Rosalie, slid her back the dollar, and promised they’d go on a walk together tomorrow. She asked if Shelly could go and it was so sweet and innocent it gave Eric inspiration to write a short story.

AndyJames was leaving the park when Ida, Leo, Franklin, and Rosalie were arriving. Really AndyJames was cutting through the park so she wouldn’t have to go down any streets that confused her. The sun wasn’t anywhere near setting but AndyJames was afraid that if she didn’t get back home before then and see the familiar faces she might not remember them at night. As her feet dragged through the grass and her hands tried to go deeper into her pockets, Ida watched her from across the way. For a second Ida thought about calling AndyJames to them, but when she saw her look up and consider the sky for a long time, Ida figured maybe AndyJames needed to be alone.

AndyJames was wondering why the sky wasn’t touchable. She saw it there above her, knew how the ocean reflected it, and spaceships passed through it, but why couldn’t anything be on it? AndyJames didn’t know so she continued walking never once peeling her eyes away. Both her face and hands were dirty from digging holes in the backyard with Franklin. She was tired from being up all night, leaving her uncomfortable, disturbed, and fulfilled all in one. So naturally she couldn’t sleep.

Depending on who saw her first, AndyJames thought she might accidentally start to cry. She did something she felt was really bad and even though Franklin helped her rectify her issue, AndyJames had not walked far enough to forget about it. Coming to Poppy’s she saw Shelly painting on the porch with Zoey in the rocking chair holding No Face, the doll, in one hand and drinking a Pepsi in the other. They were talking about their day so far and whose turn it was to cook dinner. Both of them craved Sloppy Joes and thought maybe they’d screw up turns for this month and make them together.

“Zelda hates Sloppy Joes,” Zoey sighed as AndyJames came up the porch. “Hey Funny Face don’t leave No Face and the salt shaker in the backyard anymore, okay?”

AndyJames nodded.

“And don’t let Franklin kick you in the leg for no reason.”

“Why did Franklin kick you?” Shelly asked briefly stopping her painting.

AndyJames looked down at her feet, “I told him to go away.”

“Why?”

Shelly was usually the best at getting stories from people because they were powerless to her casual inquiry of why.

“I didn’t want to be looked at.”

AndyJames went inside standing just slightly out of view of the screen door. She was hiding and waiting to see if Shelly and Zoey would stay anything more about her. This was an unusual character trait of AndyJames, not the hiding, but the waiting to hear something bad about herself. But as was said, AndyJames had done something that she felt was really bad. Ergo she felt really bad and out of sorts and thought perhaps she was indeed awful. This made her feel sick and the tiredness was suffocating. Incidentally neither Shelly nor Zoey had anything negative to say. Zoey wondered why AndyJames had needed the salt shaker to begin with and Shelly responded by saying she had been meaning to paint AndyJames. It was this look she had when she was eating and thought no one was paying attention to it. Shelly wanted to remember that AndyJames for the rest of her life. Then Zoey started talking about the border she kissed and their line of conversation shifted. AndyJames still had her hands in her pockets and was going into the kitchen when she heard a little bell chime by. She looked around unable to see what it was, but wanting it all the more.

As she crouched down she heard the bell again and saw Echt the little kitten she kept, running from underneath the piano. It stopped to regard her at the foot of the steps meowing a little. AndyJames got on all fours and meowed too. The kitten took two cautious steps before rolling on its stomach and patting at the rug. Their eyes locked and out of animal instinct the kitten got on all fours as AndyJames attempted a hiss. Echt turned and ran up the stairs with AndyJames chasing after it, refusing to be on anything but all fours as well. When AndyJames reached the top of the stairs Echt was hidden behind a temporary table. Right as AndyJames walked past the table Echt lounged and swatted at her feet before taking off to Zelda’s room.

Wanting nothing more but to continue this game AndyJames chased after the kitten. In Zelda’s room, Zelda was in a towel with her hair still wet from a shower, smoking a cigarette out the window, while Eric read one of his stories to her. Echt ran in almost purposely spilling over his papers before dashing under the bed. AndyJames charged after it also squeezing under the bed.

“Funny Face what on Earth are you doing?” Zelda asked alarmed.

Echt ran out. Not as small, AndyJames wiggled from underneath the bed. Since there was so much space between them now AndyJames reverted back to two legs as she ran after it. In the hall Echt jumped out at her again before running into Poppy’s room.

Music had been playing on the record player in Poppies room all day. It had to Mr. Westchester was in a way that could only be fixed musically. In the morning it was operas and Vivaldi, as the afternoon came his tune changed to Louis Armstrong and his peers from that era, and probably by night he’d go to the piano and do a bit of his own calming. Currently he was sitting in a chair next to Poppy waving his hands around lost in the sounds. Poppy was vigorously scrubbing at a stain on a shirt while Apex and Felicity sat on the floor playing a game of chess. Apex had his legs spread out on both sides of the board relaxed and waiting for Felicity to make her move. Felicity was dressed in an over sized shirt, shorts, and knee high socks. She was crisscrossed and debating if she wanted her knight to take Apex’s Queen or bishop. Whoever did it would ultimately be sacrificed to draw out the king. Unless of course Apex saw this happening, if that was the case then she should take out both his last castle and bishop’s directly before heading for the king, being as these were his favorite pieces. The record player went blank Westchester was asleep in his chair.

“I don’t believe it,” Apex said. “That crazy bastard fell asleep in his chair. Wake him up mother I don’t like him unconscious.”

Poppy smiled, “No.”

“Alright mother, but since you’ve been a good sport when Felicity loses this chess match she’ll read you some of her writing.”

Felicity’s eyes widen as her head snapped up, “I will be doing no such thing young man. If you had any sense you’d shut your mouth this instant.”

“Don’t be angry with me, young lady, because you can’t decide if you want my queen or my castle. Listen mother, she’s got a direct line to my king and she can’t even see it as damned as she is.”

Poppy looked up from the stain. She smiled at Felicity, “Don’t worry even if you don’t take the king right away there are still three other chances to win.”

Three?” Apex studied the board once more. “She’s right young lady, I see them clearly. I despise how easy being brilliant comes to you. Do you even know you’re doing it anymore?”

“Please don’t snipe at me.”

“Whose hand is on any trigger?”

Poppy liked Apex and Felicity immensely, they all did. They fit so well into their family dynamic it was hardly believed they hadn’t known them all their life. Poppy knew when their vacation or whatever that brought them there was up, she and the rest would be sad to see them go. Echt ran by knocking over a pawn before jumping up on the dresser. However before Apex could fix the pawn AndyJames came in just as quickly and kicked over the whole game.

“AndyJay it’s time I murdered you.” Apex said reaching for her.

AndyJames mindlessly dodged him, her eyes focused on Echt.

“Careful Funny Face,” Poppy warned.

Four pairs of eyes watched AndyJames waiting for her next move, but AndyJames was focused only on the one pair. She stood still holding her breath. Echt meowed once to get down then again when no one helped it. Slowly it walked to one side of the dresser planning to jump on Poppy’s bed. It crouched down ready to leap not noticing AndyJames bending her legs as well.

“Don’t do it Funny Face.” Poppy tried one last time.

Echt jumped and so did AndyJames catching it mid air and holding it to her when they fell on the bed. She laughed as she held it in the air then kissed it between the ears. It started purring as soon as her lips touched its fur making AndyJames happy. She turned on her side to let it lay next to her as she pet it. Echt rolled on its back to let her rub its belly, and AndyJames noticed for the first time that Echt was a boy.

“Where have you been all day Funny Face?”

“Park.”

“Is that why you’re so dirty and in my bed?”

“Franklin and I had a funeral.”

“A funeral?”

AndyJames nodded turning on her side so she wouldn’t have to look at Poppy anymore. The thing she felt guilty about was fresh on her mind again. A little insulted Echt stood up meowing. When AndyJames didn’t respond to him he laid down on top her head purring. Apex started fixing the chess board for him and Felicity to play again, as she goes over to AndyJames. She sits down on the bed next to her with AndyJames shutting her eyes tight.

“Do you like the collar we got Echt?” Felicity asked.

AndyJames opened her eyes to slivers nodding and closing them back again.

“We thought about getting it for you,” Apex started, “so people can hear you coming. You being the only person I have seen appear from thin air. But then I supposed you would like to hear things coming to you versus having things know you’re coming and Felicity agreed.”

There was a silence that was given birth while Felicity waited for AndyJames to say something. On both their minds happened to be the fight they had where AndyJames could have possibly beat Felicity to death. Remembering that day made AndyJames open her eyes to make sure Felicity was really alright.

“I found some snails in the mud. I collected them on the curb.”

“How many?” Felicity asked.

“Seven, I was playing with them. Then I remembered I heard that snails melt if you put salt on them so I got the salt shaker.” AndyJames sat up putting Echt in her lap. “I didn’t think they were going to. I picked one up and poured the salt and it bubbled up in my hands. I waited and waited for it to come out of its shell again but there was slime. So I did another and another and soon they were all slime in shells.”

“You killed them AndyJames?”

AndyJames nodded ashamed, “I didn’t mean too, I just wanted to see what would happen. When I found out I threw the salt shaker. I wanted it to break. Frankie came out and wouldn’t let me leave so I showed him what I did to make him cry. We buried six in the backyard and gave them a funeral but I kept one to show you because I wanted you to believe me.”

“Let me see it.”

AndyJames pulled the abandoned shell from her pocket but because she had laid on it, it was cracked into pieces. Her mouth opened as she looked between it in the palm of her hand and Felicity. Tears swelled in her eyes and Felicity pulled her close as she started to cry. AndyJames was saying she didn’t mean to through the tears, but every time Felicity tried to take what was left of the shell AndyJames snatched her hand away. Gripping it tightly only made the shell crumble more under the pressure. The smaller the pieces got the harder AndyJames cried, until finally Felicity understood something. She held AndyJames away from her.

“Killing snails doesn’t make you a bad person.”

“I did all seven even when I saw what happened to the first I kept doing it.”

“They’re just snails AndyJames.”

“They were alive,” the tears kept coming. “I played with them.”

Felicity held on to AndyJames again understanding something else. “I know. I’m sorry I said that.”

AndyJames held out her hand, “Their memory is ruined now.”

“No, not really,” Felicity was finally able to take the shell pieces, “not if you don’t kill anymore.”

Exhausted by this display of emotion AndyJames laid back down, taking the already sleeping Echt into her arms. It purred a moment before going back to sleep. AndyJames too closed her eyes and waited until she was almost asleep before she spoke again.

“And you still want to keep me?” her voice was light with sleep.

Felicity smiled down at her even though her eyes were closed. “You are telling me the truth to lie to me again?”

This time AndyJames smiled as Felicity got up and returned to the new game of chess with Apex. For a long time Poppy always was so sad that AndyJames’ soul could never really grow up because she thought it made AndyJames miss out on a lot of things. It was cliché but one of those things was love. Poppy knew that people could and have been in love with AndyJames, but like Felicity she could only ever love them, there was never a “be in” before it. This was something, along with other things, that AndyJames simply did not understand. On witnessing how broken up she got over the snails and asking if Felicity would be her friend anyway, Poppy was glad AndyJames was the way she was.

“Poppy,” AndyJames, who was more asleep than ever, and might have been talking in her sleep, mumbled.

“Yes Funny Face?”

“I’m sorry I killed the snails.”

“I know Funny Face, okay.”

Westchester awoke turning back on the record player, Poppy went back to the stain, Apex and Felicity their game, while AndyJames and Echt slept like the kittens they were. Its non translatable, but by being involved in their own separate things each person was admitting openly that they were happy to know the other people in the room.

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