My flip flop slips off the pedal and the back of my ankle scrapes against the metal and rubber.
I wipe away the sweat on my forehead with the back of one hand, while steering the rickety old bike with the other. We have to cook this dinner on the hottest day of the summer, right? Sherry couldn’t remember to buy the stinky cheese before she started so she could drive to the store in her air-conditioned car? No, my absentminded sister has to send me. Forget the fact that I’m fourteen and don’t yet drive or that the grocer is too far to walk, even in mild temperatures.
I blow the one strand of hair that isn’t plastered to my skin out of my eyes. The handle bars squeak, as I turn onto the driveway, and mutter a silent thank you the rusted bolts didn’t turn to dust and leave me butt first on the pavement on my journey. I slip off the bike, lean it up against the house and examine my leg. The skin isn’t broken and it burns like heck. I grab the package tied to the metal brackets that once held a basket on the back then kick the rear tire.
“Stupid bike! Stupid sister!”
The wooden front steps of the cottage bow beneath my weight. I push open the door and a blast of cool air strikes me. “Blessed AC.”
“Molly? Did you find the Gorgonzola?” Sherry asks from the kitchenette. She’s standing over the stove, stirring in a big pot. Her dark blonde hair is pulled back in a loose bun and an apron covers her baby blue sundress. Her skin appears dry, not saturated in sweat. Mixed in with the scent of tomatoes, basil and freshly baked bread is lavender and soap.
She glances to me, taking in my cut-off jean shorts and damp, yellow tank top. “You’re not wearing that, are you?”
I roll my eyes and toss the bag onto the counter. “I’m going to shower.” I head upstairs to the guest room she and I share whenever we spend the summer on the beach with Dad. Every weekend, Thanksgiving and summer since the divorce.
“Dad and his new girlfriend should be here in a little bit, so hurry up,” she shouts up to me.
I mimic her words as I peel the clothes off my body and step into the cool shower. I scrub off the thick layer of grime and think about the evening. What if this new girlfriend’s a witch, like the last one that ignored us and trailed her dragon nails up and down Dad’s arm like a tiger in heat? That was the longest four hours of the entire vacation last summer.
The lather spirals down the drain, like the fate of our family, and I shut off the water and grab my towel. Maybe she’ll be sweet and laugh at Dad’s lame jokes, like Mom used to.
I slip the pink sundress Sherry purchased over my head. It fits snug across the bodice and flows smoothly over my hips and stomach. Perfect. She may be a PITA but she takes care of me just like Mom. But when I notice the white kitten heels on the wood floor outside the closet, I grimace. I hate shoes, and if I could run around barefoot all year round, I would. I kick the heels aside and shove my feet into my old but not completely worn pink flip flops. At least they match!
Before I head back downstairs, I grab the silver framed photo of the four of us from seven Christmases ago off my bedside table. I run a finger over Mom’s rich brown hair and light green eyes. “Love you,” I whisper and put the picture down, facing my pillow.
As I reach the bottom step, Sherry looks up and smiles. “Pretty.”
“Yeah, whatever,” I say but smirk just the same. There’s no reason to get all mushy. “What do you think she’s like?”
Sherry pulls a cookie sheet from the oven and the aroma of garlic and oil waft through the first floor, reminding my stomach of the lone bagel I ate for breakfast. “Dad said she’s smart, pretty and we’ll love her.”
“Of course he said that. He wants us to like her.” I walk to the counter and snatch a slice of cucumber from the salad bowl.
She unwraps the aluminum foil from around the bread. A stream of smoke rises to the ceiling. “He seems to really like her.” She glances at me from the corner of her eye. “He deserves it, Mol. He and Mom divorced six years ago. Mom deserves it too. They’re old and lonely.”
I shudder at the idea of Mom dating. Eww! And what does Sherry know about lonely? She’s seventeen and has had a steady boyfriend since eighth grade. “What else did he say about her? What’s her name? Where’d they meet?”
“He didn’t say. He only mentioned her quick. We’ll find out any minute.” She tosses the garlic bread into a basket and covers it with a linen napkin. “Just give her a chance, okay?”
I suck my teeth. “Yeah, sure.” I’ll do it too, but I won’t like it.
As if on cue, Dad’s car pulls into the driveway and two doors slam shut—the second one like an echo of the first.
Sherry giggles, wipes her hands on a dishrag then pulls off the apron. She hurries toward the door, stands at attention and waves for me to come forward.
I roll my eyes and dutifully walk over. I suck in a breath as the front door opens.
Dad steps inside, his grin as wide as his face, and my heart sinks. He’s happy. I can’t begrudge him of that. What kind of daughter would I be?
“Girls,” he says. “I’d like you to meet my date, Anne.” He winks and steps aside.
Behind him stands a woman in a floral cotton dress. Her dark brown hair is piled on top of her head, several curls dangling free. She smiles and her green eyes sparkle.
© 2010, Jennifer Fischetto