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Embers (Ch. 11)

Adolescence in Training Series

Photo by Javier Canales on Unsplash

ZACH

"You're dating Rhiannon too?" Thea asked teasingly with a raised eyebrow as my brother brought the car to life and she buckled up. Rhiannon pretty much invited herself over after school and her smile was too exhilarating to turn down so I had agreed. I'd given her the tour of my family's home and we finished with some light studying before her natural sensuality began to take over and I had to excuse myself with a false claim of needing some water. My brother had been in the vicinity unfortunately and witnessed the whole thing. He decided to take it upon himself to rescue me out of Rhiannon's web of desire and distracted her with his matching charm. And who was I kidding? I could never compete with this over-sexualized generation I belonged to. I was still a virgin, my brother as well as far as I knew, but no one believed him enough to buy it. 

"I'm not dating anyone, Thea," Zander corrected stiffly and I smirked when Thea tried to hold back her laugh as she buckled up as well, while we pulled out of the driveway. 

"Well, maybe you should. Maybe then you won't be so mean all the time."

"I'm not mean. I'm honest. There's a difference," my moody brother insisted, as we drove down the dirt road of the old farmhouse and headed for the main road that would lead us to Aunt Marley's place. My brother hid behind a cloak of honesty often. It was meant to be transparent, and fearless, freeing but inevitably exhausting. I suspected that's what caused his insomnia but I was no doctor, so who was I to say otherwise? But I realized now it was meant to keep him inside his own head, where his rules kept him safe and guarded from feeling anything that would cause him to be vulnerable.

I hadn't realized we had that in common until Rhiannon came into our lives. Only I chose my studies and other hobbies to keep me from seeing myself the way the other's saw me: fragile and uninteresting. I was determined to change that this year. 

"You're just mad you can't date until you're 30," Zander taunted with a grin and my sister hit him in the back of the head in result. He glared at her through the rear-view mirror while he regained control of the car and kept his eyes on the road. 

"I'm perfectly fine with that. Besides, boys are stupid," Thea corrected and I raised an eyebrow at her. She shrugged it off while her gaze turned away from us and the sunset captured it instead. I suspected my sister had had a rough first day at school considering she'd been quiet on the ride home earlier. She internalized any pain she was going through. Just like Mom. Only Mom had more experience with it and grew up in a generation where social media didn't exist and your life couldn't be ruined by just posting the wrong tweet online. 

My parents might've decided to bring us back home to Pasadena to settle down until college, but it seemed as though we were all still swimming in inner turmoil, silently begging for someone to recognize us enough to spot us drowning.     

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Aunt Marley opened her door to us with a bright smile and her short frame in an apron. We hugged her individually and allowed her to lead us inside her home. Walking towards her kitchen, while Uncle Mike helped Camilla with her homework at the kitchen table, we nodded towards him and bumped his fist before he returned his attention to his daughter. Thea joined them, offering to help since she loved solving math problems. She and Camilla seemed to be getting along well enough considering our mother's still refused to be in the same room alone together. I know Mom blamed Aunt Marley for something that happened to Dad all those years ago. What I didn't know was why Aunt Marley let this silent treatment go on for so long. They'd been the best of friends for years before that incident happened, and I wondered if there'd been more to the story neither of them were willing to admit to us. 

"You boys want some juice? Or soda maybe?" Aunt Marley offered as she reached for some glasses in her cabinets and placed them on her counter top. 

"Juice is fine. We can't have caffeine at this time," I answered and she nodded as she reached for some mango juice from her refrigerator and poured some into the glasses before sliding them over to us. 

"Thea sweetheart, come and eat," she ordered, getting her plate ready while Zander and I began to dig into ours, both groaning with delight as we chewed our food and brought a smile to Aunt Marley's face. Thea hopped up on her stool and she smoothed down her violet waves as she began to eat as well. 

"I'm thinking of changing my hair color again," Thea mentioned after washing down her food with her mango juice, wiping her mouth with a napkin. 

"I'm surprised your father let you do it to begin with. He grew up very differently than you did," Aunt Marley claimed as she turned to soak her dishes in soap and warm water before throwing them into the dishwasher. 

"I guess Mami changed him," our baby sister commented nonchalantly, shrugging as she finished up her meal. She was a faster eater than me and my brother. There was no doubt she inherited that part of her eating habits from Dad.

"Indeed, she did," our aunt replied, a solemn tone to her voice that made us all share a look. 

"Camilla and I are going to walk all these calories off. Anyone else want to join?" Uncle Mike asked as he and Camilla got up from their seats at the kitchen table and he rubbed his slightly swollen stomach. 

"I don’t want you to start with your dieting again, you remember what happened last time," Aunt Marley pointed out, in her native Spanish tongue, as he stood behind her and kissed her cheek affectionately. 

"Woman, what did I tell you about that sexy Spanish talk?" he voiced playfully as he continued to kiss her cheek until she gave in and giggled as she turned to return his affection with a kiss on the lips. 

"Gross! Mom, Dad, we have company!" Camilla whined as she marched out of the house through the opened patio door in embarrassment. Thea chuckled and hopped off her stool, turning to wash her dishes and her hands before she joined Camilla and Uncle Mike. Once Uncle Mike followed the girls outside, I cleared my throat and figured I'd bring up the the jar we found at the beach again. I needed to know more about it. It was just sitting in my sister's room at the moment, but if there was any truth to the legend, I wanted to know how exactly I was going to execute the results my brother needed to honor the myth. Clearly, he wasn't interested in finding his soulmate at 16. But if the legend held any truth to it, I wanted to at least test it out on someone who wouldn't care if his heart got broken. 

"So I heard the soulmate jar was last seen in the seventies," I started, and carefully watched for any odd reactions coming from Aunt Marley. She continued with her cleaning duties as she moved on to put on her gloves and started on the stove. 

"Have you heard anything, Aunt Marley?" 

"You and that stupid jar. It probably doesn't work," Zander chimed in with his pessimism and I sent him a glare. Our aunt stopped scrubbing momentarily and looked through the kitchen window above her farmhouse sink before she spoke. 

"It does," she confessed quietly, the room growing silent while Zander and I shared a surprised look. I knew she knew more than she was telling us.

"How do you know?" I asked cautiously, and she turned the water in the sink off before she turned to face us. Bracing her glove covered hands onto her countertop, she looked at us both as she took a deep breath. 

"Your Uncle Gabe found that jar when we were your age. Let's just say, he didn't get the happy ending that jar has been rumored to give," she explained, the sorrowful look in her eyes made me feel like shit for asking, but it seemed she'd been holding on to that secret for a while now. Maybe talking about it helped her find some peace about Uncle Gabe's death. We never met him, given the fact that he died way before our time, leaving Giselle in the hands of Uncle Freddy, but knowing Giselle and the stories we heard about him from Mom and Dad, we knew enough to understand how much of a thorn Uncle Gabe had been to a lot of people in this town. 

"You're saying he never found his soulmate or whatever?" Zander asked, suddenly intrigued and she shrugged in response, turning towards the stove once again. 

"I'm saying finding your soulmate isn't always a good thing. Sometimes, it pressures you into something you're not entirely ready for and that's what ultimately ends up tearing you apart again." 

"So Uncle Gabe did find his soulmate. Who was she? Giselle's Mom?" I began my questioning and Aunt Marley seemed to tick at the mention of Rebecca Alvarez. I knew little of her besides of what Giselle had disclosed and from what we witnessed at her birthday party, but it seemed like we just uncovered a piece of the puzzle that must've contributed to the silent war our parents have been having for years. 

"Unfortunately, yes," she answered underneath her breath, then resumed to scrub her pots clean, "But you boys shouldn't let that old jar decide your fate. It's always more fun if you create it yourself," she continued, and a small smile formed on her lips as she gazed out into her backyard where her husband and daughter were busy chasing each other around through her neatly kept garden.