A sarcastic teenager finds herself trapped in the fairy tale Beauty and the Beast.
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Mom lied. This isn’t anything like home.
My old room wasn’t crowded with packing boxes, or ribbons of peeled-off tape. A full-length mirror leans against the back wall, still wrapped in brown paper. I’ll never unwrap it. Mom knows I hate mirrors. The bare mattress, with its smug little machine-sewn squiggles, mocks me from the corner. I’m unlivable, it says. You’ll never get to sleep.
It looks like a packing store puked all over somebody else’s bedroom. No teenage girl should have to live like this.
I shove another half-unpacked box to the wall, leaving a path in the new carpet. Frustration gets the better of me. I lie flat on my back and press the inside of my elbow over my eyes. I can’t look at this place any more. It’s not a bedroom. It’s a storage closet. Complete with the stinging fumes of fresh paint.
“Mom, I need help!”
I shout as pathetically as I can. Even without looking, I know as soon as Mom steps into the room. My whole body tenses up and the same thought keeps shooting across the room at her: You did this.
“What’s wrong, Ivy?” Mom’s voice sounds run-down. Moving always makes her tired. You’d think she’d learn.
“I can’t find my pictures,” I say without uncovering my eyes. Mom can always tell how upset I am by looking at my eyes, and I really don’t want to talk about it.
“You mean the one of Dad?”
I hate it when she reads my mind.
“It’s probably in one of these boxes.”
My trophies from track and cross-country click together as she rifles through the box labeled ‘MISC’. The box I’ve searched through eight times already.
“I already looked there.” I can’t keep the anger out of my voice. Does she think I haven’t checked it yet? I almost snap at her again, but I manage to keep my mouth shut. I really don’t want to yell at her. I just want my picture.
The shuffling of random objects stops. Mom wipes her hands on her jeans, making a light zipping sound. “He’ll be back in three weeks.”
“Three and a half.” And that’s if he’s not killed or captured. The nightmares can get bad sometimes. Seeing the picture of him smiling after his first marathon makes it feel like he’s that happy right now. Wherever he is.
Mom kneels beside me. “You want to talk about it?”
I press my face deeper into the crook of my arm. Sometimes I can’t hold the tears in, but I can hide them. “No, Mom. I just want my picture.”
There’s a long pause and I wonder if she’s going to stroke my hair like when I was little. “Please don’t. I love you and all, but I really can’t take it right now.”
“I’ll go look in the photo album box.” Mom’s soft footsteps trail away before I can say anything else.
Even though it’s still pretty early, I just want to curl up in a ball and not think about anything. I change into my favorite ducky pajamas and wrap myself in my grandmother’s quilt. It smells like my room. Well, my old room back in North Carolina. At least it’s something. I can’t wait until we get the computer set up and all my pictures are right there waiting for me.
I close my eyes and try to imagine the photo, every detail I can remember. A lanky Filipino man who looks like he was born to run. We used to joke that just the sight of him would give the Kenyans second thoughts. His race number--number 2504--curls at the corners. His clothes are dusty, but Dad’s eyes--chocolaty brown, like mine--shine with triumph and relief.
“What an accomplishment!” he told me after the race. “I can’t wait to run with you at your first marathon.”
I rolled my eyes at him, but he smiled and flexed his biceps. “If I can do it,” he said, slapping the narrow muscle, “you can do it with me strapped to your back. You’ll put those doubts to shame.”
When I’m sure Mom is done unpacking upstairs, I come out of my room. “Going to bed early is cool,” I mutter as I trudge to the bathroom.
Something about seeing my hair in dark tangles and my eyes all puffy makes me break down again. I know it’s not a big deal to move. I’ve done it my entire life, every two years or so. But I had friends in North Carolina. Friends I wanted to graduate high school with. Why bother making friends at all if your parents are just going to drag you away from them?
I grab my hairbrush and pull it through the mess. Just as I start to make some progress, something in the mirror catches my eye. I turn my head, but nothing’s back there. I would have sworn I’d seen something move.
I inhale slowly and close my eyes. The doctor said it’s just stress. Nothing a little deep breathing can’t cure.
A squeaky little chuckle makes my spine jerk straight. I clutch my brush with both hands and open my eyes. A face smiles at me from the mirror.
I scream and spin around. No one is in the bathroom with me. The face, grinning broadly, is closer now, like it’s coming at me from the other side of the mirror.
With a shriek a panic, I hurl my brush at the mirror as hard as I can.
The glass breaks. The light goes out, and I’m suddenly very cold.