Every day her dad looked like a haggard old crochet, and yet today, he seemed a bit younger. He seemed a bit more concentrated like he had something to do. She looked up from her cereal to where he was inspecting the calendar magnetized to the fridge.
"What's on your mind, pops?" She asked, punctuating it with a bite of colossal crunch. He took a moment before acknowledging her question, still flipping pages on the calendar.
"Your uncle's coming into town today, and for the foreseeable future, he's gonna be staying with us." He responded at length.
"Our uncle?" Her nose wrinkled in thought. She'd never met her uncle, but she knew he moved out of town for one reason or another. "Why?"
"I don't know." He snapped the words quietly before sighing. "I'm sorry, Tera, I didn't mean to sound mad. I'm frustrated he won't answer my questions either." He admitted, moving to take the opposite seat at the small table.
The little round table for three still hardly fit in the cluttered kitchen of their home. You had to squeeze between the fridge and the wall to enter or exit. The stack of mail overflowed on the coffee table, someone needed to empty the trash, and the carpets needed a good vacuuming. It was the only home Tera had ever known, and she wouldn't have it different. However, it didn't seem equipped to house another person.
"Me and Mesa share the big bedroom, and you have the other one. Where's he gonna sleep?"
"He can make do on the couch. This is only temporary until he finds a place." Her dad answered while he fiddled with his Kindle, sipping coffee with the other hand.
She looked down at her colossal crunch, which was not soggy, and thought about it. It would be weird to have a stranger in the house, especially in the living room. The clouds outside shifted, and yellow morning sunlight leaked into the window, leaving patches of warm light on the tile. As if on cue, a large tabby cat strutted into the kitchen. It stretched its back before falling over unceremoniously onto a sun-warmed kitchen tile.
"Hey, stop that." Her dad's voice drew her attention, he was looking up at her over his reading glasses. She spat out the strand of hair she'd been chewing on without realizing it.
"I need the nutrients, father." She stated seriously, narrowing her eyes.
"Then eat someone else's hair. You'll make yourself bald." He responded lazily.
Tera rolled her eyes, letting her head rest on her hand as she stared out the window.
"Get a job."
"Dad!" She groaned. "Don't you think I've tried? No one around here is hiring, and if they are, they're not hiring eighteen-year-olds." She defended with practice. Her father dropped his kindle to the table with a sigh and a clatter. He stood from his chair and dramatically strode across the room, speaking in a shrill and mocking voice.
"Oh, Woah is me! A bright young girl, full of potential. Literally, no one will take a chance on me—"
"Hey! We've talked about the impersonations. I've left applications at every—"
"But I don't wanna work at a chain restaurant or a clothing store or a work-study or an internship or an elderly woman's snowy front lawn or—"
"Oh, OH, real mature father, I see how it is. Well, you're right!" She stood from the table while her dad continued leaning against the stove with a hand to his forehead, listing examples. "I don't wanna work for any of those lame places, so I'm not giving them applications. Is that a crime? I want my first job to be somewhere cool! Like a game shop, or a cemetery, oh or a credit union!" She swung her arms out in front of herself as if laying out all the possibilities, and recoiling suddenly as she smacked her hand on the kitchen lamp.
"I'm sorry, honey," her Dad shook himself out of his friendly mockery. "Unfortunately, your first job's gonna suck; they all do." He patted her head lightly before tightening the tie on his robe and grabbing his kindle. "Try the G.E.M. It's got lots of retail places, and pretzel stands that probably need more people." And with that, he took the rest of his breakfast to his bedroom.
"Yeah…" She slumped back down into her chair, staring glumly at the still-not-soggy colossal crunch. "Pretzel stands."
Tera felt very motivated that morning, as she dressed for the day. She wore her jean dress and decided on leggings since it was a bit cold out.
Often she didn't wake until at least noon when she was out of school. Today she couldn't sleep a wink after seven. Her mind was racing and she was restless. She needed to get things done, and she decided to put the unexpected energy to good use. She pulled on her old sneakers as she left to find herself a job. Her father had suggested the Greater Elsewhere Mall.
Maybe the G.E.M. had somewhere cool to apply. She wasn't incredibly hopeful as she strode through the streets. The chill air was made colder by the morning hour. The street she walked ran beside the woods that surrounded Elsewhere.
Her mind wandered to the things she'd like to do in her life. She could be a marine biologist and travel the world exploring and mapping the most intense depths of the ocean. She'd always wondered about the untouched universe under the water's churning surface. How it's gone so painfully undisturbed in the course of human exploration. She supposed she wanted to see what no one else ever had. Perhaps she just wanted to see something other than the town she'd grown up in.
As she strode, she absently began noticing things swarming about under the streetlights. Flies or mosquitoes attracted to the glow? Upon closer inspection, the mysterious insects weren't moths either, but yellow jackets.
An odd time of year for wasps.
There must've been a hive or something in the wood. She watched them as they flew and buzzed and landed on the pole. Stopping to rest their vibrating wings and rubbing their spindly legs together against the brisk morning. Before taking off again to swarm directionless motions in the light. Another immediately took its place on the pole. She watched for quite a while before noticing something different. Different is another word for exciting when used by Tera.
Wrestling another yellow bumbler in midair was a wasp whose stripes showed green not yellow. She blinked the spots from the direct light out of her vision and looked again. She'd lost it for a second but low and behold it was real. A yellow jacket with a highlighter green abdomen and thorax.
The interest didn't end there. Beside where the green bee had landed on the lamppost landed a bee with stripes of crimson red. It looked like it could have bloody slashes instead of stripes. Tera smiled to herself at the thought of what could have claws small enough to cause that. Tiny cats, her brain responded. Tiny adorable cat claws jumping after wasps as if they were robins in the trees.
She shook her head. She'd followed the odd insect as it flew away from the swarm. It landed on a half-wilted dandelion growing from the pavement. She realized she'd stooped down to look closely at it, leaving her exposed to any oncoming traffic. Luckily the town was tired so early in the morning, so she sensed no danger.
Drawing herself back up to standing height she strode onward. She had an underwhelming job to apply for and she wasn't going to get there by stalling with the wasps. Yet as she walked it seemed the sweet morning air pushed her back. The grass and wildflowers grabbed her sneakers and vied for her attention. The world wanted to speak to her and she'd always listened before. Today she hoped the matter wasn't urgent as she was on a mission and didn't have time for nature's conversation.
There was another one.
Crawling up the front of her jean dress she saw a wasp the color of the sky in summer. Bright, forget-me-not blue, and sitting as though taking a comfortable bus ride downtown. She'd missed it as it blended into her clothes pretty well, but now she stopped against her better judgment. The insect looked up at her with large compound eyes and rubbed its antenna together. She couldn't bring herself to take another step toward the Mall.
It was too early, the world had business with her first.
She stared at the eyes of the small bug that stopped her and let out a sigh.
The wasp walked in a semi-circle before taking off in the direction she came from. She followed, reluctant at first but breaking into a run after a moment. She'd followed interesting fauna many times and they'd always led her to something that made her think. A part of town she'd never seen or a natural wonder she could stop and enjoy.
Today it led her back to that light post and immediately into the adjacent woodland. She checked the ground carefully for poison ivy before pulling up her socks and marching after the bug. She couldn't see it in the trees and low light, but she followed its direction. The woods steered her with strategic branches and stones that shaped the land.
She walked a trail that had been walked by very few, perhaps no one, before her. She walked until her sneakers got stuck in deep mud and she had to stop. She freed herself from the ground's grip just in time to see a blue blur race past her face. She whipped around to catch it and instead caught a glimpse of where it was going.
A dilapidated building completely buckled over after several small trees sprouted from its base. Nature reclaimed the building in its years of neglect and for some reason, she was called to see it.
Or maybe she just followed a bug like a silly kid, she could acknowledge that as a possibility.
She approached the structure and found it was actually smaller than it first appeared. The size of a shed or a garage, not large enough to house a car. The door lay in the dirt in front of the doorway, covered and held down by the vines of the morning glories growing around the entire structure. She stepped on it and walked over it, through the doorway.
The inside was barren, save for a chair.
The chair was old, some cheap folding chair someone set up, yet it was sturdy and clean as if it had been put there that day. Wound around its straight back was a length of unidentifiable rope. So old it was in tatters, completely incapable of its function.
She circled the room many times looking for other things. There were tarps full of old musty water, swarming with mosquito larvae. The windows were broken but the glass lay outside the building as well as inside, indicating an internal force, and the skylight in the ceiling was shattered. She stopped her exploration after she'd thoroughly combed the debris. Her legs were sore from the walking and chasing and pacing. Her eyes were tired and heavy from the early hour. She'd spent her motivation in the wrong place yet again, and now she was ready to go back to sleep.
She was just leaving the wreckage when her attention was drawn one final time to the chair. Upon it sat a wasp the color indigo. Like the little flowers that bloomed with the first grass in their yard each spring. She supposed She still hadn't tried one thing, and her knees were quite tired from trekking through the woods.
With a sigh she approached the chair and sat, the little bug flying away and disappearing at her compliance.
Stefan knew Tera was going to be ok.
He worried about her a lot more than he worried about Mesa, but they were both his children and he knew they'd do amazing things.
Tera was confident and energetic and she knew exactly who she was. Sure she didn't seem to have a plan for her life but that was still more than a lot of middle-aged adults could say. Mesa was brilliant and she could get anything done with enough time and coffee. Her taste in literature was genius level and her taste in music was...existent. The bottom line, his girls were amazing and he didn't have to worry about them.
However, that never stops a father.
He ground his teeth as he listened to the phone ring. He sat with the landline to his ear and waited for Tera to pick up.
"Answer…damn it…" he muttered into the receiver to the ears of no one. She hadn't been home in hours, he didn't even remember her leaving. It was still way too soon to report her missing but he felt about that level of panic. It didn't show apparently as Mesa didn't comment as she made her daily trip to the kitchen.
The only time you could catch Mesa outside of her and Teras' shared bedroom was when she made her trip to the kitchen or one of her four bathroom breaks. She had very strictly scheduled herself for college and seemed to be sticking to her routine over the summer.
"Hun, have you heard anything from your sister?" He asked calmly. Mesa took a second to close her eyes and curse his existence before answering.
"Oh…" he hung up the phone as it once again went to voice-mail. "Whatcha up to in there?" He asked her retreating back. She stopped uncomfortably in her doorway.
"I'm writing my manifesto." She answered carefully, tapping her fingers on the doorway but not turning to face him.
"Oh wow that's...uh what's it about?"
"It's about my policies and ideals, dad. It's a Manifesto." She responded tiredly. Her grip on the doorframe clearly indicated her desire to return to her room.
"Sounds impressive." He chuckled nervously. "I won't keep you then." He dismissed the conversation. Without a word, Mesa disappeared into her room and closed the door softly behind her. He let out the breath he'd been holding.
Slowly he sat down on the couch and pressed the palms of his hands to his eyes under his glasses. He stayed there thinking for a long time. Thinking about how Mesa was isolating herself more and more every day. Thinking about how the electric bill was due this week. Thinking about all the things that could happen to a zealous young girl even in a small town.
The sound of the phone clattering on the receiver made his heart stop for a second. He sprang from the couch faster than his aging joints were accustomed to and grabbed the ringing phone.
"Hey man, it's me." The voice wasn't the one he wanted, but he should've expected it. He'd been waiting for this call for a while as well. "I'm outside."