Geneva gazed down at the four beads of blood on the back of her hand--a mini-parade of perfectly symmetrical orbs marching in formation from biggest to smallest. Her hand still stung from the injury and tears welled in her eyes, momentarily blurring her vision.
She looked back over at Cleveland the cat, the unexpected origin of her pain, who lay across her mother's legs with his ears back and his tail snapping like a whip to reflect his horrible mood.
"That wasn't nice at all, Cleveland," she said with a scowl. The cat returned a sour look of his own, then turned away as if he couldn't even be bothered by her complaint.
"I'm upset by this too!" she snapped at him.
In fact, she was more than upset. And rightly so. She felt her chest tighten again, constricting her almost to the point where she couldn't draw a breath. The pounding drums resumed in her temples, and it felt like the walls of the room were closing in on her like the cheesy effects in a made-for-TV movie.
Cleveland had never bitten anyone before, least of all the 15-year-old girl who had grown up with him. He knew something was wrong and he was clearly confused. Geneva had tried to move him away from her mother because he was in the way, but he didn't want to leave. He wanted to be left alone right where he was. His wild-eyed look only punctuated the obvious for Geneva...their world had suddenly been turned upside down.
She wiped her bloodied hand across her jeans, then lifted both hands to her face. She dug her fingernails into her forehead, massaging her temples with her thumbs, fighting away tears and the imminent blackness of despair that threatened to engulf her.
"Don't give in, Geneva..." she mumbled to herself. "Hang on, just hang on."
Cleveland the cat yowled at her in a tone she hadn't heard before. It stopped her descent into the endless dark tunnel that had begun to swallow her, brought her back to the not-quite-reality state of denial where she was able to pretend that she could function.
Geneva's eyes regained their focus and she found herself staring at a huge collage of postcards that hung on the wall. Her mother loved traveling, and was infatuated with the countless treasures offered by each destination. Cleveland was the woman's birthplace, and thus immortalized as the name of their beloved pet. Geneva was the city where her daughter was conceived, back when the woman was a young art student doing far too much exploration, and so this beautiful city became the child's name.
And now the child sat on the bed beside the mother. They shared enough features that the teenager appeared as a reflection of the woman's youth. Geneva took a deep breath, once again slamming shut the mental doors that allowed the real world to violate her thoughts.
"Sorry for the interruption, Mom," she said quietly. "Let's see if I can finish this time without Cleveland taking another chomp out of my hand." Geneva picked up the mascara wand and finished her mother's left eye. It was much easier with her mother's eyes closed.
"There. Both eyes are done now," she announced. "You were looking kinda creepy with just one done. Like that crazy guy in Clockwork Orange."
Geneva's mother was not really one to wear makeup--not a "glitter girl" as Geneva called them--and neither was Geneva herself. But there were occasions when either one of them would impulsively decide to get dolled up, so they were both adept at applying "the look" without appearing overdone. And this was one of those occasions.
Having started with a foundation to even out her mother's skin tone, Geneva had added just a kiss of blush to her cheeks and a subtle dusting of eyeshadow. Her mother felt that too much eyeshadow looked trashy. Now, after brushing on a heavy dose of mascara (the only makeup Geneva kept with her at all times), she was ready to add the finishing touch with her mother's favorite brownish-red lipstick.
"Wow. You look beautiful, Mom," she said as she blotted her mother's lips with a tissue. She recapped the lipstick and set it on the nightstand before retrieving a hairbrush. She had already brushed her mother's hair out before starting with the makeup, but she felt compelled to do it again. Her mom often wore her hair pulled back in a ponytail because she was always in a rush, but Geneva preferred when she wore it down. It was long and thick with a natural wave, and the dark color was the perfect frame for her brown eyes.
"I never told you this before," Geneva said with a forced smile, "but Nate Westmore and Scotty Gregory both think you're hot. They saw you with your hair down one time when you picked me up at the mall."
Geneva finished brushing out the hair and took a step back to admire her mother's beauty, even now.
"I guess I was jealous."
She leaned forward and kissed her mother gently on the forehead. The skin was cold and clammy to the touch. Then she packed up the brush and all the makeup into the decorative wooden tray that her mom had found on one of her expeditions. Palm trees and flamingos were painted around the outside frame, but even with those clues Geneva couldn't remember where it had come from. Key West, maybe.
Geneva set the tray in its designated spot in the bathroom, then went back to get Cleveland to bring him to bed with her. But the cat lowered his ears at her approach, hissing a warning. The only time he'd ever done that before was when she had tried to get a wounded bird from his mouth. More than anything she wanted to curl up with him under her quilted comforter, feel his reassuring purr against her chest and his raspy tongue licking her chin, but it wasn't meant to be tonight.
"Fine!" she snapped as she reluctantly headed up to her bed alone.
Cleveland's rejection wouldn't be the only one that night. The sandman was also a no-show, refusing to grant the girl the calming release of much-needed sleep. She tossed and turned for hours, mainly rolled into the fetal position, but her eyes never grew heavy. Instead she stared blankly into the night, viewing a slideshow of memories on her ceiling. Eventually she burst into tears, sobbing uncontrollably in a near-convulsive state that made her abdomen ache. She had no idea how long she cried, though it seemed to last a lifetime, she was only aware that at some point she had suddenly stopped and the pounding drums in her temples had returned.
In a surge of emotionally charged adrenaline, she leapt out of bed and slipped into her favorite pair of Converse hightops--the white ones that her mother had doodled all over in a mesmerizing explosion of color. Her mother said it was a depiction of rainbows mating.
For the first time that night, Geneva had purpose. She knew exactly what she had to do. Her mother was ready for what came next, and now she was too. She strode down the stairs, swung open the front door, and walked out into the biting cold of the night. It was only October, but Mother Nature was sending a taste of winter tonight to remind everybody of the bitter weather to come. It was cold enough for a coat, but Geneva shrugged off the chill that sent goosebumps racing across her body and caused her to shiver. She wouldn't need a coat where she was going.
She gritted her teeth until she could hear them protest. It wasn't because of the cold, it was the anger suddenly surging within her. She looked up at the glittering display of stars in the quiet night sky, then lowered her head and walked off to face her destiny.