Another crystalline day in Sunset Valley, I thought as I pushed open the gate to the graveyard. I could hear birds singing in the distance and bugs buzzing around me as I cut through the grass, heading towards the gravestone. There was one other person there, sweeping the path along the pond.
I settled down by the gravestone, criss-crossing my legs and resting my hands on my knees. “Hey,” I said, not caring if anyone thought it was weird I was chatting to a dead person. “I didn’t bring any flowers today…”
My words came easy now, much easier than they used to. The first dozen times I had talked to him–the words felt thick. I choked them out, stumbling on things I was too afraid to say. But over the years it started to feel like second nature to be talking to him.
“I graduated college,” I said, resting my chin against my hand in thought. “None of the others ever did, and a lot of people don’t. College isn’t really a big deal around here. I heard you never went to college. Dad was really proud of me.”
Dad, I thought, closing my eyes. I could picture the beam on his face when I showed him my diploma. The first Danevbie–that he knew of–that got their college diploma.
I think I have some sort of father complex, I thought with a slight sigh. I loved my father. He was always there in my life. A solid figure, quick to a smile and praise. Always honest to me and my siblings, no matter if it upset us or even if we could understand it. He tried to drill honesty into all of us. But his arms were always open and he was ready to give us whatever we needed.
We never wanted for anything, in my memories. Dad was a famous painter, and so was Mom. They made quite a bit of money and were able to afford to give their children all the financial help they needed. If we needed something, they’d just dash off another painting and manage to sell it for quite a bit.
“They got awards recently for being such wonderful painters,” I said, crinkling my nose a bit. “Mom was super excited about it.”
Of course, my mother was usually excited about something. She loved life, which was understandable since she wasn’t always completely alive. It was hard to think of my bright, vibrant, colorful mother as a cloth doll. I had seen pictures of a toy doll from my father’s childhood. How could that be my mom?
“She doesn’t like me spending time here,” I said, frowning a bit at all the times she said I shouldn’t spend so much time around the dead. “But who else do I have to talk to? I’m alone. I’ve always been alone…” I flicked back some hair and then rested my chin in my hand once more. “Kinda weird, I guess, for a girl with three siblings to be alone. But I always feel alone. It seems the more crowded the house, the worst it is. And in a few months we’re adding a baby to the mix. A baby!”
I shook my head in annoyance. “Everyone is excited but me. I know I should be happy but I dunno. After everything Dad told us about what happened in town the last time there was a male pregnancy…”
Same sex pregnancy was something very new, but Kyle and Kenyatta had happily gone to get the procedure done. The same scientists who had apparently ruined my grandfather handed over their research when I was still a baby. By the time I was starting high school, it was safe. Hospitals all over the place were able to give pregnant men the care they needed. When I went into college, Kyle had let them change his body and by the time I finished college, they were expecting their first baby.
“Dad is really worried and is always hovering over Kyle,” I said, leaning forward and flicking a leaf away. “But now hospitals know how to do whatever it is that needs to be done so the pregnant dudes live a long, normal life.” I lifted my head, staring through narrowed eyes at the sky. “I admit I’m not too excited for the baby, but it is super cool that science could do this. And since it’s widely known, Kyle shouldn’t have too much trouble. Especially ‘cuz of Rion.”
Orion had recently become a lieutenant. He was the type of cop that everyone loved. He worked hard, saved lives, helped little old ladies across streets, and was an overall great citizen. Everywhere he went in town, he’d be stopped and chatted to. They all thought he’d be a great chief of police or something but he never stopped talking about going into forensics. He loved that stuff, which I agreed with. If you were going to be on the police squad–forensics was the place to be.
“I still hate that he moved out,” I grumbled, stretching my legs a bit. “Now the house is full of that icky, lovey-dovey couple and… her.”
Ohhhh my sister. I hated her, as much as I loved her. She was perfect. Seriously, perfect. Everything she touched turned to gold. She worked out about fifty hours a day and still had time to cook, clean, go shopping, drive Kyle to his appointments, and get promoted to working in the minor league. All the boys loved her, all the girls looked up to her, and she made high school hell for me. Popular and wonderful, all I ever heard was ‘why aren’t you more like your sister’. Even after she graduated.
“I know it’s not her fault!” I complained. “But still, she’s just so perfect. It drives me nuts. And with her being all perfect, it really makes me feel more alone. Maybe that’s why Dad gave me the award.”
It had surprised everyone that Dad handed me the ‘Most Likely’ award that had belonged to our grandfather. I had kept it with me at college, even if it didn’t suit me. Most likely to have a big family? Nope. Family was the last thing on my mind. That suited Kyle and his mushy husband and their baby on the way. Or honest, hard-working Orion with his fantastic job and the love of the townspeople. Or perfect, perfect, perfect Tempest.
My dreams lay elsewhere, and it was something I had only ever told one person.
As a child, I had discovered the joys of science. Of mixing things together and creating things. I loved to make potions, I loved to invent things. I loved the smell of metal burning as I fused it together, of the chemicals waiting for me to mix together. I loved the sight of complicated problems, of finding a way through the rabbit hole. The thought of discovering new things–that was amazing!! But between that and the fact I never cared what anyone thought, I never had any friends.
My teenager years were spent alone. If I wasn’t reading or looking up things on the computer, I would wander the town and think. I never had a boyfriend, or any friends at all, and I had never even gone to prom. I didn’t care. Dances were stupid anyway. A bunch of sweaty teenagers swaying around. I had spent my prom night researching colleges and writing out ideas of things I might be able to invent. If I had ways to do so.
My father didn’t exactly like science, which I guess was understandable. When I was around eleven, he got rid of that chemistry table I so loved. I never once told him about my dreams and wishes. I was afraid he would look down on me for it. I was afraid of mom crying, of Kyle sneering, of Orion shaking his head, and Tempest–oh, Tempest.
“But now I have to tell them,” I said, looking down at the gravestone. “That’s why I came here, to talk to you one last time. I’m moving. I got a job in Riverview and I wanted to say goodbye to you, Uncle Aiden.”
Uncle Aiden. The only person I ever really talked to, the only person who ever understood me. He had died shortly before I started high school and I missed him more than anything else. He never told my father any of our conversations. He’d let me sit and read his thick books, too difficult for a child of ten or so to understand. But I tried as hard as I could and asked him dozens of questions. He was always patient with me, giving me answers, telling me things he had done when he worked at the science lab. He was approaching his hundredth birthday when I was told the sad news.
And now I realized there was nothing for me in the Valley. I loved my family, but there were bigger fish to fry. I had been offered a job at the Riverview science facility and I had accepted it. The only thing left to do was tell my family.
And hoo boy, was I nervous about that!