Irrepressible Lucie Archer
“Help! Help! I’m being abducted!”
Our Ford, older than my eleven years, sputters and fumes along the highway. The car and its occupants ignore my outburst, so I continue. “It’s not fair!
“It wasn’t my fault that someone stuck the drink table right under the best climbing tree.
“It wasn’t my fault that stupid, perfect Emily in her stupid, pink dress and her stupid, white hat, and her stupid, white gloves was standing right next to the drink table.”
Stupid, perfect Emily looks up from her book and sticks out her stupid, pink tongue. I ignore her.
“So what if I jumped down from the tree and landed on the table and knocked the lemonade all over Emily. Honestly, her hat and gloves looked better with pink lemonade dripping from them.”
Mom’s head swivels and she snaps, “That’s enough, Lucie! Irresponsible, irrepressible Lucie Archer! That attitude is why you are going to your uncle’s house and not to England.”
Uncle, hah! Uncle Unknown of Nowheresville, USA. Stupid, perfect Emily gets to go to England and I have to stay with somebody I’ve never met in some place I’ve never been. It’s not just unfair – it’s a nightmare!
Oliver, my cat, butts his head against the metal bars of his pet carrier and meows.
“You feel sorry for me, don’t you, Oliver?” I stroke his velvety head through the bars. He half-closes his Siamese blue eyes to make his ‘I-love-you’ face. “You’re the only one in this whole stupid family who cares about me.”
Emily rolls her eyes. Dad glances at me through the rear-view mirror. Mom sighs.
Mom and Dad are professors at the City University. Mom teaches art stuff – Humanities, and Dad teaches British Literature, as in dead British writers. Boring. They decided to write a course together for the next semester, so they’re working on their lesson plan. They call it a curriculum. To write the curriculum, they wanted to travel to England to look at art stuff and places where dead British writers have lived. Dullsville. Mom and Dad though it would be “educational” for Emily and me. I don’t know about “educational”, but anything is better than spending the whole stupid summer in the stupid city where I live.
Then the stupid church picnic happened – the stupid picnic that ruined my life happened. I can still picture Emily with rivers of pink lemonade streaming from her hat and soaking her dress. That was so funny. But then I can still hear the words that escaped from her sticky, pink face: “I don’t know why Mom and Dad brought you home.” That wasn’t funny. What was that supposed to mean? Home from where? The hospital? I don’t know why Mom and Dad brought me home, either. Mom and Dad didn’t want a Lucie; they wanted another Emily.
Emily is reading a book called Little Women. I wonder what “little women” look like, so I try to read over her shoulder. Black letters hurl across the white paper.
“I need to stop!”
Dad turns quickly to me. “There’s a rest stop coming up. We’ll stop there.”
We stop. Mom and Emily dash for the restroom. When my stomach stops lurching, I take Oliver out of his carrier and fasten his leash to his collar. Oliver is beautiful. He has a grey tabby face and creamy Siamese coloring. We walk down the path near the parking lot.
“Lucie!” Dad calls behind me. He runs up to me. “Are you feeling better?”
Dad reaches down and rubs his fingers behind Oliver’s chocolate-colored ears. I want to pull Oliver away, but now he has rolled onto his back and is letting Dad rub the soft fur on his belly. Dad doesn’t look at me when he speaks.
“You know we don’t love you any less than Emily,” he says.
“Yeah, right.” I don’t look at him, either.
“It’s just that… well, we don’t love you any less.” He stops.
Mom and Emily are returning from the restroom. Mom and mini-mom: Matching haircuts, matching dresses. My denim shorts are rumpled and a brown soda stain decorates the center of my white t-shirt.
In the car, my torture continues. Oliver sleeps and Emily reads. Mom and Dad talk so quietly that I cannot hear them above the roar of our rusty old Ford. I’m ignored, as usual.
I must’ve fallen asleep, because drool is trickling down my chin, and the side of my face is squashed up against the window.
Emily looks up from her book. “Your ponytails are askew.”
“I didn’t ask you.” I shoot a death-glare at Emily.
“Whatever,” says Emily. “Mom says we’re almost there.”
Our rolling wreck turns off the paved road and onto a dirt one. Gravel crunches under our tires, and twisted branches reach out to snare us and carry us off to a monster’s hideaway. I’ve seen these woods in scary movies. Something terrible will happen. Someone will jump out from behind a tree with an axe, or a chainsaw.
“Emily, do you know Uncle George?” I ask.
Emily looks in Mom and Dad’s direction and shakes her head. Either she doesn’t know or she can’t tell me right now. If she doesn’t know, she’ll pretend it is a big secret that she has to keep. If she does know, she’ll tell me because she can’t keep a secret. Emily thinks she is so clever.
The branches of trees lining the dirt path knit together a crazy cat’s-cradle, crossing and shadowing the dirt road. Bony fingers of twisted branches scratch and tap against our doors and windows.
Our old Ford expires outside Uncle Unknown’s two-story wooden house. The house might once have been yellow, but the paint has faded and peeled, so bare wood shows through. The front yard looks like the dirt road – dry, red-brown clay adorned by an occasional weed or tuft of grass. My hand tightens on the handle of Oliver’s carrier. I am never letting go of Oliver at this place.
“Are you sure about this?” Dad asks Mom.
“What choice do we have? Lucky for us, George is an accountant and can work from home during the summer. Everyone else we know has summer plans, and Lucie is, well, Lucie. Irresponsible, irrepressible Lucie.” She sounds tired.
“Lucie is Lucie,” Dad agrees. He ruffles his already ruffled sandy hair. “All right. Let’s go.”
Home. Yay! We’re going home! My heart jumps. But instead of driving away from the old wooden house, he opens his car door and gets out. Mom follows. They head to the back of the car to open the trunk.
Emily leans over toward me, and whispers, “I heard them talking last night. Uncle George used to be married to Mom’s sister.”
“Mom has a sister?” I’ve never heard of Mom’s sister before.
“Shhhh. Had a sister.”
“Did you know her?”
“No. Her name was Annabelle or something like that.” Emily’s voice changes as her whisper becomes a shout. “Lucie, let me help you with, um, Oliver.” I look up to see Mom standing near my door.
“I have him. You can take this.” I dump my overnight bag on her lap.
“Okay,” says Emily. She slings the bag over her shoulder and staggers out of the car.
Mom, Dad and Emily have gathered next to the car.
I walk up to the trio of traitors and we move as a group toward the house. The door is dark red and slightly shiny, as if it had recently been painted. Dad looks for a doorbell. He doesn’t find one, so he knocks on the door. Faint traces of red paint bleed from the door to his knuckles. We wait. Dad knocks again.
“He did know we were coming today, right?” he asks Mom.
“Of course. Maybe he’s upstairs or out back or somewhere that he couldn’t hear the door very well. Go ahead. Knock again.”
Dad raises his hand to knock again, but before his knuckles rap the wood, the door swings open. In the doorway stands a girl with pale skin, huge green eyes, long dark lashes and super-short, black curly hair. She’s wearing a black sundress and no shoes. Mom and Dad are abandoning me at Freaksville!