I awoke with a gasp, sitting straight up.
Aunt Odie sat in the rocker Momma used to sit in (and rock me) after I was born. Where Momma sat for a bit after Baby Lucy was born (before she bought my sister her own rocker to take with her later on down the road, when she grows up some). Momma’s a planner.
My aunt shifted herself around. Like she was uncomfortable. “Morning, Evie,” she said, not even bothering to whisper. She stared off in a corner and smoked an unfiltered, roll-your-own cigarette. Something she never does unless she’s not at home. Can’t at her place. Mustn’t. Against the law.
“Aunt Odie,” I said, stretching my toes toward her, lifting my fingertips to the ceiling. “You’re spreading secondhand smoke to me, the birthday girl.”
“I know that.” She grinned, stubbed the butt out in an
ashtray that rested on her belly, shifted again. “Get on outta bed. We got big things to do today. Miles to go before we eat.”
The curtains behind her moved in a breeze that couldn’t be there, seeing the windows were shut.
I blinked at the almost sun that peered into my room.
Let out a sigh.
In just three days, I would start tenth grade, and I didn’t think I could stand it. Not the excitement. Not the scary parts.
Aunt Odie kept not looking at me, like she was mustering courage. Something tapped at the back of my skull.
“Ugh,” I said. “You know I got school coming up.”
My aunt gave me a somber look. Bits of the sun touched at her hair, making the gray look silver.
August 25 always arrives too quick—my birthday or not. The start of school.
No matter what.
Except Saturdays and Sundays.
“Yes sirree, buddy,” Aunt Odie said. “You heading on back means I’ll be losing my best worker.”
I couldn’t speak. I wanted to say, I’m ready. But all that came out was the “I’m.” What I wanted to say was, I’m ready to go with you on my birthday adventure but not to high school.
What I wanted to say was, Why do I have to grow up so fast?
I flopped back, turned over, and buried my face into the cool side of the pillow.
Sure, I wanted to go on off to another year of high school. What teenager doesn’t, right?
We’re supposed to want to start a new adventure.
I swallowed back a big old gob of spit. I didn’t want to go too.
I felt uneasy all the way to the core.
To the center.
Blech. An institution of higher learning. Good if I wanted to head to college. Except this also meant—
No more freedom.
No more sweet Baby Lucy.
No more sleep as long as I wanted.
I rolled onto my back. Stared at the ceiling.
And no more running off with Aunt Odie before the sun got itself all the way up. It was sad.
Aunt Odie let out a rumble of a laugh. “Quit your whining,” she said, though I hadn’t uttered a word.
I squinched my eyebrows at her.
“We got us plans,” she said. “Your momma said we could head out on our little trip as long as I got you back to the house by the time Baby Lucy wakes up. So hurry on up, girly. The Cadillac’s all cooled off on the inside. Breakfast sandwiches
waiting in tinfoil. Big jug of sweet tea. It’s time for us to git.”
I rubbed at my eyes.
“Happy birthday, Evie,” Aunt Odie said, just like a best friend would. Her voice all honey.
“Why, thank you,” I said, and thought to bow, but bowing is not that easy when you’re lying in bed.
With a grunt, my aunt pushed herself out of the chair and set it to rocking. The curtains waved and rippled. She caught the ashtray before it slipped to the floor. Pinched the cigarette out all the way. “Number fifteen. The most important celebration ever in a Messenger’s life. Not including marriage, births, and deaths.”
“Yes, ma’am,” I said, and waited for her to leave so I could get dressed.