“God I hate Shakespeare.”
“That came out of left field,” Lucy replied, as the raggedy old elevator came to a stop on the 12th floor.
As they stepped out into the shabby hallway that led to Kara’s mom’s apartment, Kara let out a frustrated groan. “Sorry, it’s that damn paper. I was up all night, and I still didn’t finish. I suck at writing.”
“Look at the bright side, I sold two of your photographs and one of your sketches today.”
Kara brightened at the news. “Yeah?” She knocked on the door marked 122C. “When were you planning on telling me that?”
Lucy shrugged. “Was gonna wait ‘til the next time you got mad at me...but I figured this was a good a time as any.”
Before Kara had a chance to reply, the door opened and she was swept into hug. Her sister, Alex, kissed her cheek several times before letting go. "Hi, you!" she announced.
It had been a few months since Kara had last seen her, and as Alex turned to hug Lucy, she took the opportunity to observe how well she was looking. Her dark brown hair was slightly longer than when she’d last seen her. She looked taller and fitter than Kara remembered. “Have you been working out?”
Alex winked at her. “Joined a gym.” She flexed her arm as evidence.
Kara glanced quickly at Lucy who was making a show of fanning herself. She laughed.
Alura Danvers stepped into view a second later. She dried her hands on her skirt as she walked toward them. “Kara,” she greeted Kara with a kiss on the cheek, and then turned to greet Lucy. When she stepped away from the girls, she said, “Jeremiah and Clark went to the store for some groceries. They’ll be back soon.” She ushered them toward the living room. “Come, sit. I'll bring you something to drink.”
Kara sat down as instructed and gazed around the apartment. It was small by anybody's standards. The living room barely fit the couch she was sitting on; but it was home. Paintings and framed pictures of Midvale decorated the walls. Kara had never been to the town, but Jeremiah and Alex spoke of it all the time. They'd moved to New York shortly before Jeremiah and Kara's mother had met.
“So how’s the art world these days?”
Kara glanced up into Alex’s curious brown eyes and shrugged. She didn’t want to say that she’d reached the end of a creative road. “Good,” she said instead and tried to convince herself that it wasn’t a lie. It was almost too easy to forget that she hadn’t done anything in weeks.
“I sold some of her stuff today while she was at class,” Lucy boasted proudly. “And tons of people stopped to look and compliment the artwork.”
“There is no money in art,” Alura announced, returning from the kitchen with a tray of orange juice. “But no one ever listens to their mother.”
Kara smiled, accepting a glass. “I listen to you.”
“You listen to me?” and her mother rolled her eyes. She placed the tray down and sat down on the couch beside Alex. “How many times have I told you to wear something nicer? I don’t know how Mike puts up with you looking like that all of the time.”
Kara glanced down at her paint-stained jeans and baggy sweatshirt. “What’s wrong with this?”
Alura replied with a look that obviously meant the question did not dignify a response. “I’m just glad you’ll have Mike to take care of you, is all I’m going to say. Lord knows that boy is going places.”
Alex cleared her throat. "Well, I'm pretty certain Kara is capable of taking care of herself," she said.
"Well of course she is," Alura agreed in a somewhat defensive tone. "But every woman needs a man to take care of her in this world. And vice versa."
Alex dropped her gaze and took a sip of her drink without further comment.
Though she was used to the one-on-one debates between her mother and sister, Kara couldn’t help but wonder if they realized she was sitting there. It was strange to feel like an abstract concept, molded this way and that by the gravitational pull of opposing ideas.
Perhaps she would’ve said something then, voiced thoughts that only presented themselves in the quiet moments between words. Perhaps she would have, if the door hadn’t opened then.
Jeremiah Danvers entered the small apartment with a bag of ice over his shoulder and grocery bags in his hands. Jeremiah shared Alex's dark hair and eyes, but lacked his daughter's easy-going personality. Kara respected her stepfather, loved him as a Dad, but she struggled to understand his mindset at times.
Clark entered behind his stepfather, carrying several bags of groceries in one hand.
Though he seemed taller every time Kara saw him, puberty hadn’t yet fixed his lanky form and somewhat awkward demeanor.
Alex rose at once to help, and Jeremiah passed on the items to his daughter before greeting his stepdaughter.
“Hi, beautiful,” he called her, and leaned down to kiss her cheek.
“Hello, Lucy,” he said, kissing her cheek as well. “How’s the coffee-selling business?”
“It’s quite the marvel, Mr. D,” Lucy answered, brightening at the mention of coffee. “It takes special skill to brew the stuff just right.”
“You must be very proud,” Jeremiah said, in a tone that managed not to sound sarcastic. He greeted his wife with a peck on the lips and sat beside her. “Are you girls staying for dinner?”
Kara shook her head. “I have a lot of homework, actually.”
“I don’t,” Lucy said, pouting. “I love your mom’s cooking.”
Alura beamed proudly.
Kara smiled and glanced at Clark. “Hey, Notorious Dork. What’s with the wannabe ghetto clothes?”
He gave her a dirty look in reply and adjusted the black bandana around his black hair. “So what’s all this big announcement stuff?” He pulled up a chair and plopped down on it, slouching down and looking bored.
Everyone looked expectantly at Alex, as if remembering for the first time that she was the reason for the family reunion.
Alex reclaimed her seat and stared at everyone in turn. Her mood turned suddenly dark and she swallowed. “Um...”
“Did you get some kind of trouble with the police?” Clark guessed.
“No...” Alex stared down at her hands.
Kara stared at her sister in concern. She’d never seen Alex look so sullen. Worry and dread rose to the forefront of her emotions and she struggled to imagine what Alex could possibly have to say. “Are you moving?” It wasn’t the worst thing she could imagine, but it was up there.
But Alex just shook her head.
It was Lucy’s turn to guess: “Joining the army?”
“I’m gay,” Alex said, glancing up.
The room fell deathly silent, as everyone absorbed the information. The cup fell from Alura Danvers’s hand, spilling the remainder of her juice across the ivory carpet. And like a flag marking the start of a race, there was an eruption of shouting.
Kara sank down in the couch, not yet able to muster a response, while all around her, her family spiraled out of control.
Clark stormed out of the apartment, shouting incomprehensible words on his way down the hall.
Jeremiah was on his feet, his voice lost in a sea of words that Kara could not distill.
Alex rose, her jaw clenched.
Kara glanced at her mother in alarm, hoping she’d step between them and stop things before they got out of control. But her mother was out of control herself, lost to sobs and whispered prayer.
“Alex,” Kara said in a voice that was not her own.
And her sister glanced at her quickly, her eyes searching Kara's for... something. Kara didn’t know how to help her at that moment, didn’t know how to make things better.
As Jeremiah rambled on about morality, Alex seemed to understand what she was trying to say, even if Kara herself didn’t. She glanced back at her father, eyes filled with anger and pain, and then she quickly walked out of the apartment.
"Damn it!" Jeremiah cursed. Without a glance in anyone’s direction, he disappeared down the hallway. A second later, a door slammed closed.
Alura smoothed the length of her skirt as she stood from the couch. She wiped at her tears and excused herself before following after her husband.
Kara stared at the empty living room with a detached sense of confusion. What had just happened to her family?
“Well,” Lucy said, and Kara had almost forgotten she was there, “that went well.”