Ch 3 Meet the Shepherds
“I bet homeschooling looks a lot better now,.” Ashley’s mother has been cracking jokes like that for the ten minutes it takes her to drive us to the Shepherd home. I assume they are jokes, because Ashley keeps laughing.
Going to school from home? Had Valeria given me that option, that would’ve solved so many problems for me.
Their house is a sunny, yellow two-story. She pulls the four-door hybrid into the garage and we all clamber out. To my surprise, I see no gargoyles or angels guarding the rhododendrons. I hurry indoors after thanking Mrs. Shepherd for letting me stay the night on such late notice.
“I hope you are hungry,” Mrs. Shepherd says.
“Always,” I say before thinking better of it. In minutes, I’m shoveling pizza into my mouth, meanwhile ignoring the spoons and deck of cards placed at the center of the table.
“You’ve come to us on Thursday, and when we all find ourselves at home on a Thursday, we play games as a family,” Mrs. Shepherd says.
“And it’s totally lame,” a male voice says behind me.
“Grant, this is Helena. Helena, Snotface,” Ashley says.
“Hi,” I say between my fifth and sixth slice. Grant nods and pulls up a chair backward between myself and his dad. “You must be new.” He tsks. “No one warns the new kids about my sister anymore.”
“Someone should warn Bridget Randall about you stalking her.” Ashley smirks. She starts dealing out cards for a game I’ve never played. After explaining the rules of the game Spoons, I’m still confused. Also, my seventh slice of pepperoni heaven distracts my attention.
“Ashley, be nice. Your brother doesn’t stalk Bridget, he just admires from a distance,” Mrs. Shepherd says while taking her set of cards.
“A very far distance. An unnoticeable distance if he doesn’t drum up the courage to ask the poor girl out.”
Ashley and I laugh while Mrs. Shepherd smiles at her son. The way she talks, I know she just wants her son to grow a pair.
“I wouldn’t call her ‘poor,’ Mother,” Ashley says while reaching for a spoon. Quickly, everyone but Grant pick up the remaining silverware on the table. “Did you see how Randall Corps security showed up at the school and scooped her away like she was the President’s daughter?”
“She is the President’s daughter, dear.” Mrs. Shepherd shuffled the deck.
The pizza falls out of my mouth. What? Everyone looks at me for a moment, so I cough like cheese went down the wrong part of my throat. Everyone is relieved the new friend isn’t choking.
“I meant of the country, not a company. It’s weird having her there, that’s all I’m saying.”
“That’s the Bridget Randall? Well, son, you know how to pick ‘em.” Mr. Shepherd patted him on the back.
Randall Corps. All the lab coats had that above the right-breast pocket. I tell myself to snap out of it, stop obsessing. Like that’s possible.
“Dad! I honestly didn’t know she was loaded. I saw her at orientation and–”
“Look at Grant, he’s all red!” Ashley taunted. I fake a smile, not fully engaged in the conversation anymore.
“I think it’s wonderful.” Mrs. Shepherd doled out cards. “Love at first sight is very romantic. Though it’s not how I met your father…”
He starts telling the story. I try to listen, but I can’t. All my mind thinks of are the Randall Corps logo I saw on those white shirts for three years. All those tests, and never once did those white coats acknowledge me as a person and how I felt. To top it off, the girl who mocked me at school is the daughter of the guy who owns that company. Now I’m sitting with this nice family and–
“Excuse me,” I say in the middle of a round of Spoons and stand up to head toward the bathroom. I make it all the way up the stairs before I start looking for something to hit.
“Helena?” Ashley. Of course she follows me up. It’s her house!
“Sorry.” I try to find a foothold, something I can tell her. “I just don’t ever remember our family being like this.” I wasn’t lying. The laughing, the teasing, and the games. Valeria doesn’t even have a deck of cards at our place.
Once the lights are out, I thought the feeling would go away, but it doesn’t. It keeps burrowing into the middle of my throat. I toss in the pink top bunk of Ashley’s room. Even in the dark the empty stare of her stuffed giraffe collection on the shelf across from I see the image of a happy family with the baby’s wrapping their necks around the legs of the two giraffe parents.
“Helena?” Ashley asked from underneath my bunk.
“Where’s the rest of your family?” Perhaps I had stared too longingly earlier at what I do not have.
“You know what?” I swallow, “Normally I just lie to everyone else. We usually say that my parents are dead, but the truth is we don’t know where they are right now. I came here looking for answers.” I felt relief telling her.
“Why would you say they’re dead?” Ashley asked.
“It’s a long story.
Mr. Shepherd stands in the doorway. His hand holds the top of the door frame. The silhouette of the hall light makes him look like a sentry. A superdad. The cuffs of his shirt are rolled back and I can smell dish detergent on them. I can see his top button on the collar of his shirt is undone as he leans in to give Ashley a kiss.
“Goodnight,” he says.
“Dad, I’m not a little girl,” I hear Ashley complain.
“No, you’re my girl. Which means, from time to time, I demand that you put up with embarrassing displays of affection from me. Let’s pray,” he prayed on his knees in front of her bed.
My thoughts were only of one thing as I sit and watch father and daughter pray. I want that. Not the prayer, maybe not even the kiss. The notion of finding my family before was something I’d wanted but I’d never seen and felt up close what that love looked like; until tonight.
The notion of regaining my parents and their love. That will drive me.
Authors note: I’m not entirely happy with this draft. Particularly the part about the connection between Bridget and the company that held Helena. Not that it’s too early for such a reveal, but that I feel like maybe I’m playing with two emotions when that longing for love needs to be the one driving this chapter. At some point I’ll go back and clarify, but I don’t finish stories well if I look back too much. Thoughts?