Fifteen

By

S.J. Kuerth

Synopsis- Being fifteen sucks, a lot. Better synopsis to come. Please R&R!!

1

I shouldn't be blaming Mom for this. It's not her fault, and I know that but staring at the rickety old farm-house in some town called Hesperia…I'll be honest, I kind of hated her. There were only two things that made me want to give this house more than just a passing distasteful glance; the "for sale by realtor" sign that my Mom was currently pulling up out of the lawn and that, by no fault or choice of my own; it's now "home".

That word took on a completely new and mildly terrifying meaning a year ago when my parents told me they were getting separated. Separated? I had asked in disbelief after staring at them confusedly for several minutes. The whole thing was sickeningly cliché, they'd brought me into the living room after school, sat me down on the couch while they sat in separate chairs across the coffee table and—smiling calmly, told me they "needed some time". Half the kids I knew, maybe more, had divorced parents, many of them had step-parents now too, and step-siblings and another parent they visited on weekends and holidays. It shouldn't have surprised me at all, but sitting there on the couch staring at my parents, staring back at me, I was more than surprised. My whole world has just come crashing down on me. There hadn't been any signs, not like in the movies, they didn't argue—no more than seemed normal anyway, they weren't cheating on each other as far as I knew and they didn't seem to hate each other so… So why at 36 and 39, with a kid and a mortgage and ten pounds of extra fat clinging to their collective mid-sections did they decide that "time" was what they needed?

I didn't do what kids do in the movies either, I didn't become all quiet and cool and secretly blame myself, no. I threw a temper-tantrum, screamed, swore, kicked a few doors and then marched to my room and locked myself in. Dad moved out that weekend, into an apartment that looked like it belonged to some young single guy, not my Dad. My Dad wore Christmas sweaters and sang Disney songs in the shower and made waffles on Sunday morning. My Dad didn't dye his hair or date women with names like 'Stephanie' and 'Angela' or wear cologne that wasn't Old Spice. …I didn't visit very much.

Home didn't feel like home either, Mom dyed her hair too and started wearing cute skirts instead of "Mom jeans". Suddenly we lived off of frozen dinners and take-out and I started buying lunch at school. I mean, ok, I get it, parents are people too and they're allowed to change and grow, and I get that sometimes growing can mean growing apart. I don't expect my Mom to be "fulfilled as a person" by waist-high faded blue jeans and packing my lunch every day but… I don't know, couldn't they wait until I was away at college? What was four more hum-drum years of marriage compared to a stable home life for their beloved only offspring? Four years too many I guess because they divorced six months later. It was quick, clean and drama-free, which was even more confusing. Weren't they supposed to hire really expensive lawyers, and fight bitterly over everything from child custody, to the dog, to dishes? Whatever. It took another six months for Mom to find a job and a house that fit our new improved lifestyle.

I have my doubts about the "improved" part and the "our" seems a mite contrived considering I had no choice in the matter at all but I haven't and don't voice this to my Mom. She leans the sign up against the garage and stops to stare up at the house, a look of absolute rapture—seriously, spreading across her face. "Isn't it great Bea?"

I turn back to the house as well but all I can see is chipped paint, dirty windows and an ancient roof that very probably leaks. "Yeah Mom, it's awesome." Mom was a history major in college; she was planning on being a professor or a museum curator or something before she met Dad…before she had me. I always knew she liked history, I mean my name, Beatrice, is a fairly good clue and our house was always, always filled with books about Ancient Greece, Medieval Europe, WWII and everything in between…The American Civil War is her personal favorite.

"Come on inside, I'll give you the grand tour, the realtor showed me everything…"

"Actually Mom I think I'm going to take a look around out here, ok?"

Her face fell slightly but then brightened again almost instantly, "ok, I'll make some tea…I think it's in one of the boxes in the car…" The upper half of her body disappeared through the passenger side door and I took this as a dismissal.

The yard was pretty, that much I had to admit. It was mid-August and everything felt alive. Tall trees shaded the front and side yard, I guessed they were probably something like oak and must've been there as long as the house itself, their massive branches stretching higher than the roof. There were smaller flowering trees too, lilac, dogwood and mock orange, they had long since lost their spring blooms but their fragrance seemed to linger, like a sweet reminder.

I continued down past the house, through the backyard and presently the grass grew taller, a little rougher. The plot must've been cleared at one point for there were none of the tower oaks here, there were trees but there was something almost deliberate in the spacing… It was an orchard, I realized, a very old, very run down orchard but still a few of the old trees were beginning to show signs of fruit bearing.

Past the orchard was a old red barn that, if I were younger, I would've been dying to explore, and beyond that were fields that once might've bourn wheat or cotton, or perhaps corn or potatoes, but now they stood vacant, barren except for wild grass and the occasional flower…it was all very beautiful in a lonely, forgotten sort of way. A copse of trees seemed to act as the border-line for the acreage; beyond them I could hear the sound of a tractor and guessed that whoever owned those fields had them in working order. To the left of the barn was another copse of trees but these had a less abrupt and more cheerful air about them. I found myself heading toward them and above the sound of the tractor I began to hear a sort of trickling, I walked a little further, following the sound and presently came upon a stream.

It was all too perfect; I could see why my Mom had fallen in love with the place. I might've loved it too if it had been a vacation spot, if I knew that in a couple weeks I could go home, to my real home, and that my Dad, and my friends, and my life would be waiting for me. I couldn't go home though, not ever, it wouldn't be home anymore, it would be an empty house with a "For Sale" sign in the yard… Suddenly I hated this place with all its bygone charms, hated it for not being my cookie-cutter suburban ranch house with its neatly trimmed lawn, hated this town for being different and unfamiliar… I hated my parents too, just a little bit then, for doing this to me.

"Bea?" My Mom called from somewhere in the house when I let the rickety screen door slam behind me. It smelled, not bad necessarily, but old, like an attic. There were no lights on but natural light filtered in through the dusty windows, filling the rooms with a sort of glow. The entryway was a longish hall of sorts with doors leading off in either direction, and a staircase directly opposite that was a little too grand, in my opinion, for the setting. "Bea honey I'm in the kitchen!"

Having no idea where the kitchen was I followed the sound of her voice, heading through the door on the left. It opened into a fairly large room with a long row of windows at the front and a fireplace on the far wall with built in bookcases on either side, otherwise the room was empty. I continued into the next room, apparently in old houses like these there were no halls, just a series of rooms flowing into one another, interconnecting the entire house. This room was much like the one before but with only one window, on the far wall, showing a nice view of the side yard. Again I pushed through to the next room and was irrationally relieved to find myself at last in the kitchen.

…A kitchen in desperate need of an upgrade; the appliances had to be from the mid-eighties at least and were an ugly off-white color that had faded steadily into a dull cream. There was a door leading out to the backyard and another on the side wall leading to who knew where, and there, perched on an incredibly ugly countertop, sipping a mug of tea, was my Mom, beaming. "Did you see the old orchard? The creek? Isn't this place just like something out of a book?"

I forced myself to smile, unwrapping a mug from the box on the floor and pouring myself a cup, "yeah Mom, straight out of Little Women."

"I didn't tell you the best part though; I wanted to see if you could figure it out yourself…" I stared at her blankly, wanting to groan, no more surprises today Mom, please. "Give up?" She was smiling like a kid at Christmas.

"Um…yeah, tell me."

"A battle was fought here during the Civil War!" Her eyes widened, you would've thought she was telling me there was buried treasure here or something, she was that ecstatic.

I did my best to seem impressed, "Wow, you mean in Hesperia?"

"Well yeah but, I mean, here, like…on our property here! This house was used as a makeshift hospital for the confederate army!"

So, what you're saying is, around a hundred and forty years ago, some rebel southerners died in the house where I'm going to be living? It's a good thing I'm not superstitious. That's what I was dying to say to the crazy women now inhabiting my mother's body; instead I said something along the lines of, "wow, cool!"

"I know, the realtor showed me some grave markers out in our fields! And you haven't even seen the rest of the house yet!"

I sat on the front porch, my headphones turned up full blast, willing Matthew Bellamy's rough sultry tones to carry me away from this hell. If I had been home my two best friends, Ashley and Morgan would've driven up in Ashley's parent's car and we would've spent the day at the mall buying junk we really didn't need, or the beach, soaking up some rays and flirting with the college guys that came up to Rockport during summer vacation, or even just hanging at one of our houses, listening to music and trying on each other's clothes… Instead I was here, fifteen miles from hick's-ville, in a house that was just waiting to collapse on top of me, watching the grass grow. Literally. I guess I could've unpacked my room but I didn't really relish the thought of my stuff being here, my posters on the walls, my books in the shelves, my bed…it would make this nightmare seem that much more real, this move that much more permanent, and I wasn't ready for that yet.

Mom had gone into town for supplies, Gd; she made it sound as if we were camping! Of course she asked if I would come but I wasn't ready for that either. I'd lived in Rockport my entire life, my Dad was from there and when he'd gotten married Mom was adopted in like a local. Even though Rockport wasn't a small town, we knew pretty much everyone and everyone knew me, I was "Rick and Cynthia's kid". Here I was nobody, the new girl… I couldn't remember a single "new person" coming to Rockport, although I was sure there must've been at least a few over the years. Obviously they hadn't made much of a mark, which probably meant they hadn't really been accepted. What if that became me? What if I ended up being one of those people who sits alone at lunch and no one ever really talks to…One of those people my friends and I used to make fun of. I felt sick.

I have to get out of here, I can't stand it…Part of me wants to call my Dad, ask him if I can stay with him instead, at least he's still in Rockport, but I don't. Instead I wandered again down toward the fields, keeping an eye out for the grave markers Mom told me about. I wasn't completely immune to her love of history, I was fairly fond of it myself, you kind of had to be if you were her kid, it's just that I didn't want to live my life in it.

Maybe that's why Dad left.

The thought popped unbidden into my head. I didn't want to think that, I didn't want to blame Mom but—it was hard to live with someone so caught up in the past, sometimes it was like she wasn't even there. It didn't bother me, I zoned out too on occasion, but that had probably only made it worse for Dad. It was his fault too though, I mean after sixteen years you don't just decide to change your mind—oof.

I caught the toe of my shoe on something and fell forward, landing hard on my palms. "Sh*t!" this something yelped. I rolled over and was suddenly pinned by two very green eyes. Two very green eyes and dark curly hair just long enough to fall into them, and full lips that are, at this moment, pressed into a thin line. "Who the hell are you?" his southern drawl was marred by the irritation in his voice.

I started to apologize and then realized I wasn't the one at fault, I lowered my eyebrows, "Bea Roxburg, who the hell are you?"

"Bea Roxburg," he said the name quietly to himself, trying to place it, "I've never heard of you."

I wanted to laugh at the finality in his voice, as if his not knowing me meant I didn't exist or something, "I'm not from around here."

"So what the hell are you doing traipsing around the St. James place?"

"I own it."

"You own it?" he cocked a brow at me.

"Yeah, well my Mom does."

He blinked those green eyes at me again, extracting himself from under my tangled legs. He stood, dusting off his jeans before offering me a hand up. I took it and he pulled me easily to my feet. He wasn't tall for a guy, but a good deal taller than my meager 5'4. "I'm Jesse," he stooped; scooping up a straw cowboy hat and replacing it on his head, his hair peaking out beneath the brim, "your new neighbor." It was so cliché I almost laughed, but really, it suited him, southern boy all the way, how much you want to bet he drives an old pickup and listens to Garth Brooks?

I stared for a moment longer, "Oh, well, I probably should um, get back…"

The corner of his mouth twitched and I had the distinct feeling he was laughing at me, "Sure, oh, fair warning, my Mom is Hesperia's official welcome committee. "

"You mean she's on it?"

"No, I mean she is it."

I laughed a little, "My Mom will love that actually, she's all about meeting the locals."

I had started back toward the house and for some reason, he followed, "Where are you from?"

"Rockport, it's kind of near D.C."

"Kind of?"

"Well it's nearer Annapolis, on the bay."

"Oh," you could see the assumptions forming; city girl, yuppie, snob… "Why'd you move?"

Because my parents got a divorce and my mom is losing grip on reality, "My Mom got a job out here," I shrugged. We were getting nearer the house now and I kept waiting for him to turn back but he didn't, he followed me up into the side yard where I turned for the house. I stopped at the steps, "well…"

The screen-door slammed behind me, making me jump, "Mom..!"

"Hi sweetie, who's your friend?"

"Jesse Holt Ma'm, I live next door."

My Mom smiled at the "Ma'm" bit, "I'm Cynthia, Bea's Mom."

"Pleased to meet you, I'd better be getting back, but my Mom'll stop by, probably tomorrow."

"That would be great."

"I'll see you around Bea," he nodded to my Mom, "Ms. Cynthia." He turned, I dropped down onto the porch, it was probably weird, watching him walk away, but I didn't care.

"Well he's extremely cute," Mom didn't beat around the bush about that kind of stuff. It was true, he was cute in a country-boy sort of way, and last year—maybe even a few months ago I would've been totally crushing already, but it was just one more thing that made this place different from Rockport. Guys there didn't wear cowboy hats except on Halloween; they wore polo-shirts with popped collars and faux-hawks and recently they'd made the switch from baggy jeans to skinny ones, which was a very big deal, I think they took a vote or something.

"Yeah, I guess."

"See you're making friends already."

A.N.- I hope you find Jesse as adorable as I do! I hope you like Bea too, I mean she is the main character after all.

Just in case some of you aren't familiar with the south, yes, they do still say Ma'm and they do call adult women Ms., pronounced Miz and then their first name, at least they did when I lived there. Please Review!! I'll love you forever and stuff!