WE ARE FAMILY, I GOT ALL MY SISTERS AND ME.
The green construction paper was blank and untorn; it was simply fibers that I imagined had come from recycled denim. Its brown twin sheet underneath it didn't give me any hints, either. I stared at it for a long moment, unsure what to do.
"Maggic!" hissed a voice next to me in a whisper. I turned to look.
A red-haired girl with a face full of freckles grinned at me as she handed me a pair of scissors. "Need these?" she whispered.
I rolled my eyes. "Nope, I'm magical," I murmured back. "I can cut the paper with my mind."
She snickered. "How's your tree coming?" she prodded, peering over at my two untouched pieces of construction paper.
I groaned. "Not so hot," I said. "I don't even get this, Holly. What's the point, other than rubbing my incomplete family in my face?"
Holly shrugged. "School sucks."
It was fifth period, and we were supposed to be making family trees. Ms. Nguyen, our art teacher, was a young Vietnamese woman who was new to the school, unordinarily strict, and incredibly bad with names. Holly was my best friend, and we frequently ignored Ms. Nguyen's no-talking rule and chatted our way through art class to make it more bearable. She was also not really the best art teacher, considering that we were making family trees out of construction paper in a high-school level art class.
Nevertheless, it was a class, and we were getting a grade, so we had to do the assignment. So I was stuck with the task of creating a family tree of my less-than-ideal family.
When I was seven years old, my father and my Aunt Terra (his sister) died in a car accident. I don't remember very much of what happened. All anyone would tell me was that my dad and Aunt Terra loved me and Adonai would remember them. I remember the funeral, with people peppered here and there, telling me they were sorry for my loss. I remember the Shabbat service that Friday, and standing up at a time when we usually sat, toward the end of the service, and I remember the grief that filled the community around me.
But I can't remember much of either of them, really. My Aunt Terra was always taking a trip to the Philippines to visit her family, and my dad was always out of the house, working. I remember the transitioning period being difficult for my mom, with her crying all the time and having to deal with the paperwork and all the people constantly visiting us and whatnot. It had taken her so long to smile again.
Eventually, after a year of seeing a therapist and weekly grief counseling from our rabbi, my mom regained her previous upbeat personality and began to dive back into the swing of things. It took her a few years to start dating again, and my siblings and I were resistant to it at first, but eventually it became a part of our lives and we got used to seeing the occasional random stranger drinking ritual morning coffee with our mom every couple of months. They tended to stick around for a while, maybe for a maximum of eight months, but it seemed that eight was the magic number, for none of them stayed longer than that.
I stared at the photo of my father that I'd brought to school with me. I supposed it really ought to be blank. He wasn't much of a father—I didn't really even know him—and I didn't really have much of a fatherly figure. I figured maybe I ought to just have one parent branching out to my siblings and me on the tree, instead of having two photos linked together to Keyla, Molly, Nicky and me.
It had been forty-seven minutes and I hadn't made any progress. I was at a loss. The construction paper simply stared at me, as if it had eyes and was taunting me. "You don't know your family," it told me, the fibers of the paper appearing as if they were shaking slightly—probably snickering at me—"I'm just going to sit here in pieces and wait for you to do something with me, but you can't. Because you don't know."
That wasn't entirely true. I knew my family. I knew my mom, Bridget Andrews-Abrams, who was a well-known lawyer working in the heart of Miami, though we didn't have a very close relationship. My mom wasn't a very friendly person in general, though: she was a very sharp, abrupt woman, though she was very supportive with anything my siblings and I did, both financially and with her presence. She attended absolutely everything she could, and though she didn't really show any sort of emotion or excitement, she was always there patiently, calculatingly, sitting on the metal stands in the midst of hundreds of parents in jeans and tee-shirts, set apart by her perpetual business suits.
Those things were attached to her, I swear.
I considered simply making a construction-paper version of her, but decided that because I didn't have any black to make her usual business suit, it would be a futile attempt at a representation.
I didn't have any bright enough colors of paper in order to make a likeness of my oldest sister, Keyla, who would have resented being created in paper, anyhow, claiming that the fibers of the paper did nothing for her complexion. My little sister Molly might have liked a paper version of herself, but I didn't have anything purple, and she would have wanted her purple fuzzy bracelet to be involved. Nicky, my little brother, was five and probably wouldn't be able to appreciate the fine art that went into construction-paper art, and our dog, Starlight, would probably—
Wait, I had brown. I could make Starlight.
Just as I started to cut the construction paper in the form of a dog head, the bell rang, and I sighed, let the scissors clatter on the desk, and gave up.
Who needed a family tree, anyhow?
"Get anything done?" asked Holly through the rumble of students dashing out of the classroom as she put her supplies away.
I shook my head warily as I simply remained sitting at my desk, staring at the construction paper. "No," I said, then held up the piece of brown construction paper, which had a small cut at the top. "But I did get a head start on Starlight."
Holly laughed and leaned on the side of my desk, folding her arms across her chest. "You're a regular Michelangelo. Next week, you'll create the David out of purple Playdough."
I scowled and let my head fall on my desk in defeat. "I suck at art," I said miserably.
"Oh, shut up, no you don't." Holly flicked the side of my head, and I lifted it up and groaned in her general direction.
"Yes, I do," I insisted. "And I'm going to fail this class because I have a terrible family."
Holly started to put my things into my backpack while I was busy whining. "You're actually very good at art, you're just having a bad day," she said patiently. "And your family's not terrible. You want a terrible family? Join Megan's."
I laughed half-heartedly. "Her family's not terrible, it's just crazy."
"She has ten siblings, four turtles, two cats, and a pet ball python. That house never gets a break."
"Yeah, but she still has two parents, and even though her family's a little loopy, she still seems happy."
"Only because she has to pretend to be, especially because she's the oldest."
Megan Hill's family was constantly an object of speculation, school-wide. She and three of her siblings attended Miami High along with Holly and me, and they all happened to be Mormon. Because of this little circumstantial fact, they got a lot of weird stares from everyone, even though they weren't really any different than everyone else, with the exception of the fact that there were ten Hill children and they went to church far more frequently than most people did.
Megan was not a generally cheerful person, but she wasn't constantly moody, either. She was a calm, quiet sort of person, though she tended to be rather impatient.
I figured that was because of all the kids running around her house. I could barely live with three siblings; I couldn't imagine what it would be like with ten.
"Anyway, your family isn't really that bad, Maggie." Holly lifted up her backpack onto her shoulders and motioned for me to take mine. "You have a really awesome mom, and your siblings are all really cool—"
"Except Keyla," I interrupted.
Holly shrugged. "Karen seems to get along with her, and I trust Karen's judgment."
I shrugged back. Karen was Holly's older sister and Keyla's best friend. Holly and I both had a good deal of respect for Karen, as she was a generally levelheaded, kind, tolerant person. While I wasn't overly fond of my sister and her overly materialistic ways of "popularity," I liked Karen, so I supposed there had to be something good about Keyla after all.
"Anyway, moving on," I said, waving my hands in front of me as if to literally push the good point away. "Okay, so my family isn't awful. But I could use a dad, you know."
Holly sighed as we started to exit Ms. Nguyen's classroom. "Be careful what you wish for, Maggs. Isn't your mom seeing someone right now? What if she married him?"
I wrinkled my nose as I thought about her current boyfriend. I'd only met him a couple of times. He was a lawyer, too, and he was even more uptight than my mom appeared to be. That, and he always smelled like really strong cologne. My theory was that he had bottles of the stuff collected like a giant canola oil container you can get from warehouse stores in bulk, and he used half a bottle a day.
It certainly would have explained why his hair was constantly so shiny.
"Yeah, you see?" giggled Holly as she saw my expression.
"See what?" asked a new voice, and I moved my gaze from the concrete floor up to a person in front of me.
I stopped, and immediately I tensed up as my eyes shifted on to the person. As stiff as a praying mantis. As frozen as a Popsicle.
Matthew Wigby was standing right in front of me. I was immobile, frozen.
Like a Popsicle.
My body was frozen while my heart and face were moving rapidly and heating up. All of a sudden, I felt extremely uncomfortable and slightly choked-up.
"Oh, hey, Matt," said Holly offhandedly.
"D—uh, hi," I said, attempting speech.
"Were you guys sightseeing in the courtyard or something?"
"No, just talking about family stuff," answered Holly vaguely. Matt looked curious, and for a moment it seemed as though he were going to ask for more detail, but thought better of it and got down to why he'd interrupted our conversation in the first place.
Not that I'd noticed any sort of 'interruption.' I thought of it more as a smooth 'introduction.'
Though why Matt Wigby would be introducing himself into our conversation was beyond me.
"So anyway, Maggie, you left your jacket in Ms. Nguyen's class," he said to me, and handed me a pile of fleece.
I stared at the soft object dumbly for a full five seconds before I recognized it as my jacket. My eyes lit up in recognition at the jacket, but my heart sank a bit as I realized that this was the reason for his so-called 'introduction.'
"Oh," I said quietly. "Uh, thanks."
I took it in my hands, but he held on to it a moment longer.
I looked up at him questioningly, concentrating so hard on not letting my beating heart able to be heard that I forgot Holly's existence.
But I couldn't forget for long, because she unzipped her backpack and pulled out a water bottle, which she promptly threw down the hallway. My attention was diverted to her.
"Oops, dropped my water bottle," she said, sighing and rolling her eyes. "I'll go get it now."
She walked off to go 'retrieve' it, and Matt and I looked at each other tentatively for a moment.
And then we both broke out into laughter at the exact same time.
"Sorry about that," I said when I calmed myself. Smiling broke a bit of my nervousness, so I was thankful for Holly's tact and ability to get me to smile.
"No, no, it's okay," said Matt, grinning back at me. "I wanted to ask if you wanted to have lunch with me tomorrow, but I haven't really gotten the chance to talk to you."
My eyebrows raised speculatively. "That…seems…random," was all I managed to get out, trying to form English as my nervousness started to rush back as I realized that we were alone in the hallway.
Matt averted his gaze. "Well…it wouldn't be if you'd been at study hall last week."
My heart thumped even faster. I was pretty sure he was going to have to take me to the hospital soon, as I could feel a heart attack coming on.
All I could do was stare at him with a lopsided sort of grin. I was sure it looked ridiculous, but I couldn't really do too much to change it.
He'd been looking for me. He'd been planning on this.
"I'm…honored," I said, goofy grin still in place. "Uh…yeah, lunch tomorrow sounds…great."
His smile broadened, and he nodded quickly. "Well…cool. Here's your scarf—uh—I mean, jacket." He thrust the fleece blob into my hands, then stared at me awkwardly once more. "Well…bye, see you then."
And then he was gone, without even waiting for a response.
"Bye," I said to his retreating back.
Holly came back over, water bottle in hand. "Welp, found my water bottle," she said matter-of-factly.
I grinned at her. "Thanks."
"I am such a good friend," she said, then grinned at me. "So, he asked you to lunch?"
"Yeah—wait, how'd you know?"
"Oh, come off it, Maggie. We've all been watching him ogle you for the past few weeks."
"Wait, everyone knew this but me?!"
Holly linked her elbow with mine and pulled me toward the study hall. "Yeah, it turns out you're not very observant."