The house is always kept at 72°, whether we are facing summer’s air or winter’s sting. Dad insists it is the perfect temperature, a rigid confirmation since I was little. Trying to get the layers off of me, I begin feeling sweat form on my arms and face from the struggle of getting out of my exoskeleton. The house is quiet, except I can make out the sizzle of food two rooms away. With my snow boots finally taken off, I half-limp-half-crawl my way to the kitchen. I forgot how much these walks physically require, and I don’t get as many anymore with school picking up.
“Hello? Ya’ll?” No reply to my mock-hick lingo. “Anybody around?”
Steak, potatoes, and looks like fruit salad for a dessert. Alright, good enough. I grab a fork from the nearby drawer and remove two pieces of pineapple for right now. I pull the one chair we keep in the kitchen over next to the pantry and take a seat for a moment, just letting the numbness take over. The sound of a muffled jump shake down from my brother’s room, probably jumping around frustrated over whatever level he was taking on.
Our kitchen is mostly wooden, apart from the solid-black fridge, stove, and dishwasher, as well as the silver sink. We keep, like most rooms here, solid tiling and I can feel the heat from my feet escape into the tile. It feels really good, but I can smell the stink float up. I stand up and move a little easier than before and progress into the living room, walk in front of the television and climb the stairs to the bedrooms. As soon as I get upstairs I hear the toilet flush from underneath, realizing finally where somebody was.
At the top of the stairs, I turn and go into the mini-hallway where the bedrooms and kid’s bathroom is. Vanessa’s room is shut, but I can hear Adrian’s game clearly with his door hanging wide open. I turn the handle to my room and walk into the ‘blue abyss’, as my dad calls it. Blue because, well, its blue and abyss because there’s so much in here that anything can get lost in here easily. Not to say it’s messy, just there’s a lot here. Books stacked up and up all over, old science projects hanging around, a basket of clothes yet to be folded up. The only messy thing is my desk, but even that’s organized, in a way. Fatigue sets in again and I sit down in front of the basket, trying to grab together some assortment of pajamas. I finally get something together and get back up, leave the room and head into our bathroom.
We kids have the biggest bathroom in the house. It has both a shower and a bath, though the only one who uses the bathtub is Adrian, and two separate sinks, with a granite counter and tiled walls as well as floor. I shut the door and hurryingly turn on the water for the shower, setting it warm, almost enough to boil skin away.
After cleaning up and shaving my face, I grab the door handle and pull, but it won’t open. I pull again, it budges some, but closes again.
“Adrian! Open this door, brat!” I threaten jokingly. I bang against the door and I can hear a scratch, and then I can open it. He stands in front of me with a bungee strap in his hand, guilt and humor written across his face. I yank the cords from his arms and begin tying him up. “Let’s see how you’re gonna like it, kid.” He squirmed his way out of the wrap and ran off to his room, a blur of blonde hair and blue pajamas, shutting the door behind him with a discernable ‘click’ of the lock.
Bad move, kid. Bad move.
About ten minutes later, after organizing my desk, I made my way downstairs with the thought that dinner must be close to done. When I get to the living room, Rachel, my step-mom, was sitting on the couch and had the news on. “Dinner’ll be done in like two minutes, Berlin. Can you yell up to the others?”
“Yeah, sure.” I make my way to the top of the stairs and yell “Dinner’s almost done” and within two seconds I could hear Adrian trying to open his door, but now a taste of his own medicine keeps him trapped. He yells at me, and I cave to help him. When I unlatch the cord, Adrian sprints out of his room heading right for me. I turn and run to the stairs to avoid him, make it to the bottom when he jumps at the last second and clings onto me, causing me to turn and him to slam into the wall. He bounces off but got right back up and slides across the living room into the kitchen. I help Rachel off of the couch and we make our way to the kitchen.
Dad’s hovering over the skillets on the stove. “Berlin, get out some plates, forks and stuff. Sumbitch is hot to go!” He’s got quite the choice of words.
After getting out everything, we each took our turn getting food and moved to the dining room. “Where’s Vanessa?” I ask.
“VANESSA!” Adrian squeals.
“Thanks, bud,” Dad says, “I’m not sure about Vanessa, but I bet most dogs heard that.”
Stifling a giggle from my dad’s poor sense of humor, I start gorging on the food. We aren’t a very prim-and-proper family, as it turns out. Rachel takes a second to tie back her hair- it’s probably pushing three feet long, so it’s a mess to control for food. Adrian sometimes forgets to breathe while he eats; instead he opens his mouth and shovels anything inwards. Dad sounds like he is growling and trying to claim his territory as his own, scaring off would-be fiends.
Whenever Vanessa makes it downstairs, she barely makes a sound. She’s got a plain gray shirt and jeans, and carries a notebook and pen in on one hand, a plate of food in the other. The girl is eerily quiet sometimes, lost in her own little world.
“Good morning, sunshine, the world’s been waiting for you!” Rachel says.
“I know. Can’t blame it, can you? Sorry, I didn’t hear Berlin earlier,” Vanessa retorts.
“How do you know he called for you, then?”
She takes a second, caught. “Okay, I was doing something and just didn’t want to come. Those butterflies- the ones Ms. White gave me- hatched out from their cocoons, so I was just cleaning up the old fish tank for them.”
“Why are you messing with butterflies, exactly?” I tossed at her.
She finished putting her hair into a bun because, like her mother, her hair was too long. “It’s like, I wanted to see if certain wing deformities are gender related. Two of the caterpillars are born with the deformity in their genes, and two aren’t, so all I have to do is cross genders. It’s awesome! I just thought for kicks about doing it.” She got so excited over, well, bugs.
“How do you tell if a butterfly is a lady-butterfly or a dude-butterfly? Can you see their junk?” Dad asked.
“Uh, kind of, yeah,” Vanessa replied.
“Honey, think about that,” Dad said to Rachel, “think about little butterfly junk. Little, tiny butterfly gonads.” Dad, in high school, was captain of the poetry club, for the record.
“Can I see? I want to see them!” Adrian said, chipper at the prospect of seeing butterflies in winter.
“I want to see, too,” I say. Why not, I figured.
“Alright, after dinner.” And just like that, Vanessa falls back into the silence that she exhibits so well.