Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Midnight Dancers, Part Two

Since seventeen-year-old Miriam, the second-in-command, was drying dishes, and Liddy and Becca were sweeping the floors, Rachel made up her mind that cleaning up the pantry was Prisca’s job. But the fifteen-year old sister was nowhere to be seen. Prisca’s goofing off, as usual.

Gritting her teeth, Rachel tried to diffuse her irritation by talking to Jabez. “Bad boy, bad boy,” she chanted as she dusted him off, and he chuckled at her. She pressed a small kiss on his head, and he gleefully shoved both fists into her face, exuberantly careless in his affection. She sighed, appreciating his small-scale male energy in a house with so many girls.

“Got to put you to bed,” Rachel said, putting him under her arm again. “And find the slacker.”

She caught sight of herself in the mirror over the sideboard and half-smiled. She had skin with a touch of olive, mahogany hair and bright blue-green eyes she was quite proud of. Rachel Durham was attractive, and she knew it.

Whooshing a laughing Jabez along in her arms, she turned a corner to look into the side parlor. Her youngest sister Debbie was vacuuming, but no sign of Prisca. She turned another corner to go check the library. Sometimes Rachel was happy to be living in a rambling historical house, but at times like this, she wished there were less nooks and crannies where siblings skipping chores could hide.

Jabez was getting heavy, and he was about to start whining. Looking around for someone to take him, Rachel spotted Cheryl in the downstairs bathroom, leaning against the side of the shower wall, almost hidden by the curtain.

Her oldest stepsister was supposed to be cleaning, but Rachel guessed, from the bend of her head and the light glinting off her glasses, that she was reading a book. Cheryl was six months younger, and very different from Rachel: a nervous, insecure, dreamy type who was chronically disorganized.

Rachel’s policy was to use a soft touch when it came to Sallie’s daughters. In their blended family, there were enough problems without looking for more. Keeping her mouth shut, Rachel walked past the bathroom, getting more and more irritated with Prisca every moment.

Moving Jabez onto her shoulders, Rachel hurried up the steps to the girls’ bedroom on the top floor. “Pris—CA!” she bellowed.

Her fifteen-year-old sister was crouched over on the lower bunk of her bed, reading a magazine, which she immediately rolled over to hide. “What?” Prisca said defensively.

“The kitchen floor’s not mopped,” Rachel said.

“I did it!”

Rachel shrugged. “Could have fooled me. Anyway, you’ll have to do the pantry over. Jabez got into the flour.”

Prisca swore, stuffed the magazine under her pillow and stormed downstairs, still spitting out profanity.

Rachel followed her out and down the steps. “You better not let Dad hear you talking like that.”

“Oh, shut up!” Prisca said, her voice rising piercingly as she hurried downstairs. Prisca had always been a tad temperamental, but lately she had been even more so. Not wanting to exasperate the situation further, Rachel decided to give Prisca some space for the moment.

She met Brittany, one of the more easy-going Fendelman girls, coming out of the boys’ bedroom with the vacuum cleaner. “Want to get him ready for bed?” Rachel said, indicating Jabez. “He had a flour adventure. I’ll take the vacuum downstairs.” Over Brittany’s pompom ponytail, Rachel saw that the room was cleaned and straightened. “Hey, good job.”

Instead of answering, Brittany shrugged, and then puffed out her cheeks in a goofy face for Jabez, who burst into riotous giggles. Brittany whisked him out of Rachel’s arms and around the bedroom in some basketball moves.

Having gotten rid of her toddler burden, Rachel walked downstairs with the vacuum, rubbing her shoulder. She needed to make sure that Prisca had actually gotten to the kitchen.

She stowed the vacuum, and found Prisca in the pantry, sweeping up flour with quick angry strokes. The dish rack was empty and the girls were scattered. There was scum in the sink, and she picked a sponge and wiped it off, then looked around.

Done for the night. It had been a long day. Trucking her siblings to swimming lessons in the morning, grocery shopping in the afternoon, weeding the garden, picking raspberries from their bushes, making supper, and cleaning up—man, summer is supposed to be a vacation, she thought. And I’ve barely done anything except work.

I need a shower, she thought. And some time to relax. Thinking of the fashion magazine under Prisca’s pillow, she turned her path towards the upstairs again. But as she opened the door to the back staircase, Dad’s voice rang out, “Girls! Time for family devotions!”

She groaned out loud, and regretted it at once. Her dad’s head snapped around the corner from the living room, his eyes hard. “What was that, young lady?”

“Nothing,” Rachel said, massaging her shoulder and wincing as though she had just banged it. “Just hit myself with the door.”

Her dad looked at her suspiciously, but Rachel, feigning innocence, slouched past him into the living room.

Can't wait to read more? Buy The Midnight Dancers: A Fairy Tale Retold by Regina Doman today!

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