"Sleepy head, we're here." someone whispered into my ear a bit too loudly for my liking. I swatted my hand at the face.
When I felt a slap back, I shot up straight. "Are we here?"
Izzy giggled beside me and nudged me. "Of course, we are, dummy."
Aunt Martha, who was sitting at the front, shot a stern glare at Izzy. I smirked at her and earned another nudge. But this one was harder. Everyone laughed at our behavior except for Aunt Martha. I'm still confused with my aunt's attitude. Why is she so rough against Mom? She loves me like her own child, but – pfft – she hates my mother's guts!
All of us got out of the car, and we made a decision that the adults – Mom, Grams, Uncle Sim and Aunt Martha – would go one way and the rest of us kids – Tim, Ave, Izzy and Me. Tim doesn't quite count as a kid, but our parents thought we were too immature to go out and about in Old Quebec alone. So, we agreed.
Apparently, my cousins had been to Quebec City many times, so they all knew the way. Tim was our leader.
The first place me and Izzy dragged the boys off to was the Place des Canotiers.
It's a wonderful urban park at the junction of the St. Lawrence River, the port, and the city. It even has an unbeatable view of the Château Frontenac, the Petit-Champlain, and Old Port districts. Ave had brought a camera, so we took quite a lot of pictures. Funny poses, serious poses, actual poses that were good enough to be shown, etc.
"These pictures are pretty great, Ave!" Izzy smirked, flicking her hair away from her eyes.
Avery glared at her, "Better than you, at least."
I laughed. Then I noticed Tim was nowhere to be seen. I told the other two. "I thought people lost babies! Not eighteen year old idiots!" Ave yelled. A pigeon flew away and a man looked at us funny.
"Tim!" Izzy exclaimed, running off. Then I spotted him too. Ave perked up as well, and I guessed he figured out where Tim was at. Tim was at the front of one of the antique stores, admiring the vase at the window. I looked around the street. It was full of life. There were restaurants, art galleries, and – my! – the historical houses looked so magical! I read somewhere that they were once homes to grain merchants and wholesale grocers. I smiled at Tim as he looked down at us. He walked into the store after he glanced at the three of us safe and sound.
"He likes antique stuff?" I asked to no one in particular, because Izzy and Ave had dashed off behind him. I shrugged. Might as well see what this is all about.
But when I entered, I felt as if I was about to faint.
I held onto the counter and the old woman behind the cash register, looked at me, puzzled, "Are you okay, young lady?" she said in her posh accent. I waved my hand, taking a deep breath.
Raven hadn't seen me or the others yet. I guessed she had a passion for antique furniture because she was admiring a picture of one of those.
I crept towards Tim, Ave, and Izzy, "Raven is here." I whispered just loud enough for the three of them to hear me.
Tim whipped around. "What do you mean?" he said sharply. He looked around, and when his eyes grazed over Raven's back, his eyes turned a shade darker.
That's what you call anger.
Ave muttered a curse and Izzy nudged him in the ribs. That's probably her signature move, I thought. Before I knew it, Tim had marched right up to Raven. I noticed Raven had froze when Tim leaned into the crook of her neck. She turned around slowly, and Tim cornered her at the edge of the store. At the edge edge. Izzy whimpered. I would've too, but Izzy's the scaredy cat here, not me. Maybe I can be the scaredy cat at times... But whatever.
"What. Is. Your. Problem?" Tim hissed as quietly as possible. Raven shuddered. "Why do you keep on following our family, and why are you such a creepy darn stalker?"
Raven regained her composure and snarled. "Isn't this precious world so small, Timothy?" she said, pushing at his chest, making him stumble back. I almost reached for Tim, but he had managed himself just fine.
"You're a girl, so I'm not harming you at the slightest. If you were to be a boy, I would've punched your face off by now." Tim growled under his breath. "Back off, or else."
"Or else what, Timmy?" she growled back.
"Shut up." Tim snapped. "Leave us alone for once. Stop being a stupid stalker, you lonely spy." The he added. "Go to your family." he said, standing taller.
That hit her. That hit Raven hard. Harder than hard. Her menacing face crumpled. She blinked back tears, and I could tell she wanted to curl up into a ball and disappear. I almost felt bad for her Almost. "Tim, I thi–" I started, but Tim held up a hand.
"She's been ruining our lives ever since she found out Carter is in this city. Our lives. And Carter's." he said to me, his voice soft but stern. Then he looked back at Raven, his face showing off anger once again. "Why do you follow us? What's your problem? Why is it that we have to be bugged? What's wrong with Carter? Why do you annoy the poor kid? What has he ever done to you? Take your father's side? That's it? Well, I think your father had a good mind to leave your wretched mother."
I had never seen him like this. And I honestly never thought I would. I could see Izzy trembling behind Avery. She was scared. I shimmied over to her and squeezed her shoulder lightly. She jumped, then pulled me into a hug. Avery smiled at Tim's back.
When Raven didn't say anything, and all she did was look at the ground and deepen her frown, Tim decided to add a couple extra words.
"Mother. In. Jail." he spat.
I gasped. Izzy hugged me tighter. I rubbed her shoulder, and Avery glared at Raven.
I never in my wildest nightmares thought I would see Raven cry. But here, I could see her breaking down, tears at the verge of falling, heart swollen. I wanted to reach out to her, tell her it was okay.
But it isn't. A voice said in my head. It will never be.
But I was one with kind heart. Sometimes. I let go of Izzy and marched over to Tim. "That's enough. I think you've broken her. Let her be." I held on to his arm. He shrugged it away.
"No." he said simply. "Never. She ruined our lives, we ruin hers." I sighed. There was no use to try and stop him now. Tim's as stubborn as his mother.
I was grateful that no one had come into the store yet, because I didn't hear the bells chime at the front door. The old lady at the front hadn’t noticed us either, I let out a heavy breath and looked Tim in the eye, standing in front of Raven.
“You don’t want it to happen again. I’ll break down later, so just listen to me now.” Looking at his sorrowful eyes as memories came flooding in, I felt regret that I brought my suicide attempt topic back. But it was worth it. Tim stopped. Turning on my heel, I frowned at Raven. This was the best time to ask her to spill her guts because when a person is this broken, it’s hard to keep secrets anymore.
I’ve had experience.
“Explain.” I ordered.
Raven sniffled, and we all took that as a sign to sit down around her. Izzy sat on Tim’s lap, who sat the farthest from Raven. And then it was Ave and me sitting right in front of Raven, eager for her story. If she even had one. A good one, that is.
“I – I’m so sorry, Julia.” she said, looking up with sad eyes. Feeling as if my heart was about to break, I gave her a reassuring smile. I know I was being very nice to her, but everyone needs to be listened to. There are many opinions to one story. Not just one.
“Get on with it.” Tim snapped, from his position. Izzy jumped slightly. She was still scared; I should ask her why later.
“I’ve been jealous of you all along, Julia.” she started, “I’ve always longed for a father like yours. He was great. I remember it all. Honestly, I’m glad you’re still alive. I’m glad your mother is still alive.”
Well that’s confusing. I didn’t press it. I just waited as the few seconds of silence passed.
Then she continued. My heart started beating faster and faster when the fact that she was talking about my father sunk in. I wanted to know more. To know how he looked like. Who he was. Everything. I was buzzing.
“He was a great man, Brad.” she said, staring off at the antique frame in the shelf. It was mostly wooden, but it had bits of gold here and there. “Well, anyway, I was jealous of you because of everything you have. Notice I said was. I’m not anymore. I’ve stopped doing what Mother has been telling me to do.”
I narrowed my eyes in thought as Raven said those words. “When Mother went to jail, she wanted to take revenge for two things. Carter, who’s with Father having a peaceful life, and Anthea – your mother. Anthea, because, according to Mother, Anthea ‘stole’–” she made quotation marks in the air, “Brad from her.”
“Mother has told me the entire story. A to Z. Every detail. But even I – a person who has never been in a relationship before – can realize that Mother was the one to steal Brad from your mother. She makes it sound as if he was stolen from her when he really wasn’t.”
A question arose and so, I asked it before I would forget. “Why… Is you mother in jail?”
“She killed her youngest son. Nathaniel.” she said flatly. Her eyes flickering towards Tim for a moment.
I gasped. Avery shuddered.
“Oh. And one more thing.” she said.
Avery, Tim and I asked all at once. “What?” Izzy stayed quiet, her face buried in Tim’s chest.
Raven looked at me and I knew at once that it was something I didn’t want to hear. I was about to stop her, but Raven said it.
“You’re my stepsister.”