the eldest Walters sister’s exasperated voice rang out clearly into the kitchen which was currently an exploded mess of chocolate batter and…how the heck did it get up on the ceiling? I ignore the frustration, pretending I can’t hear, and tilt my gaze upwards to that one patch. “Again, really?”
You were born fifth in a line of seven, oh yeah count it seven girls. Four beautiful darlings, then you, then two more, with not a boy in sight. That was why they kept trying after the first two girls. And then, well, your parents were in love after all. It was a wonder that your mom was ever not pregnant but, these things happened. It never slowed her down though. Even when they put her on bed rest in the middle of being pregnant with your eldest sister she was still designing and putting her little worker bees to work. And God forbid anyone joke that she design any maternity clothes. She was a kind woman, but she had a wit of steel. She didn’t get where she was being all kind all the time.
Except with her daughters.
She cooed over me, genuinely and often. It’s the first of my memories and I hold it tightly, like I’ll die if I ever forget it, my mother stroking back my hair, and kissing a scraped cheek that who knows how I managed to get. Everyone knew my mother had a soft spot for her daughters, each one was precious and loved. My father was a stern man with a good heart, and always there with an encouraging word, but it was my mother who was the one that made you feel loved.
The smell of brownies backing envelopes you as you pad down the stairs, tiny five year old feet making not a noise. Your other sisters are just as graceful but you have an extra light touch, not wanting to be seen. No one else is home. Your mother’s stomach is rounded once more but she swears, swears up and down, that this will be the last one. The last try to give daddy a boy to train to take over the company after him.
Your sisters are at school, Alana who is the next youngest after you is sound asleep, Daddy’s at work and your mother is working from home today but obviously started to crave chocolate. You peek around the kitchen door, little brown curls falling around your face and partially obscuring your view, bright teal eyes looking at your mother’s figure.
She turns at just the right moment, red hair spinning out as she does, and laughs softly as she catches you, making you giggle and duck back behind the door. ”Come here my sweet Adella, I see you,” you hear your mother call. Running into the kitchen, ever obedient to the soft calling of a mother’s voice, you leap into her arms and find yourself up onto the counter, nearly knocking over a cup set next to you as you settle in to your new spot. Your mother’s warm smile is for you alone, for once, not competing for attention with all the rest. It’s wonderful.
Your seven year old self can hear them arguing. Well not really arguing, they never argued. Your father always gave in to your mother and your mother rarely went against your father. But you can hear them disagreeing. And it’s about you.
”Are you sure that’s a good idea, she’s always tripping over her own two feet.” the strong voice of your father cautions.
”The other girls can do it, so can she. And she wants to. It doesn’t matter if she’s not that great, it’ll make her happy” the kind tone floats around the harsh man’s tone, gently convincing, you can practically see your mother’s small hand lay over your father’s much larger one, which happens often. Eventually he sighs.
”She won’t be happy if she falls.” he cautions, worried about his fifth girl, something he would never show outwardly to their faces. She just laughs and replies: ”I’m pretty sure she’d be happy either way. She’s Adella.”
Oh I love it. Only eight years old and it doesn’t matter, it is amazing. The moves are simple but they’re liberating. My mother comes to every practice, and I can feel her eyes on her, encouraging me, as I move from step to step. They’re little things, things that will make me laugh some day that I thought them so hard, but they’re mine. All mine for that moment. And I worked hard to get there. For a moment it doesn’t matter about my other sisters. For that moment it’s just me and the music and my mother’s full attention.
I practically feel like I’m glowing.
Later that year you go from glowing to feeling like you want to lock yourself up in your room and never come out. You didn’t understand at first. It was dark when the police officer knocked on the door of your expansive home to talk to your father. You heard things break after the police officer left. You heard the pained voice of your father, and you saw your sister go into the kitchen to talk to him and see what was going on.
You didn’t get why she started to cry too, and no one would tell you for a while. Not until you asked why your mother hadn’t come home from her office yet. Not until you saw how much paler your father turned after that.
You didn’t want to believe it then. No, your vibrant mother couldn’t be gone. You heard the hushed explanations no one wanted you to hear at the funeral a few days later. Poor woman. Leaving behind seven girls. So young. Hit by a car. Drunk driver. That last part didn’t make sense to you at the time.
You weren’t angry, just upset.
You snuck off during the funeral and found your sister Andrina. Andy. Andy she insisted to your tiny eight year old self. She was so sad too, but she couldn’t seem to be around all the people either. So you just sat with her and cried where no one could watch. Andy always made you feel normal. Always.
You knew you shouldn’t do it, but in that moment you decided Andy was your favorite sister to be around. It was a bad thought, that’s what we’re told. You shouldn’t have favorite siblings. But in your heart, it’s true.
You do not like the new nanny. She makes you feel bad all the time, always trying to make all of your sisters and you be proper, stand at attention, be the right upper class girls you’re supposed to be. You’re no good at that though. You trip a lot, and you don’t do well in school because you can’t focus. You can’t do what she asks. Oh you try, but it just feels like you never get it right.
She tries to make you stop taking dancing lessons, focus on your academics which are slipping too easily. You end up staring at the space behind her head, going off into your own world until she gets exasperated and walks off.
No one can make you stop dancing. Dancing is where you shine. Even Mommy said so.
Daddy’s not the same. I watch him out of the corner of my eye sometimes. I’m little, yeah, so he doesn’t notice me. But it’s not like he’s hiding it. He sighs a lot more, he’s a long more gruff. I want to reach out and take his hand, I mean we miss Mom too, it’s only been four years since it happened. But I’m too nervous too. My youngest sister would in a heartbeat. She’s not afraid of getting in his face even if he gets mad.
I’m more the type to try and sneak off to dance class without anyone noticing me. Besides, I got the partner dance this week. And each time my partner touches my hand I get these butterflies. But that’s probably because he’s a boy. Well obviously.
I never noticed this before. But I get really giddy and giggly each time. I wonder if he notices
You want to lock yourself in your room and never come out. You just got to high school and it’s so clear now how much you’re not the right Walters sister. You’re the wrong one in each and every way. Everyone knows your sisters. They’re beautiful and talented and smart and each one has such an amazing trait that makes them wonderful. You’re just Adella. It’s obvious you’re too much of a space case from the way that the teachers sigh when they can’t get your attention, or maybe that’s because you can never get higher than a B- on any test. It’s not like you’re slow! You are smart, you just…can’t focus. Never have been able to.
You want to cry, you’re not the right one. Not pretty at all, the title of fairest of them all goes to two of your other sisters. You’re not brilliant like your second eldest sister or really organized and business like like your oldest sister. You’re not even quick with the comeback like Andy.
The wrong sister all around.
You sigh and pull yourself up. Mother always said that you had to smile, because that made it better. She said you shined, and you do. You can dance, you can sing. You have to focus on that. You can’t think about how disappointed Daddy will be when he gets your report card or how everyone stares at your sisters.
Even though you desperately hope he’ll look your way. Who? Does it matter? Any boy looking your way…sigh.
You look with despair on how horrible your attempt to recreate your mother’s brownies came out. You’re the only one in the house. The nanny was fired long ago for going against what your father thought your mother would have wanted, each sister was out at their own places—including your eldest sister off taking over your mom’s fashion empire—and it’s just you. Perfect time to try this and hopefully not fail.
But it’s a burnt wreck, it looks absolutely horrible and you managed to get the batter everywhere. You sniffle, feeling close to tears, when suddenly a hand clamps down on your shoulder. You jump nearly ten feet in the air and then glance up to see Andy smirking down at you. Come on, Kid, it’s not that bad. Even mom could only make brownies.
You sniffle and shake your head. Even mom could make one thing. I have nothing! you moan and wail, feeling too upset to notice you probably sound like a baby rather than a fourteen year old.
Well, I think you make killer cereal she says and you can’t help but crack up.
You don’t have any sort of skills that will make you helpful in the high end world your family is part of, but you’ve managed to try and ignore that. That’s not the important part. You want to try and live by what Mother said, that you should be happy.
And what makes you happy lately is boys.
In particular there’s one boy who seems to have his attentions on you, though you blush and wave nervously every time he does. After a few weeks of this he asks you out. On a date. An actual date! You try not to squeal while he’s actually there and wait until you’re safely in the girl’s room, after nearly accidently running into the boy’s room.
At the date everything seems to actually go smoothly. You don’t trip over your own two feet and the grace that you only seem to be able to show when you’re dancing makes an appearance in the normal world. It’s wonderful and he’s a gentleman about it all.
Only then, at the end of the date, he tries to kiss you. And you really, really do want it. More than anything else. But then you think about how upset your father has been since your mother died. And do you really want that? To be so devastated if he ever leaves? And why are you thinking about this, it’s only the first date!
You come to terms with it and ready yourself to be kissed, but by this point he’s pulling back because he saw you hesitate.
With a panicked little noise that you might miss your first kiss and possibly he’ll leave all together, and you don’t want that, you launch yourself forward and kiss him square on the lips yourself.
”Oh, I was dreaming about a boy” You said lazily when your sister wakes you up. She laughs and says what else is new? Alana can be just as bad sometimes, but you’re the one that’s always thinking about boys. Not always flirty, no, because you get too inside your own head and nervous and jittery…because you can’t get over that feeling of being the worst of the Walters sisters. You try but it doesn’t go away no matter what you do. It doesn’t help that your older sisters do so well and you feel like you falter.
You’re reminded of your dance audition and in moments you’ve launched out of bed to race to the dance recital that your teacher has painstakingly managed to secure you for the dance company in town. Only fifteen, one of the youngest who’ll be trying out. But unlike the rest of your life, you’re confident in dance. You can do this.
And you do.
”Adella, what on earth were you thinking?!” was my father’s angry reply when a police officer brought me home. I cringed and ducked low like I thought that would help me to hide from his anger. I could see how pale his face got, and I knew it was because a police officer was at the door and he was probably thinking about the last time that had happened…
I try not to answer, just sneak on past him. If it helps my stupidity thinking I can sneak past him, I am more than a little bit drunk. That’s why I was picked up. Well, that and throwing things. But he had said it would be okay! He being my boyfriend. I got them so infrequently even though I day dreamed about it a lot that when he suggested that we drink, I didn’t want to say no. And when he suggested we chuck the eggs and take things off people’s lawns and…well then it was because I was drunk and because I didn’t want to say now and have him ditch me. He was always so sweet, so it couldn’t be bad, right? He wasn’t like the people he hung out with. And it wasn’t true that he was just using me or something like my friends thought…
The police officer only didn’t put me in a holding cell because of my family’s social standing. That’s the only reason I’m back at my own house rather than in the police station. I’m grateful.
He stops me, but I knew he would, even if I’m drunk. He tells the police officer thank you and that he has me, and shakes his head, leading me in. Oh I’m going to get it. But he just gets quiet. And I’m reminded that there’s a reason me and my sister’s don’t drink that often. Mom.
”You’re only seventeen, Adella, do you know what could have happened?” I wince from the quiet disappointment, it’s almost worse than anything else.
I agree to break up with him. Anyone who makes me do things like that when I said I wasn’t going to drink ever because of Mom…I shouldn’t be with. I promise it won’t happen again, that I won’t let a boy sway me like that again. I won’t let myself have a boy talk me into doing bad things. Or anything really.
In my heart of hearts though, I know it’s not true.
You want to drop out of school, it’s so frustrating. You just can’t get the grades. Studying bores you to tears each time you try, and the grades do the same thing…the tears not the boring. It just always feels like it’s hopeless. Even when the tutoring in school—originally a male tutor until it was quickly fixed when you just kept giggling and twirling your hair around your finger—and from your family, it always feels so hopeless. You don’t know how you’re going to manage even passing high school, and then everyone will want you in college. It won’t happen.
It’s the proudest moment in my life to walk across that stage and get that diploma. Okay, maybe the second proudest because dance will always come first, but definitely up there in the top of the list. To get my diploma, feel that in my hand and know that I worked hard for it, I did it even though it was hard…it’s amazing.
I silently look up and tell my mother who I know is watching that I’m shining again.
Back down on earth, my father is smiling proudly at me, and so are all six of my sisters next to him. It’s a wonderful feeling. I really am shining. I know it.
You drop all your dance gear down on the front room, and five seconds later the next box full of actual clothes is plopped down. Furniture’s already been delivered a few days ago. You grin. Moving in with Andy. Daddy’ pays for the apartment so it’s not like you need a job or anything but you get paid by your dance company. And it’s out of the house.
You said it was closer to college, but really you just needed out of your sisters’ shadows. And Andy’s the only one who’s ever made you feel normal. The rest always feel too perfect, Andy’s…more real.
This feels wonderful. You take a deep breath in, feeling the knot in your chest loosen, feeling free. Free to work on dance, and hopefully not fail out of your college courses. Free to daydream about the boys you secretly adore without the other girls noticing and shaking their heads. Its wonderful. There was only one condition that the eighteen year old you was given.
No more attempting to make brownies.