(Since this is a prequel, you can read this without having read Mother Superior just fine. Feedback is appreciated ~Shelby Land)
“I don’t want to.” She told her mom for the hundredth time in the past week.
“You have to, Hattie. The school isn’t giving you a choice.” Her mother told her, tightening her grip on the steering wheel.
“Can’t I just not go and then I can pick it up again when my class is in the eighth grade? My current class?”
“No. The school has nothing more to offer you. You’ve done this before, it wouldn’t be any different.”
“It’s a whole new school. A whole new grade. All new teachers whom I’ve never met and have never met me.” She rolled her eyes. “How do I know they’re not all creeps and child molesters?”
“Don’t do this.” Her mom growled and Harriet met her eyes in the rear view mirror. Her mom’s eyes were green and her hair dark and thin, her skin clear without a blemish or freckle. She looked nothing like her mother.
She sighed and laid down, resting her head against the red leather bench of the back seat. “Why do they have to pick on me? This school system has next to no true sense of system. If a child does poorly, they force them to stay back instead of assisting them in their studies—or they force them ahead anyway and completely ignore the fact that the child is in need of succor. And if they’re above… reasonable intelligence, they put them ahead into an older grade and society their young minds aren’t apt to understand.”
“Darling.” Her mom sighed as she parked the car outside her aunt’s house. Her daughter was already at her first day of school. She had been kept at home as they straightened out her new school arrangements. “You just used to words whom, succor, and apt correctly. You’re ten. Sixth grade has nothing to offer you.”
“So they’ve made the ingenious decision to put me into eight grade? That means I’m skipping two grades, not one. I won’t even be starting with the other seventh graders. Have you ever heard of a ten year old in eighth grade? Because I, for one, have not.”
“We’re done with this conversation.” Her mom said and popped the passenger seat forward so she could get out. “Go, I have to get to work. I’ll see you tonight sweetie.”
“Work.” Hattie snorted as she got out of the car. “If you consider doing hooker’s make-up work—”
Her mom pulled away from the curb. She watched her go.
She spent the next hour crying on her aunt’s couch. It was a long time before she was able to stop and when she finally did, Aunt Phyl told her to get in the car. Two hours later, she found herself at her favorite beach. There were great rocks jetting from the earth on which she could climb and see the world from its peak. She stood up at the top and stared out at the sunset. She took off her shoes and felt the porous boulders beneath her feet. Cool and clammy in the setting sun of the last day of summer. The wind ripped at her hair and she released it from her pony tail. It whipped out behind her, a flag of gold flapping in the wind. Her shorts were wet with sea water and the hem of her shirt pulled up as she raised her arms to reveal an inch of bare skin just beneath her belly button.
She raised her hands up, up, up, not to touch the sky, but to embrace it.
“What are you doing?” A boy’s voice asked from behind her.
She didn’t bother to look at him as she raised her face to capture the warmth of the last rays of sunlight before it sank down into the ocean. “I’m becoming one with the universe.”
The boy let out a laugh, but after a moment, she felt him climb up the rock she was on and stand beside her. “What do I do?”
“Realize that every atom of your being has come from the universe.”
She could feel the boy looking at her strangely. “Then what?”
She took a deep breath through her nose, smelling the salty air and the gentle chill leaking into her as the sun said its last farewell. “Just breathe.”
“I’m terribly sorry Mrs. Bapson, but we can’t kick Amelia Brown out of school for not holding the same religious beliefs your family follows.”
“It’s not that she doesn’t follow my beliefs.” His mom went on. “She could be Catholic, Protestant…Jewish! For heaven’s sake, even they believe in the lord. Miss Brown doesn’t believe anything! And to have her hanging around my son, putting unholy thoughts into his head.”
“Mom, please.” He said, staring at the floor wanting nothing more than to disappear.
“Don’t mumble Andrew.” She said. “You know how I hate mumbling.”
He knew better than to say anything. Whenever he said something she didn’t approve of in public she would always tell him not to mumble rather than raise a spectacle. Her curly black hair was pinned up and her face powdered as if she could hide the fact that her pregnancy was making her sweat. Her blue eyes were staring down the principal like she could put Jesus in his soul just by glaring at him.
“For all I know she could have some disease!” She cried, putting a hand on her belly. “Who knows what kind of depravity she’s fallen into without the fear of God? She could be working the corners beside her mother!”
“That’s enough dear.” His father said, standing up. “Thank you for your time Principal Wright. Andrew will return to school tomorrow. Let’s go dear. Come on Andrew.”
His mother complained the entire way home while Andrew just sat in the back seat and starred through his glasses out the window. He sometimes wondered how loving God could make his mother so eternally angry. He also wondered if she would go to hell for calling the girl little less than a hooker. Oh, how she would scream if she knew Andrew had ever even heard that word!
That made him smile.
“I’m sorry it went that far Andy.” His father said, licking a drip off his ice cream cone before it dripped its way right off onto the seat. “You know your mother is just a bit more hysterical than usual what with the pregnancy and what not.”
“I know.” He didn’t mention the fact that hysterical was a hysterically inaccurate word to describe his mother. Insane was a much better one.
“Now I’m not saying I agree with your principal, but calling the girl a…corner worker is unacceptable.”
“I know you don’t.” He said.
His father bit into his sugar cone and glanced sideways at his son. Andrew was an especially sullen child, at least he was on the outside. On the inside he smiled at jokes he pretended not to get so his parents wouldn’t get upset, he compared and contrasted how colors looked together in his head. He loved turning up the music up so loud the windows rattled when his parents weren’t home. Music they would never let him listen to in a million years. But he was still the obedient son and never challenged them or strayed from the path they’d laid out for him
“Tell you what sport.” His father started up the engine. “Let’s go take a ride up the coast. Hmm?”
“Okay.” Andrew said and took the last bite of peanut butter ice cream.
They took the long road up the beach and his dad even put the top down even though his mother told them it made them look tacky. But they put it down and let the wind run through their curly brown hair. The sun was just beginning to set and the air was nice and warm with the last rays of summer.
His mom and dad’s favorite season had always been winter because of Jesus’s birth and all, but Andy had always secretly loved summer more. Whether it was from the sun or lack of school, he didn’t know but he just felt that way. He knew he ought to feel ashamed of it, but he knew God would forgive him that little thing.
Eventually they pulled off onto the side of the road and they got out and crossed. There weren’t many cars or people at all really. Andy liked it that way. He had never really liked people. His mother only let certain kids over to the house and she made them take their shoes off and liked to sit them down as she read from the Bible. Long story short, Andy Bapson did not like other children because other children did not like him. He had glasses and freckles and very large crucifix in his dining room.
He and his dad didn’t talk. There wasn’t much to talk about. His dad worked as an air conditioning unit repair man and his mom worked in the church and school. Not as a paid job, but she volunteered so often and so viciously, Andy saw him buying hard liquor from the back of a bar a few weeks ago. He and his parents didn’t have much in common and Andy, only being barely twelve with no friends, had nothing to talk about and his father didn’t have anything to talk about that a boy his age would understand.
So they just walked together quietly across the road and then along the paths that cut through the empty picnic area and the groves of palm and eucalyptus trees. Andy had been to this beach several times in his life, but had never found much fun in it. He was only allowed to venture into the waves as far as his knees and his mother had never let him climb the trees because she’d once read about a boy whose splinter got so badly infected he’d lost his hand. The only thing left were the rocks.
His dad stopped at a bench and left him to play. There was another woman there in her late twenties who seemed to be humming to herself as she started absently off at the rocks. She seemed very prim, but she gave him a small smile as he passed her by.
The rocks were not difficult to climb or especially dangerous, but they provided a certain level of fun for a young boy with no friends. He was almost to the peak when he realized there was someone already up there. It was a girl maybe a little younger than him with long blonde hair that was blowing back in the gentle breeze. She was alight in gold from the setting sun and she held her arms up and out as if she were about to embrace someone. As if she were hugging the sun light.
“What are you doing?” He asked, bracing one hand on a higher up rock to balance himself. For a moment he wondered if she didn’t speak English, but then she answered.
“I’m becoming one with the universe.” She told him without looking at him.
He tried to hold back his laugh but failed. It was just so strange to see a barefooted girl holding out her arms like that at the top of a heap of rocks. But she looked so peaceful and…
“What do I do?” He asked, climbing to the top of the rock where his hand had rested.
“Realize that every atom of your being has come from the universe.”
He stared at her. She was probably crazy, an escaped mental patient or something. He had absolutely no idea what she was talking about. What did Adam have to do with it? Was she a wing-nut like his mother? Not wanting to upset her clearly already warped state of mind, he copied her stance and stared at the sunset.
“Then what?” He asked, already wishing he’d stayed home with his mother. At least she didn’t try to hug the universe or whatever.
She took in a deep, long breath, her chest expanding then releasing. “Just breathe.”
He looked at her for a moment longer before closing his eyes and leaning his head back a little as she did. He took a deep breath and released it. Then another and another. And somewhere in one of those breaths he stopped caring about whether or not she was crazy. He stopped caring what his father would think if he came up here and saw them.
He stopped caring that winter wasn’t his favorite season and that he sometimes forgot the order of the books of the Bible. He stopped caring about his school and his lack of friends and his pregnant mother. He stopped caring about what God and Jesus and whoever else thought of him.
The only thing he could bring himself to care about was the warm sun on his face and the smell of the ocean breeze and the way he suddenly felt so light it seemed as if he could fly.
He stopped caring about anything other than feeling like he was one with the universe.
At least for a while.