Vessel

Home. Here I am again. I looked up at my house, and imagined prison bars in all of the windows. The thought wasn’t very humorous. Maybe I was being a bit unfair, as my house wasn’t poor or anything. I was angry because now that the holidays have come, I have to see my sister again.

I stepped into the home, begrudgingly. I shed off my jacket, and attempted to shed off the negative feelings that come with seeing my sister. It only worked on a superficial level.

I hung up the coat on one of the hooks, took off my shoes, and placed them below the hook. I forced a smile out of my face, and went up the stairs near the door. I heard that if you force yourself to smile, you would be happier. I wasn’t sure how true that was.

Either way, I had about two hours to be in my room. Maybe two and a half, if I pretend that I’m doing homework. Or if I actually do some homework, for Christ’s sake.

I perished the thought when I remembered that I didn’t have any homework. It was the middle of winter break, and I had already done all my homework at the start of the break. The only reason I had been allowed to go out today was because my friend, Holly, had planned for us to go out today a few weeks ago, and had spent an amount of money reserving a small theater room for the two of us. She knew that I would be stressed about all of this, and had tried to soothe me. It worked. A little.

I walked down the hallway a short amount, then entered through the first door on the left, into my bedroom. I walked in, politely shut my door, then flopped onto my bed. I took a pillow, put it over my face, and groaned.

I spent the next two hours in my room, screwing around with various things. Under normal circumstances, I was very good at doing productive things. Normal circumstances, of course.

“Veronica, come down now! We’re going to get Victoria from the airport now.” I heard my mother call to me. I stood up from the bed.

“Go on ahead, Mother. I’m just going to get a little ready before I prepare the house for her a little more,” I shouted back down. I heard mother and father speak downstairs, then the door opened and shut.

“They’re gone. Perfect. My creators have left to go get the only reason I’m here at all. God, I wish Holly could be here at least. These are going to be the most stressful five days of my life.” I laughed. “I say that every year. It’s always true.”

I looked at myself in the mirror, and at the scars on either side of my neck. I used to receive shots in both of my common carotid arteries, the ones that directly connected my heart and my brain. I haven’t needed one since I was six. It’s been about eleven years since I’ve last received a stabilising shot.

I usually don’t care who looks at the scars, but Victoria despises seeing them. Thus, I have to wear a scarf around the house so that she doesn’t have to see them. So, I put on my scarf, taken off of a table that also held my computer, and wrapped it around my neck. I used to have an uncomfortable and itchy one that my parents gave me, but Holly bought me a much nicer one for a late Christmas gift a few years back. The worst part about the scarf they gave me is that they could have easily afforded to buy me a nice one.

I didn’t like wearing makeup, so I didn’t bother using any foundation to cover up the scars, either. Although, my scarf would probably have rubbed it all off anyway.

Looking in the mirror, I adjusted my scarf. By the time I was done, you would have had to have super vision to see my scars. I took a second more to admire myself in the mirror. My black hair was cut just below my chin, and it contrasted well with my light skin. The best part of my face, in my opinion, were my eyes. Green as green could be, and they had little patterns in them that could keep me staring at them for hours. They could keep anyone staring at them for hours, I think.

I took one last look at my safe haven. My bed was in the corner, with its blankets crumpled and loosely spread out. My dresser leaned against the wall opposite of the foot of my bed. It had various belongings strewn on top of it, and some photos taped to the wall above it. My closet doors remained closed next to it, and my mirror was on the back of the door. My table and computer were rested next to my bed. I opened my door and left.

I went back down the stairs. I walked into my kitchen, which was across the way from the front door, and checked on the oven. I opened it and looked at what was inside. Lasagna. I hate lasagna.

With a sigh, I shut the oven door. It wasn’t finished cooking.

The only reason we were making lasagna tonight was because my sister simply adores lasagna. She acts like she can never get enough, and makes dumb jokes about being just like a particular cat. That comic isn’t even funny!

Pushing those thoughts aside, I started setting the table. I took out four plates, set them at four respective seats, and got silverware to match each. I didn’t have to set things down, but I knew that if we ate quickly enough, I wouldn’t have to sit around and listen to Victoria drone about all the things she doing, and all the traveling that she’s done, and blah blah blah.

I took a few glasses out of the cabinet, and set one for every seat just as before.

Then, I noticed that the flower pot in the center of the table was running a bit low on water. So, I picked up the pot with newly shaking hands, took it to the sink and poured water into it. My hands shook violently as water filled the jar, and my vision began to blur. What a wonderful time to start crying. They could all get back at any moment.

“Good hell!” I shouted at myself. I turned off the water, put the flower pot back, rubbed the tears out of my eyes, then folded my arms across my abdomen and held them tight. I was going to get myself under control before anyone could see me. I was going to be strong. This was the last year that I needed to do this. After this, I could leave and the world would accept it. One year is all would take. One single, god-forsaken year.

I took a few deep breaths, and let my arms loose. I took a tissue from the counter and wiped my eyes with it. I properly threw the tissue away, then turned to look back at the table. Perhaps this would convince my family that their accidental creation is worth their time.

I went back toward the door, and waited for everyone to come back. I wasn’t sure when they’d be back, but I knew that I needed to stay at the door for when they arrived.

After a couple minutes of waiting around the entryway, I finally heard the car pull into the driveway. I felt like it took them a bit longer than usual to get back from the airport, but I couldn’t tell. Maybe they were avoiding me.

Father opened the door, let everyone in, and all of them hung up their coats and took off their shoes.

“Veronica. I thought you said you were getting ready. Why didn’t you put on anything nicer?” Father glared at me.

“My clothes are presentable. I was just putting on my scarf. I also set the table, if it makes it any better.” I had my hands behind my back, in order to look polite. It also doubled as a way for me to grip myself tightly. It helped me relieve stress, when I grabbed things harshly.

Mother sighed. “Steven, dear, just let it be. It could be worse.” She walked past me and into the kitchen without saying a word. Father glared at me as he passed, and Victoria pat my head as she entered the kitchen.

“Good girl,” she said.

Victoria was wearing a knee-length dress. Her hair was jet-black and, in curls, fell into her shoulders. Her lips were a cherry red, her eyeliner alone could fly her into the distance, and her eyelashes extended past what they should naturally. Her eyes only fell into my vision for an instant, but there was no mistaking the vivid green that they held.

I followed them into the kitchen. I waited for them all to take a seat, and then took the one that was left over. “Oh! I forgot to ask how your classes have been. How have they been, Victoria?” Mother smiled at her.

“They’ve been swell. College is absolutely amazing. It’s got a great faculty, and good people. I love it.” She smiled her perfect smile. I hid my disdain.

Father grinned at her. “I’m glad. It was a good choice to send you there. You’ll be a fine doctor.”

“I think the lasagna is pretty close to done,” I mentioned. Everyone looked at me. “I- I checked on it a little earlier. I just don’t want us to get so caught up in conversing that we forget.”

My mother stood up and went to the oven. She looked at it, nodded, and then pulled it out with some oven mitts. “You were right, Veronica. We still have to wait for it to cool, though.” She sat back down, and the table was awkwardly quiet. Par for the course.

Victoria was the one who broke the silence. “So what’s been new you with you guys, Mom and Dad?”

Father shrugged. “Not a lot, if we’re being honest. We work, we eat, we rest. Sometimes we go out, and that’s always fun.”

“Until your father finds the wine on the menu. Then I’ve got to drag him back home.” Mother laughed, and so did everyone else. I didn’t see why alcohol was such a point of humor. It’s actually ruined so many lives.

“That was one time, Debra!” Father said, in between a couple of chuckles. “You’ll never let me live it down, will you?”

Mother has made references and jokes to this story for a few years now. It’s basically her only conversation piece. If they would ever bother asking me anything, I could easily bring more to the table than they’ve seen in months.

“Have I told you the story about how I pranked Rachel?” Victoria giggled the entire sentence.

“Is it the one when you convinced her that it was 10 A.M. when it was six, and that she had almost missed a final?” Father was starting to laugh himself a bit as well.

“No, no. This one’s better. I gave her a twinkie filled with mayo instead of cream!” Victoria roared with laughter. Father followed suit, and mother only laughed a bit. She didn’t care much for that sort of humor. I also wasn’t a fan of cheap pranks that Victoria had read about online.

The conversation went like so for a few more minutes, before Mother went and got the lasagna ready. We all served ourselves up some, and had dinner. Just like prophecy, as Mother put lasagna on Victoria’s plate, Victoria couldn’t help but say “I just can’t get enough of this stuff. I’m a real life Garfield, aren’t I?”

Dinner passed. I choked down a few bites of lasagna before I lost my appetite for the stuff. I continued just drinking water for the rest of the meal. My parents and Victoria gave me looks once each of them had realised I had stopped eating. Father’s was a look of disgust. Mother’s was one of disappointment. Victoria’s was a look of quiet scorn.

Everyone finished their meals, and they all got up to clean off and put away their plates.

“Don’t worry about cleanup, guys. I’ll handle it. You just go on ahead and enjoy yourselves.” After I made that statement, everyone else looked at each other. They were silent for a moment. Eventually, Father shrugged.

“Fine by me. Let’s go.” He put his plate back down and walked away, through a door connecting the kitchen and the living room. Victoria and Mother exchanged a glance before also leaving. I didn’t see what their glance conveyed.

I was glad to do the dishes. It meant that I would have an actual chance to simply be alone. I wouldn’t have to stress about Victoria for just a little while, or my parents. It would just be me and simple manual labor.

I loosened the scarf’s tight grasp upon my throat. I didn’t take it off completely, however. That wasn’t a risk I was willing to take.

I started my cleaning duty by taking the leftover scraps of lasagna out of the pan, and placing it into some tupperware. Then, I took the leftover dishes and dropped them into the sink. Before washing them, I took a moment to clean off the table. After cleaning the table, I cleaned off the plates. I took my sweet time, for both my benefit and theirs.

I finished the last bit of dish cleaning, and put the dishes away.

I walked up to the door, but not past it. I peeked in, and saw my family laughing and talking in the front room. I tightened my scarf around my neck.

So do I go in or not? I could probably go up to my room without any problem. If I went up, I might get into some amount of trouble. If I went into the living room with my family, I’ll hate it the entire time. Although, would I really get into trouble? I did just clean up the dishes, so maybe they’d be willing to forgive. Also, wouldn’t Mother and Father want to spend time with their beloved Victoria without a reminder of their poor choices?

Honestly, there were more pros to going into my room than there were cons. At worst, my computer would be taken away for a while, but I’d get it back once school started again, at the very most. There really wasn’t much risk.

I took a couple of confident steps past the front room door- not too slow and not too fast. Victoria made eye contact with me for a moment, but made it look as if she hadn’t seen me. At least I could count on her for that much.

Once I got back into my bedroom, I tore the scarf away from my neck, and threw it onto my table. That’s where it normally stayed.

I sat down at that same table and turned on my computer. It was a rather nice computer, and it didn’t take a very long time to start up. That was the best part, because it meant that if someone started up the stairs, I would hear them and turn off the computer before they’d even make it to the top.

A second later, I had an internet browser open and started up a messenger to contact Holly. I would have just messaged her on my phone, but it was programmed to be unable to connect to the internet and it had a limited amount of texts. Sometimes, though, if I plugged it directly into a router, it could connect to the internet and download things. I have a couple of games that don’t need any online connection, for when I get bored.

Hey Holly.

Holly replied in an instant. She probably got back to me on her fully-capable phone. Hey! What’s up?

Yeah, Victoria has been WONDERFUL. We had lasagna for dinner. She made the same Garfield joke as always. If I had been any more spiteful when I typed that message, I might have broken some keys.

I’m sorry.

Don’t be. I sent that message, then quickly sent another. Thanks for the scarf. It’s so much comfier than what I used to have to wear.

Oh yeah! I’m glad. I remember feeling how rough that scarf was. Holly sent that message, then immediately sent the next. It’s as if they sought out the worst one they could to buy.

I laughed. I wouldn’t put it below them.

I wish I could be there with you. Although, if we’re being honest, I’m kind of surprised that they even let you hang out with me today.

The moment that I had read the message, I started typing furiously, to get my reply out as quickly as possible. They used to not, remember? It wasn’t until the sixth grade that my teacher sympathized with me and gave me a printed copy of my rights. It took me awhile to get through all of it and figure out what all of it meant, but it made my life so much better. Sometimes they use it against me, however, as the paper demands I be a part of holiday activities, but it didn’t say that I could choose to avoid them. I don’t know what the logic is behind their spite.

Holly’s ‘typing’ icon stayed up for a bit. I waited for her reply, almost nervous.

Mr. Klepper was always a pretty liberal teacher, now that I think about it. That was the year we became friends, I remember.

I smiled. I think she had spent her time choosing every word carefully, to remind me of the good times. Holly sent another message.

I think he set us up as partners during some assignment for that reason. I think he knew that I was too naive to have any reason to hate you. Honestly, I’m so glad it happened, and I’m glad we’re still friends.

After she sent that, her typing icon showed for a moment, then disappeared. That’s when I took the opportunity to reply.

I’m still a human. I still have feelings and thoughts. I’m glad that Klepper cared. I’m glad that you care, too.

I sat back, and breathed a sigh. It felt nice to hear Holly say that, and it felt even better to tell her the same.

Holly sent me another message.

Once you’re 18, I’m going to take you away from that place.

My eyes started to blur up a little. I rubbed them, then wrote a reply. Thanks, Holly. It means a lot. I sent that message, then typed up another. I’m going to go to bed now. I cleaned up after dinner to get away from my guardians, then just went up to my room instead of hanging around. I ought to get to sleep before they get suspicious.

Holly started replying, but then her typing icon disappeared. The typing icon appeared for another moment before disappearing. Finally, Holly sent a message that simply said I’ll see you later. Goodnight.

I shutdown my computer, then went to bed and had a very loose dream. It was somewhat based on a memory I had forgotten, where Mother had kissed me before I went to bed a few years ago. After the dream, I woke for a moment. I had enough time to think about how strange it was that I could still remember that, before I swiftly returned to sleep.

*****

I woke the next morning to the sounds of cooking and discussion. It seems like everyone else had woken up before me.

I climbed out of bed, put on some clothes, then shuffled out of my room. I crossed the hall and entered the bathroom. Once I was done there, I went downstairs.

The first person I saw was my Mother. She looked at me, then quickly started to push me back up the stairs. “Veronica, you forgot your scarf,” she said with her matronly voice

“Oh. Right,” I mumbled. I took groggy steps back upstairs and to my room.

I re-entered my room and tossed my scarf on over my neck before returning to the base floor.

Once I was downstairs, I directly entered the kitchen. With absolutely no delay, I saw Victoria at the table. She didn’t look very satisfied with me. Neither did Father, who was sitting next to her. Mother had to turn around to see me. She frowned.

I walked past them, and starting preparing a plate of breakfast for myself.

Mother spoke before anyone else. “Veronica. You didn’t put your scarf on very well.”

I yawned and rubbed my eyes before responding. “Sounds about right.” The words had left my mouth before I could revise them.

Father stood up at hearing that. “Veronica, you are going to go back upstairs right now and put that scarf on right before I do it for you.”

I sighed, put down my plate and turned around. Looks like I was going to commit to this. “Really? Look, I’m just going to grab a breakfast- thanks for cooking it, by the way- then head back up to my room. You making a huge scene is causing a lot more discomfort than two small scars.” I wasn’t lying, either. The scars were just small and jagged circles, probably no wider than a dime. At a distance, you couldn’t even tell they were there. I turned back around and kept preparing my plate.

“Veronica, you are not going to disobey me. Now.” I could hear Father gritting his teeth. He liked to act real big and threatening, but I had learned more about discipline hanging around Holly’s house than I ever had here. Father is all bark and no bite. When he does bite, it’s hardly even a nibble.

“Kay. I’m going upstairs right now.” I had finished preparing my meal by the time Father had finished making his statement. He sat back down, and I left the kitchen with my plate. I always had breakfast in my room, and so it shouldn’t have come as any sort of surprise to anyone that I would walk downstairs in a sleepy state, get some food, then leave.

Once in my room, I started up my computer. It was on in a moment, and I opened up a desktop link to a news site, and watched their morning video. See, my family thought that because I did sports, I didn’t care for the news or reading. They were desperately wrong. I actually had just as good of grades as Victoria got, except I also participate in so much more than she does. I’m basically a better version of her, except I’m not the favored one.

I watched the news and ate my breakfast for a couple of minutes before I heard a knock on my door. I paused the video, put down my plate, then opened the door. It was Victoria. I didn’t bother to fix my scarf.

“Ronnie, come on. Do you really have to make my short trip here so hard? I’m only going to be here for five days. Couldn’t you just put on a nice act while I’m here?” Victoria was pleading with me. She was begging me to make her time here more enjoyable.

“What, are you jealous of me? Is it my youthful beauty, or the muscle I have that you never built?” I knew taunting her wasn’t going to help anything, but it was too easy. “I already told you, there’s nothing you can do about my existence. I am here. Your parents chose to bring me into this world because you were sick and close to death. It isn’t any of our faults that I’m here now. It is all of your faults that you choose to make a big deal out of me. Now, are we going to have this same argument every year, or are you just going to finally move along and accept me?”

Victoria closed her eyes. “Unacceptable.”

I responded quickly, “Okay, maybe making fun of you at the start was a poor choice. I’m sorry for doing that, but everything else that I said still stands. I exist, whether by choice or not.”

Victoria stepped into my room, and adjusted the scarf on my neck, in a delicate fashion. Looks like she couldn’t bear to hurt a younger her.

Once she was done with my scarf, Victoria spoke again. “Veronica. You know how I feel about you. I know how you feel about yourself and about me. Can’t we just compromise?”

I laughed. “You know that we’re too far beyond that. Your idea of compromise is that I sit around and be an obedient little girl while you don’t change anything about your behavior or thoughts. That isn’t compromise and you know it. You couldn’t have gone through nearly five years of college without learning what compromise is.”

Victoria sighed. “Okay, fine. Then how about you just put on your scarf for dinner tonight, and I’ll talk Mom and Dad into letting you stay up here for lunch. Does that sound fine?”

I tapped my chin. “Hmm… That’s a tempting deal, but not quite what I’m looking for. How about I wear my scarf around, and you convince them to let me go to Holly’s tomorrow. That sounds like a fine deal, right? It’s the best deal, I say. You don’t have to hang around me for an entire day, and I get to go spend time with some people who actually appreciate my presence.”

Victoria looked at me with wide eyes. “If you’ve been sitting on this idea for so long, why didn’t you ever recommend it before?”

Once again, I started my answer with laughter. It was more nervous laughter this time. “You think that they’d listen to me? I’ve tried to convince them let me spend these days while you’re here at Holly’s before. They always get indignant and angry, for what seems like no reason. They demand that I stick around, then get angry when I don’t.”

Victoria looked off, as if thinking deeply. “Fine. I accept your deal. Don’t think I like you, though.”

I shrugged, and almost made a biting remark. It took some effort, but I restrained. “Alright, then sis. I’ll see you at dinner. Unless you want to talk them into not having me hang around then, too.” I winked at her for added effect.

“Yeah, yeah, whatever. They’ll do what they like, and you can deal with it.” Victoria crossed her arms, turned around, and stepped out of my room.

“Hey Vicky, maybe if you slam my door, you can make it seem like you just yelled at me, then make the lunch thing a ‘punishment.’” I smiled at her while she kept her hand on the door. My hands were behind me. She kept her back to me. Then, in an instant, she turned around and slammed the door shut. However, I still saw the surprise on her face for the short instance where it was visible.

I sighed as she left. “That was easier than I thought it would be. Maybe she’s just impatient and doesn’t care?” With that aside, I sat back down at my desk to eat my breakfast and watch the news. My hands were lightly shaking, and my heart was pounding.

“Every time we have that chat, I still get so nervous.” I hit play on the news, and picked up my plate.

“Just last night, another reproduction riot occurred at the local clinic. There were no direct assaults, however, one family leaving the clinic with their newborn had rotten tomatoes thrown at them. No charges have been pressed as of yet, but a couple of police officers are still searching for the culprits. The other officers either abandoned the effort or ignored the offense.

“Unfortunately, more of them ignored the offense than didn’t. If you are the family who was assaulted, I personally would like to reach out to you and wish you well.”

Then, a much angrier man cut into the woman’s audio. “I don’t give a damn about them! These poppies don’t deserve to have a-”

I paused the video and closed the browser, sighing. “Great. This again. God, where do these people get off, anyway?” I stuffed the rest of my food in my face, then went downstairs to clean my plate off. I didn’t worry about my scarf, as Victoria had already handled it.

“Veronica, come here.” Father’s voice rumbled in the living room as I passed. My heart began to fervently pound my ribcage.

“One- One moment, father. I- I’m just going t-to clean off my plate.” My voice shook. There was no way this could end up well. I think I got a little too confident while I was upstairs. This could not end well.

I rinsed my plate off in the sink, then went into the front room. Politely, I held my hands at the back of my waist. Tightly.

“Victoria here has decided that you deserve an early present, since she forgot to get to you anything. So, she asked if it would be okay to let you spend the night at Holly’s house tonight before returning after lunch tomorrow. I thought it was a very kind and generous offer from her, so I’m allowing it.” He beamed proudly at his daughter. She returned the smile, but then glanced at me again. She looked worried, and it almost looked sincere

“Thank you, Victoria. I’ll check in with Holly right now to see if it’s alright with her family.”

Mother spoke up hastily. “No need to, dear. We’ve already checked for you. Feel free to pack a bag and head over.”

I held back a smile. I tried to remain neutral. “I won’t need a bag, I’ve left enough clothes over there. I’ll just get my coat and shoes and go.”

Father shrugged. Mother gave a forced smile. Victoria stared at the floor.

“Goodbye, everyone. And thank, you, graciously.” I smiled at them, graciously. It was a legitimate smile, unlike other times before.

I walked out of the front room, into the entrance, then put on my coat and shoes before I left.

The cold, winter air outside was refreshing. I liked feeling it enter my lungs. It would have been a very refreshing walk to Holly’s house, but her dad was already in his car, in front of the house.

I walked up to the car. “You got here really fast, Rob. I only just got permission to leave.” Robert motioned for me to climb into the front seat. I did as such, then quickly realised that his windows were up, and he didn’t hear my first statement.

“That was crazy fast, Rob,” I said. He nodded. “Holly told me about your conversation last night. I really wasn’t in the mood to let you deal with that, so I started messaging your father, to try and let you come over. At first he was adamantly against it, but he eventually gave in.” Rob started the car, then began driving away. It wasn’t until this moment that I had realised that his car had been off, and he had been waiting for me.

“How long have you been out here?”

“About twenty minutes. I came down the moment he let me know you were free. He apparently didn’t tell you that I was here.”

I shook my head. “Par for the course. He waited for me to come down by my own accord, which I did to put away my breakfast plate. I think the only reason he let me go was because my progenitor asked him to let me go.”

“I don’t think progenitor is a very flattering term. You should just stick with sister or Victoria.”

I shrugged. “I suppose. It just doesn’t feel very fitting.”

Rob reached an arm over to pat my shoulder. “Look, it doesn’t matter. You can do what you please. Here’s the deal though: I also invited them over to dinner at my house tonight. I want them to see how Holly and I treat you, and I want to talk to them. They made you, and you deserve to be treated better. Just try to not be too aggressive about it, alright?”

“Oh, boy. That’s assuming I’m capable of being aggressive. I was already a bit aggressive to Victoria this morning, I don’t think I could muster much more.”

Rob grunted. “We’ll see. Don’t worry, we’ll be there to help you.”

We arrived at Holly and Rob’s house. I opened my door, and Holly was already waiting for me, and she leapt into me, giving me a hug.

“Wow Holly, it feels like I haven’t seen you in ages,” I remarked. She laughed, and so did I.

“Hey, you’re still-” Holly began to tear off my scarf, “-your scarf. You don’t need that here.”

“Thanks. I had almost forgotten I was wearing it.”

We all went inside, and from there things moved forward. Holly pulled me around the house, showing me some of her holiday decorations. I say “holiday,” because her and Rob didn’t really celebrate one winter holiday exclusively. It was comical to most, but I found it admirable. It really wasn’t easy to accurately celebrate so many holidays at once. They were very ambitious.

Eventually, we sat down for lunch, which were just a couple of sandwiches. I had really good time with the family all day, up to the point where my family was invited over for dinner. I had forgotten about that, until they had arrived at Rob’s doorstep, and he had let them in. The table had already been set, and I was going to eat. However, moments before my family had arrived, Holly had told me to wait before I even served myself a plate.

Everyone came to the table, and sat around it. There were six of us, which was the perfect amount for the table. Rob sat on one end, and Father sat on the other. Holly and I sat on either side of Rob, and Mother and Victoria sat on either side of Father. The table was essentially split in half right down the middle.

Rob smiled and started to speak. “I’m glad all of you are comfortable. Help yourself to whatever is here, and I can get you some water if you don’t care for sparkling cider.” My family generally thanked him, and started to set up their plates.

“Ah, yes. I’m also glad that you were all able to make it here tonight. Is everything to your liking?” Rob was being a gracious host, and I was thankful for it.

“Everything is fine, Mr. Wilson. Thank you for having us over,” Mother responded. Mother was the least sincere of my family, because she hid everything she felt behind politeness.

“Please, just call me Rob. What would you rather I call you?”

Mother and Father both spoke at the same time. “Debra, Dear.” “Robinson is fine.”

“Alright then. Debra. Mr. Robinson. How’s Veronica been doing in school, do you know?” Rob smiled at my parents, and they both simply looked at each other in dismay.

“She’s been fine. Although, her grades aren’t what matter to her most, it’s her sports that she really cares about,” Father said.

“Actually, Veronica has been doing really well in our economics course. She’s even helped me with my work a few times,” Holly piped up, with a smile.

“Economics. I’ve never seen a soccer player who excelled in economics.” Father really didn’t understand the idea that people were multifaceted.

“Not only that, but she also does really well in our medical anatomy and physiology course, and she always scores really high on her history tests.” At the rate that Holly bragged about me, you would think she was trying to sell me like a telemarketer would.

“Veronica, dear, you never told us this.” Mother looked at me expectantly.

“You never asked.”

Victoria was looking at my neck. Her look wasn’t angry or uncomfortable, but it was curious.

“Oh, sorry I don’t have my scarf right now, Victoria. Holly took it off of me earlier, and I forgot to put it back on. Would you like me to go get it?” Even though I could have been spiteful, I chose to not be. I still had promised this to Victoria, and she had held up her own part of the deal.

“No, no. You’re fine. I’ve just never really bothered to look at anyone’s scars for long.” She opened her mouth as if to say more, before closing and making a perplexed sound.

My parents looked at her, and they weren’t sure what to make of the situation. I wasn’t sure what to make of the situation.

Dinner went on as you would expect. We talked and ate. Holly’s family and I did more talking than my family did. Victoria kept her eyes focused on either me or her plate. Eventually, we finished, and my family wanted to return home. They weren’t satisfied, that much I could tell you, but they weren’t about to be rude in someone else’s home.

However, as the three of them were walking out of the door and into the cool, dark evening, Victoria told them she wanted to stay for an extra moment.

“You’re coming or you’re walking home,” Father stubbornly demanded.

“I’ll walk, if that’s fine by you,” Victoria rubbed her arm. It wasn’t exactly nervous, but it also wasn’t confident.

“It isn’t fine by me.” Father turned his body back into the door frame. Mother put her hand on his shoulder, but not in a very forceful fashion. It was more habitual than anything.

“Alright, then I’ll just have to go against your wishes. Sorry.” She briskly pushed him out of the the door, and shut it.

“Veronica, I need to talk to you.” She turned toward me, suddenly desperate. Her makeup in this state looked less regal and more like a mask she didn’t want to wear.

“What?” I stumbled toward her. Holly followed, and put her hand on my shoulder. Rob was still at the table.

“Let’s sit down. I need to ask you a few things.” Victoria put her arm around my shoulder, and pulled me toward the table. She was only a couple inches taller than me, thanks to the high heels she was wearing.

Victoria sat me down at the table and then sat next to me.

Rob stood. “Should Holly and I go? This seems urgent.” Victoria waved her hand in a vague fashion. Rob took it as an invitation to sit. Holly took it as a sign to leave.

“I don’t remember nearly dying, Veronica. I don’t remember being sick. I just remember thinking that I had a younger sister, and then later finding out I didn’t. What do I not know?” Victoria held my hands in hers.

“What?” I asked again.

“You heard me. Why do you know this and I don’t?”

“I- You don’t?”

Victoria shook her head.

“Wow. This is crazy. Father and Mother never told you?”

Victoria shook her head even harder. “Clearly not, otherwise I wouldn’t be asking. You said I was sick and near death earlier today. When- When I was only six. I almost died?” Victoria was staring straight into me. I felt as if I was looking in a mirror. One that I had been avoiding for such a long time.

“Yeah. That’s right. You were six, and I didn’t yet exist. You were diagnosed with a disease that multiple doctors argued about what it really was. Eventually, you were tossed on a bunch of different medicines. You didn’t get better. At some point, a doctor suggested that our parents clone you in case you die. In order to properly clone someone, you need living tissue, and the easiest way to get that is through blood. So, they took some of your blood and made me. Then, you didn’t die from the disease. Now, we’re both here.”

Victoria’s face tilted down. A drop of water fell onto my leg. Then another.

“Vicky,” I began. I tried to think of something else to say, but I couldn’t.

“I thought you were some sick experiment. No one ever told me.” Victoria’s face still held its position.

“Legally, you can’t clone anyone unless they are at risk of dying. Like I said, cloning requires living tissue, so they couldn’t clone you after you died. You’re right, I am some sick experiment, but I didn’t choose to be.”

Rob handed Victoria a box of tissues and a warm, wet rag. I think the rag was to clean her tear-stained makeup off of her face.

“Give me a moment, Ronnie,” Victoria stood up and went to the sink. She rubbed her face with the rag furiously for a while, then cleaned herself up with some tissues.

“I’ve been terrible to you. I can’t believe I let this go on for so long.” She stopped speaking, and instead elected only to cry.

“Vicky- Victoria. Look, you didn’t know. I- hell.” I shook my head at the ground. “I don’t really know what to say. I’m not going to lie, I can’t talk my way through this. I’m sorry.”

“Veronica, I’ve been wretched. You don’t deserve any of the hell I’ve given you. You might be the only clone I know, but you’re still the one who should matter the most. I just-” she stopped to sniffle and wipe her nose, “-I let ignorance abuse you. My own lack!” She stood up, and wiped her nose. I don’t know if she knew what she was really saying.

“I’m going to go, Veronica. Stay safe.” With that, Victoria walked out of Rob and Holly’s house.

Rob stood up from the table. “I ought to get her home safely. You stay here with Holly; I’ll go handle her.” He then walked away.

I didn’t really feel anything at that moment. Victoria, the basis of my existence, and my sister, broke down in front of me. It took her years and a side comment I had made for her to change herself. Yet, I stood in the kitchen. I couldn’t think of anything. Should I be glad that she finally was going to treat me better? Should I be angry that it took her so long, maybe tell her that it’s too late? I think it would be possible to feel regret, too, because I did treat her pretty poorly myself.

I stepped upstairs, to get Holly. I felt emptier than I should have. This was good a thing, I’m pretty sure. Why didn’t I feel something?

When I entered Holly’s room, she was sitting at her small two person table, drawing something. “Hey, Holly. Vicky left, and your dad went to take her home. Did you hear anything, maybe?” I slipped into her room, and sat in chair the across from her. It was only a two-person table.

“I heard a couple of things. Mostly your sister sobbing. I don’t really know what was going on.” She lifted her pencil up from the paper and set it aside. On the sheet was a detailed flower.

“Well, Victoria apparently just found out why she was cloned. She didn’t know before, I guess. She apologised, then left. I don’t really know what to make of it.” I put my head in my hands. “I don’t know.”

Holly put her hand on my shoulder. “It’s okay. I know.” She then pulled me toward her so that she could hold me in an embrace.

I cried. Even now, I don’t know what my tears meant.

*****

The day before Victoria left, she handed me a box. She told me not to open it until she had left. It was now December 27th, and I felt it was appropriate to do as she had asked. I sat at my desk, with the box in front of me.

The box itself wasn’t very large. It was maybe two inches tall, and only a little wider and longer than that. In fact, it wasn’t even a gift box. It was just a plain old cardboard packing box, maybe for shipping something small. To top it off, it was only taped shut by weak tape that I tore with my hands.

In the box, there was a card. On the front, it said “Merry Christmas.” Inside, Victoria had written only a three word note, without even a signature. For your scarf.

I looked inside the box, and there was a pair of fabric scissors. Which isn’t to say I know the difference between normal scissors and fabric scissors, but it’s packaging made it very clear they were fabric scissors.

I lifted up the scissors, and tore them out of their container. I felt the weight in my hand, and gave a couple of test cuts on the air. I reached over and gripped the scarf tightly in my offhand, the scissors still in my right.

I held Holly’s gift tightly. I held Victoria’s gift briskly by the handle. Neither item made contact with each other.

Instead, I placed the scissors on a shelf, in front of an empty photo frame. The scarf, I placed onto my neck loosely. It was tight enough that it would stay on, but it wasn’t enough to cover my scars.

Author: Kaleb Kathleen Walker

I write short stories, and post them to my site justmynarratives.com

1 thought on “Vessel”

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