These all came weeks before Anthea’s night in her upstairs bathroom, staring at the mirror and wondering what the heck she was going to tell her parents.
Clutching the edges of the stark white sink, Anthea begged the lump in her stomach to dissolve, like the pill she had taken three hours earlier. Unfortunately, the lump only grew heavier, and with it the weight of the past few weeks.
“Ani, how much sleep did you get last night?” Meredith asked worriedly after the first headache rose up behind Anthea’s eyes during European History. Anthea shrugged, pinching the bridge of her nose between her thumb and forefinger.
“Maybe six hours? Not bad, considering I had a crapload of physics homework last night.” Anthea squeezed her eyes shut, forcing the pain back.
“Did you eat any chocolate before you went to sleep? I heard that chocolate can give you headaches.” Meredith glanced over at Mr. Brechen, who was currently scribbling unintelligible names on the whiteboard.
Anthea sighed. “Don’t worry about it. I’ll be fine. Plus, one of us needs to get these notes on the first world war or we’re screwed for the test on Friday.”
Meredith smirked. “Well, all right.” She gave Anthea one more sympathetic look and turned back to the board.
The second hand on Anthea’s watch seemed to be malfunctioning. Anthea held it up to her ear. Its tiny beat seemed stronger, slower, like the heartbeat of a giant cat preparing to pounce.
“Anthea!” She blinked up at the unexpected sound. The noise of her watch disappeared as she lowered it to see coach J walking up to her. “Come on, move it!” It took her a couple of slow seconds to notice the absence of the other cross country members. They must already be on the track outside, warming up. Anthea muttered an apology to her coach and grabbed her sling bag, heading out the gym doors to the track. She nearly stumbled as the heavy bag swung across her back. She took a deep breath and followed the coach around the track to where the team was already running their second lap around. Watching them jog around the corner, their shoes thudding on the ground like heavy rain, Anthea wanted nothing more than to sink into the warm rubber and sleep for the rest of the season.
“Honey, are you all right up there?” Mrs. Hayes’s tinkling voice was barely audible through the bathroom door. Anthea leaned over her toilet, monitoring her breaths. Any sudden movement or change in breathing pattern would tip her over the edge like a cup filled to the brim, she was sure. Even her heart rate seemed to threaten her equilibrium. Thinking was hard, as each thought that poured into her head added to the cup. No, better not think at all. Better stay right here, just like this, for however long it takes.
Anthea ignored the soft knocking on the door.
The mirror glared back at Anthea in the dark. She had a candle burning next to the sink, but the lights were off and only the stars shone through the window. Her mint green shirt and camisole lay crumpled on the floor by her feet. The flickering candlelight made strange shadows on her pale skin, turning her reflection into a ghastly apparition. Anthea brushed a dark brown curl away from her left shoulder, and stared once more at the source of her newest pain. She forgot about the rock in her stomach as she stared at the small nub appearing just behind her shoulder. She had to turn a little and strain her neck to the side to see it properly, but it was there. A one inch ball of bone protruding from her shoulder blade like a large knuckle.
There was an identical one on her right shoulder, but Anthea let her hair drop back down over her back, covering the nubs. How long had she been in the bathroom? Anthea glanced down at her watch. It was hard to read in the dark, but she thought it said 12:18. Happy Friday morning to me, she thought. My senior year of high school barely one month in, and I’m already confused, positively crazy, and turning into some kind of six limbed freak. Great.
Anthea grabbed her shirt from the floor and shrugged it back on. She reached her arm back to feel where the bump was and relaxed a little when she realized it was small enough to not be very visible. Unless you were looking for it, that is.
I’ll just wear my coat over it, just in case, Anthea told herself. Good thing the weather’s getting colder.
Despite her temporary relief, Anthea’s reflection stared sullenly back out at her.
“Stop pouting,” Anthea whispered at it. “At least the headaches are gone for now.” Anthea took one last look at the sad image in the mirror and walked out of the bathroom, determined to get some much needed sleep.
October 26th was a crazy day in the Hayes household. Anthea had Meredith and Dominic over to make Halloween costumes, a tradition they had upheld since elementary school.
“How about two witches and a warlock?” Anthea suggested.
“What the hell does a warlock wear?” Dominic asked. “Do I need a pointy hat too? And a broomstick?”
“We could be the three blind mice,” Meredith cut in. Dominic and Anthea let that sink in, then burst out into raucous laughter. “What? What’s so funny about being mice?”
“We are NOT being the three blind mice.” Dominic chortled. He grabbed a pair of scissors from the coffee table and playfully snipped them in Meredith’s direction.
Mrs. Hayes stepped into the family room just as a two on one war was about to start. “Careful with those,” she warned, eyeing the open scissors still in Dominic’s hand. The mother dumped white, black, green, and gold clothes and costumes on the table, knocking over a glue bottle in the process. “These are the only fabrics I could find. There may be more, but if you want to look yourselves, be my guest. I need to go make dinner.”
“Thanks mom!” Anthea called at her as she hustled out of the family room to the kitchen. Dominic put the scissors back on the table and grabbed a long thin piece of gold cloth.
“Look, I’m an angel!” he said in falsetto, twirling the cloth into a halo and placing it on his head.
Anthea giggled and snatched it off. “We are NOT being angels either.”
“Then what are we going to do?” Meredith grabbed a white shirt with one hand and a black felt fabric with the other. “Make chess pieces out of this stuff?”
Anthea dropped the gold strip. “YES! Why didn’t I think of that?” She grabbed a black pair of pants. “I get to be the black knight!”
“How did I know you were going to say that?” Dominic grinned and put a black bowler hat on her head.
“Umm…maybe because you’ve seen the black knight piece in her purse?” Meredith put a white feather mask up to her face. “Should I be the white queen?”
“It’s a side bag, not a purse,” corrected Anthea, “and yes, you should be. Dominic here is going to be my king, right?” She nudged the teen in question in the ribs.
“Huh? Wha’? Sure.” Dominic rubbed his side gingerly and feigned a hurt face at Meredith. Ow, he mouthed.
Meredith smirked. “Since when have you had this mask, anyway, Ani?” She had tried on the white feather mask to find that it fit nearly perfectly.
“On, I don’t know. It probably was used for some fairy costume at some point in time.”
“Whoa, check it out!” Dominic pulled something large and white out of the pile. He pulled it up and held it over his chest, and Anthea saw that it was a pair of fluffy white wings. Dominic was grinning. “Eh? Eh? You like?”
Anthea smacked him on the shoulder with the stack of black clothes she was accumulating. “Black chess piece, not white angel, you idiot. CHESS PIECE!”
“Ow ow ow ow !” Dominic threw up his arms against the assault of soft fabrics. “My queen is abusing me! Help!”
“Your KNIGHT is abusing you, oh king!” Anthea corrected.
“Oh, yes. My brave knight of solitude. Oh brave, brave, wondrous night, vanquished by day…”
Anthea gave him one more smack for good measure.
Mrs. Hayes had barely set the macaroni and cheese on the table when the three famished teenagers barged into the kitchen.
“Aww man, the famous Hayes Mac and Cheese!” Dominic pulled out a chair and plunked himself down, leaning forward to let the awesome cheesiness fill his nostrils.
Mrs. Hayes plucked a piece of tape out of his unruly blond hair and put a stack of yellow dinner plates next to him. “You know the rules. Help us before you help yourself.”
Dominic dutifully got up and distributed the six plates around the table. Anthea and Meredith grabbed forks and napkins and followed Dominic around.
“So our costumes are almost done, mom,” Anthea said. “Guess what we are?”
“Chess pieces.” Mrs. Hayes put steamed broccoli next to the macaroni dish. “I heard you three talking about it.”
“Aw, mom! That ruins the surprise!” Anthea put down the last fork and pretended to pout. Her over exaggerated look slowly turned into one of confusion and discomfort. She rubbed her shoulder slowly.
“Hon? What’s wrong?” Mrs. Hayes started walking around the table. Anthea, hand still on her shoulder, shook her head frantically at her mom.
“No, I’m fine. I’ll be right back.” Anthea rushed out of the kitchen, bumping into Meredith on the way out.
“What’s come over her?” Dominic queried after her pattering footsteps had disappeared down the hallway.
“Another headache?” Meredith shrugged. “She’s been getting a lot of those lately.”
“She was holding her shoulder,” Dominic countered.
Meredith opened her mouth, perhaps to offer a retort, when the front door of the Hayes’s house opened.
“I’m home! What’s for dinner?” a cheery voice called down the corridor. Mrs. Hayes quickly left the kitchen to greet her husband, leaving Meredith and Dominic to stare after Anthea in confusion.
By the time Anthea returned from wherever she had disappeared to, her father and her little sister Kim were already seated around the dinner table. Meredith was munching on a roll, and Dominic was showing Kim how to fold a napkin into a frog. Mrs. Hayes was the first to notice the large, ill-fitting gray sweater Anthea had thrown on over her other clothes.
“Are you cold, dear?” she asked. She got up and placed her hand on Anthea’s forehead, much to her daughter’s obvious discomfort. “You don’t have a fever, do you?”
Anthea ducked and lowered her eyes. “I’m fine, mom. Really.”
Meredith cleared her throat. “These rolls are great, Mrs. Hayes. Where did you get them?”
Anthea glanced thankfully in Meredith’s direction as her mom turned and started talking about how she had found them for such a cheap price that it really would have been a sin not to buy them. Anthea slipped next to her sister and grabbed a roll to put on her plate.
“Why were you gone so long?” Kim whispered to her, her eyes sparkling with curiosity.
Anthea shook her head. “Not now, pumpkin nose.”
Kim grumbled and folded her arms. “You’re a pumpkin nose.”
Anthea laughed and scooped a large helping of macaroni and cheese onto her plate. “It’s just…growing pains.”
“Growing pains?” Dominic raised one eyebrow. “You stopped growing in seventh grade.”
“Hey, don’t make fun of my shortness.” Anthea sat up a little taller in her chair.
Mrs. Hayes pushed the bowl of broccoli a little closer to her daughter. “Do you need any medicine, hon?”
“No thanks, mom.” Anthea eyed the broccoli like it was a large mold growing out of the table. Meredith plucked a piece of broccoli from the bowl and popped it in her mouth.
“So. All we have to do to our costumes is make the headpieces.”
“The hardest part,” added Dominic. He was scooping macaroni into his mouth like it might run away from him at any moment.
“What are we going to make them out of?” Meredith grabbed another piece of broccoli and chewed thoughtfully. “We could use helmets, I suppose.”
“What about paper mâché?” Anthea nudged the broccoli towards Meredith gingerly. “I’ve made a ton of stuff out of paper mâché.”
“That might work.” Meredith grabbed the bowl of broccoli and dumped the rest of the vegetables onto her plate.
“You need water and flour to make paper mâché, right?” Dominic asked.
Anthea took one bite of her macaroni, grabbed the plate, and got up out of her chair. “Yeah, I think so. I’ve got a whole bag of flour in the kitchen.”
The three kids got up with a clatter. They paused when Mrs. Hayes cleared her throat. “What do you say?” she said, raising her eyebrows.
“May we be excused?” they mumbled at different speeds. Mrs. Hayes nodded, and the teens resumed their rush to the kitchen.
Mrs. Hayes shook her head and smiled. “Remember when we had that much energy?” she said to her husband.
“Nope.” Mr. Hayes scooped a large portion of macaroni into his mouth. “Delicious, as always.”
“Thank you, dear.” Mrs. Hayes glanced at the kitchen doorway. “Growing pains…”
Anthea was trying not to walk funny. Strange how pain in your shoulders can affect the way you walk…
“Hey, you guys get the flour, I’ll be right back.” Anthea opened a cabinet that held the flour and stiffly started limping out of the room.
“Wait, where are you disappearing to this time?” Meredith asked.
“I’ll be right back,” Anthea repeated. She went out the opposite door so she wouldn’t have to go past her parents and sister.
By the time she reached the bathroom, the pain had wrapped itself around her body. After she closed and locked the door, she shed her shirt quickly. The little nubs on her shoulders had grown. Anthea gingerly touched one of them. It was tender to the touch, like a newly healed patch of skin, or a bruise.
She took a shaky breath. It’s getting worse. If it got any worse, she decided, she would have to tell her mom and dad, Meredith, Dominic, somebody. She had heard about people who had supposedly been born with extra limbs. What about people who grew extra limbs? All Anthea could think of as she stared at the two extra knobs was Stitch from Lilo and Stitch growing his third pair of arms. That almost made her smile, but then another spasm racked her whole upper body. She squeezed her eyes shut and bit her top lip to keep from screaming. The pain radiated from her shoulder down her back and around her sides. She was nearly on the floor when the pain suddenly subsided. She straightened back up, breathing heavily. Was it her imagination, or did they grow another half inch?
Knocking at the door.
“Ani? You all right?”
“Do you need any assistance?”
“Shut up, Dom!”
A smack, probably Meredith hitting Dominic. I can’t believe he takes our abuse, Anthea thought, smiling. She threw her shirt and sweater over her head. She straightened them out and called, “Be right out.”