“I save your life from a Zepplin bomb, and all you say is: ‘Move. I don’t want to be squished flat.’ What kind of a response is that?” I poked her side where the much older Lana now lay with her cheek on my chest, “And now, I have your cold feet in my bed! Where’s the respect, huh?” My poking evolved to tickling. “Huh?”
I squirmed away from the evil fingers putting Bear between me and Ammy. He would be more than willing to sacrifice himself for my well being. “Whose says you saved me? Bear swears it was him who saved my life that day, not you.”
I snorted as thunder rolled outside, an echo of that night nine years ago. “Right, just like it’s Bear that’s afraid of the storm?”
“Uh huh,” I nodded all serious now. “He doesn’t like the loud noises.” I cuddled up to her side while cuddling my bear.
Ok, that Bear was the grossest thing. I could smell it from where I lay. A bizarre mix of horse, moldy fur, vanilla detergent, and gunpowder. Tomorrow, Bear, consider yourself kidnapped. Insects would be crawling out of him at this rate. Thunder shook the room while splitting lightening cut through darkness outside my window. I’d retold the story of the Air Raid, because despite her brave talk, I felt Lana shaking beside me. Light, keep it light, “Remember when we were scolded?”
Shakily, I giggled. “I couldn’t understand why Mom was yelling at us. We didn’t break all the windows in the house. It was the big scary noise’s fault. I actually think I told her that. And she should go yell at the thing that made the noise because it made a mess of her pretty house.” I imitated a four-year-old’s voice towards the end of my explanation.
I snorted. “I couldn’t hear a thing she said. Thanks to the Zepplin’s bomb popping my eardrum.” Plan Distraction: Success. Lana wasn’t listening to the storm anymore. “And all you cared about was Bear getting reshaped.” I didn’t stop stroking her back. In some ways, Lana was still my baby sister though I could never call her that now without being punched.
“It was tragic!” I protested. “He was all disproportioned and had another tear in him. He needed you to fix him right away before all his stuffing fell out.” I carefully stroked the Bear’s arms even though he had not been fluffy or particularly soft for a long time now.
I rolled my eyes up to the ceiling and flicked her forehead. “Better not let Zel see him.” Zel - or Lady Zelindra of Hibernia, as she was more properly called, was the newest addition to Larrina’s family- the ambassador’s daughter just Lana’s age and just her attitude. When they first met, they looked like perfect negatives. Long braids hung down their backs- Larrina’s silken blond, Zelindra’s wiry black. Both stood proud in their uniforms -Larrina in the red, silver, and black of Argentum, Zelindra in the green, brown, and gold of Hibernia. Warily, they’d shaken hands. Matching blue eyes sized the other up while each tried to grip the others hand harder without making a face since showing pain was (apparently ) a sign of weakness. In the last year, they had behaved as two girls with the same personality but diametrically opposed opinions normally do. They regularly tried to kill each other.
“I have already thought of that.” I stated matter-of-factly. “I carefully hide him during the day, and he only comes out at night now.”
“Where do you put him then that she can’t find him?” In our younger years, I’d been a bit jealous of that bear.
“Well, I was hiding him under my pillow, but that would be easy to uncover by accident. So he is now in a drawer with blanket. He is nocturnal now.” I just learned what nocturnal meant, and thought it was a fitting term for Bear.
I threaded my fingers through her silky hair. For some reason, I was feeling more protective of her today. Sometimes she could be really really really annoying especially when she fought with Zel, or when she tried to act grown up and wasn’t. I mean she was 10 for heaven’s sakes not even close to my more mature age of 12. She probably just learned what nocturnal meant. But this, her snuggled next to me, felt right, and I was willing to forgive her any annoyance she’d given all day. When she sneaked in here afraid of a storm, I felt like I still belonged here as her adopted older sister.
My own father’s words still echoed in my ears. “WHOSE FAMILY ARE YOU? ” It hadn’t really been a question. ” Mine, you hear me? You are a DAMNED Forrester, and you will act as such.” I shivered, and it had nothing to do with the thunder. “Lana,” she didn’t want me to call her this baby name anymore, but it slipped out, “Am I still your sister? Like back then?”
I had to think for a moment about how I was going to answer this. I couldn’t just come out and say “Yes of course.” That would be …weird.
I took a deep breath as she didn’t say anything trying not to start crying. Of course, I wasn’t related by blood. I had no hold on their family. I was just stuck with my own stupid one. “Goodnight.” I muttered abruptly.
“Goodnight?!” I said shocked. “I have an answer for you and you are going to stay awake and listen to it.”
“I don’t have to if I don’t want to.” I mumbled trying to keep the tears out of my voice.
I rolled my eyes. She could be so unreasonable sometimes.
“I’m older you can’t make me.” But now, I was sniffling.
Was Ammy actually crying? The last time I’d seen her cry we’d been like little. Really little. At Battle School, she took a strike to the neck and didn’t cry. Why was she crying now? I wrapped my arms around her momentarily forgetting about Bear. I put my lips near her ear. “Ammy,” I began in a whisper. “The moment I no longer feel it is safe and okay to come sleep in your room, Bear and all, and the day you can no longer cry in front of me is the day that we can no longer be called sisters,” I kissed her cheek, very quickly, since it wasn’t very soldierly.
I was being very silly, but I couldn’t help burying my face in her shoulder. She was as tall as me now and would probably beat me soon. “Fa…ther…said we …were..n’t fam..ily and…I shoul…dn’t and that….. ” I was just talking nonsense into her shoulder. “And…you ..an .dd” huge breathe. ” Zzzel were…..fighting and Gloryanne wa..ss busy with the …her notebook…and I was so sad.” This last was finished by rather a large sob all highly unusual from me and that felt so stupid. WHAT WAS WRONG WITH ME? I was getting her nightgown all wet.
I hugged her tighter, the storm forgotten. “We are sisters no matter what people say.” I was not a huge fan of her father. In fact, I pretty much hated him. “And as a sister, it is my right to annoy you.” I paused for second. “But I didn’t know that me and Zel’s fighting bothered you so much.” I had never meant to make Ammy sad. I sighed, “I will try to fight less with her. But no promises. She starts most of the fights.”
I laughed and choked back the absurd tears, “Not true.” I mumbled. But I didn’t feel like crying anymore.
“It is very true.” I argued. “She does things that make me have to pick on her or fight with her. It is her own fault. Therefore, she starts them.”
“She just says Hibernia’s better, because she has to or be eaten alive. But you always defend Argentum even over stupid stuff. Besides, she’s homesick.” I wiped my eyes and snuggled closer. ” And they’re terrible to her at school.”
I chose to say nothing. I knew how most of the others treated her. We were in the same grade after all.
I didn’t push my case. You couldn’t push Lana. But I knew one of these days she would not be able to stand the torture Zel had to put with. I stroked her hair glad for the precious moment of peace, and added just in case, “No one’s replacing you, Lana.” I liked them both, but differently.
“Are you sure you can’t replace me?” I hadn’t told her that Zel stealing away some her attention had actually scared me. “You could trade me in for a quieter better behaved model. One who didn’t have a teddy bear obsession.”
“But that would, “I yawned my head throbbing a bit from crying and the long school day, “be boring… though at least that child’s bear would smell better.”
“I don’t know what you are talking about. Bear doesn’t smell at all.” But I was beginning to yawn too and curled up again. “But still, you could always trade me in.” I wasn’t quite convinced that Zel wouldn’t replace me. She was new and exciting and was actually a pretty good fighter. Not that I would ever admit that to her, or anyone else.
“But only you are, my Lana” I whispered, and we both fell asleep.
“Lllllllarrr…innna.” I was shaking her awake I was trembling so much. Bright early morning light spilled in the window. She’d stolen most of the white coverlet in the night, but that wasn’t why I was shaking. Panicked, I shook her again.
“What?” I grumbled and swatted her hand away. I rolled over and closed my eyes again.
“Wake up!!! NOW!”
My eyes flew open. “There had better be someone standing at the foot of the bed with a gun pointed at us for you to be waking me up.”
“Do you hurt anywhere?” I caught her chin in my hands, desperate. “Tell me!”
“I don’t know….I just want to sleep. Since apparently there isn’t a gunman in here.” I pulled my chin away and tried to dive back under the pillow.
“You’re covered in blood. And so am I. You have to tell where it hurts.”
I sat up and rubbed the sleep out of my eyes. “Um…. I feel fine? but it looks like someone killed something in here. I feel dirty. I need to take a bath.”
“Take your nightgown off.” I demanded.
I looked at her, “What don’t you understand about the whole ‘I feel fine’ bit?”
“Please just do it.”
“Gosh, you are so bossy in the morning.” But I complied because, let’s be honest, who wants to wear clothes covered in unexplainable blood?
I let out a breath. “Ok …well you seem fine.”
“So that means it must have come from you, because Bear doesn’t bleed.”
I glanced down once again calm. If it were me, than maybe I cut myself. After all, I wore knives to bed consistently now. “Hope I didn’t get Bear.”
I held Bear up. “He seems to have escaped.”
I untangled the sheet and pulled it away from legs and looked down at my ankles. Streams of blood snaked down my calves in dark or caked rivulets and the front of my nightgown was splotched red in large patches.
I gulped a little. I suddenly felt a bit light headed. “Um…….umm……may…..maybe I should go find someone.” This did not look good.
“Put clothes on first.” I managed. “And let me find the cut.”
I scrambled off the bed and found a robe. “You do that, and I will go get Mom.” Mom would know what to do. Mom was good at these types of things.
I peeled off my night gown but found no cut ….”Larrina” she was almost to the door. “Um could you tell Mom that it is coming from inside me?”
I stopped dead in the doorway as the world started to spin. “Wh..wha…what?”
Apparently, Father had hit me harder than I thought. “It is coming from inside me. Please get Mom.”
“Yea, I will get right on that.” And I ran to my parent’s bedroom. I through open the door flinching a bit as it slammed into the door. “MOM! MOM! you have to come quick. Ammy is dying. She says she is bleeding from the inside! You got to come fix her!” I ran to the side that mom slept on and started to pull her arm. “Get up! Get up!!! We have to hurry.” And of all irrational things Mom started laughing. I was stunned.
“This isn’t a laughing matter!” I screamed. “What part of ‘She is dying’ didn’t you understand?” I was on the verge of tears.
“She’s fine, Larrina. This happens to all girls when they become women.” Even the General was chuckling from his place against the pillow
My face turned pale. “We all die?”
Both parents died laughing.
“I don’t see why this is funny.” Now tears were really falling down my cheeks. “Can’t you just stop and come fix her.”
“I’ll come. I’ll come. Don’t cry. She’ll be just fine.”