B1 — 0. Humanitarian Aid Sucks!

Welcome to Undying Empire; this is a story that I’ve been wanting to write for a bit.  The image without the title is available for free download for backgrounds (I use it for my phone).  =))

This Serial is more of a bi-weekly release since my patrons chose ATM and TO to be updated weekly over UE (it was a close race between UE and ATM, though).

Elinor leaned back in her seat, wiping away the sweat that dripped down her brow; her dark makeup had long since been rubbed away, adding fuel to her already irritated mind.  An itch inside her ear made her growl as she pulled out her left earbud to scratch it.

This is just great … no air conditioning for two days in this hellhole.  We couldn’t wait one flippin’ week to get a closer flight, and they still won’t give me back my SIM card!

She glared at her father and mother sitting beside her; both their light hazel eyes examining their phones with disinterest as they swiped through some news channels.

Her mother sat to her left.  She knew her mom was beautiful; her black hair was tied back into a pony-tail and pulled over her shoulder.  She wore a blue spaghetti-strap shirt, one of her black bra straps poking out from under the right side. She had dark brown shorts and sandals that went well with her tan; driving out in the middle of a random dirt road in Columbia didn’t fit her soft complexion.

Her father had thick, well-maintained hair that was swept back to expose his forehead.  He wore a cream button-up shirt with flowers on it, and brown shorts that fell just past his knees.  He was handsome, but in a rough sort of way with his tone muscles; she could see him fitting just fine in the wilderness.

Huffing out a drawn-out sigh, she glanced out of the bus window, looking at the small town they were coming up on; it seemed to just appear out of nowhere, an entire town in the jungle.  This is so dumb … do any buses in South America have air conditioning?

The long vehicle was alight with several conversations; most of the passengers were on the bus to travel to Cúcuta for the humanitarian aid efforts at the border of Colombia and Venezuela; they’d had to take a detour because of backed-up traffic.  They were pulling a small trailer full of goods that were supposed to go to the gathering on some bridge her father had shown her; the downside being, they had to move really slow with it on the dirt roads.

She looked down at her phone, scowling at the thirty percent battery icon.  Taking out her other wireless headphone, she stuffed both into her tight pants and listened to the chatter for a minute.  Running a hand through her thick black hair, she moaned. “It’s so hot … my mascara literally melted off! How long do we have to be here?”

Her mother shifted a little to smile at her.  Arm reaching around her shoulders, she leaned in.  “I told you applying that much makeup in this heat was a bad idea, and bringing an entire wardrobe of black clothes was basically suicide.”

She looked down at her black tank-top; it had a spine pattern cut down the back and a skeletal unicorn with flowers, vines, skulls, and candles in front of a full moon.  Her thin stomach was showing, and she wore black latex trousers. Her boots had made her feet too hot, so she’d kicked them off long ago.

“It’s my look, though…”

Her dad frowned as he leaned forward, examining her appearance.  “Right, like getting your friend to give you five black butterfly tattoos on your shoulder, and a raven feather on your other collarbone … without our permission.”

Elinor huffed, leaning back with a pout, she glared at the shops they passed.  “It’s not just a raven feather … it’s a raven feather transforming into an unkindness; it’s symbolic, something you wouldn’t understand, and T thought they were cool…”

“Tanner…”  Her dad muttered, nose twisting.

Her mother put a hand on her dad’s lap.  “C’mon, Edmon, we both had our fair share of rebellious behavior.  Remember our punk-rock phase?”

“We didn’t get any damn tattoos,” he growled.

“It’s not the end of the world, dear,” her mom sighed, turning back to her.  “Elinor, honey, I understand why you thought you couldn’t come to us about this, but you should before making these kinds of decisions.”

“Yeah,” her dad grunted, glaring down at his phone.

“Why?”  She growled.  “It’s my body.”

Her mother’s lips pursed as she squeezed her father’s leg.  “Yes, but you’re still only sixteen; you go through phases during these years, you know we’ve talked about this.  You may be into gothic stuff now, but that doesn’t mean you’ll like gothic stuff in ten years. I used to like dinosaurs and wanted to be an archeologist because of Jurassic Park, but I grew out of that.  If I had a dinosaur tattoo, then I’d hate it now.”

“You don’t even know…”  Elinor muttered.

“You know,” her mother hummed, scratching the side of her scalp, “you’re right.  We haven’t asked you what they mean to you, but you can’t blame us … you’ve been hiding them for weeks.  Why did you get them? It wasn’t just for that boy, right?”

Her cheeks flushed, and she looked down at her pants, pressing her phone into her thighs.  “No—it’s not like that!” She fumed. “T’s just cool, okay … geez.”

“Just cool, then,” her mother smirked.  “So—what do they mean?” She asked, pulling back her hair to look at the raven feather on her left collarbone.

Brushing her hand away, Elinor covered it protectively as she looked at one of her boots.  “It—a flock of ravens is called unkindness, but they’re actually really kind toward each other.  In mythology, they’re protectors, even omens … you know, don’t make me mad because that’s a bad omen.”

“Of course,” her mother smiled, and her dad rolled his eyes.

“What?”  She asked, defensively.

“No, I like it, continue,” her mother insisted.

“Well, T told me that in Norse mythology, ravens were like divine messengers, and even some believe they’re exorcised spirits and evil—that’s pretty cool, too.  The bible even has a raven that went and found land for Noah … so, yeah, not all bad. In Buddhism, they’re like … holy birds.”

“Are you a Buddist goth now?”  Her dad groaned.

“No … it’s just cool,” she said, pursing her lips into a pout.

“Edmon, let her explain,” her mother pleaded.

“Tiffany, I just—fine,” he breathed out a heavy sigh, throwing up his arms.  “Tell us all about your tattoos.”

Elinor sniffed.  “Whatever…”

“No,” her mother moaned.  “Honey, please, I want to understand.  Tell me about it,” she reached back around, pulling her into a hug.

She closed her eyes, breathing in the lavender scent of her mother’s hair.  Her anger started to dissipate as she hugged her mother back, groaning, “Fine.”

“Thanks,” Tiffany pulled back, waiting patiently.

“So,” Elinor paused, collecting her thoughts.  “I mean, T told me all these amazing stories; he showed me all these awesome sketches of the tattoos he’d been working on, and these ones were my favorite.”  She mumbled, playing with her black metal ring on her middle finger. “He first did the butterflies … they’re really my favorite.”

“Mhh, did he also get you those black stone earrings I’ve seen you wear the past couple of weeks?”

Elinor swallowed, feet twisting nervously as she rubbed her phone.  “You—you noticed?”

“Wait—what earrings?”  Edmon whispered, leaning forward to look at her ears and hands.  “I haven’t seen any new earrings? Tanner gave you some jewelry?”

“Of course I noticed; I’m your mother.  I haven’t been able to get a good look at them, though; you’ve been avoiding me recently … probably because of the tattoos.”

“They were a gift for my first tat,” she muttered.

Tiffany rubbed her leg comfortingly.  “I bet they were; can I see them?”

“I—they’re in my bag.”  She stammered. “I didn’t want to lose them on the ride…”

“Dad…”  She moaned as he pocketed his phone and got up to take her bag out of the overhead compartment.

Her mother chuckled.  “Honey, it’s fine. I think it’s sweet that he gave you a gift.”

“Unless you know what goes on in a boy’s mind,” her dad muttered.  Sitting back down with her black leather shoulder bag, he examined it with a frown; it had the appearance of a grimoire with a pentagram on the front and Book of Spirits written across the cover.  “Which pocket is it in?”

Her mother reached over and took the bag from him.  “Let her show us, dear. This is important to her.”

Edmon rubbed his eyes with a low moan.  “I know … I’m like—the super overprotective dad right now, but—you have no idea what goes through guys’ minds, and he’s now giving her jewelry.”

“Thanks, mom,” Elinor whispered, hugging her bag.  Taking a deep breath, she undid the latches and opened it up; unbuttoning one of the small inner pockets, she took out the velvet bag carrying the earrings.

Her mother’s breath seemed to lock in her chest, and a lump fell down her throat as she opened it and dropped the jewelry into her palm, her dad leaning closer to get a better look.

“Honey, can I see those for a moment?”  Her mother whispered.

Feeling a little unsure with their reactions, Elinor reluctantly gave one up.

Her mother lifted the earring up to inspect it with her father.  “This is beautiful,” her mother muttered.

“I knew it…”

“It’s really pretty,” Elinor whispered, “but it’s not real or anything.  It’s just a fake; T said he found a box with it inside when he was taking diving lessons with his family in Hawaii.”

Tiffany twisted it around, studying the piece carefully.  “Basket-stud earrings—a four-prong setting. Look at the way it catches the light … it’s probably five to six-carats each … likely round black diamonds; they don’t look fake.  If they are black diamonds, then the metal is probably black gold and something this size … 14k, no doubt. If these are real … they’d be like—five-to-seven thousand dollars, potentially more.”

Elinor mouthed her mother’s estimate in bewilderment.  “Wait? No—T works at a tattoo shop … they’re just fake earrings he found in the ocean.”

Edmon shook his head with a serious expression.  “No, if his story is true, and it wasn’t a lie, then those earrings were probably accidentally dropped by a couple on a trip or honeymoon.”

Her skin bristled.  “No—T’s not a liar!”  She shouted, drawing other passenger’s attention.  “He found them in the ocean, and gave them to me as a gift for my first tat!”

“Shh—settle down.”  Her mother’s lips pursed as she looked back down at the earring.  “I guess we’ll have to get them appraised to be sure, but … I’m pretty sure this is the real thing.  If that’s true, we might have to see if there’s any way to track down the owner and return it.”

“They’re mine, though,” Elinor huffed, snatching it out of her mother’s hand.  “T gave it to me!” She pressed up against the window, clutching the earrings against her chest protectively.

Tiffany held up her hand as her father’s face darkened.  “Honey, think about the woman who owned those before Tanner found it; the memories they hold for her.  Think about how happy she’d be if they were returned to her. How would you feel if something extremely important to you was lost?”

Elinor’s lips fell into a deep frown.  “I—I know … but they’re T’s first gift to me…”

Her mother breathed a deep sigh, and after a moment, she smiled.  “Okay, let’s discuss this then. If we can find the owner, then it would be the right thing to do to return them; just like how that nice boy returned your shoulder bag to you when you lost it on our European trip last year.  Am I right?”

She looked down at her hand, fingers rubbing against the cool metal pieces.  “I guess … it would be the right thing to do.”

“If Tanner did find them, then the owners would probably want to thank him themselves.  As I said, if those are the real things, then returning them would hold real value to the couple that lost them; I know I’d be beside myself if I lost my engagement ring or something important your father gave me.”

“So,” Elinor hummed.  “If they are real—a big if … then we’ll try and find the real owners, and if we can’t—then I get to keep them?”

“Of course, honey,” her mother soothed, speaking before her father could interject.  “I know it’s important to you, but—this doesn’t mean anything more than a friendly gift, right?”  She asked eyebrow lifted as she stared at her.

“What?  No—not at all,” Elinor blustered.  “I’m too young to get married or anything like that…”  She muttered, but her heart fluttered at the prospect.

Could this be a subtle hint by T?  No … he’s too cool; if he wanted to date me, then he’d say it no problem … it’s not like he’s into younger girls anyways.  He did break up with Tonya last year, though … he didn’t date all of Senior year, either, and since graduating he hasn’t been seeing anyone…

“What’s with that look on your face?”  Her mom hummed.

Her eyes shot open.  “What look? I’m just—I’m happy I get to keep them, because—because there’s no way they’re real!”

“Mhm,” her mother said with a small smirk.

Her dad grunted as he sat back in his chair, closing his eyes and folding his arms.  “You’re sixteen … you have to get through high school and college before thinking about marriage.”

“Oh,” her mother shoved him mischievously.  “You were working two jobs and living out of your mother’s basement when you proposed to me.  If I remember correctly, you were twenty, and I was nineteen, right?”

He coughed, clearing his throat.  “Yeah, well—it’s a different age.”

Her mother giggled, turning back to her.  “Hey, as long as you wait until you’re at least eighteen—preferably twenty, then you have my full support … as long as he’s a decent guy.  

“Yeah, okay…”  Elinor smiled, looking down at her earrings, ears still burning.

There’s no way they’re real … but what if they are?

Wait,” Tiffany smirked.  “You haven’t even gone on any dates since turning sixteen, have you?  Even though we said it was fine when you were fifteen.”

Elinor’s mind froze.  “Mom … I don’t want to talk about it!”  She snapped, doing her best to turn away from her.

Her mother just giggled.

She’s so … grrh…

“Anyways,” her mother settled back into her seat, pulling out her phone.  “We’ll be stopping in this town tonight; we have a hotel booked … the hotel we were supposed to stay out wouldn’t return our money.”  She hummed irritably. “Anyways, tomorrow we should reach Cúcuta.”

“Finally,” Elinor moaned.  Not trusting her dad to snatch her earrings while she wasn’t looking, she slid them into the pocket with her headphones for safekeeping.

“So…”  Her mom trailed off.

“So—what?”  She asked.

“You were telling me what your tattoos meant.”

“You still want to hear it?”

“Mhm,” she shifted to face her with a sincere smile.

“Well—okay … umm … which do you want to know about?”

“You said the butterflies were your favorite, right?”

She nodded.  “Yeah, I love black butterflies!”

“Hmm,” her mother glared at the seat in front of her, deep in thought.  “You liked butterflies and fairies around the same time when you were eight … what’s different about black butterflies that separates them from the rest?”

“Something edgy, like death, right?”  Her dad asked, looking at something on his phone.

Elinor rolled her eyes.  “Not just that, dad…”

Her mother huffed, lightly slapping his knee with her left hand.  “C’mon Edmon; you know I used to wear that stuff too.”

“Huh?”  Elinor shifted to face her mother.  “You did?”

“Yeah, it was a short phase,” her mother smiled softly with a small shrug.  “I had a friend in Junior High that was a goth; your grandparents had to move us, though, so I didn’t get to know her that well.”

Her dad scratched his left eyebrow.  “I know, Tiff, but—does she have to wear the belly shirts?  You really have no clue what guys think about when they see a girl’s belly … young and old.”

“Yes, the male mind is a dismal sphere,” her mother grunted.  “She also needs to have the space to express herself, and if she’s going through a goth phase, then what’s the harm?”

“But mom … it’s not a phase.”

She giggled.  “Honey, you’re sixteen, everything’s a phase.”

“Okay—okay,” her dad groaned, rubbing his shoulder.  “This is bad for my blood pressure … as long as it’s not anything worse.”

“Oh—and what’s worse?”  Elinor hummed, eyebrow-raising as she challenged her father.

“Let’s get back to the butterflies,” her mother redirected, smile turning forced.

“Fine … so, black butterflies can mean transition, rebirth, and renewal; it can also mean death, dad—but it can be like the death of a relationship, idea, or topic.  You know, darkness before the dawn type of stuff.

“In Irish legends, they say black butterflies are the souls of the deceased, unable or unwilling to move on to the afterlife.  It can also be linked with witchcraft,” she giggled, “a witch that transformed into a black butterfly to steal your food.

“Oh, there’s the Aztec myth of a goddess that can change into a black butterfly to devour the souls of people during eclipses!  That one’s super cool.”

“What about some positive things?”  Her mother questioned, folding her legs.

“Umm—well, they can symbolize freedom and the death of misfortune, but … let me think.  Okay, it’s like this…

“The Butterfly itself is a symbol of death, rebirth, and transformation. While in its cocoon, the Caterpillar seems to die but is soon lives again as a butterfly.”

She began counting on her fingers as she tried remembering everything she’d read.  “The color black is linked with power, authority, mystery, sophistication—I don’t know if that’s a word, though—elegance, anger, fear, evil, sadness, death, mourning, remorse, and even the unknown; the Black Butterfly itself symbolizes new life from an old one; the new strong but subtle life after a period of transformation.”

“Wow, that’s so much,” her mother said with a bright smile.  “It seems like you really have taken a liking to butterflies.  Transformation, eh? I like it, but can you please promise me that you’ll talk to us before you get a tattoo next time?”

“Ugh, still on about that?”  Elinor grumbled, cheer dampening.

“Please?”  Her mother pleaded.

“Fine … okay—I won’t get a new one for a while anyway … the raven one hurt—a lot … I even cried in front of T.”  She whispered, feeling shame run down her spine.

“Hey,” her mother pulled her in again.  “You’re a girl, okay? No guy’s going to blame you for crying.”

“Yeah, but … it’s not cool,” She mumbled.

Their attention moved to the front of the bus as the driver pulled into a hotel.  “Alright, folks,” he said in English, surveying them; he held a robust Columbian accent.  “There are a few restaurants nearby if you get hungry; be careful about what you bring with you, there’s been a lot of pick-pockets in this town lately.”

A woman wearing a white dress lifted her hand, speaking before the driver could acknowledge her question.  “Umm—is there any souvenir shops around?”

“Yes, down the street to the left of the hotel; just turn right at the second street, and you’ll find some shops.”

“Wonderful,” she beamed.

Another chubby man with a large brown beard spoke up next.  “What time are we heading to Cúcuta?”

“We’ll be leaving at eight in the morning; so, set your alarms.  We leave at eight sharp, so don’t miss it.”

Elinor groaned as she got to her feet, stretching out her legs and lower back.  She wiped away the sweat on her brow again, staring at her wet fingers with a deep frown.  This sucks.

She picked up her phone that had slid to the back of her seat and put it in her bag.  Glancing at her mom, stretching beside her, she pursed her lips. “Mom, I heard someone say the Venezuelan National Guard is keeping everyone out, and not allowing people to help … so, why are we even going?”

“It’s more complicated than that,” her dad said, but his tone was tired.  “Venezuela is going through a really tough time, and we have the means to help out a bit.”

“The means to help out?”  She huffed. “We drove like—like days to get here … I see homeless people all the time back home in Cali.  Why don’t we help those people instead of leaving the U.S. to come to this hellhole.”

“Language,” her father frowned.

Sighing, she pressed against her mom’s right arm before brushing her bangs back.  “I’m just saying … how long are we going to be here? They don’t even want help.”

Tiffany squeezed her shoulder.  “You have Venezuelan blood in you, honey.  Your grandma immigrated to the U.S., and we were able to live the American Dream.  Now we need to give some back.”

“Mom … you’re French; it’s dad’s side that’s Venezuelan, and we don’t even talk to Uncle Cristian anymore.”

“See,” her dad said, pointing outside at the small town and hotel.  “This is why getting out of the country is good for you; you live in the safest country in the world with the most opportunities to succeed.  The Venezuelan’s are starving; they’re literally breaking into zoos to kill and eat animals.”

Elinor pouted, sinking back against the wall as she rolled her eyes.  “Yeah, they must be starving if they won’t allow any food in.”

“It’s because of that dictator!”  Her dad seethed.

“Dear,” her mom soothingly rubbed his chest.  “She’s a teenager in all black, burning up, and forced to join her parents on a humanitarian mission … what teen would want to be with her parents for something like this?”

“See, mom gets it,” Elinor fumed.  Digging out her headphones, she put them in and turned on the music she’d downloaded off her Itunes account.  She’d created a few playlists for the trip, and turned on The Cure, Sister’s Mercy, Aviators, and Siouxsie and the Banshees playlist, zoning out her parent’s discussion.

They exited the bus in order of seat; Elinor put her handbag over her shoulder and did her best to follow her parents as she lugged her suitcase ahead of her, using her feet to force it along the aisle.  She grunted as she dropped the bag down the last step of the bus, huffing, and puffing.

Man … maybe I should work out a little like mom … I’m freaking weak!

Pulling up the lever to the bag, she wheeled it after her parents; they seemed to be talking about something serious because they had a look on their faces that they usually had when discussing bills.  She tried her best to ignore it and listened to her music; her earrings started digging into her thigh, squeezed by her tight pants; she shifted them in her pocket, trying to find a good position.

Walking into the hotel lobby, she and her mother waited by the couches as her father went to check-in.  Elinor leaned up against the wall, closing her eyes and pressing her head against the cool sheetrock. Her fingers traced the outline of the earrings in her pocket.

Does this mean T wants to date me, and I was just too dense to realize it?  I mean, it was earrings, but it’s not like he like-likes me … c’mon, don’t be stupid!  Of course, he doesn’t love me … I’m just his friend. He just thought these earrings would fit my look, and if it’s expensive, it’s not like he bought it … that’d be stupid.

She lightly hit her head against the wall a few times, letting go of a low moan.  Why can’t I stop thinking about it then?

Her lips pursed as someone nudged her; opening her eyes, she glanced right at her mother’s soft smile.  She groaned as her mother pointed at her right ear, so she took it out. “What?”

“Is it really that bad?”

“What, this trip?  Yeah, it sucks. Why, can I go home?”

Tiffany’s lips pursed as she shook her head.  “I’m afraid not, my little vampire; we checked you out of school for the entire week … this can be fun if you just let it.”

“Fun,” Elinor rolled her eyes.  “I love being stuck on a bus with a ton of sweaty, smelly old people … it’s been a blast.  Why would I want to be back home, where there’s AC, friends, and oh, I don’t know … good food?”

“The food hasn’t been terrible.”

“No?  Dad was in the toilet all yesterday,” she looked over at her dad; he was impatiently tapping his foot as he waited in line behind a few people that got ahead of them.  “He was like this in Europe too … why does he want to leave home if he has such a weak stomach?”

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“It’s for…”  She cut her mother off irritably.

“Yeah, I know … for the humanitarian garbage.  I get it … it just sucks…”

Her mother hummed.  “Is this about something else?  You knew we’d take away your SIM card when you got that tattoo and didn’t consult us, and I’m not saying that it’s bad, okay.”  Tiffany sighed at her sour expression. “I wanted to get a tattoo once—back when I was twenty-two, but I decided not to after seeing what it looked like when you get old and wrinkled.”

“Old and wrinkled?”  Elinor chuckled. “I’ll just die young.”

“No, honey … you can’t do that to us…”  Her mother pleaded with a worried expression.

“Geez, mom,” she rolled her eyes.  “I’m not talking about suicide … I just don’t think I’ll live that long after my thirties.  You know … a car crash or something…”

Her mother shook her head.  “Don’t make decisions based on the dream of living young … if your dad did that, then we’d be broke and on the streets, and you wouldn’t even have a cellphone to be angry about losing.”

“It’s not just the cellphone, mom,” she whispered spitefully.

Tiffany scratched her scalp.  “Okay, I’ll bite. What is it then?”

Elinor scratched her arm, feeling the light sweat under her armpits with dissatisfaction.  “I just—it’s complicated, okay.” She looked down at her boots, shifting her toes. “Katie said she couldn’t hang out with me anymore.”

“What—why?”  Her mother asked, scooting a little closer.  “You’ve been friends since fourth grade.”

“Yeah, well—I’m just not cool enough for her … not anymore.”  She mumbled.

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“Is this about your decision to quit gymnastics and cheerleading this year?”

“Maybe—being a goth and a cheerleader apparently don’t mix well … she also doesn’t like my tattoos.”  Her emotions started to spike as a tear fell down her cheek. “I showed her first … I thought she’d like it too…”

“Hey,” her mother sighed, pulling her in.  “Friendships can be mended. Maybe we can have her over for a movie night or something and try to smooth it over; I won’t even join in … well, not that much.”  She giggled.

Fighting to regain control of her eyes, Elinor sniffed back her tears.  “Thanks, mom … I didn’t think these tats would cause so much trouble … it’s just like—the black butterflies just brought me misfortune.”

“No,” Tiffany soothed, pulling back her hair to look at the butterflies on the back of her right shoulder.  “They’re beautiful; Tanner is a great artist, even though he shouldn’t have done it without our permission, he is a great artist.  This one almost seems like it’s alive.” She said, poking the top right one.

“Hey, stop it,” Elinor smiled.  Swallowing the built-up saliva in her mouth, she turned and hugged her.  “Thanks for being there for me, mom.”

She gently returned the embrace.  “Of course, honey; I’ll always be in your corner.”

After a minute, she pulled away, blushing as a few people gave them compassionate looks.  She quickly put her headphones back in, hugging herself as she pressed up against the wall.  Her mother seemed to giggle softly, but closed her eyes and rested her head against the wall next to her.

After a while, her dad came back and guided them to their room.  It was all the way to the right of the building, on the first floor.  It looked extremely cheap; the walls were cream-colored, and the carpet was stained with a few brown spots but seemed mostly clean.  There was a small bathroom with a shower in it at the back. The two beds were singles, and there wasn’t even a TV. It was extremely bare and poor compared to the hotels she’d stayed at in the past.

“Your mother and I will take the bed closest to the door,” her dad said with a quick study of the room.

“Are you serious?”  Elinor mumbled.

Her mother hummed.  “I know, it’s not the most luxurious hotel we’ve stayed in, but it’ll do what we need.  We’re only here for a day too. The driver needs to check the bus before we drive all day tomorrow.”

“All day,” she groaned, trudging over to the bed, she sank into it, face first.  “Will it have AC this time?”

“Unfortunately, I don’t think so,” her dad mirrored her sigh as he sat down on his chosen bed.  “Maybe I’ll go buy a portable fan for us; today was … pretty bad.”

Her mother sat beside him, patting his knee.  “Yes, that’d be nice,” she chuckled. She hummed, looking over at the slide-out window air conditioning and heating unit.  “At least we can make it a little cooler in here.”

She got up to mess with the unit as her dad began unpacking some of their hotel items.  Elinor rolled to her back, brushing her hair out of the way. “We’re only going to stay in that town for two days max, right?”

“Yeah,” her mother sighed with relief as the unit flipped on, supplying the room with a chilled breeze.  “We’ll only be there for two days at most; it might only be one, depending on how things turn out.”

“Okay,” Elinor groaned as she stretched out.  “What are we going to do for food? Are we going to try some new stuff, like yesterday?”

“No … no,” her dad shook his head.  “Yeah, I’m going to go look for something familiar.  That last thing we ate … whatever it was, I’m done with trying new things here…”

“I’m glad to hear that … it smelled as bad as it tasted.”

Her mother came over and sat next to her.  “You can unpack and freshen-up while your father and I go grab something to eat.  Just make sure to keep the door locked; we have a key to get inside.”

“You don’t have to tell me that; this place is sketchy,” she said, closing her eyes.

“Well,” her dad grunted.  “Why don’t we go look for something before everyone on the bus clogs up the lines?”

Her mother got up, stretching her arms.  “Alright, we’ll be back in a bit.”

“Please bring back something edible this time,” Elinor pleaded, stomach growling with the thought of food.

“We’ll see what we can find,” her mother said, adding a hat before following her dad out the door.

She heard both locks click; staring at the door for several seconds, she moaned, scratching the back of her sweaty neck.  The room was beginning to cool down, but it would be a while before it was comfortable. Taking her purse to the bathroom, she shut it and cleaned herself up, changing her tampon while she was at it.

How can a place be so hot and humid?  I thought Cali was bad in the summer, but being without any air conditioning for days on end … this place is hell.  It rains like twice a day and then it all turns to steam and boils you!

Finished washing her face and tasting a bit of the nasty water, she looked up at her reflection in the surprisingly clean mirror.  Her light hazel eyes slowly moved down her features.  

Her body had filled out well this year, blessed by her mother’s good genetics, and the aunts she’d met on her father’s side were pretty.  She knew she was beautiful, at least an eight from the whispered talk she’d heard from boys, but they didn’t interest her. They were all too immature; she liked to hang out with the cool older boys.

She’d slowly grown more distant from her girl friends as they’d gotten boyfriends and moved on to different cliques.  She didn’t really hang out with the goth crowd because they all still saw her as the preppy middle school cheerleader; so, her circle of friends kept dwindling.  She told herself that it didn’t bug her, but it did; she liked hanging out and being in a crowd, but she also didn’t feel comfortable with the cheerleaders anymore.

A moan reverberated in her throat as she let her forehead fall against the mirror.  “My life’s a mess.”

Walking out of the bathroom with her bag, she dropped it on the bed; she noticed the light bleeding through the curtains was dwindling as the sun continued to dip below the horizon.  Sighing, she fell beside her bag. Flipping to her back, she brushed her pony-tail out of the way and stared up at the ceiling. Fatigue suddenly struck her mind.

What could make this day worse?  I just hope mom and dad come back soon.

Getting up, she dressed in her nightwear, a blue silk shirt, and soft black trunks.  She debated putting her earrings in her bag, but still didn’t trust her parents wouldn’t take them; she put the velvet bag that carried them inside one of her shorts’ small pockets.  I’ll just catch a bit of sleep before they come back with dinner.

Getting into bed, she closed her eyes and quickly drifted off to sleep.

* * *

Elinor tensed as something sharp pricked her arm; she jerked awake, eyes shooting open, but everything was a blur.  Her mind was fuzzy as she looked around, but she couldn’t find any light. There was some kind of soft shuffling next to her, but her mind grew duller by the second, and her senses soon washed out.


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