A few weeks after we returned from Egypt (and in week three of what would turn out to be my fifty-two week grounding), Mom found out that she was pregnant with a wee little stowaway. Personally, I thought she was a bit old to be making more babies - and lots of hateful people on the internet agreed with me - but I opted not to tell her that.
She held off releasing the news to the public until she was well into her second trimester - partially because the pregnancy seemed to be sapping every bit of energy out of her.
It was the insane sickness that clued everyone in to the fact that there was not just one little baby nestling down in there.
Nine months later (and thirty eight weeks out of fifty two for those counting), Mom and Nepal brought home two perfectly healthy and perfectly noisy babies. Cerulean and Chambray both had Mom's skintone - leaving Sapphy the only one with the bluish tone. Chambray - to everyone's surprise - had thin bits of dark black hair on her head. "That's Grandma Cin's hair color..." I said, carefully stroking her tiny head.
By the time the twins were born, Sapphy had celebrated her fourth birthday and would not shut up about going to school (pre-school anyway) and being a big girl. With the twins occupying every minute of Mom and Nepal's free time, they put more and more emphasis on Sapphy being independent and no longer being the baby of the family.
She didn't seem to mind much.
In spite of all her talk though, when it came time to be tucked in at night she still wanted - no needed a story to go to sleep. By the time her bedtime came around, Mom and Nepal were usually busy trying to get Chambray and Cerulean to sleep so Sapphy fell to Cobalt and me. I didn't mind so much though - Sapphy was a cute kid, and it's not like I had anywhere else to be. What with being grounded and all.
Speaking of the grounding, it was one very long year before Mom let up. To be clear, I was allowed to participate in after school activities and even to go to those functions during the year. I was even allowed to have one or two friends over after awhile. But other than those exceptions; I was always at home, always being watched, always being checked on.
And I was the model of good behavior. I hated every moment of it but I refused to spend my senior year living like a criminal!
It was actually the week before school went back when Mom told me the epic news. "Really? I'm not grounded anymore?!"
"No - but, no leaving the country...or the city for that matter...without permission," she cautioned. Chambray started fussing then so the oncoming lecture was cut short as she disappeared into the nursery.
"I'm going out to the Buzz then!!" I called out, grabbing my phone. Before anyone stopped me, my fingers were flying across the keypad. It rang twice before my BFF picked up, "Coral? I'm free! Meet me at the Buzz in twenty?"
"I can't believe she finally let you off! She let Cobalt off months ago right?" Coral asked, having to shout over the music and noise.
"Yeah - though that was because I kept insisting it was my fault he even went along with it." I argued. "Which was true enough - though Cobalt told me not to say anything and was willing to wait it out."
"Shoulda let him hang with you - I wouldn't have try to win Linny's freedom." Though I knew that wasn't true, I didn't argue with her. Linny, also known as Linnea, was Coral's twin sister - though you wouldn't know it to look at them. Linny and Coral were as different as night and day both in personality and appearance. "So, ready for school to go back?"
"Only cause we're seniors," I said with a chuckle. I didn't look forward to the homework or teachers or the popular girls being all snotty but being a senior came with a few perks.
Though I wasn't usually one to be overly picky about my clothes, I made an exception that first day. Ninety percent of the time the popular girls left Cobalt and I alone simply because of who our mom was but I didn't feel like giving them ammunition today. Even so, I was still done before my brother - who was VERY picky about his clothes. Because of waiting on Cobalt, we were almost late for school and the entire lawn was deserted save one boy.
He was leaning back against the table as if he didn't have a care in the world. I grabbed Cobalt by the arm, stopping him in his tracks and pointed, "who's that?"
Cobalt shrugged casually, but took his time observing the boy. No doubt appreciating that sight.
I shoved him playfully, "I don't think he's your type."
"Oh I don't know, he could be," Cobalt said with a wink. "Must be new though - I don't recognize him. Maybe he's a fish."
"If that's what the new class of freshmen look like - sign me up," I hooked my arm in Cobalt's and we unwillingly made our way into the building just as the first bell rang. At the door, I glanced back and saw the boy slowly, reluctantly, pushing himself up from the table. He turned in our direction and must have caught me watching him as his mouth turned up at one corner in a smirk.
It wasn't the last time I saw him that day - he seemed to be everywhere! He was always alone and always seemed to be brooding and unapproachable. No one really seemed to know anything about him other than he was new and he was a senior.
"He's French!" Coral exclaimed, without preamble or explanation. "Or he's from France anyway."
"Who?" I asked, confused by her sudden exclamation.
"Who? Seriously? The new boy you've been obsessively watching for the last two weeks!" She was right of course. Every time I'd seen him in the hall or in class, I found myself turning to look at him or peaking out from behind my book. I could give the paparazzi that stalked my mom a run for their money with my new found stalking abilities. "His name is Monte Carlo and he moved here over the summer to stay with an uncle. From France," at that last part she seemed to swoon a bit.
I'd already learned his name from the class we shared but other than saying 'here' every day for attendance, the boy seemed to say nothing at all. "France huh?" I grinned and closed my locker. "Thanks Cor!" I called out as I ran off to class. History - the class I shared with Monte - was quickly becoming my favorite part of the day.
He was perched on the desk when I came in - brooding as usual. For once I wished I had the power of telepathy so I could find out what when through his head all day. "Hey," I offered him a smile as I passed him on the way to my own desk.
He didn't say anything, and for a moment I thought he hadn't heard but then he turned and smiled at me. Such a small effort totally turned my legs to jelly...gah when did I become such a girly girl?
That was the whole of our relationship for months. Near as I could tell it was more than he offered up to anyone else though. He spoke only when required to by teachers and was one of the first ones out of every class. I didn't even see him at lunch so I have no idea where he ate.
"He's so mysterious," Coral said dreamily. Apparently broody, mysterious, foreigner was just her type. I couldn't argue with her though. With a sigh, she zipped up her backpack and turned to me, "ready to go?"
"Can't, I have art club remember?" I said, pulling my camera bag from my locker.
"Oh right! Okay - see you tomorrow Zu!"
Art club was a blanket term for just about every type of art thankfully. I wasn't a sculptor by any means - I'd turned the first lump of clay I'd been offered into, well...a lump of clay. I was a fair painter but my real passion lay in photography. I spent an hour and a half twice a week practicing with my camera on any willing (and sometimes unwilling) subject during the club sessions.
Although I usually went straight home after, I sometimes found myself distracted by things I wanted to photograph and today was one of those days. Just after I stepped from the school building I was enchanted by the deep colors in the sky from the sunset and had to stop to watch.
"Bonjour Lazuli," I spun around on the swing to see Monte leaning against a fence post, watching me. How long had he been standing there watching me swing lazily?
"You know my name?" I asked stupidly. Of course he knew my name - probably learned it the same way I'd learned his! "Hi...bonjour..." Oh man I was really flubbing this.
He smirked - the same smirk he'd worn that first time our eyes had met. "Oui, I do. My name is Monte."
"I know," I said sheepishly. I was suddenly glad for the setting sun as it likely hid the blush on my cheeks.
"You are here quite late yes?"
"Yeah, I mean, yes. I had art club this afternoon. It is strange coming out of school at sunset though huh?" He said nothing at first I figured he'd already regretted breaking his silence to speak to me. "So...you're here late...I didn't know there was anything else going on today."
"Oui, I had detention," he didn't seem bothered or ashamed by the fact.
"Oh! What for?" I asked before I could stop myself and then clamped my hand over my mouth, "Oh I probably shouldn't have asked that...rude much."
"Eh, it was...a misunderstanding is all. Of little consequence," he said, waving it off. "I'm afraid I have stopped you from watching this magnificent sunset though...shall we?"
To my surprise, he sat down on the ground and patted the spot next to him. Nervously, I lowered myself beside him and trained my eyes on the sky.
I was so focused on the sunset and the emergence of the first stars that the warmth of his hand over mine took me by surprise. I let out a strangled gasp and he looked at me curiously. I swallowed back any more horrific noises and just smiled at him.
Falling back into his normal silence, no more words passed between us for several minutes. Although I was thankful for this to some degree - it meant I was unlikely to embarrass myself further - I began to despair that he may be bored just minutes after really meeting me. "So....you moved here from France right?"
"Mmhmm," he said, offering nothing else up to continue the conversation.
"Is it beautiful there? I want to go one day - I want go everywhere," I said as I looked back at the sky. It was true though; after Egypt I'd come to dream about seeing everything and every place someday.
"It has its beauties, oui," Monte said. I glanced at him and wondered what other thoughts were running through his mind once more. "I understand there is a social evening of some sort coming up" he said, referring to the senior prom in a couple months. "Would you like to go...with me?"
"Uh huh," I muttered, nodding vigorously to compensate for the lack of coherent speech. "That would be....great."
"C'est magnifique," Monte said standing. He offered his hands to pull me to my feet and once I was standing, he kissed the top of my hands gently. "First, though, I think we should go on a date, oui?"
I was nodding again when Coral called out to me - when did she get there? And why? "A date, that would be terrific." I scrawled my cell number on a slip of paper and tucked it into the pocket on his shirt. I waved and jogged over to Coral, "you would not even believe what just happened!"
"I bet I would," she looked past me at Monte. The look on her face was filled with anger and distrust - a sharp change from just that afternoon! But she merely hooked her arm in mine and steered me quickly from the school.
"What are you doing here anyway?" I asked as we climbed into the car she shared with Linny.
"I tried calling you a dozen times and you didn't answer. You step-dad said you were still at school so I came looking since I knew art club was over."
That didn't make much sense. Yes art club had been over and my phone had been off still but why would she insist on coming looking for me? I should have asked then...but I just didn't care as my head was too full of Monte.
"Where's Mommy?" Sapphy asked, her words followed quickly by a yawn. She was exhausted and had been struggling to stay awake for an hour for the story Mom had promised her.
"Still getting ready for her show." I tucked the blankets around her and brushed back her hair. "She's got another awards show tonight - it's that time of year." Once a year it was award show season and Mom and Nepal went to pretty much all of them. Nepal went to support Mom and Mom went because she liked the attention mostly - though her agent may have played a part in it. He encouraged her to always be in the press despite the fact that her television show was a huge hit and had been renewed for yet another season already.
"Can I stay up and watch it?" Sapphy asked, yawning once more. "Is she going out of town for this one?"
I smiled, "I don't think you'll be awake for much long Sapph." I kissed her forehead. "And no, this is just a small one. Now go to sleep Sapphy."
When I came downstairs, Cerulean was toddling his way across the floor toward Mom. "Oh wow! Isn't he a bit young to be doing that?!" I exclaimed as she scooped him up. Cerulean and Chambray were just barely ten months old now.
"Only a little..." Mom handed Cerulean over to me as Nepal came out of the nursery. "Thank you for doing this Zuli, I know it was a last minute thing."
"Chambray is out for the night. Now if you can just get our little night owl here to sleep, it should be pretty mellow." Nepal ruffled Cerulean's hair and the little guy reached out for his Daddy expectantly. "We'll be back late probably - you know how these things go." I merely nodded and waved to them as they left.
It wasn't the first time I'd been commissioned for babysitting duty and it wouldn't be the last. Tango, the usual sitter, was notorious for flaking out at the last moment. I kept trying to get Mom to find someone else but she always forgot until it came down to me or Cobalt - and Cobalt was usually busy.
"We'll be back on Wednesday - don't look at me like that Zuli! I need you to do this for me..." Mom was alternating between stern and desperate. It had been a month and once again Tango had flaked. And once again Mom hadn't thought to find a new sitter. Only this time I had plans! I was supposed to have my date with Monte this weekend and now I was trapped at home with my siblings under strict orders to not go anywhere or do anything pretty much.
"Mom! I told you Tango would cancel and that I had plans this weekend! Of all the weekends this was the ONLY one I was unavailable! Can't you call Aunt Amethyst or something?!"
"Aunt Amethyst has a family of her own - beyond that, she and Uncle Surf will be at the award show as well. Zuli, I'm sorry but I really need your help on this. You can even invite Coral and Linny over for the weekend if you like. Cobalt can too if he wants...when he gets home anyway." Cobalt, unlike me, had been cunning enough to be busy with some club on the day of their departure so he'd avoided being pressed into service. "You can go on your date next weekend alright?"
"Fine whatever," I stomped away - a completely childish and immature response but I apparently needed to call Monte.
An hour later Nepal and Mom had left in a cab and were on their way to the airport. This particular show was THE show of the season and was on the other side of the country. I'd called Monte to cancel and then called Coral to invite her and her sister over. Sapphy was busy in her room so I made my way to the nursery to check on the twins. "Hey kiddos - guess I'm in charge this weekend..."
Yeah they looked thrilled.
Coral and Linny showed up shortly after that, with a few other people in tow. "Parents out of town" being the code words for PAR-TAY, they'd taken it upon themselves to beef up the invite list. Cobalt brought a few of his friends home as well and then Monte showed up - I guess hoping to have our date anyway - even if it meant staying home with a few toddlers. "I did not know you were having a party..." He looked offended.
Oh man! I bet he thought I'd cancelled in favor of the party that had quickly brewed up at the house. "Neither did I," I said with a small shrug. "Coral and Linny told a couple people my Mom and stepdad were gone and they told people and so on...it's dangerous that phone tree..."
"I see." He seemed to be considering the validity of my claim for a moment and I found myself holding my breath. At long last, he extended his hand and smiled. "Shall we dance then?"
"Yeah - sure, that'd be great."
Once I was dancing with Monte, all the worries about missing the date and the unplanned party seemed to slip away. Once or twice I noticed Coral and Linny looking over at me - or more specifically Monte - but neither said anything so I pushed the thoughts from my mind and focused on Monte. This was our "date" after all. May be the only one I ever got if I kept getting conscripted for babysitting duty.
After an hour I realized we had no real food to feed all these people so I placed the order for a bunch of pizzas. I had to shout over the music and the noise of a couple dozen teenagers chattering but finally I got an astronomical total and was able to hang up. "Pizza should be on the way," I shouted. A cheer went up and I grinned, feeling oddly popular at the moment.
Monte claimed my attention once more and we remained intertwined in each others arms for almost an hour until the pizza had arrived. Not long after, my phone rang and the voice on the other end gave me chills. For a couple hours I'd forgotten that my step-father was a cop and no doubt had all the cops in town alerted to keep an eye on the house while they were out of town. "There's a patrol comin' around, clear them out," the voice was familiar but the caller didn't actually identify themselves.
I grabbed Coral and Cobalt - together we sent everyone else save Linny home as quickly as we could. The last person was driving away when we saw the police car drive past the lot. I wanted to waved but Cobalt grabbed my hand to stop me. Still, we all collapsed on the couch in a fit of giggles after that.
Though Mom had said Linny and Coral could stay all weekend, I sent them home the next day as they were both acting peculiar. They were always whispering and then stopped to stare at me when I came in. Neither would explain and tension would follow so I think they were relieved when I said they should just go on home.
Having tucked all the kids into bed, I settled in front of the TV with a bowl of popcorn and turned on the award show in time for the red carpet pre-show. In spite of everything, I couldn't help but smile when Mom and Nepal showed up. She looked stunning and Nepal looked slightly uncomfortable - as he usually did at this things.
"Of course it's a great honor to be nominated," Mom was saying to some reporter, "but we all secretly hope to win," she added with a wink. "Who wouldn't really?"
Everyone laughed around her - she had that affect on people - and they talked about her dress a bit before she continued on, clutching Nepal's hand.
I'd never particularly liked these shows - probably because I'd always been nursing that bitterness toward my actress mother - and this one was no exception. It was alright but I got bored of all the speeches after awhile. Still I didn't want to miss Mom's category so I kept watching.
I must have dozed off after Mom's acceptance speech - in which she'd sent love to all her children and family - because when I woke up it was all over and had been replaced by the late night news.
Mom's face with in the small box - a picture from the red carpet it seemed - but reporter wasn't talking about the show.
"...just in. The limo that was driving actress Violet Dust has been involved in a car accident on I-90. People on the scene, possibly paparazzi following the star from the theater, report seeing Ms. Dust and her husband being pulled from the burning car. Details about their condition, and that of others involved are unknown at this time..."
I blinked several times - sure that the words had to be wrong; maybe I was still asleep and dreaming! I jumped up and looked around panicked but everything seemed to be right. Everything except the reporter on the screen.
And the bright flashing red and blue lights outside the window.
There was a knock on the door.
I couldn't move, I didn't want to open the door and see whoever was on the doorstep.
Because I knew.
They knocked again and then followed it up by ringing the doorbell.
I heard the footsteps on the stairs and knew Cobalt had been roused from his bed by the visitor. "Zuli? Why didn't you answer the door?"
I didn't say anything, just stared at the flashing lights in the window. "Don't answer it..."
"What? Don't be silly Zuli..." his hand was on the knob and he twisted it, pulling it open.
She looked familiar - no doubt she worked with Nepal every day. Her eyes were red, as if she'd been crying. Her hair was mussed, as if she'd scrambled to tuck it under her hat. "Cobalt...Lazuli..." she choked on her words. She knew. She knew even more than the reporter did. "I'm sorry to wake you both up..."
"Don't..." I said, tears stinging my eyes. I looked back at the TV but my mom's face was gone. They'd moved on to another story now.
Sometimes I wish we could have a do-over, I wish we could go back and fix things.
Sometimes I wish I’d never broken things in the first place.