Park restroom lights flickered as I stared into the film-covered mirror. The itching between my shoulders was making me crazy. The more I scratched, the more it itched. Reaching under my grimy t-shirt, I rubbed the irritated spot. My hand came away with blood and tiny white feathers–like I was losing my stuffing. Losing my mind, more like.
I inhaled and smelled stale urine. Nose wrinkled, I washed my hands in the dribbling faucet. The hazy reflection gazing back at me had lank, dirty hair and sad eyes. Didn’t look like me at all. Great, no paper towels. I dried my hands on the inside of my hoodie.
There were certain things Mom should have told me. Like I was not entirely human. That would’ve been a great place to start. Too late for that now. My last memory of Mom, we had just returned to our rental cabin after a long day on the slopes. Every year for winter break we went up to Mount Hood.
“Wait up, hon.” Mom said, locking the SUV’s doors.
I jogged up the snow covered path toward the cabin. “If I don’t get in that hot tub soon, I’m going to freeze to death.” My breath escaped in white puffs through my chattering teeth.
“Lilianna,” Dad said, “wait for us. You can’t get in, I have the key.”
Mom named me. No idea where she came up with Lilianna. I go by Lili. “Come on.” I stood by the front door shifting from one foot to the other. They’d gone numb more than an hour ago.
Dad opened the door. “Thanks,” I mumbled, rushing past him, headed straight for my room. Peeling off my skiing clothes one layer at a time, I glanced out the big windows. More snow on the ground and in the pines. The trees were so tall they cast a constant shadow on the cabin. I shivered and burrowed my feet into the sheepskin rug in front of the dresser. I put on my blue and white striped bikini then wrapped up in a fleece robe and hugged it close. Now for that hot tub.
In the tiny kitchen my parents were pouring wine. “Want a little bit?” Mom offered, swirling the Merlot in her half-filled glass.
I wrinkled my nose. “No, thanks.”
Dad clapped me on the back. “Your taste buds will change. Someday you’ll like wine.”
“Doubt that. I’m going in the hot tub.”
“We’re right behind you,” Mom said.
“I’m not.” Dad gestured to the front porch. “I’m going to light the BBQ.”
Mom took a swallow of wine and glanced at Dad. “Oh, do you want help?”
“No, no. You go soak with Lilianna.”
“That’s okay. I can help with food prep.” She moved to set her glass on the counter.
“I’ve got this. If you want to soak, soak.” Dad put an arm around Mom’s shoulders and steered her toward their bedroom to change.
“Are you sure–”
I held up both hands. “You guys do whatever. I’m hot tubbing. Right now.”
The back deck opened up to the dusky sky. I hung up my robe and climbed into the tub. Pure ecstasy. We had a hot tub at home but soaking in the middle of the woods, with bits of snow floating down, after a long day of skiing was the best. I loved winter break. My birthday was next week. Sweet sixteen. Then Christmas and New Years. I crossed my fingers for a car, every sixteen-year-old’s dream.
The sliding glass door swooshed open and Mom stepped through. She wore her black one-piece swimsuit. As usual she looked amazing. I hoped I’d look that good when I was her age. Whenever I brought that up she’d always say we had strong genes in our family. Grandma had been a model.
It was true: Grandma, Mom, and I all looked alike. Tall, slender, blond, and blue-eyed. Grandma had died before I was born, but I kept a picture of her on my nightstand.
Mom sighed as she slowly eased into the tub. She twisted the dial that started the jets on low.
“Mom? There’s something I’ve been wanting to ask you.” It had to be now, when Dad wasn’t around. Mom would understand. Girl talk.
“So, I’ll be turning sixteen next week. Can I finally start dating?” I swiped a lock of hair behind my ear, trying for casual.
She eyed me. “Maybe. We’ll talk about it with your father.”
“I thought we could talk about it now.” I leaned forward. The water tickled my back and I scratched the smooth skin between my shoulders. “There’s this guy on the football team, he’s so hot. And single right now. I really want to go out with him.”
“Single right now. What does that mean?” She sank further into the water until only her head was visible.
“He and his girlfriend broke up. And every girl in school wants to be his next girlfriend. That’s how great he is.”
Mom furrowed her brow. “Has he even asked you out?”
“Well no, but everybody knows I’m not allowed to date yet. So no one even bothers asking me.” I put on a little pout.
Mom gave me that look, like I was trying to play the pity card. Which was true. I pressed on. “Please. If it’s left up to Dad I’ll be a spinster. Old and grey. He’ll finally give me his permission to date when he’s on his deathbed.”
“Okay, okay.” Mom laughed. “Enough of the morose.”
“So you’ll convince him?”
“I’ll talk to him. No promises. It’s not just him. I don’t want you making the same mistakes I did.”
Here we go again with the mistakes that she’d made, but wouldn’t tell me about. They were always just referred to as: The Mistakes. Sometimes I wondered if they had anything to do with me, and that’s why she wouldn’t talk about them.
I sighed and leaned back into the jet. “I won’t make your mistakes. Although if you told me what they were, I would know what to look out for.”
“Someday, hon.” Mom smiled at me. “When you’re old enough, I’ll tell you whatever you want to know.”
I opened my mouth to question her, but she stood up out of the water.
“I warm up so quick. See you inside. Take your time.” She grabbed a towel from the hooks along the cabin wall then went back inside.
I shrugged. Someday, hopefully soon, she’d stop being so mysterious and tell me about those mistakes. I’d heard stories at school from girls who’d had bad experiences with boys. Like guys slipping drugs into their drinks. Mom’s was probably something similar. A part of me wished she felt comfortable enough to share it with me. Another part of me didn’t want to hear about anything that had hurt her so deeply.
Closing my eyes, I leaned back and felt the snow melt on my face. I opened my mouth to the thick, icy flakes. I’d consider that dating conversation a win. Mom didn’t say no, which meant she’d at least talk to Dad. If he said yes, I could stop feeling so left out. All of my friends dated and most of them even had ex-boyfriends. I so wished Sarah, my best friend, was here. I’d have to text her when I went back inside.
My stomach growled. As much as I wanted to stay in the hot tub all night, I sighed and stood up. Stepping out of the hot water onto the icy deck and grabbing my robe, I cocooned in its plush fleece. Steam evaporated from my feet into the cold air. I hurried to the sliding door, reaching for the handle.
A deafening bang ripped through the evening air. Flames exploded from the cabin, throwing me backward. I hit the deck hard, cringing away from flying debris. Like a wave, the fire reached forward, and broke over me. Engulfing me in burning heat and searing red pain.