Triskaideka II: Shells

Written by Luna

NOTE: The opening quote this time is from "Last Dance" by The Cure.

*...A woman now standing
Where once there was only a girl....*

The droning fans barely stirred the hot, humid air, even when running at top speed. Kay balanced a load of supplies -- a bucket of ice, a towel, a bowl of freshly cleaned oysters, and a shucking knife -- and sat down on the steps of the front porch in the late afternoon sun.

She arranged the supplies around her and picked up an oyster. A faint, welcome wave of colder air was coming up off the nearby ocean -- a hint of autumn lurking just beneath the summery heat. The house behind her was empty. Her brother Josh was at Little League practice, and her father was picking him up after work to visit her mother on the mainland. Both Kay and Carrie hated the hospital, and claimed homework and housework as excuses to make the trip only twice a week. So they stayed behind, and, as usual, Kay found herself making dinner while Carrie was in the backyard stealing kisses with the boy that had caught her eye this time. And this time, just for this boy, Kay desperately wanted to trade places with her.

She slid the knife into an oyster's shell and twisted it viciously. It wasn't fair. Russell Olearnick was in her class. They'd been in school together since kindergarten; she'd had a secret crush on him since the first time they raced each other in gym class. He was beautiful, blue-eyed and sandy-haired and a smile like the midsummer sun overhead. And at the moment, he was fooling around with her sister, one year younger and one hundred times more popular.

Kay had never told anyone she liked him, and no one had ever asked. She wished she could talk to her mother about it, but they were all wary of mentioning their own problems when she was "under the weather," as her father phrased it. When she came home again, Kay hoped, things would be different.

She was so damn tired of everyone assuming that they knew her, of being the responsible one while other people got away with being careless. Everyone in town had her pigeonholed: the tomboy with the pretty sister. She ripped the oyster's rough shell open, dropping the sharp, jagged fragments in the bowl. She checked the tender inside for damage before putting it on ice, on the half-shell, and wished she was somewhere else living someone else's life.

Kay could just guess that if she told her sister how she felt, Carrie would only laugh and tease her about being jealous. *Well, maybe I am jealous,* she thought, scowling, *but I deserve to be.* She wanted Carrie to be happy, to have fun, but she wanted the same thing for herself, and sometimes she felt like it was never going to happen.

*And for God's sake, Carrie's already got every boy in her class wrapped around her finger. Does she have to have Russell, too?*

She kept opening the shells and placing them in the ice bucket, careful not to spill any of the oysters' liquor on her faded shorts. She made herself focus on the soothing rhythm of the repetitive task. The air current off the water picked up and turned into a comfortable breeze, cooling her down as she tried to calm her mind. *It's not Carrie's fault,* she told herself. *It's just the way she is.* That was true, but she was angry at her anyway, and tired, so tired of being reliable without being free.

As she picked another oyster up, she heard a girlish scream coming from the backyard. She figured Carrie was just playing around, but the second shriek sounded more serious. As Kay got to her feet, Carrie came tearing around the corner of the house, with Russell in hot pursuit, his blue eyes blazing with anger.

"Rusty, I swear, it isn't true," Carrie protested, tearfully.

"Then how come I heard it from two different people?" Russell demanded. "My cousin and Amy Walters both told me! They saw you kissing Owen Brady after school behind the janitor's shed!"

"I did not!" she shouted back. "You're just being hateful!" She turned and tried to run for the porch, but Russell grabbed her arm.

"You're hurting me!" Carrie cried. She tried to pull away, and he didn't let her.

Before she'd even realized what she was going to do, Kay was in motion. She hurled the oyster she'd been holding at Russell, as hard as she could, hitting him squarely on the upper arm. He released Carrie's arm instantly and jumped back, clutching at the injury.

"What did you do that for?" he yelped, indignantly.

"Stop messing with my sister," Kay warned him.

Russell examined his arm. The shell's edge was sharp, and he had been scratched slightly. "You cut me!"

"You were hurting her. Leave her alone."

He glared at her and took a menacing step towards Carrie. Again without thinking, Kay held up the shucking knife in her other hand. Russell weighed his options for a moment, and finally, turned and ran away. He stopped halfway up the street and shouted back, "Bitches!" But he kept going.

Half crying, half laughing, Carrie collapsed next to Kay on the front steps. "You rescued me!"

"As usual," Kay said, equally exasperated and relieved.

Carrie dried her tears and picked up the last few oysters. She handed one of them to her sister, who opened it expertly. "Why do boys act like such idiots?"

*They never act like idiots over me,* Kay thought. Aloud, she said, "I don't know. Men are different from women - don't you even start giggling, Carrie - and they say girls mature faster than boys. We're smarter than they are. I guess we just have to keep them in line." She paused. "Did you really kiss Owen Brady?"

"Yes...." Carrie admitted. "But *not* behind the janitor's shed."

Kay couldn't help but laugh, and Carrie brightened. "Thanks for saving me. I don't know what I would have done without you. Russell's crazy." She paused. "He's really cute, though." Kay was tempted to strangle her.

"I know!" Carrie continued. "I'll do the dishes tonight. As a thank-you."

"It's your turn anyway," Kay pointed out.

"Oh. Well, some other time, then, when it's your turn. Or I'll vacuum for you. I'll owe you a favor, okay?"

"You'll forget," Kay said, with a half-smile, "but it's okay."

They sat together, companionably and silently, for a few minutes. Suddenly, Wesley Howard's station wagon, going too fast and in serious need of a new muffler, roared up the road and into the driveway. He got out of the car. His daughters, looking at the pallor of his face, wondered what was wrong.

"What are you girls doing out here?" he asked, obviously distracted.

Kay and Carrie exchanged glances.

"We're making dinner," Kay began, but he cut her off.

"Never mind that. You can get something at the hospital. Your mother's -" He started to say "under the weather," but stopped, unwilling or unable to say even that much. He shook his head, and looked at them with terrifying sadness in his eyes. "I want you to come with me to see her. We'll pick up Josh on the way. You can get something to eat at the hospital cafeteria, later."

Maybe it was the tremor in his voice, or the fact that their father was closer to crying than they'd ever seen, or maybe it was just feminine intuition, but something told Kay, loud and clear, that they needed to hurry. She took Carrie's hand and they hustled into the car without question. The oysters were left, forgotten, on the porch, vulnerable to insects and seagulls as the car pulled away and sunset reddened the sky.