My oldest daughter is nothing like me when I was her age. Some days I can hardly believe she is my daughter – that’s how different we are. I still can barely believe what she pulled while Dani and I were gone. She even dyed her hair – yeah, she later said it wasn’t permanent, but still! I don’t know what to think about her. She was never the best kid in school, but she doesn’t seem to care about her grades at all now. She’s always doing the bare minimum for school – the exact opposite of her younger sister. Seraphina still loves school and especially science.
She’s always aiming to please, and the way she’s headed, she’s going to graduate early. She’s still doing Scouts, along with Grayson, and unlike many of the kids there, she’s doing it because she enjoys getting outside, not just for service hours. She’s definitely going far. Valentina, on the other hand, just seems to be trying to get a C to pass and it really worries me. You won’t get anywhere with that mindset – and the thing is, she can try when she cares. She spends plenty of time on her music and her art.
Vali also stays at school until 5 every day for drama club. If she only put a bit of that passion into school, she could at least be getting B’s. The only reason she even tries to pass is so she can get out of school as fast as possible and so she won’t get kicked out of drama club.
Ethan’s staying home from school today since he caught some kind of cold. Apparently lots of kids have been out recently. It’s been really nice having some time alone with him today. He’s my little boy, and it’s so hard to believe he’s already in second grade; just as it’s hard to believe Valentina’s in tenth grade. We watched a few action movies together before he wanted to go outside. You couldn’t even tell he was sick from the way he was running around our yard – but our thermometer said he had a fever, so he had to stay home. I don’t think he minded, though, he isn’t like Seraphina who cried one time she had to stay home.
“Mommy, can we go to the beach?” Ethan asked, already getting up. While Valentina might’ve been able to spend all day playing with dolls, Ethan could not. So many of the kids love being outside and it just amazes me. You hear so many thing about kids being entranced into electronics that you start to believe it. Grayson does enjoy playing on the computer, but he also spends a lot of time outside playing with his siblings. Jackson seems to have Dani’s protective nature. He’s a really sweet boy, but if someone starts picking in one of his friends or siblings, he can get very mad in an instant. He loves animals so much that it didn’t surprise anyone when he decided to become a vegetarian last year.
He practically ran the whole way down and started digging in the sand the second he got to the shore.
“Ethan, don’t get wet!”
“Okay mommy!” He grinned, holding up a shell he’d just dug up. “Isn’t this so cool?!”
I smiled, turning the shell over in my hand. It was just another shell that had washed up on the beach and slowly gotten covered with sand, but Ethan was looking at it like he’d just found gold. “It’s very pretty,” I said, but he was already walking down the shore to find another area. He could spend all day out here and I could spend all day watching him glow every time he found something new. The tide started to come in by the time my arms were full of his shells, which worked out perfectly. He was excited to clean them all up, so he didn’t even beg to stay a few more minutes.
“Can I wash them off in the bathtub?”
“Yeah, sure,” I replied. It was the least messiest way to do it – we’d learned that after the first time he tried cleaning shells off. “I’ll be right up.”
While we were out, the school had called. It was probably regarding Ethan not going today, even though I had already informed them of it.
“Hey, I’m calling back. You guys called about a half-hour ago,” I said once they picked up. I was already making my way up the stairs when they responded.
“Yes, you are Mrs. Clemonte?”
“I see your son is out sick today, you just forgot to call and confirm your daughter is too.”
My jaw dropped and I sat down once I got up the stairs. “My daughter?”
“Yes, Valentina Clemonte is not at school today, ma’am. I assume she is also sick?”
“Umm, no… she isn’t,” I replied, my voice getting quieter with every word, “one second.” Where the hell was my daughter? In the back of my mind I knew if any one of my kids would skip, it would be her, but even so, I never thought she would do something like this. Maybe something happened to her? Maybe…
“Ma’am, if she is not sick, we need to mark her as an unexcused absence.”
“Do that,” I answered absentmindedly.
In the background I could hear the faint sound of water running and shells clinking, but my mind was somewhere else entirely. I called Valentina- twice, with no answer – before calling Dani.
“Hey, what’s up? Everything okay with Ethan?”
“Oh, he’s fine,” I started, taking a deep breath, “Vali skipped today.”
I heard her suck her breath in on the other end, and the was silence for a few seconds before she finally replied. “Watcher. What was she thinking?”
“Well I don’t know… since she isn’t here, either.”
“So we have no idea where our daughter is?”
“No…we don’t. I called her twice with no answer.”
“Shit. Teenage years are for making stupid choices, but Watcher!” Dani muttered.
“What if something happened to her?”
Dani sighed. “I don’t think so. She’s very capable of holding her own. I don’t think she planned to get caught, so I’d say she’ll be back around when her bus drops her off.”
“Yeah, okay. Talk later,” I said. That did make sense, but my mind was still trying to process everything.
“Okay, bye. Love you.”
“Love you.” I closed my eyes and leaned back, exhaling slowly.
Sometimes she doesn’t seem to give the other people in her life a second thought. She’s off who-knows-where doing who-knows-what, and I’m not going to be able to put it out of my mind until she’s standing right in front of me. At least then, I’ll know she’s safe. But Dani’s probably right – she didn’t mean to get caught. What if she’s done this before? What if –
“Mommy, I got them all cleaned! They’re all shiny now!”
“Awesome, bud. I’m coming right over,” I replied quickly, trying – and failing – to push all this new information out of my mind. I helped Ethan pick out his favorites – and he insisted they were all favorites – to put on the shelves in his room. The younger kids get home before Valentina – middle school releases first – and that kept my thoughts occupied on other things. Jackson came home absolutely furious about something, and didn’t even stop to eat snack. He just went straight to his room. Seraphina and Grayson came home talking about some new math game that they played in school – it still makes me so happy to see them so excited about school.
It was pretty easy to rile Jackson up, something we’d learned over the years. He was much better at controlling his temper now than he was when he was six, but…still. I didn’t even have to ask before Grayson started explaining.
“Some kid was calling me a geek and so Jackson told him off. The teacher didn’t care that the other kid started the argument, so now he has lunch detention for the rest of the week.”
I bit my lip, nodding. Grayson and Seraphina continued their previous conversation without skipping a beat as I made my way over to Jackson’s room. Only a month after we’d adopted the twins, we made sure to expand the house. Sharing bedrooms just wasn’t working, and they all needed more space for their various activities. In the past years, land rescaping, as they call it, has evolved greatly – mostly because it was needed to re-shape land after the huge plate shifts. They had big problems with it in the cities, and places where mountains came out of nowhere. On the flip side, previously rugged ground was suddenly flat enough to build on, so it evened out. They had to flatten the land around where the expansion was going to be in order to make sure everything would fit and not be too uneven. It worked out great in the end, even if it took a few weeks for them to work everything out.
All the kids got their own bedroom and there was more overall space. The bedrooms aren’t huge, but they have enough space for them to have a bed and a desk, and what else do you really need in a bedroom? I knocked gently on Jackson’s door, only to be ignored.
“Honey, I just want to talk.”
“Well I don’t wanna,” I heard. I wished nothing bad would ever happen to my kids, but that’s how you grow and learn.
“I’ll talk to the teacher, okay?”
I heard a sigh, and then the door freaked open. “It’s fine. I just don’t like people calling my brother names, you know?”
“Yeah. I think it’s great you stood up for your brother.”
He nodded slowly, and I could tell he was still thinking about what happened. “Some people are just so annoying. They should get punched in the face.”
My eyes widened, and he quickly assured me that he didn’t punch anyone – even if they deserved to be. I’ve seen him mad, though, and I wouldn’t put it past him. He’s maturing, though. They all are. Except maybe Vali. She’s definitely grown into the rebellious teenager role, but I wouldn’t say she’s matured. Her younger siblings often act more mature. Just as I started to wonder if she would be coming soon; it was about that time – I heard the alarm system’s announcement that the front door had been opened. Sure enough, my oldest daughter was right there, acting insanely innocent.
“Valentina. Where were you today?” I asked, not even being soft about it.
“No, you weren’t,” Dani said pointedly, “the school called and said you never arrived.”
Her face flashed with horror, looking from me to Dani. “Oh shit,” she muttered, prompting Dani and I to exchange a glance.
We could deal with her language later… there were more important things to be said.
“So, where were you?” I reiterated.
“My boyfriend’s,” she answered plainly. She was just caught for skipping school and besides her initial reaction, she didn’t seem embarrassed or uncomfortable in the slightest.
“Your boyfriend’s?” I gasped with wide eyes. I didn’t even know my daughter had a boyfriend!
“Did you… woohoo?” Dani asked her cautiously, causing me to gasp softly again. If my daughter already…
“Gosh, no. I didn’t bring any condoms and there’s no way in the world I’m getting fricking pregnant. And I’m not three, just call it sex, would you?”
Thank Watcher she’s at least thinking about that one. Because it seems like she isn’t thinking about anything else.
“Why’d you skip?” Dani asked her, and she scoffed.
“Stop giving me the third degree! And those classes don’t even matter!”
“You skipped the whole day,” I said.
“Yeah, so? None of the classes matter. School doesn’t matter.”
“Um, yes it does.”
“Whatever. It’s not like you care about me anyway.”
“Vali, that’s not true,” Dani murmured.
“Yea, it is! I have to do something like this before you even give a shit. The rest of the time I’m just your personal babysitter! It’s always my job to look after all of them. If I have to do all the work, you shouldn’t have had five kids!”
“I’m sorry you feel that way, but -”
“I don’t fucking care!” She screamed. I could tell. You’ve gotta have nerves to curse in front of your parents, and she’s definitely got those.
“Besides, I bet you wish the heiress was Seraphina, anyway,” she muttered.
“Wait, what?” We hadn’t even told our kids about the legacy yet, how did she know about it? Thinking about the legacy put too much pressure on me when I was younger, and I never stopped think about having – well, the daughter that was Vali – until she was born. I didn’t want to pressure her, so we chose to wait until she was 18.
“You really thought the other kids wouldn’t know we were a legacy family? Yeah, I know about it, and I know you’d make Sera the heiress if you didn’t care about sticking to the rules.”
“That’s not true, Valentina. I think you’ll be a great heiress,” I said softly. Sure, I wasn’t sure if I believed my own words – she just skipped school and was barely passing – but I hoped I would believe them in time.
“Sera’s the good kid who gets straight A’s and has dreams of being a scientist or astronaut, mom. I don’t think I would pick me, either.” It was the first time I’d ever heard her in recent memory not be confident in herself. Before I could even respond, she walked upstairs silently. Great. Just great. I heard the pitter-patter of feet moving away from the area – and it was the first time I realized the other kids had been listening the whole time.
“Mama, check out what I taught Benji,” Jackson exclaimed to Dani, already pulling her away.
“Yeah, mom, come on, let’s play,” Seraphina said, walking upstairs as she tugged on my arm. The kids were obviously trying to get our mind off the argument. I thought it was pretty sweet, even if I was still a bit shaken from all the yelling. Sera turned on our Xbox and slid some game’s disc into it as I sat there. I’ve never been one for games, but Seraphina and Grayson play them pretty often. “Grayson’s a god at this,” Sera said, handing me the controller.
“And you’re not?” I asked, staring at the controller.
“Eh, not really. He’s more into games than I am,” she explained, pressing a few buttons as she went. “Ok, just move the circle right to go right, ect…” she spent a few minutes showing me where all the buttons are, and even though I’m pretty sure I forgot what they do when she pressed ready, it was still fun. Sera’s so sweet and innocent. I wish she’d stay like this forever… even though I doubt she’ll cause much drama even as she gets older. I sure hope not, at least. Valentina causes enough drama as it is. You know how they say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree? Well, for Vali, I think someone threw it – very, very far away. Is it a good thing? I honestly don’t know.