The Twelfth Keeper(2)

By: Belle Malory

Good luck finding those again in that mess.

Before Ashley had the chance to do more yelling, Kennedy changed out of her dress and threw on the first jeans and top she could find. She dug around beneath her bed until she found a pair of flip-flops, then rushed out of the room.

Ashley waited for her at the bottom of the stairs, tapping the watch on her brace as if it were also frustrated. “Told you to be ready by four.” Ironic that the one time she would look at the multifunctional device was today. Unless Ashley needed to call someone, she rarely used the thing.

“Sorry, Mom. Lost track of time.” Kennedy took the steps two at a time. She didn’t call her Ashley out loud, ever. Only within the privacy of her thoughts, where she wouldn’t be slapped over the head for it.

Ashley frowned, shaking her head. Her dark brown eyes sharpened as they skimmed over Kennedy, looking like she had more to say, but didn’t want to waste time saying it. Didn’t matter anyway, Kennedy knew what she was thinking. That was a look that said daydreaming again, always daydreaming.

It was a habit her mom had never been able to relate to. Being a single mom of three, Ashley was pulled in many directions. Into the clouds, however, wasn’t one of them. Ashley’s head stayed grounded, where she needed it to be.

“Here, take Linc.” Her ruddy-faced baby brother toddled towards Kennedy.

She smiled at him; he’d only just started walking. His footing wasn’t the sturdiest, but he managed to make it into her arms without falling over. Kennedy swung him around and landed him on her hip, bouncing him up and down. Lincoln giggled and reached for a lock of Kennedy’s hair. Chubby fingers gripped the auburn-colored strands and pulled at them.

“Ow,” she complained. Pursing her lips into a pout, she gave him her best imitation of pain.

Lincoln loved this. He ate it up, giggling again.

“See this, Mom? Your son is a sadist.”

Ashley spared them a small smile, too busy collecting her purse and keys to give them her full attention. “We gotta get moving. Your appointment is in fifteen minutes.”

The appointment. Ugh.

Kennedy almost wished they would be late. Or simply missed it altogether. Yes, missing it altogether would be even better. Unfortunately her mom seemed bent on punctuality today, a first in this family.

Once they were all buckled inside the family van, a congenial voice greeted them.

“Hello, Barney,” Ashley said. “Take us to our four-thirty appointment please.”

“Of course, Mrs. Mitchell. Now en route to Medi-Care at 100 North Kingston Avenue. Location is designated for vaccinations and laboratory testing. Travel time, approximately ten minutes.”

Hearing all that made Kennedy groan. “Thanks for reminding me I’m about to be poked and prodded with needles, Barney.”

“You’re most welcome, Miss Kennedy.”

Ashley chuckled, apparently finding the van’s cheery response amusing.

Kennedy muttered, “You’d think Fords would come stocked with sarcasm detectors.”

“I think the newer models do.” Ashley patted the dashboard as if the van were a real person. “But Barney here is a classic.”

Kennedy rolled her eyes. “If classic means super old and outdated, then sure. He’s a real treasure.”

“None of that now.” Ashley pulled the sun visor down, looking at her reflection in the mirror. “The woe is me for not being born rich card has been played out by your sister.”

Point taken. It was annoying enough, coming from Reagan.

Using her fingers, Ashley combed through her dark, cropped hair, which stuck out in places it shouldn’t. Most of the time her mom looked like she was in a constant state of disarray, but in a cute way. Ashley was annoyingly pretty naturally, making it impossible for her to look bad, and on the rare occasion when she had time to use the hairdryer and some mascara, she managed to look like a ten.

Kennedy sometimes wished she looked more like her mom. In a family of striking brunettes, she was the only one born with an odd shade of auburn hair and blue-green eyes. But while the rest of them were tall and slender, Kennedy was the only short one who held enough weight to be considered chubby.

So not fair.

At least Ashley preferred to use kinder words than short and chubby. Words like petite and baby fat. Whenever Kennedy complained, she’d receive a quick fluff of her hair, followed by a reassuring, “Your growth spurt will come.”

Ashley had some adorable parenting moments. Kennedy would give her that much.

She sometimes wondered though, if perhaps she’d been adopted. She might have believed it too, if her mom didn’t struggle feeding three mouths as it were. Who knew…maybe the doctors accidentally switched her with another baby at birth. Maybe her real family was made up of petite, chubby people with reddish hair and a tendency to daydream.