I hope you've been looking forward to this story! :) The first chapter is a bit bland, mostly introducing characters and setting...but it will get more interesting come chapter two. Ask any of my siblings. B-)
But now folks, without further ado:
It wasn’t often that a pastor could take time off and leave his flock, even if only for a week. It was even more rare to be able to take his whole family somewhere. So when fifteen-year-old Ray heard that one of those rare occasions was in a month, he could hardly contain his excitement. Now that they were actually on their way to the ocean where they had rented a house to stay in, he didn’t bother hiding it anymore. A wide grin stretched across his face, and his eyes twinkled as trees and buildings flew past the car’s windows.
“Could you ask Ray to stop bouncing his knee up and down?” Shawn appealed to his parents with an irritated sigh, carefully trying to keep his newly purchased coffee from dumping all over the book he was trying to read while balancing them both on top of his backpack that sat on his lap. “He’s not listening to me.”
Ray scooted closer to the window, realizing with a stab of guilt that he hadn’t been listening to his brother. In fact, he didn’t even realize that his knee had been bouncing, a habit that came to the surface whenever he was excited, irritated, or antsy.
“Sorry,” he mumbled apologetically. “I didn’t hear you. I’ll stop now.”
“You’d better,” Shawn grunted, trying in vain to smooth his travel-rumpled jeans and straighten his carefully groomed hair.
Their dad, the pastor of a small community church in Washington, glanced at his kids in the rear-view mirror with a half-smile while shaking his head at their attitudes. “If someone heard you guys complaining, they might think you were a couple of toddlers fighting instead of the teens you really are.” Satisfied by the ashamed flush that darkened both boys’ faces, he continued more gently, “I know it’s cramped back there with all your stuff, but we should be there in a couple hours. Hang in there.”
After waiting respectfully for their dad to finish and then giving him the dutiful “yes dad”, Shawn returned to finishing his coffee and book, while Ray went back to looking out the window.
Seventeen-year-old Nicole, Shawn’s twin and the oldest PK by two hours, had remained silent throughout her brothers’ exchange. Huddled against the opposite window, her feet protectively perched around her own backpack, she carefully finished the flower she was drawing with a glorious swirl. A telltale pinch in her stomach warned her it was time to take a break from her art endeavors and look out the window for a few minutes or the old ice-cream pail would be put to use sooner than anyone wanted. Thankfully, she appeared to be the only one in her family that struggled with carsickness, and she knew how to pace herself, so the ice cream pail was rarely needed.
Stretching awkwardly while trying not to elbow anyone in the face, Nicole glanced over at her two brothers. Shawn, the finicky scholar with dark brown hair looked more like his dad than her, his twin. He habitually squinted while reading and snored with his mouth open whenever he had a cold. Currently Shawn sat in the middle hunched over a book with his nerdy glasses already slipping down his nose yet again.
Then there was Ray, her younger brother by two years and the only naturally athletic one in the family. He took after their mom like Nicole herself did with wavy strawberry blonde hair that always looked slightly wind-blown. Ray shared a love of music with his only sister, and he seemed to make it his job to become everyone’s best friend.
Nicole fingered the end of her side braid, marveling for the millionth time how different, yet in some ways similar, each of them were from each other. She shared the outward appearance of her younger brother and mom, but inwardly, she was closer to her dad and twin. She was never outgoing, but she sometimes had to force herself to go up and meet or greet visitors as a dutiful pastor’s kid. She shared Shawn’s remarkable memory, but when he remembered facts and figures, she remembered faces and places.
However, unlike both brothers, Nicole was an artist. She used her memory to create things that had happened or interesting people she saw or met. Then she put them into her ever-growing sketchbook that had been her constant companion since she had first learned to hold a pencil on her own. Well, not quite that long, she mused with a roll of her eyes, but close enough.
She noticed Ray had started bouncing his knee again, and for once, she could hardly blame his impatience. After three hours of sitting in a car, even she could hardly wait to get out and stretch her legs.
A frown darkened Shawn’s face as he felt the knee bouncing again, but instead of voicing more complaints, he gently kicked his brother’s leg. As if suddenly realizing what had happened, Ray stopped immediately and mouthed “sorry”. Shawn gave him a tight-lipped smile and tried to ignore the growing hunger pains in his midsection. Sheesh, it’s only been three hours since we stopped for lunch, he reminded his forgetful stomach. A growl was its only reply. Quickly, he squeezed his folded arms tighter around his middle, as if that would muffle the sound, but the amused look his sister sent him told that the action was too late. He caught sight of his mom sending him a sympathetic smile over her shoulder.
“Need a snack?” she asked knowingly.
“Yes, please,” Shawn answered.
“Ca-may I have one too?” Ray asked, correcting himself mid-question when he realized that proper manners would up the chances of her letting him have one too.
She grinned. “You may all have a granola bar. Only one though, or we won’t have enough for the trip home.”
“How much longer until we get there?” Ray asked his dad around the mouthful of oats and chocolate chips.
“How many times have you asked that question?” his dad returned, pulling the Jesus stunt: answering a question with another question.
Ray thought for a moment, and then shrugged. “I forget,” he said honestly. “Maybe ten times?”
“This makes the thirty-sixth time,” Shawn answered with a knowing smirk. “I knew Dad would ask that question eventually, so I kept track.”
Ray’s face darkened into a glower, and their dad raised an eyebrow. “That sounds about right. Since you seemed to have been paying attention, how about you give Ray an answer.”
Now in the spotlight, Shawn did a quick math calculation. “Well, about twenty minutes ago you told us we had a couple hours, so about an hour and forty minutes?”
“Close,” their dad answered. “I rounded up the time when I gave that estimate. Now, according to our GPS, we should get there in about an hour and a half.”
Ray stifled an audible groan, and his knee started bouncing again as he turned back to watching the scenery out the window.
Shawn sighed and went back to his book realizing he would probably be able to finish it at this rate before they arrived at the rented house.
Nicole searched her stomach for further signs of carsickness, and when she didn’t find any, she began a new picture in her sketchbook of a car traveling down the highway with her family inside squished together like sardines in a can. At that moment, she decided to keep a journal of moments during the vacation by sketching things she knew they would all want to remember. The thought brought a smile to her lips.
The rest of the time in the cramped car was spent trying to be as comfortable as circumstances allowed and making a valiant effort to not complain every five minutes.
When their dad gave the long awaited “we’re here”, the three kids nearly tumbled from the car in their eagerness to be free.
Ray filled his lungs with fresh, slightly salty tasting air and let an excited smile once again widen across his face. His green eyes sparkled in the sunshine as he glanced towards what would be their home during their temporary stay. He heaved his backpack from the seat to over his shoulder and made his way to the door.
Shawn followed his younger brother from the car, and likewise took in a deep breath of the clean air. A glance towards his outfit caused his nose to wrinkle in disgust, and he gave his glasses a shove up to their proper spot on his nose as if hoping that the habitual action would somehow improve the state of his brand-new jeans and tee shirt. He ran a quick hand through his hair, wishing his comb hadn’t been the first thing he packed and therefore at the bottom of his backpack. It would have to suffice. At least once they were unpacked he could freshen up a bit before appearing in public again. He took his weekly ration of belongings and followed Ray to the doorstep.
Nicole stood still, taking in the scene in front of her. The small house looked comfortable, and not fancy…which was exactly how she liked it. As her dad joined her brothers and mom at the door, Nicole committed the moment to memory, mentally adding herself as one of the people at the door. This was a scene she would want to draw later. The house seemed pretty much perfect, and she couldn't wait to see the inside. She stretched fully, feeling her muscles unwind from the tense car ride. Exhaling deeply, she sauntered after the rest of her family with her own backpack slung across her back.