Astra

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Solicitude

My alarm clock blares, jolting me awake. I shake my head, clearing my dream from the frontline of my thoughts. It’s always the same dream, the scared voices, the stars, and then sleeping. I’m not sure where the dream stems from, but it’s become normal to experience it every night.

I turn off my alarm and swing my legs out of bed, sitting there for a moment contemplating. So much of me just desires to skip school today, I’m just not mentally ready to deal with today and whatever it may have to offer. With a long exhale I push myself up and force myself to stumble to my dresser, the crisp breeze coming in through my window encouraging me to pull on a sweater and jeans.

I can hear my Aunt Amelia downstairs bumbling around, louder than usual. She’s excited, I let out a groan. Somehow, I’d forgotten my birthday. It’s easy to forget, I guess; when you have no people to celebrate with. See, despite attending the same school district my whole life; I somehow managed to not make any friends at all. I find myself unable to click with people, which is fine. I like the quiet anyways.

“Astra, breakfast!” She calls up to me, and I internally groan with dread. I force a smile, staring at myself in the mirror a moment to psych myself up for my Aunt’s unbearable energy.

“Here goes,” I mutter, pushing the hair off my forehead and making my way out of my room.

The kitchen smells delicious, and I find myself dropping into my seat eagerly to help myself with the french toast she made.

“Good morning, dear! Happy eighteenth!” My aunt beams at me from the stove, and I smile back at her with as much gusto as I can. She’s a beautiful woman, my aunt. With cinnamon-colored curls and warm brown eyes, it’s hard not to double-take when you see her. I may lack my aunt’s enthusiasm for life, but something we do have in common is appearance.

My hair is the same color as my aunts, but it’s chopped short just under my chin and it’s not pretty curls. Our color is a family trait, she tells me. My mother had the same beautiful curls; only I don’t remember what my mom looked like. The only thing that makes me different is my eyes, they’re not a chocolaty brown like my aunt. They’re gold, a striking gold that tells people I’m too weird to be around. But again, I don’t mind.

“Good morning, Aunt Amelia. Thanks for breakfast,” I say with a full mouth of food.

“Don’t talk with your mouth full.” My Uncle says plainly, from across the table. He reads his paper and doesn’t even look up at me, but he still scolds me.

“Oh shush, she’s just enjoying my cooking.” She scolds him, tapping him lightly with a spatula. He grumbles something under his breath but says nothing further, I’m sure she already told him to lay off me since it’s my birthday. Not that I care, anyways. I don’t have much care for anything, which is probably an issue but we don’t do anything about it.

“Morning, Steven,” I state, staring bullet holes into his forehead. Then I chew in silence, while my aunt flips more french toast and my uncle sips his coffee. I’m comfortable in the silence, enjoying the food, but my aunt doesn’t like it because she starts humming under her breath.

“Don’t forget to feed yourself, Aunt Amelia.” I remind her kindly, knowing that she will undoubtedly just feed us then start tidying up the kitchen. She’s like that, someone who always puts other people’s needs first.

“Don’t tell her what to do.” My uncle scolds me again, without even taking his eyes from the paper. I sigh, he’ll never let up. I can never do anything right, even if it’s the polite thing.

“Steven-” My aunt starts, but I stand quickly and cross the room to her; planting a kiss on her temple.

“It’s alright, Aunt Amelia. I’ll see you after school?” She smiles up at me, even though I’m of average height. Her eyes hold sadness for me, I’m not sure why. I hope it’s not because of her grumpy husband, I’m used to him.

“No fun plans, dear?” She says to me, sorrow milking her tone. I shake my head no and her eyes somehow grow even sadder. What has gotten into her? Usually, she is so excited, about anything and everything. It’s not rare for me to not have plans, so why is it so much sadder for her now? Because it’s my birthday?

“I was thinking of stopping by the library and grabbing a new series, I finished the last one.” It’s not the truth, but naming something off probably made her feel a bit better. Her eyes brighten a bit, and a smile returns to her freckled face. I put my dishes in the sink and run hot water over them, just to make them easier to clean. She does enough as it is.

“Okay, have a good day Astra.” I grab my backpack and slip on my converse, her eyes on me the whole time.

“I’ll try my darndest,” I say, only slightly sarcastic, saluting her as I make my way out the front door.

“Astra-” My aunt says urgently, opening the door a crack and reaching out towards me. I stop, my shoes hovering just before going down the stairs. We stand there in silence for a moment, her sudden urgency making me nervous. A next-door neighbor’s dog barks, and someone who lives on the first-floor slams a door while we stand there.

“Aunt Amelia?” She sighs, shaking her hand slightly in the air before letting it drop onto my shoulder.

“Stay safe out there.” My Aunt Amelia says finally, giving my arm a comforting squeeze. I scoff slightly until I realize that she’s being serious.

“Yeah, of course. I’ll see you later, love you. And please, please...eat some breakfast.” She smiles at me and I make my way down the two flights of stairs to get outside. My hand lingers on the doorknob to the outside, a feeling in my gut tells me not to go.

My aunt is never so serious the way she had been upstairs, it’s putting me on edge. Her scared eyes etch into my brain, and her urgent voice rings in my ears. I check my watch, there’s no time for me to run back upstairs and then back down and to the bus. So I push my gut feeling down, the thought that maybe something bad is going to happen, and I rush to the bus stop.

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