“Welcome back dear!” my mom chirped when my father arrived from his seven day long business tour. And he looked more happy than tired, as he usually did. He gave mom a peck on the cheek and came to hug the three of us.
“How have you all been?”
“We’ve been good daddy. How was your trip?” Sam, my younger brother asked.
“Good, good. Now about the trip, ready for the surprise?” my dad asked as he joined us at the dining table. ‘Surprise’ was what caught my attention and pulled a string in the back of my head. Even though I was a happy soul, I didn’t like surprises. Surprises are never good.
“This week on the trip, I met one of my old friends, Gerard. He’s in the estate business now and told me about this great cottage that had been recently renovated. He gave me the details and I thought, why not?”
“Oh honey, don’t tell me you bought the cottage.” Mom said, while making a face at dad. The one she always made when she found his ideas and decisions stupid.
“Why honey, I did. The cottage was for a reasonable price. Moreover, I thought that I don’t get to spend time without you all. And I don’t just want to be a busy man, only focused on earning money and not being there for the people who matter the most to me.” He placed his hand over mom’s. She sighed, a sign of her giving in.
“Dad where is the cottage and when are we going?” asked Sam.
Dad, with sudden excitement, bgan explaining in depth that the cottage was at a place called ‘Dunton Hot Springs’ and we were going there the very next week for a week-long holiday.
“Cool!” exclaimed my ever excited brother.
Since I had no choice, I just agreed. After all, I already knew what the surprise was about.
At least, I thought that I did.
“And I am not going.” Was the first sentence she had said, and it was not a surprise for any of us. She was the middle child, older than Sam but younger than me. And it was a quirk about her: she’s just extremely introverted. Not your typical ‘I don’t like social interaction’, type introvert. She was as extreme as not coming out of her room, ever. The actual surprise was that she actually decided to show up. She was just... strangely strange. Had always been.
“I don’t like nature or cottage or stuff. And you know that. I would rather stay at home.” She said in her usual sullen tone, which I think was uncharacteristic for a twelve year old.
“Wouldn’t you like to spend a little family time? Just this once you know. You’ve never really been to any of the family vacations.” Sam said innocently as he nudged her in the elbow.
“I like to stay alone, and all of you know that. Better not force me.” Sami barked at Sam as her anger surfaced.
“Ok Sami, no need to be angry with your little brother to try to persuade you to spend a few days away from home with family. If you don’t wanna go, it’s your choice and none of us will force you. You can live with the nanny for the week.” Mom said in one breath, directing her message with her eyes. It was nothing out of the blue. It was almost a routine with Sami. She was provoked really easily, but she didn’t have the guts to respond harshly to either of our parents.
“I am grown up enough to stay alone. You don’t need to worry about me staying alone anymore. You go and enjoy yourselves.” She replied animatedly, as if... she had been practicing for it. Seeing her talk invoked a thought inside me, maybe she knew that something like this was going to happen. I decided to shake it off. The idea seemed absurd. But something in the back of my head made me feel that it wasn’t.
“We know what is good for you, and you’re not so grown up to decide that. You’re either staying here with a nanny or coming with us.” Now it was Dad’s turn to get irritated.
“Alright!!” Sami said, grinding her teeth.
“Okay then Samantha and Sam, you two start preparing yourselves. Pack your stuff and get ready for the vacation of a lifetime! Just a week later, at the same time we’ll be relaxing amidst nature.” Dad announced as he got up from the table to wash himself after the long flight.
Sam cheered to show his unconcealed excitement, while I just gave a smile.
Sam’s laughter and my smile faded the moment our eyes met with Sami’s face that had gone abnormally pale. But the haunting blankness in the veil of her eyes refused to betray any emotion.