I really, really, really want Dad's pancakes for breakfast.
Hope smiles as she smells the batter she just poured onto the grill. "I think I got it this time."
"You said that last time," I remind her before taking a sip of my orange juice.
"I really mean it this time."
"You said that last time too."
"Oh, shush already." Hope mimics tucking her hair behind her ears even though she's wearing a ponytail. She has thick, curly light brown hair while Eternity and I have Mom's board straight blonde. For a long time, I envied Hope for having Dad's hair. Not anymore.
"Hey, drop it!" Hope exclaims when she turns around and catches me trying to eat a slice of bacon. "You have to wait until the pancakes are ready to eat breakfast."
"But I have to leave in ten minutes."
"It won't take that long for me to cook the pancakes and for you to eat them."
Groaning, I stare at the floral wallpaper of the kitchen. That's been there for as long as I can remember. It would be nice if we replaced the old wooden cabinets and painted the kitchen cotton candy blue. Nobody agrees with me on that second part, and it took our giving up on ever remolding the kitchen for me to give up my own argument.
"Is something burning?" Eternity asks as she enters the kitchen and joins me at the bar to watch Hope cook. She's wearing black dress pants and a peach blouse. I can't help but raise a brow. Eternity never dresses up this nicely for school.
Eternity takes one look at the circles on the griddle and simply asks, "Again?"
"I will not rest until I figure out what Dad's secret pancake recipe was," Hope answers, eyes narrowed at the batter. The pancakes are starting to bubble. It looks like Hope is trying to conquer up some secret laser beam eye power she never told us she has in order to cook the pancakes faster.
Rolling her eyes, Eternity ignores Hope's order to wait till the pancakes are done and bites into her own bacon. "Just give it up already. Dad took everything when he left, including his signature pancakes. Stop trying to recreate what's never coming back."
I don't want to have this argument with my twin again, so I change my mind about waiting for the pancakes and start eating my blueberry yogurt. Hope looks between Eternity and me, a small frown on her face. With a sigh, she too decides against arguing with Eternity and returns her full attention to flipping the pancakes. She growls in her throat when the pancakes show her that they will not flip so easily.
We also aren't sure what Dad's secret for keeping them from sticking to the pan is.
"We're just trying to have some sense of normal," I mutter despite my better judgement as I set my glass of juice back down. "You have your ways to cope, and we have ours."
"Pretending everything is all right isn't going to change what happened."
"And pretending it doesn't matter will?"
"Hey, if he can announce on Christmas that he no longer wants to be part of a family and be packed and gone the next day, then I can throw it all away just as easily. He always taught us to be resilient. If anything, he should be glad I'm putting that to practice after he spent years preparing us for this."
"At least Hope and I can still call him 'Dad.' You just refer to Dad as 'he' and 'him' and 'that man.' Besides, you went out and cut all your hair off and got a nose piercing without telling us first shortly after New Year's. I doubt you can say that you're being resilient when your first reaction when the news finally sunk in was to act out."
"You call it 'acting out.' I call it 'accepting change.'"
"You know what—" I'm interrupted when Hope starts shouting.
"Enough!" She's waving the spatula around like some angry pancake goddess. "Seriously, you two used to never fight, and now you manage to get at least one fight in before breakfast every day. I'm getting sick of it! Eternity, Serenity and I miss Dad and are not going to pretend otherwise. If you don't like my trying to recreate his pancakes, then start making your own breakfast."
Before I can show my twin a smug smile, Hope glares at me. My smug smile immediately falls. "Serenity, Eternity can disown Dad if it helps her recover. Let's be real, he disowned us first. Eternity's hurt too, and she doesn't need you berating her coping mechanisms."
Staring the both of us down, Hope asks, "Do I make myself clear?"
Too ashamed to speak, Eternity and I both nod. I gather up the courage and say, "I'm sorry."
"Me too," Eternity replies, still looking at her lap.
"I think the short hair looks good on you," I compliment, trying to soften the tension still hanging in the air, and I mean it. "You look like a pixie."
The comparison doesn't get Eternity to smile like I want her to, but she does respond, "That just means you would look like a pixie too if you cut your hair like this."
Eternity's right – as identical twins, what looks good on one is by default going to look good on the other – but I can't imagine having someone, friend or professional, cut my hair every few weeks to keep the cut from growing out. Besides, I like my hair to my hips. I honestly don't know how Eternity was able to cut hers off when even just a trim scares me.
"Pancakes are done," Hope then announces as she unceremoniously plops them onto our plates.
"These look more like mush-cakes," Eternity says, poking one of the doughy piles with her fork.
"Hey, they're cooked through, and that's what matters." Hope eyes us expectantly.
Knowing what Hope wants, I gather my willpower and take a bite of the mush-cake she gave me. I'm more than surprised when I don't start gagging.
"It's passable," I tell her.
Hope's eyes light up. "For Dad's pancakes?"
Eternity lets her down gently. "As edible."
"Oh." Hope deflates, and she turns around to put hers and Mom's cakes on their respective plates.
Seeing Mom's plate makes me turn my head this way and that to search around for her. Is she still in bed?
"We better hurry so we're not late for school," Eternity tells me as she begins shoveling her food into her mouth.
After Eternity and I finish, Eternity runs to our room to get her bag. I throw mine, which I always keep on the bar, over my shoulder and tell my older sister, "Thanks for making breakfast. It was good."
"Not as good as Dad's," Hope mutters, and there's nothing I can say to that.
When Eternity runs back down the stairs, we both tell Hope that we'll see her later and walk out the door. As we have this whole semester, Eternity and I walk to school in silence. Maintaining happy conversation has been hard since Dad left. Although a large part of me believes this is just a phase for the both of us, I'm afraid things between us won't be the same ever again.
"Yo, Sailor Moon!"
"Starfire!" I return without turning around. As with every other day, Star joins in step beside me. Acting as if I haven't seen her every day of last week, I ask, "How was your spring break?"
"Awesome, but too short," she answers. "You?"
"The same." I turn over and smile at Star, and she returns the smile with a big one of her own. "Oh, that color looks great on you!"
"Thanks!" Star's wearing a lime-colored top, and it really works with her dark skin. If I wore something that bright, I would look like a neon sign. Bubblegum pink it is for me, then. Star digs through her backpack, pulls out a CD, and hands it to me. "And thanks for letting me borrow this."
It's as I'm putting the CD in my own backpack that someone shouts, "Aren't you a little old for pigtails?!"
I snap my head upright to see Joshua grinning like some sort of Saturday morning cartoon villain as he rides past us on his bike.
"Shut up!" I snap, and his response is to laugh. When he's no longer in sight, I mutter, "I can't stand that guy."
"You used to be best friends with him," Eternity, walking ahead of Star and me, points out.
"And that's the biggest mistake of my life."
"What about my being your current best friend?" Star teases as she drops her elbow onto my shoulder. "Where does that fall on your list of big mistakes."
I lightly elbow her in the ribs as I reply, "That's my second biggest mistake?"
"Well, that's too bad. You're stuck with me."
"How do you know you're not the one stuck with me?"
Stifling a yawn as the school day comes to a close, I shove my history textbook into my backpack. Eternity, my seatmate, jots a few more lines from the whiteboard to her notebook before she, too, shoves everything away. It's after she sends a text I ask, "Are you walking home with me today, or are you hanging out with Molly?"
Eternity's answer is short. "Neither."
The way she said it and how she jumps out of her seat surprises me. Slinging my backpack over my shoulder, I chase after her and interrogate her as we walk through the crowded halls. "Wait, what are you doing then?"
"It's none of your business."
"Don't say things like that. You'll worry me."
"I promise, Serenity, this is nothing you need to worry about."
"Then what are you doing?"
"I don't want to talk about it."
"Eternity, I don't think you realize you can't say 'don't worry about it' and 'I don't want to talk about it' over the same thing. Not wanting to talk about it is the first sign that I should be worried."
"Don't try to be a big sister here. I'm half an hour older than you."
"Yeah, but Hope is three years older than you."
"And if you don't tell me what's going on, I'm going to call her and tell her how strange you're acting."
This gets Eternity to halt in her tracks, and I stop as well. She takes a deep breath before she turns around. Instead of speaking, Eternity takes me by the wrist and starts dragging me outside.
It's when we're free from the stampede of fellow students and a few feet away from the school Eternity finally tells me what's up. "I have a job interview later today."
"Wait, really?" No wonder she's so dressed up. "Why didn't you say anything at breakfast?"
Breathing out slowly, Eternity crosses her arms. "Ever since Mom's been a little . . . Well, you know."
I do know. Eternity means Mom's recent inability to get out of bed most days.
"Bills are still coming in, and Hope's waitressing pay isn't going to cover it for much longer after what's left of the money that man left us runs dry. I have to do something to help."
I knit my brows together and ask, "But why not tell us you were job hunting? Why not tell us you have an interview?"
"I didn't want Hope telling me to not worry about the money and just focus on school." Eternity blows her bangs out of her eyes. "But I'm going to worry about it. She gave up finishing her freshman year with her friends to help keep things afloat, but she shouldn't be the only one making sacrifices. Especially if those sacrifices are going to be for nothing if nobody starts pitching in alongside her."
My heart sinks in my chest as I realize Eternity is right. While I spent all of spring break getting ice cream and going to the movies with Star, watching cartoons, and singing princess songs around the house at the top of my lungs, Eternity was almost never home. It isn't until now I wonder what she did all last week, and it's very possible what she spent her break doing was looking for a job.
Eternity must know what I'm thinking, because she adds, "I'm not trying to guilt you into also looking for work. This is something I feel the need to do. Don't think I'm upset at you for being more carefree about this whole situation."
"No," I shake my head, "you're right. Hope shouldn't be the only one making sacrifices. We should pitch in too."
Slowly, Eternity rests a hand on my shoulder. It's the most comfort she's been able to offer me since Dad left.
"I have to go," she finally says. "I'll call you after the interview to let you know how it went, okay?"
"Okay." I offer my best smile, even if it's overwhelmed by my guilt. "Good luck!"
Eternity snorts. "Who needs luck when you're as awesome as I am? But seriously, thanks. I'll see you tonight."
As I watch Eternity walk away, I chew my lower lip and think about what she said. I was never blind to how tight our budget's been since Dad left, but it isn't until now I realize how oblivious I've been to our overall financial situation. I can't believe how stupid I am. Mom can hardly find and keep a job, and her own parents won't help with anything since they never liked Dad anyway and insist this is exactly what Mom asked for when she married right out of high school to be a stay-at-home mom. It's not as if Hope makes a lot waitressing, or at least not enough to single handedly support a family. While I'm off living in my own little world, everyone else is scrambling around trying to keep what's left of our family afloat.
I take a deep breath, determined to stop living in a fantasy and begin contributing to the family. I step forward but stop before the second. A frown forms on my face.
What, exactly, do I do, and how do I do it?
Maybe my first course of action should be to figure that part out.