“Gemma, dinner will be ready in an hour. Go finish up your homework now, if you want.”
“I’m almost done. Can I stay in the kitchen and help you, Mom?” she asked, eying the food on the counter. She was hungry, but it seemed like she was always craving something. Sometimes it wasn’t only food she was craving, but that was all she ever got.
Besides, maybe she could find a way to convince her mother to let her have a snack to satisfy her. She’d learned to show those puppy dog eyes enough to get what she wanted.
“No, I don’t need any help with dinner tonight. It’s easy, but I’d like to have space in the kitchen. If you’re done with your work, then go play in your room.”
“But, Mom,” she said.
“No whining. And you aren’t going to convince me to give you anything to eat. You don’t need it and I don’t need to hear any grief from your father tonight either. Your room if you’re done with your work.”
Gemma sighed and closed her math book. She was done. She’d been done for ten minutes but was just trying to find a way to stay in the kitchen in hopes for some food. But hearing her mother mention her father made her want to leave.
She knew she’d never be good enough in her father’s eyes. In anyone’s eyes.
At just ten years old she was the only sibling with red hair. Auburn, her mother called it, but in her eyes it was red when her sister and brother were blondes. Blondes just like her parents were.
But no. Gemma had to get her hair and green eyes from her father’s sister. The sister that everyone said was the black sheep of the family because she chose to never get married. Gemma had been told plenty of times to never bring that subject up and she hadn’t. Though she had no idea why she couldn’t.
She loved her Aunt Julie. She didn’t care if Aunt Julie was married or not. But what she did care about was that her aunt paid more attention to her than her parents did at times.
Aunt Julie never judged her. Never told her to stop eating and go out and play more. Never told her that she was too shy and weird. Or that she had no friends and never would.
No. Her Aunt Julie was her best friend and she didn’t care if her sister Amelia told her that was wrong. Not everyone could be tall and thin and athletic like Amelia was. At just twelve Amelia was a star in every sport she played. And she played everything she could.
Then there was her younger brother, Andy. At eight he was the apple of their father’s eye. Even named after him. Andrew Jr. Andy could do nothing wrong in her parents’ eyes either. That, and he was the baby too…just another mark in his favor.
She’d always wondered how she ended up in the family the way she did, but it’s not like she could change it.
“Fine,” Gemma said, gathering up her books and stalking out of the room. She had Twinkies in there anyway under her bed and would have one.
She grabbed her Barbie dolls out of their house and started to change their clothing. She really didn’t like playing with them and often wondered why they never made a Barbie that wasn’t skinny with long beautiful hair. Why couldn’t one be normal? Have shorter legs, maybe a little thicker. Even shorter hair that was hard to style. Not even fashionable clothing.
Nope. All these Barbies looked just like what she expected Amelia would resemble when she was older. Nothing at all like Gemma figured she’d look like as an adult.
It’s not like there was anything she could do about the way her dolls looked, so she set about playing with them as usual. Playing house the way she thought a home should be.
She must have lost track of time because she heard her sister’s and brother’s voices now. Must be her father picked them up from their practices and dinner would be soon.
Pushing her dolls back in their house, she looked around for the two Twinkie wrappers and stuffed them under her bed with the other wrappers she’d hidden there too, then made her way down for dinner.
“Figures you’d come running like always,” Amelia said to her, smirking as she pushed the chair back to sit at the table. “Someone actually beat you to their seat.”
Gemma just shot her sister a dirty look. “I knew it was time for dinner with all the noise you were making.” What she wanted to add was how they couldn’t do anything until the prince and princess arrived, but she’d never been bold enough to say that.
“She’s probably just hungry like always,” Andy said, pulling his chair out.
She sat down next to her sister while her mother brought over a big bowl of spaghetti and her father carried over the bowl of meatballs. Garlic bread and salad were already on the table. She wanted to reach for the bread but learned a long time ago that she’d get her hand slapped if she tried to reach for food before it was time to pass it around.
So she sat there patiently, then filled her plate with spaghetti, two meatballs and a slice of garlic bread. She passed on the salad knowing that Amelia would fill her plate with that. Amelia ate like a rabbit half the time anyway. Where was the enjoyment in that?
“Are you trying to hibernate for the winter or something?” Andy asked, laughing. “It’s still a few months away.”
Gemma already had a mouthful of food and turned to look at her brother, wondering what he was talking about now.
“She doesn’t get it,” Amelia said to Andy, laughing. “Good thing we aren’t having sausage tonight. Gemma might mistake one of her fingers for the meat.”
Gemma felt her face start to fill with heat. With shame. Everyone always picked on her. No one understood her.
She ignored them, pushed the tears from her eyes and continued to eat. Crying didn’t do anything but make her father start in with her siblings.
If she thought her parents would come to her defense and tell Amelia and Andy to stop…well, she’d learned that never happened either.
No one ever stuck up for her.
No one ever seemed to care one way or another about anything other than making her the joke of the family.