The sky was a pink glow by the time I finally came down from the tower. My bags were now sitting on the bed and my duffel was half empty. I heard humming coming from behind the closet door so I knocked slightly on it. The red head I had seen in the photos on the wall backed out with her arms full of clothing.
“Hello,” I mumbled setting the photo book on the bed.
“I didn’t realize anyone was in here,” she said turning towards me. “Oh!” Her stack of shirts tumbled to the ground. She half jumped half stumbled backwards when she saw me. Her freckled gaze seemed to spear me to the floor. She bore through me like she was trying to decipher some hidden clue.
“What?” There was a bitter edge to my voice, and I leaned backwards creating more space between us. She bent down and scooped Brooke’s shirts from the plush white carpet.
“It’s just you . . . you look so much like Brooke.” She dumped her armful onto the bed before turning back to me. “I thought I was looking at your sister, or at least her. . .”
She let her sentence hang in the air, but it still cut. Her ghost. She thought she was looking at my dead sister’s ghost.
“I’m Rosie, your stepmother. I’ve heard a lot about you, Jacqueline.”
I didn’t think she deserved that title, unless she meant it in the Cinderella evil stepmother sense of the word. Jared wasn’t really even my father, so she sure wasn’t a mother figure. I picked up my deflated duffel bag, “What did you do with all of my things?”
“Right, sorry. I should have asked before I started unpacking them. I am so used to putting away Brooke’s things when she gets home I didn’t even consider asking you first.” She refolded all of the shirts she dropped and placed them neatly on the bed again. “I made room for and moved your things to the closet.”
I nodded and fumbled with the best friend keychain on my duffel. Albie made it for me at summer camp, and I hardly ever let it out of my sight since. It usually sat between my SpongeBob figurine and my car keys, but mom probably had those by now.
“These were Brooke’s,” Rosie said, pulling me back to the overstimulating purple room. Take any you want and put the others on the couch. I’ll take them to a thrift store or Goodwill.”
Rosie sighed. “If there is anything you need just ask.” She patted my shoulder before walking past. I picked up my backpack and pulled out my laptop trying to look busy. She gave me one last calculated look then left the room.
As soon as she was gone I set my computer aside and grabbed my phone from where I had thrown it earlier. No new texts or calls. I sighed and dialed Mom’s number.
“You just missed Penny Lou. If this is Ron, I’ll get you your money by the end of the week.”
“Mom, it’s me. I made it to Jared’s. He’s loaded, like his place makes ours look like an outhouse. I hope your date went okay last night . . . I…I miss you. I want to come home, mommy.” I ran one hand across my temple and swiped away my tears with the other. “I love you, Mom.”
I dropped my phone, curled around myself on the foot of the bed, and closed my eyes. All I needed was a few minutes of sleep before I finished unpacking.