For the third time in the last half hour, Liz looked up from her journal at the sound of an approaching car. She held her breath, hoping that she would hear it come to a stop in front of the house, but just like every other time the car continued on down the street. She sighed and looked back down at her journal, trying to get her mind off of her sister’s return.
Jackie comes home from college today. I can’t wait. She’s the one piece of sanity in this family.
I can’t wait until I’m out of here. Graduation is only six months away and it can’t possibly come soon enough. I want to be done with high school, and off to college, and start new without being shoved into the background of my own family. It’s just because I’m not as loud as the younger five. If I was as obnoxious as Greg or Tommy, or as mouthy as Eva, then maybe I wouldn’t always get so lost. Even Andi and Dani don’t fall into the background as much as I do. Jackie’s the only one who ever seems to notice me.
Which brings me back to…I can’t wait until Jackie gets home for her Christmas break.
Liz sighed and looked up at her clock. Her dad and Jackie should be getting home from Drighton University, where Jackie was a freshman, any minute now. She stretched and stood up from her desk, where her homework had gone forgotten in favor of writing in her journal. Someone started screaming downstairs, and Liz rolled her eyes. If Eva and Greg weren’t fighting about something, she was fairly certain the world would come to an end.
She wandered out of her bedroom into the little attic common room she and Jackie shared, then downstairs. She passed Eva and Greg shouting at each other from opposite sides of the second floor hallway and didn’t even bother to stop to find out what was wrong this time. It was never anything worthwhile. She continued on down the stairs to the entranceway, where her mother was dusting a table.
“Hey, Mom,” Liz said. “Do you know when Dad and Jackie are getting here?”
Her mother didn’t even look up when she answered. “Any minute, probably. Why?”
Liz shrugged. “Just wondering.”
Her mother looked up now, seeming surprised to see Liz standing on the bottom step of the staircase. “Were you upstairs? I thought you were in the living room.”
Liz raised an eyebrow. “Mom…I’ve been upstairs for, like, two hours.”
“Oh.” Mrs. McLancy waved a hand half-heartedly, smiling. “There are too many of you to keep track of.”
“I’ve noticed,” Liz mumbled under her breath. She perked up significantly when she heard another approaching car and she rushed to the front window, looking out. This time, the car pulled into their driveway. She squealed happily. “Jackie’s home!”
“Big deal,” Eva shouted down from the top of the stairs.
Liz wasn’t going to let her younger sister’s bad attitude get her down. She didn’t even grace the comment with a look. Instead, she threw open the front door and ran out into the cold Ohio winter without a jacket, barreling toward the car.
“Hey, Dad!” she shouted as she passed her father, who looked more disgruntled than usual for some reason. And then, not five seconds later, she threw herself into the arms of her older sister. “Jackie!”
“Woah! Hey!” Jackie said, laughing. “Miss me?”
“So much, you have no idea.”
“I think I have a decent idea, seeing as how you seem to be trying to break my ribs.”
Liz let go of her sister immediately and stepped back. “Sorry, I…”
Her voice trailed off as she got her first good look at her big sister. Liz stepped back slowly, in order to see Jackie better.
“What?” Jackie asked, furrowing her eyebrows in confusion.
Liz shook her head. “You look…different.”
Jackie laughed, but it sounded forced. “I do not!”
But she did. When Jackie had left for college, she’d dressed like a normal nineteen year old girl. She’d worn miniskirts and fitted t-shirts. She’d shown skin. Now she was wearing a long denim skirt that reached her ankles, modest black shoes, and a brown turtleneck sweater. The only embellishments were a silver necklace bearing a small cross wrapped in what looked like a rose, and a ring on her left ring finger with a green gem in it. Jackie had also lost weight, completely going against the Freshman Fifteen stereotype, and had let her hair—nearly the same shade of light brown as all the McLancy siblings—grow out over the months. It was now pulled back into a tight French braid.
“Just…you look…um…” Liz didn’t know what to say. Jackie didn’t look like her Jackie anymore, but she didn’t want to offend her.
“Let’s go inside. It’s cold out here,” Jackie suggested, stopping Liz’s train of thought.
The two girls walked side-by-side up the walk and through the front door of the house. Their father and mother were speaking in quiet voices over by the stairs, looking more and more concerned by the minute, but they quickly stopped talking as soon as Liz and Jackie were in view. Their mother wiped the worried look off her face after a second of staring at her oldest daughter and her face split into a rather forced smile.
“Jackie! Welcome home, sweetie! We’ve missed you.”
Jackie accepted Mrs. McLancy’s hug and gave her a small smile.
“I’ve missed you guys too.”
“Oh my god.” Eva stood halfway up the stairs, like she’d been frozen on her way down. “Amish much, Jackie?”
Jackie looked down at her clothes, then back up at her fourteen-year-old sister. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Your skirt seems to have mysteriously grown about three feet.”
Sensing an oncoming argument, Mrs. McLancy changed the subject. “Dinner’s in twenty minutes. I hope you’re hungry. We’re having pot roast. Your favorite.”
Jackie opened her mouth, and then closed it again quickly, looking like she wanted to say something but wasn’t sure where to start.
“What? You don’t like pot roast anymore?”
Jackie furrowed her eyebrows and took a deep breath. “I’m vegan now, Mom. I respect all of God’s creatures.
The silence that passed over the entranceway was palpable. Eva and Greg, who had appeared at the top of the stairs a second before, both stared at their oldest sister with open mouths. Curious about the sudden quiet, the youngest three of the family poked their heads around the corner and looked confusedly back and forth between everyone else.
“Sweetie, when did you take on such concern for ‘God’s creatures’? You’ve never talked like this before,” Mrs. McLancy finally said, her voice almost a whisper and concern written into every crease on her face.
“Well, I should have always shown ‘such concern for God’s creatures,’ Mom. I’ve seen the error of my ways, and I’m trying to make up for my past sins,” Jackie answered, not making eye contact.
The family continued to stare. The McLancys were very much Christmas-Easter Christians, only attending their local church on significant holidays. The children had each been baptized, but they had rarely gone to Sunday School. Youth groups and church choirs had never been part of the family’s routine.“I just do, okay?” Jackie said, getting defensive.