It had been a while since Kam or I had such fresh, warm food. Perhaps fresh was pushing it but it was fresh off the stove and to be honest, frozen and canned food never tasted so good. Kam gobbled up the food on his plate. It had been a while since I saw him smile so much.
Miss Lauren had me on strict bed rest, but I still got up to help with some chores. She said I was stubborn. I told her I owed her enough. Still, she would have me sit again, with my feet bandaged. Miss Lauren said it served me right running around without shoes. I had some at the shelter before last, but when that place was evacuated, I couldn’t find them. I wasn’t sure if some stole them or if I was just in a rush and couldn’t find them. Still, ever since I made Kam wear his shoes at all times. Miss Lauren didn’t like dirty shoes “traipsin’” about her hideaway and made Kam take his off. He was happy about it.
I wanted to ask how did Miss Lauren come across this shelter. Why did she have so much food and spare bedding for me and Kam. She was too old to do this all herself. But I knew I couldn’t pry. We all have things we didn’t want to talk about.
“Our Daddy works in the capital building,” Kam had no reservations about talking. “He’s a janitor there.”
“Is that right?” Miss Lauren was more than willing to listen to Kam. She was kind.
“Yup. He’s been working there since before either me or Jasmine were born.”
“Oh, that’s a long time. Jasmine, you can’t be over fourteen yet?”
“That’s right, ma’am.” I tried to get up and clear the table. Miss Lauren stopped me.
She gathered the dishes. “Does your mother work there too?”
Kam got up to help. “I- we don’t know.”
“You don’t know?”
“We don’t know who our mother is, ma’am.”
Miss Lauren looked perplexed. “And you both have the same mother?”
“Yes, ma’am. That’s what our father told us.”
“I think she’s real pretty,” said Kam. “Daddy says Jasmine has Mama’s hair. And the eyes the color of emeralds.”
Miss Lauren smiled. “You and your sister have the same colored eyes. They are very pretty.”
Kam crossed his arms. “I’m a boy, boy’s aren’t supposed to be pretty.”
She laughed. “Of course boys can be pretty.” Kam didn’t believe her.
Kam went to flip through a picture book with moving illustrations after supper. Miss Lauren came to change my bandages.
“I can do that myself, ma’am.”
“You won’t tie it tight enough, Jasmine. Please, allow me.” I did. She smiled. “I think they’re healing up very nicely.” She paused. “Kam’s a good child.”
“Yes, ma’am. He is.”
“Forgive me, Jasmine, but I think it was unfair of your mother to keep you both away from her.”
“No- I agree.” I think mother is married to someone other than Daddy. Maybe married to a rich man or someone important. I’m old enough to know how it works. Being unfaithful to your partner is a crime. A serious one. Still, I’ve passed those places. The houses where men and ladies are up for the bidding. Plenty of married people go in and out of those buildings. Dad never went there though. He said Mom was the only lady for him.
Miss Lauren was finished. “You’re a good sister, Jasmine. Kam is lucky to have you.”
“Thank you, ma’am.” She was about to leave the room, when words came out of my mouth without thinking. “Kam’s birthday is this week- I think.”
Miss Lauren’s face seemed to light up. “Really?”
“Yes. I-” I stopped. This was stupid, why should I even be telling her this?
“What is it, Jasmine?”
“I-I promised him an,” I sighed, “An orange.”
“An orange?” she laughed.
“He, likes them.”
“Those are hard to come by, Jasmine. Even before-“
“I know. Dad used to bring them home sometimes. He said they were a gift from Mom.” To honest, I was never really sure if Kam liked oranges so much just because he did. Or if maybe, it was his way of feeling close to Mom.
Miss Lauren thought about it for a moment before smiling. “We’ll see what we can do.”
I think I saw Mom once. Just once. My class went to the capital city for a trip. None of us had ever seen the city before, even though Dad went there daily. We were given a tour of the Administrative buildings that ran the colonies our particular planet, and the buildings that communicated with other, nearby planets. Mom was in the Communications building. We were walking down a hall being told the day-to-day business that went on there when I glanced into a boardroom.
She was in front of a small room full of people. I think she was giving a presentation. I stopped and my heart jumped into my throat. She felt my eyes. Mom looked up and her mouth fell slightly agape. I was looking into a mirror, a much more gussied up mirror. I was about to speak when my friend pulled me forward. She didn’t want me to get in trouble. As I walked down the hall, I saw Mom step out of her board room and watched me disappear. That was it.
I never told Kam. It would hurt him too much.
It was Kam’s birthday. And I was well enough to stand and dance with him a little. It was good to feel my toes wiggle again. Kam seemed relieved to see me up. We had pudding. Chocolate pudding. It wasn’t the cake I promised Kam, but it was more than I could hope for. Miss Lauren was really too kind.
“I have been saving this for a special occasion.”
“What occasion was that, ma’am?” She didn’t answer.
It was the most fun I have had in a long time. Kam sang for us. “You have the voice of an angel,” said Miss Lauren. Kam was happy.
“Now then,” said Miss Lauren, “Jasmine and I have a surprise for you.”
Miss Lauren brought out a small package, wrapped in brown paper. “Here, Kam. Open it.”
Kam’s eyes lit up. In his hands, he held a small can of oranges slices. “Jasmine!” He threw his arms around me. “You remembered!”
I looked at Miss Lauren and mouthed, ‘Thank you.’ She nodded.
Kam was passed out on a chair, snoring slightly. Miss Lauren brought out a bottle and we toasted to a good day. I nearly coughed up my lung. the drink burned my throat. “What is this?”
“Ha! A little strong? Ah, well, more for me.” I stuck to water.
The bottle was nearly half empty. Miss Lauren stared at Kam and smiled. “He’s like my Paul, you know. My little Paul.”
I didn’t need to ask. Paul was gone. I took Miss Lauren to her bed as she rambled. “They’re about the same age, you know. Paul couldn’t sing though- nope! Couldn’t carry a tune.”
I tucked Miss Lauren into her bed and went to go fetch her a glass of water. When I returned, she was sobbing. “Miss Lauren?”
“I’m so- so sorry, Paul. I’m so sorry.”
“He would have liked you both. Oh Paul….” I left the water by her bed. I didn’t know what else to do.