Proxy: Chapter Three

Chapter Three

Our development was called The Orchard. All the streets were named after fruit trees. The house that my father and I lived in was in the center of the cul-de-sac. Apple Blossom Loop. It was a three story red brick house with four bedrooms. One was mine. One was my father's. One was my father's study. And one would become Sheena's craft room.

First, of course, she had to get moved in. And that was a struggle all its own. My father went back to work the day that they got back from their honeymoon, but Sheena took a few more days off to get moved in. It wasn't time for vacation Bible school yet, and the community theater was closed for renovations, so I had nothing else to do besides wander between the house, the hospital, and the library. I had just finished the last book in my stack, and I told myself that helping Sheena unpack her boxes would be part of a bargain-- if she got her boxes unpacked quickly, maybe she would take me to the library for more books.

But really, I was fascinated by everything that the boxes contained. Whenever people visited our house, they always remarked on how beautiful and pristine it was. The windows always gleamed, free of streaks and fingerprints and smudges, and the beige carpet was soft and clean and marked only by perfectly straight vacuum lines. It was decorated sparsely in taupe and white and gray and silver, like the centerfolds in House Beautiful and Real Simple, only the generic art prints had been swapped out for our formal family portraits in gleaming metal frames. It was strange to see the living room piled high with battered brown cardboard boxes with illegible labels and plastic totes with mismatched lids.

Stranger still was the contents of the boxes. I stood in the doorway and watched as Sheena tore open a box and pulled out handfuls of bright neon fabrics printed with flowers and birds and stars. "Okay, so... put that in the upstairs pile, I guess," she murmurs to herself, dropping the fabric back into the box and folding the lid back into place.

"I can take it upstairs," I said quietly, holding out my hands to take the box.

She smiled at me. "Would you please? This is all clothes, so it just needs to go up to my room. It's not too heavy, right?"

"I've got it."

"Thank you so much, Corinne. Don't worry about putting it away or anything, right now I just wanna get everything in the room where it belongs, at least. So that all my crud isn't taking over the whole living room forever."


I went up to my father's bedroom. This is one of the spaces I always struggle to remember. I was never really present there, even as a guest. When I think very hard about it, all that comes to mind is soft blue gray walls, long white curtains all the way down to the floor, a long silver mirror at the foot of the day. I never felt comfortable in there. I was always an intruder. I probably dropped the box somewhere just inside the door and then walked down the stairs again.

It should have been a simple assembly line of Sheena handing me boxes and me taking the boxes to where she directed me. But somehow, I'm not sure how, it became a game. I would try to race up the stairs or down the hall before she had another box for me, she would act as though she was about to throw the boxes at me, and we were both laughing and out of breath. I wasn't sure why I was laughing, or what I found so funny, but running down the hall felt like I was doing something harmless but forbidden.

Before long, we had cleared the living room of boxes, and we got to work unpacking the boxes. She lined the silver and white kitchen counter with her collection of silly, cartoonish ceramic cookie jars, filled her side of the closet with a rainbow of colorful blouses and t-shirts, and filled that empty bedroom with the bright and glittery chaos of her craft supplies. I picked up a vial full of blue green sequins and titled them around, watching them shift around each other. Sheena reached out for the jar, and for a moment I thought that I had done something wrong. But instead, she took the vial and gently tapped it so that a few sequins fell out in my palm. "That's a really good color for you! Maybe we could make you some kind of mermaid costume for Halloween."

"I'd be too cold, I think."

"True. We can figure out some other way to incorporate a little sparkle, if you want." She stood up and took her hair out of its messy bun, letting the curls cascade onto her shoulders. "What do you like on your pizza?"

"We're getting pizza?" "I don't know about you, but I am way too pooped to cook."

"Um... I like pepperoni."

"Any feelings about pineapple on your pizza?"

"I've never had it." My experience with pizza was pretty limited-- just a slice of two of cheese or pepperoni at youth group events or other people's birthday parties. It's not something that my father and I ever ate much. "I can try it."

"If you hate it, just pick it off and give it to me."

We ate at the kitchen counter, looking out into the living room. I liked the sweet taste of the pineapple with the faint spice of the pepperoni. It was new and interesting. Sheena finished her third slice of pizza and rested her chin on her hand. "Why is your living room set up like that?"

"Like what?" I said through a mouthful of pizza, before I caught myself.

"With all the furniture so far apart. There's like, a full football field between the couches and the armchairs. Makes it really hard to talk to people."

"I don't know. It's just always been like that."

"Wanna help me get experimental?"

"What do you mean?"

"We could try a couple different ways to set it up. Make it a little less like a giant waiting room." That was the way I thought of it, and I was startled to hear her say that. It was almost like she'd looked into my head and scooped out my own words. I nodded, taking both our empty plates and rinsing them off in the sink. Once we had both scrubbed the pizza grease off our hands, we went to the living room and wrestled the couches and armchairs into their new positions, closer together, into cozy corners and leaving less empty space.

I was sweating from the effort and had slumped down into one of the gray armchairs, taking a second to rest. Sheena was standing over by the window, staring intently at something I couldn't see. "There's something kind of odd about these pictures?"

"What?" I said, getting up out of my seat and walking towards her. She was looking at the narrow table at the end of the room, the one that my father had lined with more silver framed pictures in two perfectly even rows, in addition to the framed formal portraits that he had placed all over the walls. "What's weird?" I asked again. She shook her head and pointed at one of the portraits in the middle.

I looked closer at the picture that she had indicated to me. It was from the county fair, when I was four years old, something I had confirmed by carefully taking the photo from the frame and reading the note in my father's neat handwriting: "PUMPKIN FUN! Corrine and Annabeth at the County Fair, October 3rd, 1997." We were each posed on our own massive pumpkin, in poses that mirrored each other-- hands folded neatly in our lap, legs crossed at the ankle. He had even dressed us up so that I was her in miniature and in a slightly different color palette-- pastel pink puffy jacket to her light grey one, dark purple rain boots to her dark brown ones. If it weren't for the banner behind us for the Sondberger Family Pumpkin Farm, it could have been another studio portrait.

"I don't know, something just... seems a little off. I can't explain it," Sheena said, tilting her head as she leaned in to look a little closer. "Maybe I'm just tired. Or... maybe it's the way they're set up." I thought she meant the poses in the pictures. They were all like that, you see, from the county fair pictures to the Christmas morning ones to the 4th of July picnic ones. None of them were really snapshots, even though that is what my father called them: Come on, girls, just hold up for a minute so I can get a quick snapshot of us! They were as carefully choreographed and curated as the formal portraits that my father had done every November at the photography studio downtown. It hadn't occured to me before, but they did look unnatural and odd, like someone had substituted extraordinarily lifelike dolls for the people in them.

But instead, Sheena began shifting the pictures, moving them into a more casual set of staggered rows, switching photos around so that they became a collage rather than a timeline. "That's a little better, I think," she said, although her voice didn't sound truly certain. "Corinne? What do you think?"

"I think it looks nice," I said. The new arrangement did look a little nicer, a little more lived in, although the new arrangement didn't change the pictures themselves. I hadn't ever paid much attention to them before, any more than I would have paid attention to the paint on the walls, but now I had really noticed them, and I found that I didn't really like looking at them.

"You two have been busy," my father said from the doorway, leaning up against the woodwork with one eyebrow arched up. He was still dressed in his work clothes, hadn't even undone his tie.

"Hi, Lonnie! Told you I'd get all unpacked before you got home," Sheena said, bouncing over to press a kiss to my father's cheek. He leaned in for another, proper kiss. "And you had time to do a little extra," he said, gesturing to the rearranged furniture.

"Do you like it? I thought it helped make the room a little cozier. Plus, it won't be like we're trying to talk to each other across the state anymore!"

"It sure is new," my father said, settling onto the couch. He undid his tie as he continued to look around the room. "Any plans for dinner, my love?"

"We were pretty wiped from all the unpacking, so we ordered pizza. We saved you some, it's in the oven."

"I see. Thank you." He turned towards the pictures on the table and froze for a moment, and his fingers knotted in his tie. He opened his mouth as if to say something and then closed it again, clenching his jaw tightly for a second. I slipped out of the room and went out to the back porch, rereading the book Sheena had given me from her own high school days. I didn't really like it very much, but I wanted to be able to talk to her about it.

By the time it was dark, Sheena and my father had both retreated to their bedroom. I walked through the living room on my way upstairs.

The pictures on the table were back in their neat, perfect lines.

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