The sun was beating down heavily over the small town of Sheldon, in Houston Minnesota.
The heat was not the kind of heat that people prayed for in the cold winters but the kind of heat that people forgot even existed, even after they’d experienced it because it was so severe and torturous.
Isabella and Raine Fox came bounding into their kitchen and sat around their table, waiting for them was their father Caleb and brother Lenny. Their mother, Katy placed the last of the plates down on the round pine kitchen table and sat down in her usual seat. Lenny eagerly stretched his hand out and reached for a rasher of bacon – only to have his hand slapped away by his mother.
"Leonard!" she snapped "How many times do I have to tell you, we pray before we eat"
"You didn’t have to hit him so hard" Raine muttered, quickly coming to her twin brother’s defence as always. Despite the fact that he was 2 minutes older than her, she saw him as more like a younger brother. Probably due to his Autism.
"Every time! He does it every time!" Katy complained "Prayer doesn’t take long. We’ve been doing it that way his whole life so why can’t he understand?"
"Alright, alright" Caleb sighed, raising his hands. Always the mediator "The sooner we pray, the sooner we eat"
Caleb was always the calm voice when everyone was stressed out. He was a pastor at the local church and also owned a Wal-mart.
The family all held hands as Caleb muttered some words of thanks, before the family begun their breakfast.
Bowls of scrambled egg, Canadian bacon, and slices of toast were passed around the table, as everyone scooped out their servings onto their own plate.
"So girls" Katy begun in her chipper voice, clapping her hands together with excitement "Today is the day. The Fox Annual Barbeque"
Raine rolled her eyes, every year her mother made Raine and her sister clean the house until it was immaculate on the first day of the summer holidays, when all Raine wanted to do was sleep in and settle down with a book on the porch but instead, she’d spent it polishing surfaces, mopping and vacuuming despite the fact that the Barbeque was outside and the only time people would be inside the house was to take a trip to the restroom.
Every year was the same. Raine would do most of the work, Isabelle would complain about her nails and hair, Katy would rush around like a headless chicken and Caleb would be at work – satisfied that he’d managed to escape another years cleaning and spend it behind his desk.
"Ooh!" Katy said, her eyes widening excitedly "I heard from Mrs. Naylor that Lillian Peterson’s grandson is moving in with her"
"Really?" Isabelle said, her eyebrows raising "Why?"
"Well, remember how I told you Lillian’s daughter – Millie - used to be a close friend of mine but got mixed up with that awful black man? Apparently she went away because she was pregnant! And this kid of hers turned out to be as bad as his father. Well, I’m not surprised to say the black guy was some kind of wife beater and got sent away for abusing poor Millie and her son. One day, Millie up and left her son with her sister. Who’s apparently had enough of him and sent him away to Lillian"
"Wow. Isn’t it a bit early for gossiping?" Raine said, stabbing a burnt piece of bacon with frustration.
One of the things she hated about living in a town as small as Sheldon is that with a population of 289 – everyone knows everyone.
And no one’s business was private.
"Jesus, She’s not gossiping Raine" Isabelle said, flashing her a glare "She’s simply being… informative. How kind of Lillian to take him in"
"She’s a better person than me. I would’ve said no and shipped the brat off to boarding school or something" Katy chuckled, before spooning in a forkful of eggs.
Raine frowned at her mother. "Ma, She couldn’t just turn her back on him. He’s family"
"Family? From what I’ve heard he’s trouble. Apparently, he’s already got a criminal record the length of this table and the stuff on there ranges from theft to assault"
"Will he be at the barbeque tonight?" Isabelle asked curiously
Katy nodded. "Be sure to hide away the good china and any jewellery you have girls"
Raine rolled her eyes and looked over at her brother Lenny, who was lining up his bacon in height order along with everything else on his plate. She smiled weakly at him, although he had a condition she sometimes thought that she and Lenny were the only two sane people in the house!
After breakfast, Katy assigned her daughters to their positions; Isabelle on dishes whilst Raine dusted and polished.
Raine was just pulling the polisher and cloth from the back cupboard when her sister appeared behind her. She spun around to see Isabelle twirling a strand of her long blonde hair around her finger.
"Rainey… you wouldn’t mind doing the dishes for me would you?"
Raine rolled her eyes. "I’m going to be busy all morning with the dusting and stuff"
"I know, I know. I just… I feel kind of ill" Isabelle rubbed her stomach and groaned slightly. She leaned forward and whispered "I think those eggs might have been abit uncooked or something. I just didn’t want to say anything at the table and upset Ma"
"That’s funny ‘cause I feel just fine and Lenny and Dad didn’t seem to find anything wrong with the eggs"
"Yeah, but you know I have a sensitive stomach. Remember that time at the Town fair in ’97 when we had that pancake eating competition and I hurled after 2! That proves that I have a sensitive stomach"
"Sorry Iz but no" Raine said, she went to move away but Isabelle grabbed her arm.
"Okay! I feel fine but I hate doing dishes! My fingers wrinkle up like prunes. Just do me this one favour and I’ll love you forever and ever I promise"
Isabelle had made that same promise to her sister a thousand times but somehow Isabelle found herself agreeing any way.
"Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!" Isabelle shouted, wrapping her arms around her sisters neck and covering her with kisses.
Raine started with the dishes whilst her mother stayed in the kitchen for the rest of the day. Cooking and sweating up a storm, rambling worriedly non stop. Raine seriously considered breaking one of her mothers glass figurines to see if her head might actually blow up – but thought better of it.
Soon it hit 4, 2 hours from when people were set to start arriving.
Finally, Raine and her mother stopped working to start preparing themselves for the barbeque.
"Jesus Izzie!" Raine snapped as her sister walked into their bedroom, wrapped in only a white fluffy towel "You were 30 minutes in the bath! We need hot water too!"
Isabelle rolled her eyes as she sat on her bed and begun moisturising her legs.
Isabelle shrugged. "Sorry Raine, but I have to do whatever it takes to look absolutely breath taking tonight. I have a reputation to uphold you know"
Raine rolled her eyes. Her sister was naturally beautiful and always had been – even before she discovered the wonders of foundation and fancy creams and face masks.
Isabelle had always been the prettier or the two – taking after their mother – with wavy blonde hair, wide chocolate brown eyes and skin as clear as plastic. Her body was thin and toned but still developed in all the right places and best of all, her long legs that seemed to go on forever. Since she was little, boys had always vied for her attention and she hardly went two months without having a boyfriend.
On the other hand, Raine and Lenny looked more like their father. Both had unruly curly copper brown hair, squinted dark eyes that looked almost black and freckles sprinkled lightly on their faces and arms. Raine’s hair only recently started to co-operate and her curls relaxed into waves. She was as tall as her sister but that seemed more of a curse to her – with her thin waif like body all the height and lack of weight made her look like an ironing board.
Everything about Isabelle was prettier than Raine – even their names!
Raine had heard the story a thousand times of how her sister had come to have the name Isabelle. Her parents were on Vacation on France, sitting under the Eiffel tower when baby Isabelle kicked. The moment was such a beautiful one, their mother asked a nearby French man what "beautiful" was in French… when he replied "Belle"
It always angered Raine that she had been stuck with a horrible, depressing name! No body liked rain!
Lenny looked much younger than his twin sister and people often found it hard to believe they were infact twins – his face was round and chubby. His eyes were almond shaped and soft – full of innocence and shyness. He always dressed the same – he wore a plaid shirt buttoned up the top and a pair of tan khaki’s no matter how hot or cold. The doctor said that due to his condition he would exhibit ritualistic behaviour like that.
After her shower, Raine changed into a pair of old frayed denim shorts and a plain white sleeveless top.
"Raine" her sister sighed, shaking her head "You could actually be pretty if you dressed nicer and used some lip stick and maybe a push up bra. I mean, seriously… that outfit does nothing for you"
"Well, I’m not trying to impress anyone" Raine replied, plaiting her hair into a single plait.
"That’s where your wrong little sister" Isabelle said "There’s always someone to impress. Even if you don’t know it. I mean – your Mr. right could be at this barbeque tonight and he may not even approach you ‘cause you look like you’ve been working on a farm!"
Raine rolled her eyes and ignored her sister’s comments – Isabelle was dressed in a tight fitting floral dress with a hem line that tickled her knees. The neck line plunged deep and revealed her cleavage and her hair was brushed over one shoulder. "Aren’t you kind of embarrassed when were all trading stories about first kisses and you can’t say… anything? I mean, most of us have gone to at least second base with a guy but you…"
Raine felt her cheeks flush bright red and turned her back towards her sister, hoping she wouldn’t see how embarrassed she actually was. Her sister’s friends would all look at Raine like she was some kind of leper whenever she reminded them she had never had a proper first kiss or a real boyfriend.
"Who are you trying to impress?" Raine said, desperate to take the attention away from herself "Anyone in particular?"
Isabelle smiled coyly. "I’m curious to meet Lillian Peterson’s grandson. I’ve never dated anyone with a criminal record before!"
"What if he’s dangerous?" Raine asked with worry
Isabelle giggled and winked "I can handle him… trust me"
People started arriving straight away and the garden quickly filled up with most of the people from the town. Pretty much everyone had been invited – people from church, people from the grocery store… anyone!
Food was quickly being snatched up onto plates as Katy was in her element, chatting away and drifting amongst her guests. Thriving in all the compliments she was receiving.
The sun was cooling down now and a nice orange glow was casting down on them.
Caleb was around the grill, frying burgers and surrounded by his friends.
Isabelle was nestled in a corner with her school friends, with a bunch of boys drooling nearby where as Raine stayed back in a separate corner with Lenny.
She knew he hated these events – he was always shy around strangers and being surrounded by him was a nightmare for him. She could see how on edge he was, always quickly diverting his eyes whenever anyone smiled or flinching when they moved to hug him or shake his hand. He was like a dog who’d been thrown outside on firework night.
She had her hand tightly gripping Lenny’s shoulder so that he knew he wasn’t alone – he was okay.
Suddenly, the atmosphere in the room changed and as if in unison, everyone turned to look towards the door where there standing was Lillian Peterson and who was presumed to be her Grandson.
He was dressed in a pair of denim jeans with a single silver chain hanging from them, paired with a tight black top. He was mixed race – his skin was a dark caramel colour and his eyes were a beautiful blend of greens and dark browns. His jaw was strong and covered in a thin layer of dark stubble- his hair cut into a short buzz cut.
Everyone watched as Katy rushed over to Lillian’s side and kissed both cheeks, and greeted the grandson. Most people continued what they were doing but they occasionally glanced over and watched as Lillian filled her plate with food – her grandson near by.
Maybe half an hour later, Raine was still stood with her hand on Lenny’s shoulder sipping at her punch when suddenly; Lillian’s grandson arrived at her side.
She didn’t know why, but she found her mouth drying up and she suddenly became aware of her sister and all of her friends eyes on her.
"Hi" Raine muttered, the word sounding forced and alien to her ears "I’m Raine. Raine Fox"
"Zach" he replied, nodding and looking her up and down.
"Welcome to Sheldon" she giggled nervously "How are you finding it?"
"This place is a wasteland" Zach answered honestly "I took a half hour walk and circled the entire town"
Raine chuckled "Yeah well, that’s Sheldon! Are you having a good time?"
Zach shrugged and looked deep in her eyes "I’d be having for fun if I had something to drink…?"
"Oh. There’s some punch and juice over there"
Zach shuck his head. "I mean… something a little stronger. It’s the only way I’m gunna be able to survive this night"
Just then, Isabelle appeared at their side and stepped in front of Raine.
"Hey" She said, offering her hand to Zach who shuck it briefly "I’m Isabelle Fox. Raine’s sister… can I help you with something?"
"Zach was just asking for a drink" Raine replied, moving slightly to her sisters left.
"How rude of you not to offer him some juice or punch!" Isabelle giggled "Our little Rainey isn’t very social I’m afraid"
"Forget juice and punch" Zach replied, seeming annoyed "I’m talking about alcohol"
"Oh" Isabelle said looking defeated. She smiled and leaned in closer to Zach, lowering her voice "Well… we don’t have any alcohol right now. But later on, my friends and I have a little post barbeque party and they’ll be tons of it there"
Zach eyed her suspiciously and then nodded. "Where? When?"
"11. Down by the lake… You know it?" Isabelle asked
Zach nodded briefly before walking off.
Isabelle and Raine watched him saunter out of the garden gate before Isabelle turned back to her sister.
"What were you saying to him?" Isabelle asked with intrigue
Raine shrugged. "Nothing much. Just the usual…"
Isabelle stared at Raine intently and then her face relaxed into a smile.
"Rainey, sweetheart. You don’t have a crush on him do you?"
Raine frowned. "What? No… I was just talking to him"
"It’s really sad if you do… he’s way out of your league. How about you set your sights a little lower like that guy with all the pet lizards who eats paste"
"Izzie, I said I don’t like him"
"Yeah? Well good. ‘Cause tonight, I’m going to get to know him a little better" she winked.
Raine shuck her head. "You don’t even know his name!"
"Yes I do. Zach!" Isabelle replied smugly "People talk you know"
Isabelle walked back to her circle of friends who listened intently as Isabelle told them all the details of her conversation with Zach.
Raine felt Lenny tug on her hand and she knelt down to his level.
"How you doin’ Lenny?" she asked with a smile.
"S-S-Sam-m-mantha H-Heartl" He stuttered. His autism meant that Lenny found it hard to speak; he rarely did… only around people he was comfortable around but when he did, he had a strong stutter.
"Yeah? What about her?" Raine asked
"B-Beautiful" He said, Raine followed his gaze and saw Samantha Heart entering the gate with her brother, mother and father. Her dad was the Mayor of the town but her mother was best friends with Katy and Samantha was close friends with Isabelle.
She was dressed in a short denim skirt with a pink Cami, her straight glossy brown hair flowing freely over her shoulders. Her eyes were a bright blue that could be seen a mile away – framed by long curly eye lashes.
Lenny had had a long ongoing crush on Samantha ever since she first came round to the house for Isabelle 6th birthday sleepover. But of course, his feelings weren’t reciprocated. It was clear to anyone with eyes that Lenny liked Samantha so of course, she knew too.
Whenever he plucked up the courage to say hello to her she simply laughed and turned her back but for some reason; Lenny was still in love with her.
She had known Samantha for years and she had always been an unpleasant little girl – unfortunately she didn’t get much nicer with age. She was always the one to laugh at someone when they got an answer wrong in class or boast about the newest dolls and jewellery her daddy gave her.
Raine sighed sadly, wishing her brother wasn’t in love with someone so out of his reach and maybe liked someone kinder.
"Yeah, she does look lovely" Raine replied