I had to give it to Aunt Cecelia: she was an excellent cook. The aroma of some red Italian sauce bit my nose and drew me from my Netflix-induced coma and reminded me of how hollow my stomach felt. My best childhood friend, Gia, had forgotten her lunch, and since she was recovering from the clutches of anorexia, I and my other best friend, Kate, had felt obligated to share our food with her. What a sacrifice it had been, especially considering I had packed a Lunchable that day. A pepperoni pizza Lunchable, no less.

How different Gia and Kate were. Gia was short, spindly, and wore clothes that were, as she called them, inspired by a "European Minimalistic Style" (whatever that meant). She had once owned a head of thick, lustrous blonde hair, but the anorexia had plucked it right off her scalp, leaving in its place thin strands with little shine or shimmer. Indeed, my lovely Gia had been swapped for a quiet, listless invalid, only recently beginning to remember her old persona.

As for Kate, well, she was something else. She was adopted from Romania and proud of it. Tall and pleasantly plump, Kate had always been an unchanging, stable rock, arms ever outstretched for any lost soul in need of them. Her shoulders were made for crying eyes, and her ears, for the dilemmas of troubled spirits. Teenagers with catastrophic circumstances seemed to gravitate toward Kate, while I, always reserved and typically even sullen, drove nearly everyone away.

Shoving my house slippers onto my feet, I registered that there was no movement in the room next to me. Maybe Tristan was dead! And I knew just how Aunt Cecelia would respond to that: Danielle, that's awful! Tell God you're sorry! Unfortunately, Tristan was likely alive and kicking. He practically lived at at Mikey Landerce's, and I knew the rationale behind that: last time Tristan had been caught smoking pot at Uncle Zed and Aunt Cecelia's, Uncle Zed had taken his keys away for two weeks. I'd just been surprised that Tristan didn't know how to hotwire his care. Not that I did, but it just seemed like a Tristan thing to know.

Tromping down the stairs and relishing the way they caved ever so slightly beneath my feet, I purposefully ruffled my hair to make its anti-Christian qualities as blatant as they could be. All of a sudden, as though a tornado had just ripped through, leaving silent pandemonium in its wake, I felt a stillness surround me.

"Danielle, you sound like an elephant coming down the stairs!" she called, and I drank in the sound of my dear mother's voice.

Today was the day. Today was the day I would spill my guts to my mom, the day I brought to light all the torture I had been forced to endure. I felt hot-water-salt teardrops run in a sheet down my face, and I pressed my hand against my heart, in one last desperate attempt to get it to stop its unnatural palpitations.

I walked into the kitchen, where Mom was slicing bell peppers, a frilly yellow apron tied around her waist. I had given her that apron when I was five, and she had never stopped loving it since.

Gripping the railing to the stairs, I recalled those memories, the ones right before Mom had found out about her cancer. After she received the news that she had been diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer, I had decided that it was not my place to allow any sort of sadness to invade her already unfortunate life. Little Danielle could cope with her own problems, without allowing them to infiltrate Mom's dear heart.

Stumbling down the last few steps, I peered out the back window to see that Tristan's car was gone. Instantly, the nausea fled - funny how I rarely noticed how miserable I had been feeling, until Tristan left and took the misery with him. Invigorated with the freedom that Tristanlessness always brought, I fairly skipped the rest of the way to the dining room, heart just a bit lighter than it had been before.

The End

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