1.21. For the Birds
Luna grips the armrest on the passenger's side of the family's SUV. Lydia has asked her to teach her to drive, and it's proving to be an anxiety-inducing endeavor.
"Don't ride the break and the gas at the same time," she snaps.
"I'm not, mom!"
"Yes you are! This isn't a standard--you only need to use your right foot."
Lydia rolls her eyes and sucks her teeth. She presses down on the gas, determined to prove that she’s not as incapable as her mother seems to think she is.
"Slow down," Luna shrieks, "you're going to hit Lark!"
Lydia slams on the brakes and the car screeches to a halt. She narrowly misses hitting Lark, who is madly pedaling on her bike.
“See, this is what happens when you don’t pay attention.”
“Whatever. I wasn't even close,” Lydia turns the wheel, completely ignoring her blind spot as she makes a u-turn.
“We’re not even a hundred feet from the house and you’ve almost committed vehicular homicide. Wait, what are you doing?”
“Turning around. I’m going to ask dad to teach me to drive instead.”
Luna is relieved. Both of her teenage children are terrifying drivers. Their instruction is better left to someone less neurotic than her.
Mother Clucker tilts her head.
“Okay,” Lark deflates, “so I’m a little scared to age up. Being a teenager looks really boring. Like all Lydia cares about is her boyfriend and school and prom and overthrowing the current president of student council.”
Mother Clucker’s eyes are fixed on Lark, so the girl takes that as a sign to continue.
“I mean, I guess some boys are okay,” Lark trails off for a moment, “but what else do I have to look forward to?” The elderly hen throws back her head and lets out a cackle.
Lark’s second favorite part of the community garden is the plants themselves. There’s a garden at the Bee household, but Lark isn’t allowed in it. She once--once--weeded a tomato plant by pulling out the whole tomato plant, root and all, so her father forbids her from helping with the gardening. But despite that single mistake, Lark feels that gardening is the one thing she’s good at. Case and point, she’s nursed the grapevines in the community garden back from the brink of death.
The grapes are delicious, even with a light coating of grit and dirt. She is proud of herself for taking care of the plant, but her success will go unnoticed. Her parents don’t know the exact details about her excursions to the community garden, and no one keeps track of who tends which plant. So Lark labors in anonymity. She doesn’t mind. That anonymity means that the community garden remains her secret place.
Lydia, meanwhile, is enjoying the ease with which she’s crushing her competition. Truth be told, she only offered to play with her little sister because she’s had a rough week at school. Kristofer has been distant ever since his ex-girlfriend Janelle started snubbing the two of them, and the current student council president--an outgoing senior--seems to be favoring another freshman to fill the position next school year. She’s trying to join the debate club to round out her skills, but the coach has a ban on freshman and Lydia’s inability to demonstrate her worth is negative proof that she doesn’t belong on the team. And the cherry on top: she got a 98 on her most recent trigonometry quiz. It’s upsetting, to say the least.
As the sisters play, Lark’s excitement reaches a fever pitch. She’s so close to beating Lydia, she can feel it. She squeals as her polygonal car passes Lydia’s. Suddenly, a loud pop erupts from the television. The screen turns to static.
“What I did? We were both playing. It could have been you.”
“You’re the one who always breaks things, you little gremlin.”
“Yeah, well you have a fart face,” Lark snaps back.
“You’re so immature,” Lydia rolls her eyes, “whatever. I don’t have time for this. I have homework to do.”
“Nerd,” Lark calls after her sister. She swears to never forgive her older sister for this slanderous slight against her good character. To think--her, a gremlin?! How preposterous.
But she forgets her oath the following day, her birthday.
“Hi,” Lark chirps as she waves at the guest in front of her, “I’m Lark! I don’t know you. Why are you at my party?”
Stephen Valquist looks at Luke with confusion. He had come home after school with Luke so the two could work on a group project. He doesn’t know anything about a party.
“It’s her birthday,” Luke explains.
“Oh,” Stephen shifts awkwardly, “um, happy birthday.”
“Uh--” “So how do you know Luke? I didn’t think he had any friends.” “So,” Luke interjects, “let’s get to that science project, Stephen. Have a good party, Lark.”
Even though she’d been looking forward to her birthday wish, she had hardly considered it. Lark thinks back on her anxiety she had about becoming a teenager, the fear she felt at the thought of change. But that seems so silly now, especially after the enlightening conversation she had with Mother Clucker. The hen’s comforting cackle echoes in her ears. She shouldn’t be afraid of change. No, she should embrace it--change means new opportunities.
Lark’s party was desolate because it was prom that night. All of her friends were already teens. Lowell was the only one who didn’t run off to prom, though Lydia and Luke kept running back and forth between prom and the Bee house. It was bizarre and annoying so I decided to just not include that.'