Just then my aunt came up from the basement. “What’s all this fuss about?” she asked, coming into the room.
“I got invited to exhibit at Arrowhart next week for the art contest I submitted to.” I said quickly.
Her face broke out in a big smile. “Oh my goodness! That’s amazing!”
She took her turn with the letter and then began to flip through the brochure. “Lorrie there are a lot of art schools there. Do you think these are places you might want to apply?”
I looked at Hunter quickly before answering. “Yeah. I mean maybe. It’s definitely worth checking out.”
There was silence as my aunt continued to flip through the brochure. My heart pounded in my chest. This was so exciting, and yet my aunt’s question had made the reality of going away for art school more real. Would Hunter come? If not, could we make a long-distance relationship work?
I bit my lip before smiling at him. He smiled back. We could cross that bridge when we got there. It was a long way off.
We made a lot of plans in the week leading up to the art convention. Aunt Caroline and Uncle Stewart were going to come up to Studsen with me to attend my exhibit. Hunter had just about finished his work on the dining room and started looking for short term apartments near the Perkins house.
He’d decided that since he would be staying in Eltingville with me at least for a few more months, he wanted to move out and get a place of his own. Even though my aunt tried to convince him to stay longer, we were pretty excited about looking around for a new place for him. Plus, Hunter having his own place would free up opportunities for fun activities we could engage in without having to worry about whose house we were in.
We had just found a fully furnished place that he liked a few blocks from the main highway and made an appointment to sign the lease the next morning. When we pulled into the driveway after seeing the apartment, Joel and Billy were chasing each other in the grass out front.
“You’re back!” Billy yelled, running toward us.
Hunter nodded and waved at them.
“Are you taking the kittens with you when you move out?” Joel asked, catching up to his older brother.
Hunter picked Joel up and pretended to wrestle him, tousling his hair. “Yeah buddy, I think I will. The place is cool with pets, and I think the little guys have imposed on your mom and dad for long enough.”
“Awww . . . ” Joel and Billy said, almost in unison.
“Don’t worry, I’ll bring them by to visit when I come see Lorrie.”
“Yay!” the boys sang. Billy latched onto Hunter’s leg and tried to climb him like a tree.
I shook my head smiling. Those boys sure had their priorities straight. Hunter stayed behind to play with them while I headed into the house.
I was still smiling when I ran into my aunt in the kitchen. She turned around from stirring the large pot on the stove when I came in.
“Oh, there you are. Here, have a little snack. Dinner will be ready in an hour.”
I opened my mouth to protest, but then the smell of chicken noodle soup reached my nose. Grabbing a small metal spoon from the drawer, I sat down and decided not to argue.
Aunt Caroline started cutting vegetables while I drank the soup. I watched her work. She was in a good mood, humming to herself.
“So, how was the apartment hunt today?” she asked.
“Pretty good, I think Hunter found one that he liked.”
“You know he can stay as long as he wants, right?”
I nodded. “I told him that, but I think he’ll feel better about living on his own somewhere.”
“Well, you know the boys will be heartbroken with him and the kittens gone.”
I laughed. “I’m sure he’ll be around often enough that the boys won’t mind.”
“Hey now, it’s not just the kids. I’ll miss having him around to run errands, get groceries and cook breakfast for us too.”
“Come on, Aunt Caroline, it won’t be that bad. I’ll help you do those things.”
“Okay, if you say so. I’ll hold you to that,” she said. She turned and winked at me before wiping her hands on the kitchen towel and leaning back against the counter. “Are you excited about the convention tomorrow?”
“Yeah! I’m definitely excited. A little nervous I guess.”
“That’s normal, dear. When I was in college I nearly fainted in the middle of my final presentation for my public speaking class!”
I laughed. It was weird to think of a college aged Aunt Caroline. I pictured her hair in a scrunchie like I’d seen in the photo of her with my dad. “Wow. I definitely hope nothing like that happens.”
“I’m sure you’ll handle it better than I did. The most important thing is meeting all the representatives from these art schools. I imagine that will be more one-on-one than a giant crowd.”
I considered this. “Yeah, though it would definitely be cool to win. I guess at this point it’s already more than I could have hoped for, getting to meet people from these art schools and have a chance to have my work judged at a high level. I’m just going to try and enjoy it.”
“I think that’s a very good attitude, dear.”
My aunt hummed cheerfully. When she noticed that my bowl was empty, she tutted. “Here I am talking your ear off and you must be starving. Would you like—”
Billy came in the front door. “MOM!”
Something was wrong. My aunt’s eyes went wide and she dropped the ladle in her hand before bolting for the door. I followed right behind her, my heart in my mouth.
Billy waited just long enough for us to get to the door before running into the yard. When we got outside, it took a while to even understand what had happened. Billy came to a stop a few feet away from Hunter, who was on the ground. Joel was holding onto Hunter’s hand, trying to drag him up.
“I’m okay. I’m okay,” Hunter said. His words seemed fuzzy and indistinct and his eyes were unfocused. My stomach sank. I felt like I was going to be sick.
“What’s going on here?” Aunt Caroline asked.
Joel let go of his hand and answered. “Hunter fell.”
“It’s okay,” Hunter said. “Just a little scraped up.”
He showed us his arm. An angry red rash covered a few inches of skin on his wrist. I looked at the frightened expressions on Joel and Billy’s faces. This wasn’t just a fall. Something wasn’t right. My pulse pounded in my ears and the hair at the back of my neck stood up.