The next few days flew by in a blur for February. Although she had plenty of opportunities to schedule another evening at home alone with Cameron, she found she didn’t really have the nerve. Cameron had been the perfect gentleman on that first night; the closest thing to “scandalous” that they had done was creep closer together while stargazing on the lawn. February had been both relieved and disappointed when Cameron left without even trying to kiss her, but, with all of Martin Luther’s antics, and the fact that her parents had never let her in on when to expect them back, February contented herself with just talking on the phone with her beau and chatting with him at school. Cameron didn’t seem to mind; as with everything else, he seemed perfectly happy to just go with the flow when it came to February.
Finally, as the weekend drew to a close, January and Connor came breezing back through the door. February’s breath caught as she stared at her parents; they seemed so…old. Had they really been that grey when they’d left? She had always known that January and Connor had had children relatively late in life, but at that moment, it suddenly struck her that her parents were getting on in years and would not be around forever. Brow wrinkled, she tried to dismiss her saddening revelation as her parents hugged her and Martin Luther and exclaimed over how fabulously their impromptu vacation had turned out.
In what seemed like no time at all, summer rolled around, heralding the close of the school year and Martin Luther’s thirteenth birthday. As she meticulously applied her lipstick and arranged her hair, February wondered wryly if getting older would make Martin Luther act more — or less — strange. Critically, she surveyed herself in the mirror. Strange was what was staring right back at her, she decided. There she was, in a newly purchased blue dress, face garnished with make-up and hair curled like a puffy yellow cloud around her face. She looked, she thought, something like a dandelion suffering from a severe case of hypothermia.
Dandelion or not, February gamely made her way across town for her prom. Just as she had imagined, the dance was everything she had feared it would be: too many hormonal teenagers packed together in one dark spot, noise, flashing lights…she could hardly wait for it to be over, even after Cameron pulled her close and asked her if she’d go steady with him. She was so distracted by a rowdy throng of football players drunkenly screaming the Legacy Llama fight cheer that she said “yes” before really thinking it through. Afterwards, she came home in a daze, her lips tender and bruised from Cameron’s kisses, wondering what on earth she’d gotten herself into. Her concern only deepened in the following weeks, as strange rumors about what Cameron liked to do in his spare time found their way to her…stories about how he’d pushed this kid around, or managed to threaten that kid out of their allowance. February wasn’t sure what to believe; Cameron was never anything but polite with her, and he’d always been nice to Martin Luther…but it certainly seemed like more than a coincidence that everyone in town believed him to be a bully. February thought about this as she mixed up the batter for Martin Luther’s cake. She could hardly believe that her immature little brother was actually becoming a teenager, even if he HAD finally stopped dragging Marie around…and just what should she do about the situation with Cameron? Should she break up with him, or should she ignore the rumors, or….? Suddenly, the sharp acrid scent of smoke stung her nostrils; frowning, she whirled around.
“Oh…oh no,” she whispered, staring in stupefied horror at the sudden inferno the kitchen stove had become.
“February, what is that sme — oh my God, Connor, call the fire department; the kitchen is on fire!” January screamed. throwing her hands helplessly in the air as she encountered her rabidly burning kitchen. “February, what have you done??” February could barely hear her mother; instead, she continued to gaze almost rapturously into the flames.
“Why, that girl’s about as useful as an empty plate to a starving man,” Connor muttered, wandering away to let the firefighter who had just arrived finish saving what was left of the Callender kitchen. Overhearing his comment, February snapped out of her reverie and cast a baleful stare at her retreating father’s back. Useless? Her?? Why, her father probably didn’t even know she HAD a boyfriend, let alone all of the issues she was currently having with him. He spent more time with the fictional characters in his books than he did with his own family. Her mother, she was no better, always so busy and precise when taking on the corporate world, then coming home and wandering around with a glazed look in her eyes every time one of her children so much as peeped at her. February was so sick of the double standards, and of being ignored. She would never let her children feel like they were merely living on the periphery of her life. Moodily, she made her way to the bathroom to sulk alone while her parents ordered a store-bought cake for Martin Luther.