China sits in her armchair in her room above the garage. No one is allowed up here. That is her one rule. They just think she is eccentric.
She presses a button and a wall panel slides back and reveals a state-of-the-art electronic surveillance system. The monitors show everything and the listening devices can pick up every conversation in the house. But she had to be careful.
It is easy to forget what she is and is not supposed to know. So far she has run this operation flawlessly. Now it is time for the next phase. She smiles. Her family was in for a surprise.
It is not an ordinary day in the life of Jane Bertoni. There is no school today and, after breakfast, she stays in her room talking with her best friend, Blanche.
“I can’t believe this is happening!” Jane says. “My parents are thinking of moving to another country….again.” She plays with her long, dark hair as she talks, running her fingers through her hair. “I don’t want to move again right now. I like living in Chicago.”
“I don’t know what to say,” Blanche says.
“I like my name the way it is,” Jane says. “Whenever we live in another country, my name is changed to Juana, Yani, or who knows what. And I like my friends and my school and my stuff here in Chicago.”
“Jane, don’t worry so much. If it really happens, then you can worry,” Blanche says.
“You don’t take it seriously enough, Blanche,” says Jane. “I don’t want to move. We’ll both turn sixteen this year and I want to be in Chicago for that.”
Jane’s father, Arnold, knocks on the door of her room. He does not come into her room.
“Jane, you have been in your room all morning,” he says. “It’s time to eat and your brother is already at the table. Your mother and I need to talk with you. We have plans that affect the whole family.”
“Coming Dad…,” Jane answers loudly. Then she speaks to Blanche in a low tone. “I told you my parents have plans. We’re moving again. I know it.” She sighs deeply. “Talk to you later,” she says. She creates a hash tag handle called #sweet16inchicago. “I’ll send you an update on twitter.”
“Stay calm, Jane,” Blanche says. “Nothing can be that bad. Your parents are amazing. They have fun jobs. They’re writers and they like a bit of mystery.” Blanche sighs and then says, “God gives bread to those who have no teeth!“
What’s that supposed to mean? Jane thinks as she hangs up the phone.
She runs down the stairs. When she gets to the kitchen, she sees that everyone is already seated. She sits down without a word.
“Jane, why the sad face?” her Mom, Annie, asks. “You’ve been in your room all morning. There’s no school today. What’s the problem?”
Silence. No one speaks. Her brother just sits there with a crazy grin on his face.
Arnold coughs to clear his throat before he starts to speak. He takes off his glasses and puts them on the table beside his plate. “Well, I imagine, by your faces, you already know that there is something important that we have to say.”
“We’re going to move again,” Jane and Jeremy say at the same time.
“Yes, we are. We are moving to Paraguay.” Annie reaches out her hand and Arnold takes it from across the table.
Jane sits there with a scowl on her face but Jeremy’s face lights up and he hits the table with his hand. “I knew it!” he says. Arnold’s glasses fall on the floor. Jeremy picks them up quickly and puts them back on the table.
“Well, at least you’re excited, but please Jeremy, watch my glasses. You know I can’t see much without them.” Arnold picks up his glasses and starts to clean them with his shirt. “This trip is very important to me.” He pauses but both Jane and Jeremy just look at him. He clears his throat and continues. “I may not have been born in Paraguay, but I’m excited about going back to my roots.”
“Is China coming with us,” Jeremy asks.
“No,” Annie says. “Grandma’s too old to travel now.”
“I don’t want to go anywhere,” Jane interrupts. “My life is here, I’m from Chicago, and I’m in Chicago now. I don’t want to go live in another country again.”
“Jane, it’s not forever,” Annie says. “We’ve lived in other countries before. We always come back. The experiences we´ve had in other countries we’ll remember for a lifetime.” Annie gets up and starts to serve the food as she talks. “Also, this time we’re going to the country where your grandma was born. We’ll stay in the house that belonged to your grandfather.”
“I don’t care about an old house in the middle of nowhere,” Jane says.
“That house is very special,” Annie says. “It was inherited from a very famous ancestor over a hundred years ago. He was a scientist. His name was Simon Bertoni. He made a lot of money and somebody set up a foundation to continue his work and fix up the old house. Isn’t that incredible?” Annie looks at Arnold. “The foundation has invited us to go and live in the house and write our next book about Paraguay.“
Jane is silent. Suddenly, she gets up from the table and, without speaking, runs to her room. She goes inside her room and slams the door.
“Scene one,” Jeremy says. “The drama queen locks herself in her room, she escapes through the window and runs away from home.“ He snaps a photograph of his Dad with his new camera. Then another one, and another one.
“Enough Jeremy. It’s not funny,” says Arnold. “The last time your sister did that…” He pauses and touches the back of his head with the palm of his hand but is interrupted by Jeremy.
“We missed our flight, Dad. I remember.”
“We all remember what happened,“ Annie says. “We don’t have to bring it up again.”
“Scene Two. We all go looking for Jane… and we miss our flight. We have to call in the police, and the navy and the helicopters…”
“That’s enough, Jeremy,” Annie says.
“I heard you Jeremy,” Jane shouts from her room. “And stop uploading ridiculous photos of me on the internet.” She opens her door and slams it shut again.
“They aren’t ridiculous,” Jeremy shouts back. “They’re hilarious…”
“Jeremy, what did I say? This is no time for jokes,” Arnold says, rubbing his eyes,
“I just don’t understand girls,” Jeremy says loudly, his head tilted toward the stairs. Then he turns back to his Dad. “I love travelling, Dad. I love mysterious, old houses. I love new adventures. Besides, who wants to deal with Miss Wilkins every day? She is the worst teacher in my school. If we have a chance to go to another country and another school, I want to go! Please.“ He puts his hands together as if he is pleading.
“Who´s the drama queen now?” Annie says smiling.
Suddenly, the phone rings. Arnold walks over to the phone on the wall and picks it up. “Hello,” he says.
“Arni?” says a soft, but high-pitched, voice on the phone.
“Yes, Mom. It’s me. How are you?” Arnold answers.
“I’m fine…fine. Have you talked to the kids yet?”
“Yes, we have,“ replies Arnold.
“And how was it this time?”
“Well, it depends…” Arnold says.
“Hmmm, I can guess. Jane is angry and probably locked up in her room. I hope she’s talking with Blanche or do I have to worry about her running away again?“ China asks.
“Not for now, Mom. Just a few shouts and some banging of doors, but nothing else,“ Arnold says.
“And you, how do you feel about this trip? Many memories. Do you want to talk about it?”
“Mom, please. Not today. I know these memories are part of the past and it’s all great but that´s what they are, part of the past.“ Arnold says and rubs his chest hard with his fingers.
“Let me talk with Jane for a minute,” China says. “Maybe I can get through to her.” Arnold goes upstairs and knocks on Jane’s door.
“Jane, it’s your grandmother on the phone. I know you don’t want to talk to us but she wants to talk to you.”
“Why doesn’t she just come down and be part of the family,” Jane says.
“You know she can’t move around like she used to,” Arnold says. “The telephone just makes it easier for her.”
Jane opens the door, grabs the phone and slams the door shut again.
“And don´t stand there waiting,” Jane yells from the other side of the door. “I will not talk to you. You are the worst parents in the world.“
“Woohoo, we’re leaving in two weeks!” Jeremy shouts from downstairs and then runs up to his room.
“Shut up, you little dwarf! I don’t want to know,” Jane yells.
Arnold takes a deep breath and starts to go down the stairs holding on to the railing.
“I think I need new glasses. One of the lenses is cracked,” Arnold mutters as he takes his glasses off with his other hand. He almost stumbles but then catches the railing and gets safely to the bottom of the stairs.