9th of July, Thursday

Last Monday morning, Parks and his family left for Florence, Italy. Dad drove them to the airport in our big van, and I came along-partly so I can see them off, and partly so that I can escape Annie and Charlie.

Right before their plane boarded, I made Parks promise to write me a letter as soon as they get there. But I didn't make him promise to write each day-only each week. Each day would be asking too much, especially for someone like him. Parks accepted it, only if I promised to do the same thing. So I did. Then I waved at them all as they boarded the plane. Parks gave me one last kiss on the cheek, and one last hug, which made my Dad and his parents smile. I just rolled my eyes at Dad. They just never give up on pairing us together.

Anyway, I think Parks might have put his first letter on express mail, because it had Tuesday's date and normally it would take six days for mail to reach WPB. So I was right here, reading it.

Jen left last Monday too, but unfortunately I wasn't able to see her off. She had promised me she would write if I will.. But it doesn't seem to have arrived yet. Maybe tomorrow.

Anyway, Parks put some pretty interesting stuff in his letter….

7th of July, Tuesday

Dear Carter,

Now are you satisfied? I'm writing you a letter. Ha-ha! Maybe I should have said hello first, right? Anyway, I hope you're having a good time with Charlie and Annie. Ha-Ha! That was a joke. Or maybe you've lost your sense of humor while I'm not there? Hmmm. But seriously, hope you're ok. Just let me know if they're giving you a hard time, hear?

Now I'm in Florence. Eat your heart out, Carter!!! That was a joke. There's really nothing to tell, you know. My Aunt Melanie gave us accommodations here and I'm not exactly writing this at the very moment we arrived. It's Ten in the morning right now and I'm in front of the TV watching some shows that I can't understand. Remember Aunt Melanie? I told you about her some time ago. I've told her about you too. Or Mom and Dad did. They said something like, "Joey's future wife if he gets lucky," or whatever. Forget I said that. She said you were really pretty from the picture of you that I showed to her. I told her of course, or else we wouldn't be friends. Ha-ha!

We haven't really done much sightseeing yet. But Guess what? I've already seen the Santa Maria Novella IN THE FLESH. Eat your heart out, Carter. Anyway, I took some really great pictures for you. I'll give it to you on my next letter. Right now, My stomach's begging for brunch, so I might as well crash.

By the way-good luck with Mr. Comprendo' and Tiffany. You'll need it.

Joey Parks
Cutest Guy on earth

P. S. I heard Tiffany has a crush on me. Why don't you give her a picture of me? Maybe then she'll stop bossing you guys around. Ha-ha!!!

7th of July, Tuesday
Washington, D. C.

Dearest Tina,

Hey! I hope you get this in a good time. Hope you're doing okay with Annie and Charlie and your parents. And hope you're doing okay without me and Joey by your side. Are you? I really hope so.

Anyway, so here I am-sitting here by the window in my ritzy Uncle's mansion overlooking the Hudson River. Or whatever you call that river that runs by the side of Georgetown University, White House and the Pentagon. Potomac and Anacostia, Mom said. Anyway maybe you can just check out the map for accuracy.

You know what? There's this guy here who's eyeing me. I'm not kidding. He's this college kid that Uncle Carl hired to take care of the garden. I've only been here for almost a day and he's been checking me out THE WHOLE TIME. He's pretty cute, too, but he's still not as handsome as David. I'm still totally head over heels in love with that guy. Now don't start lecturing. But you know HE may be your type-he kind of has the same coloring as Joey does, but Joey's still a whole lot more handsome. Anyway, I'm glad you're not here with me because otherwise, HE might just focus HIS eyes on YOU instead of ME.

Why does that always happen? Sorry…guess it's not really your fault that you're gorgeous. We all have to take what we can get, don't we? But anyhow, I'm prophesizing that he'll be asking me for a date soon-at least after he finds out my name.

Love you lots,

P. S. I took this Polaroid shot of him while he wasn't looking…what do you think?
P. P. S. Write back OK?

Saturday, 11th of July
West Palm Beach

Dear Jen,

I miss not having you around in Art class. I think Mr. C's getting worse. So is Tiffany. And so are the lessons they give us each day. Anyway, guess I can't really do anything about that, can I? Sometimes I hate Mom and Dad. Of course I still hate Charlie and Annie more. But they're getting kind of decent lately. And anyway, remember the Sunday incident I told you about? Well, because of that, they're still not talking. Good for me, at least. I haven't gotten a single teasing remark from either of them-except before you and Parks left.

Do you know that guy's name yet? I think he's pretty cute. In fact I think YOU and HIM look terrif together. But then I guess you already know that. Ha-ha (Ignore that. I think Parks' corniness, uh…corniciousness, eh-whatever is rubbing off on me). Wish I could be there to see him, and as well as to prove to you that I'm not really the gorgeous girl you think I am. I'M SERIOUS. Please for goodness' sake, stop thinking that I'm prettier than you are-it isn't true. Trust me. You can even ask Parks and he'll tell you that we' re BOTH knockouts in the same level (though he'll never say that aloud to my parents even if it kills him.).

I also have to tell you something other than those I already said. We have two new classmates in Art class. Yup-two. They're both extremely nice, except that Terri's a little shy. Angelique' is more outgoing. By the way-Terri's 17 and she'll be going to our school this year. As for Angelique'-well, she's sort of an exchange student once removed or something.

Like me to tell you about them? I sure hope so. See the picture I enclosed? Tyler went bonkers because today is his last day and now he's taking pictures of all of us together. He told me he's sorry you're not here and he won't be getting a remembrance of you even in pictures, so I gave him one of mine. Hope you don't mind. He took this polaroid shot this morning and said to me, and I quote, "mail this to Jen." So here it is. Anyway, that's Terri McMillan on my right, and David on my left. That other girl on Terri's right is Angelique' Versailles. I'm really glad they're both here. I was starting to wonder how I was gonna survive class without you around and with Tyler leaving next week. Terri and Angelique' have been really great to me. At least, with them by my side, Tiffany can't criticize me. But now she's annoying poor Kara. And you know Kara-she'd rather die than say a bad word about anyone, even Tiffany. So what do I do? Eh...well, the same thing I do when you're here-say a defensive word or two, and then shut up and let Tiffany get the last laugh. I hate myself that way. But get ready to be surprised-Terri, SHY Terri went up to Tiffany and told her off-her Australian accent and all (yeah, Terri moved here from Australia so she's got this twangy way of speaking). When Terri stopped, she was blushing all the way through-but here's the thing: Tiffany was SPEECHLESS. Unbelievable, huh? You haven't heard all of it yet.

Anyway, right after that, Terri seemed to shrink down but I don't think Tiffany noticed that. She' was still too busy putting herself back together. I wonder how she did it, personally. I mean, imagine you were Tiffany: you're always so mean to everybody. You pretend to always know everything, and that you always know a lot more than anyone else. You look down at those around you whom you think are lower than you. You tease them and boss them around, taking advantage of the fact that you KNOW they would never get the courage to fight you back. AND THEN, the day comes when you were teasing and bossing around someone, in FRONT of EVERYBODY, and then suddenly, someone, someone you least expect would do this come up to YOU and TELL YOU OFF--right in FRONT of EVERYBODY. How would you feel?

Anyway, in some weird way, when Tiffany started to walk away, I wanted to run after her and sympathize or make her feel better. Why am I always like this? She's cruel, yet I sometimes feel sorry for her and today was one of those times. You think she deserves my sympathy? Oh, God. I hate myself this way--how can I feel sorry for cruel people? You tell me, Jen. You know me better than I know myself.

I hope I get over my weirdness soon. Write back, K?


Sunday, 12th of July
West Palm Beach

Dear Parks,

Yeah, hello. Sorry. It's Sunday and I'm supposed to go to Church together with my parents and my siblings. It doesn't really put me in a very good mood. Poor God. He's going to have to take all the madness I have today.

Well, that's poor God AND poor you, I guess. You're the only human being who can really take my madness. Sometimes Jen gets tired of all my squabbles about Charlie and Annie. She can't understand my situation sometimes, and that's…ummm….well-understandable, I guess. Heck, I'm not even sure I understand the situation I am in. Maybe you would. I figured you would.

Or might. You usually figure everything out.

Don't you?

Anyway, I just hope you'll still read what I have to say, despite the fact that it's obviously parasitically feeding on your kindness.

Can you teach me how to pray, Parks? You know...the kind of prayer that you do, the kind that doesn't criticize and curse the people who surround you? Because for the length of time that I've been alive, practically ALL my prayers consisted of requests to God, demands and pleads and stuff like, "if I had one wish, I wish to God that I would be given a new family." God is probably getting pretty tired of hearing that. Heck, I myself am tired of asking for things, and wishing for stuff that I know I will never get, no matter what I do.

Am I babbling again?

I'm sorry. It's just that...today is one of those days when I really wish to God I was the one in Italy instead of you. It's one of those days when I feel that you being there being almost as good as me being there is not enough for me. I wasn't this way when you and Jen left, and I promised myself I would try to be happy while you two are away, but GOSH, sometimes it's just so hard not having you two around...and just imagine, you've only been gone for several days. How many days do I still have to count before I see you again...?

Why is it that every time I write to you, I always sound so desperate? Why do I always end up sounding so DARNED DESPERATE every time I write to you? A minute ago, I was telling myself, that I would try to make this letter as cheery as I possibly could under the circumstances. But judging from the tone of this letter from the very beginning, when I was re-reading what I've written so far, I thought, "my mood must really be pretty black." This is the cheeriest I can manage. Several times while I was in the process of writing this particular paragraph, I've felt the urge to throw everything I've written and start all over again. But I know you'd want to hear everything I feel, even though you might already be tired of listening to me. I know you have your own problems too, and you need time for them, and I understand that, and now I'm babbling again, so I'll get right to the point. This has gotten too long already.

Today started out just fine, in art class. Dad drove me to WPBIFA. The class was wonderful, although a little bit sad because yesterday was Tyler's last day and now there's an empty seat right at the back where one of the people I had grown to love as a big brother used to sit. All of us missed him, I could tell, because the whole class was quiet. Even Tiffany was quiet, though I think her reason was she still hadn't gotten over the fact that Terri told her off yesterday. Remember? I told you about that when you called last night.

Mr. Comprendo' was pretty quiet too. He just gave all of us individual exercises the whole day. I think none of us felt like being cheerful. Tyler was one of Mr. Comprendo's favorite students, because aside from being an excellent painter, a talented artist, he was nice to all the teachers, most ESPECIALLY to old Mr. Comprendo'. Anyway, that's Tyler.

Even though all throughout the class I was quiet, I was feeling pretty happy because of Terri and Angelique'. I love the two of them, I really do. The three of us are, like, a trio. Angelique' is the noisy, outgoing one, Terri is the shy, thoughtful one, and me-I'm the uh-middle person. I'm in-between quiet and noisy, which makes me uhm...quiesy? Noiet? Whatever. Anyway, as I said, despite the sadness all around us, all throughout class we managed to stay pretty cheerful under the circumstances. That holds for the three of us, at least.

So when did the terror of my day start? Immediately right after art class. I left with Angelique and Terri. Terri's dad drove Angelique' and me home. As I waved goodbye to them and walked to the front door of my house, I was feeling pretty cheerful, I guess because I knew that, for Tyler and us-his classmates, that is-it wasn't really goodbye forever, because he said he was gonna keep in touch as much as he could.

When I stepped inside my house, I didn't expect the kind of scene that I saw. I didn't expect anything that happened next. That was MY mistake, MY fault. And yet ANOTHER fault point score to Argentina Carter. In my mind, I had this thought, "with everything that went on, what else could possibly happen?" It was a mistake to say, to even THINK those words, that time, but I did. And my terror began...again.

So, I entered the house, right? I made the mistake of shouting, "I'M HOME!" I got an answer for that.

"Who cares if you're home?" Charlie scowled from the living room where he was lying down tearing something apart with a pair of scissors. He was tearing something apart that looked strangely familiar...when I got near him I became fully aware of what it was.

Remember that collage that I made when we were in eighth grade, Parks? The three-foot mahogany wooden panel that I covered with green felt, plastered with all kinds of cartoon strips and ribbons and beads and colorful paint and cans and lost of recycled stuff? The one I called "Happiness"? The one that won first prize in the collage contest? The FIRST EVER artwork of mine that won anything? The one that Miss Jensen, our Principal, liked so much?

I hope you remember it well, and how it looked like, because you'll never see it again.

That's right. My DEAR DARLING older brother took apart my precious collage.

Why did he do it? I don't know. All I know was, from the moment I saw what he was doing, I must have blacked out. I screamed and hit him and took the scissors from him and I would have stabbed him if Mom hadn't gone out at that time and held me away from Charlie. I had never been so angry and so sad and so infuriated and so mad in my whole life.

The hardest part of all was seeing the unfeeling, uncaring expression on his face. My own brother would do this to me. You know what he said? "I saw it lying around, and I needed a base for my canvass. It didn't look as if it was that important. It looked like it was about to be thrown out."

I kept that collage in MY room, and it was hung upon MY wall. How could he have gotten hold of it? And even if it looked like trash to him, it was mine, and he shouldn't have taken it. You know what hurts even more? What Mom said to me. She said, and I quote, "It's okay, Tina. It's just one of your collages. I'll buy you another wood panel, and you can make another. Your brother badly needed it, that's all. Forgive him." And I hated, HATED the calm way she said that, as if my efforts on that collage didn't matter. So what did I do? First, I slapped Charlie, I broke the wooden panel in two (I don't know where I managed to pick up my strength that time, honestly), and then I ran...to the back, to the adjoining fence of our houses. I was going to go to you, to tell you everything, when I realized you weren't there. It was so frustrating, Parks. I went up to my room then and cried. I had never cried so hard. And then I got up to call Jen, and I realized she was many miles away from me.

As if it wasn't bad enough, when I put down the phone, Annie came into my room without even knocking. She raised an eyebrow at me, and then she started taking off my shoes. "I'm going to borrow these, K?"

"No," I mumbled, but she ignored me and started to rummage around in my closet. She took some clothes without even asking.

Then she gave an uncalled-for remark. "You know, that collage of yours never would have won if I hadn't told the judges that I was your sister."

That did me in. I stood up, grabbed my shoes and clothes from her hands and glared at her. "For your information, " I said evenly, even though I was fighting the urge to cry, "THOSE PEOPLE were well aware of who I WAS. You didn't need to tell them anything."

She raised an eyebrow. "Really? Maybe they let you win because of US."

For the second time that day I slapped another one of my siblings. I didn't say anything else after that, I just pushed her out of my room.

Now you know everything.

I should have known better than to expect nothing will happen. I should have expected the worst from my family, because that's what always happens.

I'll be going to church with my family in a few minutes, but I won't be praying to God to forgive me for my sins. I know that if Charlie and Annie stay here longer, I'll just disappoint God. I can't help but wish the worst for my siblings, and even for my parents because they let Charlie and Annie get away with everything.

Why does my life have to be so hard?

When I go to Church tonight, I know I'll be physically there, but my heart will be somewhere else. My heart will be divided into three-one-third will be in Washington, D.C., one-third in Florence, and one-third in Heaven.

I miss you, Parks. You can't imagine how much. Having you write to me is not the same as having you here in person. I miss you, and I miss Jen, too. I wish you would both come back soon. I need to get my heart back.


17th of July, Friday

Georgetown University Cafeteria

Dear Tina,

I finally got that guy's name. It's Henry Martin, he's twenty-two and he's taking up pre-med. in Georgetown University. He works as a gardener for my Uncle here in D. C. He finally asked my name! Just last Wednesday, I think. I was strolling along the gardens of the mansion, when I bumped into him. Before you say anything, I didn't plan it. It was an honest-to-goodness-genuine ACCIDENT. Honest. Anyway, it turns out that his parents were friends of my uncle and aunt, and he was working as a part-time gardener because he wanted to earn some extra money to pay for his car's installment. He accepted the job because Uncle Ed's gardener took a summer leave and Henry's installment was almost due. He only needed a small amount, and his job at Georgetown ended when school ended last June.

Anyway, Mom's here in Georgetown to arrange something. Henry drove us here. He said he wanted to drop by the office of one of his professors. I'm in the cafeteria, waiting for the both of them so we could take Mom home and he and I could go somewhere. Isn't he wonderful? He even asked Mom if he could ask me out on a date, and then he asked Uncle Ed, too.

So we're going to have our first official date tonight. I'll tell you every single detail on my next letter. Or I'll call you.

By the way, I really wish you called me last Sunday. I could have cheered you up, you know. Don't worry, everything will be all right soon, you'll see. And I'll call you every day to check up on stuff, okay? And as for you, if you ever need to talk, just CALL ME. Okay? I'll listen, I promise. Just as long as you'll listen to me rave on and on about Henry and David.

Speaking of David, how's the art class? I'm really sorry I wasn't there during Tyler's last day. I'll miss him. And Angelique' and Terri seem pretty nice. I'm glad you have them there, though I am a little scared that you might find a new best friend while I'm gone...I hope not, because I know I'll never find anyone else like you.

Anyway, I'll write to Tyler, and I hope everyone's doing fine back home. I miss sunny Florida, but I miss you more.

A part of my heart is yours, too, remember that every time you feel really sad and every time Charlie or Annie bully you.

You know what? Honestly speaking, their artwork sucks. I think you're still the best artist I've ever met. Except for Georgia O'Keefe, of course.

Love you lots,

17th of July, Friday
Santa Maria Novella Walk

To My Very Best Friend,

I don't know if me addressing you that way will cheer you up, but I sure hope it does. I'm sorry if this letter is almost a week too late. As they say, better late than not at all, right?

I'm sorry for everything that happened. I really wish I had been there. I just know I could have cheered you up with just a wag of my eyebrow. HAHA! You could have even called me "Porky" all you want and I wouldn't have minded. Or maybe I would have. Hehe.

How are things doing right now? Are they still there? Are they bullying you? If they are, call me RIGHT AWAY, capische? I know, I know it's not gonna be as good as me being there, but it would be something, at least. I miss hearing your voice, and your laugh. I'm not about to say that out loud to my parents. You know how they get. Matchmaking and everything...of course, I really don't mind if it's YOU, Argentina Carter. At least I know I'd have a really pretty wife someday. Nahh, I'm just kidding. Seriously, though, I wish they'd let us make our own decisions. It's not right, meddling into our lives like that.

As for your parents...I'm sorry it had to be that way. I'm sure it hurts a lot when they side more with your siblings more than you. Try to be patient a bit, Carter. It wouldn't be long now till you're out of there. You'll get to be independent in a few years. Once they miss you, their treatment would probably change. Don't lose hope on that, but...let's be blunt--don't get your hopes up either. I think your brother and sister, even though they're actually old enough, they can't stand on their own--I mean, they just can't make themselves be completely independent. One way or another, even if they both have their own lives and careers which are separate from your family now, they still continue to lean on your Mom and Dad for support.

As for you...you've always been independent minded. You've always done things your own way, even to the point of breaking traditions. Even in Art. I've told you before, that's why Mr. Comprehension hates you so much. You have your own thing, you do it, no matter what anyone else says. Maybe you got that from me. He-he. I know, I know, I got his name wrong again--you know who I mean. Your Art teacher, the old guy. Speaking of your Art Class, I suggest, while Jen isn't there, that you stick to Terri and Angelique'. Speaking of Angelique, I do hope she'll still be there when I get home. You have to introduce me to her. I think I need a new girlfriend. Even if she's gonna go home to her country soon, I wouldn't mind. You DID say she was pretty, right? Anyway, stay away from those weird Italian twins. I'd rather you hang out with McLauchlin. He's a cool guy. Could you tell me again why you wouldn't date him? I like him better than Ackerman. Ackerman's a little too obnoxious for his own good sometimes. Plus, he looks weird. Don't come near him too much, ok?

About your collage...I know it wouldn't be much of a consolation, but during the exhibit, I DID take a lot of pictures. I have your collage from every angle. I even have the full shot. I have some close-ups too. I also have a big one with you in it. And I've still got the film! I know! When I come back, I'd have the big one with you in it recopied big-sized and I'll even have it framed. Consider it an early birthday present for next year! How does that sound?

If it's another consolation, though, that collage may have been one of your best works, but it is not your best work. You haven't made your best work yet. And I know what that will be--a portrait of me. I am SUCH a great model, aren't I? He-he.

Wow. This is the longest letter I've ever written. You gotta give me a prize when I get back, ok Carter? I deserve that much for writing you a long letter. Nahh, I'm just kidding. I'll see you in a couple of weeks! Hang in there, ok?

Joseph Parks
Your Best Friend in the Whole Wide World

P.S. In case you didn't notice the place under the date, I'm at your favorite Florence place right now. It's great here, really beautiful. Mom's been taking a lot of pictures. I'll be sending you a dozen of them along with this letter. Don't miss me too much, alright?


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