Elsa Larsen carries lightning in her pocket. A small, bedazzled key chain in the shape of a bolt. Silver and blue rhinestones catch bits of sunlight and throw rainbows across the room. It’s her lucky charm, I overheard her tell Scott the second day of school.
Scott likes shiny things.
“Have you gotten to know the new girl?” My mom asks at home. “I think her name is Elsa.”
I shake my head and bend over my math homework. Forget the new girl, everything is new. And exhausting. Two months into the year, the only thing more tiring than sixth-grade is talking to my mother about it all. I want to finish my homework and text Scott.
“You used to love dressing up as Elsa.” My mother slides a glass of milk and a plate of Hydrox cookies under my nose like I’m still five. “I think she moved here from Norway. Imagine that. Our own little princess in town.”
“God, Mom, she’s not a princess.”
“Who’s a princess?” My dad joins us, his gray hair at all angles like it lost a recent battle with a Roomba. He’s wearing his usual post-shift clothes: sweat-stained t-shirt half-tucked into baggy pants.
I groan around a cookie.
“A new girl at Jenny’s school. Elsa Larsen,” my mom explains.
“A guy named Larsen joined the company a few months ago. Some big-wig from Sweden.” He pops a whole cookie in his mouth.
“They’re Norwegian, Dad,” I mumble.
“Same difference.” Cookie dust clings to his jaw. “Another suit in the corner suite with a lot of sh—”
“Yes, we know,” my mom gives him a push out the door. “Scoot. Jenny has homework.”
My dad works at Gentype, the international biotech firm in our town. “I’m in the Waste Management department,” he says to people curious what he does. “May not be fancy but somebody’s gotta clean up the shit.” That’s my dad, Gentype’s ass. Scott spit out his soda when I dropped that line last summer. Worth getting Sprite in my eye.
My mother takes a seat and a sip of her newly poured drink. Five o’clock, then. Ice cubes knock against the glass while she knocks her shoulder against mine. “I heard Elsa’s quite the hit with the boys.”
I grip the pencil hard, suddenly unbalanced like the unfinished algebraic equation on my worksheet. I don’t want to talk about Elsa. Elsa who never sits in the cafeteria alone. Or, gets tripped in the hall. Non-princess Elsa with the super cool name and lightning key chain everyone wants. She wields it like Zeus enchanting the entire sixth-grade.
My mother lowers her voice like we’re in church giggling at Father McKeon white tube socks. “I also heard your Scott may ask her to the Holiday dance if he gets the nerve.”
My pencil snaps.
* * *
I’m dripping November rain in the back hall when I hear my parents in the kitchen. It’s three-thirty, and there are two empty glasses on the table. Day-drinking is never a good sign. My dad still wears his company-issued jumpsuit.
“What’s going on?” I drop my soggy backpack on the bench.
“Company’s closed,” my dad says into his empty glass. “Maybe for good.”
“Why?” My voice cracks and splinters like our back stairwell my dad promised to fix last summer. Like the window in my bedroom duct-taped in place. “What happened?”
“Anton Larsen got arrested for embezzlement.”
“What’s that?” The word buzzes like an angry hornet’s nest.
“He stole money. A lot of money.” Dad pours another drink. My mom doesn’t stop him. “Gentype’s broke,” he mumbles to the liquid.
Embezzlement. I mouth the word, stretching out the z’s until they get stuck in my throat. Stretching them out until they resemble an unlucky lightning bolt key chain tucked at the bottom of my bag.
Patti Jurinski writes flash fiction and is working on her first novel. Her fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in SickLitMagazine, Ellipsis Zine, and formercactus. She lives in Florida but will always be a New Englander at heart.