Chapter 3:

A Teen's Home

Who am I?

This home Kara had always thought of as a house turned out to be the two bottom floors of an apartment complex. The gray corridors spun in circles above her head when she stood next to the stairs on the ground floor, looking up to the far ceiling.Bookmark here

She didn't go there, yet.Bookmark here

Instead, she spent her days lulling about on the sofa or annoying her sister while she studied. A bit of mischief distracted her from all the confusion.Bookmark here

"I liked you more when you were holed up in your room," Nia jested one day, puffing her cheeks as Kara had messed up a page of notes by leaning on her back once again. "I'll tend to you later, my darling, but please let me concentrate, now."Bookmark here

"Your request has been officially denied," Kara said, planting a kiss on Nia's cheek. She always looked so cute and embarrassed when she did. That wording was unfair, though. "Do you really dislike me if I do this?"Bookmark here

"You know I could never stop loving you, my sister."Bookmark here

"If you lend me another manga, I'll be quiet, but I won't leave."Bookmark here

She suspected and hoped that Nia wasn't actually annoyed with her.Bookmark here

After deliberating the matter for a few seconds which involved scowling at her messed-up page of notes and the beaming face of Kara, she sighed.Bookmark here

"Don't take the Shoujo Manga. Your giggling is highly distracting, you know?"Bookmark here

Now it was Kara's turn to blush, but Nia's attention was already back with her notes, saving Kara some shame and teasing.Bookmark here

"Sure thing. Love you, by the way."Bookmark here

Nia waved her hand around to show that she heard her. It was also a sign for Kara to fall silent or shut up.Bookmark here

Whichever wording was more effective at the time.Bookmark here

Today, it was 'shut up.'Bookmark here

Kara wanted to fool around with Nia a bit longer.Bookmark here

In the beginning, Kara had attempted to study alongside her, but that escalated into a maelstrom of questions being thrown Nia's way, meaning that she couldn't concentrate on her own stuff. In other words, the sister-study-session had turned into the sister-study-manga-get-together, as well as an if-you-say-a-word-I'll-hate-you time.Bookmark here

Where her own room lacked personality, Nia's was full of it.Bookmark here

A poster of some boyband Kara didn't know was plastered to the ceiling above Nia's bed, a surprisingly girly thing for the image Kara had of her. Curtains with a design featuring flowers adorned her windows, and a smooth carpet covered the floor. Kara loved walking around on it with her bare feet. Nia always wore these knee-high socks, hiding her legs. She should just let loose and allow her feet to feel the grace of this carpet for once! Such went Kara's thoughts as her gaze once again rested on the single most peculiar thing in the room... Just like her own, there was one square meter of empty space in Nia's room, too, seemingly serving no purpose. Another curtain covered the wall, at least half-way to the ceiling. The wall behind it was solid, as Kara had tested previously. It felt strange through the fabric, made of pure cotton. With a shrug, Kara moved on. It wasn't like she could solve this mystery, today. There were not one, but three bookshelves in her room, one for literature, one for the manga, and one for study books.Bookmark here

Yes, a whole shelf just for books about studying.Bookmark here

Since Nia didn't really control her choice of books apart from stirring her away from anything girly due to her excessive giggling, she had attempted to surprise her big sister with some quotes from a complicated book... though that failed dramatically.Bookmark here

The jumble of letters in those books didn't even resemble any words she knew, and reading through them made her question her language skills.Bookmark here

Was this even English?Bookmark here

Was Kara an alien?Bookmark here

Did she even belong on earth?Bookmark here

It was all pretty silly.Bookmark here

Little sister stuff, through and through.Bookmark here

She knew how childish she acted, too, but it felt fun, so she didn't stop it. Just running around and moving her body after months of stillness was all she needed.Bookmark here

All of that didn't make her choice any less complicated, though.Bookmark here

There were many great stories to pick from, here.Bookmark here

One was about a group of pirates and took up a whole row by itself.Bookmark here

That was a frightening amount of pictures, so Kara steered away from that one... got it? Steered away as in steering a boat? Like, on the open sea?Bookmark here

"Heh."Bookmark here

"No Shoujo Manga, Kara."Bookmark here

"... it was no Shoujo Manga, though."Bookmark here

"Whatever it was, I can't deal with your giggles right now."Bookmark here

She sounded stressed.Bookmark here

Despite her apparent tendency for mischief, she didn't want to bother Nia too much, so she chose a different series.Bookmark here

One with two hot boys on the cover, entangled in something that looked way too sexy for her age. She blushed, making her light-headed.Bookmark here

"Fuu..."Bookmark here

The sound was out before she could stop it.Bookmark here

From the rough direction of her sister's desk, she heard the angry collision between a lead-filled stick of wood and a solid plate of wood, both very unhappy but gleeful in comparison to the person who caused said collision.Bookmark here

Kara shrunk back in fear, holding out the manga like a shield.Bookmark here

The aura instantly stopped.Bookmark here

Kara peeked out from behind her cover and saw a blush on Nia's cheeks.Bookmark here

"That's basically Shoujo, too... yeah. Don't pick that one... or any similar ones... yeah. Not the male Shoujo, alright?"Bookmark here

The coast seemed to be clear, and Kara emerged from her cover.Bookmark here

"Well, what can I read, then?"Bookmark here

"Some action stuff... pick a Shounen series! I have some of those, don't I? How about that one on top, the long one with the pirates? That should keep you reading for a while..."Bookmark here

Nia sounded seriously tired.Bookmark here

"That's the one I was giggling at before..."Bookmark here

"Is there anything you don't giggle at?" A sigh. Kara only heard it as she was in her cowering position, once more. A brief pause, then another sigh... and a third. "Whatever. I'll study with headphones. Pick whatever you want."Bookmark here

"Seriously? You're the best, sis! I love you!"Bookmark here

"There are days when I wish I didn't love you back," she joked, indulging in Kara's need for a hug. "Now let me study. Shoo, shoo."Bookmark here

It was another peaceful day.Bookmark here

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Kara's horizon slowly kept expanding with the passing of each day. There was this old woman next-door who would bring her cookies every now and then, wishing her the best. In the end, most of them were eaten by Nia.Bookmark here

She had somewhat of a sweet tooth.Bookmark here

It may have been the only tooth she had, seeing as she ate less of breakfast, lunch, and dinner than Kara.Bookmark here

Was that some sort of preparation for her sugary indulgence?Bookmark here

Kara couldn't tell, anyway.Bookmark here

She'd ask her one of these days.Bookmark here

With her sister constantly at home and by her side, Kara began to forget that Nia would not be with her all the time, and as such, the news of her having to go back to university came in like a wrecking ball, crushing what little strength she had amassed during her time at home.Bookmark here

"You don't have to look so gloomy, Kara. I'm only gone for a day." It didn't feel like a day to Kara. Nia had to take an exam she religiously studied for while Kara had tried to distract her, so what would happen if she didn't pass? Kara would be responsible! She didn't like that. Nia, entirely oblivious to her inner conflict, just ruffled her hair. "I'll just ace that exam and come back. No need to worry, my little sister."Bookmark here

"But you took the time off and I distracted you-"Bookmark here

"If you knew what you were doing, then you should've stopped!" This interruption was accompanied by a fist-to-head connection Kara didn't like a lot. He rubbed the bump with tears in her eyes. "Just wait for me. I'll be back."Bookmark here

"See you, sis..."Bookmark here

The first day at home without any Nia-time.Bookmark here

Kara wasn't very happy with the prospect.Bookmark here

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It was a weekday without Nia, without her parents, and without the not-so-mysterious Saturday-visitor, which roughly translated to a very bored Kara lounging on the couch, giggling half-heartedly at a Shoujo Manga from Nia's room.Bookmark here

When she didn't want to do that anymore, she flipped through the TV programs but found nothing she was particularly interested in.Bookmark here

After an hour of wasting more time, she sat at her desk and failed at another math problem. The only lessons she could keep up with were the ones her sister called redundant-to-study-for, namely those who moved to entirely new topics each semester, anyway.Bookmark here

She felt like an idiot for even trying.Bookmark here

The clock kept ticking away at her sanity, so Kara drowned out the noise with the rhythmic creaking of her door.Bookmark here

Nobody was there to stop her.Bookmark here

She entered a trance-like state and only awakened when the familiar sound of the front door being unlocked reverberated through the house.Bookmark here

"What...?" she mumbled, leaning back so that she could look at the clock. It was way too early for either of her parents to come home, and Nia would stay overnight since the exam was in the afternoon... meaning right now. "Good luck, sis." Plastic bags rustled downstairs, and so Kara carefully walked down the stairs. She was prone to stumbling and hurting herself on these, or so Nia had told her. As she was now, boredom posed more of a danger to Kara than stumbling, though. Knitting her brows at the newly-added high-heels next to the other shoes, Kara glanced into the living room which bordered on the kitchen, only to find... "Mom?!"Bookmark here

The woman shrunk back, looking startled.Bookmark here

"Oh, it's you," she said as if Kara was a very unexpected sight in her home. "What are you doing down here?"Bookmark here

"Looking who's home. You shouldn't be here, yet, so I had to check it out. I'm basically the guardian of this house, now!"Bookmark here

"Not for too long, I hope," her mother said with a wry smile, nervously stabbing the grocery bags with her finger. They were filled with vegetables like tomato, salad, carrots, paprika, and even a pumpkin. Kara licked her lips, and her mother noticed. Her gaze wandered from her face to the bag. "Are you hungry, perchance?"Bookmark here

"Very much so," Kara admitted, coming closer. She felt very bad for feeling nervous around her own mother, but there was this strange sort of distance between them she couldn't quite place. She had been normal in the hospital and in Kara's room, too... "That still doesn't explain why you're home early, though."Bookmark here

"There wasn't a lot to do, is all," she said. "The busy period is coming closer, so we were allowed home now. Mental preparation or something..."Bookmark here

"Sounds tough." It really did. "Can I help you with something?"Bookmark here

Her mother halted.Bookmark here

Again with that look.Bookmark here

Kara didn't know what to do with it. She had her eyes widened in a mix of shock and surprise, but her mouth was open with slightly up-turned corners of her lips, meaning she also found this amusing... or was this the natural state of her face?Bookmark here

The overall vibe of this expression was definitely negative, though, which made the smile-theory all the less likely.Bookmark here

"That won't be necessary."Bookmark here

"Alright. Can I rest on the sofa?"Bookmark here

"Sure..."Bookmark here

When helping her mother wasn't an option (which it never was, frankly speaking), Kara resigned herself to seclusion on the family sofa.Bookmark here

This was fundamentally different from the couch that stood in front of the television, though. The sofa stood in the living room and was way more comfortable. Maybe this was their way to reduce their time in front of the screen, though.Bookmark here

Their way...Bookmark here

Her mother's and her father's.Bookmark here

She barely saw them during the week, and that seemed to have been the case before her accident, too.Bookmark here

Helga Jakobson.Bookmark here

That was her name.Bookmark here

At least it had a certain charm to it, unlike Kara Jakobson...Bookmark here

Kara... Jakobson...Bookmark here

Even at two, her head started spinning.Bookmark here

Best not summon the evil gods, today!Bookmark here

Helga, Kara's mother, was a hefty woman who was the smallest in the house, maybe a bit taller than 5 feet. Short, bushy hair the color of wine curled down her face like very long noodles cooked not in water, but in an alcoholic beverage.Bookmark here

They even shone like water would, reflecting any sort of light in painful beams that could burn your eyes if you weren't careful.Bookmark here

That might have been the reason why she didn't drive a car.Bookmark here

The people around her would make accidents all the time if she drove around like a mobile light tower.Bookmark here

A fat mobile light tower.Bookmark here

Helga loved wearing these extra-tight clothes that highlighted her figure even more. Folds of skin hung down her arms like swim skin of a mermaid, or the sail-skin of flying squirrels.Bookmark here

It might sound like a rude description, but that's what Kara saw.Bookmark here

There was no way for her to ignore the facts.Bookmark here

Nonetheless, this was her mother.Bookmark here

She could've been wider than she was tall, she could've had hair the color of throw-up and she could've smelled like rotten fish, Kara would love her, still.Bookmark here

That's why this distance annoyed her.Bookmark here

Only Nia gave her comfort.Bookmark here

Nia was the only one who tried.Bookmark here

Helga kept slowly hacking away at the vegetables while Kara watched her. She was sweating, maybe because Kara had been watching her. Being watched could be stressful, as evidenced by the times Nia carefully observed Kara's every movement to make sure she was alright.Bookmark here

She had been nervous to move a finger at the time.Bookmark here

"Are you sure you don't need my help?" she called over. "Food would be done much earlier, then. I can help, you know? I promise."Bookmark here

"Your father comes home late. It would get cold, and we wouldn't want that, would we?"Bookmark here

Ivan Jakobson.Bookmark here

IJ.Bookmark here

That could've been the name of some DJ or something.Bookmark here

But he was no DJ, he was Kara's father. As a hard-working member of society, he worked even longer than Helga and never came home before her. The best thing was that he also worked on Saturdays, though only eight hours.Bookmark here

Kara knew how mind-boggling that was, considering that his work-week consisted of about 70 to 80 hours of work.Bookmark here

Helga never failed to put a hot bowl or plate of food on his dinner table, though, easing his workload a bit.Bookmark here

Kara knew that he was the main reason for them living in this beautiful apartment complex, so close to the park, the bank, the river, even without anyone telling her. It was in one of the lesser polluted areas of this city, at least, or so Nia had told her.Bookmark here

All that amounted to a staggering number on the rental fee contract.Bookmark here

Kara didn't even want to think about it.Bookmark here

She had tried to wait for Ivan on some days, but she had been too tired to persist. Her ever-knowing mother never failed to prepare an extra Sisters-pot, though. Nia always ate with Kara, whenever she decided to give up the wait for the day.Bookmark here

She didn't like the distance that enforced on her, though. If the physical and mental distance wasn't enough, there was a clear-cut dividend between her food-pot and the food-pot of her parents, too.Bookmark here

That was too much difference!Bookmark here

She wouldn't have it!Bookmark here

"Can't father come home early, too? Like you?"Bookmark here

"I'm afraid that's quite impossible for him. He is much busier than I am, you know? Do you want me to make an extra portion for you?"Bookmark here

Kara crossed her arms.Bookmark here

There it was.Bookmark here

The Kara-pot.Bookmark here

"I'd much rather eat from the family pot."Bookmark here

She completed the performance with a pout.Bookmark here

If she had been an authority on awards, she'd have awarded one to herself right there. There was nothing better than to startle your own mother.Bookmark here

"I'm afraid you'll have to wait, then."Bookmark here

"That's fine," Kara announced. "I had a long nap before this."Bookmark here

Long naps were fine and all, but Kara knew that they wouldn't save her from the inevitable. Still, now that she challenged the sandman, she'd summon lightning-strikes to turn all his sand to glass to stay awake!Bookmark here

Nothing could stop her, today!Bookmark here

Bookmark here

"Kara? Kara, wake up. Food's ready."Bookmark here

"Mmh..."Bookmark here

She wanted this mystery-assailant to leave.Bookmark here

Anyone disturbing her sleep was a bad person!Bookmark here

All she wanted was some peace and quiet...Bookmark here

All... she... WANTED?Bookmark here

Her head shot up, and she forced her tired eyes open. There was Helga, leaning over her, a comfy warmth surrounding her... actually, it was just a blanket.Bookmark here

"Did she wake up?" And there was Ivan, sitting at the table with a bemused smile on his face. "I'm sorry for being late."Bookmark here

"Welcome home..."Bookmark here

"Thanks for waiting."Bookmark here

They still didn't talk that much, but having dinner with her parents once in a while was nice, too. Kara could get used to this.Bookmark here

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"From what I can tell, you are as healthy as your circumstances could allow it," Doctor Legerer said, holding the end of his heartbeat-earphones to her back. "Good lunges, no complications in her blood pressure, fully functioning eyesight, and reflexes... What do you think, Zera?"Bookmark here

"Kara masterfully mastered our therapy sessions," she said through the phone, unable to come personally today. They had settled on a video call through Doctor Legerer's phone. "I don't think my help is necessary at this point."Bookmark here

"Are you sure?" he asked, sounding concerned. "Her situation must not be taken lightly."Bookmark here

"I agree," Nia said, leaning against the free space at the wall. She had her arms crossed, meaning she was worried. "She didn't leave this house even once. How do we know that she's ready?"Bookmark here

"There was a time when I wouldn't even leave this room," Kara put in. "I'd say I'm making phenomenal progress."Bookmark here

The Doctor and Zera laughed at that.Bookmark here

"Would you listen to that!" he said, wiping the tears from his face. "We might have worried about nothing, after all!"Bookmark here

"Truly," Zera agreed, chuckling sweetly.Bookmark here

"Did you even listen to her?" Nia pleaded, falling on deaf ears.Bookmark here

"It's good to see you care for Kara's well-being," he said, "but this is her decision and hers alone. From a medical standpoint, we give her the go. If there's any emotional issue holding her back, though, we could post-pone her going back to school. That being said, we'd still have to the authorities to make sure that Kara had no disadvantages to her classmates, although she missed most of the classes... ah, almost forgot it." He kneeled down in front of Kara, smiling with the calmness only a doctor could have. "Do you want to go to school?"Bookmark here

To Kara, he might as well have asked whether or not she wanted to eat her mother's food tonight.Bookmark here

"Yes," she said, envisioning her classmates. It was scary to think that the only one she knew would be Ludwig, but maybe that would trigger some memories to come back to her, and she was optimistic. "I can't wait to ask someone who's willing to answer my questions about math!"Bookmark here

Doctor Legerer chuckled again, ruffling her hair.Bookmark here

"You will handle yourself."Bookmark here

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The news was well-received in the Jakobson household.Bookmark here

Jakobson...Bookmark here

Jakobson...Bookmark here

No, with only the last name, it wasn't as bad.Bookmark here

Anyway, the only one who was really against the idea was Nia, though she wouldn't tell them why, exactly.Bookmark here

Probably just worry.Bookmark here

Kara cared about her opinion, though, and so she stayed home until the next holidays, at least. Pentecost... the last holidays before the long-awaited summer break. The period between the end of Pentecost and the beginning of Summer was the most important one for the final score of the year, most of which Kara had missed.Bookmark here

Her teachers had allowed her to not take them, though.Bookmark here

She hoped her classmates would forgive her.Bookmark here

A similar excitement to the one before her hospital leave filled her body on the last Sunday of Pentecost, and while she took care to go to bed early that night, it still took her an hour to fall asleep. Tomorrow, she would see everyone again. All these people she'd once called friends, but now didn't even remember.Bookmark here

They knew another version of her, which must be hard on them, too.Bookmark here

Kara decided to greet them with open arms.Bookmark here

All she wanted was for them to do the same...Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.