By: Evangeline Anderson

“Mrs. Peltz,” Emily murmured when the disappointed student left. “Since you have a volunteer here, do you mind if I run to the faculty restroom for a minute?”

Mrs. Peltz pursed her lips to a thin, pink line.

“Miss Brooks, you know you’re not supposed to leave students unattended in the library!”

“I know.” Emily was beginning to get desperate. She could feel another heat wave coming on. “I know but it’s just—it’s that time of the month. And I left my, uh, supplies in the classroom.”

“Well…” The librarian looked at her disapprovingly.

“Please,” Emily begged in an undertone.

“All right. But no more than ten minutes, mind.” Mrs. Peltz nodded her sharp chin at the door. “Go on.”

“Thank you!”

Incredibly relieved, Emily left the media center by the back door at a fast walk.

She breathed a sigh of relief as she got out into the chilly wind of the breezeway that connected the media center to the rest of the school. Tampa didn’t get much cold weather but it was mid January, just after the Christmas break, and the thermometer had actually dipped into the low sixties—positively frigid for Florida.

The breeze swirling through the breezeway cooled and revived her, drying the sweat that had broken out across her forehead but Emily could still feel the heat building inside her. By the time she reached the faculty bathroom, located in the rear of the admin building, she was nearly shaking again. Control…she had to get control!

She fumbled for the knob and let herself in, intensely relieved to see she was all alone. Stumbling to the sink, she turned on the cold tap and splashed her face with freezing water. Gasping in shock at the water’s bite, she reached blindly for a stack of the coarse, brown paper towels and blotted her cheeks and eyes. She tried not to smear what little make-up she had on but her face still looked naked when she studied herself in the mirror.

“Calm,” she whispered, her voice echoing in the tiled room. “Keep it together, Ems. Keep calm.”

Ems was her nickname—an affectionate moniker given by her big sister, Anna.

No, adopted sister, Emily reminded herself. Adopted—not really blood related at all.

The news of her adoption was still new to her—something her parents had decided to tell her over the Christmas break. “Because we’re getting older, dear,” her mother—no, adopted mother, Emily reminded herself—had said. “And you need to know in case you have some kind of health problems down the line.”

“We wanted to wait until you were married and settled down so you’d have a family of your own and it wouldn’t be such a shock,” her father had added. “But, well…”

“We decided that now was as good a time as any,” her mother had finished delicately. But Emily had understood the unspoken message. We wanted to wait until you were married but you’re past thirty and it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen any time soon.

“I’m only thirty-one,” Emily muttered to the mirror. “It could still happen.”

But she knew it wouldn’t. She was never going to get married and have kids of her own. It wasn’t that she was getting too old—that was silly—she knew women in their forties having their first baby. And in fact, she looked much like she had ten years ago in her early twenties. Unfortunately, that wasn’t necessarily a good thing.

With a sigh, Emily stared at her reflection in the mirror. Her shoulder-length dishwater blonde hair couldn’t be more nondescript if she’d dyed it with a color called Anonymous. And her eyes were a wishy-washy blue-gray-hazel that managed to be all colors and no color at once. Her face was just all right—she had broad, almost Slavic cheekbones, and a wide, too-generous mouth with a small nose. It wasn’t awful but it wasn’t model-pretty either and it wasn’t like she had anything else to recommend her. Aside from her limp hair and no-color eyes, she was too short—barely five foot four—and much too round. The loose cotton dress that hid her figure did her no favors but she wasn’t about to go out and buy anything that hugged her curves. She’d tried that once in college and the result had been disastrous.

As a matter of fact, the last time she’d had this trouble with the weird internal heat waves had been back in college, too. Right before—but Emily pushed that thought away hurriedly. It was a memory she preferred to leave buried.

“Should have known I was adopted,” she told her image in the mirror. “Anna and Mom and Dad are all tall and thin and perfect…and I’m the exact opposite.”