Christmas Countdown: Story opening

1:00 AM

The silence at the breakfast table should be something that he was used to by now, but Jared hated it as much as when its unwelcomed presence had first descended on their family meal time. His mother and father exchanged worried glances, and Amber ignored all of them as she nibbled at the blueberries that sat inside her small bowl.
“Amber,” her mother said again, “you have to eat.”
Amber plopped one of the blueberries in her mouth and stared past Jared as if she hadn’t heard.
Jared knew his fifteen-year-old sister had heard them; he could detect the very small change in her eyes, the thoughts and feelings raging through her almost palpable to him. She was trying to block them all out, thinking that she was being strong, but she was really just being stupid.
“Amber, look at your mother when she is talking to you,” their father said sternly.
Amber swallowed, her gaze dropping to her bowl before she shoved it away. “I am so tired of y’all always picking on me. Just because Mom is fat, doesn’t mean I have to follow in that direction. And I do eat! I am just on a special diet for the Snow Queen Pageant.”
Jared winced and wished back the awkward silence. It was bad, but it was better than the angry words being hurled like daggers. He felt that he, at sixteen, should be able to do something to stop it.
“Amber –” Her mother started.
Amber stood. “If you keep on bugging me I won’t come and eat breakfast here anymore. Most parents are supportive of their kids when they eat healthy and want to win a beauty pageant. You just want me to be fat, so that you will feel better about letting yourself go.”
“That not only unfair, it is a lie,” her father said, pushing his plate with waffles and bacon away from him. “We support you wanting to eat healthy and we have bought you all the special foods you wanted. You know this isn’t about what you are eating, it is about how little you are eating.”
“I eat enough,” Amber said defensively.
“Amber,” her mother tried again, “you are not eating enough to be healthy. You are losing too much weight too fast. It isn’t healthy. I will support you in losing weight, but in a healthy way. And you know why we have a problem with the pageant.”

Amber crossed her arms and looked away.
Jared stared down at his plate. His days were on repeat. This had been the scene at breakfast every morning this week, as his parents had decided to confront Amber on Monday. She had denied that it then, refused to go to counselling on Tuesday, and laughed at the idea of speaking to the pastor on Wednesday. Today she again was rebuffing any attempts to help her.
“Honey, you have to admit you have a problem and we can help you,” her father said, sounding near tears. “We will help come up with a balance. We are not trying to say you can’t eat healthy and excises a lot, but you are going to do major damage to your body this way. That Snow Queen has become an obsession for you, and that is a problem.”
Amber turned back, furry in her eyes. Her green eyes almost looked golden. “My problem is you! All of you! You are just trying to make me fat like the rest of you so I will fit in, and it isn’t fair.” She stomped off to her room, leaving an even more profound silence in her wake then when she her arrived at the table.
Jared watched his mother rise from the table and rush to her bedroom, a sob escaping within his hearing.
“Mary,” his father followed after her and raced to comfort his wife.
Jared stared down at his plate feeling sick. He thought back to what things were like only the year before. He remember very well the week after Thanksgiving last year, it had been so filled with laughter and fun. The Fillmore Four, as their family called themselves, had spent hours planning their Christmas display and Amber had made up a batch of cookies almost every day.
What had happened to her in the past year? She had slowly started to pull away from all of them, becoming obsessed with being thin and healthy and that stupid beauty pageant their town put on. Amber had always been a bit larger, but she was quickly slimming down, at an alarming rate.
Jared left is plate on the table and grabbed his jacket from a peg in the hallway. Things couldn’t stay this way. He had to find some way to change them.

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