“Screw the serious talk,” says Chris. “We won today. We’ll win fall season and spring.
We’re going to graduate victorious and when we do, Ryan’s going pro.”
“Amen,” says Logan.
From their lips to God’s ears, but sometimes God chooses not to listen. “Don’t get your hopes up. The scout today could be a one-time deal. Next week they could find somebody else to love.” I should know. That happened at the pro tryouts this past spring.
“Bullshit,” says Chris. “Destiny is knocking, Ry, and you need to get your ass up to answer.”
I FELL ASLEEP. Either that or my dear old uncle Scott drugged me. I’m going with fell asleep.
Scott may be a dick, but he’s a dare-to-keep-kids-off-drugs kind of dick. I should know. He once brought red ribbons and a police mascot to my preschool.
I love irony.
Moonlight streams through white lace curtains hanging from an artsy brown metal rod. I sit up and a pink crochet blanket falls away. The bedding beneath me is still perfectly made and I’m wearing the same outfit I wore on Friday night. Someone has neatly laid my shoes on the wooden floor next to the bed.
Even sober, I wouldn’t have done that. I don’t do neat.
I lean over and turn on a lamp. The crystals decorating the bottom edge of the shade clink together. The dull light draws my focus to the painfully cheery purple paint on the wall.
Closing my eyes, I count the days. Let’s see.
Friday night I went out with Noah and Isaiah and put Taco Bell Boy in his place. Early Saturday, Mom tried to become a felon.
Saturday morning, Scott ruined my life.
I pretended to fall asleep in the car so I wouldn’t have to talk to Scott, but I sucked and actually fell asleep. Scott woke me, I think, and half carried me into the house. Crap. Why don’t I put a sign on my head and announce I’m a loser girl who needs help.
I open my eyes and stare at the ticking clock on the bedside table. Twelve fifteen. Sunday.
This is early Sunday morning.
My stomach growls. I’ve gone a full day without eating. Wouldn’t be the first time.
Won’t be the last. I slip out of bed and slide my Chuck Taylor wannabes onto my feet. Time to have a coming-to-Jesus moment with Uncle
Scott. That is, if he’s awake. It may be better if he went to bed. That way I can slip out without the fight.
Maybe I’ll score some food before I call Isaiah. With a room like this, I bet he buys brand-name cereal.
The house has that newly built, fresh sawdust smell. Outside the bedroom is a foyer instead of a hallway. A large staircase, the type I thought existed only in movies, winds to the second floor. An actual chandelier hangs from the ceiling. Guess baseball pays well.
“No…” A woman’s voice carries from the back of the house. I can tell she’s still talking, but she’s lowered her tone. Did he marry or does he keep a fuck on hand like he did when I was a kid? Gotta be a fuck. I overheard Scott tell Dad once that he’d never marry.
I follow the low voices to the brink of a large open room and pause. The entire back of the house—excuse me, mansion—is one enormous wall of windows. The living room flows right into the eat-in kitchen.
“Scott.” Exasperation eats at the woman’s tone. “This is not what I signed up for.”
“Last month you were on board with this,” says Scott. Part of me feels vindicated. He’s lost that annoyingly smooth calm from yesterday.
“Yes, when you told me you wanted to reconnect with your niece. There is a difference between reconnecting and invading our life.”
“You were fine with it when I called last month from Louisville and said I wanted her to live with us.”
The woman snaps, “That was after you said she ran away. I didn’t actually think you would find her. When you described the hellhole she lived in, I figured she was long gone. She’s a criminal. You expect me to feel safe with her in my home?”
Her words slice me open. I’m not that bad.
No, I’m not kittens and bunnies, but I’m not that bad. I glance down at my outfit. Jeans.
Tank top. My black hair falls in front of my face. It doesn’t matter. She made her decision before she met me. I bury the hurt, step into the room, and welcome the anger. Screw her. “You might want to listen to her. I’m a fucking menace.”
The shocked expression on their faces is almost worth being here. Almost. I press my lips together to keep from laughing at Scott. He wears a pair of chinos and a short-sleeved button-down shirt. It’s a far cry from the outfits he used to wear when I was a kid: gangsta jeans that showed his underwear.
The woman is nothing like the girls Scott dated when he was eighteen. Her hair is a natural blond instead of bleached. She’s thin, but not alcohol-diet thin, and she looks kind of smart. Smart as in she probably finished high school.
She sits at a massive island in the center of the kitchen. Scott leans on the counter across from her. He glances at her, then talks to me.
“It’s late, Elisabeth. Why don’t you go back to bed and we’ll talk in the morning.”
My stomach cramps, and a light wave of dizziness fogs my brain. “Do you have food?”
He straightens. “Yes. What do you want? I can fix some eggs.”
Scott used to make me scrambled eggs every morning. Eggs—the WIC-approved food. The reminder hurts and creates warm fuzzies at the same time. “I hate eggs.”
Oh. The man’s a conversational genius. “Do you have cereal?”
“Sure.” He enters a pantry and I plop onto a stool at the island as far from Scott’s girl as possible. She stares at a spot right in front of me. Huh. Funny. I’m in arm’s reach of a butcher block full of knives. I can imagine the thoughts running through her single-celled brain.
Scott places boxes of Cheerios, Branflakes, and Shredded Wheat in front of me.
“You have got to be fucking kidding.”
Where the hell are the Lucky Charms?
“Nice language,” the woman says.
“Thanks,” I respond.
“I didn’t mean it as a compliment.”
“Do I look like I fucking care?”
Scott slides a bowl and spoon to me, then goes to the refrigerator for milk. “Let’s tone it down.”
I choose the Cheerios and keep pouring until a few toasty circles trickle onto the counter.
Scott sits in the chair next to mine and the two of them watch me in silence. Well, sort of silence. My crunching is louder than a nuclear bomb blast.
“Scott told me you had blond hair,” says the woman.
I swallow, but it’s hard to do when my throat tightens. The little girl I used to be, the one with blond hair, died years ago and I hate thinking about her. She was nice. She was happy. She was…not someone I want to remember.
“Why is your hair black?” The lawn ornament at the other end of the island has officially become annoying.
“What are you exactly?” I ask.
“This is my wife, Allison.”
The Cheerios catch in my throat and I choke, coughing into my hand. “You’re married?”
“Two years,” says Scott. Ugh. He does that googly-eye thing Noah does with Echo.
I slide another spoonful of Cheerios into my mouth. “When I’m done—” crunch, crunch, crunch “—I’m going home.”
“This is your home now.” Scott has that calm tone again.
“The hell it is.”
Allison’s eyes dart between me and the knives. Yeah, lady, a couple of hours in jail and I’ve moved from destruction of property to sociopath.
“Maybe you should listen to her,” she says.
“Yeah,” I say through more crunches,
“maybe you should listen to me. Your wife’s worried I’m going to go all Manson and slit her throat while she sleeps.” I smile at her for effect.
Color drains from her face. At times, I really enjoy being me.
Scott gives me the once-over—starting with my black hair, then moving on to my black fingernails, the ring in my nose, and finally my clothes. Then he turns to his wife. “Will you give us a few minutes alone?”
Allison leaves without saying a word. I shovel in more cereal and purposely talk with my mouth full. “Did you have to purchase the leash for her or did it come as a package deal?”
“You won’t disrespect her, Elisabeth.”
“I’ll do as I fucking please, Uncle Scott.” I mimic his fake haughty tone. “And when I’m done eating my shitty cereal, I’m calling Isaiah and I’m going home.”
Him—silence. Me—crunch, crunch, crunch.
“What happened to you?” he asks in a soft voice.
I swallow what’s in my mouth, put down the spoon, and push the bowl of half-eaten
Cheerios away. “What do you think happened?”
Scott—the master of long silences.
“When did he leave?” he asks.
I don’t have to be a mind reader to know Scott’s asking about his deadbeat brother. The black paint on my fingernails chips at the corners. I scrape off more of it. Eight years later and I still have a hard time saying it.
Scott shifts in his seat. “Your mom?”
“Fell apart the day he left.” Which should tell him a lot, because she wasn’t exactly the poster child for reliability before Dad took off.
“What happened between them?”
None of his business. “You didn’t come for me like you promised.” And he stopped calling when I turned eight. The refrigerator kicks on.
I scrape off more paint. He faces the fact that he’s a dick.
“Beth.” I cut him off. “I go by Beth. Where’s your phone? I’m going home.” The police confiscated my cell and gave it to Scott. He told me in the car that he tossed it in the garbage because I “didn’t need contact with my old life.”
“You just turned seventeen.”
“Did I? Wow. I must have forgotten since no one threw me a party.”
Ignoring me, he continues, “This week my lawyers will secure my legal guardianship of you. Until you turn eighteen, you will live in this house and you will obey my rules.”
Fine. If he won’t show me the phone, I’ll find it. I hop off the chair. “I’m not six anymore and you aren’t the center of my universe. In fact, I consider you a black hole.”
“I get that you’re pissed off I left.…”
Pissed? “No, I’m not pissed. You don’t exist to me anymore. I feel nothing for you, so show me where the damned phone is so I can go home.”
He doesn’t get it. I don’t care. “Go to hell.”
No phone in the kitchen.
“You need to understand.…”
I walk around his fancy ass living room with his fancy ass leather furniture looking for his fancy ass phone. “Take whatever you have to say and shove it up your ass.”
“I just want to talk.…”
I lift my hand in the air and flap it like a puppet’s mouth. “Blah, blah, blah, Elisabeth.READ MORE >>