Authors: Renee Ericson
Tags: #General Fiction
Lexi will be there though, and at this point, I think we’re friends. We’ve been hanging out for about six weeks at camp, and I’ve been wondering if we’ll still hang out after school starts in two weeks. Maybe that’s more likely than I originally thought.
“Sure,” I reply, even though I have no idea where Owen lives.
Maybe Brent assumes I’m going with Lexi. If I don’t go with her, then I’m pretty sure I won’t be going at all.
“Great. See you tonight,” he says.
I know he’s talking to Lexi, but he keeps looking at me.
“I’m heading up to the lodge to get my brother. I don’t want to be late.” Brent turns and walks off toward the lot near the lake.
I guess he didn’t need my help getting to the lodge after all.
Lexi turns to me. “So, do you want to go to Owen’s together or meet there?”
“Together,” I say firmly as my eyes quickly peek one more time after Brent as he leaves.
I don’t see Brent at the formal farewells.
I still can’t get over the oh-so-embarrassing blush my face decided to display just from talking to him earlier. I’m not a crush kind of girl, and I certainly don’t have an infatuation with him. I’ve never even talked to him before, but apparently, my body responds to his good looks. It’s awkward.
After we say our good-byes to all the kids, I collect my things and pile them into my Gremlin—the car, not the little green scary creature.
I pull into my driveway around four o’clock. Looking up at our house, I wonder what the weekend will bring. My dad and I live in a duplex that my Uncle Jason owns. Uncle Jas, as we call him, is my father’s brother. He lives on one side with his sometimes-there son, Cody, and we live on the other.
Four years ago, when my dad lost his job and had nowhere to turn, Jas offered us a place to stay. My dad initially declined because we loved living in Colorado, and neither one of us wanted to leave. For a long time, he tried to get other jobs but to no avail, and when the unemployment checks ran out, we were basically out of options. So, we left and moved near his—and I guess, my—family in Illinois.
It isn’t ideal, but I’ve learned most things in life aren’t. My father hates it here, and I know he never wanted to come back. He’s never talked about why—and he doesn’t talk about it now—but I’m sure the demons, metaphorically speaking, are what made him leave in the first place.
Fate has left us with no choice, so here we are.
Staring into the rearview mirror, my brown eyes hide the unrest I feel about coming home. My petite nose crinkles in disgust while my soft pink lips do some sort of Elvis-like snarl.
Oh, c’mon, Ruby! It’s not that bad.
“There are children starving in Africa. Stop making it a bigger deal than it really is.”
Great, now I’m talking to myself.
After mentally preparing myself for what’s inside, I creak open the driver’s side door and step out onto the gravel. Padding around to the back of the car, I pop open the hatch to get out my stuff, which is mostly laundry. As I start begrudgingly toward the front door with my keys in hand, a dark shadow coming from the back of the duplex trots in my direction.
“Dragon!” I yell and then whistle. “Here, boy.”
Dragon is such a dumb name for a dog, but I love him. He isn’t mine per se, but we like each other. He technically belongs to Uncle Jas, but on the weekends, he claims me.
I drop my bag in the driveway as he rushes to me with his tongue dangling out of the side of his mouth. Squatting down with open arms, I envelop him while he licks my cheek.
“I missed you, boy. How have you been?” I ask him, scratching his head with camp dirt–filled nails. Standing up, I continue walking into the house with him at my side.
It’s no surprise to me that the door is unlocked, but the place feels like no one is home. I set down my bag and head to the kitchen to open the refrigerator.
Not that I’m expecting it to be full, but it would be nice to be pleasantly surprised every once in a while. There isn’t even milk. All I see are just a few condiments, a jar of pickles, and a case of beer.
Sometimes, I wonder what my dad eats. I certainly don’t feed him when I’m home. He’s an adult, so he can take care of himself. At least, he should.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t hate my dad, but he’s the parent and hasn’t really been acting like one. He’s left me to fend for myself, so that’s what I’ve been doing. I guess I’ve been leaving him to fend for himself, too. It’s a silent understanding that we have. Maybe I should be more pissed about the whole thing, but there’s nothing I can do. We barely talk these days.
“Dad!” I shout as I close the refrigerator door. “Dad, are you home?”
I walk around the counter, pick up my bag of laundry, and head into the basement to start a load. After I have the laundry going, I go back upstairs into the small hallway off of the kitchen that leads to the bedrooms. My dad’s door is slightly ajar, so I peek in. He’s sprawled out on the bed, face down, still in his clothes from work.
“Dad.” I walk over to him and then get a little closer to his face. “Dad, I’m home,” I say at a normal volume.
He doesn’t budge.
“Dad!” I say again a little louder, shaking his shoulder a little.
He still doesn’t move. Holding back my mane of brown hair, so it doesn’t hit his face, I lean in a little closer to see if he’s breathing. His breath comes out steady, and I see there’s a little drool mark on the bed sheet.
On his next exhale, I notice that familiar whiskey scent.
Yep, he’s passed out drunk.
No surprise there.
I straighten and then leave while he sleeps it off.
I head to my room and plop down on my bed. Dragon follows and takes a seat next to me with a questioning look in his eye. We talk like this all the time. It’s almost as if he’s wondering how my week went, and he’s waiting for me to spill. I don’t think anyone talks to him while I’m gone.
“What?” I ask.
He raises his brows slightly, willing me to go on.
“All right. My week was fan-freaking-tastic. How was yours?”
Dragon hops up on the bed and puts his head on my lap. He must sense there’s something on my mind. I think he’s trying to comfort me. I let out a breath and begin to stroke his head.
“Well,” I continue, knowing he’s waiting, “the week was pretty much the same as always. It was humid, so the kids were smelly, sweaty, and disgusting. Thank goodness for well-ventilated cabins.” I keep petting his ears, looking down at the top of his head. “You’re not so smelly though.” I tilt my head toward him. “During my free hours, I went for a run and canoed around the lake. Maybe you can go with me to the lake this weekend?”
Just then, my cell phone chimes and buzzes with a new text from Lexi. She’s had my number all summer, but I’ve only received two texts from her in the past four weeks. Both times, she wanted to see if we could meet at camp early to go canoeing together.
During our first week at Camp White Ash, we were teamed together for training with four other coeds. We learned basic stuff, like how to properly light a fire, and then we navigated through trails, ran through obstacle course safety, and trained for all the water activities. Lexi and I shared a canoe that week, and just like me, she fell in love with the stillness and serenity of floating on the water.
I take a look at her text.
What’s your address? I’ll pick you up.
We didn’t work out the logistics about going to the party tonight before we left camp. She just said she would text me later, but I thought she might blow me off.
I know we’re friends at camp, but this is different. This is a school party with a whole new set of people in a place where I don’t really
a place. I go the middle-ground route.
How about I meet you there?
About thirty seconds later, she texts me back.
Why don’t you come over and stay here after? We can go together.
. I never even thought of that as an option. I usually like to see my dad for a little bit on the weekends, but I think he already made up his mind as to what his plans would be for the evening. I guess I can catch up with him tomorrow. It doesn’t look like he’ll be up for much conversation tonight.
Who am I kidding?
He’s not much for conversation any night.
I quickly accept.
Lexi replies just as quickly.
214 Maple. See you at 7?
See you then.
“Well, there you have it,” I tell Dragon. “Looks like this little lady has plans for the evening.”
Dragon jerks up as I hear the back door open in the unit next door. He heads into the hallway while I peek out my window to see Cody in the backyard.
Ugh, my cousin, Cody.
Yeah, we’re related, but he can be such a pain at times.
Through the window, I can see him walking toward our back door, so I head out to meet him. When I get to the kitchen, Cody is standing in front of the fridge with Dragon at his side.
I haven’t really seen Cody in more than a month. The last time was at the mild disaster on the Fourth of July. We were at a bonfire that ended with too many drunk people and me stranded with no ride. He goes through phases with being here, at Uncle Jas’s, and not being here. It’s like he gets bored with his friends and then decides he should spend time with his family or something.
Cody lives in an apartment by himself two towns over where he runs another garage for his father, my Uncle Jas. He’s only three years older than me, but he could easily pass for twenty-five instead of twenty.
Every time I see him, he seems to have a new look. Today, he’s wearing a dark blue T-shirt with cut-off sleeves. On his legs are what I affectionately call “Ben Affleck pants,” after seeing
Good Will Hunting
, but I guess others would call them track pants. His are some cheap knock-off version that he probably purchased at a discount retailer. He’s also wearing some type of work boots with the laces undone.
I notice a piece of plastic wrap surrounded by tape on the inside of his right forearm. It’s shimmery and discolored.
Looks like he had a date with the tattoo parlor.
His dark hair is shorter than the last time I saw him. It’s almost shaved down to the scalp, and it looks like he’s growing a goatee.
Aren’t those out of style yet?
“Hey, Cody,” I say. I try to sound friendly, but I know it comes out irritated.
“Hey, Pubies,” he replies in a mocking tone.
I hate that nickname.
He reaches in the fridge and pulls out a can of beer. When he opens it, it begins to foam a little, spilling over a bit. He then makes it a point to fling some of the beer from his fingers onto my face. It barely misses my eyes as a few drops land on my lashes.
“Do you always have to be such a dick?” I wipe the crap from my face.
After taking a long and hard chug, he says, “Nah, I save it just for you. So, where’s your dad?”
“Sleeping. Why? Do you need something?”
“Nah, I’ll catch up with him later. So, what’s up?”
Cody heads for the small living area off the kitchen. He drops down on the couch while I take a seat in a chair designed more for a kitchen table, but we use it in the living room.
Geez, make yourself at home.
After we’re seated, Dragon comes to sit by me. This internally pleases me. I have someone on my team. Two against one is how I see it. Cody can be a little much to deal with at times.
“Well?” he sings mockingly, referring to his previous question.
“Not much. I just got back.”
He wipes the scruff on his face with the back of his hand. “Back? Where have you been?”
“I’ve been working at Camp White Ash all summer,” I tell him cautiously. I’m not sure what he’s getting at. “But you knew that.”
“Oh yeah,” he says. “Work with any hot babes? Big tits? Tight asses?”
Here we go.
“Um, I don’t think so. I’m pretty sure I don’t look at girls the same way you do.” I roll my eyes and then look at Dragon. He’s obviously waiting for me to pet him, so I do.
“Well, why don’t you bring some over? I can let you know if they’re worth my time or not.”
I’m not sure if he’s joking or not, but there’s no way I’d ever introduce him to any girl I know. I guess he’s good-looking, but I don’t think he’s exactly boyfriend material.
“Uh, yeah right, Cody. So you can…what? Date them? Do you even date?” I ask with a bit of venom. I try to play it off as a joke, so I don’t piss him off.
“Ha! I don’t hear any girls complaining. They all seem to have a
good time,” he says, waggling his eyebrows like a villain.
“You’re so disgusting.”
“Some girls like it dirty.”
“No, you’re nasty.”
“I know.” He smiles in a taunting way, waiting for me to challenge him further.
Time to change the subject because this is heading in a direction I don’t wish to go. “So, are you staying the night with your dad?”
“Maybe. I hear some people are coming over later. Are you going?” He leans back in the couch as he rubs the soft dark stubble on his head. Narrowing his light blue eyes at me, he says, “Forget it. You never come. I keep forgetting that you’re better than us.”
“No, I’m not,” I tell him with a defensive lilt. “I just don’t want to go.”
“C’mon,” he sings. “You’re missing out. You can bring a friend with you…or two.”
“Okay,” I tell him, knowing that I’m saying it just so he’ll drop it, “but I can’t tonight. I already have plans.”
“Really?” he asks surprised, like he doesn’t believe I have a life.
Well, he’s probably right. There’s a reason why Dragon, a dog, is my best friend.
“You got a hot date or something?” he teases. He then starts to huff a little at some inner conversation he’s having with himself. “Make sure to use protection unless you’re on the rag. You should be safe then.”