Authors: Jeri Williams
Copyright © 2013 Jeri Williams
All Rights Reserved
This publication is protected under the US Copyright Act of 1976 and all other applicable international, federal, state, and local laws, and all rights are reserved, including resale rights: you are not allowed to give or sell this book to anyone else.
Any trademarks, service marks, product names, or named features are assumed to be the property of their respective owners and are used only for reference. There is no implied endorsement if one of these terms is used.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
the Original Jerry Williams
“I now pronounce you man and wife. You may kiss the bride.”
Those were the words that brought Ann Shaw and her brown-eyed, five-year-old daughter, Aria, into my dad’s and my life. As I looked at the church and all the white and lavender decorations around it, I thought that my nine years of life had been okay thus far. I mean, Wally—my dad—and I were never really close after my mother died during childbirth because of severe bleeding that couldn’t be stopped. I think it’s possible that he blamed me. I know that’s crazy sauce, but he said it so much over the years that I just went with it.
Don’t get me wrong. Wally took care of me. He bought me clothes and food and made sure I was healthy, but I never got the normal hugs and kisses that every other kid on my block did. But I was content—as content as I could be. I wasn’t looking for change. I didn’t want some woman coming in and trying to be my mom. I already had a mom—in a picture by my bed.
As I stared at the small whip of a girl next to me, I was more than a little angry. It was like Wally had sprung all this on me in a week’s time. I met Ann, and then a month later, they were getting married. I did not want a
-anything—especially a sister. I didn’t even know about Aria until the day before wedding rehearsals. And when we got back home after the wedding, I was being, well, a brat.
“But why does she have to share a room with me?” I pouted.
“Do you see another free room in the house, Dac?” my father asked me. He had refused to give us his study so that we could have separate rooms.
“Wally, don’t be so male about this,” Ann said brightly. She turned to me with nothing but the purest of smiles and said, “I know this is all new to you and we are invading your space, Dacey, but it’s new for Aria too and she gets scared in strange places.”
Then Ann patted Wally on the shoulder, and they both left me and the big brown-eyed, five-year-old Aria in the room by ourselves.
I sat on the edge of my bed and pouted while I looked at Aria, who stood just inside the door.
“Wanna play dolls?” she asked.
“Not with you, little brat,” I replied petulantly.
“Your sister!” she screamed, eyes wide.
I’m not sure why, but I replied back, “Your sister,” not even thinking, and then I looked at her and we laughed. Maybe I
want a step-something.
“Dac, hurry up!” Aria yelled. “I need the bathroom too, you know!”
“Could you bang any louder? I don’t think old man Simmons down the street heard you,” I said.
“I could try,” she replied happily. I rolled my eyes and cleared the way for her.
“Are Wally and Mom up yet?”
“Ugh, no. They are being lazy, and I need gas money. It’s my first day at SGC!”
“Why are you so excited about going to college, A? You’re not even living in the dorms.”
“Because you don’t know what it’s like,” she whined. “They are gross with the I love you’s and the kissy faces. Anytime old people kiss, it’s gross. You know when you kiss, it has to be gross!” she said with a huge smile.
“Oh, yeah. I’m so old. Me and all my twenty-two years. Have you seen my cane? I thought I left it here last night,” I said as I hunched over.
“I think you left it in the hall closet.”
“Your sister!” she said without missing a beat.
“Your sister,” I threw back at her. Then, “Go grab a twenty out of my wallet. I left it by the front door. I only stopped by to wish you good luck on your first day of school. I’m sure I’ll see you around campus, since it’s the only college in this small-ass town, and I’m doing journalism this semester for my major. Speaking of, what did you decide on?”
“Oh, oh! Guess!” She danced back and forth on her feet like some crazed monkey. I couldn’t help but laugh.
“Um, they have majors for monkey dancers?”
“No, oh—but what if they did?” she asked, eyes wide.
“Aria...” I said, shaking my head.
“Theater. I am majoring in theater, Dac. What do you think?” she asked me happily.
I looked at her huge brown eyes and took in her tall frame. Aria had a beauty about her. She was a girl-next-door beauty. As a kid, she was chubby, and her large eyes were too big for her small, round face. But she had grown into her looks over the years, and people—and by
, I meant boys—had started to notice. She went through her awkward tall-and-skinny phase, but because she was so likable, no one ever really gave her shit about it. It was this likability that took her from being my stepsister to my sister, and I dared anyone to say any different.
Aria lit up a room with her bubbly personality and had an infectious smile that made everyone smile—you couldn’t help it. I’ll admit she even had that effect on me, and I’m not a smiley person. Ask anyone.
“I think, little sister,” I smiled slowly, “that you are so going to major in theater!”
“Yeah, I am!” she proclaimed loudly.
She fist-pumped into the bathroom and closed the door to start her morning routine. As soon as I heard some bubblegum pop song blasting and the shower going, I knew she would be in there at least thirty minutes. I looked at the bumper sticker on the bathroom door that read, “Shaddy Groves, where time stands still—literally” and smiled because I had changed the two Ds and the A into an I and two Ts, making it say, “Shitty Groves” when I was younger. Shaddy Groves, Florida—yes, two Ds, not one—was a small town. When the town was named, the founders thought that naming the town with two Ds would give it a unique quality. I thought it just made it seem like they couldn’t spell the word “shady.” The population was about three thousand or so, with most people leaving to go to the bigger neighboring cities in Florida, like Orlando or Miami. Whenever we received anything from those cities, they would always mistakenly misspell Shaddy Groves and we would have to correct them, “No, that’s Shaddy with
Ds.” Eye roll.
I looked into my old room as I passed it and saw it still looked somewhat the same. The wallpaper was still peeled back in the same corner, and the two full beds were still in the same position as they were when we shared the room. The two desks that Wally put in to give us our own space, at the suggestion of Ann, were still there, although most of my things were gone from when I moved out to go to college. The only things left behind were things that Aria wanted, like stuffed animals that reminded her of me or awards that I had won that she thought were special. She was convinced that once I moved out, she would never see me again, but I had told her that would never happen.
I loved her too much. It was true: I was a brat to her the first few years we were thrown together, often being errant and defiant when it came to having to drag her with me everywhere I went. But she was always there with a smile. When I would be extra mean to her, she would give it back. I think that’s why I loved her so quickly. She took my shit and gave it right back. We had a special bond that our parents would never understand. While I loved Ann like my mother and had come to even calling her “Mom,” she still didn’t understand the bond Aria and I shared. On a number of different occasions, she would always say, “I just don’t get you two. It’s like you guys were cut from the same cloth.”
“I don’t know what to say, Mom. Are you sure you didn’t have twins? I just came out first, and you gave me up, forgot all about it, and then had A four years later miraculously,” I’d joke.
“No, I think I’d remember that, Dacey.” she’d say as she’d roll her eyes.
Aria would then usually chime in. “Are you sure, Mom? ’Cause I read about this lady who was pregnant for forty years and didn’t know it, although the baby was dead in that case.”
We’d both laugh, and that was how it had always been.
Going through the kitchen to my parents’ bedroom door, I knocked softly. “Hey, Mom?”
After a few seconds, the door cracked open and Wally poked his head out. “What are you doin’ here?” he asked gruffly.
Wally had only one voice, and it was always gruff, from as far back as I could remember. It was just how he talked.
“Hey to you too, Dad,” I said condescendingly. After all, he started it.
“You knock on my door and wake me up. You don’t even live here anymore. So what do you want?”
Ugh, you’d think I pissed in his bed—or his bran flakes. “I was hoping to catch Mom before she started getting ready for work. Is she up yet?”
“You mean Ann? Yeah, she’s in the bathroom. I’ll tell her you are looking for her.”
And with that, he closed the door in my face, ending our father-daughter conversation.
“Dick,” I said under my breath as I walked back through the kitchen and sat at the breakfast table. Over the past thirteen years, Wally’s attitude toward me had not changed. If anything, it had gotten worse. Like I was a constant reminder of my mom and he wanted nothing to do with me now that he had a new wife and daughter. You would think this would make me resentful or bitter toward Ann and Aria, but it made me just the opposite. While Wally doted on A and treated her like the second coming, Ann made me feel like she birthed me herself and I was nothing less than her daughter, not
daughter. I had told her that my dad blamed me for my mother being dead, and she said that was nonsense. But, after awhile, she started to see how he treated me differently from them.
He wouldn’t look at me, nor would he praise me for work that I had accomplished when I only wanted to accomplish the work just for him to praise me. I would invite him to school functions, and he would never show. He never went to father-daughter dances or anything like that. Ann, however, was always there. Not the dances, obviously, but everything else. The events at school, the award ceremonies, she was always there. Both she and A were always there. After my high school graduation came and went and he was a no-show, Ann came to Sharkey’s, the only decent restaurant in this small town, where the after-party was being held, and tried to explain away his behavior, saying that she had tried to get him to see that it was not my fault about my mom’s death. My first thought was to say to myself, “I knew it,” but I opted for something less dramatic, telling her it was okay and that I believed he loved me in his own way deep down.
That night, as a graduation present, I had found a check for three thousand dollars on my pillow. The note said it was from Mom and Dad, but I’m sure it was really just from Mom. I used that money now to pay for living expenses at college. I lived in the dorms, but food and water were not free. Wally had made it clear that I was to move out after I graduated. Me, not Aria.
“Hey, honey. I didn’t know you were here.” Ann Harper came out of her bedroom door, looking fresh and ready to start her day. It was obvious by the surprised look on her face that Wally had in fact not told her I was here. Dick.
“Oh, Dad didn’t tell you I was looking for you?” I asked offhandedly as if the house were a maze.
“It must have slipped his mind. He’s been really busy at work lately,” she said as she dropped a kiss on my cheek, which she did every time she saw me. “How’s Opal? I imagine that’s the reason you’re up so early,” she asked, sliding me some coffee, then pouring herself another cup.