Authors: Maddy Edwards
Copyright © 2011 by Maddy Edwards
This novel is a work of fiction in which names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to real persons, places, or events is completely coincidental.
All rights are reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner without the written consent of the author.
Table of Contents
“Charlotte, did you make dinner?” My stepdad’s voice floated up to me from downstairs. I clicked my computer to sleep. I had made dinner. He was just too lazy to check the fridge before he asked me where it was. I wanted to yell that back to him, but I didn’t. I knew better; there were consequences for defiance. I took my time in answering, though. When he yelled again I called back that it was in the fridge. He asked what I had made. Again, I wanted to tell him to look for himself. I didn’t.
It was important to stay calm. My stepdad knew that. I was sure that’s why he pushed my buttons, not just because he was naturally a terrible person.
After I told him I had made lasagna, I slammed my door closed. My room didn’t feel like mine anymore, but it was still better than the rest of the house. I had already started packing my suitcases for college, even though I wasn’t leaving for another week and a half. Somehow, it felt more real if I packed. I couldn’t wait to get out of the house. My stepdad had informed me that my room would become storage once I was gone, meaning that after I left I couldn’t come back. That was fine. There was nothing to come back for anyway.
I had made sure to pack as many things of my mother’s as I could fit. My stepdad wouldn’t miss them, and anyhow, he and my little brother still had a lot of her stuff. I had her jewelry and her pictures. Stuff guys didn’t care about.
There was a tap on my door.
“Come in, Ricky,” I called, surveying my suitcases. It was getting to the point where they weren’t all going to fit in the car.
Ricky was my ten-year-old brother. Now that I was leaving, every time I saw him I got nostalgic. Seeing him reminded me of the things he and I shared, and the things we didn’t. We didn’t look anything alike; I was short and thin, he was tall and still had some baby fat. My hair was a soft brown, while his was a straw blond that flopped into his eyes every time he moved his head. He already needed glasses, while I could see fine. The only thing we had in common was our eyes. We both had our mom’s gray eyes. We shared that she had died.
“Hi,” he said, opening the door. Ricky was ten and already more mature than I was. He did everything he could to keep me from fighting with his dad. Despite his best efforts, though, he usually failed.
“How was the park?” I asked.
Ricky wandered into my room, tidying up as he went. Sometimes he reminded me of a little old man with blond hair.
“Fine,” he said. “We threw water balloons at passing cars.”
“Wonderful supervision that day camp of yours has,” I remarked.
“What’s up?” I asked. I had been worried about who would take care of Ricky once I went to school, and I had caved and told him so a few days ago. He laughed so hard he nearly fell off the couch and hit his head. I told him it would serve him right if he got hurt laughing at me, and he retorted that he already took good care of himself. If I had been a good cook, he said, he might have been worried, but since I was awful he would be much happier when his dad started ordering takeout every night. As a mature eighteen-year-old I decided against sticking my tongue out at him. Instead I threw a pillow.
“Think you’ll be home for Thanksgiving?” he asked. He wasn’t looking at me.
I couldn’t tell him I’d rather vomit in my prom dress, so I just said, “Yeah, there’s a decent chance.”
When Ricky didn’t say anything, I looked up from my packing. His right arm was crossed over his left in front of his chest. “With so much practice, how are you still such a terrible liar?”
“I promise I’ll write you whenever I can,” I said.
“I know,” he said. “It’s good you’re going. You’ll be a lot happier.”
I blushed. I did feel bad that I hated his dad. I just hoped he understood all my reasons.
“Yeah, but I will miss you,” I told him. Ricky stopped wandering around and walked towards my door. “Where are you going?” I demanded.
“You’re getting all girlie on me,” he said. “I’m leaving before I catch anything.”
“You can’t catch cooties, Ricky. That’s something teachers made up so you’d behave in school.”
Ricky looked at me. His face was grave. “No, it isn’t.”
I wondered what else I could get packed in the hour before I had to go to work. I just hoped nothing odd happened tonight; I had broken enough mugs for a lifetime. If I broke any more, Mr. Jefferson might fire me.
“Charlotte, get down here,” my stepdad cried. So much for avoiding him before it was time to go. I stomped past Ricky’s room, which was twice as big as mine. After my mom died, my stepdad had insisted that Ricky and I trade, saying that he was going to be home longer, so it made sense for him to have the bigger room.
I headed downstairs to find my dad and little brother sitting at the kitchen table. There were plates, forks, and knives set out, because I had set them out, but I didn’t see the lasagna. My stepdad didn’t even look at me. I couldn’t remember the last time he had asked me how my day was, and it had been years since he worried about where I was or if I was getting into trouble. If I had ever gotten arrested, it was my firm belief that he wouldn’t have bothered to bail me out of jail.
Now, I tried to keep myself from growling in frustration. “Don’t break anything while you’re getting dinner,” my stepdad said. “I don’t want to wait for you to remake it.”
My stepdad was very familiar with me breaking dishes; he had to replace entire sets every couple of years. Not that it was hard for him, since he owned the discount store in town. I grabbed the lasagna and brought it to the table. I was about to serve him a portion when he covered his plate with his hand. He still didn’t look at me.
It took every ounce of control I had not to dump the lasagna on his head. Instead I took the platter to the microwave. Once it was ready I served both of them and started to leave the room.
“What are you doing tonight?” asked Ricky.
“Working,” I said as I went back to the kitchen.
“Aren’t you going to eat?” he called after me. I could hear the hurt in his voice. He liked it when all three of us sat at the table, even though my stepdad and I could barely be polite to each other.
“I already ate,” I called back. We both knew it was a lie, but the alternative, eating with them, wasn’t an option.
“Charlotte, Ricky’s going to play at Harry’s house tonight, so you can drop him on your way to work,” my stepdad said. I didn’t bother answering. Harry was Ricky’s best friend. His house was not on my way to work, but my stepdad didn’t care. Now that I was leaving he could treat me any way he wanted.
Without my meaning to break it, the dish in my hand shattered and the shards went clattering to the floor. I stared at the one broken piece still in my hand. I guess I had gotten angry, but I hadn’t meant to break anything. My stepdad, used to my breaking stuff, called, “If you break one more thing before you leave you’re paying for it. That better be cleaned up by the time you have to do the dishes.”
I threw the last piece of broken plate down on the floor – hard – and went to grab the broom.
Later, on the way to Harry’s, Ricky linked his fingers through mine. “Seriously, are you going to come back and visit?” he asked.