Authors: Trish Doller
To all the girls who know what they want.
And to all the girls who don't.
Hell is empty, and all the devils are here.
Freedom is ticking its way around the face of the old clock above the doorâ
so close, so close, so closeâwhen
Justin comes into the market and I die a tiny, unnoticeable death. Not so much because he's here in my dad's grocery store with his arm draped around the girl from Alachua who took my place on the soccer team, but because they're stopping in for a twelve-pack on their way out to O'Leno. Summer Fridays were our thing and it never occurred to me that Fridays would ever be anything other than ours. That I could be replaced so thoroughly.
I don't miss him. Not at all. But I miss having someone to lie with on the big moss-covered log beside the river just talking about nothing. Or not talking. I miss the feel of his warm hands on my bare skin under the
tree-speckled sunshine. I miss his mouth on mine until our lips are swollen and raw. His dark-blue eyes meet mine over the top of his new girlfriend's head, and I'm lying. I miss all of that so much it hurts.
Until now the plan was to get a head start with my Saturday offâa rare and precious commodityâwatching
with my little brother until his bedtime, then stay up until the wee hours of the morning planning trips to places I've never been. Thumbing through yard sale guidebooksâsome from countries that aren't even countries anymoreâand pinning my someday destinations on the maps that cover the bruise-purple paint on my bedroom walls. Maybe Machu Picchu. Or Iceland to see the northern lights. Or diving in Fiji, even though I don't dive. Yet. Until now I was looking forward to putting on my pajamas and imagining a life beyond High Springs, Florida. Now the prospect of sitting home alone just â¦ sucks.
Before I have time to dwell, Justin's stupid twin brother, Jason, blasts through the door, making the bells on the handle rattle as if they've been caught in a blender. He's built like an oversize LEGO man and looks so different from Justin that it's hard to imagine them related, let alone sharing the same womb.
“Hey there, Sparkles.” Jason doesn't hoist so much as launch himself onto the counter beside me. He's wearing a T-shirt with ripped-off sleeves so I can see the pimples on his shoulder and deodorant bits sticking to his armpit
hair. “A bunch of us are hanging out tonight down at the river. Wanna come skinny-dipping with me?”
Eleven years ago I was cast in the role of Sparkles the Snowflake in the elementary school Christmas play, so Jason started calling me Sparkles. Not that Arcadia Wells is much better, but I like my name because according to the beat-up old baby name book with yellowed pages that my mom used to name me, Arcadia means “adventurous.” I like to think that was her dream for me, too. That one day I really will escape this place. Even though everyone else calls me Cadie, Jason still thinks the nickname Sparkles is as funny as it was when we were seven. Of course, I'm of the opinion that Jason Kendrick is likely to marry his own sister, so I try not to let him get to me.
“Not if we were the last two people on earth,” I say, watching Justin slide his hands up and down the arms of the girl from Alachua, keeping her warm in the chilly beer aisle the way he always did for me. Jason donkey-laughs as if I'm joking and I feel snot trickle from my nose.
I will not cry.
I refuse to cry.
Instead, I shove Jason off the counter.
“Come on, Sparkles, don't be like that.” He pouts. “It'll be fun, and maybe I'll even let youâ” He pumps his fist in front of his mouth and pushes his tongue against the inside of his cheek. My face catches fire, and I feel like I'm going to be sick. What Justin and I did alone
together was private. Something I've never done with anyone else. Ever. Would he really tell Jason?
Anger bounces through me like a pinball, pinging off my insides until I'm lit up with it. Justin brings a twelve-pack to the cash register as if it's still our Friday. As if any of this is okay. In my head I tell him to go buy his beer somewhere else from now on. In my head I tell him to go to hell. But in the real world, I ring up the beer without telling him anything at all, and he gives me money enough to pay for it.
On the walk home I decide I'm going up to the state park tonight even if it means having to watch Justin making out with his new girlfriend. She's not all that new. He started dating her last year, about three weeks after he dumped me. Just before Coach Wainwright gave her my spot on the team. I can't hate the girl from Alachua because it's not her fault I had to quit. Dad was barely holding it together after Mom died, so someone had to look after Danny and run the household. Not sure I'm doing a very good job of it, especially when the house comes into view. The paint is flaking off the shutters and our lawn is more weeds than grass, and I'm embarrassed by how shabby it's become.
Dad is parked at the kitchen table with his ledger book
and a beer. Even though I've tried to persuade him to use the computer to keep his books, he says there's a kind of Zen in doing it on paper. I drop a kiss on the top of his head, noticing a few extra strands of gray amid the brown, as my little brother comes running in from the living room and hugs me around my butt. He'll be four soon and sometimes he thinks he's too big a boy for hugs, but apparently today is not one of those days.
“Hello there, Mister Boone.” I ruffle his pale blond hair. Towheaded is what Mom always called us, although a couple of nights ago, in a fit of late-night boredom, I dyed mine a streaky ginger-gold and chopped it just below my chin, a move I can't decide was stupid or genius. It's a fine line, really.
Anyway, ever since I read my brother a storybook about Daniel Boone, Danny insists that's his name, too. I asked the guidance counselor at school if it was weird, especially since nothing in our house has been normal for a long time, but she assured me he would grow out of it. I guess Danny's harboring the fantasy that he's an eighteenth-century frontiersman is no crazier than my believing I'll ever actually scale the citadel at Machu Picchu.
“How about some ravioli tonight?” I tie on the owl-print apron Mom and I made together when she first taught me how to sew. She wore it whenever she cooked,
even if she was doing something as simple as tearing open a packet of macaroni and cheese-powder. Mom was special that way and, well â¦ it sounds a little silly, but whenever I wear the apron I feel as if her arms are around me. Holding me together.
“Raviolis!” Danny throws his arms in the air, doing a one-man wave. I should be relieved, but his current level of enthusiasm is no guarantee he'll eat it. I can make the same sauce three times, and the fourth time he'll declare it yucky. “Can I help?”
He tears the iceberg lettuce into tiny piecesâtoo small for salad, but I let him do it his own wayâwhile I heat up a jar of spaghetti sauce and drop frozen ravioli into a boiling pot. Danny chatters to me about the adventures his Wonder Woman doll was having before I got home from work. She used to belong to me, but I gave him the doll when he was old enough not to chew on her legs. Despite the conversations we've had about how all toys are for all kids, he's starting to gravitate toward traditionally “boy” stuff like dump trucks, pirates, and anything that requires explosive sound effects. Still, he loves the hell out of Wonder Woman. Dad rolls his eyes at our conversation, but he never discourages Danny because he knows Mom would feel the same way as I do.
Before long, dinner is on the table, and after Dad says grace, he asks me if everything went okay at the store today. Aside from Justin and his illegal beer purchase
(which Dad doesn't need to know about), we didn't have very many customers. I'm reluctant to spoil dinner with the bad news. “It was fine. A little quiet. Maybe Rhea will have a beer rush before closing.”
Dad's sigh is a black hole that crushes all the happiness in the room. I know it weighs heavy that the store loses a little more every year, and I feel like it's somehow my fault, even though I know better. We can't compete with the Winn-Dixie. And Mom was the heartbeat that kept everything alive. The store. The house. Us.
I blink away tears and focus on my ravioli. The phone rings, and Dad's chair scrapes across the tile as he gets up to answer. “Hello â¦ oh, hey, Ed â¦”
Uncle Eddie is always calling with fictional home improvement projects he can't complete without my father, a man who couldn't hammer his way out of a wet paper bag. Dad thinks I don't know that they just sit in the garage, watching documentaries and drinking beer, but I do. When it was a once-a-month thing it wasn't a problem, but now he's over there a couple times a week. Add late nights at the grocery store, town council meetings, and historical preservation committee, and me and Daniel Boone are practically orphans.
Avoidance. Dad's coping mechanism of choice.
“Can we watch
Danny, looking upside down at me while I clear away his plate, is probably as tempting as it gets, but there's no way I'm staying home tonight.
“Cadie.” Dad rests the receiver back in the cradle. I'm pretty sure we're the last family on the planet with a landline. The only people who ever call us on it are solicitors and Uncle Eddie. Even Grandma Ruth calls our cell phones, and she's pushing eighty. “I know tonight is supposed to be your night offâ”
“Tonight is my night off.
I put added emphasis to the word, but he doesn't notice.
“But Eddie needsâ”
“Have you looked at our house lately?” I ask. “Maybe Uncle Eddie could help you for a change.”
“Arcadia June.” Anger bubbles under the surface of Dad's voice, like water just before boiling point. “Being a single parent is not easy, and I would appreciate it ifâ”
“Oh, I know how not easy it is,” I interrupt, going down the hall to my bedroom. Dad follows. “I mean, who mows the lawn? Me. Who cleans the house? Me. Who does the laundry? Oh! That's right. Me again. I take Danny to the doctor when he's sick, tuck him in every night, and chase away the black-and-yellow bee monster under his bed. And, until last weekend, I did all that while going to high school. Tonight is my night off. Deal with it.”
“Cadie.” He's spoiling for a fight, but I refuse to engage. I nudge my bedroom door with my foot, and as it swings dangerously close to his nose I tell him I'm going to
O'Leno with some friends. “I don't know exactly what time I'll be home,” I say. “Maybe tonight. Maybe tomorrow morning. Maybe I won't be back until Sunday.”