"You little bastard. How dare you talk to me like that! Your mom and grandma were both spoiled women who drained everything out of me. Once I didn’t have anything else to give, your mom moved right onto your daddy. Drove him to an early grave, she did! What man’s heart gives out that damn young unless he’s got a woman pushing him too hard!"
My whole body is on lockdown. I have no control over any of my limbs to move them. They’re hard…stone, itching to break free and let all my anger out on him. Show him what he’s done to all of us. How he started the cycle and now Mom’s trapped in it, too. That even though she’s not hateful like he is, she’s broken. That all her losses have stemmed from him. He’s the reason she struggles. The reason she didn’t know how to live without my Dad. The reason she ended up with Bill even though she didn’t love him. She needed someone and she couldn’t go to him. And my Dad was dead and now she’s lost Bill too and Sara could be next.
"Nothing to say about that, do you?"
Talk! Open your mouth and say something, Shaw!
"You’re just like she is," Grandpa continues. "Soft, selfish. Want, want, want but never strong enough to do anything for yourself."
Finally, my body is jerked into movement when the door creaks open. "Excuse me? It’s time for your meds. Would you like me to come back?" The nurse says from the door.
I don’t answer. Can’t because I don’t know what to say. There’s no reasoning with his screwed-up version of life. That even if I could, I wouldn’t want to because unlike her, I want nothing to do with him. I’m not going to give him any part of me, especially when I don’t have much to give anyway. Without a word, I push past the nurse, hating myself for being as soft as he accused me of being.
My hands shake the whole way to the store. Of course it’s my responsibility to take care of it. I don’t turn on any of the lights. I run into a stupid wrack of chimes, making them ding annoyingly. Leaving the front door locked, I head straight to the back, kicking a huge stack of empty boxes to the floor.
Why did I even go talk to him? Why does she still take care of him? He ruined her life and she still puts up with that crap from him.
And her. I picture her at home, the one-eyed look when she told me she was sick, and she definitely is, but not with the flu. Collapsing against the wall, I realize for the first time she really is sick. The drinking is getting worse.
I don’t even know if that’s normal. If they usually get worse and worse like that. But then… Grandpa’s been on her mind lately. The assisted living place threatening to kick him out and all. And me. I don’t know where I’m going, but I’m definitely going to college somewhere so I can play ball. That has to be what it’s about. Not that she’s getting worse, but that she’s stressed. I’d be stressed too if I had to worry about everything. I am freaked out about it.
So it’ll get better. It always does. Just a phase. I have to find a way to deal with it until it’s over.
After stacking all the boxes again, I head out to the main part of the store and get it all ready to open. Seriously, there should be some law against kids having to work in places their parents own. I’m probably the only guy I know who has to work in a place like this, which doesn’t make my mood much better.
As the hours pass by and I realize she’s not coming in, I come close to heading to the back to get in another fight with a stack of boxes.
My backpack sits under the table, but even though we’re slow, I can’t bring myself to open the stupid thing. It would take me triple as long as it usually would to get anything done when really what I want to do is find a way to live another life for a few weeks. Because it’s three o’clock and she’s still not here. Yeah, she’ll come in later. Sure. Carter has nothing better to do than what everyone else wants.
The bell dings and I groan, not in the mood to play nice for old ladies looking for doilies or whatever they’re called. I can’t find it in myself to look up and greet them. It’s a small store and pretty self-explanatory if you ask me.
"Hey there, Coach. You’re looking awfully grumpy over there, scowling at the register."
My head snaps up and my skin starts to feel warm. "Just another day—holy crap. You look…different." Her hair is straight. Like so straight I wonder how it’s the same hair that had just been so curly before. Girls are weird like that. There must be hair magic that only girls know how, or care enough I guess, to learn.
There’s also a little sparkle on the side of her nose, and when she gets close enough to me, I realize it’s a tiny diamond.
"Wow, you’re good with the compliments. I bet you get all the ladies."
I’m in too much awe to respond to her dig. "I saw you less than twenty-four hours ago and you now have your nose pierced and new hair."
She shrugs. "In my defense, it’s the same hair, just a different style."
I can’t stop looking at her. The orange is so close to gone, now it just looks like light brown mixed in her dark hair. It’s all shiny and longer than I realized it was before. It’s kind of crazy because she’s dressed like I would be on a day chillin’ at home: blue Nike sweats and a white sweatshirt. I’m pretty sure Mel never would have gone out of her house dressed like Kira is now, but I like it. Maybe a little too much so I lean against the counter.
"How do you do it?" I hadn’t planned on asking, but the question came out anyway. I’ve never known anyone like her. And I like her even though honestly, I’m not even 100% sure who she is.
"Oh, I didn’t know you were considering a career in hairstyle. First I applied what’s called a relaxer—"
"You know what I mean."
"Actually, I don’t. What’s up with you though? You look like Grumpy Carter, not Happy Carter. Don’t tell me you’re upset about Melanie."
"Argh." I rub a hand over my face. "No, I wish that’s all I had to worry about."
She leans over the counter, her face not too far from mine. "And you would? Worry? That’s why I said not to reply last night. It’s obvious you still have feelings for her. Which I get, I guess, though I’m pretty sure she didn’t deserve them."
"No. It has nothing to do with her. It’s just…" My mom is a drunk. Wow. A drunk? I’ve never thought about her that way before. Grandpa is a drunk, not Mom. Is she? She drinks. She passes out, but she’s not mean and she doesn’t drink all the time. I’m not really sure if that makes a difference though.
"It’s just what, Carter Shaw? What are your secrets?" She cocks her head to the left, studying me, like if she looks hard enough, she’ll get the answers she wants. There’s a part of me that wishes she could find them out. That she could see everything that’s inside of me so someone else would know without my having to say it. That she could read and understand me more easily than I understand the stupid Shakespeare stories Mrs. Z wants me to decipher.
But then I realize there’s no way I could be that bear with her. With anyone. Not even myself.
"Sorry to disappoint you, but no secrets here." The bell over the door rings, saving me.
"Sure." Kira plops down on the table and as much as I want to set her straight, to ask her what her sure means, I don’t.
"How can I help you?" I ask the middle-aged woman.
After ten minutes helping the customer, it’s only the two of us again. She’s picking at her fingernails and it’s then I realize that even though girls are different from each other, they’re the same too. It’s totally something Mel would have done—trying to look distracted, as if the last conversation we had isn’t still stuck in her head.
"You started that English assignment?" Awesome job, Shaw. Leave it to me to bring up one of the things I want to talk about the least. I really, really don’t want to write an in depth paper on the meaning of a stupid Shakespeare play, or sonnet and how it relates to something in my own life. I have so much trouble understanding my own life that I’m not sure I can compare something I don’t get to it.
"Of course," she says. "Almost finished. Didn’t I ever tell you I’m a genius?"
"Okay, maybe not really, but yep, I’m a geek. I’ve never gotten anything below an A in my life and don’t plan to start now."
I stare at her.
I don’t know why I am. It’s not as if she struck me as someone who’s stupid, but I can’t really match up a braniac with the girl who dyes her hair orange or dances on tables or who plays basketball in someone else’s shoes. Nothing about her fits into any mold I’ve ever seen.
"Whatever." I’m aware that I’m pouting, but not sure why. "I probably won’t do it. It’s stupid anyway." The words always take me more time to understand, but when I feel like this? Like I’m drowning in my own life? Those are the times I just want to walk away from it.
"Yes, you will. If not for anything else, but for basketball."
"Whatever," I mumble again before I start packing up one of the shelves of knickknacks. Mom always keeps a "to do" list at the store and she wants these replaced with something else.
Kira sighs and then I hear her get off the table and walk over to me. "Coach…you need some help? I’m here. If need me for anything."
She’s so not talking about work, but I’m going to pretend I don’t know that. I’m good at pretending. "Sure. There’s a box in the back labeled Forest Friends." Which is probably the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard, but that’s beside the point. "Want to grab it for me?"
She smirks, obviously not believing me, but she replies with, "Sure."
I get everything packed up and she’s still not back. Figuring she couldn’t find it, I head to the stock room to check on her. Kira fumbles when she hears me, whipping around and shoving something behind her back, but it’s too late. God, it’s too late in more than one way, but for now I can only focus on the fact that I saw it. That I know what she has in her hands. Which she somehow knows I won’t want to see.
It’s like voices start battling inside my head. Mine making excuses, Mom’s making promises, Bill’s making threats. They’re all fighting, yelling to top each other so much that I feel like my head could explode. Then Sara’s voice creeps through. Her cries when she has nightmares. Her laughs when she plays games with Mom.
I want to cry. I actually want to f**king cry. My hands itch to play ball. My feet itch to run. My head itches to block out the voices and to disappear inside itself.
I can’t believe it. Or I don’t want to. There has to be another excuse for a half empty bottle of liquor to be in my mom’s stock room. At her work. Her store. Oh, God, how can she be drinking at work?
No matter how much I search for an excuse for the bottle to be there, there’s none, but the truth.
"It’s mine," I blurt out. "I forgot it was there. I hid it when my mom came in."
Kira’s hand drops to the side so she’s holding it next to her. I fight the urge not to rip it out of her hand, break it and smash it over and over, like that will somehow change things. When she drinks Vodka, I used to dump out half the bottles and add water, hoping it would lessen the affect. Nothing ever worked. She always had more. Breaking this one won’t do a damn thing either.
"It’s yours?" She eyes me, not flinching the way I want to.
"It’s mine." I hear her chanting Liar liar pants on fire in my head.
She opens her mouth like she’s going to say something, then closes it again. Shaking her head, she walks up to me, shoving the bottle into my chest so I’m forced to grab onto it.