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Evelynn Faust suffers from horrible insomnia and paranoia. The summer before her senior year of high school should be one of the best summers of her life. But she’s tormented by guilt and an addiction that haunts her every waking moment. Evelynn is a drug dealer who also craves the drug she sells. The money and the popularity that come with it aren’t bad either. But when she’s caught dealing on school property by Eric Wagner, the respected and admired police chief’s son, the game is over.
He won’t snitch on her, unless she gives him whatever he wants – her.
She’s being blackmailed.
Evelynn has no one to turn to for help. Not her parents who don’t understand her rebellious nature or her circle of friends who only care about partying and getting high. When Adam Tristen moves in across the street, and he wants to get to know her better, it all seems too good to be true.
She must make a pact with the devil.
Evelynn now looks over her shoulder wherever she goes, waiting for Eric to act on his threats. But Adam, the charming college sophomore, sees something special inside Evelynn, and he wants to help her fix mistakes. In order to do that she must confront a dark secret from her past that could destroy her family…her life…and her entire world as she knows it.
She’ll need to take a leap of faith.
I’d always had a fear of dying of carbon monoxide poisoning. Dying in such a way would be virtually painless with some dizziness, a headache, and then unconsciousness. I’d end up in the great beyond in less than thirty minutes. But with my recent track record, I was on the road to Hell.
My morbid thoughts dissolved as a helicopter flying somewhere overhead, along with the buzz of the lamp across the street, aligned in a strange harmony. I sat in my rocking chair, watching the annoying lamp post cast a light into my bedroom every night for the past sixteen years. Not that I got much sleep. My bad case of insomnia had worsened after prom. I wouldn’t be surprised if I had a breakdown before senior year started in September.
The squeaking of the floorboards as I rocked made me drowsy, but I couldn’t fall asleep. The combination of a horrible chest cold and my guilt played a part. For the past week, I went to bed by midnight, would doze until three, and then remained wide awake afterward. I averaged a paltry three hours of sleep a night.
I couldn’t go on much longer like this. But I wouldn’t kill myself…yet.
Tugging my baby-blue Snuggie higher—a cheesy gift from my parents last Christmas I secretly adored—I tucked it under my chin. You’d think in July I wouldn’t be so cold. But, with my flu-like virus, shivers took over my body even though the temperature sat at a balmy seventy-something degrees. Even in my sick condition, I’d opened the windows, worried if I didn’t, invisible carbon monoxide fumes would get me. Such a stupid fear. Maybe it would be better to go out by phantom gas instead of the impending fate headed my way.
In less than three days, my blackmailer would return from his vacation and expect me to hand myself over to him. All because of my selfish and greedy actions a few months ago.
Coughing into my hand, phlegm-filled diseased droplets smeared my fingers, sticky and wet. I didn’t move to clean them off. Instead, I wiped them on my gray pajama bottoms I’d worn for almost a week.
I snuggled deeper under the blanket and checked the time. A few minutes after five. The sun would rise soon. Sniffing, I pushed away my tangled, unwashed hair I had chopped off last week. When he saw how short I cut my hair, he’d freak out—a small jab that gave me incredible joy.
Rocking again, I studied the blazing street lamp. The bright light caused black spots to appear in front of my eyes. Blinking them away, I ignored the sharp pressure building in my head as the humid breeze shifted my light-purple curtains to the side.
I would continue sitting here for another morning to come—one more day closer to my imminent doom.
A door opened, jolting me awake. I guess I’d fallen asleep. Instead, of the light from the street lamp, the glare of the sun poured through the windows, stinging my eyes. I yawned, still exhausted. Outside, male voices filtered through my window.
I rocked forward, noticing two, light-skinned black guys—one a little older than me, the other much older, probably in his thirties—carrying a couch up the front steps. A U-Haul van parked outside. Behind it, an SUV filled with three more guys in T-shirts and jeans and shorts, all of different races, got out. My cousin Jenn and friend Corrine would have approved of the eye candy. It didn’t make much of a difference to me…I had enough guy problems already.
Dad would know who moved in since he knew everything and everyone on the street. It wasn’t just nosiness on his part—he had major people skills as the longtime principal of Franklin Hills High, my school. The two guys, who looked like brothers, carried the couch into the house while the rest grabbed furniture from the van.
Stretching, I stood, rubbing my tongue over my teeth. The inside of my mouth tasted foul. Must be from of all the phlegm I’d been coughing up. A crusty stain dried on my pajama bottoms. These would go in the wash.
My alarm clock showed the time as a little after eight. I should be sleeping in, but I was wide awake even though my body ached with this crappy bug I had.
Shuffling to my bedroom door, I opened it. The sounds of the television downstairs reached my ears. My sister Olivia’s door remained closed. The only seven-year-old I knew who liked to sleep late and not up at the crack of dawn watching cartoons. She would be buzzing around soon enough to bother me. I had plans this morning which didn’t include her.
I went into the bathroom, my bladder full from all the orange juice I drank last night before bed. I craved Mountain Dew, my favorite beverage hands down, but since my insomnia, I’d cut myself off. At least the caffeine-withdrawal shakes had subsided last week. Getting off the Dew had been harder than breaking the pot habit. Smoking up wouldn’t be a good thing with my gasping and wheezing from my stupid cold.
Too bad I gave my stash to Jenn last month. What I wouldn’t give for one puff.
After flushing, I washed my hands. I may not be up to showering just yet, but washing my hands after using the toilet was mandatory.
My reflection in the vanity mirror almost made me cry. I’d blamed my wacky emotions on the antibiotics I took. I opened the mirrored door, grabbed the script bottle, and swallowed two pills without drinking any water, a skill I had mastered. I then blew my nose. Opening the used tissue, I found the mixture of snot and blood. Nice.
I slam-dunked the tissue into the plastic beige garbage can matching the bathroom wallpaper. My head felt like a hot-air balloon because of my constant blowing and my stuffed up sinuses.
The dark circles under my eyes and my pale face didn’t help my mood. No noticeable acne at all—thank you, Baby Jesus. The freckles on my nose had faded due to lack of sun. My hair, once shoulder length, hung in a shaggy mop of brown-and-blonde highlights. It needed major washing and styling, but with no real motivation, I didn’t care what I looked like.
I opened the bathroom door and snuck down the stairs because I didn’t want to wake the brat. When I reached the bottom, I bypassed the dining room and headed to the kitchen, not remodeled since the 1960s. Oh yeah, we had ancient wooden cabinets and bright-yellow counters. Our stainless-steel appliances were so out of place in the pukey kitchen.
Mom sat at the table smoking a cigarette while she watched some morning news show on the small television on the counter. I yawned and scratched my stomach. My belly-button ring caught on my black tank top.
“Is there enough milk for me to have a bowl of cereal?” I asked, twisting the hoop in my belly.
Mom finished her cigarette and rubbed it out in the ashtray. Dad didn’t like her smoking in the house, but when he wasn’t around, she did it anyway.
“There should be enough. I’m going to the grocery store today after Olivia’s swim lesson.” She patted my cheek for some strange reason and opened the refrigerator door.
“I’m having a bowl, and then I’m jogging in the park. Maybe fresh air will unclog my lungs.”
She handed over the milk and I grabbed a box of Cheerios from the cabinet. I loved Cheerios with a passion. I used to eat a bowl with a can of Mountain Dew for breakfast. This morning it would have to be orange juice. Bleck.
“You must be feeling better if you have an appetite again and you want to exercise. But I don’t think you should run just yet. Your lungs still need to get rid of all the nasty mucus.”
Mom worked as the nurse at my school and also taught nutrition classes. The irony wasn’t lost on me that she smoked half a pack a day.
“I know, Mom. I’ll be careful. I’m just tired of feeling this way. If I haven’t hacked up a lung by this point, I won’t.” I poured the cereal and milk in a bowl and ate standing up.
She filled two glasses with orange juice and drank hers. “When’s Eric returning from his cruise?”
I stopped from choking on a soggy Cheerio. “I think Monday. Why?”
“Invite him to dinner one night this week. We can barbeque.”
Hell would freeze over before I invited him to dinner. I chugged my juice. “Why? He isn’t a friend.”
Mom crossed her arms. “The facts tell me otherwise. You went to prom with him, and he’s driven you home from school.” She sent me an arrogant grin. “I know you two are serious.”
I set down my glass. “No, we’re not. I can’t help it if the guy likes me. I went to prom with him because he all but got down on his knees in front of the whole school to ask. He can be pretty annoying.”
She tapped her pink acrylic nails on her glass, her eyes blazing in annoyance. “Evelynn, what’s going on with you? I know you’re sick, but the last few weeks you’ve been less than ideal to be around. You cut off your beautiful hair, leaving a rat’s nest on your head, which for the life of me I can’t understand why. You treat your sister, who adores you, like she’s nothing, and for no reason I can think of, you can’t stand one of the sweetest and most attractive boys at your school. I don’t know what to do with you! All you care about is jogging and nothing else. Something’s got to give here.”
Dragging my hand through my short strands, I swallowed the urge to scream. “You forgot about my strange taste in music.”
“You’ve told me countless times how disappointing I am, especially because I won’t go out of my way to be kinder to the police chief’s son. I think you’re using me to get Daddy into a cushier position with more money.”
When she pinched her lips together, I knew I’d gone too far. “I’m done speaking with you. Go wake up your sister. You should be thrilled someone like Eric wants to date you because, honestly, I don’t know what other guy would with your piss-poor attitude and how you dress like a hobo sometimes.” She waved me away. “Get out of my sight before we both say something else we’ll regret.”
I stomped up the stairs. My mother wanted me to be a virginal sacrifice for the good of our family.
The joke was on her because I wasn’t virgin. I’d stopped being a sacrifice way before the night Eric coerced me into having sex with him in order to save myself.
I banged on my sister’s bedroom door then went in my room, leaving the door open. I chose clean underwear, a sports bra, shorts, a T-shirt, and socks. As I rolled deodorant under my arms, Olivia’s door opened. She strolled over my threshold, wearing her bright-aqua nightgown with some Disney princess on it.
“Evie!” She ran to hug me.
I held out my hands to stop her. “Nuh-uh, Liv. Remember I’m sick?” I placed my hands on my hips, standing in all my naked glory for her to see.
She gave me an adorable pout. I longed to comb her blonde, bedhead curls. Instead, I hopped on one foot, pulling on my underwear.
She zoned in on my chest.
“What?” I asked, putting on my bra.
“Will my nippies jiggle like yours soon?” She poked to her own microscopic ones.
I gulped down a laugh and started coughing. “Go downstairs for breakfast. But be careful because Mom isn’t in a good mood.”
“Why’s Mommy mad?” She rubbed the bottom of her foot on top of her other one.
“She just is. Go.” I gave her a small push.
“After swim class, you wanna play Barbies with me?” She stood in the hallway while I sat on my bed, tying my running shoes. Her bottom lip quivered, as if she knew I would say no. The last time I said no, she cried and ran to Mom, who gave me shit for it.
“Let me see how I’m feeling, okay?”
Her whole face brightened, and she nodded. “Can we go to the park also?”
I did some stretching exercises. “Don’t push it Pee-Wee. Go play or something.”
She giggled and ran downstairs. Olivia was the only one in my family who acted like she loved me. It had been too long since I’d seen the expression in my parents’ eyes. I wasn’t sure if I even cared whether they loved me or not. It had been so long since we said “I love you” to one another.
I walked down my front steps, my iPod on pause and my earbuds in my ears. I did a few more stretches. No one came out of the house across the street. Some sort of salsa-sounding music played inside, the music filtering through the open windows and front door. I guess the guys had taken a break.
No longer a concern, I speed walked down the sidewalk, listening to Jamiroquai’s Greatest Hits album, my pre-run jam. I stared ahead through my sunglasses, striding along the streets I knew so well even with my eyes closed.
When I walked or ran, I took the three-mile trek around the neighborhood. I’d then run around the million-dollar track in the park near my house. The urgency to run, to kick back my legs and let my mind wander was all the motivation I needed.
Now enveloped in the sounds of Amy Winehouse, I strode into the park. People walked their dogs, and too many kids to count ran crazy in the playground. A soccer game took place in the middle of the green, surrounded by the track. I enjoyed running on the oval asphalt. It helped me forget all the stupid drama in my life.
Bracing myself for some wicked burning in my lungs, I started jogging. I wanted to run the New York City Marathon before I graduated high school, but I still needed more training. I hoped to increase my time and commitment when school started again.
My senior year would be different from my junior year. But even after my big mistake, I had bought three-hundred-dollar running shoes—the best investment of my life so far. They made my feet light on the track. When I completed my twentieth turn, a stitch jabbed my side. I slowed to a gait, drenched to the skin with sweat. Bending over, I coughed up more mucky mucus. My lungs were on fire, and my head spun. I moved off to the side. Taking some deep breaths, I spit on the grass—greenish-colored snot with some blood mixed in.
“Gross.” I shook my head to relieve the pounding pressure there.
“You’re sweaty as hell, but I still find you very sexy.”
I froze at the familiar voice responsible for my insomnia. Closing my eyes, I turned down Bessie Smith’s “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out” playing in my ears. Crap on a stick. He wasn’t supposed to be home for another three days.
“Hey, Eric.” I waved instead of running in the opposite direction.
He leaned on the other side of the fence. Crooking a finger, he beckoned me closer. I didn’t obey.
“I thought you were coming home on Monday.”
He smirked. Eric did it a lot. I wonder how he would react if he knew I called him Smirky McSmirkson behind his back.
“Oh? I thought I told you I’d be home yesterday evening? Oops, my bad. You look like you’re going to pass out. You should quit running for the rest of the day.”
I pulled my sunglasses down low on my nose, betraying nothing.
“Nice haircut.” He scanned my face with his judging eyes. “A way to stick it to me?”
“It’s not always about you.”
“You sure? We have a difference of opinion, then.” He crossed his arms. He wore a dark-blue T-shirt with the Franklin Hills police logo in the middle. His jeans were also a dark color, which he filled out pretty well. We were total opposites in appearance and personality. His jet-black hair and tanned skin contrasted my bland-a-a-auburn tresses and pale skin which only got color when sunburned. He had tight muscles and a flat stomach with cut abs, while I had my share of dimples and cellulite, although I wasn’t “fat” in the technical sense. I was pretty average, with the exception of my legs, and my thighs because of my years of track and field.
Any girl would be thrilled to have Eric Wagner’s attention. Not me.
“Let’s take a walk.” His far-too-broad smile allowed dimples in his cheeks to appear.
He hadn’t asked. He’d ordered and expected to be obeyed. Must be a personality trait handed down in the genes. His father, Chief Wagner, acted the same way. They probably thought it was a good way to get people to respect them.
I didn’t have much of a choice in the matter. When your blackmailer tells you to do something, you do it.
“Don’t touch me. I-I’m sticky with sweat and getting over a virus.”
Eric walked beside me, an arrogant smirk still on his face. “Sure, Evie.”
Only Olivia had the right to call me Evie. Not him. “I’m serious.” I let out a cough, not a fake one but a deep, chest-numbing painful one. “You can check my bloody snot I coughed up on the grass near the track as proof.”
He hung his arm around my shoulders, ignoring my comment. “I don’t mind a little sweat. Didn’t matter to me on prom night.”
I tried moving out from under his grip, but he held on too tight. I stopped from saying something stupid. Eric acted easygoing, but he had a temper. I’d seen it many times before. I had been on the end of it, starting a few months ago when he cornered me in the girls’ bathroom at school after prom. He didn’t like rejection, and he’d made a point to show it.
“I can’t stay out too long. It’s been days since I showered, and I promised Olivia I’d play with her.”
He squeezed my shoulder. “You’re the first one I wanted to see when I got home last night. I couldn’t sleep and woke up as the sun rose.”
Both of us couldn’t sleep—but for two very different reasons.
“Why don’t we sit on the bench?” I moved toward one near the baseball field in full sight of the players there.
“Let’s go over by the trees and the shade.”
Again, I didn’t have much of a choice. What Eric wanted, he got.
I light breeze blew under the big oaks I used to climb as a kid. Eric balanced his arm on a branch near my head, boxing me in. An inch or two over six feet to my five feet four inches, he loomed over me.
Tugging my sunglasses off my head, I set them on my nose again. “How was the cruise? One of those ten-days-at-sea excursions, right?” I asked politely, even though I didn’t give a rat’s ass about his cruise or what he’d done on the ship. Why couldn’t he have fallen overboard into the Atlantic?
“I had a great time. I sunbathed, went jet skiing and parasailing in Aruba. Staying in Miami Beach after the cruise rocked. I had a few special fruity drinks, if you know what I mean.” He waggled his eyebrows, trying to be cute.
“I bet you partied with a lot of hot girls.”
He moved in closer. “There were some hotties, but you don’t have to be jealous. I didn’t sleep with any of them.”
Ugh. Tilting my glasses down, I gave him a hard glare. “I don’t care either way if you slept with one girl or had two at the same time while you were there.”
“Why wouldn’t you? After our prom night, I’d never cheat on you.” His brows dipped, and he seemed confused.
I let out a deep exhale. “Eric, you’re not getting it. We’re not together as a couple. Just because we had sex for a few hours after prom doesn’t mean anything. You have my permission to see other girls and do whatever you want with them.”
I stepped back, but he grabbed my arm. I would’ve struggled, but I didn’t want him to think he repelled me.
“You can’t act like you don’t care.” He lowered his face to mine. “We were both virgins.”
He was so clueless. He wasn’t my first. “Whatever.” I shrugged. “The situation called for it.”
He gripped my upper arm harder. “What the hell are you talking about?”
I rolled my eyes and rubbed my nose. “You forced me to go to prom with you and expected me to have sex with you. I did those things, not because I wanted to, but because you blackmailed me. Did you really think after prom, I’d fall in love with you and want to be your girl?”
He moved away, his hands crossed behind his head—which he often did right before he lost his temper. But, I didn’t think he would hurt me in such a public place. He had a reputation to uphold because of his family name.
“Evi…Evelynn, I’ve wanted to be more than just friends since we were in middle school. I’m not blackmailing you. I’m protecting you because I love you.” Tears shone in his eyes.
He lived in fantasyland if he thought we were friends. In middle school, we would hang out every so often, usually with a group of people or at birthday parties. But by high school, my attention had moved elsewhere. He wanted to be the big man on campus, while I wanted to stay off to the side and observe and watch people walk by. We weren’t compatible at all.
“I don’t know what else to say to you.” I lifted my hands in the air, frustrated. “You’re not protecting me. If you were, you wouldn’t keep bothering me and making me do things I don’t want to do. A friend would ignore what they saw and never bring it up again.”
He seized my arms and pushed me against the tree. His icy stare made my stomach cramp.
“Are you saying you don’t smoke up anymore and you told your cousin to stop selling? I bet you haven’t. You’ll pick it up again because you need money to buy the things you want.”
I turned my face away to escape his harsh breath. His mouth brushed my cheek, and I flinched.
“I know your eight-dollar-an-hour babysitting job didn’t buy the running shoes you’re wearing. Whatever you think, Evie, I can’t let what you did at school slide. You broke the law. I can’t let you off without any consequences. This isn’t some petty crime. Dealing drugs on school property is a major offense.”
I glanced at him from the corner of my eye, trying not to cough. “Then turn me and my cousin in. I’ll live with the consequences.”
“What about your dad? Could you live with yourself, knowing your selfish actions lost him his cushy job?”
“You don’t know—”
“Yes, I do.” He nudged my chin with his fist. “It will happen if I tell my dad about you selling pot at school.”
He could be bluffing. But his father did have a lot of power and also sat on the school board. If I was arrested and thrown in jail for selling drugs, Dad would be mortified, maybe even let go from his job. I could never show my face in town again. But then, I may be locked away for thirty years.
Clearing my throat, I met his gaze and set my palms on his broad chest. “Okay, calm down. I need to think, and I can’t with you pressuring me. Why don’t we at least try and be friends and see what happens. Okay?”
He scrutinized my face, as if he saw through my lie. It made me want to duck my head. But then he gathered me in a tight embrace.
“You think you can manipulate me. Fine, take a few days, but the next time I see you, we will be on better terms. Got it?” he whispered his threat in my ear.
I gave him a short nod. He released me and pinched my chin, his smug smile returning.
“I missed you so much,” he spoke under his breath, and then kissed me. I didn’t fight and kissed him. For the moment, I would let him think I was his.
My life sat on the line. I could come clean, bringing shame to my family, or protect them and let Eric use me how he wanted.
It would serve him right if he got my cold.
The stitch in my side, along with smelling pretty rank from the sweat on my skin and clothes, made my stomach turn. My clogged-up nose wouldn’t stop running. I didn’t have a tissue. I was in such a piss-poor mood. On top of everything, with trying to keep Eric happy, the stress had piled up to near overwhelming.
After he kissed me with the promise to call me later, I wanted to lie down. At least I would be on my own for a few more hours before Mom and Olivia returned home to bother me. The alone time would give me the chance to call Jenn and not worry about Mom listening in.
My cousin needed a heads up about Eric. I needed to tell her and her drug-dealing boyfriend, Brody, things would soon become much more difficult.
As I turned the corner on my block, I noticed the U-Haul had gone. One of the guys sat on the front steps, drinking a can of soda. He stared right at me as I neared my house.
“Hey,” he shouted and held up his hand in hello.
I wasn’t in the mood to be all neighbor-like, but I waved. “Hey, yourself. You moving in or just part of the moving crew?”
He pressed the can to his forehead. “I’m moving in with my brother.”
My new neighbor smiled, as if he expected me to walk over to him or tell him my name. If I’d been in a better mood, I would have. He was cute with short black hair and nice big brown eyes. He skin reminded me of caramel. His teeth were also white, although his left front tooth jutted out slightly more than his right one. He also had nice arms and big hands. He looked older than me by a few years. I had a preference for older men, and this one was easy on the eyes.
“Welcome to the neighborhood.” I nodded in his direction and took out my keys to unlock my front door.
“Hold up! What’s your name?” Standing, he stretched his arms over his head. His green T-shirt road up, flashing some stomach.
It took me longer to respond because I had zoned in on the slice of skin. “It’s Evelynn.” After unlocking my door, I walked inside and shut it behind me, leaning against the cool wood and listening to the pounding of my heart.
Kind of rude of me not to wait and see if he would tell me his name. I shifted to gaze out the window. My new neighbor with the nice eyes and mouthwatering stomach gazed up at the sky, his hands on his hips. He tilted his head as if he heard something and went inside to his new house.
“At last, some nice eye candy on the street.” I wiped my forehead with my arm and sniffed as my oniony body odor hit my nose. “Shower first then the call.”
I climbed the stairs with thoughts of my cute neighbor replaying in my mind.
The overhead fan in my bedroom twirled the humid air around my room. I lay on my bed in an oversized gray tank top and my underwear. I fiddled with my belly-button ring as I held the portable phone over my chest. My impulse in catching another glimpse of my boy-man neighbor had become a big preoccupation.
Instead, I settled for some “up close and personal me time” before I made the important phone call. The last time I had sex was prom night. What a joke. Eric hadn’t had a clue what he’d been doing.
If I got myself off, then maybe I’d be able to sleep at night. The last few times I did, it helped. I didn’t even mind the way my blood rushed to my head and how my thighs sometime cramped up because I had a bad habit of stiffening too much before the mini-explosion down below.
With less than an hour to spare, I slid my hand into my underwear, rubbing a certain spot that made my legs tingle. My heartbeat sped up and then my entire body relaxed.
As I shut my eyes, the sudden ringing of my cell interrupted my happy time.
I cursed, ready to ignore the call but then recognized my cousin’s number. “Hello?”
“What’s up, cuz? Still sick? You sound like you have a sore throat.”
“I’m trying to get over this stupid cold. I just took a shower after I jogged in the park.”
“You’re crazy running in this heat, but you must be feeling better. Want to go to Tink’s tomorrow night?”
Jenn always had fun suggestions. Tink’s was a big teen hangout with pool tables and dart boards. Live music from rock to metal, and my absolute favorite—jazz played on Saturday nights.
“I’m up for Tink’s, but Mom is being such a bitch. She’s unhappy I won’t make Eric my boyfriend.” Shifting my fingers in farther, I moaned.
“What did you just say?”
“Nothing. Just a good stretch.” I raised my left leg and nudged my knuckles down, making me jerk from the pressure. “We should see if Brody wants to meet up, and soon. It’s about Eric. He knows.”
“Knows what?” she asked, her voice turning stony.
My libido deflated. “Remember when I stopped selling at school in April? Eric caught me dealing. He’s threatening to tell his dad. He knows about you and Brody also.”
“Shit, Ev! This isn’t good.” I held the phone away from my ear. Jenn’s screeching could make someone go deaf.
I rubbed myself one last time, which did nothing because I’d tensed up again. Frustrated, I got off the bed. I wanted something cold and strong to drink.
“You don’t think I know that?” I threw on my black mesh shorts and walked downstairs, glancing at the grandfather clock. I had thirty minutes to get my drink on.
“Shit. Shit. Shit. How much does he know?”
“Enough where we would all go away for a very long time. That’s why we need to come up with a game plan.”
“This is so not good.” Jenn moaned and cursed under her breath.
I took a beer from the fridge, popped it open, and chugged. I let out a loud burp and wiped my mouth. “Calm down. There’s a way to get out of it. But it all rests on my shoulders. Eric is the one blackmailing me.”
She let out a long sigh. “What? For sex? So screw him a few times and it will all be good.”
I chuckled sadly and gulped down more beer. “I wish it were so easy. He thinks he’s in love with me. He just doesn’t want sex. He wants to be my boyfriend.”
I finished the beer and held off another burp. “All you have to say is ‘oh’? I’m not going to be the scapegoat here.”
“You may have to—Damn. My brothers just got home from field-hockey practice. Let’s meet tomorrow night around eight at Tink’s.” She hung up before I could say anything else.
I almost threw the phone at the wall. I channeled my anger at the beer can and crushed it, slamming it in the recycling bin. And not a minute too soon. A car drove into the driveway. I took a chocolate Popsicle from the freezer then sat on the couch and turned on the television. The sliding door near the deck opened, and Mom came in with a brown paper bag and Olivia trailing behind her holding a gallon of milk.
“Help, please.” Mom walked to the kitchen.
“With the groceries,” she said in a terse voice.
I stopped from rolling my eyes and went outside with Olivia to get the rest.
Olivia skipped ahead. “Swimming was lots of fun! Mommy said I can have a sleepover at Tammy’s house on Monday!”
I had no idea who Tammy was and didn’t care, but since my little sister seemed excited about it, I acted the same way.
“That’s great, Liv.” I threw my Popsicle stick in the garbage can parked at the side of the house and collected the rest of the bags from the car. I handed Olivia a light one.
“After lunch, can we watch some Dora and play Barbie doctor?”
She loved to pretend Barbie and Ken worked in a hospital. Either she wanted to be a doctor when she grew up, or she’d been watching too much of Mom’s favorite prime-time medical drama.
“Sure. Let’s get this stuff inside before Mom has a shit-freak out.”
Olivia giggled. “Yeah, wouldn’t want Mommy to have a shifreak out.” She walked inside still jabbering.
I winced when I overheard her tell Mom not to have a shifreak.
After watching Dora the Explorer for two hours and playing Barbies for what felt like an eternity, Dad came home from work. Me and Liv were in her room playing yet another round of surgery on Ken—a life-or-death situation because his head had detached from his body.
We sat on her bedroom floor as Olivia performed the “prep” as she named it for this life-saving surgery.
“Liv, he doesn’t have a head. He’s not going to make it.”
She frowned at me in her cute little way. “Can so. Bugs Bunny did it.”
I rolled my eyes toward the ceiling.
“How are my two girls?”
“Daddy!” She ran to him. He picked her up and blew a raspberry in her neck. She giggled as she hugged him.
“Hey, Dad.” I stood and stretched. My foot had gone numb, and I pounded it against the floor.
“Foot asleep?” He watched me through his professional-looking glasses. His tie hung loose around his neck, and the top two buttons on his shirt had been unbuttoned.
“What gave you that idea?” I walked to him and Olivia after the pins and needles faded from my foot. We high-fived one another. The last time I hugged him I’d been near Olivia’s age.
“I’m going to wash up and grill some burgers. Your mother has sweet-potato fries in the oven.”
“I love sweet taters!” Olivia bounced and ran out of the room yelling for Mom.
“You’d think she’d be exhausted with swimming and not having a nap,” I explained.
“How about you? Cold’s better?” He flicked a piece of my hair. “I still can’t believe you cut your hair so short and ragged.”
“Please don’t start. I hear it from Mom all day long.” I walked out the room to go downstairs.
“Evelynn, just because I’m your father, don’t think I’m not aware when something is off. As of late…no, this has been going on for quite a while. You’re pale and always exhausted, and you snap at everyone. You never go out. When was the last time you even went clothes shopping?”
“You think something’s wrong ’cause I’m not spending money?” I snorted. “I made plans to hang out tomorrow night with Jenn. Okay?”
He grabbed his briefcase and walked toward his bedroom. “What about Eric? I talked to his father today.”
I froze mid-step. A shrill ringing in my ears cut out all other sounds, and my stomach dipped low.
“Let me change clothes, and I’ll tell you about it at dinner. It concerns next Friday.”
I let out a sigh of relief. It must not be too bad. “Sure. I better go help set the table.”
“Good idea. Oh, did you meet the new neighbors across the street?”
“Just the one. We said hello, but we didn’t share names. He’s around my age, maybe a bit older. Did you talk to them?” I acted as if I didn’t care either way.
“Not yet. I might stop over after dinner and welcome them to the neighborhood. You should come with me.” Dad disappeared inside his bedroom.
“Whatever, Dad,” I whispered, clutching the banister as a sharp pain dug right in the middle of my forehead. It had been too long. I needed a fix bad. Tomorrow wouldn’t come soon enough.