The tires of my storm gray Buick Encore skid into the parking space as I whip in at high speeds. I’ve been circling this stupid parking garage for what feels like hours (realistically more like fifteen minutes) and I finally spotted this one right as I was about to pass, so I slammed on the brakes, cut the wheel, and gunned it into the spot. Am I totally crooked? Unrelated.
I grab my backpack purse, complete with a large frilly poof ball as a key chain. The white fluff is interwoven with glitter strands and shares the silver key ring with a small rectangle that says MAX in green block letters, my dad’s old bottle opener, and my keys (duh). Now my melon colored heels are clicking on concrete as I hurry towards the door into the building, typing Mom a quick text to let her know I didn’t skip therapy, I’m just late. Again. Honestly I’ve literally been late every day this week so she probably isn’t surprised, neither is poor Fran when I knock on the cracked door.
“Come on in, Max!” She calls, knowing it’s me already.
I smile, waving as I enter and ducking my head a little in a silent ‘oops, sorry I’m late again’ display. I smooth out the front of my white blouse as I take a seat on the familiar futon, crossing one tight denim sheathed leg over the other. I used to come see Fran after my father died years ago, but I’ve changed a lot since then. Her office, however, has not. You’d think the woman would have a high enough salary to do a little redecorating in the past decade but she’s a creature of habit and falsely advertised wrinkle creams, I guess.
“In my defense, your honor, the line at my usual coffee place was outrageous.” I dig out my handheld mirror from my bag.
That’s the truth, but me not waking up until my third click of the snooze probably played a slight role in my tardiness. I could have skipped coffee and come straight here, but that’s a bit rash. The sugary sweet caffeine I sucked down in the form of cold brew was well worth it.
“Oh, I’m sure.” Dear ol Fran sits behind her desk, silver hair twisted up and clipped back in her usual sleek style.
An amused smirk tugs at her lips and she gently shuts her laptop, removing her reading glasses.
“Ya know, I’m sure after this week I’ll get on track. We’ll call it a practice run.” I reapply my soft pink lipstick.
“Mhm.” Fran gets up and makes her way over, sitting in the armchair across from me.
I look at her, snapping my mirror closed.
“I assume that knowing hum is a wordless assessment.” I drop my cosmetics back into my bag.
“Well, Max, it is my job isn’t it?” She puts her reading glasses back on, grabbing her little black journal and pen from the glass table. “To assess you.” She clicks the pen, peering above the lenses.
I sigh, only giving a slight eye roll before settling back to the couch.
“It is what my mom pays you to do. I personally don’t know why she thinks I need to come here again. My dad died when I was, like, seven.”
A very traumatic experience, but I’ve already done my time on this worn sofa working through that with her. Well, I can’t say I was the best therapy patient as an elementary schooler either but I was here three days a week doing my time. The recent daily schedule is like a turbo shot of therapy. I talked Mom down to fourteen days, only if I could get them over with all at once and she agreed.
“Funny, you immediately assume that the reason your mother wants you back in these sessions is because of your father. Maybe that’s something you are subconsciously wanting to talk about?” She scribbles in her journal.
I like Fran, honest, but sometimes she can be a bit cliché shrink.
“Let’s circle back to that.” I tap my sparkly polished nail against my knee. “We could instead talk about how totally awesome my try out for cheer captain went!” I do a little excited clap.
Fran just peeks up at me, followed by a tight lipped smile and more scribbles.
“Or we could talk about the true reason your mom requested you start seeing me again.” She suggests.
“Hmm.” I narrow my eyes and purse my lips, only coming up with one more logical explanation for Mom shoving me back into therapy. “Because of her new husband?” I offer, assuming that’s what she means.
Fran nods, one crisp movement, then removes her glasses again.
“How are you feeling about that?” She taps her chin with the earpiece.
I fight the urge to roll my eyes at her typical therapist technique.
“Well, Fran, I haven’t really given him much thought. She married him like five seconds ago and I have yet to meet him. They’re still gone on their big honeymoon.” I do actually roll my eyes now, thinking about how she just ran off and eloped with this guy.
“And his son?”
“Axel?” I scoff at the name.
“You don’t like him?”
“I haven’t met him either, but with a name like Axel I’m sure he wears ripped skinny jeans and probably has a load of trashy tattoos.” I jump to conclusions, admittedly channeling my inner head bitch.
“Is there something wrong with tattoos?” Her brow raises, pen rested on the paper, point ready to take more notes about me.
“I guess not.” I don’t have a particular grudge against body art, I just don’t like the idea of my mother’s new stepson.
“Hm.” Fran nods, replacing her glasses. “And they will be moving in with you all?”
I’m sure my face displays my dumbfounded shock.
“Oh.” Fran looks a tad nervous. “Has she not discussed that with you? Perhaps I wasn’t supposed to mention that part yet.” She flips through her journal like the answer is in there.
Hell, as much as she writes in it, it probably is.
“No.” I sit up straighter, beginning to move my heeled foot from side to side.
I’m not sure why I’m so taken aback by this. She got married. Did I expect them to remain living in separate households? Maybe a naive part of me had hoped.
“Well, how are you feeling about that?” She clears her throat, recovering from her slip.
I still my foot, letting my head fall to the side and eyes narrow like the snobby head cheerleader I am... or at least pretend to be.
“Pissed, Fran. I’m feeling pissed.” I clasp my hands around my knee, watching her scribble away.
“It could be fun.” I’m spared a peek over the glasses. “New father figure, new step brother. Change can be an adventure.” She suggests an optimistic outlook.
“Or my mother is making an attempt to ruin my life.” Even I can admit that sounded bratty, but I commit, huffing and falling back to the sofa again.
“Or restart hers.” Fran offers and I audibly scoff.
“Okay, how do I look?” My mother, Victoria Michaelson , stands in my doorway.
She’s wearing nude heels and a form fitting, two toned teal and white dress. Her beautiful caramel waves cascade down her back, and her pearl earrings are... mine. Those are mine.
“Like you’ve been in my jewelry box again.” I pull the applicator wand from my lipgloss. “But hot.” I circle it in her direction, earning one of her token Victoria smiles.
Perfect teeth, subtle dimples, attractive smile lines. That’s my mother, the kind of effortless beauty that makes you more than a little envious. I turn back to my mirror to apply my gloss.
“Are you excited to meet them?” She asks, still meggawatting.
“Oh I am just over the moon, mother.” My bland tone dampens her smile.
I glance up at her in the reflection, popping my freshly glossed lips.
“Kidding.” I bare my teeth in a sarcastic smile.
“Max.” She looks a little worried, probably afraid I’m not going to be on my best behavior.
“Really, Mom.” I fluff my darker, deep auburn hair.
My hair’s chosen texture is a very lazy banna curl. But with the assistance of overnight braids, it’s currently mocking the wave that comes natural to hers.
“I’m sure they’re great.” I turn to face her, gesturing over my outfit.
White pleated skirt, baby pink pumps and blouse to match; which is tied at the bottom to show off the cheer body I’ve been working on.
“Gorgeous, kiddo.” She reaches her hand out for me and I walk to her, taking it.
I can tell by that sentimental mom look she’s about to be mushy.
“You’ve grown so much, Max.” She takes my other hand too. “If your father could see you today-” She makes that little sound women make when they are trying not to cry and ruin their makeup.
She looks upwards, taking her hands back to fan herself.
“He’d be happy you are finally moving on.” I make myself be nice.
I love my mom, maybe I should stop raining on her parade. She places her hands over her heart, looking at me like I’m a baby again and have just said ‘mama’ for the first time. Thank god the doorbell interrupts that. She gasps, looking back and giving an excited clap.
“They’re here!” She turns back to me, her perfect hair just flowing along with her effortlessly.
“Joy.” I smile but it’s forced.
Mom doesn’t pay attention to my sarcasm this time, taking my hand and leading me to the stairs.
“What’s his name again?”
She’s told me more than once but I for the life of me can not retain that information.
She’s guiding us so fast down the steps that using the railing is absolutely necessary for me to keep balance. Once we reach the bottom landing she turns to me, fluffing my hair one more time and giving my cheeks a pat.
“My beautiful girl.” She smiles at me, no perfect teeth this time but still genuine. “They’re gonna love you.”
I couldn’t care less if they do but I keep my mouth shut. I fully intend to interact with them as little as possible and carry on with my perfectly well constructed teenage life.
My mom turns from me, smoothing her dress before pulling the door open. I don’t need to see her pretty face to know she’s beaming, voice light and airy as she greets her new man.
“Hi, husband.” She laughs, and husband does the same.
What’d she say his name was? Jeffery or something. He’s only a little taller than Mom, though take away the three inch heels and there’s a decent height difference. Blue eyed, short blonde hair, five oclock shadow- nothing spectacular. Not to be a harsh judge, it’s just that my mom is stunning. Honestly, if I had a nickel for every horny jock on the football team that asked if she was into younger guys I would have an unnecessary amount of nickels. She’s just one of those women, gorgeous and timeless. Seriously, I’ve seen yearbook pictures of her and she literally looks the same, give or take a few elegant laugh lines.
“Wife.” He matches her almost giddy tone, the two of them sharing a peck that I can tell they would let grow into more if I weren’t standing right here.
“Is this her? The famous Maxine!” He projects his voice like a sports announcer and I cringe internally.
Maybe externally too, hard to say. I flick some hair over my shoulder, strutting forward and offering my hand for a shake.
“Just Max.” I give a tight lipped smile, wiggling my fingers when he doesn’t accept the handshake right away.
I guess my tone isn’t as friendly as my mother had hoped, because she subtly knocks my heel with her own. She gives me a sharp look then immediately puts on a glowing happy face to her new husband Jimmy. Johnny?
“Well it’s wonderful to meet you, just Max.” His dad joke receives an airy chuckle from Mom.
Where did she find this guy, Suburban Dads Are Us? I match her laughter, though I know mine is pretty potent in its falsehood. Jackie doesn’t seem to notice, shaking my hand excitedly.
Jonathan. I make a mental note to try harder to remember that.
“Sturdy grip you got there.”
“Cheerleader strength, I guess.” I attempt to banter with this cheese ball, making nice for my mom even though I am not very impressed.
“That’s right!” He’s about two notches too cheery. “Victoria mentioned you were on the pep squad.”
Literally no one calls it that but I smile and nod anyways, taking my hand back that he was shaking for an unnecessary length of time.
“Captain, actually.” I don’t hide the pride in my tone, glancing at Mom.
“You got it?!” She covers her mouth and I nod with exuberance.
She clicks over to me, taking my hand and doing a very adorable excited mom shuffle that I can’t resist joining in on, despite its lameness. Our four collective heels make a clomping beat against the marble of the foyer. I even emit a little shrill ‘eek’.
“Kill me.” A voice mumbles from the doorway.
I know it wasn’t Hallmark Dad’s and when I look up, I see Jude no longer stands alone in the doorway. A younger guy, probably only a few years older than me, stands beside him with his hands shoved in his pockets. He wears all black. Black shoes, black skinny jeans, black short sleeved button up with several buttons undone to reveal a black tank underneath. The only color is the deep red rose pattern to the satiny top. His hair is even black. A little on the longer side and messy like he runs his hands through it constantly or stuck his head out of the window on the way here. No tats but the skinnies are a sure indicator that this is the new ‘brother’ I never wanted.
“Axel!” Mom says his name with that over the top niceness that insinuates she isn’t actually the biggest fan of someones but refuses to be rude. Ever.
At the sound of his name he shifts his gaze from where it had been slowly taking in the inside of our home, over to us.
His eyes are the most intriguing collection of greens I’ve ever seen. A monochromatic canvas ranging from emerald to peridot, all swirled together to create pure beauty. Judging by the appealing shape of them, I assume his mother has to be of Asian descent since his father is very clearly white. His jaw is sharper than the fancy knife mom uses to cut vegetables, and his nose is so perfect it looks professionally drawn. How did basic dad extra number five create this awe inspiring specimen?
I blink a few times, raising my chin and pushing away any feeling of nervousness. Why should I be nervous? So what if he won the genetic lottery? He’s just some random guy. Some random guy that is going to come in and infiltrate my peaceful life with my mom. There we go, that familiar resentment I’ve felt towards the both of them since Mom told me the news. It returns along with my steely confidence.
“Max.” I release my mother’s hands to reach one in his direction.
He looks down at it, raising a brow. His gaze roams from my hand, down to my high heels then over my outfit and finally my face. He glances at his dad like he would rather be anywhere else in the world before reluctantly looking back to me.
“Pleasure.” His tone says it’s the opposite.
He smacks his hand to mine, using way more force than necessary for a handshake. After my arm is yanked around, I pull my hand back and fold my arms over my chest.
“A monumental treat.” I give a smile so fake I could double as Barbie.
He stares at me for a second, then a subtle smirk tilts the edge of his mouth. Maybe he’s amused that I matched his sarcasm. He licks his lips before returning his hand to his pocket and kicking back against the wall.
“Do you need any help with boxes?” Mom asks.
I turn my head so fast I think I’m the first person to get whiplash without being in some sort of accident.
Mom looks embarrassed, giving her husband an apologetic glance before resting a hand to my arm.
“Max, honey, we talked about this-”
“Actually you had Fran talk to me about this.” I jab, “And I knew they were moving in but I did not know it would be today.”
I sneer at Axel when he gives a low chuckle, apparently amused by my distress.
“Whatever. No big deal.” I look at my mother, softening only a little.
I can tell my attitude is starting to really dampen her optimistic expectations. I inhale deeply, relaxing my head to the side with a sigh.
“That dress looks killer on you by the way.” A compliment and soft smile, my form of apology.
It works like a charm, Mom smiling and looking down at her outfit.
“Gotta say we agree there!” José’s bubbling brightness is damn near blinding.
He proceeds to take Mom’s hand, twirling her around to get a three-sixty view of the dress with her giggles as the soundtrack of their cheesy moment. I swear I can taste a little bile in the back of my throat, swallowing and rubbing my chest as I avert my eyes from this low rate romcom. When I look at Axel, he doesn’t appear to be quite as disgusted as I feel. He’s not smiling but there’s a soft look on his face, watching his dad and my mom acting like two teens in love for the first time.
They’re dancing now, right here in the foyer with our front door still open letting all of the air out and flying pests in. But they don’t seem to care. They don’t seem to have a care in the world, just completely wrapped up in one another’s presence. I soften up a bit myself, a small smile tempting my lips. But when they start kissing that smile falls and I’m grossed out all over again.
“Okay.” I roll my eyes and turn away, taking a few clicking steps towards the door.
I see Axel has kicked off from the wall, ruffling his hair as he too has turned towards the door. We share a brief look that communicates the mutual icked feeling of kids watching their parents get a little too physical.
“Do you have a lot of stuff?” I point out towards the moving truck as I step onto the brick porch.
“You’re gonna help?” He looks judgmentally surprised, walking at my side.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I take the steps with practiced cation, tactfully avoiding the grooves my heels sometimes catch in.
“Well, you seem very-” He gives my outfit a once over, and from the look on his face you’d think I was wearing some ridiculous costume. “Privileged.”
He says it like I’m the most pampered thing in the world and suddenly I feel like that spoiled little girl from Willy Wonka.
“You literally just met me.” I scoff, walking ahead of him.
“And my ear drums will never be the same.” He uses a pinky to wiggle around in his ear, squinting one eye.
As if my little excited shriek was physically damaging. I am seriously doubting it’s going to be easy to pretend to get along with this kid. When we get to the back of the truck, I fold my arms and tap my foot as I wait for him to catch up to me.
“Can you move any slower?”
I mean he’s walking like he’s just taking in the view, extraordinarily relaxed. He smiles, and... okay, it’s a gorgeous smile. I mean his teeth are perfect. They aren’t fake looking and stark white like the people that pay big money for good teeth, they’re a normal shade of off white but they’re still a brilliant display.
I ignore that, keeping focused on my annoyance.
“You’re very laid back, I see.” His sarcasm might give mine fair competition.
“Are you insinuating I’m uptight?” I raise a brow, narrowing my eyes at him.
He places a hand on his heart, a multitude of silver rings present.
“I would never.” He finally makes it to the truck, hands in his pockets again.
“Well?” I gesture at it.
“Oh, I don’t have the keys.” He leans on his shoulder, some messy hair falling into his face but he doesn’t seem to notice.
I look at him with all the disinterest I can muster. He doesn’t have the keys? What an ass. He obviously thinks he’s charming but I am thoroughly unamused by his whole cool guy thing.
“Whatever.” I roll my eyes, facing forward.
“So-” He sits on the bumper, resting his back to the truck. “Cheer Captain, huh?”
I look back at him, eyeing the soot and grime that’s collected on the old moving vehicle.
“You’re gonna get dirty.” I scrunch my face up at the thought of any of that getting on my outfit.
“Oh god, wouldn’t want that.” He mocks, letting his head fall back and rolling it in my direction.
“I don’t like you.” I feel like he should know that right off the bat.
Wouldn’t want him having false hope of us being one big happy, blended family or something.
He laughs, those appealing teeth making an appearance again. The front ones are subtly larger than the others and I think I catch the faintest hint of a chip on the right one.
“Feelings mutual, princess.” He insults, standing up.
He grabs the handle of the metal door.
“Thought you didn’t have the keys?” I watch him turn the handle.
He looks at me with a lazy grin, lifting the door up.
“It wasn’t locked.” He confesses and I don’t think I’ve ever liked someone less.
I make a sound of annoyance, grabbing the first small box I see and lifting it.
“The smallest box in the truck?” He eyes my choice, picking up a much larger one. “Must be all that cheerleader strength.” He mocks, giving a smirk before walking off with the box in hand.
He apparently had been lingering close enough to hear that before he came inside.
“Ugh.” I start to walk to the house, then double take at the truck.
I pop my tongue in irritation, going back to add another small box on top of the one I already have.
“I’ll show him cheerleader strength, asshole.” I stomp towards our front door, renewed anger at my mother’s matrimonial choice.
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