01: First of Many [1/2]
AN: I'm in a bit of a writing rut so I wanted to post this rough draft in hopes of getting some CC/ feedback. This is a rough draft.
My mother pinned me with warning stares as she listed what was and wasn’t allowed, “So look, your scholarship is the difference that this family needs. We moved for it, but my rules still apply. No alcohol. No staying out past midnight--”
“It was ten before... Are you serious? I’m not old enough and Grace is in bed by nine. Come on, Mom. Really?” Jack asked, his wild, auburn colored hair falling into his eyes.
“Not all the time,” I mumbled.
Mom nodded and bumped my shoulder with hers, “Right, not all the time. Maybe she’ll branch out at this school. I’m giving her leeway so she can actually be a teenager.” She paused and frowned, her eyes scanning over me. “Just not too much, and no alcohol!”
I gave her a tight-lipped smile. “Momma, you don’t have to worry about that with me. I--”
She cut me off with a raised hand in the air, “I do have to worry about it. Addiction is eighty percent genetic and I’ll be damned if my kids fall into it as I have.”
My mother was--for the most part--a functioning alcoholic. She drinks so much, that I can’t even remember the last time I saw her drunk, but it can and does happen sometimes, like now. When she’s had one of those days, those days when nothing goes right, that’s when she binges. I don’t want to remember how many times in the past I’ve had to call for paramedics to come to collect her to pump her stomach. Yet, with all that, she’s a damn good mother. Even with her addiction, she never has it in the house and she never drinks in front of me or my little brother Jack.
Not once, but the smell of it was always there.
I don’t know the exact date or time that alcohol became her go-to in dealing with her problems, but I know it had something to do with Dad. The one and only love of her life, cheating on her and then divorcing her to be with a younger version of her was the breaking point. He even broke off all ties with his kids. I haven’t spoken to him since I was ten.
That was six years ago.
And, it wasn’t like I hadn’t tried. He’d given both me and Jack his contact information, but every time we tried calling it went straight to voicemail. Leaving a message didn’t matter. He never called us back and we eventually quit trying.
“I wish you’d cut yourself some slack--” I mumbled to her. “You’re your own worst enemy.”
She paid the bills. She kept food in our bellies. She loved us... most important of all, she stayed. I only wish she could see that for herself then maybe she’d stop drinking, stop feeling guilty for drinking, and move on from that crap sperm donor who shattered her heart.
She heaved a sigh and nodded, but didn’t acknowledge what I said. She reached forward, brushing a hand through my hair before placing a sloppy kiss against my forehead. “My smart little girl... I love you, baby. I love you both, but I have higher expectations of you and Jack than I did for myself. I’m sorry if that makes me a hypocrite, but the minute I see you with any alcohol I will beat you within an inch of your life, okay baby?”
I nodded, not letting on that I could smell the five-dollar Vodka on her breath. She was saturated in it. I offered her a reassuring smile. The stress of this move--so that I could go to this prestige, artsy school because of the scholarship that had been offered to me--had been a lot to deal with.
It is still a lot.
Even to me, but Mom was adamant. It was an opportunity she wouldn’t let me pass up, so she made the decision for me and moved us to what would be considered ‘of the ghetto’ in Avery Falls--a town full of rich people and where a $3000 dollar rent was considered poor.
Needless to say, it wasn’t a poor quality for us. In fact, our new apartment was four steps up to what we were used to, and I knew the rent was going to kill us. As luck would have it, the scholarship I’d gotten covered two-thirds of the rent. And though Mom didn’t know it yet, I was going to get a job to help with the last third of it.
No more volunteering for me at an animal shelter. I’d gone to put an application in and with my background in volunteering at previous shelters, they hired me on the spot. It was time to put my big girl pants on and contribute. Maybe it would be enough to get ahead, at least a little, and then all that worry would dissipate along with the heavier than normal drinking.
I wrapped my arm around her waist in the pretense of a hug, but really so she wouldn’t face plant onto the concrete walkway that leads to our new apartment.
“Oh Gracie doll, be sure to stay away from that damn pool,” Mom slurred.
I frowned, wondering when she’d found the time to sneak anything extra to drink. It was a rare bird to hear her slur like that and it was hitting fast. We’d been unpacking all day and were drenched in sweat. She’d been out of my sight a total of ten times, I counted, and it had never been longer than a few minutes.
I was worried, hoping she wasn’t changing her own policy of no alcohol around us or in the house--well, ‘in the apartment,’ which was triple the size of our old house, but all the same, still called an apartment building. There was only one other time I remember Mom breaking her own rule. When Grandma died, but that was understandable.
“Gracie, did you hear me?”
I nodded and gave a mock-shiver, which I only had to pretend a little. “I will definitely stay away from the pool.”
Jack elbowed me as he walked beside us. “If you want her to branch out and be normal, maybe she should learn to not be afraid of water in a place where water is everywhere!:
“Let’s not go overboard,” Mom said to him.
Jack chuckled and nodded, hauling a box past us so he could get ahead. “You’re right, antisocial Grace is more likely to talk to a rock than try to learn how to swim.”
I scowled at my younger brother of three years, trying not to let his nonchalant, negative reaction to me being adventurous get to me.
“So sue me. I’m not a social person,” I said, my brows still snapped together as I eyed him. “A rock has more personality than some of the people I’ve come across in this town anyhow.”
Jack snorted, but tossed me a glare, letting me know he didn’t like that I made him laugh. “You would talk to a rock over a living breathing human being.”
I would never be a social butterfly. I needed to accept it and move on, but sometimes it still hurt, especially when my family reminded me of it every day. Being alone and trying to survive in this world was tough.
Who said teenagers weren’t adults? That’s what I’d like to know.
“I do talk to people.”
“Grace, stop pouting. Jack likes to pull your chain. A rock isn’t that scary,” Mom paused, her face sobering, her eyes even sharpened as they honed in on me. Maybe she wasn’t as drunk as I thought. “But I swear to God, Grace, if I see you talking to spiders again I might just be tempted to show you how far that pool goes down with a rock tied around your ankles!”
I gasped. “Mother!”
“I am not dealing with your weird infatuations here, Grace. I just can’t. Physically can not. I’m queasy here. I mean, I almost had a heart attack with that lizard thing you brought in the other day.” She paused and hesitated as she looked at the door that leads to my new bedroom. “It’s not still in there, is it?”
“It was not a lizard! It was a Bearded Dragon. They’re quite snuggly if you’d give ’em half the chance,” I said, pausing to roll my eyes at her over-exaggerated shudder. “He needed extra care. He’s sick so I volunteered to do it.”
“It attacked me!”
“Drago did no such thing!”
Mom scoffed. “Drago indeed.”
Ignoring her comment, I continued, “He was getting his strength back and he needed to stretch his legs out.”
“It’s like this big,” she argued, holding her hands five inches apart. “How much room does it need?” She let out a sigh before eyeing the side of my face. “So they’re gonna let you volunteer at the shelter then?”
I nodded, hugging her side.
“Wonderful! Just do not bring anything else home. Ever. Again! And get rid of the dragon! I mean it, I’m not messing around this time. We can’t afford to take in stray--they aren’t even animals!”
Jack clucked his tongue, staring at me in disgust. “Why can’t you be a normal girl and like cats or dogs?”
I reached out and punched him in the arm as hard as I could, but yanked my hand back, cringing as pain shot up my wrist. “You played with Drago last night.”
He shrugged. “But I’m a guy! I’m gonna have to teach you how to punch, you wimp,” he mumbled the last part.
I pushed my black, horn-rimmed glasses up my nose. “So? And I do like cats and dogs!”
Mom, having managed to reach the couch without falling, settled deep into the cushions. Another awesome thing about this apartment? It came pre-furnished. We even got new beds. It seemed too good to be true. I’d even looked up the scholarship I’d gotten yet never applied for. Yet, according to my previous school counselor, it was legit. However, the benefactor wished to remain anonymous. That would’ve been a red flag if the same thing hadn’t been offered to a dozen other kids. Of course, not one of them was going to the same place. And the idea that I was the only one from my school to get it did set me on edge in the beginning, but I figured it was unnecessary paranoia on my part.
“Besides, it’s okay not to be super social, but if things change--” Mom started subject jumping. It’s something she did when we talked about one topic she wanted to discuss, but switched to another less important one.
I rolled my eyes, trying to be the ‘normal teenaged girl’ for once, “I know, I know. No sex preferably, but if the situation calls for it wrap it before he taps it. I got it.”
Jack’s mouth dropped, looking appalled as he slammed his hands over his ears. “I can’t hear this! I don’t want to hear this!”
I chuckled and reached forward to ruffle his hair. He jerked away, casting a disgusted look my way. “It applies to you as well, Jackie. When you’re older at least, I mean, in a year and a half you’ll be in high school.”
It was true, and the one thing I could say that was consistent with this family... we were very pretty. If I wasn’t blind as a bat, I would be too, but the only glasses we could afford for me were my late grandmothers, on my mother’s side--everyone on Dad’s side of the family disappeared when he did. She’d handed them to me two days before she died, saying ’I won’t need ‘em long anyway.’
I laughed because Grandma had always had one of those foul, dry sense of humor. I took them because the dollar ones I’d been getting seemed to be making my vision worse. It didn’t matter that they were gawd-awful -- they even had the old lady points in the corner, but at least they were black -- the glasses worked, and they were all I had left of Grandma. That’s all that mattered really.
Jack folded his arms across his chest, his face pale as he faked a gag. “Please, just stop. Don’t subject me to any more trauma.”
I let it go and watched as he dropped the last box onto the floor of the living room. After we finished unpacking it, we binged on some cheap take-out that tasted more like roadkill than actual food, so of course, Jack loved it and then crashed.
Or at least, I tried to.
The move across town had been exhausting, with a new school day tomorrow, sleep was what I needed, but it was just out of my reach. Sighing, I glanced up at the red numbers on my clock. Exactly one hour before I had to get ready. The butterflies in my stomach were more like cats clawing my insides to shreds. Best of all, I now had to add dark bags under my eyes to the list of reasons why I would never belong to Oak Ridge Academy, school of the gifted and super-filthy rich.
It was going to be a long day.