Chapter 2- Caleb
When I get home, a car is pulled in the driveway. That’s odd, because my mom is never home when Mindy drops me off. But I know whose car it is.
Mindy seems to notice. “Who is that?” she asks.
I don’t look at her. “Just a friend.” When I do turn to Mindy, her eyebrows are raised above her glasses.
I don’t say anything else as I get out of the car. I can hear the passenger door window roll down.
“Soccer tryouts are at five, remember?” she says.
I turn around. “Yeah, I remember.”
Then she drives off. I let go of a breath. If I could ride the bus, I would, but my neighborhood is so dangerous the school won’t risk having a route come to it. There are other kids in this neighborhood that are my age, but most just skip school to smoke pot. I used to be one of them.
I continue up my driveway. No, that is not Mom’s car. She’s always at a bar this time of the day after she gets done with work. Half the money she earns goes towards her collection of alcohol and cigarettes. I would get a job, but my record is screwed up enough that I won’t be able to get a driver’s license until I’m twenty.
When I get inside, I cringe at the smell. Vomit, alcohol, and weed. I toss my backpack at the foot of the stairs and head straight for the back door, already able to see smoke curling in front of the screen.
The reaction is immediate. Violet leaps on me, her arms engulfing my torso. “Caleb,” she says with an excited tone. Her eyes, however, are annoyed.
I pry her off of me, wrinkling my nose at her smoky breath. I’ve known Violet since the sixth grade, when I was going through some personal issues. She’d introduced me to the not-so-magical “antidepressant” known as marijauna.
But all she has right now is a cigarette. The first thing she does is offer me one. I shake my head, but the temptation is still there. Violet’s previous expression turns into a sneer.
“You’re still with that program?” Violet scoffs. She takes a particularly long drag and eyes me from the corner of her vision. “Don’t tell me you’re already clean.”
I’m not, but she doesn’t need to know that. I narrow my eyes. “Why are you here?”
Violet rolls her eyes and drops her cigarette, stomping on it with a combat boot. “For a good old time.”
My arms cross as she sits on the only chair on the back porch. Violet stares at the overgrown backyard as she takes another cigarette out of the pack.
If she’d stopped doing drugs a while ago, she might have retained her beauty. But they’ve ruined her. She’s older than me, maybe by three years, maybe by more, but she looks older. Older than she probably should. She should be in college. Instead, she’s a high school dropout.
“Violet,” I say sternly.
Violet gives me that side-eye again. She tucks a strand of pitch-black hair behind her ear. Fine. If she won’t talk, then I won’t force her to. I open the door to walk inside.
Violet snags my arm. When I look at her, I’m surprised by the desperation in her face.
“How?” she asks. “How did you do it?”
I search her eyes. They’re the same color as the grass dying in my backyard. She seems sincere, but I can never tell. She’s always managed to charm her way into any kind of answer.
“Do what?” I decide to say.
“How did you manage to not smile at the sight of me?”
I seethe. Leave it to her to mock me. “Goodbye, Violet.” She cackles as I walk inside. But even as my annoyance flares, I can’t help but pity her.
Mindy picks me up at four thirty. When I get in the car, she studies me. “Was your mother home?”
She asks me this question everyday. I give her the same answer I always do, shaking my head. When I realize she’s still watching my expression, I give her a big smile.
Mindy’s the one to continue the conversation as she drives. “Do you know who your partner is?”
My partner? Then I remember English class. My head shakes.
“Her name is Zoe. Mrs. Griffin recommended her.”
Zoe? I’ve never heard of anyone at our school named Zoe. But that was because the kids apart of the New Life program are basically separated from everyone else. If someone told me there was a kid named Josh at my school, I wouldn’t know.
“Okay,” I say slowly. Mindy is watching my reaction.
She turns her eyes back to the road after the light turns green, a small smile on her lips. “Since today’s Friday, I’ll drive you over to her house tomorrow morning so that you two can get started on the project.”
I nod. “Can she write good?”
Mindy shrugs. Oh, great. “No idea,” she says, running a hand through her short, blonde hair. “But Mrs. Griffin told me she’s a good kid.”
“You mean better than me,” I say drily while staring out the window.
Mindy doesn’t disagree. “All I know is that you better be nice to her and keep your hands to yourself.”
I roll my eyes even though she can’t see. “I’m not in the New Life program for getting handsy.” I would be in jail if that were the case. I’m eighteen.
“No,” she agrees, pulling into the soccer complex. When Mindy parks the car, I scowl at the fields.
“I don’t want to play soccer,” I say in a sour tone. I’ve never been a fan of the sport. All I’m going to be doing is running up and down a field chasing a ball I’ll never get to kick.
“I know, but I don’t care.” I give her an incredulous look that she ignores. “But this is just a rec league with people like you.”
People like me. I snort at the comment. Even so, I appreciate her effort. She’s more of a mother-figure to me than my own mom.
“You know I appreciate you,” I say to her as I get out of the car. Almost immediately, my legs itch from the shin guards and long socks.
“I know,” Mindy muses. “Have fun.”
“I’ll try,” I mutter under my breath when she drives off.
I jog to the only field with people on it. There, other guys my age pass soccer balls and juggle.
Who I assume to be the coach gives me a once-over before I can even introduce myself. “You’re pretty thin,” he comments, emotionless.
My brows furrow. He can talk to my mom about that, if it’s such a problem. “I’m Caleb Summers.”
“Ah, yes. The teen druggie. Mindy told me about you.” When he reads my confused expression, he waves his hand. “Trust me, there are kids who’ve done worse. I’m Coach Malone.”
He doesn’t need to remind me of that, but when I glance at the other kids who are trying out, I realize what he’s talking about. There are what seem to be giants on the field. They have scarily threatening expressions on their faces, and they’re stacked with muscle. I’m beginning to have doubts.
The coach notices. He claps me on the shoulder. “Don’t worry. I can handle them. How tall are you?”
“Six foot. Even.” I can look the coach square in the eyes.
“All right, Curly Fry, let’s see what you’re made of.” The coach blows his whistle.
Curly Fry? I run a hand through my hair, realizing the meaning behind his nickname. I smirk.
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