CHAPTER ONE -SEEKING COMMITMENT
"I'm so sorry baby." Of course she couldn't friggin buy it. My lips barely draw past a blank pout as she smiles sadly and goes to stroke my hair. I get up quickly and pass it off as having homework to do. My steps get louder with every step up the stairs. A little body runs past me with fervent speed down the hall. I don't look when he hits his arm on the drywall frame and squeals in pain. It's her problem, let her tend to it. It's so selfish when people keep having kids and can't take care of them the way they deserve. I walk into the room and fight the urge to slam the door against the wall when I flick the light switch on. I avoid looking at my other two siblings who are laying down on their bed, their chatter subsides once I enter. Plopping onto the bed, I flip open my laptop, the screen's all bubbled, I have to turn the brightness all the way up just to look at what I'm doing. It's so embarrassing to open this in public when everyone else has newer models that don't look like they're grappling for life.
"Are you alright Mel?" I ignore Melinda's question and continue staring at the wall with the pillow over my head. My eyes burn with unshed tears. I hate this stupid house, with this stupid noise and never having one bit of privacy, even if it is to cry in peace.
"Just leave her alone." Melina whispers. Of all my siblings she's my favorite. She knows when to avoid conflict and doesn't push when you're uncomfortable. I can't say the same for the others who don't know when to just stay away. Jaxon's wails get louder, I raise my head quickly, instantly regretting it when a painful shock runs across my forehead. I rub my temples and swing my lower half to the edge of the bed. My feet make contact with the cold tiles and I ignore the burning eyes staring at the back of my head. They're so useless, he's crying bloody murder and no one gets up to check.
I see him lying in the same place where he ran into but this time he's curled into a ball, rocking back and forth with his little hand gripping his arm. I swoop him into my arms and wipe his chubby cheeks.
"Melanieeee" His little voice carries my name in a painful cry. Hushing the small boy, I walk down the stairs through the hall and into the kitchen. He doesn't stop crying but his wails aren't as loud. My mother turns her head and immediately looks at us with wide eyes. Now she cares, he's been crying the entire time she's been downstairs and she didn't hear him until now. I roll my eyes and open the fridge. She keeps asking questions and goes to take him out of my arms. I let him go and she all but forced me out the way to grab the pack of frozen peas I had in my hand.
"What did you do to him?", she accuses, running her hand over his curls.
"Nothing!" I defend.
"Lower your voice, you always do something, did you hit him again?" Her brown eyes narrowed into slits. It's fine when she beats me like a slave but the one time I discipline her demon spawn in public for throwing a tantrum it's an issue.
"He ran into the wall" I grit my teeth. She pries off his zip up paw patrol onesie and it's then we see what the problem is. His shoulder looks horribly displaced. The bulging circular ball is pushed up against the front of his shoulder stretching across his shiny brown skin. I've seen weird YouTube videos at night (morbid curiosity)when they pop it back in place, I want to try but knowing me I might permanently disfigure him.
"We have to get him to the hospital."
"The hospital? You said you didn't have any money?" I blurt out with outstretched hands. She never has money but as soon as something that isn't exclusive to me comes up she finds it.
"You are so selfish, your little brother is crying his eyes out over a slipped out shoulder and all you care about is getting a new laptop!" She lifts him up in her arms and swings his body over her side. The fabric of her uniform bunches up as he tosses his head back and his mouth pulls open to release an ear shattering screech .
Just perfect, turn it back on me. It's not my fault she's a horrible mother that can't even provide for her own children. I've had that hand me down for two whole years and she's never made an effort to get me a new one but of course she'll dig down the entire earth to buy anything for her favorites.
"Just start on dinner and watch your siblings, I'll call Mrs. Jones when I'm at the hospital to check in on you guys." She doesn't even wait for me to object before she strides out the kitchen and slams the front door on her way out.
I storm upstairs and grab my phone. It's so unfair, She never cares about me. All she thinks about is everyone else. As usual, Instagram is the first and only place I stop. When I'm there no one and nothing else matters. I'm here broke and suffering while all these other girls can live in luxury with expensive cars, beautiful outfits and amazing friends and getaway trips. I'm back on the explore page seeing hoards of expensive shoes being broken in by these gorgeous thin models. They're so beautiful and perfectly shaped, I wish I looked like that.
My mind flicks back to the kitchen a few moments ago. It's not fair! I'm not even asking for much, just a damn laptop so I can do my school work comfortably and not be fearful of whether or not I'm gonna be needing glasses in the next few months. God knows I do with the way I have to be squinting and tearing up whenever I'm in class and have to be copying notes from the board. A thousand dollars if Melinda and Melina need to go to the salon she can find it.
"Melanie, I'm hungry" I glance up from the big marble living room on my screen and visibly sink when I look at the discolored drywall covered in peeling wallpaper, my chubby younger brother, Jason, whines from the doorway. I sigh and push off my bed. I'm back in the kitchen staring at what mom had laid out on the counter. Great, tin mackerel again! I'm so tired of eating the same thing every night. I wish I could be eating crab legs and drinking the finest wines on a beach in some private island.
I'm not cooking it. I open the fridge again. Vertical white ridge grates barely hold up any food, my eyes scan over some clear bags of chopped vegetable- the mixed one from out of tins until I see there's some pieces of leftover beef I snagged from Home Economics class sometime last week. That should work. I open the plastic bag for a sniff test before grabbing it along with the season dish, closing the fridge door with my foot. Switching on the heat in the pot filled with oil I throw the onions, green pepper and thyme in and wait for them to brown a little before adding the pre- seasoned beef. It simmers for a while so I cover the pot and start working on some dough for the dumplings. The smell draws my greedy sisters and brother into the kitchen. Melina, Melinda and Jason are all sitting at the table. Jason's watching me like a hawk and the girls are there playing some game on the tablet together.
The dough sizzles as I drop in the first set of dumplings. I hate cooking with oil. It's a love hate relationship but I can't leave fried food alone to save my life. Every time I do I have flashbacks of when the oil burnt me and I had second degree burns all over my hands. A splatter of oil soars directly at my face as the dumpling slips off the fork and drops back into the pot. I fly out of the way and stand back as the pot spits and sizzles at me. Why couldn't she just cook before she left. Packing up everything mom put out back where they came from I hurry and turn off the stove before dishing out the food.
"If you're thirsty you can make some juice. There's Kool-aid in the cabinet." I grab my share and close the microwave with food for Mom and Jaxon and head back to my room. The door closes behind me and that's enough to keep my sisters out until my mother comes back home. The laptop chimes when I sign in. I open google chrome and type in that website that sent me spam a couple days ago. I probably shouldn't be on here but who's going to stop me? My mother? She doesn't even care to ask me where I get so much money on most days and probably has a million things scribbled down in that little notepad of hers that I can bet none of them involve me.
I lick my fingers and continue eating as my fingertips hover over the cursor. Should I be doing this? Yes, imagine if I could find some wealthy older guy who can take care of me. I can finally live the life I was supposed to and not have to wonder what if I were born into some rich family that could give me my own room, my own laptop and brand new clothes. A family that could give me things that aren't hand me downs. Sure the little I'm making now is fun but how much longer can I keep taking this man's money before he starts to ask for favors. I'm not opposed to sex but the more I think about it my nerves get the best of me and I start to think back on my decision.
I contemplate whether or not I should type my real date of birth and let the site kick me out or just fake it for a little bit. Instead of 03 I choose 00 and continue with the registration process. I uploaded the only two pictures I had of myself in clothes my stepmother bought me when I spent the weekend with her and my father. She treats me the way I deserve to be treated. Buys me all the things a teenage girl should have access to. She makes me feel like a girly girl and not some poor little tomboy wearing aged clothes and even more out shoes.
Nothing happens . I adjust the search to age 35-52. At this point I'm just scrolling for scroll sake. They're all cute, I give them that but nothing draws me to any of them. Some just want fuck buddies, others want love. I don't see myself responding to someone's bio just because they mention wanting a romantic or sexual partner. I prefer the hurtful truth. Men don't want love, not these men, they want a sexy young thing on their arms that they can take and destroy. You basically give up your life and dedicate every waking moment to their dreams and in the end what do you end up with? Five kids from three different men who jump in and out of their lives and don't even bother to ask if you need help down the line. You end up crying at night because you're trapped in an unhappy life with ungrateful kids and a job you could give two shits about.
I'm just about to turn off the laptop when the screen goes black and a deep mechanical whirring sound echoes from it's speakers. I jump out of the bed, what if it explodes and all blows up in my face? Let's be honest, I'm horrible at school and I don't have a work ethic; my only out is my face and as flawed as it is I need it.
I slowly inch over and start haphazardly hitting the keyboard. No! My mom's going to kill me, first she'll blame me for being irresponsible then she'll just write it off as me being spiteful and wanting to stress her out. All of a sudden the screen is back to normal and I'm now on the homepage. It better not be a virus, I can't even save up and buy a hard drive let alone take it to a computer guy to fix it.
Quickly, I exit the site and delete it from my history. Sometimes my mom borrows it for her online courses and I don't want her to get snoopy and check my search history. I close the laptop and take my plate downstairs. Everyone is in the living room crowded around the small TV. Imagine if she didn't divorce dad and get the house we'd be stuck with absolutely nothing and living worse than we already are. I need to leave this house, it's driving me crazy. I wash my plate and ignore the other dishes in the sink. I'm not going to wash the plates and pots after I cooked dinner. Pretty sure the fourteen year old twins could wash the damn dishes. They're not complete idiots.
"I hope you know I'm not cleaning up after you guys. Wash the pots and plates, I'm not a maid!" They jump at my voice and turn around. Melina and Melinda are on Snapchat taking pictures with that stupid flower filter while Jason has somehow found a snack to munch on. No wonder I can never find anything to eat at night. His fatass keeps hiding the snacks for himself. For a nine year old body he really should be out more and playing with kids his age, not rummaging through the bottom of a bag of Cheetos and shoving his face into the TV.
"Can you shut up" Melinda mumbles to herself. So she wants to be the bad bitch tonight. I wish she would open her mouth and let me hear it louder. Every time I look at her I start to hate her more and more. Just because Mom lets her get away with her attitude she thinks she's special.
"What did you say Snow White?" I touch my ear with my finger, craning my head toward her. It's probably not the best thing for her self esteem to make fun of her albinism but she started it.
"You're such a bitch, that's why no one likes you and that's why you don't have friends! Maybe if you were just a little bearable mom wouldn't have to say no to you all time!" She yells from the floor. I stomp over there and grab her hair. Melina comes between us and tries to part us. Stupid little bitch thinks she's going to disrespect me and I'm gonna stand there and take it. She screams in pain and blindly kicks at me as her head thrashes. There's a knock on the door. I fling her back and she lands on the floor screaming in pain with tears running down her face.
I hate her so much.
"Maybe if you shut up more I wouldn't have to beat you up all the time." The knocking continues. I trudge barefoot over the narrow mat leading to the front door.
"Melika" the door swings open and there's Mrs. Jones who pushes inside the house in her purple mesh flowered slippers and milk brown terry fibre robe. I close the door and stare at the bright neon rollers in her hair as she makes her way to the living room.
"It's Melanie" I grumble when she's out of earshot. I hate Mrs. Jones. She's always there peering into our yard and runs her mouth about everything I do to Mom. There was a time I came home early from school and went into the bathroom to smoke some weed, no one was home but me and God, You can imagine my shock when mom comes home and there's Mrs. ;Jones behind her pointing me out with those dirty old press ons about smelling seeing smoke coming out the bathroom window and checking on me to see me smoking the "Devil's lettuce"
The old bag didn't even see me but she sure had a lot to say. Since then mom hasn't let me stay home without someone checking in on me and it just so happens to be her. That was six months ago, I'm seventeen now, I'm old enough to watch her kids the entire day and go grocery shopping five miles away from home but not old enough to smoke? Spare me the crap. Any alternative is better than drinking the way she does.
"Why don't y'all have books before you? And why isn't the news on?" I wish that denture at the front of her mouth would fall out and her mushmouth self would just go home. My eyes go to the clock on the wall. It's just 7:00, the news is about to start . What is it with old people and having books around you all the time- they barely ever pay attention when you're studying but the minute you do anything else it's a problem?
"Melina, how's about you go get me a cup of tea and some crackers" Did she not have food at home? Her eyes stay on mine expectantly as she makes herself comfortable in the armchair. She lifts her brow and I know she's just waiting for me to say something for her to report to my mother again.
Instead, I go and throw some water in the pot Mom used to boil ramen noodles in. I hum to myself all while the pot simmers and white foam makes its way to the top of the pot. Maybe I should stop...
I strain it in the cup, snickering to myself as I pour out the remaining packet of ginger tea and sugar in the cup before adding some more water. I know all that seasoning mom put in it from earlier must be kicking.
"Here you go." I smile handing the tray of crackers and tea for her to hold. I bite my lip to keep from laughing. She takes it from my hand without even saying thank you. I hope she has diarrhea the whole week.
"You can't fix up the place girl? A young lady should make herself useful and keep the place tidy. You should take pride in your house. " I'm guessing she used her hidden binoculars and watch me sit in every fucking chair and make a mess all before she got here. She has a retort for everything.
"When I was your age my mother would beat me red if I had a guest come over and the house wasn't in perfect order." She shuffled in her chair, balancing the tray on that lifeboat sized chest of her's before taking the cup of the tea and bringing it to her lips. My eyes squint in anticipation. I watch excitedly with an open mouth as she closes her mouth over the rim of the cup and takes a sip. She reacts immediately, the unmistakable sound of a smokers cough echoes in the room and everyone turns to look at her. If only God were kind enough to let her daily pack of Marlboros finish her off before I had a chance.
"You evil little! -''The door flies open and in comes mom with a sleeping Jaxon on her shoulder and a brown paper bag of what I imagine to be medication. I take him from her noting the brown stretch cloth wrapped around his body under the left side of his chest over to his shoulder on the other side. He snuggles into my neck, He's so precious, I lean down and kiss his forehead before heading up to our room. I lay him on his side of the bed and clean him up with some wipes before switching his clothes.
I make my way downstairs- knowing Mrs. Jones she'll talk about that little stunt until next year Christmas.
"Melanie!" Mom's voice booms, I stop midway down the stairs, ok maybe I shouldn't have spiked her tea with leftover ramen noodle water but come on she deserved it.
"Momma?" I come downstairs feigning innocence. I was getting my ass handed to me one way or another so I might as well make it worth it. I'm used to her beatings.
"Come here" I'm barely within arms reach of her before she snatches me up by my arm. I'm swung in front of Mrs. Jones who wears a proud smile on her wrinkled old face. I bet this is the only excitement she gets besides watching reruns of Generations.
"What did I tell you about misbehaving." I don't have time to react before she raises her hand and grips me by the middle of my blouse. I swear one of these days I'm going to snap and when I do she's going to regret putting her hands on me the way she does. She never just talks or even takes my side, all she does is put her hands on me then blames it on stress . Stinging slaps come down on my cheek one after the other. I stand there and take it, I don't flinch or moan in discomfort. I'm used to it. Abuse is the only language she knows.
The burning intensifies when she sees I don't react.
"All you do is stress me out! I'm sick sick sick of it!" When she's finished she kicks me down to the floor. None of the other kids move and all Mrs. Jones does is nod her head in approval . She leaves the living room and leads her to the front door. I hear the two converse a bit longer but I can't find the strength to get up. I stare at my clenched hands balled in my lap. I have to leave this house.
She re-enters the room and walks into the kitchen. I hear her grumbling followed by the clanging of pots and plates. She comes out minutes later, still ignoring me. My hands start cramping up, it's then I look up from them and see everyone has gone to bed and it's 11:00 now. I hate this house, I hate Mrs. Fucking Jones and I hate my mother. I get up and go to bed, the room is dead silent, this time I'm back on Instagram once again scrolling through the explore page wishing I was one of those girls in one of those big houses living life to the fullest and not miserable Melanie Johnson in this run down two story house being abused every single day.