Ties that bind

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CHAPTER TWO- OFF TO THE RACES

The house is tense, no one says anything at the table and if it weren't for the fact that I walk everyone to school I would've left the minute my eyes snapped open this morning. I already called my dad, he's supposed to have me all week anyway. I'm finally gonna ask him if he can take me full time. At least at his place I'll be happy with people who actually care about my wellbeing. Instead of eating what she made I boiled a cup of noodles and added a boiled egg and some vienna sausages. No one said a word and it was expected, I mean who would want to say anything at all after what happened last night.

I finish up and dispose of my cup before heading upstairs to brush my teeth again. In the mirror I pull off my scarf seeing well swooped edges and a wavy slick-back bun. My cheeks are still swollen and tinted purple. I know she must have seen it and no doubt the guilt was killing her. She won't apologize that much I can tell until it's too late just like she did with Daddy, she had hateful bitches like Mrs. Jones whisper in her ear and tell her what to do. It's the same way she lost dad and it's the same way she'll lose me. I am done putting up with her shit. I'm the child not her and there are ways you discipline your child.

Last night was just another drop in the lake.

She never hits the others even when they fight at school, curse out teachers or steal money from her purse but I'm the one who stresses her out and she has to be at school for them 24/7. I'm so glad I'll be graduating in the next three months. The sooner I'm done there I can set up my Instagram page and do some modeling to save up my own money.

I stop at the doorway of the kitchen and see her smiling with the others. She doesn't notice my presence until I clear my throat in a clear sign of needing to leave. She brushes off her hands on the kitchen table and gives everyone a kiss when she comes up to me I move away. Her hand is outstretched and between her index and thumb is a thousand dollar bill. I look at her then back at the money. I don't want it. I don't want anything from her.

"No need, Alessandra is coming to pick me up later, she'll pay for whatever I need." It was a shitty thing to do, knowing how jealous and hateful she was of Alessandra. When my father left her he married the leggy Puerto Rican bombshell who used to be his assistant. She was half my mother's age and everything a real woman needed to be. Her hourglass figure was always covered in the best clothes and jewelry not to mention the most stylish heels ever. It didn't help that she was that 'exotic' type that my dad had a thing for. I love Ale , she didn't force herself into the stepmom role instead, she tried to be the older sister I never had but I always called her stepmom since mom was physically uncomfortable when I did. She didn't like me mentioning the young, beautiful Alessandra. A part of me thinks when she does remember the 20 something beauty queen she sees a semblance of her younger self.

I look at her now, she looks every bit of forty two. Her once perfectly groomed 4c mane is swapped out for a quick relaxer that's always stuck to the top of head in a tight bun. Dark bags are hanging down her eyes and every visible line from her forehead to her frown lines are left on the surface. She doesn't even look like she used to, she let herself go, her breasts dropped to the middle of her stomach and no longer does she have the tight and toned tummy like in the pictures she has all over the house. She looks like Rasputia on diet pills. It's so embarrassing having a mother like that when you always have a runway ready stepmom like Ale. She's a completely different person. She's everything I want to be and more. Young, successful, beautiful and being taken care of by a rich older man.

"I'm late." I mumble. She stares unmoving at me. Her brown eyes are shrouded in unshed tears. Good now she knows how I feel, it's not good being the black sheep of anything. She always acts so high and mighty. My grandmother used to say "yuh nuh know the use yuh batty till bwile tek ih up." Her neglect would only hurt me for so long until I left and when I do she'll come to terms with herself that I don't need her besides a place to rest my head. I just hope Dad says yes. For now I only have to think about getting there. The last time he forgot to pick me up but Alessandra remembered and got me in time even though I waited for the greater part of the evening and well into the night for him but that's a once in a while thing- whenever he doesn't remember he sends Ale.

I pull out the phone my dad bought for me. It's a brand new iPhone X, he always knows what to get me. I remember coming home that night and hearing mom arguing with him over the phone about buying me things she couldn't afford. She even had the nerve to yell at him and tell him to buy me a new uniform and clothes. She was the one who fought him tooth and nail for primary custody. So she should buy me everything since she had it all mapped out. It's not my fault she can't afford the good things in life for her kid. She should've kept her legs shut and maybe she wouldn't have five problems that she can't earn a proper living for. I know dad sends child support every month and no matter how much he sends it never goes to something I want. She uses it to pay the electricity and mortgage and sometimes she uses it for trips to the salon with Melina and Melinda and buys clothes for them and snacks for the boys. That sweet talk shit she does won't trick me. None of the other fathers pay for shit so she uses me as a meal ticket.

It's not too hard to figure why she wanted to keep me. She was trying so hard to maintain her old life and had men running in and out of it so she could feel younger. Now she's left with reminders of those men all day and I'm the one she resents the most.

"It's 8:30!" Heavy footfalls make their way to me. I tighten the strap of my bag and hold out my hand for Jason. He takes it and we're out the door within seconds. A thousand dollars would do me good but I still have free lunch for the rest of the week. I don't have to pay for transport or even snacks. I should have taken the money from her but I know all she wanted to do was one up dad when he saw the food I bought. She could never compare to the Benz life.

Several taxis honk as we traverse the sidewalk. I look both ways before crossing. We're outside the school in a matter of minutes. The gate opens and I hear the national anthem start playing. Shit! We're way past late. I just know if the principal sees us she'll ask us where we live and when she does I'm the one who'll get blamed. I hiss my teeth when I see her at the head of the building, book in hand as she pencils down a line of names. There are five students in front of me. I wait for them to pass and muster up an excuse.

"Good morning miss." She stares at me a bit too long for comfort. Her hand with the pen raises and she gestures for us to go. I walk by and she stops by pressing the pen to my side.

"Not you, them." Her voice is soft and comforting. I sigh begrudgingly. Just what I needed; the principal up my ass about something I can barely control. We walk down the corridors and I try not to laugh at our ridiculous height difference. She's barely four feet and I'm a whopping 5'8". Soon we're at the door of her office, I go in first and the door closes behind her. I'm faced with a long wooden chair flanked by a black leather spin chair on one side and smaller visitors chair on the other. Her desk is covered in elastic bound stacked folders and other stray papers accompanied by a plaque titled 'most outstanding community leader' as well as pictures of her outside the school with members of staff and some personal photographs.

"Please have a seat" Lowering into the uncomfortable waiting room chair, I avoid eye contact and keep my eyes trained on every little thing around the room. The foot of my black Reebok's itches on a tiny misplaced stone tucked under the blue floral linoleum. She sits and the piles of folders tower over her face. I can barely keep my anxiety at bay when I'm faced with looking between her and the sky high papers.

"I remember you." She starts and begins putting the folders on the floor. Her jacket bunches at the shoulders as she lifts and reorganizes the stacks on the floor.

"This is not your first strike, my question is why do you come to school so late everyday and you live so near." If it were up to me, I would be here an hour early just to avoid being at home but it's not.

"I have to wait on my other siblings before I can leave, I walk them to school every morning and I can't leave without them." It's not so bad, I'm late for school but I always make it to my classes before they mark the register.

"I would have let you go earlier had it not been for the handprint on your cheek. Is everything alright at home?" Shouldn't this be something for the guidance counselor to be working on. I don't know what a principal does for a living but don't they have papers to mark or something? I'm not comfortable talking about what goes on in that house. It's not anyone's business but mine and my parents.

"I got into a fight with my older sister last night, I should not have taken her clothes without her permission and we got into an altercation. She slapped me and that's how I got the bruise. My mother was working late and when she came home she punished the both of us." I'm tired of using that same excuse. Mom must know it by heart. I know better than to call her name and let them know exactly who did this to me. The last thing I want is the school calling the police and C.D.A (child development Agency) on us. Dad has so much going on right now for me to just throw this on him. He'll flip once he sees my face like this.

"Are you sure?" Her hands are locked together on the desk as she leans forward. Her brown eyes peer into mine searching for something, anything but I that will tell her otherwise. She nods reluctantly and allows me to leave.

"Hey" I look behind me at one of my friends, Shanoya, she's not much of a friend but more of someone I stick around for a good portion of the day since we have some of the same classes. She's short and shapely. Not like me and my average build, I'm skinny and breastless while she has breasts for days and fills out her uniform completely. I wish I looked more like Shanoya, maybe then I'd have more friends and love interests. Everyday she comes to school in this navy blue black tinted window Mercedes. The person who drops her off never gets out but she says it's her boyfriend. He runs a club downtown in Ocho Rios and makes good money. I know it can't be her parents because I saw them on orientation day and no offense but her mother and father in their decades old baby phat blouses and plaid shirts with bell bottoms and hanging chain jeans could never buy anything like that for her.

She loops her hand with mine and shows me her new watch. It's riddled with diamonds around the clock portion of it and solid gold around the bracelet. I want what Shanoya has, the new bags and in style clothes, cute new accessories and her hair is always done up in the most extravagant styles. Her perfectly manicured nails shine with clear coat polish as she starts talking with her hand, gesturing to every known direction while she blabbers on about her weekend with the mystery man.

"He's so charming Mel, you should see the new shoes he got me. I think I'm ready." My brows furrow. I tilt my head to her and gesture for her to elaborate.

"Ready?"

"Sex Mel!, I think I'm ready to have sex with him!" she whisper-yells in my ear with incredulous eyes. Sex? She's ready to have sex with him. Will I have to have sex with men for expensive watches and luxury clothes? I don't mind it. I've done it for free and all it got me was cheap gossip on the compound and disgust filled looks from people I don't even know. Sex with an older man, maybe it'll be better than the toss over I had behind the music room. It was so painful and quick, I smiled after we were done thinking it meant something and that he'd have a change of heart and love me the way I thought all teenage romances went but that was stupid of me; the minute we were done he disappeared on me wearing a stupid grin on his face as he buckled his pants and ran to his friends.

At least with an older guy I got some semblance of experience, maybe even a nice watch like Shanoya's . I wasn't dumb, love in this day and age was all a social construct. You believe what you hear and chase the lives others put out there but none of that was real. At least with these girls on Instagram I know what I'm getting into. I know what they do to have the life they live and it doesn't offend me in the least. Why do something for free when you can make a living off it.

"Oh" I speak more to myself "that sounds serious doesn't it?" She nods, her glossy lips pull into a smile as we make our way through the upper school entrance and down the stairs to our class.

"Yea, he says he wants a baby." I all but stop dead in my tracks and choke on my spit. I fling her around to face me as she stares up at me with wide frightened eyes.

"A baby? Shanoya we haven't even left school yet" exams were two months away and she's talking about a baby. She'll be ruined.

"What's the big deal? He takes care of me and if he wants a baby it's the least I can do. He paid for all of my subjects Mel. He bought my mother a shop to sell out of and got my Dad four cows to rear. He pays for everything." She tries to sway me but it doesn't work. A child will tie you down and drain you from the ground up. I have to take care of my sisters and brothers when mom isn't around and just that alone makes me swear off kids completely. Why would she voluntarily do this?

"Sex is one thing Shan but a baby will tie you forever, just be safe." I release her hand and step into class. We've been out there for a while and thank God the class was too submerged into their groups to notice our conversation. I take my seat after greeting the teacher and she does the same. A baby? I'd rather become a drug addict that let a man breed me. I'd turn out just like my mother, loveless, broke and struggling to make a life for myself. I don't think it's right the way she tries to pass off his generosity as a means to conceive a child. I don't believe in romantic love but familial is another. A child needs a loving family not some half assed arrangement based of sex and greed.

I continue working with my group and not a word leaves me the entire hour we're inside. The bell rings and we're onto the next period. I'm glad today is Friday, we just have four of the same classes so no moving up and down all over school to get to the next period. I stand up with my belongings and leave the literature class and move downstairs into Art. The teacher has a thing for me. I think he likes me, I don't give him much attention. He's not my type. The big muscular man wears shirts two sizes smaller than what he needs and those old grey slacks don't even give off the slightest of appeal. Sure, there were times I led him on so I could delay submitting late work and I may have his number saved in my phone but that's about it. I take a seat next to the wall. It's my seat, no one sits here but me and that's now I like it. Reaching into my bag I pull out my drawing book and start on my stencil.

I like art class, you get to draw what you feel like and it doesn't hurt that this is one of the few classes you get to listen to music in. West Coast by Lana Del Rey plays loudly as I scribe my pencil along the thin cream page, the music stops for a second before playing again. I look down into my lap and see the screen is lit with a message from Ale.

Pick you up at 12, we're going out.

12:00, a smile breaks out on my face. I wish I could leave school early everyday. I wonder where she's taking me, the stencil is the last thing on my mind as I finger up a quick reply and go back to daydreaming. I didn't pack much of anything in my bag since she always has clothes for me to wear. At my Dad's house I can actually wear clothes that fit and not stretched out hand me downs from whichever cousins house my mother got them.

She sends a quick emoji and that's it. I play with the ends of my EarPods and stare out the window. There's nothing here but open land filled with picturesque trees and far away buildings only identified by the blemish of unnatural color in the expanse of greenery. I hate living in the country, there's just land, land and more land. I wish I lived in the city where you can look and just see big stores and cafes even the beach on the off chance that you stray far enough. It's so weird how I live in one of the most illustrious islands in the world and the only thing I can think about is leaving.

I want to travel all around the world and eat different foods, experience different cultures and have someone just pamper me. The working life is not in my sights and it never will be. For the next hour I keep drawing stray shapes around my work. I'll have to cut them out next class, the overachiever in me wasn't thinking about this when I decided to go all out cause now I'll have to spend money I don't have on new acrylics for the stencil.

The bell rings and I hightail out of there like my butt was on fire. I don't have the time to hear Mr. Mortimer try and flirt with me again. He's so dull and boring. I may want to be a sugar baby but even I know a teacher's salary is barely enough for one person let alone two. He can keep his coins. I walk into the free lunch line, it's for kids whose parents don't have money to buy them lunch everyday or even finance their way through school. I grab two patties and a small bottle of water then leave to the far end of the school. It's an old red tank that's perched horizontally on two cement slabs. No one ever comes out here and that's just how I like it. I eat my food in silence under the shade and scroll through Instagram for the second time today.

These girls are so perfect, they have the perfect body, makeup and skin. I don't think I'll get surgery though, I'm comfortable just the way I am. On the off chance I end up not having anything at all when I finish school, I can always model. My height and weight are enough to take me only so far. I shake the crumbs out the brown bag and into my palm. The flaky bits fall onto my tongue as I crumple up the paper and drink my bottle of water. I go to my favorite model's page. She's always on the best vacations! Now she's in Bali, you don't see her post a picture without mentioning her boyfriend. Apparently he finances all her trips.

My phone pings and I see Alessandra text me. She's outside, I stand just as the bell rings and walk to the front of the school. I have to go to the admin's office for her to sign me out. I see a woman with shiny gold skin, her back is to me as I step inside the office . I wait a little longer seeing if Ale is coming in or I have to wait a bit longer. The woman turns and my mouth falls open. No longer is she the small A cup, her butt and chest are three times the size they once were.

"Whoa!" I muse. No way is that Alessandra.

She smiles and her dimpled cheeks let me know it is in fact her. Wow, she looks so different, she's absolutely gorgeous. It's not everyday you see someone that looks like her inside this school or in this part of the country for that matter. Sure, we have that off chance you'll see a white person once in a while or even a Chinese person (not really odd since there are so many of them in Jamaica) but you don't see a Spanish person as often. I hug her and we rock for a while until she lets up.

"Like the girls" I laugh at her shimmying and shake my head. She's too much I swear.

"Thought it was Wendy Williams for a second" she stops smiling and glares harshly at me. Her cherry lips fight the smile and she rolls her eyes before pushing me out the door with her perfectly designed acrylics.

"Shut up" I feel so proud to be walking beside her. She looks like a model and I know everyone who hasn't gone to their class is watching as the two of us walk alongside each other. She struts in her brand new Louboutins and burgundy body con dress. The fabric hugs her curves as her wavy hair bounces with every step she takes. When I walk with my mother I take several steps in front of her or behind her. I don't like people to know we're related but with Ale I'm happy and gleeful that I'm with her.

We stop beside the gold painted Audi. Her green eyes shine as they look into mine. I run my hands over the shiny exterior and instantly I'm green with envy. I wish I could live like this.

"Beautiful right, David got it for my birthday."

"Your birthday's not for another week Ale" I'm confused. Did I forget the date? No I couldn't, I remember everything to do with Ale. It's like I'm obsessed with her and everything she does.

"No, it's my pre birthday gift. He's pampering me all week and you miss lucky- you are going on a trip with us for the week." I squeal, unable to contain my excitement as I jump up and down . Oh my god! I get to spend the entire week with them on their birthday getaway. Shanoya's gonna be so jealous. I'll never stop bragging about this.

"No way" she nods and gets in the car. Hurriedly I follow suit and sit in the passenger's seat. The car is frigid as I lean on the leather seat. She turns up the radio and we're met with a new catchy tune on 105.5. We sing as she pulls away from the compound and through the gates, leaving a trail of dust behind us.

I switch on my phone and turn on the service. I sign into the website again while she jams out to some music . There are two messages- one from the site and another from a mystery man. I click on his profile. Wow! Smoldering grey eyes stare at me through thick black brows, my eyes trace his olive skin and run over his strong Greek nose and silky grey hair. He doesn't look old, he probably dyed it with the way the roots at the side have that smooth ombré pattern. His pristine white shirt bulges against taut muscles peeling through the two open buttons at the top.

I go back to his message : hello beautiful, my name is Sergio DeVaoi, I come from a small village in Naples Italy. Now I own a chain of restaurants along the Mediterranean with no one to share my wealth, I see you're from Jamaica, I have a trip there at the end of the week do tell me you'll do me the honor of meeting me for dinner.

Was I stupid enough to meet him? Yes I was. But what's the harm that could come from that. I reply to his message and agree to meet him, what's the worst that could happen? I'm with my Dad and stepmom nothing will happen to me.

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