By the time I get home from work on Friday night I want nothing more than to simply collapse in my bed and sleep until Ray shows up in the morning to get me ready for the dance - she insists this is something I cannot be allowed to do on my own. She apparently has that little faith in my personal grooming abilities. My day consisted of three tests, including a math test that made my melted brain threaten to drip from my ears, and then it seemed like every little old couple in Tickuma had made an executive decision to hit up The Funk for date night so I had been run ragged keeping up.
Doug must have been watching for me to come home because his bellow splits through the house just as I reach the bottom of the staircase to my room. “Jacob, get in here!”
I’m sorely tempted to feign deaf and just go up to bed, but I sigh and go into the house. If I make him actually come and find me, it might give him the incentive to finally kill me. It doesn’t take much guesswork to figure out where Doug is: sprawled out in his usual armchair that looks like it’s one pizza box away from falling apart.
“What?” I ask, not in the mood to play manners.
“Don’t use that tone with me,” Doug snaps, gesturing angrily at me so some of the beer in the can he’s holding slops out onto the leg of his sweat pants. God, what a catch that man is. For the millionth time I wonder how he used to be the same guy my mom gushed about after dates. “What do you call this?” he asks, waving a hand around the room.
“I believe it’s called a living room, although in this case ‘man-cave’ might be the more appropriate term,” I say with a shrug.
“No,” Doug says and gives me a menacing look that doesn’t faze me. “I mean these walls. What’d you do to them?”
“Exactly what you said for me to do,” I say. There’s a hint of dread creeping down my spine and it’s putting me on edge. It’s that weird little warning you always get right before something goes horribly wrong. Intuition, maybe? “I painted them.”
“The color is hideous,” Doug says.
“I agree, but you picked it,” I point out.
“Don’t lie to me, boy,” Doug says and he shakes the beer can at me again. This time Budweiser speckles the upholstery. “You did something to it. This isn’t the one I picked out. Repaint them.”
I blink in surprise. “You want me to repaint the whole house?” I ask. “I barely finished yesterday. Why didn’t you say something before I did the whole house?”
“That’s not my problem,” Doug says. “I want this house back to the color it was and I want it done in time for the guys to come over Sunday. I don’t want them seeing this disgusting mess you’ve made.”
“I can’t get this done in one day!” I’m so furious my voice cracks on the last word. He came home Monday, after I’d painted the entire main floor, but he can’t decide he doesn’t like the color until after I’ve finished the rest of the house? No, he’s doing this on purpose. He’s doing this just to spite me. And I am done putting up with it. “No. I’m not doing it.”
“Yes, you are,” Doug replies evenly. “My house, my rules.”
“Fuck that,” I say. “I’ll leave.”
I turn on my heel and Doug just laughs. “You wouldn’t leave without your pretty little hope chest, would you, Princess?”
Something inside of me goes cold. I spin back to him and he’s smirking at me over the top of his can. “What do you mean?”
“I mean,” Doug says, slow like he’s talking to a little kid who doesn’t quite understand English yet, “that you’re going to repaint this house, this weekend, if you want to see that special little box that you had stored up in your room. And if it’s not done by Sunday afternoon, well, then the guys and I might just have to have a bonfire in the yard instead of watching the game.”
“You wouldn’t,” I say in disbelief but even I know that’s a lie. He would and he will. I turn and sprint out to the yard, practically flying up the stairs in my haste. Maybe he’s just bluffing. He’s just trying to get under my skin, that’s all. He can be a bastard sometimes but he wouldn’t possibly...
When I get into my room I feel my stomach drop into my feet. The whole place is turned upside down, things strung all over the place and heaped on the floor. The drawers of my desk are open and my computer is gone, nothing but a stray power cord left behind. Most importantly though is that my closet has been ransacked. All of my clothes have been knocked off onto the floor and the shelf above where I keep the box of my mom’s things is missing.
Panicking, I spin and look around the room, hoping he just moved it to scare me. My eyes land on the heap of things on my bed. Sitting on the top is the calendar I had pinned up next to my desk. The box for tomorrow, where I wrote “Dance @ 8,” has been scribbled out with a red marker.
He knows. That’s why he’s done it. He found out I’m going to the dance and this is his way of stopping me.
I let out a howl of frustration and fall down on the bed but I don’t sleep. How can I? Only twenty-four hours away from finding my princess and now that’s been taken away from me.
Sometime later, when everyone else in the house has gone to bed, I drag myself out of my room again. I determinedly gather up the new paint cans and supplies that have been set out on the floor next to the front door and head for the living room. To hell if I’m going to let Doug win this one.
I’m just finishing up the living room when Doug lumbers down for breakfast. He hardly even spares me a glance as he heads for the kitchen to make his protein shakes, not that I’m paying him much attention either. Honestly, I will just roll this paint brush over his face if he gets in my way of trying to get this done. I can care less at the moment so long as I get my mom’s things back when the day is over. And once I do, I’m gone.
Sylvester and Bruce thunder downstairs a few minutes later but they head straight for the garage and leave. A little bit later Doug wanders into the room and stands in the doorway, watching me over the rim of a protein shake. “See, it’s not that difficult,” he says and smirks at me. “I’m going to Rick’s. I’ll be back around midnight. Get this all finished by then, got it?”
“Yeah, got it,” I answer without bothering to look at him.
“Good,” Doug says. I turn around to see him giving me that sort of look that belongs on the evil wizards from a kids’ movie. That sadistic, twisted grin that you just know means he’s about to curse you into oblivion. “I don’t know why you’re making such a big deal about this anyway. After all, I thought you nancy types liked art. This isn’t that different.”
There are no words in the human language to express just how badly I want to take the paint roller and shove it straight up Doug’s ass. My knuckles turn white because I’m gripping the handle so hard and I lock my jaw to keep myself from saying anything to get myself in deeper. Doug must be able to see it because his smile just gets bigger and he toasts me with his glass and then leaves the house.
Red lights flashing behind my eyes, I grab a fresh paintbrush and hurl it at the wall where his head was. It takes me a few minutes to get my breathing back under control and once I do I start moving all of my things into the next room. This house will get finished. I will get the stupid place done and the moment I get my mom’s things back I will leave this place and never turn back. I am not going to sit aside and let him rule my life anymore.
I’ve nearly finished priming the rest of the first floor when the front door opens. Expecting it to be one of my family members, I turn around to give them a piece of my mind but instead I see Ray. She furrows her brow and looks around in confusion.
“You hate the dandelion color that much?” she asks uncertainly.
“No, Doug does,” I say bitterly and go back to painting. “It needs to be redone by the time he gets back tonight.”
“And how are you supposed to do that?” Ray asks. “It took you like four days to do it the first time. What about the dance?”
“I guess I’m not going,” I say. Something in my chest gets tight at the very thought and I feel like I might throw up. My princess is going to be waiting for me at the dance, and without my computer I have no way to tell her. The girl of my dreams will just be standing there and waiting for a prince that will never come. All because of Doug.
“Like hell you’re not,” Ray snaps. “Not after all the trouble we’ve gone through to make this night perfect. Tell him to blow it out his ass.”
“I can’t,” I say. “He has my mom’s things.”
Ray’s eyes widen and she falters. Then she shakes her head fiercely. “No. No, we’re not letting him get away with this. Take them back and then we’re leaving.”
“I can’t, he isn’t keeping them here,” I say and sigh. The moment he left I had searched through every room in the house but I hadn’t been able to find my mother’s box anywhere. “He’s probably taken it to the school and locked it up in his office there. That’s where he puts things he wants to keep safe. And I can’t go breaking into the school, I’ll get expelled.”
“We can’t let him win like this,” she says and actually stomps her foot in indignation.
“Well what are we supposed to do about it?” I ask incredulously, throwing my hands up in the air in frustration. There’s no response and after a minute I turn around. Ray is staring at the wall in a distracted sort of way, like she is reading something off it. “Well?” I prompt irritably.
Ray jerks out of whatever thoughts she’s in and there’s a determined look on her face. “I’m not letting him take this away from us. Not this time,” she says. And then before I can even ask what on earth she means by that, she’s out the front door and running for her jeep.
I shake my head. I have no idea what she’s up to but I have work to do.
Four hours later I’m nearly finished doing the first coat of paint for the entire house - it isn’t very neat but it covers it all, and he never said I had to do a good job - when there’s a knock at the door. I’m tempted to just ignore it and keep working but the person doesn’t quit knocking. I reluctantly set down my paint roller and head for the front door, wiping at a drip of paint that lands on my cheek. When I open the door my jaw drops.
Ray is standing in the doorway, beaming, two garment bags and a small duffel hanging off her. Behind her are three other teens that I think I recognize by sight but not by name, all three holding paint rollers. “Ray, what’s this?” I ask in confusion.
“This is me saving the day,” she responds. “These are three of my friends from theatre club. They’re the ones who help paint all our sets, and since they’re underclassmen with nothing to do tonight, they’ve volunteered to help us finish up this hideous house so you don’t have to miss the dance. And these,” she gestures to the bags in her arms, “are all the clothes and beauty supplies necessary to make you into a dashing prince. We’ve got a lot of work to do so let’s get on it.”
“Ray, I-” I honestly don’t know what to say to her. It’s beyond extraordinary.
Ray grins. “Step aside, Jakey, because your Fairy Godmother is about to work her magic all over this shit.”