#5 Try harder
“Mom!” Pierre cries out, banging on the bathroom door. “Aliyah is using up all the hot water again!”
“Am not!” my 12-year-old sister shouts back. “Shut up!”
“Guys, cut it out,” Creed grunts, walking past in his sweatpants, looking like he only just woke up. “I’m on the phone. Be quiet.”
With a sigh, I make my way to my parents’ bedroom to use their ensuite, because it doesn’t look like I am going to get to use the main bathroom anytime soon, and I need to be at work in an hour. It’s an extra shift, and I can’t help but feel a little proud of myself that I’m doing it. It’s only a tiny little step toward finally feeling like an adult, but it’s a step nonetheless.
“Hey Dad,” I say, giving my father a hug when he walks into his bedroom to find his tie. “You don’t mind me using your shower, do you?”
“Of course not, honey.” He rolls his eyes at the sound of Aliyah and Pierre yelling at each other. “Teenagers,” he grunts. “I’m so glad you’re all grown-up, Nia. You were even worse than they are when you were their age.”
“Please, I’m still that bad,” I tease, sticking out my tongue.
“No comment.” Dad grabs the tie that is part of his uniform as a mall cop, gives me a kiss and takes off, yelling at the younger kids to behave.
Once I’m showered, I make breakfast for everyone, complete with eggs, bacon, veggies, the works. I feel quite proud of myself as I pour coffee for Mom, Creed and me. I’m killing at adulting today.
“Since when do you cook?” Creed asks, looking up from his phone barely long enough to give me a quick smile. Then he’s back at it. Creed lives at home, just like me. He goes to the community college nearby, getting his degree in Radiology. His GPA wasn’t stellar in high school, but he’s making up for that now by working his ass off, taking summer courses and working two jobs on the weekend to earn money. When he completes his degree in a year, he’ll probably be off to a university, living in the dorms, using his hard-earned money to pay for his school books. It’s tough for all of us to get a proper education with my parents working minimum wage jobs, nothing but a highschool diploma to fall back on, and six kids to take care of.
My three older brothers - Dshawn, Marcus and Creed - are all florishing. Dshawn has his own business, Marcus has a job at a big firm, and Creed will be off to university soon enough. Pierre is only 16, and he’s a huge source of worry for my mother since he’s more interested in sneaking around with girls than doing homework. Aliyah is only 12, but she’s a little wild and quite outspoken, always defying Mom and Dad. And then there is me. The biggest disappointment of them all. I’m older than Creed, so when Mom tells me to be more like him, it hurts more than when she compares me to Marcus and Dshawn.
“Oh wow,” Mom says when he walks in and sees me and Creed sitting at the table. “Thanks, Creed. So sweet of you to make breakfast.”
“Actually, I did,” I say, filling up her plate.
“What’s gotten into you today?” Mom asks suspiciously. “Did you crash my car or something? And why are you showered and dressed this early in the morning on your day off?”
“I’ve got work. I’m picking up extra shifts from now on to save up some money.”
“For what?” Creed asks, sipping his coffee.
“I’m not sure yet,” I admit. “But money is always good.”
“Did you get a parking ticket you need to pay off?” Mom asks, still not trusting my words. Then she digs into her breakfast with a grunt. “Hmm, these eggs are good, Nia.”
“Thanks, and no, I just thought… maybe you’re right. I could try a little harder at work. Do better.”
Mom perks up. “Does that mean you’re saving up to go to college?”
I shrug. “Nah, I don’t think so. Like I said, I don’t know what I want. All I know is that I’m lucky my manager is letting me work more days. This way, I might actually be able to afford to move out one day.”
“If I still live here when I’m 22, please shoot me,” Creed says, shuddering.
“I can shoot you right now, not a problem,” I bite back.
Aliyah joins us, wearing the shortest skirt ever and a top that is basically a bra. Not appropriate for school at all. She puts her hands on her hips and tries to convince Mom that all the girls wear this now, but Mom grabs her ear and drags her back upstairs to get changed.
Creed ruffles my hair before leaving the house for his classes, and I scowl at his back when he walks out. He always treats me like his younger sister, thanks to the way Mom and Dad put him on a pedestal while they’re always telling me that I need to try harder. Do more. Be better. Act more like my brothers.
Trying harder at work turns out to be exhausting. I didn’t realize how rough it is to work full-time. When the weekend comes around and I’m getting dressed for the masquerade ball, I am so tired that I’d rather crawl into bed and sleep for 12 hours straight, but Ayaan and Aimee would drag me out by my hair, so I have to go.
Besides, I do like mighty fine in the purple dress I made myself, and I’ve been working on my hair for over an hour, turning my messy curls into perfect ringlets cascading down my back with silver glitter sprayed all over it. My mask is custom made as well, by me of course, and it’s made out of the same purple material my dress is, with silver feathers stuck to it. I painted an intricate silver design onto it, that I also stitched onto the bodice of the dress. Everything ties together perfectly, and I’m more than a little proud of how my handiwork.
“Wow,” Marcus breathes when he picks me up in his car. He’s the designated driver for me and my friends tonight since he doesn’t like to dress up. He will be picking us up after to drop us off at Ayaan and Holly’s place where Aimee and I will be spending the night. “You look beautiful, Nia.”
“Thanks,” I say, carefully sliding into the passenger seat, trying not to ruin my outfit.
We pick up the other girls and they’re already drunk, judging by their loud giggles. I’ll catch up soon enough, but for now I enjoy laughing with Marcus at how ridiculous my friends are being.
“How’s Bee?” I ask, curious to know if they’re together or not.
He smiles brightly. “Practically living at my place these days. I really think we might make it this time.”
“Good for you.” I doubt that it will work out the way he’s hoping, but telling him to cut her loose won’t do me any good. Creed and I have tried to talk sense into him many times before, and it never works. They’ve been dating since they were 14, so that’s… wow, 11 years. That’s a long time to be with someone, even if you keep breaking up and getting back together. She’s not a complete bitch or anything, she just can’t seem to settle down with Marcus the way he wants her too. Every time he tries to talk to her about moving in together, marrying in the far-away future, the possibility of having kids one day, she runs for the hills. He’s been serious about her since they were 16, which I understand is a little intense, but they’re both 25 now. If she’s still not ready for at the very least a conversation about the future, then what the fuck are they doing?
I think of Jagger and sigh, remembering how handsome he looked on his wedding day with Celeste, in his black tux. It was just a quick thing at the courthouse with a party at their apartment after, and I was so young back then, but I remember looking at him and thinking: I want a guy like that one day. He’s single now, so I still have a shot, but I haven’t seen him since that night he turned me down. I’m not beneath giving it another go, but I’m not going to stalk him on social media ro anything.
Okay, fine, I already tried, but he’s not even on social media. Guess he’s too cool for that. I don’t have his number, and no reason to text him anyway, so I guess I’m stuck daydreaming about him, wishing he was mine.
“How are Khiêm and Jagger?” I ask Marcus, slipping in Khiêm’s name so he won’t catch on to me wanting to lick whipped cream off Jagger’s muscular body. I bet he looks even better without clothes on than he did in his casual attire at the club.
“Fine,” Marcus says vaguely.
“What sort of jobs do they have?” I ask.
“What do you care?” Marcus asks, shooting me a strange look.
“I’ve known Jagger since I was a kid, Marcus. I know the divorce must still be hard on him. I’m just wondering what he’s up to these days. And it was nice meeting Khiêm, but I didn’t get to talk to him much over the loud music. Just making small talk, brother, no need to get all weird.”
“Hmm,” he grunts. “Jagger is living with Caroline and Nate these days, working as their live-in nanny. They have five young kids - well, four, and one coming soon - so it’s quite intense. He seems to like it. Did you hear about him having a fight with Wyatt that night we ran into you at The Palace?”
“What?” I ask, angling my body in his direction. “No!”
Wyatt used to date Jagger’s ex-wife Celeste back when she met Jagger at age 16. He’s bad news for sure. He only got out of jail recently, and I overheard Dshawn and Marcus talking about how they hoped Wyatt would stay away from Celeste. If Jagger fought that asshole, it must have been about Celeste.
“Yeah, he even got arrested,” Marcus says, shaking his head as he pulls up at a green light. “No charges, thank God. Wyatt got arrested for possession of drugs. Turns out him and Celeste were hanging out again. Jagger is pretty fucked up over it.”
“I bet he is.” It’s no secret Celeste is an addict, and Wyatt just got out after being in jail for dealing drugs, so it doesn’t take a genius to understand that Celeste is no longer sober. After all the time, effort and love Jagger put into his marriage, he’s still hurting over that bitch. I may not be a prize either, but I would be better for him than Celeste ever was. I know that for a fact. If only he’d give me a shot.