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Chapter 1 Josephine

Three months earlier

The thunderous bang of the kitchen door jolts me out of a restless sleep, followed by the incessant bickering of Nate and his asshole father as they stomp up and down the hallway outside my bedroom door. The relentless arguing is getting old and it’s starting to affect me in more ways than just fewer hours of sleep. The two of them never stop going at each other and by the sounds of it, it’s going to be another miserable morning.

I can’t remember the last time it was quiet around here. It’s always filled to the brim with alcohol induced tension and I can feel the fury behind every word that erupts out of Jeff’s mouth, even if he’s not directly yelling at me. Before my mom left a few years ago, Jeff didn’t seem like such a bad guy. He casually drank when they would go out or have people over, but it never seemed to be a problem. It had only become compulsive after he found out that she took off and left me behind. I guess I can’t blame him. That’s when everything seemed to fall apart like dominoes. Once the first piece falls, so does all the rest. He hasn’t been able to hold a job for more than a few months at a time since she left and he spends more money on beer and cigarettes than anything else. Sometimes I just wish he would take off like my mom did. We would be much better off without him, but I don’t think we would be lucky enough for him to just disappear after getting wasted and hopefully forget where he lived. I kind of wish he would just drive off of a cliff, to be honest. Being the kind of person he is, I’m positive no one would even miss him.

My stepbrother is always around giving me shit about not getting in Jeff’s face too much and making sure I know to stay, invisible. He says

It’s better for everyone.” I kind of wish he would move out like any self-respecting college-aged adult would. Especially since we don’t even talk anymore, well not that we really ever did much anyway.

Nate graduated high school last year, so I was hoping he would move out and live in the dorms but, I figured I wouldn’t get lucky enough for that to happen. He decided to stick around and get a job as a mechanic instead. When I heard him and Jeff arguing about money the one day, Nate told his dad that he doesn’t make enough only working part-time to pay for school and an apartment on his own right now. He only goes to school part-time, so I would think he would have plenty of time that he could take on more hours. Personally, I think he just rather blow all of his money away instead of wanting to pay for a place of his own. I have no idea why he would want to stick around living here any longer, especially with Jeff always getting in his face, because I can’t remember the last time that they spoke to each other without an argument or one of them getting a fist to the jaw.

If it were me, I would leave and never look back.

I have to get to school so I reluctantly drag myself out of bed and quickly gather my clothes for the day as I walk over to my closet to get dressed. It’s hardly big enough for my clothes as it is, let alone moving around and having proper elbow space to get dressed, but I always get changed in here ever since Jeff ’Accidentally’ walked in on me changing a few times. Unless I were to shower that day, then of course, the bathroom it is. I wish I still had one of those nice large walk-in closets that I had when mom and I first moved in with them. That luxury didn’t last very long, but it was nice while it did.

I grab my bag and go to open my window after making sure that I have everything in it that I need for the day. My notebooks, a couple of pens, phone charger, a granola bar out of the stash I keep in my room, and a chocolate bar that I bought on the way home yesterday.

I quietly drop my bag out the window and slide down the short wall enough to not make noise when I land, because I definitely don’t need Jeff to catch me sneaking out, even though I’m only going to school. Luckily my room is on the first floor toward the back of the house, so I can cut through the woods behind our house to completely avoid the street. Seeing as the living room window looks out onto the street and Jeff would be able to see me from his recliner that he plops himself in every morning after working the night shift, and drinks himself into a coma with a six-pack and passes out before noon.

It only takes me about twenty minutes to walk to school but I always end up leaving earlier than I have to most mornings so I can stop by the bookstore first. I work there most days, usually after school, but I started going there every day for some place to be just to get out of the house in the morning. Thankfully my school is in the opposite direction, so I don’t have to worry about teachers passing by and seeing me if the mood strikes not to attend any classes that day. And the mood strikes more often than it should.

When I do get to school, I try to make sure to get there early enough that I usually don’t need a late pass, but I waste just enough time at my locker so I don’t have to go to homeroom anymore. My first day of school when we had moved to town was the most awful day I could have had, or so I thought. The teacher was such a bitch, and she gave us assigned seating even though it was only homeroom and we weren’t going to be in there for more than ten minutes for announcements. Of course, I was the unlucky one and got stuck sitting next to Evan Parker. The biggest asshole in school, in my opinion. Most people wouldn’t say that about him, because he’s the popular jock and captain of the Jr. Varsity football team. He has this whole teachers’ pet façade’ that seems to fool everyone, even his parents, but from day one he has never shown an ounce of decency towards me. He would crowd me and push things off of my desk like I wasn’t even sitting there and he would block me from getting to my desk so that I had to walk around him and his friends just to get to my seat. I eventually got fed up with him after the third time he had done it and seven months later, I haven’t been to homeroom since.

“Where the hell are you going so early, Jo?” I freeze at the sound of a gravelly voice calling my name and my pulse instantly starts to race as I turn around. Nate is standing on the sidewalk not far from me with an odd look on his face.

“SHIT!” I hiss under my breath. I regret not leaving earlier.

Nate stalks toward me while lighting a cigarette and takes a rather long drag to fill his lungs with the suffocating cloud. He draws in as much smoke as his lungs can hold and as his chest relaxes the cloud slowly escapes through his nose. The scent of decay comes to mind as the exhaled smoke wafts towards me so, I make an effort to only breathe through my mouth. gross

The surrounding air is damp and the morning frost still clings to the car windows parked along the street. Nate’s breath escapes like steam from the top of a hot mug of coffee in the late winter air as he stands in front of me. He’s out here dressed like its summer in only a thin t-shirt, with the same old shitty ’I don’t care about anything’ attitude. His boots make a loud thud on the concrete as he takes a few steps closer and his body radiates with smug confidence; giving off the impression like he just caught a criminal in the middle of robbing a bank with a water gun.

Nate sometimes scares the hell out of me. He’s smaller in stature than most guys I’ve come across, but he makes up for it in rage. I’ve seen his own father cower to him many times since I’ve lived with them. He would get so irate over something that his dad said and then Jeff would just back off after Nate would lose his temper, time and time again. It would usually end in one of them being bloodied, so I learned very quickly how to avoid them both by making myself invisible on a regular basis.

“What do you want Nate? I have to get to school.” I remind him.

“Didn’t know school started before sun-up now?” He says with a questioning look. Guess he’s curious why I’m leaving so early. What does he care?

“I have some work to catch up on if you must know and I need some notes from my locker to do it.” I say with a cocky undertone.

“Right.” He takes another drag of his cigarette and then flicks the butt across the street without so much as dropping the smirk on his face. I would really like to go now!

“Nate, I have to go, is there something you wanted?” I ask hesitantly this time.

“Don’t worry. You have plenty of time, it’s still early. But I’m just letting you know to be home by six tonight. Dad’s bringing his new girlfriend over for dinner and he wants us both there to meet her.”

“Why the hell would I want to be there for that? And by the way, he’s not my dad, he’s yours. Now if there’s nothing actually important to tell me, I have to go!” Clearly, he can tell I’m irritated but it doesn’t seem to faze him in the least.

“Sure, but you know how he gets when you don’t do what he says.” Nate warns.

“I don’t care!” I yell, louder than I expected to. “Look, just leave me alone Nate and I’ll be happy to do the same!”

“Yeah, alright. But I don’t need to hear his shit because you’re not there. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!” He snarls.

“Nate, you’re an adult. You don’t need to take his shit anymore. You had a choice to move out months ago. You have a job and can leave and never come back so you don’t have to deal with him anymore! So why the hell do you stay? Just to torture me?” I question weakly.

I immediately feel guilty and regret opening my mouth and letting those harsh words escape. I don’t know what came over me but I can’t believe I just said that. I stare at Nate and wait for him to lash out, but he doesn’t say a damn word; he just drops his head and looks at his feet. After a painfully long minute, he looks back up at me, and his mouth slightly parts as if he’s about to say something, but then he just shakes his head, turns around and starts walking back towards the house.

I don’t understand why Nate does certain things sometimes and why it frustrates me so damn much, but it feels like it will always be this way. I want to scream so badly right now and get rid of all my pent-up anger and frustration I have; but instead of waking the entire neighborhood, I decide to try and forget about what just happened and turn around to start walking towards the bookstore. I only get a few feet before I start to feel a burning pain in the palms of my hands, so I look down and notice my knuckles are pale white. I uncurl my fingers and they instantly start to tingle as I see the angry red crescent-shaped fingernail marks staring up at me and my hands begin to throb in the chilled air as the blood rushes back into the tips of my fingers.

“Jo…?” I hear Nate call to me. When I look back, I see him standing by the small broken metal gate in front of our house.

“What?!” I yell back automatically. The crack in my throat makes my voice sound so weak and it makes me that much angrier as I stand there staring back at him.

“Be careful, okay?” He says softly, void of any anger. Then he walks through the gate and disappears behind the overgrown hedges without another word. I turn around and start rubbing circles around the cuts on my hand, trying to soothe the sting that lingers on both of my palms. I’m not exactly sure how Nate meant what he said to me, but he’s clearly confused me once again.

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