"Where's Mom and Dad?"
Elliott threw his arm over the back of the couch, pointing toward the kitchen, never looking away from the tv as he shoved a handful of chips in his mouth.
"You need a haircut," I said as I walked by the couch, ruffling his messy, dark brown hair. "You're starting to look like a bum."
"Yeah, well you need a new face," Elliott instantly retorted through a mouthful, smacking my hand away. "You're starting to look like a bitch."
"Aw, thanks," I cooed, putting a hand to my chest.
I walked into the kitchen to see my parents sitting on the barstools at the island.
Mom was still in her fuzzy pajama pants and oversized t-shirt. Her light brown hair was hanging awkwardly in a messy bun, making it obvious she hadn't been out of bed long.
Dad was in a navy blue suit, accompanied by a matching tie over a white button down shirt. His almost black hair was brushed over and back, in an attempt to cover his thinning crown — which only made his receding hairline more visible.
"What are you doing home, Dad?" I asked, frowning slightly.
"No, 'wow, Dad, glad to see you home'?" He frowned back before smiling. "I just took a long lunch."
"Wow, Dad, glad to see you home," I said in an overly excited tone before laughing lightly.
"That's more like it," he nodded happily.
"Is everything okay?" I asked, noticing how their bodies were facing each other, like they were talking about something serious.
"Everything's fine, baby," Mom gave me a tired, somewhat stressed smile.
Well that's not very reassuring.
But I knew that was my mom's way of telling me it was a private conversation, so I didn't push. Even though I really wanted to; I could feel my anxiety creeping up.
"Are you guys finally kicking El out?" I joked, trying to relieve some of the tension, and clasped my hands together — making Mom's face relax as she let out a small laugh.
"No, nothing like that," she said in a playful tone, waving a hand dismissively.
"Ah, okay, got it," I pursed my lips, nodding in mock understanding.
Dad shook his head with a laugh before patting Mom's knee. "I gotta get back soon, but I should be back for dinner."
Assuming that was my queue to leave, so they could finish their talk, I told Dad I'd see him later and walked into the living room.
"Better start packing, bro," I said teasingly as I stopped next to the couch.
"Huh?" He scrunched his face in confusion as I sat next to him with a small laugh.
"Do you know what they're talking about?" I asked, lowering my voice as I leaned closer to him.
Elliott leaned back into the couch, scratching the stubble on his jaw. "Not sure."
Why does he look nervous?
I narrowed my eyes at him, sighing after a moment. "Can you take me back to the school around three-thirty?"
I couldn't walk like I wanted to; Mom would ask questions.
"Don't tell me you got detention for being late one time. What tight asses," he snorted, rolling his eyes.
"Well," I squinted an eye before looking at my hands. "This wasn't the first time."
"What the hell, B," Elliott hissed. "You know I'll take you if you're running behind — you just gotta give me enough time to be grumpy first."
It's not like I was purposely late. I just get distracted easily sometimes.
"I know," I laughed. "My timing is just...off sometimes — I didn't know I was gonna be late the other times."
"Whatever," he rolled his eyes. "I'll take you."
"Thank you," I straightened my back and smiled at him.
"I'm gonna go ahead and get my homework out of the way," I said as I stood, and Elliott just nodded and turned back to the tv.
Once in my room, I made my way to my shelf and grazed my finger over my collection of records.
I finally decided on Bob Dylan — it was one of my grandpa's favorites.
I used to spend countless weekends at my grandparents' house, bonding with him over his music.
When my grandpa passed, my grandma gave me his record player, along with all his records, saying it was what he wanted.
Since I was eleven, every birthday and Christmas I'd gotten more records to add to my collection, so it was enough to fill two shelves now.
I breathed in deeply as the raw vinyl sound filled my room, trying to let the music soothe the tightness in my chest.
Apparently the family dinners are never going to end.
After taking a moment to calm down, I sat on my bed and scattered my books in front of me, hoping to get my work done before I had to go back to hell.
Elliott took me back up to the school a few minutes before the bell rang — after Mom made sure to tell us she was making chicken alfredo for dinner.
"Remember," I said sternly as I looked into Elliott's eyes, hand on the door handle. "You took me to Kallie's work."
"Yeah, yeah," he waved me off, and I got out.
Since the bell hadn't rang yet, the halls were still quiet as I made my way to the classroom detention was held in.
I scanned the few seniors that were already spread out in the room, and an annoying clicking caught my attention in the back corner, so I glanced over and had to hold back a groan.
Jackson freaking Gonzalez.
Why am I not surprised?
The universe always had interesting ways of saying, oh, you thought I was done?
The clicking of his pen stopped when he looked up at the door, eyebrows lifting in surprise when he noticed me.
Then his lip twitched as he tapped the end of his pen on his chin, like he was trying not to laugh.
I furrowed my brow before looking away from him, going over to the teacher's desk to sign in.
Dropping the pen on the pad, I gave the teacher a small smile that probably looked more like a grimace. He just nodded, gesturing for me to take a seat.
I made sure to find a seat on the opposite side of the room as Jackson, passing a girl I recognized from Biology — I think her name was Amy.
Once I sat a few seats away from her, I noticed her perfectly manicured nails carelessly tapping her phone as she typed under the small desk.
I looked down at my own hands and glared at the chipped, dark purple paint on my nubby nails.
I missed having long, pretty nails. Now, I normally bit my weak nails down to nothing before they broke.
Better than having pretty nails on sausages.
"Mr. Gonzalez," the teacher barked at the front of the room, causing me and a few others to jump. "Would you kindly find something productive to do, rather than doodle on my desk?"
I turned in time to see Jackson drop his pen on the desk as he sighed. "I was just tryin' to fix it."
"Could get in some serious trouble vandalizing school property, dude," a guy toward the middle of the room piped up, and I watched Jackson roll his eyes as he opened his notebook.
"Someone wrote 'drugs are cool' — if I get in trouble for adding 'not' in there, the school's morals are more twisted than I thought," he mumbled, and thankfully the bell drowned out the small laugh that escaped me.
Dammit, Brylee. Get it together.
While a few more students trickled into the room, I tried my best to concentrate on the book I brought with me, but it was impossible.
The hour dragged on forever, and I couldn't help my eyes from traveling to the back corner occasionally.
Every time, Jackson was in the same position — bottom lip pulled between his teeth as his hand moved across his notebook, pen barely leaving the paper.
The teacher's booming voice telling us we could go snapped me out of it, and I whipped my head forward as Jackson's started to lift.
I slowly put my book in my bag while everyone scurried out, but froze when I felt a presence stop next to me.
"El pickin' you up?" I heard Jackson ask in a blank tone, and I frowned down at my bag as I zipped it up.
This was the first time he'd willingly tried to start a conversation with me in years. We talked when necessary, but we never went out of our way to.
"Mhm," I nodded once, still looking down at my bag in my hands.
I hadn't asked Elliott if he was picking me up, but I assumed it was a given that I needed a ride home too.
"Guess I'll see you in a bit then," he said nonchalantly and my head snapped up to look at him.
"Wait, what?" I asked, scrunching my nose up.
I couldn't get away with going to Kallie's to avoid him if we were supposed to be having dinner as a family.
And Kallie was at work.
The corner of Jackson's lip turned up as he put a hand on his stomach. "Ma's makin' alfredo, right?"
"Yeah, for a family dinner," I frowned, tossing my bag over my shoulder.
He just hummed as he nodded and headed for the door.
What the fuck?
I dreadfully walked behind him out of the school, slow enough to let him gain some distance.
After I watched him get into his old pickup truck, I pulled out my phone to call Elliott.
"Sup, sis?" he chirped when he answered, and I could hear his music in the background.
"Are you coming to get me?" I asked, anger evident in my tone.
"I'm about to pull up, don't get all pissy with me," he responded with a snort.
"I have every right to 'get all pissy with you'," I snapped, sitting down on the curb. "Why didn't you tell me Jackson was coming to dinner?"
"Oh, that," he said thoughtfully. "Slipped my mind, I guess."
"Whatever, just hurry up," I grumbled and ended the call, resting my forearms on my knees.
My brother knew Jackson and I weren't on the best of terms, to put it lightly, but he never questioned me about it.
I assumed Jackson gave him some dumb excuse, but I was too scared to bring it up to Elliott to find out.
And much as I hated Jackson, I loved my brother. So instead of making him hate his best friend too, I just kept my distance.
Most of the time, that plan worked fine.
Jackson's truck was already in the driveway when Elliott pulled up to our house.
Elliott cleared his throat, fidgeting with the collar of his t-shirt after we walked through the front door, immediately going to the couch.
Why is everyone acting so weird? What the hell is going on?
Things got even weirder when I walked in the kitchen, and saw Jackson helping Mom.
"Hey, baby," Mom smiled when she noticed me, and I mumbled a response as I went to the fridge to fill my water bottle.
"You want to help?" She asked me as I took a sip.
I slowly lowered my water bottle and glanced at Jackson, who was glaring down at the saucepan on the stove.
"It looks like y'all have it covered — I'm gonna go finish my homework."
"Well," Mom huffed, dropping her phone on the counter with a loud thunk.
She took her seat across from me at the kitchen table before continuing. "Your father won't be making it to dinner after all."
Elliott and I just nodded knowingly, and the four of us took turns scooping pasta onto our plates in awkward silence.
Dad being late was nothing new.
"So," Jackson was the first to break the silence, making me stop pushing around pasta with my fork. "We watchin' the game here Sunday?"
"You know it," Elliott responded instantly, and I frowned at my plate, stabbing a piece of chicken with my fork.
"Oh, Mom," I said suddenly, pointing the fork at her. "I forgot to tell you, I'm going to Kallie's Sunday."
"Don't you have any other friends?" Elliott rolled his eyes. "You were just with her."
As a matter of fact, no. I don't.
Elliott knew that, though. But he also knew I would get in trouble if Mom found out I had detention.
Our bickering was almost always an act; we actually had a great relationship.
I gave him a faint grateful smile, and he vaguely lifted a shoulder in acknowledgment.
"Huh?" Jackson butted in, and my face dropped.
"J," Elliott said warningly through his teeth, and Mom sat her fork down.
"What is it?" She asked, narrowing her eyes as she glanced between the three of us.
"Nothing," Jackson shrugged, scooping some pasta on his fork as he looked at me. "I just could've sworn you said Elliott was pickin' you up from detention."
My jaw went slack before I snapped it shut and glared at him.
"Detention?" Mom echoed, hardening her features as she looked at me, so I pressed my lips together and dropped my eyes to my plate.
"You're grounded," she stated, making me snap my head back up.
"What?" I squeaked out. I looked over to scowl at Jackson again, but he was busying himself by pushing around his pasta with furrowed brows.
"You got detention, and you lied to me about it — you're grounded," Mom repeated, giving me a pointed look.
"We'll talk about this later," she cut me off with a sigh, pinching the bridge of her nose. "This isn't how this was supposed to go."
"How what was supposed to go?" I asked with a frown.
Mom sighed again before picking up her drink, taking a big gulp.
"Your father was supposed to be here for this, but I guess it can't wait," she kissed her teeth as she sat her glass down.
"What do you mean? What's going on?"
Elliott awkwardly cleared his throat, so I turned to see him grimace as he picked up his drink — Jackson simultaneously scratching the back of his neck with a similar expression.
I turned back to Mom with a confused expression, and she sighed once more.
"Jackson is going to be moving in with us."
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