Chapter 19- Home Sweet Home
“She was unstoppable. Not because she didn’t have failures or doubts. But because she continued on despite them.”
“I WILL CUT YOU!” Raven screamed at Poe.
I checked that my cat wasn’t in danger of being hurled from the window before rolling my eyes. My peace and quiet had died a slow and painful death on Monday as Raven began to pack for Thanksgiving. Now, normally Raven would toss in a couple of torn leggings and a shirt or two, but she was going to spend Thanksgiving with Jesse. And Jesse’s parents.
“Why are you freaking out this time?” I sighed, sticking my thumb to hold my place in the book I was reading. Lounging in bed with my pajamas was the extent of my Thanksgiving plans, and I was happily getting a head start.
Raven stuck her hands on her hips and blew her lips. Clothes were strewn around the floor in a gruesome wardrobe massacre.
“Why? Is it not painfully, tear-your-sanity-apart obvious? Parents do. Not. Like. Me. I’m literally the girl you take to prom to tick off your Mom.”
I paused. “That rhymed.”
“Sophia, so help me, I will kick the shit out of you.”
“My God, you’re violent. We’re from California-our grand state would frown and diagnose lack of chill.”
Raven squinted. “Did you have another chocolate milkshake?”
“Aw, great, now I’m dealing with a sugar high nerd,” she groaned, turning back to her suitcase dilemma. “This is great.”
“You’re the one who didn’t want to stay with me in our jammies. Although I am proud of this step with Jesse, you guys will have a great time.”
Raven’s response was muffled from the closet. Poe casually turned to watch her feet. “You’re the one who didn’t want to fly home with me!”
“Because it’s too much money for a few days off! I’d rather save it for the holidays.”
“Your Mom sure shit a brick when you told her,”
Raven chuckled, exiting the closet with an armful of clothes. Did she have Narnia back there or something? Narnia Nordstrom. The Nordstrom of Narnia.
I really shouldn’t have had the second milkshake.
Poe suddenly darted forward, and I watched with horror as Raven tripped, stumbled, and went sprawling into her hill of clothing. She landed with an ‘oomph’ and a banshee cry.
Uh-oh. I leapt towards Poe and cradled him in my arms just as Raven rose from the pile like a vengeful Egyptian queen. She pointed. “Hand over the feline.”
“Fine, I can kill you both!”
I shrieked at the same time she dove, and we both ended up in the land of tights and tops. The only thing keeping my skull from fracturing was the soft landing of Raven’s clothes.
“THE POLYESTER! IT BURNS!” I hollered.
Poe yowled and thanked me for saving his life with a long scratch down the arm. Then it was me and Raven going for the cat’s neck, but he’d disappeared.
Raven burst into laughter, and after a couple of seconds, I followed suit. Raven held her stomach as she guffawed, gesturing next to me. “You got blood on my
Tears of hilarity streamed down my cheeks. “You tried to murder my cat.”
That was how Maddie found us five minutes later. She took one look at the scene and sighed. “I haven’t had enough coffee for this,” she muttered.
I perked. “Coffee? Who said coffee? I want coffee.”
“Do not let her have coffee. She had two milkshakes. If she gets coffee, I’m going underground.”
Maddie patted my hair as she hopped over the floor warzone to my bed. “I told Erica to get her decaf.”
I pouted while Raven’s expression switched to one of distaste. “She’s coming?”
Maddie frowned. “Yeah, and I would appreciate it if you would at least try to play nice.”
“Nice is for grannies and Democrats,” Raven grumbled, but she thankfully let the matter go.
Maddie yawned, rubbing her fingers into matted blond hair. She wasn’t stressing much, since she lived only thirty minutes away from campus and barely needed to pack a couple essentials.
“Your cockamamie antics are waking up everyone on the floor,” she informed us. “Noor from down the hall is ready to use your ovaries as shingles.”
“Sucks to suck.”
I held up a finger. “I’m sorry, did you just say the word ‘cockamamie’? Did anyone else hear it? Either I need a trip to the doctor, or Maddie needs one to a time machine.”
There was a knock on the door, and Erica stuck her head in. She took one look at me and Raven, shrugged, and walked in, not bothering to dodge the clothes explosion on the ground. She balanced four foam cups, and I practically salivated with excitement. Erica eyeballed me. “I’m guessing the decaf is for her?”
Maddie nodded tiredly.
Erica passed out the cups with a huffy, “Thanks,” from Raven.
“Where are you going for Thanksgiving, Erica?” I asked, temporarily sane again. I tried to take a sip from my drink and nearly burned all the nerves from my tongue.
“Albany. I’m playing a concert there.”
“Whoa, that’s impressive. You have to show us your mad skills sometimes.”
Erica shrugged modestly. “There are YouTube
videos if you’re really curious. What about you?”
I gestured to my current ensemble. “Books, bingewatching, and baked goods.”
“She’s on an alliteration kick,” Raven added. “I told you to just come home with me,” Maddie scolded. We’d been at this for weeks. “You’d be a welcome guest.”
I repeated the rejection I’d been using. “And I appreciate that, but Thanksgiving is about being with your family, and I would feel like I was intruding. Don’t worry about me; I’ll be more than fine.”
Erica wagged her brows. “Is the illustrious Landon Sinclair keeping you company?”
Despite a stern mental warning, my ears grew red.
“No! I mean, he’s going with Raven and Jesse to stay with the Kendall’s.”
Maddie’s brows knit. “He’s not going to see his family?”
“Lucky sonofabitch,” Erica mumbled.
“Um,” I thought fast. “It’s a traditional thing. I don’t know.”
Raven flashed me a thumbs-up. “Smooth, captain.”
Seeing as my plans for a nice, do-nothing day had been ruined, I threw on my jeans, a white blouse, and my favorite worn black coat. I ran my nose against the collar and inhaled. The coat was Lexi’s, the one she’d worn every day of winter, despite California’s mercurial weather. It felt nice, having a piece of her close.
“Sophia…” Raven paused. “Are you sniffing yourself?”
If I didn’t hold coffee so near and dear, it would be splashed over my laptop screen.
Two hours had passed since the clothing debacle.
Deciding to bring my laptop over to Pedro’s and get an essay or two out of the way had been a pathetically delusional attempt. Shawna approached my table with a sour expression. “Would you like a refill?” she inquired.
I’d already had three cups since I’d arrived. My leg was jiggling nervously, and I was a millisecond away from bursting into wet, dramatic sobbing.
Shawna took my mug and left. Meanwhile, I was having trouble figuring out why I was acting like a Turkish soap opera character. Outside, students were in various stages of departure from campus, with their luggage in tow and warm clothes to protect against potential snow. Going home to their families. Spending Thanksgiving with their loved ones in the comfort of their home.
And here I was, butchering a Psych essay and being served my fourth cup of coffee by a disgruntled waitress.
Moving to Maryland to attend Franklin University had baffled my parents. I had good grades, took tons of AP classes, was president of the school’s volunteer club, and rocked Academic Decathlon. If I’d had an athletic bone in my body, I would’ve added it to my resume.
With all those credentials, the decision to move across the country instead of staying close and going to a UC bothered the hell out of my parents and my friends. Even with the full ride to this school, since according to my Dad, it was “way below my baby’s pay grade”.
I leaned my cheek against the window, drawing stick figures from the mist of my breath on the glass. Leaving California…it was less about going somewhere than getting away from something. Everywhere I went, I saw Lexi. UCSB, her dream school. Peter Callaghan, her star athlete boyfriend. My life had become a living memorial of Lexi.
Leaving was horrible. Mom was a mess, and Dad was more stoic than usual. I’d rethought the decision over and over and over, until I wasn’t sure what was right or wrong anymore.
But then I unpacked my clothes. I found Pedro’s. I met Raven and Maddie. I realized that home is a place you create. And it wasn’t wrong to have more than one.
“Here,” Shawna spoke, scaring the bejeezus out of me. She set my mug on the table.
“Please tell me you didn’t spit in it,” I groaned.
A third person entered the conversation, throwing his arm around Shawna. “She wouldn’t do that, would you, Shawna?”
She grinned, and I had to blink twice to ascertain that I wasn’t hallucinating. “Hey Jesse.”
Landon slid into the seat across me. Startled, I pulled my feet down.
“Hey, sugar muffin.” Landon smiled. There was an energy to him I wasn’t used to. He was excited, his cheeks flushed and his hair messy from the amount of times he’d run his hands through it. Even his leather wrist bands had the name of some obscure rock band, which for Landon was downright cheery.
“You’re excited to go home,” I deduced, trying to keep the ‘aren’t-you-just-the-cutest’ expression from my face.
Jesse finished buttering up Shawna and plopped into the booth. “Of course he is, my Mom practically invented Thanksgiving dinner. It’s so American, I swear to you my blood goes red, white, and blue for the evening.”
Shawna appeared in record time with a tray of drinks and sandwiches. “Here you are,” she cooed, laying them on the table. I moved my laptop to the seat beside me. She ignored my existence, flashed a grin at Jesse, and left.
“I think that was the best interaction I’ve ever had with her,” I marveled.
“She completely ignored you,” Jesse said.
Landon was watching me closely. I reached for one of the foil-wrapped sandwiches and took a sip from my coffee.
“May I help you?” I probed when he didn’t stop.
Landon leaned back into the booth, crossing his arms over his chest. He was wearing a thick, expensive-looking grey coat and sleek black scarf around his neck. Not his typical tattered attire.
“Are you having one of your philosophic days?” Landon asked, gesturing to the laptop and coffee. “Or is Raven as shrill with you as she was with us?” Jesse elbowed him. “Shut up. She’s just stressed. We’ll go get her in a half hour and be on our way.”
“Awesome,” Landon drawled. “Jump-starting
Thanksgiving with Medusa. Can’t wait.”
Jesse was preparing to respond when Landon calmly placed his hand over Jesse’s face to shut him up. He turned to me, casually keeping his best friend’s face in his grip.
“I still don’t understand why you’re not going home.”
“Saving money and time. Not to mention, traveling sucks. Not worth a couple of days.”
“Then why don’t you just come with us?” Landon persisted, releasing Jesse’s wiggling head in favor of leaning towards me intently. “Told you a million times, the Kendall’s would be thrilled to have you. You might be the only civilized person attending, anyway.”
“He’s right,” Jesse confirmed, nodding his head emphatically.
“And I appreciate the offer, I do,” I began to recite the spiel I’d delivered a million times this week. “But I don’t want to impose and-”
“Jesse,” Landon interrupted, not taking his eyes from me. “Could you give us a minute?”
Standing, Jesse snatched a sandwich and wandered over to Shawna.
I scrutinized them closely. “Raven will pound her into the next century if she sees her getting so friendly with her boyfriend.”
“Sophia,” Landon reclaimed my attention by leaning over the table to take my hands in his. “Mrs. Kendall threatened to play country music the entire visit if I didn’t bring you,” Landon said, shuddering. “You have to come. I need you to save me from her cruel and unusual punishments.”
“I don’t know, Landon,” I replied, conflicted. On one hand, spending the weekend with my friends and my new hot, amazing boyfriend sounded great but on the other, more annoying hand…it was totally out of my comfort zone. New people, new place did not equal a relaxed Sophia.
“Please,” Landon pushed, running his fingers over the inside of my wrist and down my palm in a blatant display of hormone manipulation. “Pretty please with a cherry on top. I want you there.”
“What’ll I do with Poe?” Ah-ha! Perfect stumper. “Bring him.” The answer was prompt, as if the sneaky butthead was expecting the question.
I arched a brow. “Poe and Raven in one car? Poe, Raven, and you in one car? I don’t think the world is ready to see that kind of bloodshed.”
Pedro’s was emptying out, and I couldn’t imagine the nightmare traffic was going to be. Landon suddenly stood, and for a second I thought he was fed up with me and was going to leave. Instead, he rounded the booth to my side and slid right next to me.
As in, really, really close.
“Um…” I trailed off as Landon started peppering kisses down my jaw. “Landon, what…”
He moved his sinful mouth to my throat, leaving a trail of fire where he touched. “Spend Thanksgiving with me, Sophia. Please.”
“This isn’t fair,” I tried to muster some anger, but it was feeble and weak against his skills of seduction.
“I never claimed to be fair,” he murmured, tugging a strand of hair aside to start working from my neck to shoulder. “I fight dirty.”
My traitorous head arched back to give him more.
The arrogant bastard chuckled. “Fine,” I conceded with a sigh. “I’ll go with you.”
Landon pulled back, and my protest died when I saw the grin on his face. My heart sputtered once, twice, then abruptly keeled over from the sheer adorableness.
Jesse appeared at the table holding multiple bags of food. “Are you two ready, or would you like to make the rest of the customers lose their appetites?”
After a pause, he added, “Not you, Sophia.”
I laughed, pushing my peeved boyfriend from the booth and standing. I shook out my limbs and exhaled. “Let’s do this thing.”
After some fast packing, yowling from both Raven and Poe, and bidding Maddie goodbye, we were finally on the road. Raven sat up front while Landon and I took up the back, with Poe in his cage by the window. In Raven’s explosion of clothes, he’d dug up a pair of white panties he was currently taking great pleasure in decimating.
It worried me sometimes, that my cat was the biggest pervert I knew.
Landon and I sat squished next to each other, touching from knee to shoulder. He didn’t seem too upset with the arrangement, though.
“My house is only like forty minutes from here, so we should be there by nightfall,” Jesse declared. “And now, for some tunes!”
“Tunes? Did you-Jesse, baby, tell me the truth.” Raven turned towards the driver, hands clasped in front of her chest. “Did you teleport from the 90’s?”
Jesse waited until we reached a stop sign before widening his eyes at Raven and gasping loudly. “How did you know?”
She threw her hands in the air. “I knew the things you learned in bed weren’t from the Kama Sutra!”
“STOP,” I shrieked. “I will throw myself from this
car, I’ll do it.”
Raven stuck her tongue out. “Loosen up, Soph.”
Déjà vu washed over me, and my mind drew me in before I could fight.
“Loosen up, Soph!” Lexi cackled, bouncing down the hallway. “Aren’t you excited? We’re juniors! We’re finally upperclassman!”
I trailed after her, backpack heavy with my binder and notebooks. “Yay, harder homework!” I cheered sarcastically.
Lexi stopped in front of the gym. “You’re such a party pooper. Pooper of parties. Defecator of delight.”
I grabbed her face and peered at her. “Okay, your pupils aren’t dilated, so you can’t be high.”
She shoved me off with an eye roll that was quickly replaced by her characteristic excitement when Peter Callaghan rounded the corner towards us. She threw her arm around me, bouncy brown curls brushing my cheek as she leaned in and whispered, “Please try not to be weird for two seconds.”
“No promises,” I replied, fixing a smile on my face as the jock stopped in front of us.
“Hey girls,” he greeted, pausing to give Lexi an extra once-over. She did look absolutely beautiful today. Whereas I had thrown on a Thor T-shirt and worn skinny jeans while I counted the number of pens in my bag.
“Hi Peter,” Lexi smiled crookedly, and I decided to run screaming in the other direction if they started to flirt.
Thankfully, the conversation stayed on sports, school, and the new math teacher. I pitched in with a couple grunts every now and then, but I was more annoyed that the hallways were filling up, and I still hadn’t found my new locker.
They finally broke apart, and I quickly elbowed aside some loitering freshman to get away from my sister and her clutches.
“Sophia! Wait up!”
“Not now, Lex, I really need to find the locker. I heard Mr. Ferens has no mercy for tardiness.”
I found my locker and started twirling in the code while Lexi hovered to my right. She shook her head. “Honey, I’m your sister, and I’m telling you this for your own goodif you don’t start experiencing life like it’s meant to be lived, you’re going to wake up one day and realize you missed out on everything.”
I snorted. “I’ll worry about flirting in the hallway once I pass AP Gov.”
I blinked and noticed that all conversation in the car had ceased. I shook the lethargy from my head. Damn it. These lapses in time were getting worse.
I peeked over at Landon. He was still, watching me closely. He didn’t say anything, just bumped his knee against mine.
I bumped it back.
We spent the rest of the ride singing at the top of our lungs to ridiculous pop songs. At one point, Raven stuck her head from the window and howled at the sky, garnering more than a few strange looks.
Landon had his arm on the back of my chair as he complained about how Raven was betraying her clan by listening to Justin Bieber. I was smiling like an idiot, so hard my cheeks hurt. I felt cocooned, safe and happy with the people I cared about.
My surrogate family.
When we reached Jesse’s house, the sun was starting its descent in the sky, and I’d seen more of Maryland than I’d knew existed. The Kendall’s house was on par with the rest of neighborhood- red brick, two stories, trimmed lawn. There was a small table and two rocking chairs on the porch, and a large lavender tree next to the steps leading to the front door.
It was the picture of domestic bliss.
We piled from the car and stretched. The front door flew open just as Landon popped the trunk to retrieve our bags.
“Jesse!” an adorably short woman with smooth cocoa skin and a huge smile hurled herself down the driveway and into her son’s arms. “My baby’s home!”
“Mom,” Jesse coughed. “I missed you, too. But we talked on the phone this morning.”
“It’s not the same,” she sniffed, giving him one last squeeze before stepping back. “Okay, where is she?”
She spotted me trying to subtly hide behind Landon. “Is that her?”
“No,” Jesse groaned. “Dad, can you please stop her?” Jesse’s dad had graying, curly hair, and a faint Jamaican accent. “Son, you should know trying to stop your mother when she’s on a mission is futile.”
Raven stepped forward, and it was the first time I’d ever seen her nervous. She smoothed down her jeans and demure blue blouse and stuck her hand out. “I’m Raven. It’s nice to meet you, ma’am.”
Mrs. Kendall’s hands flew to her mouth. “Jesse, you didn’t do her justice. She’s absolutely beautiful!” She ignored Raven’s hand and went in for a bear hug, causing Raven to stumble. She sent Jesse a frantic look only to receive an amused snicker.
At this juncture, I was considering high-jacking the car and getting the hell out of dodge. My fingers were clenched into the back of Landon’s shirt, and I was vaguely aware that my nails were digging into his spine.
He gently pulled my arms down and wrapped his arm around my shoulders, bringing me into his side. My arm went around his waist, and I felt myself relax.
Unfortunately, my calm was short-lived.
After fawning over Raven, Mrs. Kendall’s bright peepers lit on me.
“Oh God,” Landon muttered.
Mrs. Kendall started slapping her husband’s chest.
“Arthur, look at them. Landon wasn’t lying. He was telling the truth. She’s real.”
Arthur chortled. “I think Landon outgrew imaginary girlfriends in the third grade.”
She frowned. “You know what I mean. He has a
“Buttercup,” Landon gazed down at me seriously.
“Kill me now.”
“This was your idea, genius.”
“You can’t prove a thing.”
Mrs. Kendall barreled down towards us. She extended her arms towards Landon. “Come give me a kiss, sweetheart.”
I hid my smirk as Landon bent over to kiss Mrs. Kendall’s cheek and get squeezed to death. He glared at me over her shoulder.
Then it was my turn.
She startled me by cupping my face in her hands. She assessed me in a way that made me squirm. Her wise eyes saw too much. Saw right through me.
“Oh darling,” she murmured quietly. “You need a hug more than anyone.”
She pulled me into a warm embrace. After a second, I hugged her back. When she released me, I smiled hesitantly.
Blinking rapidly, Mrs. Kendall clapped her hands. “Alright! Boys, you unpack the car and bring everything in.
Girls, I’ll show you to your rooms and give you a little tour.”
Mrs. Kendall lead us through the porch and over the threshold, militantly ignoring the protests from the boys. Raven and I glanced at each other as she pivoted in the foyer and threw her arms wide.
“Girls,” she sang. “Welcome home.”