"You're ruining my life," lamented the petulant singer of an everyman rock band. Brass riffs and rowdy drums went to battle in a terse face-off before the lead singer wondered, "How can you be so uncool?"
Bite Me's debut single had proven to be a chart success and soon became an anthem for disgruntled alternative adolescents across the land with its bratty parents-just-don't-understand message. Though she didn't consider herself a member of the card-carrying malcontent youth, she empathized deeply with the sentiment and sang along with the radio from her bathroom where she was smoking one of her father's emergency cigarettes. Opening a newly delivered package with a Swiss army knife, she tossed the knife on the counter and pulled out all six copies of Memories of Yesterday—a poignant study of interfamilial relations, according to one major newspaper.
She dropped the six copies into the tub before uncapping a bottle of rubbing alcohol and pouring the malodorous fluid over the books. Lighting a match off her cigarette, she tossed it onto the flammable liquid and slipped on her sunglasses as the flame exploded. She smiled as the angry heat consumed each cover, page, and word of Fiona Campbell's New York Times bestseller.
Most critics loved the novel, and readers seemed to as well, but she couldn't get behind it. Marketed as a work of fiction, Memories of Yesterday was nothing more than a thinly veiled memoir with altered names and exaggerated anecdotes. She didn't understand why the author chose to style it as a work of fiction when it was clear she wanted to tell her life story and all its gory details. The dedication and acknowledgments alone might as well have been diary entries, confirming rumors to parties involved and sharing private family secrets with readers across the globe. Many of Ms. Campbell's family members objected to Memories of Yesterday, and no one balked more at the novel than her eldest daughter who was the subject of the dedication page and the basis of an integral character in the narrative.
Snapping a picture of her handiwork, Alaska sent the image and a short caption to her estranged mother in a picture message. She hoped this would finally convince Fiona that she had no interest in reconciliation.
Opening the bathroom window, she let the books burn for another five minutes before putting out the fire and her cigarette. She sprayed Lysol liberally in both the bathroom and her bedroom after discarding the book remains. She took a moment to clean the bathtub before turning off her radio and going to shower in her brother's bathroom while she ventilated hers. Her stepmother's puggle met her when she walked back across the hall to her bedroom. Klaus barked and pawed at her as she pulled on a Buddy Franklin guernsey and sweats over her underwear.
"What?" she snapped at the two-year-old. She didn't understand the damn dog. Most days he ignored her existence, but other times he barked at her for no apparent reason. "Go away, Klaus. Bad dog!"
Klaus ignored her command and continued circling her, barking wildly and butting her knees with his head. He followed her around her room and into the hall, carrying on until she scooped him up in her arms and marched him to his owner. She found her stepmother going through her box of homemade recipes and dumped Klaus onto the kitchen tile.
Faith Keller-Monfries looked up at the sudden intrusion in her kitchen and quickly noticed her stepdaughter's annoyed expression. "Is he acting out again?" she asked sheepishly as Klaus tried to curl himself around Alaska's ankles. Alaska pulled herself up onto the counter, sent Faith a look that said "what do you think," and watched her stepmother blush.
The older woman was a contradiction. It was much easier for Alaska to imagine her father meeting her stepmother of three years at a nightclub instead of his church's divorce survivors' class since Faith's sexy voice and centerfold body contradicted her prim Christian nature on nearly every level. But even though Faith looked and sounded like a sex bomb, she made certain everyone knew she was hot for Jesus first and foremost.
"I'm so sorry, Alaska," Faith said. "I don't know why he gets like this."
"Whatever," the seventeen-year-old muttered, jumping over the dog to grab a bottle of water from the fridge. "I'm going back to bed."
"Oh, all right. Feel better," Faith called as Alaska disappeared around the corner. Klaus tried to follow, but his owner grabbed him by the collar. "Hush, Klaus! Alaska is sick. She doesn't need you making it worse, baby."
Closing her bedroom door, Alaska frowned and tried to clear her head as the room began to spin. She stumbled over to the bed and fell on top of it as her eyes rolled back in her skull.
She didn't remember falling asleep and frowned at her alarm clock hours later when she realized it was almost dinnertime. She groaned as she sat up and cradled her head as it pounded ferociously. Dropping a hand to her queasy stomach, she frowned as she hiccupped and a funny taste filled her mouth.
She hated being sick. The time off from school was nice, and she wasn't quite ready for summer vacation to be over. But given the choice of either being sick and missing the first few days of senior year or attending her classes, she wasn't certain she wouldn't choose the latter.
"Oh, hey, kiddo. You're awake," Roger Monfries said from the doorway. Alaska blinked at her father and rubbed her bleary green eyes twice. "Rough day still?" She nodded as he crossed the room and sat down, hugging her tightly. "I'm sorry, pumpkin. I wish you felt better."
"So do I," she replied, words muffled by his shirt.
He kissed her clammy forehead. "When's the last time you took something for your cold?" She shrugged. "Time for some more meds then."
"Goody," she said and turned her face away to cough. "It's August in the South, for God's sake! How did I catch a cold?"
"Sometimes these things happen." He placed his lips to her forehead again. "At least your fever is gone."
"But I still feel like shit."
She sighed. "Sorry, Dad," she replied before another cough seized her throat. She watched Klaus jog in and head straight for the bed, trying to use Roger to boost himself up onto the mattress. "Her dog is insane."
"Was he barking at you again?" Roger asked, pushing Klaus back down to the floor.
She nodded. "He was waiting for me after I got out of the shower."
"I don't understand why he does that. He lives to ignore you."
"I know. It's weird." She tucked her hair behind her ears. "Is it time for dinner yet?"
"Almost. Faith is just taking the casserole out of the oven."
She made a face. "I hate casseroles."
"I know, but she loves them." She made another face. "I'll make you a salad. What do you want in it?"
"Aside from lettuce? Ouch!" She rubbed her forehead and flicked her father back. "Chicken strips, fruit, and walnuts."
"All right. I'll get right on that," he said and stood. "Do you want me to wait for you?"
"No, no, I'll be down soon," she replied and sent him a queasy grin. "I think I have to throw up first."
"I won't hold dinner then. Come down whenever you're ready," he told her, patting her head. "I'll go round of some Dramamine."
Roger sighed and scooped up Klaus. "Just what every father wants to hear."
"I really think this year is going to be the best one yet," Juneau Monfries said as he buttered a slice of bread. He smiled at his twin sister when she shuffled into the room looking like the lovechild of Death and Disease.
The sprinkle of freckles across the bridge of her nose was washed out thanks to her sickly complexion. It made both her golden hair and green eyes appear so much brighter than usual. She was still pretty, though not as attractive as she could be when she felt well. She took her height and coloring from their father, as did he, but her blossomed figure was a sole tribute to their mother.
"Hey there, sis. Back in the land of the living?" he teased. She grunted at him, taking her seat at the dinner table. "Everyone at school is worried sick about you. They've missed you."
Alaska scoffed. "Bullshit."
"Sweetheart, please. No blasphemies at the table," Faith chided, wiping the corners of her mouth daintily.
"Sorry, Faith," Alaska muttered. She picked up her fork and speared a red grape before turning to her brother. "That's a load of cow pies, Juneau. Everyone isn't worried about me. They just want to know whether or not I committed arson and killed our grandfather after he raped me one last time when we were five."
"Alaska, sweetie, let's not—please not now, okay? Please," Roger said, setting his fork aside. He dropped his elbows on the table and folded his hands together tightly. "I know it doesn't make it better to ignore it. I know it doesn't make it go away, but I can't … that bastard … if I could kill him … but I can't and…" He sighed and pushed his plate away. "I need a beer."
"Resorting to alcohol won't make you feel better, Roger," Faith said fretfully as he pulled two longnecks out of the fridge.
"Well I don't feel like praying right now, Faith," he snapped and watched his wife flinch. Pinching the bridge of his nose, he exhaled deeply and reached for his wife's hand as he headed back to the table. "I'm sorry, darling. I don't mean to snap at you, but I…." He trailed off and opened his first beer before taking a long drink and turning to Alaska. "I never hated your mother for the things she did to us, everything she put us through, but I cannot forgive her for exposing you and your pain to the rest of the world to read and gossip about as you walk past. I mean, did she even think about how this would affect your well-being?"
He paced around the room, finger sparring with the air at each word. "Kids are cruel, for Christ's sake! What fair chance did she give you with your classmates and boys? I don't want anyone looking down at you because your attention-seeking mother needed an entire country to feel sorry for her," he ranted, spittle foaming at the sides of his mouth. He wiped the saliva away with the back of his hand as he continued, "And then—and then for her to apologize to you for the actions of her bastard father in the dedication… I don't understand how she could … did she ever consider—damn it I hate that woman! God forgive me, but I do."
"Don't worry, Dad. I feel the same way," Alaska said when he paused to take another drink and tried to collect himself. "I can't stand that bitch. I wish she was dead."
"How can you say that?" Juneau demanded, scandalized as he stared at his sister. "She's our mother. The woman who gave us life. She deserves more respect than that."
"No she doesn't," Alaska returned. She glared at the undying devotion for their mother in her brother's eyes. "If you want to treat her like a saint or walking wound, then that's your business, but I refuse to indulge and enable her need to the center of everyone's life.
"She didn't have to name me in her stupid book. She shouldn't have named me, let alone discuss what happened to me." She pulled him back down when he stood and tried to leave the room. "Her problem was with her bastard old man. Insinuating that I killed him as a small child, something she wishes she had done herself, was totally uncalled for."
"It's a work of fiction," Juneau said defensively.
Alaska sneered at him. "She wrote the damn thing using journal entries that spanned over the past thirty fucking years!"
"Fine, fine, it isn't pure fiction. It's more of a semi-autobiographical novel, which means some things were bound to be fabrication," Juneau acquiesced before adding, "And no one other than you knows what happened that day. You're the only one who knows what started the fire that killed him. Since you won't talk about it, how are we supposed to know what you did or didn't do?"
"Are you saying you think I killed him?" Alaska asked quietly, dangerously, as she pushed out of her chair.
Juneau stood and mimicked her annoyed stance. "No, that's not what I'm saying."
"Well it sure sounds like it," she snapped back.
"Please don't fight," Faith said anxiously, wringing her hands as she watched the twins square off. Roger drained the rest of his beer and reached for the second bottle. "This isn't the way." She turned to her husband. "Do something," she ordered, but he only turned his back to the table.
"Why don't you want to talk about it?" Juneau demanded. "Why won't you set the record straight, for once?"
"Because I don't have to! It's no one's fucking business what happened that day," Alaska answered angrily. "And what the fuck do you care about what started the fire? Be grateful I cared enough about your punk ass to pull you out of the inferno."
"I'm your brother!"
"And he was our grandfather! But, hey, he didn't seem to care that we were family when he was putting his hands down my shorts and telling me to a good girl!"
"He was sick, and you're not the only one he hurt. Maybe, instead of hating Mom so much, you could—"
"She left us alone with him! She knew what he was like, never forgot what he did to her, and left us at his mercy. She didn't even tell Dad what happened to her as a child. She and Grandma left me in his care while they went shopping for shoes, Juneau, even after I tried to tell them what he was doing to me. Shoes were more important than me!
"What kind of person does that? What kind of parent leaves their child alone with a monster?"
"I should have known. Why did I know?" Roger muttered distractedly as he stared out the kitchen window. Alaska looked over at her father and frowned when he turned around with tears in his eyes. "I didn't protect you. I let her take you there, and you were alone. He was hurting you for God knows how long, and I didn't have a damn clue!"
"Dad…" Alaska struggled for something to say. "I should have said something sooner."
"Don't say that! You were scared. You were a scared little girl. I'm your father. I should have—fuck!" Everyone jumped when the beer bottle he threw at the wall shattered on impact. His fingers tunneled through his hair as his chest heaved with sobs. "I'm so sorry, baby. I couldn't … I didn't … I'm sorry I let him hurt you. I should have known sooner. I shouldn't have let him hurt you."
"You didn't let him do anything," Alaska corrected while Faith stood by helplessly, watching her husband fight with his personal demons. "Mom knew what he was capable of. Mom took us to that place and left us there with him. She was the one who—oh, would you shut the fuck up, Juneau?
"I'm not going to let Dad sit there and blame himself for something she hid from him. Even you can't deny that she facilitated that bastard's behavior. She kept him in her life when she could have walked away forever. Dad gave her an out just by marrying her. She could have walked away!"
"She's our mother," Juneau said again, unable to say anything else.
"Biology be damned, Juneau! She didn't protect her children. What kind of mother lays her child on the sacrificial altar?" Alaska returned, frustrated by him. She crossed to her father who continued to sob, rocking back and forth in Faith's arms. "Dad, look at me. I need you to look at me for a minute, okay?"
She grabbed one of his large hands and squeezed it between hers until he lifted his eyes. "I have never blamed you for what happened to me, and neither should you," she told him softly. "You're an amazing father. This was not your fault." She raised his hand to her cheek. "I'm not afraid of you, Dad. You shouldn't be either. There isn't a monster inside of you."
"It's a father's job to protect his children, especially his daughters," Roger managed through his tears.
"And you've done that," she assured him. "No, you weren't able to stop him from doing what he did, but only because you didn't know something so heinous was going on in the first place. And you've kept me away from Mom. If she had gotten custody of me after the divorce, I'd probably be a whole lot worse than I am right now. You saved me from that, from probably being in a grave." She went into his arms when he reached for her and held on tightly as he hugged her. "It's okay, Dad. This isn't your fault."
She hated her mother so much for destroying her semblance of a normal life, continuing to hurt her father, and brainwashing her brother. They didn't deserve this. It wasn't right for them to be so fragile or cautious around each other. For the first time in years everything had been going well for them—her father was excited about love again, Juneau was … well, Juneau, and she wasn't cutting every other day—but all that hard work toward happiness was undone in a few short months with the release, press coverage, and popularity spike of Memories of Yesterday, and it wasn't fair.
Alaska stayed in her father's embrace for a long time as Faith and Juneau quietly went about cleaning up the mess of beer and broken glass and cleared the food from table. Just another Monfries family moment ruined, she thought. Shattered by the memories of yesterday.