Cassie sighed, staring at the dusty wooden floor a few inches away from her face. It was hot today. Hot outside, and hot inside, too, since her mother hadn't bothered to have the air conditioner fixed yet. She was lying draped across several steps in the stairwell because it was, somehow, magically, cooler there than anywhere else in their decaying old house. She missed school more than usual, and thought longingly of the day that classes would start back up for the fall. Four more weeks, and August couldn't come soon enough... How pathetic was that?
"I hate my life," she muttered to herself, letting her forehead fall against the floor with a soft thud. Her dishwater blonde hair pooled around her on the floor, and for a moment she worried about how dirty it must be getting. Then she realized it would be a good excuse to take a nice cold shower, and shook her head in an attempt to stir up even more dust.
"Stop that," came a voice from above her. "You're going to make me sneeze. I hate sneezing."
Cassie blinked and stood up quickly, immediately bumping her head against a body she hadn't expected to be above her. She collapsed back onto the floor in an undignified mess of limbs and hair. "Sorry!" she said. "I didn't hear you... That is, I didn't know anybody else was in the stairwell."
The other girl was wearing a pair of black and lime green bondage shorts, a plain black T-shirt, and a pair of lime green Converse. She looked at Cassie with jet black eyebrow raised sharply, the corners of her mouth twitching like she couldn't decide between annoyance and amusement "Well, yeah. It's the least hellish place in the whole building, and I don't have anywhere else to go. So here I am. Same for you, I guess?" She ran one hand through the jagged feathers of her black and blue hair and made a face at the small clump of dust that fell away from her fingers.
"Yeah. All my friends are still on vacation, or finishing up with summer camp, or hanging out with their boyfriends. Nobody needs my company at the moment," Cassie replied with a wry grin.
"I'll take it," the other girl said. "I don't have any friends here yet, and I can't go online to chat because I don't trust my laptop to survive startup in this heat. It'd probably combust." She rolled her pale blue eyes, then thrust one hand down towards Cassie. She had surprisingly soft skin, thin fingers, and a firm handshake. "My name's Jinx. I moved in last week, but I guess you already figured that out, huh?"
"Well, my mom had me file the paperwork saying there'd be an additional tenant on your floor from now on, so... Yeah. I kinda knew." Cassie was getting tired of bending her head at such an odd angle to look up at the tall girl while she talked. She lowered herself back to the ground and rolled over so that she was lying on her back. The steps dug into her spine, making her wince slightly. "So, not to be nosy or anything, but what brings you here anyway? I never knew your mom even had a kid until the week before you showed up." She realized the moment the words were out of her mouth that it was probably a touchy subject, but there was nothing she could do about it.
"Yeah, that doesn't surprise me. My lame-ass mother and my dad split up when I was two, and she let him take me, no arguments. We didn't hear from her again until I was twelve, when she sent us a letter asking my dad for money. That's the only reason she's talked to us since then, until a few months ago when she called my dad saying that she couldn't get around on her own or live by herself anymore. Like that had anything to do with us! But the bitch kept calling, every day, until she finally convinced my dad that she needs me to live with her because of her so-called "health problems." I agreed just to make her leave the poor guy alone. So here I am." Jinx slumped against the stairwell wall and closed her eyes. "Goody."
"Health problems?" Cassie echoed. "I didn't know your mother was sick." Which surprised her. The woman didn't leave her apartment very often, but when she did, it was usually so complain. It seemed strange that she would pass up an opportunity like that.
"She's not," Jinx said, practically spitting the word out. "She's just fat, lazy, and apparently unable to throw anything out by herself. Hoarding is a problem. I've seen the show, I get it. But I don't think she's a hoarder, she's just greedy and lazy. I must have tossed out half the stuff in the place when I moved in, and she didn't bat an eye other than when I stepped between her and the television."
"Huh. Well," Cassie said, "I doubt she's thanked you, so I will on her behalf. And on my mom's behalf. You've kept my mom from having to cuss her out and threaten to evict her the next time she does an inspection. Although who knows when that would happen. My mom doesn't exactly take her job very seriously."
"You're welcome," Jinx said. She opened her eyes and gave Cassie a huge grin. She was even more gorgeous when she smiled like that, and Cassie had to try hard to stay focused on anything but her lips and her black snakebite piercings. "I'm glad that someone besides me has a useless egg-donor. No offense to your mom if you're the type to defend her, of course."
Cassie laughed and shook her head. "I'm not. She's not a bad woman, and she's a pretty good mom when she wants to be, but she's lousy at her job. She's lousy at committing to anything, really."
The two girls fell silent for a while. At some point Jinx slid down to the floor and sat cross-legged on the landing. She stared at Cassie. Cassie stared back. It was the least awkward silence Cassie had experienced in her life, which amazed her. She considered trying to make small talk about school, or how bad the lack of air conditioning sucked, but finally decided it just wasn't worth it.
After she'd sat there long enough, the thin layer of sweat on Cassie's body finally chilled enough to cool her down, just like her science teachers always said it was supposed to. She wondered how many other people had used this stairwell—the servants' stairwell—to escape the heat outside. Dozens of them, probably. The house was really old. But they'd have been wearing a lot more clothes than a tank top, pair of shorts, and flip-flops, so maybe it wouldn't have worked out as well...
"I have to go," Cassie said at last. "Time to make supper." She stood up and stretched, waiting for her shoulders, then her back, to pop. It didn't escape her notice that her efforts made Jinx perk up, those perfect lips of hers falling open slightly. "Wanna meet here tomorrow?" Cassie offered. "Maybe we'll even leave the stairwell. I can give you a tour of the basement."
It took Jinx two tries to respond without her voice cracking. "Sounds great."
Cassie put a little extra swish into her hips as she headed back to her own floor. It was just the neighborly thing to do.