Life has no guarantees

Author notes: I wrote this between the ages of 13 and 16, so definitely not my best work.

I checked my watch for at least the fourth time in the last five minutes, still, only 11:02 pm. My mother was only 20 minutes late, but it seemed like two hours. The silence in our trailer made me uneasy. I'm used to nothing but noise, specifically screaming, whining, and crying, all day long until I can put the makers of the noise to sleep. That's all I can expect, taking care of my two brothers and my sister all day.

I looked around the living room, my eyes resting on the family portrait taken over 3 years ago. It wasn't accurate anymore, since Daddy had died and Blake was born. There wasn't much else to look at. We don't have a lot of extra stuff just for decoration, because it's nothing we really need. Mom works too hard as it is just to clothe and feed us.

I guess I must have spaced off, because when I looked at my watch again, it was 11:16. I heard the door open, and my mother stepped quietly inside.

My mom is really beautiful, even when she looked completely exhausted, like she did then. Her black hair and blue eyes are her best features. Me, having blonde hair and brown eyes, I'm not as lucky as my sister Natalie is, inheriting her genes.

I knew as soon as I saw her she was worn out, but she made an effort to smile at me. I wasn't fooled though. I could tell she just wanted to flop onto her bed and not move until the next morning.

"I guess sleeping in beds for fourteen years is starting to bore you. Couch for a change of pace, huh?" she said, making a lame attempt at a joke.

I smiled a little, then stood, relieved she was home, and went to hug her. I saw her flinch when I put my arms around her, though she tried to hide it.

"Does your back hurt?" I asked, releasing her.

"Not much," she said quickly.

"Liar."

"How were the kids today?" she changed the subject.

I rolled my eyes. "The usual. Blake refused to stop jumping on beds and flinging forks across the room. Shane thought it was funny and egged him on. Me and Natalie tried to pick them up, only Natalie dropped two in the trash can, so I had to fish them out."

Mom laughed, as I knew she would. "That Blake."

"Don't worry, I got him to sleep pretty early. Shane and Natalie too. They have school tomorrow."

Mom looked at me sideways then. "You do too, young lady. What are you doing up?"

"Waiting for you," I replied, shrugging, then felt bad when she looked at me with guilt.

"Come on, Caryn, I'll go tuck you in."

She started down the hallway, but I surprised her by going inside her room instead. She followed, confused.

"Caryn, what are you doing?"

"Tucking YOU in."

"Caryn-"

"Mom, I know how tired you are. Lots more than me. So get in bed," I said, stripping the sheets back and gesturing. Mom looked at me and smiled, too tired to argue, and did as I asked.

"Good night, Elizabeth," I said in a fake parent voice.

"Good night, Mommy," Mom said, playing along. She smiled up at me. "I love you, Caryn. Sweet dreams."

"You too," I replied. I turned out the lights and closed her door, feeling sorry for her. She worked way too hard and long. Sometimes I went days without talking to her.

I went down the hall and into the bedroom I share with my six-year-old sister Natalie, climbing in bed beside her. I snuggled up to her and was asleep in moments.

The event which happened the next day was the event which caused what was left of a normal family life for us to collapse. But that comes later.

My alarm rang at 6, and I rolled out of bed, dressed, shook Natalie awake, and went to go make our breakfast. Mom had already awakened Shane, who's eight, and Blake, who's three, and was heading out the door to drop Blake off at his preschool. We had to scrimp and save every month just so Blake could go to preschool, where we could have someone watching him. She kissed me, Shane, and Natalie goodbye, told us to have a good day, and left.

I then had to make breakfast, hurry Shane and Natalie into getting ready, fix Natalie's hair, review Shane's spelling, break up a fight Shane started by pulling Natalie's hair and calling her uglypuss, and find Natalie's shoe. This left me two minutes to brush my hair and teeth and rush out the door, praying we'd make it to the bus stop on time.

We did, barely. As I climbed onto the bus and sat down, I felt relaxed at last. I love school. I'm the only kid I know who does. At school there's a lot of peace and quiet, and I don't have to take care of anyone. I can talk to my friends. It's like an escape.

The bus dropped off the elementary school, then pulled into the high school parking lot. Sometimes I can't believe I'm only in the ninth grade. I feel much, much older, like 30, with three kids and no husband. No perks, but that's life.

The seven hours of the nice and quiet school day passed too quickly, as usual, and in what seemed five minutes I was back on the bus, going home to our cramped trailer and my three siblings. I knew the minute my foot stepped off the welcome mat I'd have to fix us a snack, get out clean clothes for Blake when the carpool mother brought him home, break up fights, help with homework, keep them busy and out of trouble, and yet still manage to find time to do homework, cook, make sure everyone has a bath, and whatever else.

Shane, Natalie, and I went inside, ate our snack (I had to make a special one for Natalie), and got to work. Well, I did. Shane and Natalie spent a lot of time fighting. I broke it up with the Halloween candy I save for occasions like that, and was handing it out just as the doorbell rang. The carpool mother was dropping off Blake. I greeted her, took Blake inside, and with him struggling, attempted to take off his dirty clothes so I could bathe him.

"No! Stop!" he howled, kicking and trying to bite me. Natalie, trying to help, grabbed his foot, but he kicked her in the eye, making her cry.

I had finally pulled off his pants and underwear and turned to look at Natalie's eye when he ran away, naked. I chased after him as he ran laughing out into the hall.

Shane's door opened, and he stuck his head out. "Run Blake, run!" he yelled. "I'll hide you!"

Blake ran into Shane's room, and Shane slammed the door shut and locked it. I pounded on it hard.

"Shane Andrew Dunmore! You open this door or else!"

"Or else what?" Shane called back. I could hear him snickering at me, and that just made me madder. He was such a pain. Taking a deep breath, I tried to sound reasonable, even though I knew Shane doesn't answer to reason.

"Blake needs a bath, Shane. Open the door."

"I don't care if he stinks, Blake doesn't care if he stinks, why do you care?" he retorted. "You can't tell me what to do. You're not my mother."

I hate when he says that. Doesn't he realize I take care of him all day every day except Sunday? And he doesn't care.

"Why don't you just call mom at work and ask her if you have to listen to me? See what she says?" I threatened.

"Nanny nanny boo boo! You can't get me!" Blake shouted.

I turned to Natalie, who had been watching and listening the whole time. "Natalie, go get me a butter knife."

Natalie came back a minute later, handing it to me, and I popped the lock easily. The locks in our house are so flimsy. Shane protested "Hey!" when she saw me come in and grab Blake easily. I went to our bathroom, locked the door, and plopped Blake in the tub. As I fixed the water, he pouted. "You caught me."

After bathing him, I had to wipe up the water he had splashed everywhere, then pick up the towel rack he pulled down. It went like that the rest of the day, until mom came home at 8:30.

This was very unusual, her coming home so early. My brothers and sister were all excited, yelling, "Mom!" and running to the door. She hugged them hello, then turned to me.

"Come here, Caryn. How was school?"

I gave her a hug, but even though she was smiling I knew she wasn't really happy. Something about her face made me worry.

"It was okay," I said, thinking that school was heaven compared to home. "Why did you get to come home so early?"

"Well, I've been able to cut my second job back a few hours now due to a change of circumstances. I'll be coming home earlier now," she explained.

One suspicion cropped up. "Mom! Have you been fired?"

She laughed, shaking her head. "No, no. I have good news." She paused, then plunged on. "I want you to meet someone."

She opened the front door, and a man walked in. I had a bad feeling the second I saw him.

He was tall, with dark hair, skin, and eyes. He looked briefly at Shane, Natalie, and Blake, then shifted his eyes to me. I didn't like the way he looked at me. His eyes were intense, almost hungry. It made me shiver. If Mom noticed, she chose to ignore it.

"Kids, this is Michael Andrews. He's going to be staying with us for a while. He'll be home around 6 to help you out, Caryn, until I get home."

Michael shifted his gaze to my siblings, smiling. "Hi. What's your names?" he asked.

Blake smiled, closing his mouth, and Natalie just stared shyly.

"I'm Shane, and this is Blake," Shane said, jerking his thumb in Blake's direction. He didn't introduce me or Natalie.

"I'm Caryn," I said, wondering why he was staring so strangely at me. I had a suspicion, but I didn't want to believe it because it was just so gross.

"Caryn," he said, not taking his eyes off me. "That's not a name you hear on young girls much these days. I like it."

I looked away, and he turned to Natalie. "And what's this pretty little girl's name?" he asked. Natalie giggled.

"Natalie," she said, putting one finger in her mouth, but I was looking at Mom.

Where did this Michael guy come from anyway? Had Mom known him for a while? How come she never mentioned him before? What was he to her, a friend…boyfriend?

I didn't like thinking about it. I loved my mother and wanted her to be happy, but my dad had just died three years ago, and I couldn't stand to think of her with another man.

How long was Michael going to stay with us? He wasn't going to LIVE with us, was he? Where was he going to sleep? With Mom?

I didn't want to think about that either. Why was she bringing this man we didn't know to live with us?

To my disgust, Mom took Michael's hand and led him around the trailer, showing him where things were. I noticed he lingered outside my and Natalie's room.

As the evening went on, I noticed that though he was nice to my brothers, he seemed distracted when he talked to them. He sort of ignored Mom, but he looked at me a lot, and tried to talk to me.

The sounds I heard later that night very much confirmed that he was her boyfriend. Luckily Natalie was asleep, but I had to wait until all 43 minutes of it were over. The worst part was it was ON AND OFF. I was never so happy to see daylight in my life. I was even happier to see the bus.

The worst part was that my mother was gone and Michael wasn't. Because when we got home after school, he was in the kitchen, digging in the fridge. It was much earlier than Mom had said he would be there by. He looked up when he saw us, a beer in his hand.

"Hey, kids. Caryn. Don't you look pretty today," he smiled.

I crossed my arms over my chest, wishing he would stop with the staring. It wasn't my fault my only clean shirt today was one that had shrunk in the wash.

"Hi, Michael!" Shane said. "Will you make us a snack?"

"Nah, that's what women are for. Ask your sister."

Shane wrinkled his nose. "Caryn isn't a woman! She's too ugly!"

Michael scowled at him. "Don't insult your sister. She's very pretty."

I couldn't stand it any longer. "What are you doing here?"

Michael raised an eyebrow. "Well excuse me, but I believe your mom invited me to live here. Of course, I may be mistaken."

I really didn't like this guy.

"What I mean is, why are you here so early. Mom said you wouldn't get here til 6."

"That was an estimate, Caryn. I'm the boss of my own business. I can come home any time," he said, with a lot of sarcasm to his tone.

"What business?" I asked, and his face stiffened.

Natalie tugged at me arm. "Will you play Chutes and Ladders with me?" she asked. That had been her Christmas gift last year. She loved it, but I hated it with passion.

Then the doorbell rang, and Blake's carpool dropped him off. Chaos ensued again, with Michael doing nothing to stop it. If anything he encouraged it.

He let Shane jump on his bed. He let Blake stick a marble in his nose. He let Natalie hurl the board to the game when she lost. He sat back and watched, amused, as I rushed around picking up, disciplining, and entertaining. Those girls who dream about having kids, let me tell you, it's not fun.

When Mom finally arrived home, I was very happy. She hugged us hello, and Michael finally moved his stupid butt off the couch and put eyes on someone other than me. I couldn't stand to watch him hug and kiss her.

She made us a quick meal and talked with us, but she seemed like she wasn't really listening. She didn't even notice when Blake stuck a pea in her hair.

That night was just as sleepless as the night before. The sex kicked it up again, and this time I couldn't sleep for hours after they shut up. But as awful as that was, the night a week later started the most horrible time of my life.

That it, up until that point.