I knew it was gonna be a shitty day when I went in to the kitchen and found Mom snarling under her breath. Fanfuckingtastic. I hate weekends. I usually tried to sleep in, but when I googled what time oh seven hundred equaled in normal time, it turns out? It means seven fucking AM.
So I was up at six thirty on friggin Saturday. Joy. I'd thought about admitting defeat and going back to sleep, but I decided not to give Jonah the satisfaction of knowing he'd been right about my lack of military knowledge. He'd get that smug little sneer and then I'd have to kick his ass and quite honestly, it's way too early to engage in unnecessary beatings, so what the hell. Asscrack of dawn it was.
Mom was slamming things down so loudly that I would've turned tail and got out of there, if Nick hadn't been standing right there in the middle of it all with a giant SAVE ME sign stapled to the expression on his forehead. Poor dude. Nick's my cousin, my mother's sister's son, if you need the specifics, and he's staying with us for his senior year of high school so that he can get resident pricing on his college tuition. I'd pay the out of state fees first, personally.
I winced and mouthed go, I've got it the best anyone can mouth something like that, and cleared my throat. "Morning, Mom," I positioned myself in the room directly opposite of the hallway and tried to catch her attention. Nick was a decent guy, at least if what I recalled of him from when we were kids was anything to go by. His parents moved to Michigan when I was only ten, so I had no real memories of the guy past building forts and creaming him at Sonic the Hedgehog on Nintendo. Still, he seemed cool enough to spare from Mom's temper. I was prepared to take one for the team.
"What's so fucking good about it? Nobody helps me do anything! You're all fucking lazy! You can't even wash the dishes! It's pathetic, Cassidy. Are you really that stupid you don't know how to load the dishwasher?" She whirled around on me to rant. Nick darted down the hallway after a second, and I was grateful. He didn't know how to handle her like this, and it just made her responses nastier.
"I didn't see anything in the sink when I was here last," I shrugged.
"You're going to need to step up, with four people living here, Cassidy!"
I frown. "Four people..?"
"Scott is getting out of jail tomorrow,"
My heart stopped. I knew what her next words would be. It's what they always are. Every time.
"What?" My heart was pounding so loud there was a roar in my ears.
"He's changed, Cassidy, he really has!"
"Mom!" There was no warning for the panic rising in my chest. I felt like I was going to throw up. Scott never changed, ever. I started to shake.
"He's going to be staying with us for a little while, just a little while!"
"I don't want to hear anything about it, damn it, he's my son!" Her first born. The one she wanted. Her son.
"But you promised, Mom. You promised me!" My voice broke. After the last time, after the drugs and the threats and the broken wrist. She promised. Oh Jesus. I really was going to vomit.
"I don't fucking want to hear it. You're just jealous! You just don't want me to love him!"
I found my voice, and swallowed. "What? You can love him all you want! He's your son, of course you love him! But I'm your daughter, don't you love me, too?" I cried.
She turned her back to me, and that was all the answer I needed. I ran past Nick, who was hiding out at the bottom of the stairs, and out the front door. I made it to the bushes by the mailbox before I threw up the previous evening's dinner.
Scott was back, and I was dying. My throat was closing up and I could feel myself just stopping.
"Stop! Scott, you're hurting me!" I cried. It was summer, and Scott was mad because Mom said I could play with the GameBoy, because it was half mine and Scott had played Pokemon on it all week. I was dying to play the new game I'd gotten on my eighth birthday. Scott had chased me down the hall and had me trapped, yanking my arm out of socket. I held fast to the GameBoy, too stubborn to let him win. But he'd had a growth spurt early and was already built like an angry high school quarterback at thirteen. I was on my back curling into a ball before I knew what had hit me. And Scott stood triumphant at the top of the steps for only a second before he calmly slid down the banister and stomped on my leg. I cried out, game forgotten, as he bent down beside me and snatched the fallen GameBoy from the floor.
I never did get to play with my new game.
"Cas? You okay?" I snapped back to reality at the sound of Nick behind me. God, I probably looked like a complete freak. Great impression I was making on the guy, right? "Oh yeah, I'm good, I think last night's dinner of Coke and sour straws probably wasn't smart though. Made me sick!" I shuddered and smiled. Gross. Barf has a horrible aftertaste. I desperately needed to brush my teeth. "Hey, is your mom always so…" Nick trailed off. I laughed. "You'll get used to it. She's mostly just all bark and no bite, just stay out of her way when she's pissed and you'll be fine!" "I'll take your word for it," Nick shrugged.
I pulled my phone out of the pocket of my pants and checked the time. I had fifteen minutes to get to Jonah's and it was a ten minute drive. I was still in my pajamas. "Look, are you wanting to tag along with me today or something? That's cool, but you should know we have like five minutes to get ready and we'll be taking your car!" I declared, already shuffling back around the house to my garage bedroom. It was so obnoxiously early that there was still dew on our dead grass. He trailed behind me, silently giving ascent.
When we got inside my room, I ignored his look of horror at the state of it, and went straight for the closet and grabbed a blue drop waisted dress off a hanger and stripped out of my sleep clothes. My room was a wreck, admittedly, but I liked it messy. Didn't ever feel like me when all my stuff was organized. When I finished changing, I shoved my feet into a pair of dark brown oxford shoes, scrunched down my socks, and grabbed my phone out of my discarded pajama pants. I threw it at Nick and said, "Hey, text Jones that we're leaving now for his house. He's programmed." Nick just nodded awkwardly and started pilfering through my contact list to find Jonah's name. I had my hair brushed haphazardly and thrown into a low side pony before he'd even hit send.
"Nevermind, I'll just do it in the car. Come on, I'm ready!" I grabbed my favorite cream colored cardigan and shrugged it on before heading outside again, where Nicky handed me my phone back. "So, do you always strip down to your underwear around guys?" He finally spoke as he pulled out of the drive and headed downtown. I didn't need to tell him where to go, he'd dropped me off there more than once since he'd arrived with a car. I'd hardly borrowed my mother's at all since he'd moved in. It was handy. "Only the gay ones!" I declared brightly. Nicky choked and almost veered into another lane as he jerked around to face me in the passenger seat. "I'm not—how did you—" He spluttered as I grabbed the wheel and righted the Jeep. I laughed.
"Dude, when we were kids, you had a mad crush on Tatum, remember? Every time you and Auntie came to visit, you totally got moony over his face! But also you should remember to password protect your laptop because I saw the porn like the first week you came!" I answered. He went white. "Does your Mom know?" He was totally freaked out. It cheered me up a little after my own panic attack that morning.
"Relax, Nicky, she has no idea. But seriously, be careful. You know she's religious—she still suffers from the delusion that I've never even been kissed! Just don't bring guys around, you'll be fine." I advised distractedly, typing out the text to Jonah. We're almost there. I looked up when Nicky didn't respond to find him glancing at me from the corner of his eye. "What?" I finally asked. "…You constantly bring dudes in your room, how does she not know?" "Denial, my friend. It's a wonderful thing! Alsoooooooo, maneuvering myself into the garage apartment was a goal of mine for the entirety of middle school. I had a master plan, dude." He laughed. We shared a smile and I nudged him with my elbow. "Hey, we're here, you can park around back, there are outside stairs to the second floor." Jonah lived in an apartment with Bobby, above the latter's bar.
It was a cozy enough place, if a little bachelor pad-y, with ugly leather furniture but a stereotypically massive hdtv. Bobby might be gay, but he was also a total jock. The two of them had hockey posters taped on the dark red walls and there was more than one beer stain strategically hidden under a poorly placed brown rug. It was a miracle they managed to vacuum every once in a blue moon. As it was, I was pretty sure they only ever did that when they're mother was stopping over. I'd seen the two of them fly into freak-out cleanup mode more than once after a call from Mrs. Preston. Lady did not kid around when it came to cleanliness. I've never seen anyone move so fast as Bobby and Jonah did when that woman demanded something. It was always funny to watch.
I could hear Jones and Aimee giggling in his bedroom down the hallway. The light shined out from underneath his door I glanced down the hallway before flopping onto the couch and switching the muted channel from ESPN to Cinemax. The one with the crappy softcore porn playing at all hours of the day.
I knew it would take some loud noise to bring him out of his room with Aimee. At that thought, I quickly turned the volume up as loud as possible before throwing the remote behind the heavy leather couch. It was successfully wedged between the wall now, just in time to hear Jones fling open his door and go "What the h—did you put porn on?" He stomped down the hall and into the living room, Aimee trailing behind with mussed up hair and no makeup, but otherwise appearing decidedly unravished. How disappointing. I'd been half hoping he'd popped her cherry already and been done with the whole thing.
I opened my eyes wide in a show of scandal, saying "What? No! It was playing when we got here!" Jonah glared at me as he ransacked the papers on the coffee table and felt the under the recliner cushions for the remote. Nicky stood against the wall, silently laughing into his hand, and I winked at him when Jones wasn't watching. He introduced himself to Aimee over the moaning and she stuttered out something resembling a how do you do. It took another five minutes for Jonah to find the remote lodged against the wall, and I smiled serenely at him when he turned off the tv.
"Gosh, Aimee, how inappropriate! I have no clue why Jones even pays for that channel!" She was bright red and refused to look Jonah in the eye. With that, I flounced off to the master bathroom to make an exit. I was still a little nauseous about Scott coming back and I knew I needed to pull myself together if I was going to be peppy today. Also, I could taste vomit and that was disgusting.
The bathroom wasn't that bad for two dudes living alone, despite the appearance of the living room. He kept razors in his bathroom cabinet for shaving and I knew I needed it if I was going to make it through today without crying in public. When I was ready, I turned the faucet on full blast and then pulled the sleeve of my cardigan up before making a few swipes across with the razor. There was something cathartic about watching myself bleed. When I was a kid, sometimes I would stick myself with sewing needles, the tiny ones. Like shots. That's probably weird, but I didn't mean anything by it. I was just playing nurse with myself. It cured my fear needles, in any case. I still watch them poke me every time I get a shot, though.
I wasn't really surprised when not a minute later I heard Aimee and Nick clomp down the stairs and Jonah stomp down the hall towards me. He banged, hard, on the bathroom door. I stared at myself in the mirror and started to consider how I'd look with black hair. Nah, too harsh. Red would look totally sexy though.
The banging got more pissed off and he started cussing at me from the other side. I leaned against the sink. "I'm using the bathroom, what the hell do you want Jonah, God!" I snipped. He would freak out on me if he realized what I was doing, which is totally bullshit because it's not like he doesn't do it too.
"What the fuck, Cassidy. Let me in!" He threw himself upside the door again and I knew I was going to have to either open the door or take him to the hospital after he bursts in and hits his head on the tub or something. Idiot.
"Oh my God, Jonah. Hold on a second," I finally responded and his assault on the door stopped. I quickly wrapped some toilet paper around my injured arm and pulled down my cardigan sleeve. When I cracked the door, though, he furiously shoved his way into the room with me and backed me into the corner, against the sink and mirror.
"The fuck?" I cried, and tried to push past him into the bedroom but he grabbed my arm tight and jerked me back. "The fuck? How about what the fuck that demonstration was about? Or how about what the fuck you're doing this at 7am in my fucking bathroom?" Jonah held tight to my arm as I tried to twist away until he managed to pull up the cardigan and see my bare arm.
I clenched my jaw. Who was he to judge me? Me, the one that puts him to bed some nights when he gets so drunk he can't see straight and bandages his wounds before he ever even wakes up? But I wouldn't meet his eyes any more than Aimee would when she saw the porn. God.
"I…Scott's back, Jones. I just needed this, I'm sorry about the porn thing, I was just being mean," I shrugged. I could feel him tense up at the sound of Scott's name. They had never been friends, and I'd known he'd be almost as upset by the revelation as I was. "What?" He stepped closer and stilled, trapping me against the sink, with one hand tugging at a piece of my dress. "He'll be here tomorrow," I whispered. He leaned in and closed his arms around me, pulling me close. I fit right into the crook of his neck. "Well, fuck." His anger made the word almost vibrate, though it may have just been that I was shaking again. "I threw up in the roses," I confessed. He pulled me closer and chuckled into my hair. "I hope they wilt," Jones finally answered, and laced our fingers together. I smiled. "You ready to go downstairs or do you need another second?" He pulled back to look me in the eyes. I nodded. "I need to brush my teeth but then we can go down," I assured him. My toothbrush was in the downstairs bathroom at home, but I had a spare at Jonah's for when I slept over, and quickly cleaned my mouth, glad to be rid of the taste.
When I finished, I moved around him and into the master bedroom, eyes skimming the ugly green of Bobby's bedroom décor. He really had like, no taste. "Cas," Jonah shuffled out behind me and put a palm on my shoulder. "Yeah?" My reply was intentionally vacant. I knew he wasn't going to drop it. "He lays a hand on you again and I'll kill him," Jonah declared in the lowest tone I'd ever heard him use. He meant it, maybe more than anything else he'd ever said in his life.
Once, the last time Scott was home, he got mad—shocker, I'm sure—and punched me a few times on the staircase. I fucking hated that staircase. It wasn't the first time he'd caught me on it, and certainly not the first time he'd hurt me, but that last time was the first time Jonah found out about it for sure, and that was only because we'd just started doing the dirty and I'd forgotten that I even had the damn bruises until Jones pulled off my shirt and noticed them himself. And subsequently flipped his shit so bad I had to slip him a Valium to calm him down. It was bad, and I had to beg Jonah not to do anything.
I didn't have the heart to tell him when a week later Scott didn't like my tone and broke my wrist to teach me a lesson. He still thinks a slip on an ice patch caused the fracture. I didn't lie out any kind of family loyalty or anything, but like I said, Scott was a psychopath and I honestly didn't trust he wouldn't kill Jones given the opportunity. Having Jonah take the risk just to defend my honor wasn't okay with me. But I'm still not sure that he didn't find Scott in a dark alley and threaten to castrate his dick for the incident on the stairs. It would've been Jonah's style, at least. Scott was arrested a few weeks after that for burglary, anyway, and that was that.
I turned my head to look at him from the side. "No, Jones. Leave it, I don't want him to even consider you a person of interest, do you understand?" My fingers had somehow knotted themselves into nervous little fists, and I clenched them involuntarily. "That's too fucking bad, Cassidy, because I'm not about to let my best fucking friend get her ass handed to her. I couldn't touch you for three weeks without hurting you because of him. He should be in prison for life and you should have a restraining order!" His voice cracked. He was going to lose it if I kept arguing with him, and I knew if our voices got much louder they'd be able to hear us downstairs in the bar. I sighed and turned around to kiss his cheek. "I'll be fine, Jones. I promise," I whispered and pulled back to walk. He stood in the bedroom for another minute while I made my way down stairs to the bar.