Chapter One

"Syd this is just plain crazy," Belinda said looking over my shoulder at the list that Dad and Mom had texted me that morning.

I didn't want to tell her this was just an addendum and that the real list was pages and pages long or I'd go from "plain" crazy to whacked-out-fruity-belongs-in-the-nuthouse crazy. "It isn't crazy, it's a shopping list from my parents. They want to make sure that everything is ready for them to bring Aunt Rhonda and Patrice up here this fall," I told her using the cover story my parents had developed. "There's going to be a lot of us using the cabin which means a lot of food and supplies. They'll bring some but stores aren't exactly close by around here – the bait and tackle shop doesn't count – and with Patrice being so bad and Aunt Rhonda still going to be in the recovery phase of her treatment they aren't going to want to risk exposing them to germs by going out in public too much. Besides, what are you complaining about? You love to shop."

"For shoes, jewelry, and the clearance rack at Neiman Marcus … groceries and the kind of stuff on this list do nothing for me. Who wants to traipse through hardware stores getting stared at by a bunch of rednecks?"

It took a moment to decide whether she was making a joke or just being rude. I decided to give her the benefit of the doubt and just let it go. "Wow, you used to love being stared out by the guys up here."

"The guys around the lake … most of whom know how to shave and cover their butt crack and don't have a beer gut that makes them look pregnant."

I sighed and wondered for the eleventy-dozenth time why Belinda had even asked to come to the cabin with me. Getting fed up with her attitude I told her, "Look, why don't you just hang out down by the lake. I'll run into town and do the errands. They're my parental units so their orders are my responsibility. This way you can work on your tan or whatever."

Belinda looked guilty for about a half second before agreeing saying she had a headache and just needed some time to get rid of it then she would help with the end of summer clean up and maintenance. "I still don't know why your parents didn't do this while they were up here. You aren't their slave. They boss you around like you are still a little kid and worse. And even when you have days off you hardly make the time to have fun anymore."

I shrugged and told her honestly, "Your definition of fun and mine aren't exactly the same thing these days."

Defensively she snapped, "Oh yeah? Pardon me for wanting to enjoy life with a little party every now and then. What's your definition?"

It only took me a second to come up with an answer for her. "Being able to sleep at night because I know I've got all the money to pay for my books and tuition, car insurance, gas, and a little extra for emergencies before the begin of term starts."

"Oh my lord Syd, you sound like an old woman. We're nineteen, not ninety. You can still go to school and have a life you know. Look at me. Do you see me sweating the small stuff like that? Why the hell you won't take out a student loan and stop killing yourself is beyond me. The government is practically handing them out like candy so long as you sign up for one of their volunteer programs. Your parents' income would certainly qualify you for one." She rolled her eyes and then continued. "If we don't have fun now we will never have fun. Why everyone has to be so serious all the time I don't know. Stop being so damned responsible … and boring. It's not your fault that Kevin chose stupid, got drunk, and wrecked his car."

Now she was just playing dirty. "Leave my cousin out of this."

"So you're saying that your aunt getting divorced after Kevin killed those kids, put his sister in a wheelchair, and then your family moving her and Patrice into your house has nothing to do with all the financial mess you guys are in? Get real. That was your parents' choice, not yours. You have a right to your own life. For god's sake girl, move out and escape while you have the chance. You know I will just as soon as I'm able."

I shook my head and wondered when my best friend had turned into whatever it was she was now. The changes in both of us happened so fast I'm not even sure when they started. Carefully, hoping she would finally get the message, I told her, "This is my life Bel and while I'll admit it isn't great all the time it isn't the horror story you keep trying to make it out to be. Things aren't perfect but I've got it better than a lot of people we graduated with do. A bunch of them had to drop out or not get to go to college at all because of finances and family crap. So what if I have to sleep on the pull out in the basement. It isn't killing me, at least I have a bed to call my own. And using the basement door means I don't have to worry about waking people up when I come in late from work. And so what if I have to work, it's a rent free roof over my head. I take that back … I'm actually glad I have a job where I can get as many hours as I need; a lot of people don't. What makes me lucky is that the place was down for renovation for the end summer and the owners were just happy that I didn't leave them to get transferred to a different franchise and that I didn't mind working odd shifts to help out moving things into storage. They've been decent to me when most people our age get crap for jobs … assuming they can find a job. As for the rest of it my parents are good people in a rough spot … we're just trying to take care of our family by everyone pitching in where they can. If you want to save someone from the life they're living, go save your sister who has screwed her way through County High's football team – JV and Varsity – and is now working on all the other teams too … and from what I hear not just the boys."

In total outrage Belinda snapped, "Jaycee is bisexual and you know it. I can't believe you of all people would be so judgmental. That's real Christian right there. The Guidance Counselor and Jaycee's therapist warned us about people like you and said …"

Stopping her from drawing me into an argument I wasn't in the mood for I told her, "I'm not talking about her sexual orientation – that's her business – I'm talking about the rest of it. She is barely sixteen and she acts like a slut and dresses like one too; and if she isn't careful it is going to get her hurt or dead or maybe worse. I can't believe your parents even put up with it. How she is acting is dangerous and just nasty."

"You don't know what you are talking about. Jaycee is just trying to find herself … exploring her options. Everyone says so."

"Yeah well she's looked just about under every bed and in every backseat anyone will let her crawl into. Don't you think it's time for you and your parents to kinda … I don't know … help her or guide her into a search process that is less personally destructive? Your parents would have killed you if they'd known half the stuff you did when we were in high school. Why they let Jaycee get away with stuff ten times as awful is beyond me."

"She takes special handling and you know why."

"Because she got molested? Don't you think that is even more reason to help her find some boundaries? Not to mention those so-called therapists she's seen have only helped her to get worse. Let's see … false memories, drugs by the bucket full, validating the princess behavior rather than being honest she's on track for some serious STDs …"

"That's cruel, even for you. You … you just don't get it."

I shook my head. "Oh I get it all right or don't you remember that your step brother tried to get me the same way he got to Jaycee? In fact, I'm the one that swung that golf club right up between Darin's legs when we got to your house to tell on him only found him having at your little sister just to get back at your dad. Your step brother was and is a complete freak and now your dad feels so guilty and messed up for what his spawn did that he can't find his way through and your mom is so worried about hurting Jaycee more that she's just making things worse by being ineffectual. And Jaycee knows it and she's manipulating the hell out of everyone around her to empower herself or something. Only not everyone buys into the guilt trip anymore do they? She's going too far down the wrong road."

Belinda shook her head and I couldn't tell if she hated me for it or wish she'd had the nerve to do it herself. "I still can't believe you slapped her. It wasn't her fault that Dan decided to find some comfort with my sister because you are so hooked on your virginal act and refused to put out."

I was on the ragged edge of blowing up and decided it was time for a few home truths and a few answers. "You know what Belinda? Yeah, I can fault her for it because she was a willing participant. Just as much as I fault Dan if you want to know the truth of it. Dan knew where I drew the line. He chose to cross it. Jaycee knew that Dan and I were in a relationship, she just wanted to hurt me because I refused to say how she's been acting is justified and all ok. Well it's not and she got her pound of flesh. But I haven't taken it out on you and I don't blame your parents. Jaycee is responsible for her actions… she's old enough to know it too. So tell me, if you feel like this why did you want to come up to the cabin?"

"I didn't … uh …"

I was beginning to realize my own suspicions were justified. "You didn't want to did you. Ooookay. So who asked you to make the sacrifice?"

"I never …"

"Knock it off Bel. You are a rotten liar and always have been. It is the only reason I believed you when you said you didn't know about Dan and Jaycee even though everyone else thinks that you did. Now I repeat, what's going on?"

In a rush Belinda confessed, "Jaycee is pregnant … and she is saying it is Dan's. Dad told me that I had to … be a friend and … and soften the blow and be the one to tell you."

I just stood there waiting for the pain to hit … but realized I felt nothing. Dan and I had dated for over three years, even talked about getting engaged with my parents' blessing but then decided to put it off until we were both further along in college. It wasn't too long after that I found out he was fooling around … and with more than Jaycee though the girl didn't want to believe it when I told her. Whatever it was he broke in me, he broke it permanently and left nothing to feel behind.

I sighed but then after thinking for a moment there was a huge hole in the story I was being fed. I told Belinda, "This is going to sound really bad and you are going to think I'm lying, I'm being mean on purpose, or both … but I'm really not. First off, Dan is still in a lot of trouble because of the pending statutory rape charges and there is nothing your parents can do to stop it because it is the state that has brought the charges against him. He's on house arrest and since you probably don't know he has one of those new implants that monitors his location and sobriety at all times. His house and yard is also being visually monitored 24/7. There is no way that Dan is the father of any baby that she's pregnant with now. It has been over six months since his arrest and the monitoring started almost immediately."


"Yeah. His sister can't even have her friends over. She tried that once and all of the monitoring systems lit up like the fourth of July. The only reason they didn't throw him right back in jail is because the cameras caught him screaming at his sister to get the girl away and then he got on the phone and was crying to his parole officer to come save him."

"No way do you know this for a fact."

"Yes way. His parents and mine are still … I guess not friends exactly but trying to do the right thing and be civil. It was a Wednesday when it happened and that night Dan's mom broke down in the ladies' room at church and my mom … well how do you walk away from someone that messed up, scared, and sad all at the same time? Dan … he … he got hurt pretty bad in jail and is terrified of being sent back. Just like him doing what he did broke something in me, him going to jail broke something in him … only between the two of us I think Dan got it much worse and the shame of it is he did it to himself."

Shocked Belinda said in disgust, "You have to be the coldest bitch I have ever met. First my sister, now Dan. God, you're sick."

I shook my head. "Stop trying to make me feel guilty for something that isn't my responsibility or problem. That's called deflecting and you've been doing it a lot lately. Too much. You're going to need a therapist yourself if you keep this up. Tell you what, since you really don't want to be here why don't you go ahead and pack and leave. You go back to that life you think is just so bloody ok and I'll do what I have to do to live mine with a clear conscience."

"But …"

"No Bel, I'm done. You come up here, use me to have some free fun, and lead me on that you're here because you want to be my friend."

Back pedaling as she realizes how everything is making her look she cried, "It isn't like that."

"Yeah … yeah it is. You could have told me a couple of days ago instead of me having to force it out of you. And what's just as sad is that that makes me sadder than the possibility that Dan is the father of Jaycee's baby. Assuming that she is even pregnant. She's lied about that before … or wait, she was just a scared little girl and made a mistake. Yeah right … and we both know she knew exactly what she was doing at the time. If she's pregnant for real this time … the mess is going to be monumental, including the civil case your parents are putting together against Dan."

"What? How do you know about that?"

Shaking my head at some people's naiveté I reminded her, "Like I said, these days not everyone thinks Jaycee is a little, broken-winged angel. Yes, she's messed up but she's also has some responsibility for the results of the choices she is making now."

Suddenly changing tacts Belinda snapped, "I don't have to put up with this. I'm leaving."

I shrugged. "You were already leaving, or don't you remember that I'd already decided that for you."

"You bitch."

All her snarl got her was another shrug from me. "Maybe, but you're turning out to be a toxic hot mess and I've decided that I'm not going to willingly deal with that particular personality trait anymore. Tell your dad thank you for trying to be nice. I appreciate it. But if I were you I would also tell him to stop trying to clean up Jaycee's messes … what his son did is not his fault. He'd sent him to live with his mother and her new husband when he refused to get a job when he wouldn't stay in school. It was Jaycee that was letting him back into the house without your father's approval or knowledge. Sucks what happened but Darwin Award winners come in all ages."

"Oh my gawd. You're worse than a bitch. I hate you."

Beginning to seriously tire of her judge and jury act I told her, "Get in line. Jaycee has tried to prove how much she hates me on every social media known to man and even tried to get some of her less than intelligent friends to fight me too. Dan sent me a letter telling me how much he hated me … and then apologized and said he'd gotten help and realized he had to take responsibility for things and what happened wasn't my fault. Not that I needed to hear it from him to know that is the truth but still, it gives me hope that Dan might come out the other side of this disaster a better person. Patrice hates me because she is in a wheelchair and I'm not. There's probably other people too but I'm not too worried about it right now. Right now you need to leave. You pack and I'll call your dad and thank him myself for trying to be nice and let him know your job has been accomplished and you are heading home."