Anyway, I'm here now and I'll figure out how to make things work—and I'll excel at it. I always do. Even if I have to sacrifice some of my dignity and self-respect to do it.
I light my chin and square my shoulders. I made the right choice in moving back here, in accepting a job that pays well, even if it's not exactly my cup of tea. Even if it sounds like hell. Ugh. Would my parents have still left the kids with me if they knew I was going to start stripping come tomorrow? Probably not. But they've been saving and planning for this trip for years. I can't let Ingrid's choices derail everyone's lives.
Somebody has to pick up my sister's mantle and forge onward.
A cold northwesterly wind whips across the yard and ruffles the branches of the redwood trees that loom above us like giants, silent spectators to this debacle of debauchery my sister's created.
I'm alone. With a three and a seven year old. Crap.
“Aunt Brooke?” Bella says from the back door, clutching the frame with small hands. Her pale pink nightgown flutters in the icy breeze from the bay.
“Yeah, baby?” I say, getting myself together, running my fingers through my tangled hair. I pick my way back across the wet lawn and pause on the sidewalk at the base of the deck. “What is it?”
“Dodger was crying and crying, so I let him out the front door to go to the bathroom.” She shuffles her feet a little. “I keep calling him, but he won't come back.”
I see where this is going.
I take a deep breath to calm my nerves.
Grace and Bella have been through a lot already, and it's my job to bring the beauty of stability back into their lives until I can figure out how to get Ingrid to move her ass back here.
Okay. Okay, I can do this.
“Why don't you help me find your sister?” I ask as I move up the steps and brush some of Bella's dark hair from her forehead. “And then I'll go look for the dog.”
“Um,” she begins, squinching up her face. I feel the blood drain from mine. “That's not everything.” Oh. Of course it's not. That'd be too easy. “Also, I couldn't sleep so I was playing a game on your phone. I accidentally dropped it in the toilet.” There's a long pause here where I start to get nervous. “With some poop.”
On my first night. And from the seven year old.
I think I'm in serious trouble.
The second I walk in the door, I wonder what the fuck is wrong with me. What's wrong with being a heartless dick again? Why didn't I leave that phone right where it was, take my time with Kitty's sweet ass?
I miss home already.
“I don't want you to go!” Kinzie screeches, grabbing her mother's purse from the sofa table and throwing it as hard as she can across the room. “I want you to stay.” She stomps her feet like she's Godzilla on a rampage through Tokyo, throwing her body onto the couch with another wail that forces me to stuff my fingers in my ears.
“Oh thank God, you're here!” Mercedes says, dragging a suitcase up next to my feet. “We were afraid we were going to have to miss the flight.”
My brother breezes past me with barely a nod and disappears behind the minivan. Apparently, I'm driving them to the airport, so I can use their ugly ass car. It's 'safer' than my Geo, and Mercedes has promised me that she's got thirty channels of children's music on her Spotify account. The car's all set up to play that shit on repeat! Woo-fucking-hoo.
“You got most of my instructions over the phone, but I also left a list.” Mercedes points at the sofa table to something that looks more like a dossier than a list. I can feel my shirt sticking to my back with sweat, but I can guarantee it's not the weather. As usual, our sweet little hometown of Eureka, California is sixty-five degrees and cloudy. It's also sixty-five degrees and cloudy the other 364 days of the year, so I'm not surprised. “We can talk more about logistics on the way to the airport.”
“Fantastic,” I say, setting my bag down near the stairs. Well, I try to anyway. My brother's duplex is so small, that I kind of have to balance the bag on my own foot. “No school today?”
Preschool and 2nd grade.
My two favorite things right now.
“We didn't have time to get them ready.”
Mercedes breezes over to a car seat that's sitting on the floor and lifts it up, handing it to me before I can protest. Inside is an alien creature of some sort, some weird ugly wrinkly thing they call a baby. I look down at it—at her—and try to smile.
The kid starts to scream.
“I hate you!” Kinzie screeches, sobbing and thrashing around on the couch. “I hate him!”
She points her finger at me and I bare my teeth, sending her into another fit of hysterics.
I can feel my heart pounding in my chest. I can't do this. I'm terrified. I'm so fucking terrified right now. I suck it up and take a deep breath.