“Yeah, I got it, baby,” I say as I look around and stare at the quiet roads and the towering trees. I am so out of my element here. Somewhere in this dew drenched forest is Bella's school. It's a different one than I went to as a kid, so I have literally no clue where it is. Once I get her successfully dropped off, I get to search for Grace's preschool and then I get to go to my first class at Humboldt State.
At this point, I'd settle for any one of those things going my way.
“It's not even that hard to get there,” Bella says snootily, a dramatic sigh interrupting the snores of her dozing sister. At least one of us is having a good time here. How much would a full-time babysitter cost? I wonder. A nanny? A governess? At this point, I'll take what I can get. Although I'm sure my new job at the strip club won't cover it. I'll be lucky if I can afford gas, the rent on my sister's house, and food for the kids.
My heart starts to flutter with panic, but I clamp down on it. One thing at a time.
I throw the directions on the passenger seat and pull back onto the road. With a little luck and some snippy directions from Bella, I manage to find the school, dropping her off with a narrow eyed attendant who looks about as pissed as the kid is at me for making her late.
With no time to worry about that, I head off in search of the preschool. That one's a lot easier to find … but waking Grace up from her nap?
Grace screams when I gently nudge her awake, flailing around and burying her face in the puffy pink coat I dressed her in. When I try to unhook her from the car seat, the straps start to look like tangled snakes and I can't figure the damn thing out. By the time I manage to get her free, she's in a real mood, red-faced and screaming.
I rush her up to the front door and try to pass her into the arms of the teacher.
Only … she won't let go.
“Come on, Gracie, baby. Auntie Brooke has a finite population sampling class that she's going to be fifteen minutes late to.” The kid has no sympathy for me, tearing a button off my shirt as I pry her away from me. The teacher gives me a look, but I don't have time to spend talking to her this morning.
I race back to the car, my white button-up flapping in the center, flashing my pink lacy bra. I'm starting to think things can't get much worse when my heel snaps and I go flying onto the pavement.
That really hurt.
I am in way over my head here.
They're monsters. Fucking monsters. Even the baby.
“Listen, Kinzie,” I say as she hauls out and kicks me in the ankle. I grit my teeth, but I'm kind of busy here. I've got a fat chihuahua tucked under one arm and some old, gross toothless one under the other. One of the things my brother neglected to mention to me was that his dogs are ridiculously cat aggressive.
Now I've got Hubert trapped on top of the fridge, the twins in the backyard throwing mud clods at each other, and Kinzie screaming that she wants me to die.
This is gonna be a fan-fucking-tastic two weeks.
“Can you please take the dogs upstairs and put them back in the bathroom?” I ask as I try to hand her one of the disgusting smelly rat creatures. I miss my life so bad right now it hurts. The Strip, the hot sun, the sexy tourists, the smell of iodine at the shop. I make myself take a deep breath.
“They don't like being in the bathroom,” Kinzie says, crossing her arms over her chest as she glares up at me, brown eyes taking me in like she's not impressed. “Why is your skin all splotchy?” she asks. “And what happened to your hair?”
I roll my eyes, moving past her and up the stairs, tripping over toys as I struggle to make it to the bathroom at the top of the steps.
“Get in there, you nasty little rats.” I close the door and then run my inked fingers through my hair. If I can just get through this one weekend, then I'll have school to look forward to on Monday. That should be sick. How many hours do these monsters go for? I'll have to check Mercedes' dossier, I guess.
“Can I go play with my friends outside? I'm bored.”
I turn and find Kinzie hovering on the top step, looking at me like I'm the worst thing that's ever happened to her.
“Um.” I scratch the side of my head and try to remember the rules for that shit. Mercedes laid it all on pretty thick on our way to the airport. “Lemme check on that.”
She rolls her eyes and stomps into her room, slamming the door loud enough to shake the whole house—and wake the baby from her nap.
“I'm coming, I'm coming.” I move into my brother's room and look down at the weird wrinkly thing in its crib. Gross. Okay, so like, how do I pick this thing up? I tilt my head at the kid, using my tongue to play with my lip rings. People—much dumber people—do this kind of thing all the time. I should be able to figure this out. I slip my phone from my pocket and notice a text from Kitty. Huh. I don't remember giving her my number.