Shauna’s father was rifling through Malcolm’s drawers, making a mess of the room, as his son stood in the doorway, trying to seem like he wasn’t shitting his pants. Shauna and her mother stood in the hallway, waiting.
“I was just kidding, dad. Malcolm doesn’t have any drugs,” said Shauna weakly.
“See? She was lying!” said her brother triumphantly.
“Even if you don’t, you’re still a useless layabout!” said their father angrily, tossing the contents of a drawer onto the bed. “You’re twenty-years-old and you don’t even go to school!”
You had to give Malcolm credit for hiding his things well, because only socks and underwear ended up on the bed. Shauna knew he had pot, she’d stolen some before and yet, their father found nothing. He must have moved it recently, or perhaps he’d run out. Which was lucky for both of them.
“I work!” said Malcolm desperately.
“At a pathetic dead end job I never would have taken even as part-time work! It’s time you grew up and did something with your life, Malcolm! You can’t keep living off me forever!”
“I’m saving up.”
“You need to get your act together! The gravy train stops here!” As Shauna’s father said this, he spat a little and dribbled spittle on his chin. He looked ridiculous and Shauna would need to remember to laugh about it later, when she was alone.
Shauna’s mother started tidying up the room, speaking soothingly, insisting everything would be fine, that Malcolm would go back to University and get a degree. It must have been too much for him because he said no, he wanted to keep working.
“Either you go back to school or you get out of my house!” raged their father. “That’s all there is to it.”
“Fine, I’ll leave,” said Malcolm defiantly.
“Now just wait a minute,” said their mother. “Let’s not say things we’ll regret.”
“The only thing I regret is having such a useless son!”
“And I regret staying here for so long,” muttered Malcolm.
Shauna’s father crossed the room in two strides and grabbed Malcolm by the neck, pushing him up against the door frame. “What did you say?”
“Nothing, sir,” said Malcolm in a strangled voice.
“What are you going to do?”
“Go back to school.”
Their father released him and pushed him aside, storming back downstairs. Their mother smoothed down her dress and suggested they all go back to their nice dinner, before it got cold.
Malcolm and Shauna walked downstairs behind her and he leaned in to her as they went. “Don’t think this is over, bitch.”
She’d never think anything so stupid.
Terry got in his car and drove around the block, then went back to his dad’s house. He knew he couldn’t abandon Brittany there. She’d be miserable without him. He really wished he had a cigarette at this moment, but he was pretty sure neither Evan nor Joey smoked. Maybe Monica did. Before getting out of his car he rifled through the glove compartment, desperately searching for half a butt or something. He didn’t find anything and then considered going to the dep to buy a pack. Fuck it, Britt was more important.
He stomped back into the house, where sure enough Brittany was still on the floor, crying, being completely ignored by everyone else. He scooped her up and carried her up to bed, wondering why the hell he bothered bringing her to their dad’s place if John wasn’t even going to interact with her. Seriously, John was the worst father in existence.
“I sowwy I got angy,” Britt pouted as Terry helped her put on her nightgown. She was still halfway crying, gulping in air and violently rubbing the tears in her eyes. He grabbed a Kleenex and wiped the gobs of snot off her face.
“It’s ok,” said Terry with a smile. “It was a tense dinner.”
“Yah, tess dinnah,” she nodded. “I don’t like dat lady.”
“Don’t worry, she won’t be here the next time you come visit daddy.”
“Daddy poo. He don’t wuv me.”
“Of course daddy loves you. He just forgets to show it sometimes, because he’s a big poo head!”
Brittany giggled and repeated that their dad was a poo head. Terry got her teeth brushed and read her a bedtime story but as soon as he turned off the light and tried to leave she panicked, asking where he was going. He explained for the millionth time that he was going home, and that he’d pick her up in two days but she’d be staying here with poo-daddy. She whimpered in protest and he reminded her to call him if she needed anything. Evan or Joey would help her make the call.”
“What if dey not here?”
“They will be. I’ve told them they have to take care of you.”
“Dey poo bwoders! I take care myself!” she said defiantly.
“That’s right! You’re my big girl and you can handle a couple days with poo-daddy and poo-brothers!”
Terry gave his sister one last kiss and left. Fuck, John was gonna ignore her the whole weekend, wasn’t he? There would be tons of damage control to do when he got Britt back. But it was worth it for a couple days of freedom.
Cerise was really beginning to hate holidays. When she’d been a kid she’d loved Easter, because of the egg hunt. Her mom would hide plastic eggs throughout the house, each one labeled with the name of one of the kids and if they found one of their sisters’ eggs, they would put it back. This was the only way to keep everything fair. But they hadn’t had an egg hunt in years. Now Easter was torture. Sitting at a table eating some sort of vegan concoction of disgustingness, listening to her mother’s boyfriend and his daughter talk about all their idiotic views.
Even though their “lamb” was vegan, Trista had to make a stink about it, saying how it was cruel to eat anything with a face.
“What if it just had an ass?” asked Simone.
“What?” Trista looked at Simone like she’d just farted.
“What if the lamb were genetically engineered so that it didn’t have a head. Just a body. Would you eat it then?”
“No!” she replied in horror as Andre nodded along and Angela sighed heavily.
“But it wouldn’t have a face! It wouldn’t be living. It would just be meat, grown for the purpose of feeding humans. And no animal would ever suffer.”
“It’s not natural! Genetically like, modified foods are like, totally evil!”
“They’re bad for the environment!”
Simone laughed heartily. “Oh my god, you’re such a hypocrite! GM foods have way less impact on the environment than organic! I mean, land mass alone!”
“And like,” Julie piped in. “I love how vegan people are all against like, hurting animals but they’re totally cool with hurting humans. ‘Cause those organic vegetables you like so much aren’t made by a bunch of hippies who do it for the love of the cause. It’s still big business, exploiting immigrants, paying shit wages.”
“You are so ignorant!” insisted Trista. “If you eat locally, like, it’s good. Like, it’s sustainable. We don’t have like, third world workers. We hire like, regular people.”
“Whoa, I think you just said you don’t think people from the developing world are really people. And by the way, third world is an offensive term,” said Simone.
“Let’s also backtrack on the thing about eating so called natural foods. ‘Cause like, no food is natural anymore. Everything we eat has been altered by humans through thousands of years of selective breeding,” noted Julie.
“Oh my god, you guys just like totally don’t get it!” Trista sputtered.
“Can we please just have a pleasant dinner!?” Angela asked in irritation, loudly dropping her fork and pinching her forehead.
Cerise was getting a headache too. Normally she’d find this conversation amusing and would chime in with her own two cents but today she just wasn’t feeling it. All she could do was hope her mom was finally deciding Andre wasn’t worth it.
Jay woke with a start and blinked, looking up at his mother, who hovered above him with a concerned expression on her face. He was lying on the couch in the basement, an X-box controller in his hands. He must have fallen asleep playing his game. Shit, his character was totally dead.
“What?” he tossed the controller aside and rubbed his eyes.
“What’s this?” she gave him a piece of paper.
It was an exam he’d taken in chemistry, which he’d failed. He took it and looked at it, then stared at his mother defiantly, waiting for her to say something else.
“You didn’t do too well,” she clucked.
“How do you expect to get into University with grades like this?”
“I already applied. Does it really matter what happens for the rest of the semester?”
She sighed and looked at him wryly. “Jay, honestly.”
“Mom, seriously? Who cares? God, whatever.”
“Where did you even find this? Were you snooping in my room? Did you go through my stuff? What the hell, Mom!”
“Jason, this is my house! You just live here,” she said condescendingly.
He looked back at her, with just as much condescension. “Seriously, Mom, I don’t get any privacy?”
“Well if we’re paying for your schooling then we get a say in what happens! You know, most of my friends are making their kids take out loans! And get…”
“Ok, Mom! Geez! Just relax, ok!”
She sighed and looked at Jay, touching his hair. He recoiled and swatted her away. “You seem so sad lately,” she said.
“I’m fine, Mom, everything’s fine.”
“Why doesn’t Cerise come by anymore?”
“She’s just busy with her play or whatever.” He’d never told his parents they were dating so at least he didn’t have to go through the agony of telling them about the break-up or subsequent humiliation. He’d told them his nose had broken because of rough-housing with the guys, which they’d had no trouble believing.
His mom nodded and walked upstairs, first asking if he wanted a snack. He said he was fine and got back to his video game. He’d have to play this entire level over again.
Terry’s step-sister Danielle opened the door at Terry’s mom’s house and looked at Terry with blinking eyes, as though seeing a mirage. Then she walked away without a word and announced to the house that Terry was here.
He walked inside and shook off his shoes, then was attacked by his mother with a massive hug and a flood of tears. She kissed his cheeks repeatedly, ranting about how good it was to see him, how handsome he looked, squeezing his arms and clutching his face.
“God, Mom, relax,” he said with a sigh, gently pushing her away.
“You called me Mom!” she exclaimed in elation. “Are you hungry?” she asked, grabbing his hand and dragging him to the kitchen.
“I’m fine, I already ate at dad’s.”
“Oh, you were at your father’s?” Her tone changed and now she was sad.
“I brought Brittany over and stayed for dinner. No big deal.”
“Well, you’re probably still hungry, I can’t imagine he fed you anything decent.”
“I guess I could have desert,” he shrugged.
She happily cut him a generous piece of peach crisp and topped it with a huge scoop of ice cream, then set it in front of him with both a spoon and a fork. He picked up the fork and started eating as she stared at him with a smile. His step-dad poked his head into the kitchen and said hey, then disappeared again, as his mother asked him how things were.
“How’s school? How’s hockey? How’s Cerise?”
“Fine, fine and we broke up.”
“Oh yes, Evan told me. I’m so sorry.”
“Yeah,” he mumbled as he stuffed his face.
“You know you could spend the night,” she smiled. “Your room is still mostly intact. Or you could come by tomorrow and we could go cross country skiing. There’s still enough snow up north. Or we could see a movie. Or just talk.” She stroked his hand and touched his hair and he pulled away. “We miss you so much.”
He wasn’t sure who “we” were supposed to be. He highly doubted his step-siblings were crying themselves to sleep at night due to his absence. “Thanks but that’s ok. I’m pretty busy,” he said, finishing off his food. “Well I’d better go I guess.” He wiped his mouth and stood up.
“But you just got here!” she said in a panic.
“Well I just wanted to drop by, you know,” he shrugged.
She begged and pleaded for him to stay, tugging at his hoodie and he backed away to the front hall, saying he had to get home and had homework and whatnot. He didn’t want to be mean, but she was just so intense, he couldn’t handle it. He supposed it was nice that she cared so much, even though she wasn’t his biological mother, and maybe she’d chill out and become normal again if he visited more often, but to be honest, he didn’t particularly want to see her very often. His dad either. He liked it at Vicky’s. He liked being in charge of his own life.
As he put on his shoes, his mother ran back to the kitchen, insisting he bring some food home, and sneaking in a snarky comment about how he couldn’t possibly be eating properly. He took two huge Tupperware containers and rushed out to his car. Once inside he let out a massive exhalation. Oh well, at least he got some food out of the deal.
Shauna couldn’t sleep. She was afraid to. Even though she’d placed a chair under the doorknob of her bedroom door, she knew what was coming. Sure enough, at around one in the morning, he came. The doorknob turned and when the door wouldn’t open, it shook violently. The door flew open and the chair was knocked to the ground. She held her breath and sat up, clutching the blankets with trembling hands. Malcolm paused, standing in the doorway. They both listened, wondering if the sound of his entry had awakened their father.
After a beat, satisfied that the coast was clear, Shauna’s brother walked into her room.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered before he could say anything.
He ignored her words and put his hand around her neck, squeezing. She tried to gasp for air but couldn’t. “You been going through my shit?” he asked in an angry whisper.
She tried to speak, to deny the claim, but no sound would come. He lifted her up slightly and she grasped onto his arm, telling herself he wouldn’t go too far. He released her and she fell to the bed, gasping for air, her voice raspy as she coughed. He punched her in the stomach and her body folded. More gasping.
“Stay the fuck out of my shit. And if you tattle on me again I’ll fucking stick a knife in your cunt and slice you up to your tits.”
An instant later he was gone. She lay there for a while, trying to catch her breath. Eventually she did and she staggered to the bathroom, where she drank water directly from the tap. She hobbled back to her room, her body folded over as she clutched her mid-section. The pain was so intense, how would she ever fall asleep? She wanted to sneak into her mother’s bathroom to steal some of her pills, but she knew her mother kept very close tabs on how many were in the bottle at any given time. She settled for a few Advils and went to bed.
Maybe it would have been better if her father had found something in Malcolm’s room. Then maybe Malcolm would have been kicked out or something and things would be safer for Shauna. But then again, if her brother were gone, maybe her father’s wrath would turn to Shauna completely. She wondered how bad it had been for Malcolm when she’d been living with Stan. Pretty bad she hoped.