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Authors: Rosie Somers

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BOOK: Because I'm Disposable
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Chapter Nine

The opulence inside Link’s house
made me feel like an outsider the moment I stepped in. Everything was pristine, shiny, and new, from the dark wood floor to the perfectly level picture frames lined precisely along the foyer wall. A console table on the opposite wall was topped with an antiquated, stained-glass lamp and backed by a large mirror with a scrollwork frame. No dust on the table top, no smudges on the mirror.

The dark banister bracing the path up the stairs was buffed to a sheen and wasn’t missing a single bright, white spindle. The steps themselves weren’t even scuffed from foot traffic. If I’d known Link’s house was so nice, I might not have let him into mine, with its poor-man’s wear and tear, threadbare carpet, and Goodwill curtains.

“Callie, how sweet of you to come!” Link’s mother swept into the room like something straight out of Elegant Home magazine, in grey slacks and a fitted, purple blouse so crisp it could have been pressed five minutes ago. Her dark hair was pulled back in a sleek bun, and a double strand of pearls hung from her slender neck. Matching pearls sat on each of her earlobes. Her makeup was as pristine and fresh as her house. Even her patent leather peep-toes looked freshly shined.

Mrs. Devaux was everything my mother wasn’t.

“Thank you for having me,” I mumbled at the floor. I was suddenly sorely underdressed in my blue jeans and black hoodie.

“No one else is here yet. Come on, I’ll show you my room.” Link placed a hand at the small of my back and gently urged me toward the stairs. I couldn’t climb them fast enough.

Link’s bedroom was exactly what I would have expected. Well, maybe a tiny bit tidier than I would expect of a sixteen-year-old boy. It was sparsely furnished, with a dresser-mirror-combo and a desk along the wall next to the door and a big bed pressed into the far corner. And the bed was made—which was more than I could say of my own room—with a blue and green plaid comforter laid out over it. A bean bag chair and a storage trunk were parked at the foot of the bed.

Dark blue curtains blocked any natural light filtering in through the windows, but the desk lamp was on to make up for the lack. Link entered first, crossing the room and sitting on the edge of his bed. Was he hoping I would join him?

My stomach immediately knotted like a pretzel. There was something too intimate about the idea of sitting next to Link on his bed. So instead, I moved to his dresser and examined the personal items there: a comb, bottle of cologne, worn leather wallet, smartphone, and a silver ashtray filled with loose change instead of cigarette butts and topped with a set of car keys. I looped my index finger through the key ring and lifted. I dangled the keys, turning them over, looking them over, then set it back down.

In the back corner, behind everything else, was a small, framed picture of Link and his family. I picked it up to examine it closer. His parents were seated together, hugging, looking so in love. Link stood behind his mother, and his sister
, Lisa, was behind Mr. Devaux. They were relaxed, with a natural happiness about them. Mr. Devaux had probably never raised a hand to either of his children, ever.

“You’ve never asked me why I tried to kill myself.” I set the picture back down on his dresser and made eye contact with his reflection.

“It’s never come up.” He met my gaze dead on, but his expression was unreadable.

“You’re not even curious?”

Still no reaction. The boy would make a killing at poker. Finally, he asked, “Do you want me to know?”

My stomach flipped. I might not be able to tell what he was thinking, but he apparently could read me like a book. I sighed and continued my slow perusal of his room. When I finished with the dresser, I moved to the desk, cluttered wit
h homework and random papers—so typically teenage. Just like the rest of his room. With my back still to Link, I worked up the nerve to tell the one secret I’d sworn I would never give voice to. “I’m glad he’s gone.”

“And that bothers you.” He wasn’t asking.

I nodded.

“It doesn’t make you a bad person,” he told me with certainty. “I can’t even begin to imagine what life was like with him, Callie. But, if it’s half as bad as I think it was, I can’t imagine you’d feel much other than relief.”

“Jackie Forrester has been telling people I killed him.” I turned to face Link. He might as well have been a statue, perched on the corner of his bed, watching me with a blank expression.

“Jackie Forrester is an idiot.”

“You don’t think I did it?” I suddenly wanted more than anything for Link to believe in me.

“No.” He stood and closed the distance between us, not stopping until we were almost pressed together. He set his palms on the desk behind me and leaned so close his breath brushed my forehead. “I know you didn’t do it.”

“How?” The word was a whisper between us.

“Because I know you.”

"Oh."

His lips settled on mine.

I’d anticipated the contact, but I wasn’t prepared for the shiver of exhilaration that stole down my spine. His kiss was gentle, gliding over me like the softest rain, leaving my skin prickled with gooseflesh and highly sensitive. My whole body tingled like when I rubbed my socks on the carpeting to collect static electricity—right before the shock.

Then Link raised one hand to caress my neck, and I would have sworn I could feel the touch before it happened. The hair on the back of my neck was standing on end, and I was having trouble focusing on anything except his hand on my skin, his lips on my lips, his body pressing delicately against mine.

But this kiss wasn’t like our first one. That one had been filled with nervous energy and tempered by uncertainty. This was sure, exploratory, and oh so sweet. I never wanted it to end.

Link nipped my bottom lip and pulled away. He looked down at me with heavy-lidded eyes for several panted breaths.
I was a prisoner in his gaze—I couldn’t have moved if I’d wanted to. I didn’t want to.

As if timed, a knock sounded on Link’s bedroom door. “Lincoln, everyone is here. Why don’t you bring Callie out and introduce her?” his mother called.

Link ran his thumb over my jawline, then backed away on a heavy exhale. “We should go downstairs.”

“Yeah,” I told him, though inside I was terrified to meet his family. His wholesome, functional, loving family. Would they be able to tell by looking at me how different my family was? Link claimed my hand, and like an obedient puppy, I let him lead me downstairs to the living room.

* * * * *

Link’s entire family were quite likely the sweetest people I had ever met.
Well, except for grumpy Uncle Charlie who sat in the corner trying to tune everyone out while he watched the game on TV.

Link's family joked and
laughed. And they hugged. They hugged to say hello; they hugged to say goodbye—they even hugged just because they were standing next to one another while singing Happy Birthday to Link. I couldn’t remember the last time anyone in my family had hugged—unless I counted the nights when Corrine cuddled up to me to comfort me after a beating.

“So, Callie, how long have you and Link known each other?” Link’s Aunt Margaret scooted closer to me on the couch as we watched Link open what might be the ugliest sweater I’d ever seen.

“Oh, uh, well we’ve known each other since my family moved in across the street when we were in Kindergarten.” I pointed in the general direction of my house. “But we weren’t really close until recently.”

Aunt Margaret’s blonde eyebrows shot up, disappearing behind her feathered bangs. “I thought from the way Lincoln talks about you that you’d been friends for much longer.”

I shrugged. Link talked about me to his family? I wasn’t sure if the idea of him telling them about me was flattering or terrifying. At least I could be certain he wouldn’t tell anyone about my father. Would he?

Right then, he was modeling that ugly, dark red sweater his Grandma Devaux had knitted for him. He was all sweetness and smiles
out of consideration for his grandmother's feelings, though I was certain that inside he was cringing at the thought of wearing that maroon monstrosity out of the house. When his eyes met mine, they twinkled like we were sharing some private joke. Yes, he would keep my secrets forever if I asked him to.

 

Chapter Ten

I got to the bus stop early the next morning.
Only Travis Kneely was there, huddled into a black coat, his usual backwards baseball cap covering his military-short, dark hair. He ignored me, instead keeping his attention narrowed on his phone. I preferred it when people didn’t acknowledge me. Being the center of attention was strange after so many years of trying to go unnoticed, trying to fly below the radar so no one would notice my latest bruises.

I sat in my usual spot under Mrs. Morisee’s little palm tree and settled my backpack next to me. Slowly, like prisoners headed to their execution, the neighborhood kids started to trickle up to the stop. Aaron Kneely sulked his way across the road from his house and took up position near his
brother. Their coats matched—obviously they hadn’t picked them out. No self-respecting teenage boy chose to match his brother.

A few minutes later, Jerome Smith sauntered into the yard, ever-present football tucked under his arm. At least today, he’d dressed the part of a football-obsessed jock in a grey and blue Coyotes jersey. Corrine tagged along behind him, taking swift, ginger steps in her sky-high heels. She was trying to keep up with him. I’d never noticed until just then how much time Corrine tried to spend near or with Jerome. Was she into him? His sports-fanatic persona was an acute contrast to the girly-girl affectation she’d perfected and slipped into place the minute she stepped out the front door of our house every morning.

When she spotted me, Corrine sent one last longing look in Jerome’s direction and joined me on the grass. “You didn’t wait for me this morning.” She sounded hurt.

“It was stuffy in the house. I wanted some fresh air.” I wasn’t about to tell her the real reason I’d left her behind was because I’d woken at 4:30 that morning from a terrifying dream of her purposely pissing our father off so he would hurt me. When I’d woken, the inside of my lip had been bleeding from biting down on it in my sleep. I’d counted down the minutes until I could believably leave for the bus stop without looking like I was trying to escape the house.

Corrine let the subject drop, choosing instead to watch Jerome engage Travis in an impromptu, friendly wrestling match. I ignored them to focus on Link’s house. Would he be coming out soon? I was on edge with the anticipation of seeing him again after last night’s kiss.

A century later, he emerged from his front porch. He was tightly bundled in an orange sweatshirt and covered by a hood, but I knew it was him. I knew him well, the way he clutched his
backpack, the way he moved—a firm juxtaposition of grace and masculinity in every step. When had I become so acutely aware of Lincoln Devaux?

He didn’t head our way. Instead, he headed straight down his driveway toward a faded white pickup truck parked on the street. He got into the driver’s seat and the engine rumbled to life. He was driving to school. Disappointment sliced through me, and I slumped down, folding into myself as best I could. I hugged my knees to my chest and focused on the faint color variations in my dark denim jeans. The truck’s engine was a low growl, growing louder as it headed toward us and stopped at the corner, preparing to turn onto the only road out of the neighborhood.

But he didn’t make that turn. “Hey, Callie, want a ride?” He called through his open window. Did I want a ride? I’d never wanted to be anywhere more than I wanted to be in Link’s truck with him right then. I was on my feet and headed for the road in seconds.

“See ya at school, Cori.” I threw the words over my shoulder as I rounded the front of the vehicle and reached for the passenger door handle. I climbed in, settling my backpack at my feet, and we were off.

“Whose car is this?” I ran tentative fingers across the faded gray dash.

Link didn’t take his eyes off the road when he answered. “It was my
uncle’s before he died. My parents bought it from Aunt Margaret and gave it to me for my birthday.”

We fell into a comfortable silence as Link concentrated on navigating the pre-morning-rush-hour streets and I focused on the passing scenery. Finally he said, “
Now that I'm driving to school, I could start driving you. You know… if you wanted.”

I waited several seconds before answering so as not to sound too eager. “Yeah, that’d be cool. Beats the bus.”

Link nodded, and I went back to staring out my window. The trip to school was short, a mere fraction of the half-hour trip I was used to. I almost missed the lengthy bus rides next to Link. But, at least we’d traded time for privacy.

*
* * * *

“Hey, let’s skip today.” Mona swooped in to grab my arm right before I entered the math wing. I looked from her to the hallway where my class was, and back again. If I were honest with myself, I would’ve admitted that the only reason I really attended school anymore was because Link was in my first period. And that class was over. Math was so boring, and Mona was so interesting. Today, her hair was in glossy black pigtails, with rockabilly bangs. With her hair pulled away from her neck like that, I spotted a small spider web tattoo behind her left ear. She was wearing a fire-red slip dress with a black shrug and boots to her thighs. Her heels were so high she towered over me.

“You mean like in the bathroom again?” I wasn’t sure how I felt about the idea of taking another crack at smoking a cigarette. My lungs might implode. “Uh, sure.”

Mona waved an unwrapped lollipop in the air. “Oh, no. Not here. We’re going to my boyfriend’s house.” She stuck the lollipop in her mouth, looped her arm through mine, and led me toward the bus circle, which was sure to be empty this time of day. Every few steps, I snuck peek over my shoulder to make sure none of the teachers or administrators were in sight.

“Stop!” Mona whispered without breaking stride. “Don’t look suspicious, or we’ll get caught.” I took her admonishment to heart and did my best to look confident, like I was supposed to be walking off campus at 8:45 in the morning.

By the time we made it off school property and out of sight around the corner, I was a bundle of nerves. I was so edgy, I just about jumped out of my boots when Mona
unlooped our arms and set her hand on my shoulder.

“Over there.” She pointed across the street to a weather-beaten Cavalier that had probably been silver at some point, but was now a mottled gray. I changed direction. As we neared, the sound of a rumbling engine greeted us. The car was running, and someone was in the driver’s seat.

Mona pulled the door open and bent to lever the seat forward so I could climb into the back. Thank goodness I was small. Getting into the car was awkward even at my size, and I was glad I’d worn jeans to school that morning instead of the skirt I’d been considering.

I wasn’t even fully settled when Mona slammed the seat back into place and dropped into the car like she’d spent years perfecting the move. I experienced a momentary twinge of envy that I wasn’t that graceful, but shrugged it away and focused on our getaway driver.

He was tall, with slicked-forward hair and a gold stud in his ear. His white T-shirt was crisp and bright, like it was brand new, and his jeans were tight and stylishly distressed. A thick, gold chain circled his neck and disappeared beneath the neckline of his tee.

He turned to Mona. “It’s about time! I started to think you got caught!” His voice was surprisingly effeminate. Then, he looked at me through the rearview mirror and smiled. “Hi, I’m Garrett.”

“Callie,” I replied and shifted uncomfortably under his attention.

“Oh, I know. Mona has been going on about you nonstop.” He moved his gaze to the road and put the car in gear.

I turned to watch the passing scenery as we rolled out of the neighborhood surrounding Ridgecrest High and out onto the main highway. Mona and Garrett chatted like old pals, but I didn’t know most of the people they talked about. I tuned them out and focused on the blur of buildings outside.

I zoned out for the entirety of the drive, and when we finally turned off into a residential neighborhood, I had no idea how long we’d been in the car or even what part of town we were in, except that it was a nice one
, probably out near the beaches.

We parked in a brick-paved, circle driveway in front of a house so big three of mine would probably fit inside it. It was four levels high with a double flight of stone steps leading up to the second story front door. Huge, shiny windows yawned down at me from every angle. The backyard wasn’t visible, but I’d bet all my thefted money that it had a water view with a dock.

I got out of the car after Garrett and Mona and followed them up to the front door. Mona ignored the doorbell and strolled right in like she lived there. Garrett shot me a sheepish smile and shrugged, then followed her in. I shut the door softly behind me as soon as I was inside.

The entryway was decorated like I would have imagined a Grecian palace to be, white marble floors with grey veining, large stone columns on either side of the archway leading into the rest of the house, even an armless bust of a woman sitting atop a hip-high pillar in the corner. Mona’s inconceivably high boots clicked on the floor, the sound echoing off the walls as she flounced into the home.

On the other side of the columned archway, a large greatroom with an open kitchen and breakfast nook took up most of this floor. Through another, wider arch to my right was an oversized dining table. The living room housed very little furniture, a sofa, two arm chairs and a set of cocktail tables. Other than a large TV mounted above the fireplace and a three-piece canvas painting of a sunset behind the sofa, the walls were bare.

“Seth’s probably in his room. I’ll be right back.” Almost before she’d finished the sentence, Mona was halfway up the stairs. Garrett flopped onto the couch, already with remote in hand and began a channel crawl. I stood awkwardly in the center of the room for a few minutes, waiting for Mona to be ‘right back’, but it soon became clear we had differing opinions on what that actually meant. I sat gingerly on the opposite end of the sofa from Garrett.

Half an hour later, Mona flitted back into the room, dragging a sleepy, shirtless older boy behind her. His black hair was longer than mine had been before I chopped it off, and was tied back into a crude man-tail at the base of his neck. He was slender and vampire pale, and the smooth lines of his chiseled chest narrowed into a V and disappeared under pants so low slung it was almost indecent. I averted my eyes nervously.

Mona and Vampire Ken settled in an armchair, her body draped intimately over his. She tossed a baggie at Garrett, and he caught it with ease. When he dropped to his knees in front of the coffee table, I realized what we were there for. Garrett turned the bag upside down and dumped the contents onto the table. A handful of dark, leafy, green-brown clumps dumped onto the glass top, and Garrett began picking through it, sorting out tiny seeds and even tinier stems, then separating the clumps into smaller portions.

My eyes must have bugged out of my head, because Seth announced, “Don’t worry, my parents won’t be home for hours.”

I hadn’t even considered the fact that he had parents. Sure, he was too young to have such a kicking house, but he’d come across as so adult.

“You ever smoked out before?” Seth had me locked in his crystal blue gaze.

Weed. I’d never seen marijuana up close before; I wasn’t sure how to react.

I must have been so transparent, probably looked so out of my element. I wanted to lie to him, to tell him yes, but couldn’t summon the words. I shook my head.

Garrett obviously had, though. He expertly separated the seeds from the pot and shredded the goods. Then, he pulled out a pack of rolling papers and smoothed one small square out on the tabletop.
The joint he produced with quick, deft movements was flawless—not that I would have recognized a sloppy one if he’d held that up instead.

“Who wants to do the honors?” Garrett asked no one in particular.

“Pass it over, man.” Seth held out his hand, and Garrett practically split his pants in his haste to comply. Instead of sticking it into his own mouth though, Seth set the joint between Mona’s lips. With one flick of a lighter he procured from the table next to him, he lit the weed.

Mona sucked so hard I thought her face was going to cave in. I had no idea anyone’s lungs could hold so much. Finally, she pulled the joint from her mouth and pressed her lips tight to Seth’s. She exhaled as he pulled in a breath, and they parted on shaky, smoky air. She held the burning paper out to Garrett, who was on it in a heartbeat.

I watched carefully as Garrett lifted it and sucked much the same way Mona had. My turn was next, and I wanted to do this right. When Garrett passed to me, I accepted, pinching the joint between my thumb and forefinger the way he and Mona both had. I prayed the smoke didn’t immediately fry my lungs like my first cigarette.

BOOK: Because I'm Disposable
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