Authors: Alivia Anderson
Tags: #Coming of Age, #mormon, #LDS, #lds romance, #inspiration and romance, #lds teen
Trina stared at me, an uncomfortable stare.
“What do you care, City?”
I shrugged. “I guess I don’t.”
Trina continued to stare.
“I-it’s just everyone treats her like . . .
like . . .”
Trina shifted her focus to Grace. “She has
the same thing my mom had.”
I cleared my throat.
Trina flung her gaze back. “It’s called HD or
Huntington’s disease. It’s a neurodegenerative disorder that
affects your muscles…and your brain.”
I thought of a documentary I’d stayed up
watching with my father one night. I hadn’t even really been
watching it—I just remembered wanting to hang out with him and eat
Trina let out a half snort. “I will tell you
she used be part of them.” She gestured to the football table. “And
her brother’s like this Trojan Warrior golden child that
“Worships.” I filled in for her as I watched
Zac shove a ginormous sandwich into his mouth.
“Well, someone does.”
I didn’t look at her. “Shut it.”
Trina tapped the edge of the table. “It’s
typical of that type—the way they all ignore it, the way they try
to pretend she doesn’t have what she has. It makes me sick.”
I looked over at her.
“And—her name—it just makes it even
I walked into the office after school. “I’m
here for my work program.”
Minnie whipped a plastic baggy under her desk
as though I’d caught her doing something wrong. “Oh, you.” She
stood and spit something into the plastic bag.
Confused, I tried to get a closer look.
She dropped the bag into the trash. Her eyes took on a vicious
gleam. “What’s your problem? You’ve never seen anyone on a
before?” She tugged on the bottom edge of her shirt and
moved to the closet corner door. “Right, you’re the kind that’s
a diet. Probably never weighed more than two
slices of wheat bread minus the butter. Who cares about you anyway?
First you start a fire and then you offer to help out on the farm.
What's your angle?"
I winced. She acted like offering to help had
been a bad thing. "I don't have an angle."
Minnie huffed and opened the tiny closet. She
pulled out an orange jump suit and a trash bag. “Yeah, we’re onto
you. Don’t think we can’t see all the smoke and mirrors. You’re
just trying to act the part so people will feel bad for you. Well
we don’t, Fire Girl.”
The way she said it, with that same tone,
fury lit through me and threatened to scald anyone in its path. He
told them. Mr. Student Body President, laughing it up with the
expense. Mr. Quarterback, who let his
dying sister sit all by herself. Mr. Jerkface, that
had nothing better to do than sit around and make
up stupid nicknames.
Minnie gulped back a laugh and her face
turned conspiratorial. “That’s right. Zac told us what he calls
you.” She slapped her leg and shoved the jumpsuit and trash bag
over the counter. “Shirley and I thought it was hilarious. If truth
be told, I should thank you. I haven’t gotten along with Shirley my
whole life and we’ve been laughing about that little nickname all
I seethed. I boiled. I yearned to strike out.
I took a slow breath. “Glad I could be the thing that unites both
A sly smile formed on her lips. “And if you
don’t want that name whispered in
ear in this entire
school, you won’t be telling
what you saw just a few
“Spitting into the bag?” I blurted it out.
“That’s why you’re acting so crazy?”
“I eat it and then I spit it, that’s how I’m
going to lose the weight, okay? And I don’t need some high-faluting
big city girl—”
Big city girl?
“—coming in here and threatening to expose
me. Got it?” She shoved a finger right below my nose.
“Ouch!” I flinched back. “Do they give
classes on how to injure through poking in this town?”
She folded her arms. “Remember, I’m watching
I yanked back the office door and stalked
down the hallway. “Seriously.”
Out of nowhere a massive red chest slammed
.” The white numbers on his
uniform stared back at me.
The person I wanted to kill had conveniently
appeared in front of me, as if conjured from a nightmare. “Excuse
?” The words stumbled out, and my breath
caught inside my chest. “You jerk.”
It wasn’t my best insult ever.
The side of his scarred lip turned up.
“Really? You should stop with the witty verbal banter.”
I couldn’t think. “Jerk, jerk, jerk.”
His eyebrows spiked. “Look, I don’t care what
you think of me, but we need to talk about the project for Ms.
He would think I would do a stupid project
with him? “Right. I’ll get right on that.” I moved around him.
He blocked my path. “We’ll meet this weekend
and hammer out the details.”
I didn't think before I shoved him in the
Zac looked down as though he was Ironman and
I was just a simple human. His lips curled into that superior Tony
Stark smile. “It might be easier to ask me to move. Well, unless
you have a lighter that is.”
The words were out before I could stop them.
“Just go die.”
Zac pushed his face into mine and gritted his
teeth. “Nothing I haven’t wished for myself.”
I glared back at him all jittery and ready to
Zac leaned back and crossed his arms. “Ya
know, Fire Girl, if I had tried to burn the school down and then
given my grandfather a heart attack, I may be just as angry as you.
So, I’ll give you a pass and just call it what crazy does.” He made
a circular motion around the side of his head.
My temper flared exponentially. “Crazy? I’m
Zac's eyes narrowed. "Do I have to repeat
The embers smoldered inside my chest.
We faced off, two focused balls of anger.
Zac let out a mock laugh and backed away.
"Unlike you, I've got places to be." He nodded at the uniform in my
hand. "Oh, but I guess criminals always have places to be, my
I wanted him to feel pain. “Well, I may be
crazy, but you’re just the jerk that ignores his dying sister.”
The moment went slow and sticky, our eyes
locked into some sort of ancient battle between men and women
throughout the centuries. I could feel the heat radiating off him
from under his large, padded uniform. I had, finally, ticked him
My own anger prevailed, unsticking
everything. “She sits by herself. She eats by herself. She has
. It’s like . . . it’s like you all don’t even see
“That’s enough.” Minnie shuffled out of the
office. She made a shooing motion at me like I was some undesirable
insect. “You just go on and get to work. Stay out of things you
don’t belong in, girl.”
I clenched my fists. She had
left out the fire part.
I looked back at Zac.
His whole face had frozen into a stony
I stalked into the girls’ locker room and
threw everything onto a bench. It didn’t make sense. I stared in
the mirror attached to the cement wall. My hair had gone wild, the
top hairs rising with electricity. The black under my eyes looked
wider and deeper. I looked crazy. He had completely undone me. I
reached for the jumpsuit and threw it on the floor. What was
happening to me?
“Madds!” Chance’s voice called out from the
door of the locker room.
Just the person I needed to see. Chance would
him. Send him to the hospital
. He wouldn’t take somebody insulting
I rushed out of the locker room and came up
short. His outraged look surprised me. “Hey.”
Chance had the nostril flare going on. “I
can’t believe it.”
“I know, right?” I really didn’t want him to
get in trouble for kicking Zac to kingdom come. I didn’t want him
to get kicked off the team or anything. “Don’t hurt him too bad,
okay. I wouldn’t want—”
Chance slammed his fist into a locker. “Is it
Whoa. This kind of rage took me aback.
“Chance, calm down.”
He shook his head. “Did you really attack
The horse stall stunk. I heaved a load of
crap out. The smell could be described as something like—I’d been
informed that I couldn’t say that word. What had I been thinking
when I’d volunteered to do this? I couldn’t do this. I couldn’t
stay in this stupid town. It wouldn’t work.
Grandpa glanced up from his pocket knife nail
cleaning. “Where’s Chance? I need to talk to that boy about
cleaning up the gravel all over my grass. Every time he drives that
heap in here it kicks up junk.”
Chance had brooded the whole way home, not
even acknowledging my explanation. “I have no idea.”
“You two in a fight?”
I hefted another piece of crap out of the
stall. Technically, we weren’t talking. It blatantly showed how
much he appreciated me being here. “No.”
“Oh, I think Bill said they would be doing
the burn tonight at the south pasture.”
I paused. Grandpa’s face was still slightly
pale. The worst part was the fact Grandma had stuffed him like a
scare crow, layers of flannel jackets puffed around him.
He didn’t notice my pause. “It’s important to
take proper safety precautions when you’re doing a burn. Yep, it
gets out of hand before you can say one, two, I’ll tell ya.”
“Why are you out here? You’re supposed to be
resting. I can muck stalls. I know how to do that.”
Grandpa frowned and didn’t acknowledge my
criticism. “Ya always need at least two people for the burn. One to
keep a handle on the proper safety precautions.”
I kept watching him. My heart constricted. My
dad shared so many of the same features as Grandpa.
Grandpa stopped his narrative. “What?”
“Nothing.” I went into the next stall. I
couldn’t do that. I couldn’t allow myself to think those kinds of
Grandpa let out a snort. “See, if I wasn’t
sitting right here you wouldn’t stay on task. Young kids don’t know
the meaning of hard work these days. Nope. When I was knee high to
a grass hopper I was helping my dad milk cows, muck out stalls, and
near everything you’re going to learn in the next couple of weeks
under my tutelage. And we didn’t quit until the work was done.”
I tried to block him out, but the more I
tried, the more Zac’s face kept popping into my head. I heaved the
pitch fork into the hay as fast and as hard as I could, going along
the edges of the stall and working my way toward the opening. My
“And the summer of eighty-four was a
particularly hard summer. The drought was something awful and the
smoke from the fires up in the north canyon burnt the insides of my
lungs something fierce.”
I pulled out my phone. Aunt Sylvie’s number.
I stuffed it back into my pocket.
“Hey,” Grandpa grunted loudly from his spot,
“I don’t hear mucking.”
I put my phone away and resumed the work,
grateful that I had a reason I couldn’t think about Aunt
“And young kids don’t know the meaning of
struggle anymore. They think life is supposed to be cotton candy
and popsicles all the time.”
“Maddie!” Grandma’s voice sounded from the
house. I remembered when I would play with Chance and she would
call us for dinner.
Grandpa’s pontificating stopped. “You better
go and see what she wants.”
“And you better hurry.”
I propped the pitchfork against the wall and
jogged out of the barn.
Grandma stood on the back porch, she waved
her hand back and forth, a red bandana wrapped around her head.
I jogged across the gravel and flung open the
“Your aunt’s on the phone.”
I stopped jogging.
“Maddie?” Grandma covered the phone. “She
says she’s been trying to call you.”
Worry coursed through me, the worry that I
wouldn’t get away before she hauled me back there.
“Are you okay?” Grandma scowled. “Your face
is white as a sheet.”
“Maddie, you know she’s your legal guardian.
She is responsible for making sure you are okay. The judge
expressly released you into our custody because she recommended
I turned back for the stalls. “I can’t talk
"Maddie." Grandma insisted.
I flew back around."You tell her she had a
year to talk to me. A whole year to do something more than just
drop me off at a therapist--and then trick me into the hospital." I
dug my heels into the gravel. "I'm done with her."
After dinner, helping get Grandpa settled
into his chair, and a long shower, I lay on the purple duvet and
tried to think of a time I felt so completely exhausted.
Grandma walked into my room and went
immediately for the small curtains that covered the tiny fire
hazard windows. She closed them. “I need your help, Sweetie.”
“Really?” All I really, really, really wanted
to do was go to sleep.
“I need to take a meal in to some people. I
usually do some light cleaning for them.”
“They aren’t going to expect you. Grandpa
just got home from the hospital.”
“Sweetie, it doesn’t take much to look around
and discover that there are a lot of people worse off than we are,
and I will tell you that when you serve others, your problems seem
smaller. It makes you feel better, too.So, what do you say? Don’t
you want to feel better?”
The beige paint cracked off the stucco. One
of the front shutters hung crookedly, giving the impression the
house had been abandoned at some point. The yard, while recently
mowed, held various toys and bikes and some overly large junk on
the sides around the wrap around deck. I thought of my father. No
matter where we’d lived Dad had always been meticulous about
keeping the house in order. The familiar tightness slipped into my
chest and I tried to push it away. I had found this part, the part
where some seemingly insignificant memory could reach inside me and
spark a maelstrom of pain, the worst part of death.