Authors: Amy Sparling
Copyright © 2016 Amy Sparling
All rights reserved.
First Edition July 2016
Cover design by Beetiful Book Covers
Typography from FontSquirrel.com
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems -except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews-without permission in writing from the author at [email protected]
This book is a work of fiction. The characters, events, and places portrayed in this book are products of the author’s imagination and are either fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.
Table of Contents
Spring Break is a double edged sword. On the one side, you get out of school for a total of nine days. Nine glorious days of sleeping as late as you want, wearing whatever you want, and spending time with family. Okay, most teenagers might not put the family part in the Spring Break Pros column, but I’m not like most teenagers. My little sisters, Emma and Starla, are my favorite people in the world. Emma starts kindergarten this year and Starla just turned two, so they’re still young and adorable and generally, the best.
The downside of Spring Break? It’s only a week to do all of those things. Then it’s back to school for me, back to daycare for them, and the nightmare that is my life goes on as regularly scheduled.
Mom doesn’t get a Spring Break. Vacations—paid or otherwise—aren’t exactly in the Savings Mart vocabulary. The multi-million-dollar chain of grocery stories prefers to work their employees day in and day out, for very little pay and even less respect.
I take a deep breath and let my head rest against the window of school bus number forty-three. It’s Friday, school is out, and I’m almost home. I don’t know why I feel so bummed about life right now.
Spring Break . . . rah rah . . . woohoo.
Maybe it’s because, no matter what Mom says about promising to give us a better life, I know it’ll never happen. Maybe it’s because we’ve spent four whole months here in Louetta, Texas and I haven’t made a single friend. Unless I count Jacoby Anderson.
And I don’t count Jacoby Anderson.
Ugh. We hit a pothole and my head bangs against the glass, making me wince. I sit up, then slouch down until my knees rest against the back of the seat in front of me. Jacoby is the only guy who’s noticed me here at Robert Cullen High School, and I have a pretty good idea that because of him, no other guy has noticed me since then.
We’d moved here just before Christmas because Mom finally got moved up to the top spot on the waiting list for our trailer house. The only rental within fifty miles of a Savings Mart that was only five hundred dollars a month rent. So we got the trailer, Mom rejoiced in cheaper bills, and I got to start at a new school.
Jacoby was in the office for disciplinary reasons, not that I knew it at the time, when I walked in on that first day to get my schedule. He offered to show me around, and he was cute—tall, dark skin and mesmerizing eyes—so of course I happily let him make me fifteen minutes late to first period because he was showing me around.
He asked me on a date that day, and I’d accepted. We went to the town’s Christmas Festival of Lights, which is where they decorated the hell out of a park and made a super pretty and romantic pathway of lights to walk around while sipping hot chocolate.
I couldn’t let him see where I lived, so I talked him into letting me meet him there.
It was a three mile walk in the cold, but it was worth it to shield him from the realities of my dirt poor life. We’d had a blast at first. He bought me hot chocolate and slung his arm around my shoulders while we walked. Everything was going pretty decent as far as first dates go, when I tripped over a wooden bridge and sprained my ankle.
There was no way I could walk home with my ankle swollen to the size of a softball. I had no choice. I had to let him drive me home.
I cringe just thinking of the memory.
I still remember the scowl on his face when I directed him to turn into the driveway that led to Quality Mobile Home Park—an epic offense of false advertising if you ask me. Immediately he was turned off of me in every aspect. I could just tell. But it only got worse when I told him which trailer was mine. Number four, the singlewide with faded paint and a sagging roof. There’s also a piece of plywood covering a hole in the living room floor, that our landlord installed buy duct taping around the edges to keep the roaches out, but Jacoby didn’t need to know that. He was already grossed out enough.
“Please tell me you don’t live here,” he said.
“It’s just temporary.” Not exactly the truth, but it wasn’t a lie either. We never stayed anywhere very long. Mom was always looking for cheaper rent.
He turned to me, lip cocked in disgust. “You know this is the pedophile house, right?”
I couldn’t even feel the pain in my ankle anymore. I was so horrified that nothing else mattered. “No pedophiles live in my house, Jacoby. It’s just my mom, my sisters, and me.”
“No, he used to,” he said. “It was on the news about a month ago. They busted this gross ass trashy man who had, like, kidnapped kids and shit. He was already a sex offender but the trailer park let him move in anyway because there’s no schools around. Didn’t you know that?”
I didn’t know that. It never occurred to me to Google the address of wherever we were moving to. My stomach turned. “Well, no disgusting people live there now,” I said.
“But how could you live in a trailer where kids were molested? That’s just gross, Maddie.”
I didn’t really have an answer for him. After I’d gone inside and watched him back out of the driveway, tires peeling out onto the road like he couldn’t get out of there fast enough, I never talked to him again. I barely even saw him at school, and our school isn’t that big. It’s like he decided I was the plague and found a way to inoculate himself against me.
The worst part? Mom didn’t even care that we were living in a pedophile’s old house. She just rolled her eyes and said he’s in jail now and the house has been cleaned, so who cares?
I get off the bus when it stops on Market Street. Technically this is the stop for everyone who lives in an apartment complex right across the road, but I walk the extra half a mile home each day just so none of these idiots on my bus know where I live. I don’t know why I even care. It’s not like they talk to me.
Plus, I’m pretty sure the two stoners who sit in the back live in the same trailer park that I do, and they definitely don’t care what people think of them.
The letters B and M are written on the inside of my list, a note I made this morning while I was getting the girls ready for daycare. Bread and Milk. We’re out of both, and staples are just about the only thing my family eats each day.
Two weeks ago, Mom came home with a 12-count box of Pop Tarts that had been crushed by a fork lift in the back of the store, and we all ate like freaking kings. Sugary, processed, name brand foods? It might as well have been Christmas.
I walk down Market Street to the gas station on the corner. Weird as it sounds, this place has the cheapest bread and milk, even cheaper than at Savings Mart. I grab one of each and take them to the register, where a woman who looks more like an old boxer than a lady rings me up.
“Four seventy-two, darlin’.”
I swipe the debit card I share with Mom. The machine beeps twice, this low and aggravating sound that totally gives it away, like it’s shouting THIS PERSON IS POOR to everyone in the freaking store.
“It’s declined, honey. You got another card?”
No I don’t have another card. I’m seventeen, and Mom’s credit is so shot even loan sharks won’t lend her a dime. This bank account is all we have.
“Um, I don’t think so.” Heat rushes to my cheeks. Nothing is worse than having your card declined in a store. Except maybe being told you live in a pedophile house by a really cute guy.
“Sorry, can you just cancel it?” I say, my throat dry. “I’ll go put them back on the shelf.”
The cashier, Judy according to her name tag, gives me this tight-lipped frown, which makes her wrinkly face even more wrinkly.
“You come in here a lot,” she says, eyeing me.
“Yes, ma’am?” I say, not sure if I’m supposed to answer that.
“You always buy bread and milk.” Again, not really a question, but I feel compelled to reply.
I lift my shoulders. “This store is the cheapest for those things.”
“The boss thinks low grocery prices will bring in more people who blow all their money on lottery tickets,” she says with a nod. “I think it works.”
A guy walks up behind me now, a case of beer and a pack of peanuts in his hands. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do now. I can’t pay, I’m trying to leave, but she won’t stop talking to me.
My heart speeds up, and then Judy reaches under the counter and opens an old wallet. She takes out a five-dollar bill and then punches it into the cash register.
“It’s on me today, kiddo. You have a good day.”
“Really? Um, wow thanks.” I’m mumbling, but Judy’s creased lips turn up in a smile.
“You can pay it forward some day when you’re able.”
“I will, thank you,” I say, grabbing the bags and giving her my most grateful smile. It feels wrong and a little icky to accept a stranger’s money like that, but there was a guy standing behind me, and I didn’t want to make a scene. Plus. My sisters really need this food. I don’t know why my mom refuses to sign up for government assistance. Food stamps would go a long way for situations like this, when our bank account is no doubt in the negative.
I should really try to find a job. Mom doesn’t think it’s feasible for me to work too since I’m the main babysitter when the girls aren’t at daycare, but maybe I can work something out. Maybe I can find some way to earn a little cash to help us get by.
With that idea in mind, I walk down the strip of stores on Market Street, choosing to go inside an ice cream shop to see if they’re hiring.
As soon as I walk in, a rush of refrigerated air and the scent of expensive perfume hits me. Three girls talk animatedly while they lean over the glass counter, looking for an ice cream flavor. It’s the M’s, I know it just from seeing the back of them.
The three most popular girls in school, all with a name that starts with an M. It’s kind of like me, only my name is the only thing we have in common. They are all beautiful, filthy rich, and always seem to smell nice.
These girls haven’t worked a day in their life and they’re very proud of that. Must be nice.
I walk up to the counter and ask the girl if they’re hiring. She’s only about my age, maybe even a year younger, and she frowns. “I don’t think so. I could ask my boss though?”
Suddenly I feel too suffocated to linger around anymore. “No thanks, that’s fine.”
My phone rings and I dig it out of my backpack.
“Oh my god, is that a flip phone?” one of the M’s says, her smoky eyes bursting open wide. “Like, who even has those anymore?”
“I didn’t even know they would still work,” another one says.
I don’t bother meeting their critical gazes as I answer the call and push my way back out the door and into the safety of the sidewalk.
“Hey, Mom,” I say, letting out a breath I didn’t realize I was holding.
“Where are you? You should have been home by now?”
“I was getting milk and bread,” I say, deciding not to tell her about Judy’s charity. Mom no doubt already knows the account is negative. “We’re out.”
“Ugh, honey, we don’t need any of that,” Mom says, sounding like she’s in a rush.
“Yes we definitely do,” I say. “It’s Spring Break and I’m watch the girls all week, remember?”
If they don’t go to daycare for the week, we get to save money. But they still need to be fed.
“Honey, just come home and hurry. I have a big surprise for you.”
“What kind of surprise?” I say, not bothering to pick up the pace. Maybe it’s another box of crushed food from her work. That would be a lifesaver right about now.
“The best surprise of your entire life,” Mom says.
Something in her voice sends chills down my spine. Mom’s not one to exaggerate the truth, and she’s never sounded so happy, not in my entire life.
“Okay,” I say, walking a little faster. “This better be good.”
“Trust me, Maddie. It is.”