Authors: Erin McCarthy
Tags: #Romance, #dpg pyscho, #New Adult
by Erin McCarthy
2014 by Erin McCarthy
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise) without the prior written permission of the copyright owner and the publisher of this book, excepting brief quotations used in reviews. Purchase only authorized editions.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, businesses or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
2014 by Sarah Hansen, Okay Creations
Formatting by Polgarus Studio
“Get out,” my grandmother said, wheezing as she reached for her glass of water. “I can’t stand to look at you. Sometimes I think you were born to punish me.”
I didn’t respond, even as the pain squeezed my heart, and defiance burned inside me. I could never get used to her hatred, could never understand what I did to deserve it. And part of me would always want the approval she would never give. But I had learned a long time ago that protesting or trying to soothe her only made her angrier, even when I wanted to tell her precisely what I thought of her treatment of me.
So I started towards the kitchen to be out of her line of vision.
“No. I don’t mean get out of the room. I mean get out of my house. For good.”
I paused, my back to her. Interesting. She couldn’t mean that. Yet if I knew one thing, it was that she never made a threat she wasn’t prepared to keep. I waited, on high alert. I spent most of my time with Gram in a half-present fog. I could care for her, clean the house, cook, all with my mind far away. Her slurs, her taunts, her demands were white noise, an emotional ceiling fan I could tune out as it whirred around and around me.
“Pack your stuff.
The fan had shut off suddenly.
Those words snapped me out of my usual state of determined ignorance, complacency. I turned slowly, studying her, gauging her seriousness. Her face was red and she looked furious. I wasn’t sure what had sent her over the edge, but she was definitely not hurling the words just to hurt me. She meant it.
“Is that what you want?” I asked. “If I’m not here, no one is going to take care of you.” It wasn’t a taunt. It was the truth.
“I should have left you at the orphanage. I swear, it’s your fault I’m sick. You’re probably poisoning me, for all I know.”
That was enough of a poke to have me speaking before I could stop myself. “If I wanted to poison you, you’d be dead already,” I told her simply. Hell, I could have killed her six times over since I was in charge of both feeding and medicating her.
Sometimes, despite what was smartest for survival, I just couldn’t keep my mouth shut.
In pure rage, she threw her plastic tumbler at me, but she was weak from her emphysema and it fell short of its mark, water splashing up over both of us. “There’s always been evil in your heart, Tiffany. It’s because your mother opened her legs for that low-class man from down there.”
Down there meant anywhere south of us in Maine. My father had been from New York City. Not that I’d ever met him. But I’d heard nothing but slurs, both racial and otherwise, against him. How my mother’s life was wrecked by him and their mutual drug use, and consequently my grandmother’s as well. Because I was born. Ironic, considering neither woman had retained full custody of me for very long.
I’d lived in thirteen houses in eighteen years, including a brief stint with my mother as a baby and twice with my grandmother for a few years after my mother died. This last time had been mostly as her makeshift nurse. Now when she struggled to stand in her anger, her bulky weight preventing her from getting any lift off the sagging couch, I automatically reached out to help her.
She slapped at me. “Don’t touch me. You have thirty minutes to get out of here or I’m calling the cops.”
Drawing my hand back, I admit I felt a strange sense of relief. It sucked to know that your own family didn’t give a damn about you, but it was nothing new. And in getting tossed out I could finally be free. Free of her. Free of hope that she’d ever care, but free nonetheless.
Being alone would be worth the ability to walk and talk without fear of criticism.
To live an actual life, not just one in my head.
And this time, I wasn’t coming back.
It only took fifteen minutes to pack my life in a duffel bag and a backpack, and then I pulled on a coat and hat, her cursing me the whole time from her floral sofa throne. She had ruled over me from that sofa for four years, with a meaty fist and a sadistic need to punish me for my mother’s mistakes.
“God hates selfish sluts.”
I stared at her, unblinking, wondering why she didn’t see the ridiculousness of what she was saying. I had never been a slut, and I’d had no opportunity to be particularly selfish either. I never left the house. “Does He?” I questioned, in an act of defiance that I couldn’t resist. “How does God feel about hypocrites, I wonder?”
She gasped, her mouth falling open to hurl a scathing comeback at me.
I didn’t wait to hear it.
Since my dignity was all I truly owned, I held my head high and left.
The screen door slammed shut with a bang behind me and I turned, looking back at the house that had never been a home. It was run-down, Grammy’s finances having seen better days. Winter was early to the party as usual, and it was windy, cold outside. Damp. The paint was peeling on the clapboard and the house seemed to hang on like Gram did, defiant, sagging, stuck on this island off the coast just to be obstinate.
I wanted to cry, but my eyes were dry. I’d had too many exits to feel much of anything. It wasn’t the first time I didn’t know where I was going next, but it was the only time I actually controlled that future.
Part of me wanted Gram to come to the window, to watch me leave.
I walked away, down the drive.
“So this is your room,” Hattie said, turning the knob and pushing open a door.
I peered around the older woman, curious, palms sweating, heart beating unnaturally fast. When I saw a bright cheerful room with a sunny yellow bedspread, I was speechless. For the first time since my grandmother had tossed me out on my ass two weeks earlier, I actually felt my throat close, had my vision blur as I struggled for composure.
“It’s really nice,” I whispered finally when the smile started to slip on her kind face in alarm as she watched me. “Too nice.”
Too nice for me. I’d never had my own room.
She laughed, a kindly, warm laugh. “Nonsense! If you’re going to be living in this big old house by yourself when Mr. Gold’s not here, you should get a decent room. Not that there are any bad rooms.” She led me inside and pulled back the soft white drapes, revealing a set of French doors. “But being on the first floor is nice because you have this private patio.”
I actually felt like I was going to be sick, a weird sort of panicked excitement that overwhelmed and nauseated me. This couldn’t be real. Or if it was real, it was going to disappear instantly. Fighting the urge to actually pinch myself, I set my duffel bag down on the dark hardwood floors next to the bed and followed her to see the view. It was the ocean. Beyond that shore was the island I’d grown up on, Vinalhaven. The sight stilled my panic. I could still see home.
Yet for the first time in my life I was going to be alone. Completely and utterly alone, in the best way possible.
Based on a recommendation from my high school teacher, I had landed a job as the caretaker for some rich dude who was never there.
Best. Job. Ever.
Once I got used to the silence, I figured it would be like chocolate meets a hot shower meets winning the lottery, with the check handed to you by a super-hot guy.
I was anticipating peace, with no foster siblings messing with me and trying to brush up against me or offer me help getting dressed.
No yelling. No backhanded cracks to my face. No Gram demanding care all day long, some necessary tasks, some simply spiteful.
If this room and this carefully manicured private terrace were any indication, it was going to be paradise. Like a vacation from being me.
“It’s beautiful,” I murmured, as we stepped out onto the terrace, and I breathed in the salty, briny air of the ocean. “Are you sure you want to quit this job?”
She laughed again, and it amazed me how easily she laughed, how often she smiled. “Yes. Absolutely. I want to go spend time with my grandkids. Besides, I couldn’t stand the quiet being in this big house by myself. I swear, I about jawed the landscapers to death every week all summer.” She gave me a look of concern. “Are you sure you want to do this? It’s a lonely existence. Mr. Gold is only here once or twice a year, at most.”
Perfect. The less he was there the better, in my opinion. Being naturally curious, I had done quick online research on him, and discovered he had paid over two million dollars cash for this property, and that he was a music producer in New York City. The record label had nicknamed him Gold Daddy, because of the volume of hits he had produced. I was picturing an overly tanned guy in his sixties who wore sunglasses inside, even at night. Not who I wanted to hang out with.
Lonely would be a welcome change from continual harassment. “That’s fine with me. But why does he have a house he never uses?” I asked, because it seemed crazy to me. As Hattie had led me through the house, the formal living and dining room furniture had been covered with sheets to keep the dust off and the whole house felt very still, empty. Well cared for, but not well loved.
“He doesn’t like to come here anymore. Not since…” She shook her head. “Well, never mind that. He’s just busy in New York.”
So she didn’t want to share the boss’s secrets. I could understand that, but since she was no longer working for him, I was surprised. It meant Hattie really was as good a person as she seemed. But it did increase my curiosity about Mr. Gold.
“And you’re sure you can handle keeping the house clean? It’s really just dusting and sweeping and then dealing with the kitchen and your bathroom.”
I touched the bush in the pot next to the door, to see if it was real. It was so perfect it looked fake. But it was real.
Like this house. Like this job.
The place was huge, the biggest house I’d ever been in, but I didn’t think that it was anything I couldn’t handle considering no one was living in it and most of the rooms were shut up. I’d cleaned at Gram’s, plus cooked for her and fetched and carried. I’d walked to the grocery store, paid the bills. Taking care of an empty house with zero clutter would be easy, as would the solitude. It was more that I was worried about damaging something. As we had walked through the mansion I had been overwhelmed by its grandeur, and when I bumped an end table in the foyer, I almost had a heart attack. I had eyed the electronics in the grand family room with excitement and horror. I wanted to explore everything, but was afraid to touch.
At least in front of Hattie. Once she was gone, I planned to poke into every dark corner in an effort to feel less intimidated by the quiet, the hulky furniture, the blinking lights on the technology present at every turn.
This terrace, despite its elegant green potted bushes, felt cozy and contained, the view totally amazing. I could see sitting there and feeling comfortable. Not like I belonged to the house, but like I could visit in peace.
“I just can’t get over how young you look,” Hattie said. “I’m going to fret about you being here by yourself. Thank God for security systems.”
It was hard not to be sensitive when people mentioned my looks. I was vertically challenged, to say the least, and I had big brown eyes that were too large for my face. In my opinion, anyway. By sixteen I’d given up thinking that I was going to have some sort of late bloomer growth spurt. I did look young, and I hated it. “I’m eighteen,” I said, hearing the defensiveness in my voice.
“To me, eighteen is infancy,” she said with a chuckle. “Honey, I have bras that are older than you.”
That was a visual I didn’t need, giving Hattie’s billowy chest. But she was being really kind to me and I felt guilty for sounding a little snotty. She hadn’t meant it as an insult. So I gave her a smile. “I’m probably smaller than your bras, too. I kept waiting to shoot up, but it never happened. I’m pocket-sized.”
“You have an advantage, you know. Everyone must want to hug you and take care of you.”
That almost made me laugh, but she was so sincere I resisted the urge. No one had ever taken care of me, and yet here I was. I had survived, intact. Mostly normal. Suddenly panic was replaced by excitement. I was on my own. I had a future. A real one. With no rent and no interference, I could save my paychecks to go to community college and get a nursing degree like I wanted. The life I had thought was going to drone on endlessly, the same, day after day caring for Gram, was now suddenly all changed, and it sent a wary anticipation through me.