Home > Pricked(3)

Author: Winter Renshaw


"What?" I pull into the driveway of the paint-chipped bungalow with the leaning porch that I once called home.

"Today's the last day of school."

"Shit. You're right," I say, killing the engine.

She climbs out of the passenger side, swinging her holey backpack over her right shoulder as she trots up the front steps. Before I have a chance to so much as lock my car, she's already inside, raiding the kitchen.

"Did Mom finally get bread?" I ask once I make it in.

I drop my keys in a metallic clunk on the kitchen counter and head for the fridge. I don't help myself to anything here like I used to. There's barely enough for my sister as it is. I’m just making sure she’s not going to go to bed hungry tonight.

"Nope," Devanie says, reaching into a cupboard. "But I did."

I clench my jaw, but keep my back to her so she doesn't see.

Examining the minimal contents of the almond-colored Kenmore, I inventory an expired carton of eggs and a near-empty half-gallon of orange juice. Ketchup, mustard, and a partial stick of butter haphazardly wrapped in its waxy paper are all that remain otherwise. If I didn't have an appointment at four, I'd grab some groceries for her my own damn self.

Wouldn’t be the first time.

Or the second.

Or the hundredth.

And it won’t be the last either.

When I turn around, I find Dev fixing a peanut butter sandwich on cheap bread that tears with each spread of the butter knife. Scraping the knife against the insides of the plastic jar, she excavates every last bit.

"Wipe the crumbs when you're done," I say.

She looks at me with one eyebrow bent, and I know what she's thinking. This place is a shithole. A literal shithole. It smells like cat piss despite the fact that we’ve never had one. The carpet is a hundred years old. The ceiling is stained yellow, thick with nicotine from our mother's pack-a-day Virginia Slims habit, and laundry is only ever done on an as-needed basis and always left in baskets to wrinkle, never folded or put away.

But that's not the point.

I want to do everything in my power to make sure she doesn't end up as the second incarnation of our mother because this life ... this latchkey, slob-village life, is all my sister knows to be normal, and it’s anything but normal.

Most people don’t live like this.

She's not even thirteen years old and already her life is a flea-infested sundae. The rotten cherry on top? A father who's lived the entirety of her life in prison.

I've never asked for much in my life, and I don't believe in wishes or any of that hope-wasting bullshit, but I'll spend my dying breath making damn sure my sister never ends up on an episode of Jerry or Maury.

"Don't you have somewhere to be?" she asks, mouth gummed with cheap bread and store brand peanut butter. "Like ... I don't know … work or something?"

"Why are you in such a hurry to get rid of me?"

She chews, the sandwich balling in her left cheek, and then she swallows hard before glaring. "You're so annoying."

Good. Means I'm doing something right, which is impressive given the fact that there was never a precedent to go off of.

"Not having any boys over later, are you?" I ask. Not like she’d tell me the truth if she were, but I have to let her know that I’m one step ahead of her at all times. I was thirteen once. And girls like Devanie were low-hanging fruit: zero parental supervision, pretty but doesn’t really know it yet, attention-starved, and desperate to belong.

"Oh my God, Madd." Dev slams the last piece of her sandwich on the counter. "You really think I'd bring someone here? And if I did, do you really think it would be a boy ... that I want to impress?!"

I mean … valid point.

"What's his name?" I ask, referring to the one who put that giant grin on her face in the moments before I rolled up outside her school and rained on her seventh-grade parade.

She's quiet, sucking a dab of peanut butter off the side of her pinky.

"His name," I remind her.

My sister exhales, her wide, ocean-blue eyes lifting onto mine. “Kyler.”

"Kyler what?"

"Kyler Riggs."

"Sounds like a douche." I fold my arms against my chest and lean against the counter, giving her a good, firm stare, one that hopefully reminds her that I've got my eye on her at all times – even if that's not possible. "Stay away from him."

"Oh my gawwwd," she groans before twisting away and wiping the crumbs off the counter ... proof that she does hear what I say and she does listen. "Stop it, Madden. I'm not a baby."

"Exactly. You're a teenager, which means you’re not safe from the world and the world is not safe from you. Someone’s got to keep you in check.”

"You act like I'm not capable of making good decisions when I've never been in trouble," she says, voice reaching whiny-girl intensity. "I get almost all A's. I've never had detention. I've never smoked a cigarette or snuck out at night like some of the other kids at my school. Maybe you should give me more credit?"

“I know you’re a good girl, Dev.” But I know from experience a kid can go from goody-two-shoes to juvie hall regular in under a semester if the conditions are right.

“Then maybe you should act like it.” Her back is still to me and her voice is soft and low.

"What time does Mom get home tonight?" I ask one last question before I go.

She careens around, shooting me a dead-eyed look, one that implies we both know the answer to that: Mom comes home whenever she damn well pleases.

I wonder if she ever misses Dev, ever thinks about her when she's going into work at three, getting off at eleven, and hitting the bars until close. She sleeps through breakfast ... sleeps through most of the day actually ... then does it all over again.

The weekends are for her boyfriend-of-the-whatever. Day. Week. Month. She hasn’t quite made it to a year with any of them. They tend to crash and burn once they get past the first ninety days and the men realize my mother is a batshit crazy narcissist whose emotional maturity is permanently stunted at the age of seventeen—when she became a mother for the first time and was forced to grow up overnight.

"I talked to Mom last week," I say. "About not going out so much."

"Why?" Devanie’s nose scrunches.

I don’t think she cares so much that Mom’s always gone. In fact, I think she prefers it that way. It’s not like they’d spend much time together when Mom is home, but still. Someday Dev’s going to be an adult and she’s going to look back on her childhood and wonder why her mom was never there, and then she’s going to be angry. And then she’s going to turn to drugs or food or sex or gambling or God knows what to fill that gaping hole in her chest that won’t go away no matter how much she tells herself she’s over it.

"Because I give a shit. And because you need more supervision."

"No, I mean why do you waste your time even talking to her about that?" she asks.

Valid question.

"All right. I'm out." I ruffle her pale curls before swiping my keys off the counter and heading for the front door.

The screen door slams behind me, and I turn to pull it all the way shut. Glancing through the tear in the storm door's screen, I watch my sister stand in the middle of the kitchen where I left her, arms folded across her chest as she stares at the ground. She’s still as a statue, and I wonder if she's waiting for me to leave or if she's just lost in thought.

I'm sure all the other kids her age are texting each other on their phones - something Devanie has never been able to experience - making plans for summer or meeting up at the pool. I need to cave and get her a phone ... mostly for safety reasons ... but no good has ever come from a teenager having a cell phone, especially an unsupervised teenager having a cell phone.

Dev still hasn't moved, and I realize now that I recognize that look on her face.

She's lonely.

And of course she is.

She's alone. Constantly. And while I'm more than familiar with the feeling, at least I'm alone by choice. Devanie isn't.

I force myself to turn away, to go, to leave her behind the way I've done hundreds of times before. One of these days, I just might take her with me. But it won’t be that simple. Or that easy. Mom won't allow it. Dev is her meal ticket. Her tax refund. Her extra little bit of food stamps that she trades for who the hell knows what.

Cranking the radio, I head back to the south side and pull into my reserved parking spot in front of Madd Inkk.

The white Volvo with the boot is already gone by the time I get back. Good to know Dustin was able to make that happen. I'd never seen a girl so antsy to get out of here, like she was late for a flight to the Maldives or wherever rich assholes go.

Not that she was an asshole.

Quite the contrary.

She was polite. All "pleases" and "thank yous." Proper grammar and all of that. I’m willing to bet she's fluent in French and takes tennis lessons, and judging by her dainty, nimble fingers, I’m sure she plays piano – classically trained by European dignitaries or something. The kind of shit her parents can brag about to their friends over dinner at "the club."

I've seen a lot of shit in my day, and in all the years I've run Madd Inkk, I've met all kinds.

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