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Over the last few weeks, I’ve been having a dream about a girl I think I might be in love with; the taste of her lips, the softness of her skin as my hands travel all over her body, memorizing every inch of her. Even though the dream is fucking fantastic, I don’t mind waking up. A couple of years ago, I would have. I wouldn’t have been able to go to sleep in the first place.
Of course my new life has downfalls too. Like how I get woken up in the mornings.
“Ha, ha! Gotcha!” Mason laughs as he pours apple juice on my face.
My eyes shoot open, and I bolt upright in the bed as he runs out of the room, laughing. My hair and face are sticky and my sheet’s a mess. The little rugrat. He’s lucky I love him so damn much otherwise I’d be pissed.
“I’m going to get you back!” I shout at him, hearing fitful giggles bursting from the living room.
I wipe my face off with the top of my shirt then roll out of bed to take a shower. As I’m grabbing some clean clothes, my sister Avery sticks her head into my bedroom. Her brown hair is damp, and dark circles reside under her eyes.
She takes one look at me and sighs. “Aw, man, he got you, too.”
“Yeah, and I’m guessing by your wet hair, he did the same thing to you.” I select a pair of clean jeans and a grey shirt then slide the dresser drawer shut. “Apple juice?”
“No, mine was orange juice.” She combs her fingers through her hair. Tiny flakes of pulp are stuck in the brown strands. “This gotcha game is getting out of hand. I wish Tristan would have never taught it to him.”
“You should be glad he did. Tristan’s a good guy. And, after everything you went through with Conner, you deserve good. You and Mason both do.”
Conner is Avery’s abusive ex-husband and Mason’s father. After almost destroying their lives, he’s now behind bars where he belongs.
She reclines against the doorframe with her arms folded. “I know he is, but I have to be honest; I’m a little bit nervous about him moving in.”
“You’ll be fine.” I wind around the bed toward her. “You guys are good together.”
“Yeah, we are.” She stands up straight. “I just feel bad that you’re moving out in a month.”
“I’m not. As much as I’ve loved helping you out over the last couple of years, I’m ready to start my own life.”
“I know. And you should be. But it doesn’t mean we won’t miss you any less.” She sighs, her eyes welling up. Avery always gets this way when it comes to what she considers “me growing up too fast,” even though I’m nineteen years old. But with a nonexistent father and a deadbeat, drug addict mother, Avery pretty much took on the role of my mother the day I was born.
“Come on. Come get a hug. You know you want one.” I open my arms for her.
“You found a place to live, then?” Her voice is muffled against my chest as she hugs me.
“Yeah, you remember Clara McKiney, right?” I ask, and she bobs her head up and down. “Well, my place is in the same complex as hers.”
“Is it in a good neighborhood?”
“It’s in an affordable neighborhood.”
“I don’t want you living any place rough.”
“It not rough. Just eccentric.” Besides, with going to school full-time and my part-time job helping out at the college lab, it’s all I can afford.
She moves back, dabbing her teary eyes with her fingertips. “Just promise me that, if you ever need any help at all, day or night, you’ll call.”
“All right, I promise.” I draw an X across my chest. “But you do realize my place is only a ten minute drive from here. And you can stop by anytime.” That seems to satisfy her, although I predict more waterworks in the future when I actually have to pack up and move out.
She makes a grossed-out face as she glances down at the orange juice soaking her shirt. “I’m going to go shower then make breakfast.”
Avery is a terrible cook, yet always attempts to make nice meals.
I open my mouth to decline her breakfast offer, but snap my jaw shut when I realize there won’t be many more breakfasts together for the three of us after I move out.
After I shower, I put on the ring my mother gave me when I was five years old. It’s the only present I’ve ever received from her and honestly I think she forgot she gave it to me; otherwise she would have asked for it back by now. It’s welded with silver and black and has a few diamonds in it. Girly, I know, but it belonged to my grandfather. At least, that’s the story my mother told me. I wouldn’t be surprised if she stole the ring while she was spun on crystal then conjured up a fairytale about where it came from.
I collect the car keys to the beat up Jeep I bought off Avery a month ago when she got herself a newer car. I’m heading to a party later tonight after I get off work. Lyle, one of my friends from Psychology class, is the one who invited me. I’m not much of a partier, because I usually spend a lot of time helping Avery with Mason. But after getting a better job and a more stable boyfriend, Avery’s reached a groove in her life where she doesn’t have to rely on me so much. Part of me is sad about the loss—I’d gotten used to being needed—but another part of me is relieved, like I can finally live my life without worrying about my sister or my nephew.
By the time I leave work, it’s after eight o’clock at night. Fifteen minutes later, I arrive at Lyle’s house, which is smack dab in the middle of the suburbs. The charcoal sky is smoldering with stars, and the muggy air is dense against my lungs and skin. But that’s North Carolina for you.