Brutal PreciousBy: Sara Wolf
Jack leans in and this time, it’s a kiss, and it doesn’t sear my soul or make me woozy like the books say but I can taste him and smell him and he’s kissing me, me of all girls, and when he pulls away he’s smiling the sort of kind smile I only ever saw him give Sophia, except now it’s on me, all golden and sweet and genuine as he rests his forehead on mine, and that smile is better than fireworks.
“Moron. There would be no pretending,” He says. “Because I love you, too.”
I freeze, trembling, not daring to believe it.
“D-Do…do you mean that?” I whisper. “Do you really really mean that? Because…because I don’t want to get my hopes up again – I just – I couldn’t take it if they were smashed again, you know? It hurt.”
I laugh, on the verge of tears, and Jack cups my face in his hands, ice eyes locked on mine, clear and bright.
“I love you,” he says.
Book 3 of the Lovely Vicious Series
For Nemesis. I’m sorry. I wrote a bad book about us. (Not sorry.)
When I was nine, Dad packed up and left. It was clear and sunny. I was wearing overalls and the air smelled like blackberries and I watched him until he got in the cab and it sped away. I tried to run after him, a little, but my legs were too small.
He taught me something really important that day.
When things get hard, people leave. Not that I blame them. Hard things are real tough to deal with, and sap your energy and time and attention. So people leave, because it’s easier, and they can use that time and energy elsewhere, on something that isn’t so difficult. Dad left because Mom was nagging too much because she was stressed about raising me, and they were constantly short money because they were raising me. It was stressful for him, and her. But that was because of me. Mostly it was my fault. They’d be happy if they didn’t have me. I’ve never worked up the guts to say sorry to either of them.
But now, I’m going off to college. I’m older. I don’t need them quite as much, anymore. I’m different from the little girl who tried to run after the cab.
The sun tries to choke my eyeballs. Waking up at two every day means I’m a rockstar. Or a zombie. Possibly both. Rockstars do cocaine and cocaine is basically zombie dust, right? Right. I know so much about drugs. I’m going to college and I know so much about drugs. I’ll be fine.
“Isis?” There’s a knock on my door, and Dad’s voice filters in. “Why are you mumbling about drugs? Are you doing pot, young lady?”
I jump out of bed and throw on jean shorts, and smooth out my sleep-crumpled t-shirt. I fling the door open. Dad’s disproving face stares down at me, hair dark and streaked with silver age, his eyes the same warm brown as mine.
“Oh yeah, I’ve drunk three whole marijuanas,” I announce. “Four-twenty. Blaze it. Something something Bob Marley.”
Dad’s face remains unamused. I hug him and prance downstairs, past dozens of family portraits. The walls are clean and white, and the carpets plush. The banisters are shining cheery wood, and the flight of stairs leading down is massive, like something out of Cinderella.
“There you are, Isis! Good morning.”
“And there’s the wicked stepmother,” I mumble. She is not actually wicked. On the scale of Angelic to Wicked, she is definitely a four, which is like, Absently Selfish or something. The same level as substitute teachers and guys who blast their car bass way too loud when you’re trying to sleep. I just call her wicked because it makes me feel good. Wicked good.
Kelly looks up from the entrance hall, blonde and blue-eyed, with wrists like a thornbush and enough makeup to choke a drag queen. I’ve never seen her undone and messy, not even at night and not even on Sundays. She’s nearly seven months pregnant, but even then she looks like she walked out of a Sears catalog. I have a sneaking suspicion she’s an android, but I haven’t found her battery charger yet.
“There’s croissants for breakfast, and I made your favorite – whipped cream pancakes! That is your favorite, right? Your father said it was.”
“Yup. I loved those. When I was, uh, four.” I grin until it becomes awkward. Dad doesn’t know anything about who I am now. “Look, thanks a bunch for going through all that Martha Stewartian effort! But I’ve got other breakfast plans.”
“No, you don’t.” She says lightly.
“Uh, yes, I do. With friends.”
“Which friends? You don’t have friends here in Georgia.”
“I’ll have you know I have friends all over the space-time continuum. And some of them have telepathy. And like, fireball-making powers. Do you like fireballs? I hope so. Because they don’t especially like people calling me friendless.”
Kelly’s perfect porcelain face hardens. It’s familiar, since I’ve been here two weeks and she makes that face every single freaking time something comes out of my mouth. She hates what I say, and who I am. I can tell. I don’t fit into her perfect mold of what a teenage girl should be. She wants to tell me I’m ridiculous, or over the top, but she wants me to like her, first and foremost. I brush past her and grab my purse and keys from the table in the hall.
“How about some shopping?” Kelly offers when I’m halfway out the door. “You and I could go wherever you’d like! There’s a great place downtown –”
“How about some no?” I say. “With a side of no thanks?”
“That’s too bad,” Kelly forces a smile. “I’d really like to get to know you.”
“You really wanna know me? You wanna know, what, that I shit my pants in third grade? That I like bad pop music and merry-go-rounds and the color orange?”
“That’s a great place to start!” She says.
“You want me to like you. You don’t care about who I am, you just want me to like you. But it doesn’t work like that. It doesn’t happen overnight.”
“What’s going on down here?” Dad asks, coming in to view over the stairs. “And why are you using that tone of voice with Kelly, Isis?”
“What tone?” I half-laugh, half-scoff.
“There it is again. Don’t use that tone with me, I’m your father.”
A hot knot works its way into my throat.
“Sorry. It’s kind of hard to remember that when you haven’t been around for eight years.”
I slam the door behind me. Gravel crunches under my furious steps. Kelly unwisely gave me free use of her ‘old’ black BMW that’s practically pristine. She has five of them, all in different colors and with different drop tops and pimped out tires. I get in and slam the door, starting it and pulling away from the landscaped lawn and palm trees in stately rows. Even the kid’s playhouse out back is made of marble, with its own tiny working fountain.
This is the lap of luxury and I’m sitting in it like a whiny, farty kid on a mall Santa.
It takes the entire drive to the beach to calm my raging nerves. I agreed to come for the summer because Dad sounded like he genuinely missed me and wanted to see me off before college. Somewhere in the vast and fabulous labyrinth that is my head, a game-show buzzer goes off. Bzzzt. Wrong. Dad just wanted me here because he feels guilty, and is trying to make up for a huge amount of lost time. But he can’t. Unlike Mom, he never came back for me. Kelly hasn’t changed – I have. I can’t stand her anymore. I’m a different person, now. Two years ago when I last visited, I was quiet. I was sad. I didn’t fight or argue. I was in the middle of dealing with Nameless. The last time I came here, it was right before -
I shake my head.
The last time I came here, I was pure. And simple. And clean.
Dad still thinks I’m that little girl of two summers ago, and so he treats me like her. Like I should respect him. Like I should care about what he says.
But I don’t.
Because he left me. Twice.
Can’t ever say that to his face, though. That’d mess up what little family dynamics I have left. Dropping the news I wasn’t going to Stanford didn’t help improve his view of me, either. He’d already gotten a stupid ‘MY KID GOES TO STANFORD’ t-shirt and everything. Who gets those, anyway? Tourists, and people with no fashion sense. Dad wouldn’t know fashion if it bit him in the history professor ass, and he was definitely a tourist - staying in my life for only a few weeks at a time, complaining whenever anything isn’t picture perfect like it was in the Macy’s magazines.