Their house was epically big.
I mean, Chad could’ve stayed there, and I probably wouldn’t have even seen him.
Though, thinking on it now, Natalie was also gone a lot. There were a ton of nights when it was me at the house and Deek was working in his office. I mean, yeah, I spent time with my dad. That was super, über cool, you know? We had meals together, or some meals.
We had meals in the beginning together.
After a while, not so much.
He kinda stopped talking to me toward the end.
He liked to snap a lot.
But in the beginning he talked to me about my mom, and when he did, he’d get all tense in the face. His words would come out clipped, but I got it. I really and truly did.
Donna was…well, let’s just say Donna was a lot.
I’m her daughter, and she only talked civilly to me after she’d been away at one of those clinics. She stayed there a long time. This time was the longest, and my dad thought it’d be best if I spent it with them, but usually I stayed at my uncle’s house, but this time was cool. It was like seeing how the other half lives.
The high school was nicer, too. There weren’t gangs at Pine Valley.
Can you imagine? How Chad would be at my normal school? With the gangs there?
I started laughing, just thinking about it, and then I thought about Cut. It wasn’t funny anymore.
Cut would’ve still been popular and pretty, but he probably wouldn’t have laughed as much.
That was sad to think about because I liked his laugh. I listened for it in the hallways.
Crap. They’re talking to me.
“Cheyenne.” My counselor leaned over, putting her hand on my arm. “This is important. You need to focus on being present with us.”
They’re always preaching that. Being present.
What did that even mean?
So what if my mind wandered? So what if I’m hyper and sometimes so hyper I missed what’s going on around me? They would be, too, if they grew up where I did, the way I did.
Being present sucked, especially now. I mean, more so now than ever.
Could we go back to talking about Cut?
That was my dad talking.
“What?” I looked at him. He was frowning at me, sitting in the corner with his arms crossed over his chest. He dressed up for this meeting—a business suit. Natalie’s here, too, heaving a sigh, like she usually did when she’s around me. I’ve noticed she didn’t do that when Chad was around. I couldn’t say how she was around my other brother because I obviously didn’t know him.
I didn’t think they even knew that I knew about him.
Let’s talk about that.
Why haven’t they told me?
It’s not like I’m this horrible person.
I didn’t do anything. I mean, the worst I did was think, think and talk to myself, not be present—which I could see my dad knew I was doing again.
He got the same look on his face every time he’s exasperated with me.
His mouth flattens. His nose wrinkles a little, and it looks like he’s constipated or something.
Now he’s uncrossing his arms, rubbing a hand over his forehead.
He does that a lot when I really frustrate him.
Aw crap. It was the counselor again. She was being more insistent, and I needed to focus. If I didn’t, she’d get mad. Then I’d be asked to leave so they could talk, and nothing good was discussed when I wasn’t in the room.
She was trying. I could see the effort, but even her face was tight and rigid. She nodded toward Deek and Natalie. “Your father is wondering if you feel comfortable enough to return to your mother’s care?”
I felt a knot coming up my throat.
I knew I didn’t want to come to this meeting.
Deek cleared his throat, leaned forward, and rested his elbows on his knees. “You’ve been at our house for six months, and we’ve made accommodations and changes so you’d feel comfortable there. If you choose to remain there, we do need to discuss bringing Chad and Hunter back into the house.”
Hunter! That was his name.
I didn’t think my dad realized that was the first time he’d referenced him in front of me.
Natalie wasn’t looking at him. She had that same blank and somewhat peeved look directed at me. Thinking on it now, she looked similar to my dad whenever they had to deal with me.
Maybe they had mentioned the other brother before, but I didn’t think so. I would’ve remembered. Who forgets their own brother’s name? Not me. Especially not me. I’d never had a brother before.
Now I knew his name, I was never forgetting it.
I messed up again. My counselor sighed.
It wasn’t my fault that I was like this.
But it was on me to control it, so okay…
I had to concentrate here.
A deep breath in.
Hold—that never worked for me.
“My mom’s good again?” I asked.
Crap. That was a question, not a statement from me. I messed up there, too.
The counselor looked relieved. I was participating. She always got less snippy when I responded to her.
“She’s graduated to the halfway house, and she’ll be able to leave as early as this week. She’s reached out and requested to see you.”
I frowned. Why? I shrugged. “Nah. I’m good.”
All three adults shared a look at that.
See! I’m so focused here. Noticing everything. Every. Thing.
“What do you mean, you’re good? You don’t want to see your mother, or you don’t want to live with her?”
See her. Duh. It’s always the same. She’d come out of those places happy and hippie and seeing rainbows and talking about angels. She’d be nice, promising to keep with her yoga and meditation and the rules. Always the rules.
Life would be decent, for a while.
But she’d start smoking again.
Or she’d meet a guy and then start smoking again. I’m not talking the cigarette kind of smoking.
Same old, same old.
Then I’d get locked out.
I’d be on the streets.
I’d spend time with Herb. He lived on the corner two blocks from the house.
“I guess I’m good with living with her, but can I come back to Deek’s the next time?”
A look flickered in my counselor's eyes. She knew what I was talking about.
Natalie’s voice hitched high. “Next time? What does she mean, ‘next time’?”
That answered my question. Natalie looked all panicky at the thought that I could be coming back. It was cool. I could stay at my uncle’s, I guess. My cousins liked me. They thought I was funny. Plus, I wasn’t scared to walk from my room to go get water there, though they didn’t have the fancy fridge water that Deek did.
Still. It was all cool.
I’d miss looking at Cut.
I loved Cut. I think I loved him all my life.
So I went back to live with my mom.
She was nice, like I knew she would be.
Until she got bored, like I knew she would get.
Then she found a new guy, like I knew would happen.