I wanted to text Dex and tell him what happened. He’d probably get a kick out of it.
I brought out my phone but noticed I already had a text message. Before I got a chance to get excited, I noticed it was from Ada, not Dex.
–DO NOT COME HOME TODAY– it said. All caps, too.
A wave of nausea swept over me. I was simultaneously disturbed and puzzled.
I put the coffee back down on the condiments counter and texted her back.
–What do you mean?–
I sent it and decided to plunk myself at a table that was miraculously empty at this caffeine rush hour. Normally the 4 p.m. coffee break meant I took my latte back to my motorbike, Put–Put, which was parked a few blocks away, and finished it on the walk there. But if my sister was telling me not to come home, I wasn’t in a huge rush.
I sat around for five minutes, fingers nervously picking at the rubber iPhone cover. Ada hadn’t texted back.
What did it mean, don’t come home? I looked back at my calls and texts from the day. There was a text from Dex earlier saying that the weather for the weekend looked like it was cooperating and there was a missed call from my father. I had called him back, though, and no one answered. I didn’t think it was a big deal. He often called to ask me stupid questions (you know, “what’s the name of that actor in that cop show, yadda yadda”), whereas my mother would call to make sure I was “fine.”
Other than that, there were no clues, and Ada wasn’t responding. I looked at the time the message was sent: A half hour ago. I keep my phone on silent but normally check it once an hour to see what had gone through. Though to be honest, I was checking it more and more lately in case someone had responded to one of my tweets, or Facebook postings, or if someone else had said something nasty on the blog.
Ada probably meant to send the text to someone else (it had happened before) or maybe she had a boy over or something. I didn’t know, but what I did know was that I wasn’t going to keep sitting in the coffee shop and pretending to drink my latte, which I had already downed.
I shrugged off the uneasy feeling, tossed the coffee in the trash and stepped out into the street. It was a mild pre–winter Wednesday in early November, less than a week before my birthday. I hated thinking about it. I had been fine with turning 22, but turning 23 took on a whole new meaning for me. It was closer to 25 than anything else and 25 had always been the age I figured I’d have my shit together.
That said, some stranger had just complimented me on my TV show (OK, fine, “internet” show) and that wasn’t exactly something I had planned on achieving before I turned 25. Maybe this was just a sign of good things to come, all the things that I needed to acquire before I turned 25: A boyfriend, a condo in the city all my own and a job that showed people what I was really made of. Or maybe it would just help the last part. Either way, it wasn’t anything to sneeze at.
That thought made me feel more confident as I walked over to the meter where I had parked Put–Put, and piloted him through the cold winds that ruffled my back and propelled me home.
I pulled Put–Put into my parents’ driveway, amazed at how dark it was already. The clocks had gone back last week and I still hadn’t adjusted to the perpetual gloominess. I hated knowing it would be a long time before the sun was bright and the days were long.
I eyed the house warily. The lights were on. The warm contrast against the darkness would have normally made me feel all cozy inside, but it made me feel strangely anxious instead, like the house was alive and waiting for me. I wasn’t sure what that meant but I knew I probably had to trust my instincts. They were right most of the time.
I walked over to the front door, slowly fishing out my key. I paused on the bottom step. A strange wave of energy radiated towards me from the closed door. My anxious feeling intensified. I looked around me, wondering what it could be. A movement at my bedroom window on the second floor caught my eye.
It was Ada. Her small frame was barely visible against my room, which was lit only by my desk lamp. She was waving at me frantically, making the shooing motion.
I was about to step back and holler at her, hoping she would open the window and explain what was going on, when the front door flew open. My father was on the other side.
“Are you going to come inside?” he bellowed.
This was not the normal greeting from my father. Though it was hard to see his face since he was backlit by the foyer, I could tell he was scowling. Few things strike fear in my heart quite like my father does when he’s angry. Ghosts and skinwalkers were one thing, but my dad was something else. Something I understood. Our tempers were unfortunately very similar.
I swallowed hard. “I was just looking for my keys.”
He glanced down at the keys visible in my hand and walked back in the house. I didn’t want to follow him but I had no choice.
I walked inside and closed the door gently behind me. He had disappeared. I shook off my boots, placing them neatly in the hall closet instead of leaving them lying on the floor like I usually did, and creeped forward down the hallway, hoping that I could get to the stairs and the safety of my room before anything happened.
“Perry?” I heard my mother call out from the living room.
I turned to my left and saw her and my father sitting on separate armchairs. They looked like a job–interviewing panel. In the light of the room, my dad was indeed scowling. He was sucking in his cheeks, something he did when he was keeping the verbal volcano on lockdown. Underneath his glasses, his eyes explored my mother’s face and avoided my own.
My mother looked rather blank except for the lines of worry that always wiggled on her forehead. I didn’t like this situation at all.
I heard a noise behind me and turned to see Ada standing awkwardly on the staircase, staring at me frightfully. Her eyes were red like she had been crying and her makeup was more smudged than normal, which said a lot.
“Go back to your room, Ada,” my dad said forcefully without looking at her.
Ada’s eyes met with mine and I could almost hear her saying, ‘I told you to not come home’ in my head. Then she ran up the stairs and I was left feeling very alone and very scared.
“I called you today, Perry,” my father said thickly.
“Uh, I know. I called you back but no one answered.”
“I wanted to know if you wanted to go out for lunch with me since I was heading into the city.”
“Oh. Sorry,” I stammered. My heart began to thump louder. This was not just about missing a lunch with my dad. I knew deep down inside what this was all about.
“So, I decided to surprise you and stop by your office,” he said, his eyes focusing on me like a laser beam.
My heart must have stopped. It felt like it fell out from my chest and onto the floor, along with my lungs and nerves. It’s exactly what I was afraid of. He knew. They knew. I was done for.
I couldn’t say anything. What was there to say? The room swayed.
He continued, “Do you know what I found when I got to your office? I saw a strange receptionist. And when I asked if I could speak with you, I was told that you no longer worked for the company. Naturally, I got a little upset.”
Oh God. I could just see my father blowing a gasket in the middle of my old work, disturbing the stuffy advertising suits just as I had done on more than a few occasions.
“And then your boss – sorry, your ex–boss – came out and explained to me what happened. She had told me they had to let you go. You took your promotion and then demanded you be allowed to work part–time.”
My father continued on, trying very hard to keep his voice down and in control. I stopped listening. His voice wavered in and out of my ears without sinking past the first barrier. I looked at my mother but was unable to read her face. I knew she was disappointed in me too and that was probably an understatement.
“Are you listening to me?” my dad shouted, rising up out of his chair, his stocky body hovering over me. I had no choice but to listen. “Do you know how, how fucking humiliating it was to discover you had been fired?”
I winced and took a step backward. My dad was religious and never, ever swore. I couldn’t remember the last time I had seen him that angry. Maybe back in high school when I was involved in that “accident.”
I felt tears pricking the back of my eyes and a building feeling of hate and frustration flowing up through my throat. I was either going to vomit or yell back at him. The former would be a million times more preferable.
“We trusted you! You lied to us. For weeks!” he screamed, spittle flying off his lips and into my face.
“I had to!” I yelled back, unable to keep it down. “You wouldn’t have understood at all!”
“Don’t raise your voice at me!” he yelled even louder.
I bit my lip hard, hard enough so that I tasted the bitter salt of blood and clenched my fists until I felt all the energy getting choked in them.
“All of this for some stupid show. A show based on lies! A show that makes you look like a total idiot. Useless, meaningless and stupid.”
The dam burst. Tears spilled out of my eyes, my fingers uncurled and picked up the nearest object, a lamp, and gripped it in my hands, ready to throw it across the room.
“Don’t you fucking call me stupid!” I screamed. The scream came up like an overpowering wave of anger, like it was a cloud of pure hatred rising out of my body. My world blurred for a split second as the feelings drowned me.
All the paintings on the wall shook violently and fell to the ground in a simultaneous smash.
I froze. So did my father. I saw a flicker of fear behind his eyes. My mother covered her face in her hands and whimpered, “Not again” to herself.
I was panting heavily, trying to catch my breath as the fuzzy threads of unconsciousness began to fade in the corner of my mind. The living room carpet was bordered with glass fragments. Had my scream brought them down off their hooks? Was that possible?
My dad looked around him, dumbfounded, and back at me. He opened his mouth to say something but then thought better of it. He walked over to my mother and patted her on the back. She was crying softly.
“You see what you did. You’re scaring your mother again,” he said. His voice had quieted but the accusatory tone was still there.
I took in a deep breath and carefully placed the lamp back on the table. My emotions were coming back around. I didn’t need to break the lamp in order to prove my point.
“I’m sorry,” I said feebly. “I should have told you I got fired but I didn’t want you to know. I was afraid you’d make me quit the show.”
“Damn right you’re going to quit the show,” my dad said.
The urge to explode was rising again. I eyed the lamp.
“Perry, please don’t start this,” my mom whispered through her hands. I paused. She looked up at me, her eyes pleading. Not from concern but from fright. She was afraid of me.
I wanted to ask what she meant by “this” but I didn’t. That seemed like a path I didn’t need to go down at the moment.
“I’m not quitting,” I managed to squeak out. There was no way that was happening. It wasn’t an option. They should have known that.