An alarm clock beeping. Birds chirping. The quiet sounds of employees in cars headed to their morning shifts. A sigh.
Deandra woke up.
A quick glance around the room told her she was still in the one place she did not want to be: that copy-pasted suburban home in the middle of Bumfuck Nowhere, California. A year and two thousand miles away from any semblance of freedom.
It wasn’t pleasant, but she knew there wasn’t much she could do about it at the moment. She’d bring it up to her mom, they’d argue, and nothing would come of it.
...Not that she ever let that stop her.
“Okay, Deandra, I get it.”
“All I’m saying, mom, is if you wanna be a writer in this country you have to live in New York.”
“I understand what you’re saying.” Deandra knew that was probably true. Like, really, how many times can one person stand to hear the same argument repeated? “But you understand our situation, right? If I could let you live with your father for the last year and a half of high school—”
“I can live with my father for the last year of high school.”
“—Then I would let you live with him.”
“He said I could...which should be enough, because he’s my father and my guardian.”
“No, he’s not.” Flat. Unamused. That wasn’t new, either.
Deandra pretended to be shocked. “Am I learning a deep, dark family secret?” Her mother scoffed. “Is my dad not really my dad? Is it a dad I’ve never met before?”
“You’re cute. Especially when you’re argumentative—which, lucky for you, is literally all the time. Anyway, your father is your father, but he’s not your guardian. I am. And I’m telling you, as soon as you graduate, if you get into the right school, with the right scholarship, then you can absolutely move to New York.”
If she gets into the right school. If she gets the right scholarship. If she graduates high school. If she makes it that far.
“I wanna go now , Mom. I’m ready now.”
“I know, but it’s not realistic, okay? I can’t afford boarding school for you there, and with your father out of the country so often...I can’t leave you alone in his empty apartment in New York City. We’re moving to Willoughby because I got a job here, it’s got a great school...and because of what happened at your last school.”
A groan. “Oh my gosh.” She stared out the window to hide her massive eye roll.
“You remember, don’t you? Your little tell-all about the principal having a threesome with both English teachers. And then you posted it on the school paper.”
“Well, it was true. The whole soccer team walked in on him.”
“That may be the case, but it’s not appropriate for a school newspaper.”
“I just think the whole school should know what’s going on, Mom. ‘The truth matters,’ right?”
“Now you sound like your father.”
“Is that a bad thing?” She kept her tone playful.
“No, it’s not.” Her mother glanced at her sideways. “You still can’t go to New York to live with him, though.”
Ugh. “Didn’t you ever watch Ginger Snaps, Mom? The suburbs drive teenage girls like me insane.”
“Film reference you think I don’t get, real cute, Deandra.”
They pulled up to the school as she said that. A knot tightened in Deandra’s stomach.
“So you’ll pick me up at 3?”
“Maybe a few minutes after—”
She definitely wasn’t being picked up at 3.
Students were milling about the front of the school building, as to be expected of a morning crowd. Some stood off to the side chatting but most dragged their feet to their morning classes. Someone handed her a brochure.
Journal club. Seemed interesting enough.
See Deandra, it’s all gonna be fine. Good school, a writing club — even if you don’t make friends, you’ll still be able to do what you love!
Her self-reassurances never quite seemed to work.
But it was fine. It seemed like hardly anyone even noticed her.
...She felt eyes watching her, all the same.