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Take Me On

By:Katie McGarry

Chapter 1

Haley

Chapter 2


West

I ask why more than I should, some days I regret the decisions I make and most mornings I wake up on edge. The three don’t often combine, but today I hit the shit trifecta.

Leaning against an aging telephone booth, I withdraw the envelope from my coat pocket and ignore the chill of the evening wind. The University of Louisville logo stands out in red across the top. I snagged the envelope yesterday before my parents figured out it had arrived. They’ve been stalking the mailbox, desperate for news that isn’t bad.

My bruised and cut knuckles scream in protest as I unfold the paper. Each joint in my fingers pounds in time with the muscles in my jaw. A few hours ago, I got expelled from school for fighting.

Mom and Dad should know better than to expect good news from me. Mom holds on to hope. Dad, on the other hand...

I’m not a rocket scientist and don’t need to be to know thin letters aren’t good. My head literally throbs reading the words. I silently swear and slouch farther against the glass. It’s only February and the rest of spring is going to bring more rejections.

I crumple the paper and toss it into the ashtray sitting outside the doors of the Laundromat. The remains of a smoldering cigarette char the edges of the letter. Ironic. The rest of my life is also going up in smoke.

My cell rings and I snatch it out of my coat pocket. “Yeah.”

“Your father said you haven’t come to the hospital.” It’s Mom and my eyes narrow at the entrance of the shit-hole bar at the end of this decrepit strip mall. She steps out of the bar and onto the sidewalk, a black scarf hiding her blond hair. Huge designer sunglasses disguise her face, and she sports a tailored coat that costs more than every car parked in this dump.

Mom is high-end, high-style and high-maintenance. And this landfill? I glance around the gray lot. Not a car made in this decade in sight. A Laundromat, a dollar store, a grocery store, a pharmacy with bars over the windows and, down toward the end, the bar.

She stands out here. I blend in better with my sagging jeans and hat on backward, which is good because she doesn’t know I’m here. Mom’s a petite thing, and I tower over her at my six feet. I inherited Mom’s looks with the blond hair and blue eyes. If I need to, I can defend myself, but Mom has no business being here. Yet she shows once a month. Same damn time. Same damn day. Even with her youngest daughter, Rachel, in the hospital in intensive care.

“You’re not staying with Rachel?” I ask. Mom has no idea I’ve been following her for the past ten months. I came to this hellhole last spring to buy pot from a potential new dealer, someone cheaper than the guys at my school. Private school equates to marked-up.

“No,” she answers.

Shocked doesn’t describe the reaction I had when I saw my mother walking into the bar the first time. After that near encounter, I keep a tight watch on her. It’s my job to protect my family. I failed with Rachel and don’t plan on failing again.

“Your father arrived,” Mom continues. “He told me to take a break and eat.”

Take a break. Eat. Screw the guy she’s been meeting.

A year ago, I would have laughed if anyone suggested my mother would have an affair, but what else could be the explanation for the wife of one of the wealthiest men in the state to be hanging out in the armpit of the city? I can’t say I blame her. My father has a habit of ignoring his family.

Mom freezes by the door to her car and I silently urge her to get in. A guy a few steps from me has become too interested in her, her Mercedes or both.

“West.” She sighs into the phone and her shoulders slump. “You need to visit Rachel. When she’s awake, she’s asked for you. Her condition is serious, and you need to come.”

I inch the speaker away from my mouth. My insides ache as if the blows I took today at school created internal damage. Rachel’s legs were trashed in the accident and no one needs to tell me that she may never walk again. Her accident is my fault and I can’t face her.

“Your principal said the fight you had today was over a joke about her.”

Joke, my ass. Some asshole junior called my sister a gimp. No one talks shit about Rachel. But even though I was defending Rachel, the school still threw me out. As the pasty head of our school explained, there have been too many detentions, too many warnings, and, though he regretted the situation with my sister, I had left him with no choice—I just wasn’t Worthington Private material.

“How is she?” I ask, changing the subject.

“Come to the hospital and ask her yourself.”

Not going to happen. When I say nothing, Mom continues, “She’s in pain and she needs you.”

“She has Ethan.” Her twin. “And Jack.” Our older brother. Gavin, the oldest of our brood of five, has also been there, but I don’t mention his name. Mom is still having a hard time dealing with his gambling issues. The entire world thinks the Youngs are perfect, but our family is a damn mess.

“Rachel wants you.”

She doesn’t. Our last words were spoken in anger. Hell, our last month of words were spoken in anger. How can she forgive me when I can’t?

Mom allows the silence as she slides into her car and starts the engine. The muscles in my neck relax the moment she backs out of her spot. She transfers me to her Bluetooth and switches me to speaker. “Your father is upset. In fact, this is the angriest I’ve seen him. He told you to go straight from school to the hospital.”

That would have left Mom defenseless; plus I’m done with Dad ordering me around. Playing Dad between meetings doesn’t make him my father. “I’ll talk to him at home.”

She pulls out of the lot and softens her tone. “After what’s happened with Rachel and with Gavin...”

I readjust my stance. I tried to prevent all of this with Gavin, but then Rachel told me she needed the money I took from her to help Gavin and... I can’t continue the thought.

“This isn’t the time to antagonize your father. He made it clear months ago he wouldn’t help you if the school expelled you. I’ve tried talking with him, telling him you were defending your sister, but he isn’t moving on this. He wants you at the hospital tonight. He means it. This isn’t the time to push boundaries.”

Dad and I have been a gasoline fire nearing a tanker for months. He doesn’t understand the problems facing this family. He doesn’t understand everything I’ve done to protect them all. His entire focus belongs solely to his business, then on Mom. In the end, my father doesn’t respect my brothers or sister or me.

“It’ll work out,” I say. Because there’s no way he’d permit his son to fail out his senior year. Dad’s expectations of me may be low, but he won’t let anyone else think poorly of his family. The bastard has always been about reputation. “I’ll be up there later tonight.”

“Make it sooner—as in now.” She pauses. “And visit Rachel.”

“I’ll see Dad.” I hang up and head for my car. I told Mom it would work out, but a restless thought inside me wonders if Dad’s serious.





Chapter 3




Haley

An hour bus ride to my uncle’s, forty minutes waiting for Dad’s prescription and, as I walk out of the pharmacy, I still haven’t thought of a witty enough comeback for when Jax looks at me from across the dinner table and mouths John’s last word to me: “Runner.”

“Am not” won’t do the job.

Especially since Jax will ignore his actual age of seventeen and revel in his maturity level of six with the response of, “Are too.”

Short of kicking him in the balls from underneath the table, there’s no way to win once someone says, “Are too.” Besides, Jax has learned to cover himself when he sits across from me.

On top of it all, I’ve been rejected by the University of Notre Dame. My eyes sting and I blink. I could say it’s the wind burning my eyes, but that’s a lie. I’m awesome at lying to everyone else but have yet to perfect lying to myself.

Trying to ignore the cold, I shove my hands in my jeans pockets and weave through the crowd huddled underneath the covered sidewalk. The plastic bags from the pharmacy and grocery store crackle as they swing from my wrist. Between the darkness of the winter night and the faces buried under hats and coats, the people I pass become nothing more than expressionless ghosts.

The sun set a half hour ago and I’ve got a little less than fifteen minutes till curfew. The Dictator is strict about the comings and goings of anyone living in his household.

We’re having squirrel tonight for dinner.

Squirrel.

As in the rodent with the fuzzy tail that gets zapped on power lines.

Squirrel.

And it’s my turn to say grace. On top of not securing a comeback, I’ve also failed to find a way to thank God for the bounty that is squirrel. I’m sure, “Dear God, thank you for the fuzzy rat you gave us to eat and please don’t let me die of the plague after I digest it. Is that gristle? Amen,” will meet my uncle’s approval.

With ten people in one two-bedroom house, there are bound to be some personality clashes or, in my and my uncle’s case, a revisit of the Cold War. Actually, Russia and the U.S. liked each other a tiny bit more. He has a problem with girls who think, and I’m a fan of using my brain.

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