Perfect Chemistry / Page 13

Page 13



As the minutes tick by, I'm getting nervous. There has been enough tension in my house. I don't want to cause more. "Colin . . . ," I say, squeezing his hand.

He puts his arm around me in response.

At the top of the ninth inning, when it's past ten, I say, "I'm sorry, but Colin has to drive me home now."

Mr. Wallace and Mr. Lundstrom shake Colin's hand, then I pull him out of the park.

"Brit, do you know how hard it is to get an internship at HL&W?"

"At this point, I don't care. Colin, I needed to be home by ten thirty."

"So you'll be home at eleven. Tell your mom we got stuck in traffic."

Colin doesn't know what my mom is like when she's in one of her moods. Thankfully I've been able to avoid bringing him around the house often and if he comes over, it's just for a few minutes or less. He has no clue what it's like when my mom goes off on me.

We pull into my driveway not at eleven, but closer to eleven thirty. Colin is still pumped about the possible internship at HL&W while listening to the after-game recap on WGN radio.

"I gotta go," I tell him, leaning over for a quick kiss.

"Stay here a few minutes," he says against my lips. "We haven't fooled around in, like, forever. I miss it."

"Me, too. But it's late." I give him a look of apology. "We'll have more nights together."

"Hopefully sooner rather than later."

I walk into my house, prepared to be yelled at. Sure enough, my mom is standing in the foyer with her arms crossed. "You're late."

"I know. I'm sorry."

"What do you think, that I make up arbitrary rules?"

"No."

She sighs.

"Mom, I really am sorry. We went to a Cubs game instead of a movie, and the traffic was terrible."

"Cubs game? All the way in the city? You could have been mugged!"

"We were fine, Mom."

"You think you know it all, Brit, but you don't. For all I know you could've been lying dead in a city alley and all along I thought you were at a movie. Check your purse to see if any money or your ID is missing."

I open my purse and check the contents of my wallet, only to appease her. I hold up my ID and cash. "It's all here."

"Consider yourself lucky. This time."

"I'm always careful when I go to the city, Mom. Besides, Colin was with me."

"I don't need excuses, Brit. Did you not think it would be nice to call and tell me about the change in plans and that you were going to be late?"

To have her yell at me over the phone, and then again when I got home? No way. But I can't tell her that. "I didn't think about it," is all I say.

"Do you ever think about this family? It's not all about you, Brittany."

"I know that, Mom. I promise next time I'll call. I'm tired. Can I just go to bed now?"

She dismisses me with a wave of her hand.

On Saturday morning I wake up to my mom's screaming. Throwing the covers back, I rush out of bed and run down the stairs to see what the commotion is all about.

Shelley is in her wheelchair, which is pushed up to the kitchen table. Food is all over her mouth and splattered on her shirt and pants. She looks like a little kid instead of a twenty-year-old.

"Shelley, if you do it again you're going to your room!" my mom yells, then places a bowl of her blended food on the table in front of her.

Shelley swipes it on the ground. My mom gasps, then narrows her eyes at Shelley.

"I'll deal with it," I say, rushing to my sister.

My mom has never hit my sister. But my mom's frustration is in overdrive, which stings just the same.

"Don't baby her, Brittany," Mom says. "If she doesn't eat, she'll be tube fed. Would you like that?"

I hate when she does this. She'll talk about the worst possible scenario and not work on fixing what's wrong. When my sister looks at me, I see the same frustration in her eyes.

My mom points her finger at Shelley, then at the food on the floor. "That's why I haven't taken you to a restaurant in months," she says.

"Mom, stop," I say. "You don't need to escalate the situation. She's already upset. Why make it worse?"

"And what about me?"

Tension starts building, beginning inside my veins and spreading to my fingertips and toes. It bubbles up and bursts with such force I can't keep it inside any longer. "This isn't about you! Why does it always go back to how everything affects you?" I scream. "Mom, can't you see she's hurting? Instead of yelling at her, why don't you spend the time figuring out what's wrong?"

Without thinking, I take a washcloth and kneel beside Shelley. I start wiping her pants clean.

"Brittany, don't!" my mom yells out.

I don't listen. I should have, though, because before I can move away Shelley's hands go in my hair and she starts pulling. Hard. With all the commotion, I forgot my sister's new thing is pulling hair.

"Ow!" I say. "Shelley, please stop!" I'm trying to reach around and push down on her knuckles like her doctor told us to do to make her release her grasp, but it's no use. I'm in the wrong position, crouched at Shelley's feet with my body twisted. My mom is swearing, droplets of food are flying, and my scalp feels raw already.

Shelley isn't loosening her hold, even though my mom is trying to pull her hands away from my hair.

"Knuckles, Mom!" I yell, reminding her what Dr. Meir suggested. Holy crap, how much hair has she pulled out? It feels like an entire section of my head is bald.

After my reminder, my mom must have pressed hard enough on her knuckles because my hair is released. Either that, or Shelley pulled out whatever chunks she'd grabbed.

Falling onto the floor, I immediately put a hand to the back of my head.

Shelley is smiling.

My mom is frowning.

And tears come to my eyes.

"I'm taking her to Dr. Meir, right now," my mom says, shaking her head at me so I'm aware she's blaming me for the situation spiraling out of control. "This has gone on long enough. Brittany, take your father's car and go to O'Hare to pick him up. His flight comes in at eleven. It's the least you can do to help."

CHAPTER 16 Alex

I've been waiting at the library for an hour. Okay, so it's been an hour and a half. Before ten, I sat outside on the cement benches. At ten I came inside and stood looking at the display case, pretending to be interested in upcoming library events. I didn't want to look overly eager to see Brittany. At ten forty-five I sat on the couches in the teen section, reading my chem book. Okay, so my eyes skimmed the pages even if no words registered.

Now it's eleven. Where is she?

I could just go hang with my friends. Hell, I should go hang with my friends. But I have a stupid urge to know why Brittany blew me off. I tell myself it's an ego thing, but in the back of my mind I'm worried about her.

She'd hinted, during her freakout in front of the nurse's office, that her mom isn't a candidate for a Mother of the Year award. Doesn't Brittany realize that she's eighteen now and can leave home if she wanted? If it's that bad, why stay?

Because her parents are rich.

If I left home, my new life wouldn't be so different from my old one. With a girl who lives on the north side, a life lacking designer towels and a maid to pick up after you is probably worse than death.

I've had enough of standing here waiting for Brittany. I'm going to her house, to confront her on why she ditched me. Without thinking it through, I get on my motorcycle and head to the north side. I know where she lives ... in the big honkin' white house with pillars flanking the front.

I park my bike in her driveway and ring her doorbell. I clear my throat so I don't choke on my words. Mierda, what am I gonna say to her? And why am I feeling all insecure, like I need to impress her because she'll judge me?

Nobody answers. I ring again.

Where's a servant or butler to answer the door when you need one? Just as I'm about to give up and slap myself with a big dose of what-the-fuck-do-I-think-I'm-doing, the door opens. Standing before me is an older version of Brittany. Obviously her mom. When she takes one look at me, her disappointing sneer is obvious.

"Can I help you?" she asks with an attitude. I sense either she expects me to be part of the gardening crew or someone going door-to-door harassing people. "We have a 'no soliciting policy' in this neighborhood."

"I'm, uh, not here to solicit anythin'. My name's Alex. I just wanted to know if Brittany was, uh, at home?" Oh, great. Now I'm mumbling uh's every two seconds.

"No." Her steely answer matches her steely glare.

"Do you know where she went?"

Mrs. Ellis closes the door halfway, probably hoping I won't peek inside and see her valuables and be tempted to steal them. "I don't give out information on the whereabouts of my daughter. Now if you'll excuse me," she says, then closes the door in my face.

I'm left standing in front of the door like a complete pendejo. For all I know, Brittany was behind the door instructing her mom to get rid of me. I wouldn't put it past her to play games with me.

I hate games I can't win.

I walk back to my bike with my tail between my legs, wondering if I should feel like a kicked dog or an angry pit bull.

CHAPTER 17 Brittany

"Who's Alex?"

Those are the first words my mom asks me after I arrive back home from the airport with my dad.

"He's a guy from school I'm partnered with for chemistry," I answer slowly. Wait one minute. "How do you know about Alex?"

"He was here after you left for the airport. I sent him away."

As if my brain is synapsing, reality hits me.

Oh, no!

I forgot to meet Alex this morning.

Guilt sets in as I think about him waiting for me at the library. I was the one who didn't trust him to show, but I'm the one who flaked. He must be furious. Ugh, I'm feeling sick.

"I don't want him near the house," she says. "The neighbors will start talking about you." Just like they talk about your sister, I know she's thinking.

One day I hope to live in a place where I don't have to worry about neighbors gossiping. "Fine," I tell her.

"Can't you change partners?"

"No."

"Did you try?"

"Yes, Mom. I did. Mrs. Peterson refuses to reassign partners."

"Maybe you didn't try hard enough. I'll call the school on Monday and make them--"

I whip my attention to her, ignoring the stinging, throbbing pain in the back of my head from where my sister ripped out the chunk of hair. "Mom, I'll handle it. I don't need you calling the school and making me feel like a two-year-old."

"Did that boy Alex teach you how to talk to your mother without respect? All of a sudden you can open a mouth to me because you're partnered with that boy?"

"Mom--"

I wish my dad was here to intervene. But he went directly to his study to check his e-mails right after coming home. I wish he'd act as a referee instead of sitting on the sidelines.

"Because if you start hanging out with trash like that, people will consider you trash. That's not how your father and I have brought you up."

Oh, no. Here comes the lecture. I'd rather eat live fish, scales and all, than hear this right now. I know the meaning behind her words. Shelley's not perfect, so I have to be.


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