Something in the Way(10)

By: Jessica Hawkins



Tiffany was a different story. That night, after I’d helped Mom clear the dinner table, I passed by his study on my way to my room. It wasn’t unusual for me to hear them arguing in there, but the mention of my name made me stop.

“Lake deserves a night off,” Tiffany was saying. “More than that. She’s been doing schoolwork all summer.”

“I don’t expect you to understand the value of hard work,” he said calmly. “But your sister does. Don’t interfere.”

“One night at the Fun Zone is hardly interfering,” she said.

Over dinner, Tiffany had mentioned she was taking me to the fair that weekend. Dad had shut it down, worried I was losing focus because I was still reading The Grapes of Wrath after two weeks.

After a weighty silence, my dad said, “Do you think I’m stupid, Tiffany? You honestly expect me to believe you want to spend a Saturday night playing arcade games with your little sister?”

“Yes,” she said. Tiffany acted tough most of the time, but I heard the hurt in her voice.

“God only knows what you really have planned. Probably some unsupervised party at one of your degenerate friends’ houses. The answer is no.”

I frowned. Tiffany didn’t have to be in there sticking up for me. She was telling the truth after all.

“She couldn’t possibly be a better student, so why can’t she have fun, too?” Tiffany asked. “I swear, we’ll go right to Balboa and come home.”

“I don’t believe you. And I tell you something, if I’d ever lied to my father, I would’ve gotten a beating for it.”

“Go ahead, then. Beat me.”

With a gasp, I put my hand on the doorknob to intervene. Fear made me hesitate. I rarely stood up to my dad. I wasn’t even sure how he’d take it if I did.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” he responded. “Your mother and I have never lain a hand on you. In fact, we let you do whatever the hell you want. All I’m asking is that you leave your sister alone. She’s on track to get everything she wants, and I’ll kick you out of this house before I let you drag her down.”

“You’re such a jerk,” Tiffany said. “All you care about is Lake. If I left tomorrow, you wouldn’t even notice.”

“I certainly would, but you won’t. You need money and a job to move out. That shouldn’t be too hard, or so one would think.”

My heart beat double-time. I didn’t want Tiffany to leave. She could be difficult, yes, but I liked knowing she was in the next room. I knew no matter what, if I really truly needed her, she’d be there.

I jumped back as Tiffany blew out of the study and upstairs. After a few seconds, her door slammed. I wasn’t sure what to do—comfort her or keep my distance.

Mom appeared from the kitchen, wiping her hands on a dishtowel. “Everything all right?”

“They got in a fight,” I said.

She glanced toward the staircase. “Give your sister some space,” she said, turning back. “She’ll calm down.”

“Lake?” Dad called. “Get in here.”

I had no reason to be nervous, but my mouth went suddenly dry. Tiffany was both stupid and brave for regularly picking fights with my dad. I didn’t consider myself either of those things.

I peered into the study. Dad sat at his desk, tinkering with his new computer. We were only allowed in there when he was home. He had important papers and files that couldn’t be disturbed, and as of a few weeks ago, we were most definitely not to go near the study. He’d purchased the IBM he said was worth more than me. After a month of debate over whether he actually needed a personal computer, he’d let me go with him to pick it out. He’d spent two days just setting it up, and that night, he’d let me watch as he’d moved icons around, opening them, showing me what he’d called “the future in a box.”

I crept into the room.

“When will you get your summer school grades?” he asked, rubbing the bridge of his nose. “It’s unacceptable that we have to wait at all.”

“Not for a couple weeks,” I said. “But I’ll get an A-plus in both classes.”

“You’re sure?”

“Yes.”

He breathed in so deeply, his chest expanded. With his exhale, he relaxed back into his leather chair. “That’s my girl. What would I do without you?”

I furrowed my brows. “What do you mean?”

“Just that I don’t think I would’ve survived another emotional teenager. You’re like me. Focused. Logical.” He leaned his elbows on the desk. “Now, let’s talk about the reading list. You’re falling behind?”

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