Twelve Years Ago
BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!
My arm shot out and crashed into my alarm clock, sending it flying before it landed with a heavy thud on the floor. I groaned, rolling over and prying my eyes open to glare at the device that’d just ripped me out of a really hot dream.
I desperately tried to cling to the remnants of the dream, wishing that the images my brain had conjured up of Rainey moving on top of me had been real, but they weren’t. As I blinked against the early morning sunlight streaming in through my dusty, slightly tattered curtains, reality sank in.
Rainey wasn’t here, but judging by the sounds of movement coming from our kitchen, my father was. I sighed, rolling onto my back but staying in my bed, staring at the brown water stains on the ceiling while I listened to the telltale noises that told me he was already drinking.
The freezer opened and closed with a squeak of the hinges. An ice cube clattered as it dropped into his glass. Liquid sloshed into it next. Then there was the faint shuffle of his feet past my door as he made his way back to the TV.
Now that I was becoming more aware, I could also hear the familiar soundtrack of an adult film he loved playing in the background. My eyes slammed shut and I shook my head, the morning glory I’d woken up with instantly going down.
Welcome back to reality, Jesse.
I tried to block it out, to mentally transport myself to that peaceful place I only ever managed to find when I was with Rainey, but it was no use. The moaning had started on the TV and red-hot rage suddenly raced through me. I knew that I wouldn’t have been here if it hadn’t been for that man’s sperm, but he wasn’t worthy of the title father.
On the other hand, at least he’d stuck around—unlike my good-for-nothing mother. She was gone and she had been for a long time. She’d left me with the alcoholic sperm donor who never did anything that wasn’t for himself. He gave me a roof over my head but even that, he made me pay for. If not with money, then with the shitty way he treated me.
My alarm blared again, giving me the warning that my snooze time was up. If there was any way I was going to make it to school before the tardy bell, I had to get going. I’d gotten into enough trouble for being late, and while I didn’t give a damn, I didn’t want the administration calling my dad in again.
There was always hell to pay whenever they did. Dear old dad didn’t want to be bothered by my school. If it’d been up to him, I wouldn’t even have been attending anymore. He considered formal education useless, but I’d dug my heels in on that point.
If I had any hope of winding up someplace else, someplace far, far away from him and his way of life, then I had to finish high school. As much as I hated it, I forced myself out of bed and rubbed my hands over my hair as I headed to my closet.
My clothing options were limited at the best of times, but since I hadn’t done laundry in a few days, there was almost nothing left in there. Cursing myself for forgetting about laundry when I was down to my last clean pair of underwear, I grabbed that and then spun around to swipe yesterday’s jeans up off the floor.
Without inspecting them to see if it was obvious that this would be my fourth day wearing them, I chucked them over my shoulder and went to hunt down a shirt. There were a couple of dirty ones hanging over the back of my broken desk chair, and after sniffing them, I chose the one that was the least rank.
“Jesse!” my father bellowed as soon as I opened my door. “Bring the whiskey. I’m almost empty.”
My teeth gnashed together, but I made a detour to the kitchen instead of going straight to the bathroom. It was only a few steps from my bedroom door to the kitchen counter, and once I got there, my nose scrunched up at the sight of the place.
Dad was even more allergic to cleaning up than I was, and since neither of us had done dishes in a few days, the stench of the full sink was becoming almost unbearable. He’d also obviously made himself a late-night snack after I’d gone to bed, and now there were bits of ramen noodles on the stove, the floor, and the counter.
When he was drunk, the debris he left behind after eating was similar to what I imagined it’d look like when a toddler tried to make and eat its own meal. I shook my head, wrapping my fingers around the long, plastic neck of the whiskey bottle. I considered pouring the liquid down the drain rather than letting him guzzle the rest of it.
I’d done it a few times when I’d been younger. Lesson learned.
Since I didn’t really feel like trying to explain another black eye today, I refrained from catapulting him into a hysterical fit of fury and grimaced as I carried the bottle the few feet to the TV room. Dad was sitting on his favorite, threadbare armchair, not concerned about the metal springs sticking into his ass and thighs.
With graying hair, sallow skin, and gaunt face, he looked nothing like he used to anymore. I’d seen pictures of him when he’d been younger, and he’d looked almost exactly like I did now. We weren’t oil paintings, but we weren’t ugly either. Looking at him now was like staring at myself in a little less than two decades if I couldn’t avoid following in his footsteps.
“What are you staring at?” he snapped, reaching for the bottle before he sneered at me. “You finally giving up on school?”
He turned back to the TV, a lascivious look in his eyes as a woman bounced on top of a guy with a huge dick on the screen. Dad shrugged but looked back at me as he responded. “Thought you’d be on your way to school by now. Looks like you gave up. People like us don’t make it anyway. You’re a fucking idiot if you think you’re any different.”
“Maybe, but at least I’ll be able to say that I tried.” The words came grinding out of me. We’d had this argument before—a lot.
Dad glanced at me as he raised the bottle and sloshed some more whiskey into his glass. “Trying don’t mean shit when you don’t have anything going for you. You’re not smart. We don’t have family money or connections. You’re just another dumbass who’s going to knock up some girl and end up just like me.”
I shook my head, fierce determination filling my chest. “I will never end up like you.”
He snorted, then let out a bark of derisive laughter. “You really are an idiot if you think that’s true. I used to think the same thing, but then I learned that life’s a bitch. She saddled me with you, didn’t she? Wouldn’t have done that if she wasn’t a bitch.”
“You could’ve used a condom. Life didn’t saddle you with me. That was all you and your apparent aversion to prophylactics.”
“Using fancy words won’t change anything,” he retorted, his head shaking as he muttered under his breath. “Apparent aversion to prophylactics.”
I heard the sarcasm dripping from his tone, but I ignored it. Instead of engaging with him more, I turned to go to the bathroom and grabbed my shower. On my way back to my bedroom after, I heard him yell my name again.
“What?” I snapped without going to the TV room like he wanted me to. Let him yell. Maybe he strains his voice and has to shut up for a few days.
“Your beloved prophylactics don’t always work,” he called with more of that derisive laughter in his voice. “I used a condom, but here you are. And to think, all I really wanted that day was a blowjob.”
The words were slightly slurred, but I heard them loud and clear nonetheless. Not for the first time, either. One of his favorite pastimes was reminding me that he’d never wanted me to begin with and neither had my mother.
It still sucked to hear it, though. I’d just turned eighteen. What the hell was I supposed to do with the fact that they hadn’t meant to conceive me? I wasn’t supposed to be here. I kept thinking that maybe it’d make more sense when I got older, but I hadn’t had any luck on that front so far.
After getting my backpack from my room, I headed for the front door, glad that I was about to be out of the house and away from him for the rest of the day. He couldn’t let me go without one last shitty comment, though.
“You’re all high and mighty now, Jesse. You think you’re better than me, but you’re not. Fuck-ups like us inevitably only breed more fuck-ups. If you haven’t done it yet, you’re going to. That pretty little girlfriend of yours is gonna get knocked up and then you will be just like me. Mark my words.”
I didn’t bother replying. He loved the sound of his own voice and I’d already told him countless times that I’d off myself before I ended up like him. Gripping the strap of my backpack tighter, I slammed the door behind me and stalked all the way to school.
Rainey was waiting for me on the steps, and as soon as I saw her, everything ugly and tense inside me let up for a minute. God, she’s so beautiful.
Strawberry-blonde locks tumbled in soft curls to her waist, her bangs framing her gorgeous, heart-shaped face. The headband she wore made it look like she had a crown of blue flowers in her hair, and the robin’s egg color of them matched her eyes almost perfectly. Her curvy body was clad in another one of her whimsical, flowing sundresses, and I had the instant urge to drop to my knees in front of her, push up the hem of that dress, and tuck into the treasure between her legs.
I still didn’t know what a girl like her saw in a guy like me. Where she was all soft and light, I was hard and dark. If she was sunshine, I was a thunderstorm. We were exact opposites in almost every way, and I knew her middle-class parents disapproved of her relationship with a guy from the wrong side of the tracks that, to their minds, would only drag her down with him.
As I thought it, my father’s words echoed in my mind again. That pretty little girlfriend of yours is gonna get knocked up, and then you’ll be just like me.
Disgust rolled through every inch of my being. I would never do that to her. She was the only good thing in my life, but as I looked at her, I wondered how long we were going to pretend that this thing between us was real.
There was no future for Rainey Hollenbeck and me. Sooner or later, she was going to realize that she was way too good for me. When that happened, she was going to dump me like yesterday’s trash.
That day wasn’t today, though. When she saw me walking toward her, a radiant smile lit her entire face and she stood, waiting until I reached her before she flung her arms around my shoulders and melted into me.
“Jesse,” she breathed into my ear, able to reach it easily since she was still two steps above the one I was on. “I missed you.”
“Yeah, you too.” I hugged her back, but my spine remained rigid as I inhaled her sweet, buttery scent and glared at anyone who dared to pay too much attention to this public display of affection.
Before Rainey, I’d hardly even spoken to anyone at school. She’d broken through my defenses, but none of the rest of them had, and I still didn’t like being stared at.
She pulled back, smiling as she looked up into my eyes and moved both of her hands to my chest, one of her palms directly over my heart. “Hey you. How are you holding up after the other night? I haven’t really heard much from you. I was worried.”
I forced my lips into something resembling a smile, trying my very fucking best to banish my father’s opinions from my mind. I didn’t talk about him with anyone, and I wasn’t about to share his crappy thoughts with her now. It’d only worry her more.
Besides, since she’d brought up the other night and was looking at me the way she was, I guessed she needed some reassurance now. I wasn’t a nice guy, but for her, I tried. Especially since the night she was referring to was a night we’d slept together. I’d taken her virginity a couple of months ago, and we’d done it a few times since, but she was always vulnerable and a little needy after.
Sliding my hands down her sides, I let my fingers rest on her hips and squeezed. Then I brought my forehead down to hers. “You have nothing to worry about, baby. I texted you, didn’t I? I loved the other night. How are you doing with it?”
She shrugged, the corners of her mouth tilting up into a coy smile. “I loved it, too. So much that I think we should do it again sometime. Soon.”
That pretty little girlfriend of yours is gonna get knocked up, and then you’ll be just like me. The words slammed into my brain again, I tensed up as I shook my head. “Maybe we should cool it for a while.”
A shallow crease appeared between her eyebrows and hurt flashed in the blue depths of those eyes. I hated it, but it was what it was. “Don’t you…want me?”
“Of course I do, but we need to be careful.”
“We have been.” Her head dropped to the side as she gave me a long look and pushed her fingers into my hair, toying with the strands as she kept her eyes on mine. “What’s going on with you today? You look stressed.”
“It’s nothing.” The first bell rang, and I breathed out a sigh of relief. “We’ve got to go.”
“We do, but are you sure you’re okay?”
“I’m fine.” I forced another smile and dipped my head to speak against her lips. “With everything I’ve got going on in my life, I’m glad you’re in it. We’ll talk later, okay?”
“Okay,” she agreed reluctantly, taking my hand when I offered it to her and letting me walk her to her homeroom.
As I watched her join her peers and link her arm with her best friend’s, I sighed, an ominous feeling making itself known in my chest. My relationship with her really was the best thing I’d ever had, and I appreciated her more than she could know, but it wouldn’t be long now before she left me.
I didn’t know how I knew it, but I did. Rainey Hollenbeck was close to moving on. The best I could hope for was a chance to give her a proper goodbye before she did.