chapter one: screwed.
My life sucks more in this moment than it ever has before– including my trip through the birth canal. Not only does every person I love hate me, but each of them are probably comparing me to the scum that poops on the algae that lives off the dead fish guts in the bottom of the pond. They are sitting, more like slouching, around our round kitchen table. Poor posture runs in our town’s genes. It’s a very relaxed atmosphere, I guess.
“Brandee,” Dad struggles through gritted teeth, “I can’t believe you did that!” His fists clench up like they always do when he gets mad.
“Oh well…” I shrug, trying to play it cool. My face is a combination of sweaty and frost-bitten… though it’s the middle of April and continually 60°.
“Brandee, that was so-so-so ridiculously… stupid!” My brother John says. His fists clench up, too. The skin between his eyebrows wrinkles and his lips tighten. I feel a pang of guilt when I look at him; he’s only thirteen. He doesn’t need to be put through this sort of crap.
I shrug again.
Lizzie, my Best Friend, frowns a little. Her chocolaty eyes sparkled always, and now was no exception. “Dee, I expected more from you.”
My Mom just silently shakes her head. I suppose I feel the worst when I look at her. I love my mom more than anyone, and everyone around the table knows it. She raised me better.
Everyone, except Mom of course, glares at me from under their bushy eyebrows. That’s another trademark of our town. Most people get them plucked or trimmed–Reggie Harrison uses gel to make them pointy–but my family lets them be.
“Brandee…” Dad says, palms up.
“Dad…” I say, palms down.
“Cut the crap, Dee. I called you all here for a reason. And not to glare at you and discuss our varied levels of disappointment.”
“Then why’d you call me here, Dad?” I ask, impatiently rapping my fingers on the table.
“Your mother wants to say something.”
We all stare at Mom awhile, watching as her glassy blue eyes dart from face to face.
“Brandee Lynn,” she finally says, slowly making eye contact with me, “I love you. I’ll love you as long as I live. We all love you,” she waved her hand around the table, “I’m sure Dad, John, and Lizzie agree. And we’ll forgive–”
“I’m not forgiving that fat lipped butthead.” John says.
I sigh, pulling in the lower lip I’d been self conscious about since kindergarten, “I wouldn’t forgive me either, John.”
“Stop, kids. Please…” Mom begs. “As I was saying,” she gives my brother The Look, “We will forgive you. But right now, we’re upset.”
“I am sure as heck upset!” John says.
“John!” Dad shouts.
Lizzie cringes; she hates it when Dad yells.
“Fine.” John says.
“Anyway,” Mom says, her eyes wide, “We’ll get over it. But for now, we’ve decided to ground you.”
I nod slowly, let it sink in. I haven’t been grounded since seventh grade… which was four years ago. I’d smacked my uncle Dean across the face when he mentioned how pimply my face had gotten over spring break. The corners of my mouth curl up, but my eyes are sad. “I guess you’re all pretty upset. Did Johnny get a say in what my punishment was?”
“Yes. Yes, he did.” Dad says. “Do you want to find out what the details are?”
I shrug. “Of course I do.”
“You’re going to help out at my buddy’s place.”
I smile; it wasn’t nearly as bad as I–
“At a dairy farm.”
I sigh. “Fine.” I hate farms. Plus, we live in the middle of the city. Wherever my dad’s ‘buddy’ lived has to be at least half an hour away. “Will I commute daily?” My junky car will never cooperate, so there’d be a problem if that’s the plan.
“No. You’ll be spending a few months with him and his family. They live about six hours away.”
I shake my head, “You guys are overreacting.”
Dad pushes his chair away from the table and stands up. “You’re telling me that I’m overreacting? For crying out loud, you’re lucky you’re not in prison!” His fists clench up and he punches the tabletop, “I’m starting to think you have mental problems.”
I push my chair back in a likewise manner and stand up, “Never thought I’d see the day my own father would accuse me of having mental problems.” I stomp to my bedroom down the hall and slam the door. For good measure, I reopen it and slam it again.
I throw myself belly up onto the lumpy bed I’d inherited from my parents, grab a pillow and scream into it, then roll over onto my stomach and pull the notebook out from between my bed and the wall. In that notebook, I’ve worked out some of life’s greatest problems: Is there a higher power? (Yes.) Should there be a law against being an idiot? (Yes. But all the people who were already idiots wouldn’t obey it, due to their idiocy, therefore classifying it as a stupid law… and there are already enough of those as it is.)
So I write in the notebook that I don’t regret what I did and that I hope there will be some redeeming factor about going to live at the stupid dairy farm. Like, maybe there’ll be a hot guy to work alongside… or maybe I’ll get paid without anyone telling my Dad. Both are highly unlikely, but a girl can hope, can’t she?
The next day, at school, I can’t avoid the stares. I determine that most of them look at me like I’ve just murdered a puppy, and the rest look at me like I am a deranged clown. I guess I do look like a deranged clown (my fat lips do not look at all attractive paired with my pale skin), but in no way do I look like I just murdered a freaking puppy. I mean… who does that? Not Brandee Meyers. Probably not even spiky-eye-browed Reggie.
Nevertheless, I make my way down the broad hallway to homeroom.
“Hey, Vodka.” My friend/acquaintance Jess says to me as I walk into the room. Besides the teacher, Jess, and I, the room is empty.
“Hi, Jess.” I smile weakly and trudge to my seat in the back. I plop my backpack on the floor under my desk and get my unfinished homework out. I grab a pen and begin to try solving some math equations.
“Is it true?” Jess asks quietly, so the teacher won’t hear. “I heard you set your uncle Dean’s restaurant on fire.”
I nod. “Just the kitchen.”
“So what’s your punishment?” She asks, walking over to my desk, which is three rows behind hers and one row to her right.
I sigh. “I’m going away for a few months.”
“Where?” She asks, practically drooling over the juicy deets. This would be all over Twitter and Facebook later.
“A dairy farm,” I say slowly, then quickly add, “My dad’s got this friend who needs some help for awhile.”
A smile plays on her perfectly shaped raspberry colored lips… not the actual color of raspberries. Just the lip gloss imitation color. She sits on the desk next to mine, her long legs clad in white skinny jeans, “How long will you be there, exactly?”
“You know what, Jess?” –dramatic 3-beat pause– “I don’t know. I don’t even have the slightest idea. I only did the deed and received the punishment yesterday. Things like this take time–”
“Did he press charges?” She asked, her voice sounding especially sinister.
“No, he did not.” I say, silently hoping she’ll get her period today and not have a tampon.
She picks at her cuticles, “You know everyone hates you now. That was, like, a favorite hang out spot.”
“They’ll be closed for a few weeks while they get everything redone.”
I nod, “Probably months, if they reopen at all, actually.”
Two students enter the room.
“I guess I’ll talk to you after school.” She stands up and looks back at me with a devilish grin. “Let me know how your life on the farm goes.”
I never did like that girl.
At lunch, I sit at my regular spot in the back corner of the cafeteria. I wait to see if Lizzie will join me and, of course, she does. She doesn’t talk to me much though. She’s been taking the heat too; rumor has it, she drove the getaway car. Granted, that is true. Kind of. I set the restaurant ablaze, ran back to my house like a crazy person, and she picked me and John up in my driveway… like she did every morning. But she had no idea what I’d done until after school. Poor Lizzie never did anything wrong. She’s practically an angel.
“So, Whiskey,” A boy at the end of our table says conspiratorially, breaking into my well-deserved peace, “Is it true?”
I don’t answer.
“Is it true, Brandee?” He insists. “Is it?”
“Yes,” I say through my teeth, looking toward him but not at him, “It’s true. Please, post all about it on Facebook so people will stop… asking… me.”
“Gosh, take a chill pill.”
“I don’t appreciate you.”
He shrugs. “Oh well. And I will.” He pulls out his smart phone and happily types away, knowing he’ll go at least five faces up on the totem pole before the end of the day.
I look back at my food. I guess I was staring at it for a long time, because Lizzie asks me if I am going to finish it. I shake my head, and she pulls the tray out from under my growl. The French fries started to get soggy in the ketchup anyway.
Contrary to popular belief, school lunches aren’t really all that terrible. However, once you get wind that someone doesn’t like something, you start not liking it. Your taste buds psychologically believe there’s something wrong with the food… even though ninety percent of the time, it’s fine and barely even tastes sketchy. This does not, though, grant you permission to dismiss all cafeteria food as safe; there are a few select cases in which you have good reason to be suspicious.
I think this is why bandwagon propaganda works so well. People like what other people like, and people hate what other people hate. Even if the original haters aren’t even sure why they began the hate fest in the first place, the hate remains. I know this all to well.
We sit in silence while the rest of the cafeteria echoes with ringtones announcing the arrival of texts that undoubtedly say pretty much the same thing; WHISKEY FESSED UP. That kid at our table, Roger I think, will get his fifteen minutes of due fame, and people will go back their regular routine of hating on me and that new kid Elbert… from a safe distance. Same old, same old.
Stupid status quo.
People are such habitual creatures. Everyone has some routine they follow, be it daily or weekly or monthly or whatever, that they feel the urge to stick to… and if something goes wrong, they act like they’ve broken a blood vessel. It annoys me to no end. Even I, high-‘n-mighty Brandee Meyers, have habits. I wake up each and every morning and brush my hair. It may seem like a normal type of thing, but I hate the fact that I wake up and brush my hair before my feet even touch the floor.
I did not brush my hair the morning I set my uncle’s restaurant on fire.
“Okay, Dee, van’s leaving in ten minutes… with or without you.”
“That’s a stupid thing to say, Dad,” I shout, leaning out my bedroom doorway, “I don’t want to go. I can purposely take forever, if you’d like.”
“Brandee Lynn, you’ll be in the van in ten minutes or I’ll send you to an all-girls school.”
I hit my head on the door frame. “I’ll be right out.”
“Okay. And don’t forget, you’re only going to be there a few months. And they have a washer and a dryer you can use. Don’t take a year’s worth of stuff.”
I sigh and say okay, albeit a little whiny.
“Don’t you speak to me like that, young lady.” He says, stern.
“Don’t you speak to me like that either, old man.” I say, sarcastic.
I hear him sigh from his place at the kitchen table. “Don’t forget, you’re in serious trouble. You’d better not get on my nerves.”
I smile, “Yes sir.”
“Brandee, honey,” Mom says from her place beside him, “You can’t keep acting up like this. You’re only getting yourself deeper into trouble.”
“Whatever…” I said mumbled.
“What’s that?” She asks, her middle aged ears conveniently failing her once again.
“Okay, Mom.” I sit on my navy colored suitcase and zip it up. It’s easily twenty years old, but it looks like new because my cheapo–sorry, frugal–family never goes anywhere that requires bringing a suitcase. It’s not that we’re financially incapable of going on vacation, it’s that my parents don’t see the need and therefore classify it as a Waste of Money.
Once the zipper reaches the end of the line, I stand it up on its’ side and wait for another warning call. I think about my actions and begin to feel a little regret. Not over the fact that I did it, but because I caused a rift between my Dad and his brother. Dad gave Uncle Dean TEN GRAND to fix up the restaurant (out of my college fund, by the way), when really all it needed was a new oven and sink. Everything else was salvageable.
“Brandee, if you don’t get your butt in the van in less than two minutes, I’ll–”
“Okay, Dad. I’ll be right there.”
A stunned silence is my reply.
I look once more at my bedroom, then roll the luggage down the hall and wait for my Dad to bring it to the van. Since our driveway is cobblestone, I’m not allowed to roll the luggage on it… why ruin the wheels when we can get another twenty or thirty years out of it? So I wait until he finally comes to bring my stuff out.
They plan on driving me a little over halfway and meet up with his ‘buddy’, whose name I have yet to hear, and his son at a restaurant for lunch. I’ll ride back the rest of the way with them.
I follow him to the van and sit in my seat way in the back. John’s seat is directly behind the driver’s seat, and Lizzie’s seat is directly behind the front passenger side. John and Lizzie are playing Ninja on the grass beside the driveway.
“John, Lizzie, get in the car.” Dad says, gruff. He took the day off from work and he isn’t all too happy about it. I’ve already been a huge financial burden this week and now I am just adding to the pile… well, lack of a pile. So I guess I’m taking away from the ‘meager reserve’. At least they won’t have to buy anything for me while I’m gone. Lucky them.
“Okay, kids.” Mom says, once the doors are closed. “Let’s get all buckled up so we’ll be safe–”
Dad puts the van in reverse and we zoom backward.
“Honey, maybe you’re reacting in a bit of a rash manner. We should maybe discuss this. Okay? Let’s discuss this.”
“Discuss this? Really, Jane?” He smiles. “Okay, I’ll discuss this. My daughter sabotaged my kid brother’s biggest dream; I had to take a day off of work; I’m going to see my childhood best friend for the first time in over fifteen years so he can take my delinquent daughter back to his farm as a punishment; this is a beautiful day and it’s being spent in a cramped car; I am mad.” He sighs. “End of discussion.”
Mom nods. “Alright. Thank you, Greg. Thank you for sharing.” Did I mention Mom’s kind of a psychologist? Not, like, a real one, but a hypothetical psychologist. A pretend one. She grew up next to some child psychologist and if her parents didn’t pressure her to be an accountant, she’d be a psychologist.
Everyone is quiet for a long time.
“Hey… uh… Dad?” John says around 12 o’clock.
“What, John?” Dad sighs. He’s been driving an average of 60 MPH for almost two hours.
“I have to pee.”
“Okay. Alright. We’ll stop.” We pass an exit. “Soon.”
“Dad…” John drags Dad into five syllables.
“John, if you had to go that bad, you would’ve told me before we passed the exit.”
“John Brandon Meyers, do not back talk me.”
“Dad…” Again, the Five Syllable Drag Out. He shifts positions in his seat.
“Okay, son, we’ll stop at the very next exit.”
We watch as Exit 40 passes by.
“Greg, honey,” Mom starts.
“Jane, darling,” Dad finishes.
“Greg,” Mom continues, “You passed the exit.”
Dad puts his right blinker on and pulls over. “Okay, John, you can get out and pee, or whatever you have to do, then hurry back to the van. You have thirty seconds, starting now.”
John flings the door open and leaps onto the shoulder by the highway before Dad even shifts gears to PARK.
“Twenty-three,” Dad says as John struggles to undo his zipper. He looks back at his big watch, “Twenty-two, twenty-one–”
“Honey, don’t count aloud. You’re putting way too much pressure on him.”
“Jane, he needs pressure. He’s a freaking thirteen year old boy. He can use some pressure. For crying out loud… stop babying him.”
She just sits there as Dad continues with his counting.
I look out at John who’s standing with his back to us. I could see the steady stream of pee midair and I wonder how it feels to pee… as a boy, of course. I know exactly how it is to pee as a girl.
As Dad gets down to five seconds before the limit, John looks around franticly. The pee is still streaming as Dad puts the van in gear. How much pee could a tiny body like his hold, anyway?
“Come on, Johnny boy.” He lets off the brakes and the van slowly rolls forward. “Get in the van, Johnny. We’re in a hurry.”
“To get rid of me.” I mumble.
“She said she wants you to turn the radio on.” Lizzie covers. Did I mention that I love her?
Mom pushes the button and scans the stations. She stops on a classical jazz station. Lizzie and I groan in unison.
We’re still rolling and the pee is still streaming.
“John, come on!” Dad shouts out the open door. “You’ll have to hitchhike back home if you don’t get in the van.”
“Greg,” Mom says, “You wouldn’t stop when he first had to go, so… give him a break. Please?”
Dad sighs, the corner of his lower lip curls in. He looks at Mom and gives her a small boyish smile, “Okay. But no more stops. We’ll be there in an hour.” He looks behind the van and puts it in reverse, then backs up to where we left John.
I hear John zip up his zipper and run up to the van. “What’s your problem, Dad?! You’re such an idiot! I can’t even believe you did that! I was inappropriately exposed to everyone who drove by! I am so mad right now!” His fists clench up. “You’re lucky I didn’t pee in my seat! I hate you, I Hate You, I HATE YOU!” John shouts. He slams the door and buckles his seatbelt. “You said we’re in a hurry so why aren’t you driving yet? Huh? Why are we still here?”
Dad frowns. “I’m afraid we’ve run out of gas.”
“Are you serious?” Mom shakes her head.
“Dad,” says Lizzie (she calls my father Dad, too… her dad passed away when she was a baby). “We wouldn’t have run out of gas if you’d stopped at one of those other exits. You could’ve filled the tank while Johnny was inside peeing. Efficient and whatever, eh? But no. No, we’re out of gas. And it’s freezing outside!”
“Lizzie, it’s almost 60° outside. It’s not freezing.” Dad retorts. “I’ll call Triple A. Stay here.” He gets out and calls the guy.
After an hour, we’re back on the road.