* * *
By now I’m about a half-mile from home. Saddlehorn. A small town midway between Reno and Carson City. I can already see our development coming into view up ahead. The grid of one-story, single-family houses. I’ve always wondered why you never see any people outside. It just adds to the overall depressing vibe of this place. The doors are always shut. The windows always covered. You’d think the whole place was a ghost town, or some high-crime area. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not the swankiest area in town, but there aren’t any crack dealers or prostitutes living there, either.
I fan the front of my shirt to try to release the sweat from my torso and glance at my watch. Seven-fifteen. And not one single phone call from anyone. That pushes my anxiety into hyperdrive. Usually Jet can’t stop himself from calling me and threatening me. The “Just wait until you get home!” thing. But no calls. No texts. This can’t be good at all.
The moment I open the front door, I see him slouched on the living room couch, his legs spread wide apart and his worn-out brown leather cowboy boots planted on the carpet. The ivory ceramic table lamp on the end table bounces yellow light off his dead expression. I can’t hear a single noise except for the heavy pounding of my heart in this prison that’s my home. But he isn’t looking at me. He’s staring at the wall above the plasma TV. I know what that means. Great.
“You got any idea what time it is, boy?” he snarls, never taking his eyes off the wall. Before I can say anything, he shouts, “And you see the damage you did to that car? I just bought the damn thing for your sister and you gotta go an’ ruin it already?”
I edge along the wall, past the tacky walnut-framed mirror that he had cobbled together and Dina had stained and decorated with seashells, and continue toward the stairs. I know I need to stay out of his reach. As I make it to the first step, I say, “Sorry. I’ll find a way to pay for the damage.”
Jet chuckles and nods. He still hasn’t once looked at me. Suddenly he heaves himself off the couch and glares at me. “You gonna ‘pay for’ it? Where you gonna get the money when you ain’t got no job, shithead? You’re livin’ in this house, right? Under my roof, huh? You better get it into your head once and for all that you goddamn better start playing by my damn rules, boy! Whatever I say, you’re gonna do! Better start gettin’ your act together ’cause I will break that pretty little face of yours.”
As I take another step up, he moves toward me with a look of death seeping from his tired brown eyes. I stop still. The hairs on my arms are standing on end, and I wonder for a split second whether this is how a rabbit feels the moment before a wolf attacks.
Then something in me snaps. With every ounce of boldness in me, I spit it out. “I wish you were the one who’d died!”
The fury on Jet’s face is demonic. He grabs my jeans at the ankle and yanks me down. As I tumble down the stairs, my camera bag flies off my shoulder. It crashes onto the floor, and I hear my thousand-dollar lens shatter.
He grabs my ankle again, pulls me down onto the grimy living room carpet, and flips me over onto my back. The dust from the grimy fabric settles into my eyes and makes them burn. Then he straddles me and pins me down with his knees over my arms. I kick and struggle to free myself, but he’s six feet of muscle and belly, and there’s no way. He slams my head on the floor, pressing the back of my skull against the rug so hard that it burns. Then he then grabs me around the neck and starts choking me.
He brings his face so close to mine that I can smell the stale beer on his breath. “I’m tired of you thinkin’ you got some worth in this home. You’re a useless piece of shit that nobody’s ever cared about. Not me, not Dina, not Leyla! Not even your goddamn grandparents! We never shoulda taken you in! I shoulda never listened to them! You ain’t never been a real Hillstone, and you ain’t never gonna be!”
My face is turning red. I keep on struggling to break his hold, but the blood is rushing to my head and I can’t breathe. I’m seeing flashing spots in front of my eyes, as if somebody’s taken a photo of us with one of those bright, exaggerated flashes.
“You think that’s an insult?” I manage to gasp, and I grab one deep breath and spit right in his eyes.
He’s so startled that he lets go of my arms and rears back on his heels. “You little fucker!” he shouts. He swabs at his eyes and then lands a direct punch to my face that knocks the breath out of me. I grunt, momentarily paralyzed as the pain explodes all over. He’s knocked the breath out of me. I can’t move, but I manage to grab one short in-breath before he hauls himself to his feet and kicks me in the ribs. The stiff, pointed toe of his cowboy boot stabs me like a knife. The last bit of air whooshes out of my body. He grabs my shirt, drags me to my feet, and throws me against the wall. I’m as limp as a puppet. I can’t say a word. My brain is too busy channeling all the waves of pain flooding through my body.
He pushes his face close to mine. His sweat splashes against my face. He bites down on his lip and snarls, “You just messed things up for yerself real bad!”
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Genre – Young Adult Science Fiction
Rating – PG
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