Home > One Small Thing(9)

One Small Thing(9)
Author: Erin Watt

I shove some mashed potatoes in my mouth and chew quickly.

I don’t think Rachel ever met him, either. He was a stranger. A teenage boy who came to stay with his mom one summer, stole a car, took it for a joyride and ran over my sister.

Again, I know those details only because of my parents. I wasn’t allowed to read the newspapers after it happened. There was no trial. No media storm. My parents shielded me from the whole thing. Charlie took a plea deal and was whisked off to juvenile detention. It was all very nice and tidy.

Except it left my family a mess. In pieces.

And, ironically, Chase wasn’t the only one who wound up in prison.

I snort at that thought, and everyone turns toward me.

“Ah. Sorry,” I mutter, staring down at my plate. “I was just thinking about...something funny.”

My father’s tone is tinged with disapproval. “There is nothing funny about what we’re discussing, Elizabeth.”

What are they discussing? I’d completely tuned them out. When I lift my gaze, I find three grim faces staring back at me.

“Anyway,” Jeff says, picking up wherever he’d left off, “I also disagree with the administration’s decision to let him attend Darling High.”

My pulse kicks up a notch. They’re talking about Chase.

Dad nods tersely. “We’re planning on voicing that sentiment when we meet with the school board.”

My gaze swings toward my father. “What? Why are you meeting with them?”

“Because it’s necessary. They need to know that we don’t take kindly to that boy being allowed back into the community. I don’t give a shi—a damn,” he says hastily, “who his mother is married to these days. He should not be allowed to attend the same school as my daughter, as my—” Dad’s voice gets louder “—my surviving child!”

I cringe. Is that how they think of me? As their “surviving child”?

I scrape my chair back. “May I be excused?” I mumble under my breath.

“No,” Dad says. “We have a guest, Lizzie.”

“It’s Beth now.” This time it’s Jeff who does the correcting.

I glance at him with grateful eyes.

“And I should probably take off anyway,” Jeff continues, even though his food is only half-eaten. “I’ve still got a ton of unpacking to do at home.”

“Tell your mother I’ll give her a call tomorrow,” my mom says. “I’d love to catch up with her and your father.”

“They’d love that, too. Maybe we can have a barbecue this weekend, while the weather’s still nice. Like old times,” Jeff says, winking at my mom.

“That sounds lovely. Lizzie, why don’t you walk Jeff to the door? And then you may be excused to your room.”

I don’t thank her for that, but I do thank Jeff when we stand in the front hall. “Thank you for backing me on the name thing. They refuse to call me anything but Lizzie.” I swallow. “And I’m sorry if you felt like I was trying to run you off. I just... I’m not in the mood for family togetherness.”

He nods. “I get it. My mood sank pretty fucking fast when I saw that killer at school today.”

Guilt arrows into me, and suddenly I find myself praying that nobody at the party on Saturday saw me going into the bedroom with Chase. That nobody saw either one of us walking out of that room hours later with our clothes disheveled.

It never happened. Maybe if I just keep saying that, over and over again, I’ll actually be able to forget it.

“Don’t worry, though.” Jeff’s voice lowers ominously. “He won’t get away with what he did to us.”

I eye him warily. “What do you mean?”

“I mean he won’t get away with it.” Brown eyes glinting with fortitude, Jeff pulls me in for a tight hug. “He took away the most important person in my life, in our lives. Trust me, he’ll pay for that.”

“He did pay for it,” I point out, but my voice comes out weak and shaky, hardly a firm objection.

“Three years in juvie?” Jeff spits out. He’s still holding me, and his breath fans hot against my cheek with each angry word. “You think three years makes up for the loss of a life? He killed someone.”

“It was an accident,” I whisper. “He didn’t hit her on purpose.”

“That doesn’t make her any less dead, now does it?”

The venom in his tone makes me flinch. Gulping nervously, I ease out of his embrace. “I’ll see you at school tomorrow. I’m glad you’re back, Jeff.”

The anger in his eyes dims, replaced with a flicker of joy. “I’m glad I’m back, too.”

I close and lock the door after him and then hurry upstairs to my bedroom. Once again, the lack of a door throws me for a loop. Frustration has me stomping forward with more force than necessary. My room happens to be directly above the dining room, and I smile with grim satisfaction at the thought of my parents hearing my angry footsteps thudding on the ceiling.

They might have taken away my phone, but I’m still in possession of my laptop and an internet connection. For all I know, they hacked into the computer and set up a bunch of spy programs or parental controls, but I don’t care if they did. I know they’d never take away the laptop. I need it for schoolwork, and school is very important to my parents.

I flop onto the bed and open up a search engine. It doesn’t take long to find out everything I can about Chase, and it’s not much more than I already knew. He pleaded guilty to reckless homicide. As a minor, he was sentenced to three years at a juvenile correctional center in Kewanee. I heard it was a harsh sentence, because most of those cases get only probation. Chase—I mean Charlie—started serving his time when he was sixteen. That’d make him nineteen now.

The only valuable piece of information I discover is the picture. All the papers ran one photo of Charles Donnelly, and the kid on those front pages looks nothing like the guy I met at the party.

No wonder I didn’t recognize him. Back then, his hair was cropped short, almost completely buzzed off. His features were smoother, giving him almost a baby face. He had no facial hair. His mouth was more sullen, whereas now it’s...tighter, resigned.

I run my finger over the computer screen, tracing Charlie’s grainy lips. Does he regret what he did? Does he wish he never stole that car? Never drove over the speed limit? Never hit my older sister and sent her flying onto the pavement?

The gruesome image brings bile to my throat, but it doesn’t make me want to circle the wagons and raise the pitchforks and march to Chase’s house in a violent mob.

If anything, I want to talk to him. If I had my phone, I’d use the number he gave me and... And what? Text him? Call? What the hell do I say to the boy who ran my sister down with his car?

Ding.

An IM screen pops up with a chime. It’s Scarlett. I glance toward my gaping doorway. Luckily, my parents aren’t lurking there. I mute the volume of the chat window and read Scar’s message.

You there, bb?

Yes, I quickly type back. The parentals didn’t take my laptop away.

Oh, perfect! This is just as good as texting.

Yup.

Can’t believe your parents didn’t tell you about CD coming back.

They were too busy taking my door off the hinges.

WHAT? jk, right?

Not jk at all. 1 sec.

I pick up the computer and turn it around so that the webcam has a view of the door. I snap a picture, load it into the IM screen and send it. Scarlett’s reply is swift and appropriately shocked.

OMG! THEY DIDN’T!

Oh they did.

I hear soft footsteps coming up the stairs and curse under my breath. Wonderful.

Gotta go, I type to Scarlett. Bbiab.

I minimize the chat screen just as Mom appears in the doorway. “Can we talk?” she asks quietly.

“I’m doing homework,” I answer in a curt voice.

“Lizzie.”

“Beth.”

She sighs. “Beth.”

I pretend to be focused on the screen. Mom can’t see it so she has no idea I’m just staring at a screensaver picture of me, Scarlett and Macy at the lake last summer. But Mom’s not going away, either. I can make out her slender frame from the corner of my eye.

She stands there, silently, patiently, until finally I release a loud groan and say, “Fine. Talk.”

Mom steps into the room and sits on my desk chair. I close the computer and wait for her to speak.

She begins with “Your father and I are concerned—”

I can’t stop a snort. “What else is new?”

“Beth,” she chides.

“Sorry.”

“We’re concerned that the boy might harass or upset you at school.”

My gaze flies to hers. “Why would he harass me?”

“Because you’re a reminder of what he’s done to our family, to this town. People don’t like to be reminded of their mistakes. Sometimes they lash out as a result.” Her lips thin out. “I don’t want that boy anywhere near you, Lizz—Beth.”

Despite my anger, I soften slightly, because I appreciate the effort she’s making to call me Beth. She’s trying. More than Dad is willing to try.

“Your father and I will try to have him removed from your school, but I can’t promise that we’ll be successful.”

I arch a brow. She’s acting as if I’m the one who requested they do that. Which I didn’t. “I’m not asking you to do anything. I don’t care if he goes to school with me.”

“Just the sight of him made you sick to your stomach today!” Mom is visibly stricken. “He’s a threat to your mental health and your well-being, and I promise you we’ll do what we can. But on the off chance that we fail, we need you to promise that you’ll stay away from that boy.”

Hysterical laughter burns my throat. Too fucking late, Mom.

“We won’t let him hurt you or our family ever again,” she says, and the ferocity of her tone startles me. “I won’t let him. He already took one daughter from me, and...” Her voice catches, and she takes a long, deep breath.

   
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