Home > Gun Shy(9)

Gun Shy(9)
Author: Lili St. Germain

I traipse downstairs, the tight feeling in my chest expanding with every step. Running late is a cardinal sin, according to my stepfather. Everything must be perfect. Everything must be on time. All the time. He frets if things are out of order. If things are messy. If things are not on time. I am a creature who is always messy, always out of order, never on time.

The staircase stops at the entrance to our kitchen. We’ve got one of the bigger – and older – houses in Gun Creek, one of the original gold mining ranchers. Every window is large, rectangular, and framing a picture of mountains and empty tundra and snow.

It’s beautiful to look out there if you’re in a good mood. If you’re not, it’s utterly desolate, miles of blank space waiting to swallow up your soul.

I’m not in a good mood.

“Hey, daydreamer,” Damon says, breaking my thoughts. He’s sipping coffee from an old Mickey Mouse mug my grandfather bought for me when I was eleven and we went to Disneyland. Something stabs me in the gut. I wish he wouldn’t touch that mug. That’s my fucking mug. Leo’s in jail and my mom is in a coma, and now I can’t even drink coffee out of the mug my dead grandfather gave me. My grey mood turns black, always balanced on a knife’s edge, and I grit my teeth together as anger stirs in my gut.

I never used to be prone to rage, but I’m not the girl I used to be before all of this.

“I made you cereal.” He pulls out a chair and points to it. “We’ve got ten minutes.” I do as I’m told, acting every inch the sullen stepdaughter. He tells me all the time that I need to curb my attitude, but my attitude is just about the last piece of me that’s still hanging on. After the accident, after Leo went to jail and Mom was just gone, I had a lot more…. Salt. I was feisty. I threw tantrums. In public.

You should be nicer to Damon, more than one person has said to me. He’s doing the right thing, taking care of you all these years while your mother’s been sick. Fuck those people. My mother isn’t sick — she’s dying. I’m twenty-five years old with a brain-dead mother and a waitressing gig at the local diner. I’ve got nothing. And I don’t give a fuck about being nice.

Damon sits across from me, pointedly eyeing my unbrushed rat’s nest of blond hair and my bare cheeks. His hair, by contrast, though short, is neatly combed, his badge shined, his shirt pressed.

“You look like shit, sweetheart,” he says casually.

I dig my spoon into the bowl and suppress a gag. The last thing I want to eat is something full of milk and sugar. My churning stomach needs dry toast, or saltine crackers, or preferably nothing at all.

“You smell like a fucking pine forest,” I mutter around a mouthful of Froot Loops. Damon’s aftershave situation definitely isn’t helping my stomach. I stare down at the brightly colored cereal in my bowl and imagine myself down a well, or floating in a lake, just like Karen. I don’t know why I’m thinking of Karen now, not nine years after she turned up in Leo’s well.

“Don’t swear at me,” he says, his eyes narrowing. “It’s not ladylike.”

Getting drunk-fucked in the middle of the night and not being able to remember is pretty unladylike, too, but I don’t mention that. My life would be pretty miserable if I started talking about that. I throw my spoon down after two mouthfuls and stand up, in search of coffee. The pot’s been brewed a while ago, and the treacle brown liquid inside is lukewarm at best, but it’s better than nothing. I take another mug out of the cupboard and set it down on the sink, watching a moose wander by outside as I pour my liquid crack cocaine and take a sip.

“You’re losing weight again,” Damon says, interrupting my daydreaming and moose-watching. His voice softens. “I worry when you don’t eat.”

He wants me to keep eating. I sit back on my chair with great reluctance, washing cereal down with giant mouthfuls of coffee, even though I’m fairly sure what I’m eating is completely devoid of nutritional value. I drink two cups of caffeine just to get through my breakfast, all the while being watched carefully by Damon’s bright blue eyes. Another thing he frets about. Plates with food left on them and girls who don’t eat enough. He told me once how he was never allowed cereal as a kid. How he never had enough food. How I should appreciate him buying it for me. If he knew that I throw up almost everything that passes my lips - with the exception of alcohol, of course - he would be very upset, indeed.

“Thanksgiving’s next week,” Damon says. “Did you get the turkey organized like I asked?”

I nod. I’m lying. I haven’t. I will. Damon’s a traditional guy, wants the roast turkey and all the trimmings. I hate turkey. To be truthful, I hate food in general. The little I do eat to keep up appearances I purge as soon as I can. It’s comforting to be in control of some part of my life; and besides, the thinner I am, the less tits and ass I have, the less attention I get from the male population. I’m almost androgynous, with cheekbones that could cut glass. Except for the long hair I can’t bear to part with and my tits that, while small, refuse to disappear entirely no matter how hard I restrict my calorie intake.

“Pick up the prescription from the pharmacy?”

“Yup.” I left it on the hallway table, like always.

“Did you get the wood chopped?”

My stomach twists nervously. Damn. All week I’ve been walking around in a state of semi-anxiety, knowing I’ve forgotten something. “I’m planning on doing it tonight,” I say quickly. “I was busy with the shopping.”

Damon’s face turns from dispassionate to frustrated.

“You’re useless,” he mutters.

“Really.” I roll my eyes.

“Cassie. You can’t even get out of bed in the morning without being reminded. You’re like a child. A retarded child.”

“You’re supposed to say ‘intellectually disabled.’ It’s more PC.”

He slams his palm down onto the table, hard enough that my cereal bowl dances. “Do you know how goddamn hard I work to keep this house paid up? To keep your mother’s nursing bills paid up? To buy fucking prescriptions of that shit that keeps her alive?”

I swallow cold coffee, unmoved by Damon’s martyr speech. I work just as hard as him, turning tables, pulling double shifts whenever I can, pouring every cent I earn into Mom’s medical care, the bills, this falling-down house. So I don’t care about poor Damon.

For the first time this morning, I notice his face is puffed out on one side, and there’s a small cut above his right eye.

“What happened to your face?” I ask.

He glares at me.

“Get dressed,” he says, making a face after he drains his last inch of coffee. “Coffee machine’s broken again.”

“I’m pretty sure it’s the operator,” I say, leaning over to the counter and lifting the lid on the machine, slamming it down again so it locks properly. After a moment, dark black coffee starts to flow into the pot underneath. “There.”

Damon stares at me, unimpressed. “Hurry. Up. Or I’ll take you to work as you are.” He gestures to my pajamas.

“I bet the customers would love that,” I reply, pushing my chair back and standing. I jump as a hand curls around my upper arm and yanks me so my upper half is bent across the table.

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