Home > The Angels

The Angels
Author: Ruby Vincent

Chapter One



SCATTERED TRASH ROLLED through the parking lot. I pictured a stooped Asian man sweeping it up with a broom whose bristles were bent and frayed. He lifted his head to beam at me and ask if he should ring up my Nerds and cream soda or if I’d surprise him with a new sugary treat today.

I blinked and Mr. Han was gone.

That’s all it was. A memory.

I’d certainly seen him in that very position enough times. Cleaning, sweeping, tidying, and re-tidying the store his immigrant parents bought with the last bit of change in their pockets. He used to tell me their story as I slid crumpled bills under the partition. His parents worked from sunup to sundown to build a business they would pass down on to him, and when the time came, he’d pass it to his daughter.

My eyes traced the angel wings graffitied on the boarded windows.

That time never came.

The light turned green and my uncle took off, leaving the street corner and Han’s closed grocery store behind. I watched it through the window until it was a speck in the distance, just to make myself feel worse.

“—no running, no loud music, no phones at the dinner table, and no— Ember? Ember!”

I jerked. “Huh? Oh, sorry, Aunt Violet. What were you saying?”

She shot me a withering glare in the rearview mirror. “We’ll also need to address your manners, I see. It’s incredibly rude to ignore people when they’re speaking to you.”

“I wasn’t ignoring you. I just... got distracted for a moment,” I said. “Tell me again.”

Violet sniffed. That wrinkled-nose glare had been etched in her face since the judge told her it was either their home or foster care and the streets. She never wanted kids either birthed, adopted, fostered, or left in a basket on her doorstep, but I had a feeling she was wishing she went with all of the above and filled her home with dozens of children so she could’ve reasonably said there was no room for me.

As it stood, they lived in a mansion right across town and refusing to take us in wouldn’t have looked good to the gossipy harpies at the country club, and nothing mattered more than what they thought of her.

“As I was saying,” she continued. “If you’re going to live in our home, you’ll abide by our rules. There is no running, no loud music, no phones at the dinner table, and no boys in the house. We have breakfast, lunch, and dinner together and I expect you to be on time for meals. You have a nine o’clock curfew and you must let me know if you’re leaving the house and where you’ll be. Although, I feel it’s better you stay inside until you leave for Raven River. Understood?”

“Yes, Aunt Violet.”

She nodded stiffly. “Good. Now, tell your brother what I said.”

I glanced to my left. Eli was reading his book, eyes zipping across the page, and little pink tongue poking out. He was deep in the good part and wouldn’t thank me for interrupting him.

I did anyway. I tapped his shoulder and he raised his head, brows wrinkling.

“I love you,” I signed.

The little brat rolled his eyes and went back to reading.

I tapped him again. “I love you, jerk.”

His sweet, round face crinkled in amusement.

“I love you too,” he signed back.

I let him go back to his book, not bothering to relay the rules. My brother wasn’t going to be running, playing loud music, talking on any phone, or bringing people over. You needed to have friends and/or dates for the latter. And neither of us had any of those.

“What did he say?” Violet demanded. “Does he understand the rules? Make sure he understands.”

“He understands just fine. Eli has no issues with comprehension,” I replied, getting the distinct feeling this wouldn’t be the first time I’d have to check her for treating my brother like he was remedial. “But while we’re on the subject of Eli, did you start on the list I gave you? The door lights, phone signalers, new smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors?”

My uncle spoke for the first time since we drove away from the courthouse. “We won’t be needing any of that. You and Eli leave for Raven River in four weeks. I’ve been assured by the headmistress that the school is deaf-accessible.”

“How so?” I stuck my head through their seats. “Does the school have lighted smoke alarms in every room? Will they provide a notetaker or interpreter? Do his teachers know not to turn away from the class when they’re speaking? And what about—”

“I’m certain they have everything he requires,” Uncle Harrison broke in. “This isn’t Wesley High. Raven River is a top institution that you both were lucky to get into. We’re paying a small fortune for you and your brother to attend, so you’ll both make the most of it.”

I bit hard on my lip, holding in my retort. You’re paying a small fortune to get rid of us. Don’t act like you’re doing us some favor putting us in a year-round boarding school.

“I’d like to speak to the headmistress myself,” I said instead. “Get an idea of what they have available to Eli so he can be prepared.”

“She hardly has time to go over every little thing with you,” Violet scoffed. “She’s a busy woman.”

Not bothering to argue, I sat back and pulled out my headphones. There was undoubtedly a number for the school in the brochure my uncle gave us. I’d call later.

The catchy, thumping beat of a K-Pop song filled my ears as I tried to push thoughts of the last month from my mind.

It didn’t work.

It’s strange how the brain works. Its power is unparalleled in the whole of human history. How it can make us believe things that aren’t true. See things that aren’t there. Feel things that aren’t real.

I still felt the sharp pain from stubbing my toe on the dresser as I left my room that morning. I heard the echo of my cries, calling for Mom when an empty kitchen and bare dining table greeted me. I saw the steam rising from the mug as I made my own coffee. I felt hardwood beneath my feet as I climbed the stairs, entered my parents’ room, and found the closet and drawers empty, and the dried wax sticking in the carpet from the candle knocked over in their haste to leave. But clearer than all of those memories, I saw the note lying on the pillow, telling me in two short sentences that my life as I knew it was over.

Yes, the brain is a powerful thing. It tricked me into believing those selfish, lying bastards loved me.

The cheery music pelted my ears, the opposite of my morose reminiscing. Movement out of the corner of my eye roused me. I pulled out my headphones. My aunt was waving for my attention.

“That’s another thing,” said Violet. “If you’re going to have those things so loud that you can’t hear me speaking to you, you aren’t to use them at all.”

I gritted my teeth. I honestly never cared much for my aunt and uncle. They lived across town my whole life, a half an hour away, but we never saw them outside of major holidays. Not even birthdays would bring them around. When they were there, my aunt only opened her mouth to criticize my hair, clothes, posture, and refusal to wear makeup. The last part really burned her up and I have received makeup kits every year for Christmas since I was twelve.

My dad’s brother, Uncle Harrison, didn’t spare me many words. He was always walking out of the room to take business calls. I’d stumble on him on the porch, shouting into the phone and calling some poor sap a moron. As for Eli, the two didn’t speak to him at all. It never occurred to them to learn sign language.

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