Home > One Small Thing

One Small Thing
Author: Erin Watt

1

“Hey there, pupster.” I laugh as Morgan, the Rennicks’ dog, races across the lawn and jumps up on my khaki pants.

“Morgan, come here,” yells an exasperated Mrs. Rennick. “Sorry, Lizzie,” she says, rushing over to pull the big black mutt off me without much success. She’s small and he’s so big that they’re about the same size.

“It’s no big deal, Mrs. R. I love Morgan.” I crouch down and scratch the big boy behind his ears. He yaps happily and slobbers all over my cheek. “Oh, and it’s Beth now,” I remind my neighbor. I’m seventeen and Lizzie is a name I wish would go far, far away. Unfortunately, no one seems to remember.

“That’s right. Beth, then. Don’t encourage him,” she scolds, tugging on his collar.

I give him a few more rubs behind his ears before releasing him.

“Your mom’s going to have a fit.” Mrs. R frets.

I look down at the dog hairs that are now dotting my white button-down shirt, which was already spattered with food stains from work. “I need to wash up anyway.”

“Still. Tell her I’m sorry.” She drags Morgan away by the collar. “I promise to watch him better.”

“Don’t,” I say. “I love all the time I get with Morgan. It’s worth the punishment. Besides, it’s not like there’s any reason for us to not have a pet now.” I stick out my chin. The reason for our pet-free house has been gone for three years, even if my parents don’t like acknowledging that fact.

Mrs. R falls silent for a moment. I don’t know if she’s holding back curt words toward me for being callous, or toward my mom for being too strict. And since I don’t know, I’m too cowardly to press.

“I’m sure she has her reasons,” Mrs. R says finally and gives me a small wave goodbye. She doesn’t want to get involved. Good choice. I wish I wasn’t involved, either.

Morgan and Mrs. R disappear inside their garage. I turn and squint at my house, wishing I was anywhere but home.

I check my phone. There aren’t any messages from my best friend, Scarlett. We talked this morning about going out tonight after my shift at the Ice Cream Shoppe. School starts on Tuesday. For Scarlett, the summer of fun is over. For me, it means I’m one day closer to true freedom.

I roll my head around my shoulders, trying to loosen the tension that always appears the minute I see my house. I exhale heavily and order my feet to move forward.

Inside, Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood” trickles into the mudroom. Mom’s playlist is set in an eternal 2015 loop of Sam Smith, Pharrell and One Direction, back when One D was still a group with five members. I toe off my ugly black work shoes and drop my purse onto the bench.

“Is that you, Lizzie?”

Would it kill her to call me Beth? Just once?

I grit my teeth. “Yes, Mom.”

“Please tidy up your locker space. It’s getting messy.”

I glance down at my section of the mudroom bench. It isn’t that messy. I’ve got a couple of jackets on the hooks, a stack of Sarah J. Maas books that I’m rereading for the eightieth time, a box of mints, a bottle of body spray that Scarlett bought me at the last Victoria’s Secret sale and some random school supplies.

Stifling a sigh, I pile everything on the Maas books and walk into the kitchen.

“Did you pick up in there?” Mom asks, not bothering to look up from the carrots she’s chopping.

“Yeah.” The food looks unappetizing, but then all food does after I’m done with work.

“Are you sure?”

I pour myself a glass of water. “Yes, Mom. I cleaned up.”

I guess I’m not believable, because she sets down her knife and goes into the mudroom. Two seconds later, I hear “Lizzie, I thought you said you tidied up.”

Ugh. I slam down the glass of water and join her. “I did,” I exclaim, pointing to the neat pile of supplies and books.

“What about this?”

I follow the line of her finger to the messenger bag hanging on the hook in the section next to mine. “What about it?”

“Your bag is in Rachel’s section,” she says. “You know how she didn’t like that.”

“So?”

“So? Take it off of there.”

“Why?”

“Why?” Her face grows tight and her eyes bulge. “Why? You know why. Take it off now!”

“I—You know what, fine.” I reach past her in a huff and drop the bag in my section. “There. Are you happy?”

Mom’s lips press together. She’s holding back some scathing comment, but I can read the anger in her eyes clear enough.

“You should know better” is what she says before spinning on her heel. “And clean off that dog hair. We don’t allow pets in this house.”

The furious retorts build in my mouth, clog up my throat, fill up my head. I have to clench my teeth so hard that I can feel it in my entire jaw. If I don’t, the words will come out. The bad ones. The ones that make me look uncaring, selfish and jealous.

And maybe I am all those things. Maybe I am. But I’m the one still alive and shouldn’t that matter for something?

God, I can’t wait until I graduate. I can’t wait until I leave this house. I can’t wait until I’m free of this stupid, awful fucking prison.

I tear at my shirt. A button pops off and pings onto the tile floor. I curse silently. I’ll have to beg Mom to sew this on tonight because I have only one work shirt. But screw it. Who cares? Who cares if I have a clean shirt? The customers at the Ice Cream Shoppe will just have to avert their eyes if a few strands of dog hair and chocolate sauce are sooooo offensive.

I shove the dirty shirt into the mudroom sink and strip off my pants for good measure. I saunter into the kitchen in my undies.

Mom makes a disgusted sound at the back of her throat.

As I’m about to climb the stairs, a stack of white envelopes on the counter catches my eye. The writing is familiar.

“What are those?” I ask uneasily.

“Your college applications,” she replies, her voice devoid of emotion.

Horror spirals through me. My stomach turns to knots as I stare at the envelopes, at the handwriting, the sender addresses. What are they doing there? I rush over and start rifling through them. USC, University of Miami, San Diego State, Bethune-Cookman University.

The dam of emotions I was barely holding in check before bursts.

I slap a hand over the pile of envelopes. “Why do you have these?” I demand. “I put them in the mailbox.”

“And I took them out,” Mom says, her eyes still focused on the carrots in front of her.

“Why? Why would you do that?” I can feel myself tearing up, which always happens when I’m angry or upset.

“Why would you apply? You’re not going to any of them.” She reaches for an onion.

I place my hand on her wrist. “What do you mean I’m not going to any of these colleges?”

She plucks my hand off and meets my glare with a haughty, cold stare of her own. “We’re paying for you to go to school, which means you’ll go where we tell you—Darling College. And you don’t need to keep asking for applications. We’ve already filled yours out for Darling. You should be accepted in October or so.”

Darling is one of those internet colleges where you pay for your degree. It’s not a real school. No one takes a degree from Darling seriously. When they told me over the summer that they wanted me to go there, I thought it was a joke.

My mouth drops. “Darling? That’s not even a real college. That’s—”

She waves the knife in the air. “End of discussion, Elizabeth.”

“But—”

“End of discussion, Elizabeth,” she repeats. “We’re doing this for your own good.”

I gape at her. “Keeping me here for college is for my own good? Darling’s degrees aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on!”

“You don’t need a degree,” Mom says. “You’ll work at your father’s hardware store, and when he retires you’ll take that over.”

Chills run down my spine. Oh my God. They’re going to keep me here forever. They’re never, ever going to let me go.

My dream of freedom has been snuffed like a hand over a candle flame.

The words tumble out. I don’t mean for them to come out, but the seal breaks.

“She’s dead, Mom. She’s been dead for three years. My bag hanging from her hook isn’t stopping her from coming home. Me getting a dog won’t stop her from rising from her grave. She’s dead. She’s dead!” I scream.

Whack.

I don’t see her hand coming. It strikes me across the cheek. The band of her wedding ring catches on my lip. I’m so surprised that I shut up, which is what she wanted, of course.

Her eyes widen. We stare at each other, chests heaving.

I break first, tearing out of the kitchen. Rachel might be dead, but her spirit is more alive in this house than I am.

2

“I don’t want to go.” Scarlett’s firm tone doesn’t waver. We’ve been standing in front of the gas station for twenty minutes arguing about our plans, and my best friend isn’t budging.

Neither am I. My cheek still throbs from Mom’s earlier strike.

The girls who invited us to the party lean against the side of a black Jeep with its top down, their heavily made-up faces wrinkled with annoyance. The dark-haired guy in the driver’s seat looks impatient. I’m surprised they’re waiting around. I mean, it’s not like they know us. Their invitation was the result of a five-second conversation in the potato chip aisle after I told the blonde that I liked her shirt.

“Fine. Then don’t go,” I say to Scarlett.

Her brown eyes flood with relief. “Oh, okay, good. So we’re not going?”

“No, you’re not going.” I lift my chin. “I am.”

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