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Something in the Way

By:Jessica Hawkins

Something in the Way
Jessica Hawkins

       Something in the Way, 1


1





Lake  –  1993





It seemed unfair, spending three hours a day in a classroom during  summer, only to wait another thirty minutes in the parking lot. There  were things I could do about that, like walk home, or tell my parents my  older sister was always late to pick me up-but either of those would  inevitably lead to an argument or two. Dad would yell at Tiffany. She'd  take her punishment out on me.

It wouldn't do much good now anyway, with only two days of summer school  left. I hadn't gotten my license yet, so what right did I have to  complain? Instead, I did what I had every other afternoon and took out  one of the books I needed to read before summer ended.

Some pages later, Tiffany came around the corner, screeching to a stop  at the curb. "Get in," she said, as if I were making her late for  something-even though I'd done nothing but wait in that same spot for  forty-five minutes. "Come on. Hurry up."

Gainfully unemployed, my nineteen-year-old sister lived at home, ate Mom  and Dad's food, and had an allowance my dad constantly threatened to  cut off. She had one job only-take me to and from school.

Rolling through stop signs on the drive home, she explained the rush.  "If Brad calls, I don't want to miss it. I've been waiting ages for him  to ask me out."

It would've been easy not to care that she was driving fifteen miles  over the speed limit-the windows were down, the breeze warm, and there  were still six weeks left of summer. But Tiffany knew better. "You're  going to get pulled over, and Dad'll take your car away," I said.

"Maybe for a day, but I'd get it back."

"Can't you just call Brad and ask him out?"

"Not unless I want to look desperate," she said with an air of knowing,  as if she were imparting wisdom. In a way, she was. I had no idea about  these things. "You want to watch music videos later?"

"I have reading to do."

"You've been reading or doing homework all summer," she said. "Your class is practically over. Relax."

University of Southern California wasn't looking for ‘relaxed' students.  According to Dad, summers were for "weeding out the lazy kids"-like my  friends, who were probably at the beach. "I will, in two days."

"Then we should do something this weekend. Something cheesy, like the  Fun Zone at Balboa. Get ice cream bars, like we used to when we were  kids."

One thing about Tiffany, I could never predict what she'd say next. Most  days, she didn't want me anywhere near her. Others, she'd burst into my  room, hop on my bed, and ramble on about her day. She had only two  speeds-annoyed older sister or best friend. I preferred the latter . . .  unless I was in the middle of studying for something important.  "Maybe," I said.

With an eye-roll, she turned up the radio for "Runaway Train" and sang  all the way home. She parked along the curb of our cul-de-sac, close to  the next-door lot where they were doing construction.

One of the hard-hatted men whistled at us. "Hey. Blondie."

Tiffany looked through her window. "What?"

"Come here a sec."

Why should it surprise me that Tiffany responded? If a man had eyes and  they were aimed in her direction, she noticed. That might not have meant  much if it only happened once in a while, but Tiffany was a California  beauty through and through.

There'd been a lot of arguments about the construction since it'd  started earlier that summer. My father didn't like the noise, the dust,  or the men he was sure were looking at my mom and sister. It hadn't  involved me, so I hadn't paid much attention. But if he'd been that  upset about the men looking at Tiffany, he definitely wouldn't want her  talking to them.

Tiffany slanted the rearview mirror, brushing her bangs side to side and  forward again. She puckered her lips. "You have any lipstick?"

I carried tins of Candy Kisses lip balm in my backpack, flavors like  cherry vanilla, bubblegum, and my favorite-watermelon. Here I was,  entering junior year of high school, and I was still "too young" for  makeup. Even though my friends wore it. Even though Tiffany had been  granted that privilege the summer before her freshman year. I didn't  care too much about stuff like that, but I was still a little protective  of my lip balm. My allowance was finite.

I rummaged through my pencil pouch until I found cherry vanilla and  handed it over. It was nothing to Tiffany, who dug her finger into it,  spread a ton over her lips, smacked them together, and tossed it into my  lap. "Thanks."                       
       
           



       

She got out of the car, her Steve Madden platforms wobbling as she stepped over the curb into the dirt lot.

I slung my backpack over my shoulder and went to interrupt her  conversation with the construction worker. "We're not supposed to be  over here."

"Then why don't you go inside?" she asked without looking at me. It wasn't a suggestion.

The man looked down her top.

"And leave you out here alone?" I asked.

She'd rolled the waistband of her black denim skirt dangerously high. A  short skirt and platforms didn't seem like the kind of thing you wore  around a construction site, but what did I know? Less than most  sixteen-year-olds, Tiffany would say. Nineteen-year-olds, though-they  knew a lot about a lot. Particularly how to dress around men.

"How long's it take to build a house?" she asked him, sweeping her bangs  aside. Realizing her mistake, she fixed them again. She spent at least  ten minutes in the bathroom every morning plucking at them, fashioning  them into a casual curl.

"Depends. We're pretty quick." He laughed into his fist. I looked behind  us to see why. One of the workers had cocked an electric drill in front  of his crotch. It spun around as he jutted his hips back and forth. It  was stupid, but the other men on the site laughed.

I fingered the thin, gold bracelet around my wrist, a birthday gift from  Dad. Tiffany and I didn't always get along, but I didn't want to leave  her in a dangerous situation. These men were big and dirty. They were  making me nervous. "I thought you were waiting for Brad's call."

Tiffany opened her mouth, probably to tell me to go away, but then shut it. "I have to go," she told him, whirling around.

"Hey, wait," he called after us.

We went up the brick and concrete walkway to the front door. My parents'  house wasn't a mansion or anything, but my classmates gawked when they  came over. With palm trees, a perfectly manicured lawn, and a three-car  garage, our two-story home fit in with the upscale Newport Beach  neighborhood. It curved gracefully at the end of the cul-de-sac and even  had a pool, despite the beach being a ten-minute drive away.

"Why were you talking to him?" I asked Tiffany. "We're not supposed to."

"Are you going to tell Dad?"

He'd said to stay away, but when did Tiffany ever listen to him? Or  anyone who knew better? If I brought it up, it'd only start a war at the  dinner table. "No."

"Good." She unlocked the house. "Problem solved."



The next day, Tiffany forgot to pick me up altogether. After an hour  passed, I hoisted my book bag and wandered home. It was hot outside, but  summer was supposed to be hot, so it felt good. Living miles from the  beach, we got some breeze, and our neighborhood was safe, even by my  dad's standards.

I could've walked home with my eyes closed. I'd grown up here, had  explored nooks and crannies with friends who'd come and gone, played  baseball in the cul-de-sac, run away to the Reynolds' treehouse when I'd  gotten a B-minus on a math test. Aside from all that, though, had my  eyes been closed, I would've known I was home by the telltale sounds of  the construction site.

My heartrate kicked up as I approached the lot. At dinner the night  before, Mom'd asked why my bracelet wasn't on my wrist since I rarely  took it off. The most likely explanation was that I'd lost it while  fidgeting yesterday. Dad had warned me it was expensive when he'd given  it to me.

I kept my eyes down, even though there was no reason for the men to  notice me. Mom had told me years ago that one day I'd look like my older  sister. That day hadn't come yet. My limbs were too gangly, my  dishwater-blonde hair wasn't highlighted. I didn't even have breasts. My  mom had gotten hers at seventeen and kept assuring me they'd come.

Retracing my steps from where Tiffany had parked the day before to the  dirt lot, I bent at the waist and searched for hints of gold.

"Hey," one of the men said. His voice was so deep, it gave me goosebumps  on the inside, if that was even possible. "I found it. Here."

Slowly, I turned. The enormous hand in front of me had dirt under the  nails and my delicate gold chain coiled in its deep valley.

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