Home > Midnight Blue(7)

Midnight Blue(7)
Author: L.J. Shen

Disgusting. Gorgeous. Rude. Sexy. Screwed-up. Witty. Broody. Unbearable. Trouble. Trouble . Trouble . Alex Winslow was all those things and more, but my family didn’t need to know any of this. Natasha was already crazy worried at the prospect of me leaving for three months. I turned off the faucet and wiped my hands with a kitchen towel, turning around to lean against the counter. We lived in an old Pico Blvd one-bedroom apartment, where the fridge made more noise than the highway outside, and the yellow walls were more naked and depressing than the strippers at the club right below the condo.

“Fine, I guess. Your average rock star. A chain-smoking, crazy-in-love-with-himself, conceited dude.” I sucked my teeth, my eyes traveling anywhere but their gazes.

Natasha looked up from her bowl of plain pasta, while Craig flipped through the want ads in the daily paper and took a swig of his beer. He was already to the point where he’d sent applications to anything even remotely relevant on Craigslist, which he joked was named after him, and Monster, which he joked he’d become if he didn’t find a job soon, and was a step away from knocking on people’s doors begging for them to hire him to do anything—walk their dogs, water their plants, or sell them a kidney. It pained me to see my bright and proud brother groveling. Especially considering how he’d given up his college scholarship to raise his baby sister because one day his parents walked home from their twentieth wedding anniversary date and never made it back home.

“Cut the bullshit, Indie. You never badmouth people. He’s probably a world-class prick, which doesn’t surprise me. Show me a celebrity who isn’t a jerk.” He sat back in his seat, a black cloud of anger hanging over his light-brown mane. The chair squeaked under his weight. Utensils clinked together in Nat’s bowl. Craig finished his beer and placed it next to the two other cans he’d already drunk.

“Another serving?” I jutted my chin to the bowl, ignoring my brother’s vast consumption of alcohol when we couldn’t even afford a bottle of Tylenol for Ziggy.

Nat shook her head. “There’s enough for tomorrow. Better keep it.”

“Counting pasta. Not very rock ‘n’ roll. Guess you’re too good for us now, Indie,” Craig said, and we both ignored him.

I washed the dishes. The kitchen was small and full—pans, containers, framed pictures catalogued all the good, sad, and funny memories of the four of us. Ziggy lay sleeping in his cradle in the living room. His ear infections were under control, but we all knew that come winter, that was going to change.

Nat slid behind me, hugging my midsection and resting her head against my shoulder. “You don’t have to do this. You’ve never been on an airplane before. Never even left the States. We can still work this out on our own. I have some temp work on Venice Beach at least until October. And Craig will find something soon…”

I turned around and grabbed her shoulders, smiling.

“Three hundred thousand dollars to hang out with a rock star. Are you kidding me? Does that sound like something any twenty-one-year-old girl would say no to?”

“Yes,” she deadpanned, flattening her palm over my antique orange dress. “If the girl in question is you. I know you. All you want to do is sew and play with Ziggy. You’re the mother of all introverts. When we watched Bubble Boy together—you envied the poor kid for living in solitude.”

Touché .

I didn’t need the reminder I was a reclusive loser. But maybe that was a part of the charm of taking the job. Getting out of my shell was exactly what I needed. Plus, I’d come back with a suitcase full of unique and precious adventures. New smells, sights, and tastes on my tongue from all the wonderful places I’d always dreamed of visiting.

“Nat, I promise you, I couldn’t be more excited if I tried.”

“Would you tell us if you really didn’t want to go?” she probed, and I wondered if she could see the terror I masked with my smile.

“Yeah, Indie.” Craig stood up from his seat and walked toward the living room, still in the same PJ’s from last night. “Don’t feel like you have to do this. We’re doing fine. Other than the fact we’re behind on rent, the electricity payment, and Ziggy’s pediatric bills. Oh, and, you know, life.”

“Craig ,” Natasha hissed, her eyes two narrow slits of anger.

He left, his bitter chuckle bouncing off the walls. A minute later, the bedroom door slammed shut. Ziggy protested the sudden noise with a moan. Time stood still as Nat and I waited to hear Ziggy’s soft snores again.

I could see why my brother had very little success with finding a job, but it was important to remember he wasn’t always sarcastic, rude, and borderline incoherent. Once upon a time, Craig was the lovable wide receiver who won Natasha Brockheimer’s heart by serenading her an Alex Winslow song outside her window. She had the blondest hair and the tannest legs, and the richest daddy in Beverlywood. Natasha didn’t care that Craig had dropped out of college to take care of me. But her parents did. And when she got pregnant at twenty-two, said parents then decided they wanted nothing to do with Nat, Craig, Ziggy, or me.

For a while, Craig remained positive. He worked two jobs, helped with Ziggy, and gave Natasha foot massages every evening, talking to us about how we were all going to make it. But then he got fired, and started drinking, and the pep talks, foot massages, and hope evaporated from our lives, replaced with a suffocating cloud of bleakness.

“I think I’m going to head to bed. Thanks for everything.” I twirled one of Nat’s fair locks. I slept on the couch next to Ziggy’s cradle. It was convenient, because he woke up thirsty several times a night.

Who’s going to give Ziggy his sippy when I’m gone? I shoved the question to the back of my head, allowing my legs to carry me past the couch, to my white bicycle, the only expensive thing I’d ever owned. My mom got the bike for me when I was fourteen. It was made in Paris, my favorite city in the world, though I’d never been.

I glanced at the big suitcase sitting next to the entrance door, glaring back at me, taunting me, reminding me of what was to come. There was no way I could sleep with so much weighing on my chest, my mind, my heart . I needed more air than was in the whole apartment building.

I went for a ride.

Outside, I swung one leg over the bike, pushed off the asphalt, and darted down the darkened street. The breeze was crisp and salty, the wind dancing across my face. Lights from convenient stores and old-school diners zinged by, and for the first time that day, I managed to inhale deeply.

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