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Caitlin Ross slammed the door to her bedroom, locked it, and stood there fuming. She was fighting with her mom again, which was a pretty typical scenario for the two of them. Since Caitlin's dad had left home a year ago, she and her mom had been at each other's throats. But in the last month, things had gone from bad to unbearable. Caitlin didn't know if she could stand it anymore, but she didn't know what else to do, short of stealing her mom's credit cards, hijacking the Mercedes, and running away for good.
Caitlin could hear her mother moving around angrily in the hallway outside her room, talking to herself. Caitlin crouched down to look under the door, trying to see if her mom was heading in her direction. It was too hard to tell, so she stood up and leaned against the wall.
They'd been fighting over the usual suspects again. The argument had started over Caitlin's clothes, but then spread like a virus to her hair and makeup, and then to the million other things her mom always nagged her about.
At least she isn't banging on the door trying to continue the fight, Caitlin thought. She took a deep breath through her nose, counted to six, and then exhaled through her mouth, like she'd learned in yoga. It didn't help her feel any better, so she walked over to her bed and knelt down to extract a small, silver flask from underneath the mattress. She pulled it out, opened it, and took a sip, which burned her lips and made her cough. Vodka neat. Like her boyfriend Ian once said, it tasted like crap, but made the pain of living hurt less. Of course, he'd been drunk at the time . . . She took another sip as she fumbled around for a pack of cigarettes. Usually she didn't smoke in the house, but today was an exception.
As she sat on her bed and lit the first cigarette with her chrome lighter, she heard her mom start calling for her again, implacable and relentless. Ah fuck, Caitlin thought, closing the flask and slipping it back into its hiding place. Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water . . .
"Caitlin!" her mom yelled. Caitlin studiously ignored her, taking a long drag on the cigarette and breathing out slowly. Her mom started rattling the doorknob. "Open this door right now and talk to me!"
Fat fucking chance. "If I wanted to talk, I wouldn't have locked you out," Caitlin muttered to herself. She cranked the iPod connected to her stereo, and her mom got drowned out by the blaring sounds of the Killers. But under the pounding drums and churning guitars, she could still hear her mom banging on the door. Caitlin turned the music up even louder, feeling the bass in her chest.
Caitlin knew from experience that her mom would get tired and go away pretty soon. But she also knew that this would just be a brief détente, and the fight would continue at a later date. Her mom couldn't resist an argument; she was like a pit bull once she got started.
If only Dad were still around to help balance things out, Caitlin thought. Her dad had been her champion and kept her mom's chaotic tendencies reigned in. Yet the divorce was final, and her dad was living in a Manhattan penthouse with his new girlfriend, Sofie. She was a nineteen-year-old model from Paris whose vacantly beautiful face Caitlin sometimes saw on the covers of fashion magazines.
Caitlin tried not to think about it as she stared around her room because the emotions were too painful. Instead, she focused on her surroundings, and thought, God my room is a mess what the hell's wrong with me? I'm turning into a bigger slob than Luke.
Luke was her eleven-year-old brother, five years younger than her, and his room generally looked like Osama bin Laden had sent a suicide bomber to visit it. Luke had three main passions in life: playing games on his Xbox, watching violent gangster and horror DVDs, and shooting at cars with his paintball gun. Other than that, he was kind of lazy and slobby, and didn't have many friends. He dressed mostly in black, had a scruffy haircut, and was about twenty pounds overweight. Caitlin felt sorry for him, but also a little embarrassed that he was her brother.
The Killers gave way to 50 Cent, which amused Caitlin because she knew her mom hated hip-hop more than anything, especially if it were laden with profanities. Not that her mom didn't swear all the time, which was fairly hypocritical of her. If anyone ever said anything to Caitlin about having a potty mouth, which sometimes happened, Caitlin always made sure to say she'd picked it up from her mom. That and her drinking, and occasional smoking. She drew the line at those bad habits, though. Unlike her mom, she didn't constantly pop Valiums, Percocets, and other pastel-colored pills like M&Ms. Her mom was taking so many pills these days, it was frequently impossible to deal with her at all.
Sick of looking at the mess, Caitlin got up and opened the blinds on her two huge picture windows, unveiling a panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean. Her spacious bedroom looked down over the La Jolla Cove far below. Sunlight sparkled on gentle waves under the vivid blue sky that seemed to stretch to infinity over the water. The house, which was nearly a mansion, was located up high on the crest of a steep hill.
Caitlin sometimes felt guilty about living in such a lavish home. It had seven bedrooms, four-and-a-half bathrooms, a huge pool, and a gleaming kitchen larger than some people's entire houses. In Southern California's inflated real-estate market, the house was worth over five million dollars: one for the house and four for the land. Her dad had given it up in the divorce, along with so many other things. Caitlin didn't blame him for the collapse of her parents' marriage, although she'd been devastated at first, thinking he'd abandoned her and Luke. With time, she'd gained some perspective. She still loved her dad and most of the time she just missed him a lot. If only Mom hadn't driven him so crazy!
As Caitlin looked out at the admittedly spectacular view, she mused that prettiness could be so boring. In fact, the more she'd looked at the idyllic scenery over the past year, the more depressed she'd felt. Maybe she was just letting her parents' divorce spoil everything, but recently it seemed like there was nothing interesting whatsoever about La Jolla. Not all of Southern California was exciting and glamorous, like it seemed on TV. La Jolla was mainly populated by old people with garish mansions, too much money, and yachts they never sailed.
It's hard to believe I loved this place so much once, when I was a little kid, Caitlin reflected. Things had certainly changed since then, when she'd imagined spending her entire life here on the coast. She'd since realized the town was like a cute guy with nothing upstairs: superficially attractive, but not a good long-term prospect.
Caitlin pushed back a strand of her dark, wavy hair and stubbed out her cigarette on the edge of her oak desk, where it left a round scar. She immediately regretted it and tried to rub it away, but failed. With a sigh, she went over to her bed and slumped on a pile of pillows, under her framed poster of Donnie Darko. For some reason, she loved that movie, even though all her friends hated it, and whenever anyone saw the poster for the first time, they'd ask, "What the fuck is that about, Caitlin?"
Caitlin knew the poster didn't square with the stereotypical image of a spoiled, rich, fashion-conscious SoCal princess. And so what? She wasn't that kind of person anyway, and had never been, despite appearances. Besides, she'd discovered that it was an asset to seem unpredictable to her mom, her friends, her boyfriend, and pretty much everyone else in between.
50 Cent faded into an old Weezer song, and Caitlin tapped her fingers on her knee in time with the beat. Judging from the fact that she didn't hear any banging and screaming under the music anymore, she figured her mom had gone away. Probably back downstairs to take some pills, and then call one of her friends to complain about me. She stared up at the ceiling, listening to the music, and felt like a pathetic refugee from one of those stupid Gossip Girl books she used to read.
Suddenly she sat up. Shit! All the drama with her mom had made her forget that she was supposed to call Ian at 3:00. She checked her watch and saw it was already 3:20. She was surprised and a little disappointed he hadn't called her. She took out her cellphone, which no longer displayed images because she'd spilled beer on it the week before, and turned the music down a little. Then she called Ian, lying back on her bed. Just as her call was about to go to voicemail, Ian picked up.
"Hey," he practically grunted, articulate as ever. Caitlin had never figured out why boys got so awkward on the phone. In Ian's case, he wasn't much easier to communicate with in person. He was only her second long-term boyfriend, and they'd barely been going out for three months. She wasn't sure they'd make it too much longer.
"It's me. Don't you miss your girlfriend?" Caitlin asked.
"Sure, I miss you," he said. "Weren't you s'posed to come over today, like at three?" He sounded distant, maybe even annoyed, but perhaps she was reading too much into it.
"Was I? I thought I was supposed to call you then . . ." Their plans were always getting mixed up. I hope I didn't flake on him, Caitlin thought. "Maybe I got things confused," she said, plowing ahead hopefully. "But anyway, I got in a big fight with my mom today. Huge. So I'm sorry I didn't call."
Ian didn't sound very interested in what she was saying. "It's okay, I guess."
In the background Caitlin could hear someone trying to tune an electric guitar, and failing. Ian was the bassist for an up-and-coming band called Box of Flowers that sounded, for better or worse, a lot like Green Day. Even though he was only seventeen, they already had a demo deal with a major label, mostly because the singer's dad had connections. Caitlin had formulated vague plans to sing backup on some of their songs if the album ever got made, although she hadn't told Ian about this idea yet. She didn't know how he'd react, but she hoped she could think of a way to talk him and the rest of the guys into it.
Not that singing backup for Box of Flowers was much of anything, but her ultimate goal was to become a singer or an actress one day, even though she knew it was pretty unlikely that would ever happen. Who doesn't want to be a singer or actor in Southern California? she wondered glumly. If it didn't happen for her, then she'd probably go to law school instead. That would be much less exciting, but then maybe she could work in the entertainment industry as an attorney, like her dad. She just didn't want to end up like her mom, who didn't have a college degree and had always depended on men for money.
I want to be my own person and actually do something with my life, she thought, not just be some rich brat from La Jolla who sponges off their parents forever. Besides, that'll probably be Luke's job.
Ian's voice on the phone snapped her out of her reverie. "Still wanna come over?"
"Definitely." She sat up again and lit another cigarette, feeling like she was getting a headache. "I'll be there in fifteen minutes." Caitlin heard the kick of a bass drum. "Sounds like you guys haven't even started practice yet. Still setting up?"
"Yeah." Long pause. "We scored some weed, so things are progressing . . . slowly . . ."
Since talking to Ian was like pulling teeth even when he wasn't high, Caitlin said, "Listen, I gotta go, but I'll see you soon, okay?"
"Okay," he echoed.
"Love you." She hung up before he could say anything else in case he wasn't going to say "I love you" back and slipped the phone into the pocket of her jeans. Now she just had to find a way to sneak out of the house and into her car without getting into another blowup with her mom.
She sighed and put out her cigarette, this time in a half-empty bottle of San Pellegrino. It was only the second week of June. School had been out for just ten days. Who knew the summer would already be so complicated?
Copyright © 2006 by Alex McAulay