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"You're definitely coming to the movies with us tonight, right?" Savannah's best friend, Evie, asked as Savannah got out of the car. "And sleeping over again?"
"Of course." Savannah shared a conspiratorial smile with Evie, knowing that "movies" was code for pretending to walk into the theater while Evie's mom was watching, then having Evie's current boy toy pick them up and drive them to the unsupervised party five minutes away. They could only stay at the party for three hours, but it was better than not going.
"Thanks for driving me home from volleyball, Mrs. Brown," she said, waving to Evie's mom. She was always glad Mrs. Brown didn't mind dropping her off, because Evie was the only friend of hers who had seen where she lived. If the other girls on the volleyball team saw the ramshackle apartment building where she lived with her mom and two older sisters that looked more like a run-down motel than a home, they would probably laugh about it behind her back.
"It's no problem, Savannah," Mrs. Brown said from the driver's seat. She had the same strawberry-blond hair as her daughter, and the two could almost pass as sisters. "Are you sure you don't want me to pick you up tonight?"
"I'll get one of my sisters to drop me off." She didn't want to make Mrs. Brown come out of her way twice in one day. It was already more than enough that Evie's mom drove her home every day after practice during volleyball season, and that she didn't mind when Savannah stayed the night for two or three days at a time over the summer.
Anyway, her sisters owed her after making her come home now, when she was supposed to have stayed the rest of the day at Evie's before they went out for the night. Life would be so much easier once she got her license. Of course, she would have to figure out how to borrow Peyton's car. Convincing her sister would be difficult, because Peyton had saved up for years for that beat-up piece of crap whose engine sounded like it could die any day, but the possibility was better than nothing.
"See you soon, S!" Evie called as her mom pulled away from the curb.
"Bye, E," Savannah replied, and they both made the sign-language letter for C with their hands. Savannah and Evie called themselves S.E.C., which stood for the "Savannah/ Evie Club," and the letter C was their special symbol. "See you tonight!"
She walked down the sidewalk to the door with the peeling blue paint, wondering what was up. Her sisters never made her come home when she had plans, but Courtney's voice on the phone had sounded so strained that Savannah knew something was wrong.
She let herself inside and found Peyton and Courtney standing around the stained kitchen table, their grandma and a man
Savannah didn't recognize sitting in the two chairs. He wore a fancy brown suit that probably cost more than everything in Savannah's wardrobe combined, and his expression was so solemn that he looked like he was at a funeral. Her grandma and sisters looked equally upset.
"What's going on?" Savannah dropped her sleepover bag on the cracked linoleum floor. She hadn't been home since yesterday morning, and had an awful feeling this had to do with the one person who wasn't here-her mom.
"Hi, sweetie." Grandma always looked younger than her seventy-so years, but her eyes were so sad right now that her age shined through. "Sorry for making you come home early. I wouldn't have asked unless it was serious."
"Where's Mom?" Savannah swallowed and leaned against the arm of the living room couch, expecting the worst. Her mom had always drunk a lot, but after she'd lost her job as a secretary last year, she had spiraled out of control. Her sisters tried to shield Savannah from seeing what went on, but Savannah wasn't stupid. She knew her mom was drinking all day, so much that she got physically sick at night and in the morning, and that she couldn't hold on to a hostess or waitress job for longer than two months. They could barely keep enough food in the house anymore, since Mom blew all the grocery money on alcohol.
"That's what we needed you here to discuss," the man cut in. He looked like he would fit in better in a fancy office building than their crappy apartment in Fairfield, California.
"Who's he?" Savannah asked Grandma.
"This is Mr. Webster," Grandma said. "He's a lawyer who works for your father."
"What?" Savannah's heart pounded. That couldn't be true. Savannah had always been warned that her father was dangerous, that he didn't want anything to do with her and her sisters. She hated that he felt that way, but it was how her life had always been, so she'd accepted it and moved on. "Am I missing something?"
"We all are." Peyton's eyes blazed. "We've been lied to for our entire lives."
That was becoming clear to Savannah, but it was Courtney who caught her up on what had happened while she had been having a sleepover at Evie's.
"Last night, Mom was pulled over for drunk driving on her way to work," Courtney said, somehow managing to stay calm as she relayed the story. "They brought her to the station, and she lost her license and job." Was that the fifth or sixth job she'd lost in the past year? Savannah had lost count. "I called Grandma to get Mom out of the station, and then " Courtney shrugged and looked at Grandma, as if she wanted her to continue.
"I hoped your mom would be able to keep a job and get her life back on track, but enough is enough," Grandma said in her matter-of-fact manner. "I know it's never been easy living with her, but I've seen what the three of you have gone through in the past year, and I can't sit back and watch anymore. I would take you in myself if I didn't have so much on my hands with your Aunt Sophie's chemo treatments." Her chin quivered at the mention of her twin, who had been staying with Grandma in her one-bedroom apartment since her cancer diagnosis a few months ago. "So I did the only thing I could think to do-I called your father for backup."
Savannah couldn't believe she was hearing this right. "But our father wants nothing to do with us." She turned to her sisters for support, but Peyton looked angry enough to shoot fire from her eyes, and Courtney's expression was blank, as though she was fighting to hold on to an inkling of control.
"Mr. Diamond has been aware of your living situation, and was about to take action himself when your grandmother called him," Mr. Webster said. "He made some calls last night and arranged for your mother to receive inpatient treatment at a rehabilitation facility in Arizona. She was flown there this morning and is settling in, but the facility has given strict orders that your mom not contact anyone from outside until her doctors feel she is healthy enough to do so. They hope she'll be ready to switch to outpatient status in a few weeks, but they warned it could be longer."
Savannah's head spun. How had all this happened while she had been having a sleepover at Evie's, gossiping about which girls at school they wanted to try to become friends with next year and what guys they thought were hot, while experimenting with daring makeup looks?
"You didn't let me say goodbye?" She looked at her sisters, unable to believe they could betray her like that.
"None of us were able to say goodbye." Courtney came over and wrapped an arm around Savannah's shoulders. "Mom didn't want us to see her like that. She said it would be easier this way, and you know she hates goodbyes. We just need to focus on being thankful she's finally getting the treatment she needs."
"She was probably ashamed, and afraid we would ask her questions she wasn't ready to answer," Peyton said. "And she would have been right."
"But with Mom not here, where are we supposed to go?" Savannah wiped away a tear that had slid down her cheek. She was grateful her mom was getting help, but they still needed her around. Sure, she wasn't always the best at taking care of them, but she was all they had.
"You know I love you and your sisters, and would be happy for you to live with me if there were no other options," Grandma said. "But you deserve more than sleeping on the couch and air mattresses in the living room, and I worry about the stress the changes would cause Aunt Sophie. Luckily, your father has generously offered for you to move in with him."
"Are you serious?" Savannah didn't believe this. She and her sisters had never met their father. And now he was offering for them to move in with him? "Why now? I thought it wasn't safe for us to be around him? And where does he even live?"
Mr. Webster was the one to answer. "Mr. Diamond asked me to provide as little information as possible, because he wants to personally answer your questions, but I can assure you that your safety is his top priority. He's sending a driver to pick you up tomorrow morning who will take you to the airport. I know this is short notice to give you girls to pack, but do what you can and Mr. Diamond will arrange for the rest of your belongings to be brought to your new accommodations at a later date."
A plane. Which meant if it took her mom longer than a few weeks to get better, Savannah would start her sophomore year at a new school, with people she'd never met. How was she going to break this to Evie? And how would she get through school without her best friend by her side?
"What if we don't want to go?" Peyton crossed her arms and glared at Mr. Webster. "I'm almost eighteen, you know. I should have a say in this." Peyton's birthday was in March, which hardly made her "almost eighteen," but Savannah kept her mouth shut.
"As it is now, you're still a minor, so you have no choice," Mr. Webster said. "With your mother unfit, it is in your father's rights to insist you live under his care. You will pack your bags and be ready to leave by ten o'clock tomorrow morning."
"What about the apartment?" Courtney asked. "What will happen to it while we're gone?"
"Mr. Diamond will make sure it's maintained," Mr. Webster said. "I'm sorry to throw this on you all at once. I know this won't be easy for the three of you, but he will answer all your questions when you arrive. Now, I imagine you need time to pack. Is there anything more you want to ask?"
"I think you have it covered, Mr. Webster." Grandma spoke for them. "Now if you wouldn't mind, I would like some time with my granddaughters."
"Of course." He nodded and let himself out.
"You can't expect us to do this," Peyton said to Grandma once he was gone. "All my life you've said our father is dangerous and he doesn't want us around. Now we're expected to forget all that and move in with him? I won't do it. I refuse."
"Your mother has her reasons for wanting to distance herself from your father, and while being around him can be dangerous for those close to him, he's not a bad man," Grandma said. "He'll explain it all to you once he meets you. Just remember that your mother loved him once, and while it won't be easy, I hope the three of you can find it in your hearts to give him a chance. Can you promise to do that? For me?"
When she put it like that, it was impossible to say no. "Okay." Savannah nodded, trying to swallow away the lump in her throat. "I'll try."
Her cell phone buzzed in her pocket, and she took it out to check the text. It was from Evie.
Any luck convincing one of your sisters to drive you tonight?
Savannah stared blankly at the beat-up flip phone. The plans she'd made with Evie less than an hour ago felt like they'd happened in another life. She couldn't wrap her mind around what she'd just learned, let alone tell someone else, even if that someone was her best friend.
Can't go tonight. Something big happened. Not ready to talk about it yet but I'll call you when I am <3
She pressed Send, then dropped her phone in her bag, not wanting to look at it again that night.
The next morning, they lugged their bags outside and tearfully hugged Grandma goodbye. The stretch limo that pulled up in front of their apartment looked foreign amongst the beat-up cars lining their street, and the sight of it sent Savannah's ideas of who her father was out the window. He couldn't be a homeless drugged-out loser if he'd sent a limo to pick them up.
As of last night, the most expensive car Savannah had ever been in was the Volkswagen Jetta Evie's mom drove when she brought them home from volleyball practice or to the mall. Now, she climbed into the sleek limo, her fingers grazing the soft leather of the wraparound seat. Lights lined the ceiling, and there was a wooden minibar across from the long side of the seat, an open bottle of champagne chilling in the ice bucket and three glasses on display. The label on the champagne read Dom Perignon, and while Savannah had never tasted Dom before, she recognized it as a pricey drink from the television shows she watched.
She wasn't hugely into drinking, because she'd seen firsthand how destructive alcohol could be, but she wasn't a prude, either. She didn't want to be "that lame girl" at the party who refused to drink. And now she had the opportunity to taste Dom Perignon! Her friends would be so envious when they found out. It was the sort of drink she imagined she would get to try if her dreams ever came true and she became a famous pop star. One glass wouldn't be the end of the world.
"Don't even think about it," Courtney warned as Savannah reached for the bottle.
"But it's Dom Perignon." Savannah hated when Courtney tried to boss her around. They were only eleven months apart, but Courtney was so responsible all the time. It made the gap feel wider. "It's probably hundreds of dollars for this bottle. We have to try it."
"I'm not trying anything he buys for us." Peyton scrunched her nose and plugged her headphones into her ears.