MONDAY OCTOBER 3, 2005

16:47 GMT-3

MAZ MOREAU

SEVEN TREES FARM | MERIDIA FALLS

Finally! The kitchen is free of Candy’s coven of bitch friends… my old friends. I try to distract myself from that fact by wondering what the hell they were doing in there — having a freaking party? But it’s not enough — the realization that I used to be one of her coven washes over me like a cold morning shower.

Shaking off the unease, I head down the kitchen stairs. The defaced prom picture from this morning dances across my mind, taunting me. Clenching my fists, I stop and listen to the squawking giggles coming from Candy’s room. I bite my lip as Steve’s words from last night, calm my anger. “Don’t let them get to you, Babe; they aren’t worth it.” In fact, they were his last words from last night. The anger in Isaac’s eyes as he threw Steve out was like nothing I’d seen before. Pure venom. Just like his bitch of a daughter.

The kitchen is an absolute mess. Glasses, plates, empty bags of chips, and an extra-large pizza box lay strewn across the table. The kitchen was spotless when I got home from school. Candy’s coven arrived ten minutes after I got home, and they hit this place with a… bitch tornado.

I spin the pizza box across the table. “Bitch tornado!” I laugh out the words. The gorgeous smell of pizza fills the kitchen. My stomach groans.

“Sneak any more boys into your room?” Candy stands at the bottom of the stairs; a wide grin spreads across her face. She takes a sip from a bottle of apple wine — Isaac’s apple wine. The grin disappears, and she takes a sudden step forward, pointing her finger at me. “You haven’t brought that freak home, have you?” Her eyes flash back to the stairs. “I heard he killed his sister.”

“Just leave him alone!”

“Touched a nerve, have I?” Another grin spreads across her face, this one even bigger, stranger — it looks like a creepy Halloween clown’s smile. “Maybe I will call Steve… and tell him about your new boyfriend.” She laughs, almost spurting wine out of her mouth.

“I said leave him alone!”

Candy backs away for a second. She takes a long sip of wine and then wipes her lips with the back of her hand. “You freaks can all stick together.” She spins around as the front door opens at the other end of the long hallway.

“Hi girls, I’m home.”

Oh great! Mom. Candy drains the last of the wine from the bottle, then drops it in the kitchen trash can. Motioning for me to keep quiet, she drags her finger across her throat to emphasize her threat.

“I don’t give a shit what you do. Drink yourself to death for all I care. In fact, please do.” I turn to the fridge and pull open the door. “I just want a freakin’ drink of—”

“Excuse me, Madam.” Mom stands next to Candy, glaring at me. “Is it you that’s been stealing all Isaac’s wine?” She snorts a laugh and then drapes her arm over Candy’s shoulder, pulling her in for a hug. Candy puts on a fake smile and hugs her back, dangling my car keys as she squeezes Mom tight.

Mom is oblivious to the mess in the kitchen. She’s not bothered, as she doesn’t have to clean it up. The same way she’s oblivious to how much of a bitch her stepdaughter is. “Did you girls have a good day at school?” she asks, still hugging Candy.

“Oh yeah.” I say. “Candy got top marks in art class.”

Mom pulls away from Candy and frowns. “Art class?”

Before she can answer, Candy’s friend Sally saunters down the stairs, looking like a clone of her. Same pink highlights, same clothes… same bitch. Bitch tornado. I can feel the smile; I can’t stop it. Forcing my hand over my mouth, I contain the urge to laugh.

“Where is the w—” Sally suddenly stops mid-sentence. Her face goes red. “Oh, hello Mrs. Steele.”

“Hello, Sally.” Mom says. “How’s your mother doing?”

Sally smiles, her face still red. “She’s fine, doing her usual thing.”

Candy grabs Sally’s hand and leads her back up the stairs before Mom can ask any more questions.

Mom then turns to me. “Why can’t you be more like your sister? Candy’s got some lovely friends. She shakes her head and places several shopping bags on the kitchen table. “You all used to be such good friends.”

“Jesus Christ, Mom. You don’t need any more clothes.”

She narrows her eyes, ready to chew me out for cursing, again. But a deep smile spreads across her face. “Your father has a lot of important business dinners coming up.” She twirls on the spot. Her god-knows-how-much-they-cost blonde hair extensions swing out as she spins. “I need to look the part.”

“Mom, Isaac is a dick.” Shit. The words just blurted out.

Her eyes open wide and she presses her lips together. “Don’t call your father that.”

“He isn’t my freakin’ father, and Candy isn’t my freakin’ sister!”

Mom jumps forward, grabbing my neck with her hand. Her manicured red nails press into my skin, like an eagle’s talons on its prey. Anger flashes in her eyes, just like Isaac’s last night.

“Don’t ruin what we have here,” she says. The words come out like a whisper laced with venom. She twists my head to the side, and her over powering perfume stings my nose. “Such a waste of a beautiful face.”

I pull her hand away from my neck. “Get off me!”

Her face is red, almost glowing like lava. She narrows her eyes and looks me up and down. “What happened to you?”

“I woke up,” I say, rubbing my neck. Flinging my hand out, I push over her first shopping bag, and the rest tumble liked dominos. “This is all fake, Mom. For the first time in my life, I see everything clearly.”

Mom lunges again. “You ungrateful little bitch.”

I move to the left and dodge her talons this time. “Careful, Mom. I might have to tell Isaac where you were yesterday afternoon.”

Mom stops still. She takes a step back, almost falling over, like she’s had one too many cocktails. Shaking her head, she glances over her shoulder, checking that Candy isn’t there. “What… what to do you mean?” she says, placing her hand on her chest.

“Don’t act all innocent, Mom.” My turn to take a threatening step forward. I take one, then another. “You know what I mean.” I grab the nearest shopping bag and tip it up. It’s a brown paper designer store bag from Daphne’s Boutique. Silky red lingerie slips out onto the kitchen table. “You can’t tell me this is for Isaac’s benefit.”

Mom’s eyes flick from side to side. She scoops up the lingerie and slides it back into the bag. “You… you don’t know anything.” Grabbing the rest of her bags, she turns and heads out of the kitchen, almost tripping over in her haste to get away from me.

My heart pounds like a drum. It feels like I’ve just run ten laps around the sports field at school. I’ve never spoken to Mom like that, ever! That felt good. That felt amazing. Shit! I wasn’t going to mention her secret liaisons with the new farmhand, not until I needed to. All that self-control this morning, when she Isaac ordered her to take my car. But I realize I’m not ready to say it in front of him — not yet, anyway. I need to keep this freakin’ bomb for a rainy day. Still, let her panic for a while. She won’t know when this bomb will go off.

I turn back to the fridge and take out the milk carton. My hand shakes as I pour a glass. A photo on the carton catches my attention — a sad photo of a missing girl. Just like… Cassie. Logan’s sister jumps into my mind. Poor Newbie. What a shit life he’s had. The door. Penny Dreadful had a Polaroid photo of Logan’s imaginary white door. What the hell does she want with him?

I flip open my phone and press Steve’s speed dial. He picks up after one ring. He’s learning.

“Hi, Babe,” he says. “Are you okay?”

“Nothing a good night out won’t cure.” I pause for a second — my hands are still shaking. “Speaking of nights out, can you pick me up at six fifteen tonight?”

“Sure. What you got in mind?”

Penny’s photo won’t budge from my mind. “How about a little stakeout?”

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