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Strangely normal, p.1
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       Strangely Normal, p.1

           Tess Oliver
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Strangely Normal

  Strangely Normal

  Tess Oliver

  Strangely Normal

  Copyright© 2013 by Tess Oliver

  This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locale or organizations is entirely coincidental.

  All Rights are Reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quatoations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

  Chapter 1

  Sophie’s small finger poked me hard in the center of my back. “Eden, you should come.”

  I rolled away from her only to fall into the mammoth sized hole in the center of the mattress. A hard metal spring jabbed my hip as my sister’s finger stabbed my cheek. I yanked my pillow from behind my head and pressed it over my face.

  “Leave me alone, Sophie,” I mumbled.

  She climbed onto the sofa bed and tried to pull away the pillow. “You need to come to the kitchen.”

  Frustrated, I yanked away the pillow and scowled up at her. “If you haven’t noticed, Sophie, this bed is sort of in the kitchen.”

  “But Janie is sticking a fork in the toaster.”

  I shot up so fast, Sophie fell to the floor. I stepped over her and reached my four-year-old sister, Janie, just as she plunged the fork prongs in. I grabbed her hand. The fork dropped to the floor, and she burst into tears to join Sophie in a chorus of sobs.

  I lifted Janie into my arms. “It’s dangerous to stick a fork in the toaster, J. J.. Don’t ever do that again.”

  She swiped at her tears with the palm of her hand. “But I’m hungry. And mommy did it yesterday and a bagel came out.”

  As usual Mom had been the model of good behavior. “That’s because she put a bagel in the toaster, Janie. They don’t appear by magic.” I lowered her to the ground.

  Sophie had recuperated after having been ejected from the bed. She rubbed her bottom and hopped up on the kitchen stool. “But we’re out of bagels.”

  “Then have some cereal.”

  “But there’s no milk.”

  There was no sound coming from my parent’s bedroom, which meant Mom was still sleeping. Not unusual. I looked back at Sophie. “Did Dad leave for work already?”

  Sophie looked up at me through tear clumped lashes and shook her head.

  I walked over to their bedroom door and knocked. “Mom, we need milk.” No answer.

  I had just enough time to get ready for school and race over to the mini mart. I swung open the door. “Mom, I’m going to need a ride to school. I’ve got to go buy some milk.”

  She sat up groggily. “Shhh, your dad is sleeping.”

  “Shouldn’t he be at work?” I made no attempt to lower my voice.

  Mom slid her feet from the covers and tiptoed over to me. Her eyes were bloodshot. “He lost his job yesterday, so he had a rough night.”

  “Too much beer?”

  “Well, Eden, he was upset.”

  My mom never found any fault with my dad. I suppose I should have been happy that my parents loved each other passionately, sometimes disgustingly so. They’d been married since they were eighteen. I was two years old at the time. They’d each found their soul mate in life. Unfortunately, sometimes it seemed that they were two soul mates who couldn’t have been worse for each other.

  “Is there any money for milk?”

  She walked over and picked up Dad’s jeans off the floor and dug in the pockets. “Here’s a five. Bring back the change.”

  “Darn and I was planning on using the change to buy a car.” I took the money from her hand and headed to the bathroom.

  The bathroom light had a yellow tint that made everyone’s mirror reflection look as if they had liver disease. But the yellow glow wasn’t just in the bathroom. Tobacco stained walls and urine stained carpets gave a pee-like ambience to the entire apartment. I’d begged my parents not to take it, but it was all they could afford at the time. My dad had been in his usual state of being between jobs. He’d spent much more of his life between them than in them. The dribble of water coming from the moldy shower head made washing hair a chore, so I threw my long hair in a loose knot and skipped the shampoo.

  Sophie and Janie had crawled into my bed and were playing hide and seek under the covers as I pulled on my jeans and t-shirt. “Sophie, you need to get ready for school while I’m getting milk.”

  “I’m not going today. Parker Smith shoved me really hard yesterday, and I was crying so Mommy said I could skip school today.”

  Mom had never been a big proponent of school and even though she’d had more than her share of nasty notes about poor attendance from the schools and even the district attorney’s office, she’d still kept me home through a lot of my school years. And I’d always been more than willing to skip school days and hang out with Mom making noodle collages and hunting leaves in the park. Even though she had my sisters after she’d reached adulthood, she was still just as silly at parenting, or at least parenting the way society thought proper. Growing up I’d attended more than ten different schools and probably missed thirty percent of my school days. Amazingly, I’d still managed to pull off a college-bound grade point average and once the scholarships were handed out and summer ended, I would be leaving the yellow apartment and the sucky sofa bed for a college dorm.

  Sophie hopped down from the bed. “Can I go with you to buy milk?”

  “No way. I’m already late.” I kissed the top of her head. “And you walk like a turtle.” Janie laughed wildly at the turtle simile.

  “Then bring me some Skittles,” Sophie called as I headed out.


  A familiar scene met me as I stepped into the parking lot. Our permanently shirtless apartment manager, with the ripped abs of a snowman, was leaning into the engine of his classic car. Fortunately, I was spared the butt crack on this fine morning. “Hey, Eden, I noticed your dad didn’t leave this morning.”

  “Yeah? Nothing gets past you, Mr. Deeter.” I trudged down to the sidewalk and walked a wide berth around the putrid smelling garbage cans. The empty lot next to our shabby apartment building was a bustling construction site, and a long string of trucks waited to get in. I waved my hand in front of my face to swipe the dust away. In true construction worker fashion, as if it was part of their job description, the workers all stopped to leer and whistle. I stared down at the sidewalk as I hurried past.

  “Sorry about those guys,” a voice called from the front stoop of the construction office trailer. I glanced back.

  A tall guy with broad shoulders, a hard hat, and dark sunglasses stood beneath a plastic banner that read Kingston Construction. “They ran out of room at the zoo.” Even from the distance, his smile had impact.

  I continued on my milk quest. Fortunately, the mini mart breakfast crowd had not arrived yet. I grabbed up a carton of milk and a small bag of candy for Sophie then paid the guy. Mom’s precious change of a dollar and some quarters and pennies went into my pocket. I turned my face down and scurried past the construction site again. A flurry of whistles pinged off the chain link fencing. This time I wasn’t the center of their attention. A wolf call ripped through the cool morning air. I lifted my face and looked toward our apartment building. Mom was leaning over the balcony buttoning up her shirt.

  “Hurry, Eden, or you’ll be late for school.” She waved at the men and then slinked back inside. I moved soundlessly by Mr. Deeter and managed to pass him without notice.

; Mom opened the door for me.

  “Why do you encourage those guys like that, Mom. They’re annoying.”

  “They’re just having fun. I’m going in to brush my hair and let your dad know we’re leaving.”

  Sophie and Janie sat at the wobbly table with empty bowls and spoons waiting for breakfast. “Here, Sophie, serve Janie and pour me some too. I’ve got to get my backpack.” As I walked away I heard the distinct sound of hard, round candies falling into the empty bowls. I turned back.

  “Not the candy, Sophie, the cereal.”

  “I can’t,” she said.

  “Why not?”

  “We don’t have any cereal.”

  “You’ve got to be kidding.” I stomped into the kitchen and swung open the cupboards. Aside from an open box of crackers, a half-eaten jar of peanut butter, and two overripe bananas, they were empty. I plucked the two bananas down and grabbed the milk and empty bowls.

  “What are you making, Edie?” Janie squeaked.

  “Banana shakes.” I smashed the bananas in the bowls and poured some milk over them.

  “But those bananas were icky and black,” Sophie protested.

  “That black stuff makes them sweeter.” I placed the bowls on the table. “Now drink your shakes.”

  “Shouldn’t there be ice cream in them if they’re shakes?” Sophie called.

  “Just eat, Sophie.” I dashed to the closet to grab my backpack.

  Mom stepped out of her room with her sandals in one hand and the remainder of a joint in the other.

  I looked pointedly at the joint.

  “I need it this morning for my nerves. I’m worried about your dad. He is really down about losing this job.”

  “Whatever. Let’s just go. I’m going to be late, and I want to stop by the counselor’s office to see if Mrs. Vickers has any news about my scholarships.”

  “My little baby is going off to college. I’m so proud.” Mom walked over and kissed Sophie and Janie on the heads. “Keep an eye on Janie for a few minutes, Sophie. And play quietly. Your dad is still sleeping.”

  “She should be going to school, Mom. You’re going to get in trouble again.”

  She waved the hand with the joint stuck between the fingers. “The school district can kiss my ass. I’m not sending my little girl to school to be pushed around by some bully.”

  We headed to the lone family car, an ancient rusted van with tires that were worn as smooth as glass and an engine with a permanent rattling sound. We climbed inside and immediately Mom started searching around on the floor for something.

  “Did you drop the keys?”

  “No.” She continued her search.

  “You dropped the joint, didn’t you?”

  “Yes, dammit.” She sighed and started the car. “And that was the last of it.”

  “I’ll try not to stress out about it today. By the way, we need cereal and Janie was sticking a fork in the toaster this morning.”

  Mom faced me. Eye puffiness diminished, she looked beautiful as always. “Why would she do that? I’ve told her it was dangerous.”

  “Yes, but you can’t tell her something is dangerous and then do the exact thing you warned her about. She thought a bagel would appear if she stuck in a fork.”

  A dimple creased her cheek. “That is so cute.” When we’d managed to stick in one place long enough that I could make friends, they were always jealous that I had the prettiest, youngest, and coolest Mom. And even though it was true, there had been many times when I’d wished she’d been more like a mom and less like an older sister. Things weren’t much different with Dad. He still wore earrings and long hair from his days as a drummer in a band that was always on the “edge of making it big”. For twelve years, I was their only child, unplanned of course. Not many sixteen year olds plan for a baby. But even though they were well into their twenties when they had Sophie six years ago, they had never matured. It was like they were stuck in the glory of their teen years forever.

  Mom sighed and reached forward to turn up the music. “Darn, I wish I had that joint.”

  “How did Dad lose his job?”

  “They were just a bunch of jerks. He was only late a couple of times.”

  “A couple of times is a big deal when you’re on the clock, Mom.”

  “He’ll find something else. And you’ll be getting those scholarships soon, so I guess there’ll be one less mouth to feed.” Her voice broke slightly.

  I leaned over and kissed her cheek. “I won’t be that far away. I can come home on the train. I’m hoping to get a job on campus. Then I can help out some.” College would be a whole new world, and I’d worked hard to get accepted to several universities. But as much as I looked forward to breaking free of our rather dismal existence, I would definitely miss my wild and often absurd family.

  A long line of cars waited to pull into the drop off zone in front of the school. It was a high school right out of an eighties teen movie where two-thirds of the student body consisted of wealthy snobs and the rest of us had come not just from the other side of the tracks but up, over, and way past them.

  In a week’s time, I would be donning my cap and gown and an impressive array of academic metals. I looked forward to graduation, but I looked even more forward to being done with high school. Halfway through my senior year, I’d turned eighteen and I’d begun feeling the itch of getting on with my adult life.

  The van sputtered loudly, attracting everyone’s attention as Mom pulled up to the passenger drop-off. She rolled down the window. “That’s right. She’s a beauty and she’s paid for.”

  I looked over at her. “Paid for?”

  She shrugged. “Well, she will be in two years.”

  “You don’t actually think your rusted beauty is going to last that long, do you?”

  “Oh shut up.” She leaned over and kissed me. A horn blast sounded behind us. “Hurry and hop out before the lady in the Mercedes behind us has a stroke.”

  Chapter 2

  I wasn’t two steps into the long, crowded hallway when Chandler, my on-again, off-again boyfriend grabbed me and pulled me into the boy’s restroom. The unfortunate guy standing at the urinal glanced toward us and blanched.

  “That’s right, Dude, give it a shake and get the hell out of here,” Chandler barked, and the guy zipped up and sidled past us with a red face.

  “Why do you do stuff like that?” I tried to pull my arm from his grasp, but it only made him tighten his fingers. “It smells like piss in here.”

  He lifted his chin in the air. “You know, you’re right. I think we should mention that to the principal.” His blue gaze floated hungrily over my lips and down to my tight t-shirt. When Chandler Rockmore had first shown interest in seeing me, I’d been over-the top thrilled with my luck. I’d managed to catch the attention of the richest, most popular guy in the school. But when it became obvious that Chandler wanted to see me, but only in private and out of view of his equally rich and brutally opinionated friends, the shine wore off of the whole damn thing.

  Chandler leaned down to kiss me, but I moved my face aside. His blue eyes went dark with anger. “What the hell, Eden? First you don’t return my messages and now I can’t even kiss you.”

  “You can kiss me but not in here.”

  “Come on, baby, you know I don’t like to attract attention.”

  “You mean you don’t want to disappoint your friends by letting them know that you’ve been seeing me.”

  “That’s not true.” He attempted the kiss again, and as I pulled my face away, his grip tightened painfully on my arm.

  “Let me go, Chandler. I’m late for an appointment with the counselor.” Two guys opened the bathroom door.

  “Get the fuck out of here! Go shit in your locker or something,” Chandler yelled. They backed out quickly.

  The inter
ruption gave me a chance to pull free and I fled out the door. Chandler followed me to my locker. Icy rage came off of him in waves. He leaned next to the lockers and glanced around casually as a group of cheerleaders strolled by.

  “Hey, Chandler,” they twittered in unison.

  “What’s up,” he replied casually. Once the coast cleared, he turned back to me. “Come on, Eden, don’t be mad at me. You know I care about you.”

  I grabbed my book and slammed shut the locker door. “Then walk me into the quad right now and kiss me in front of your friends.”

  His mouth dropped open but he was speechless. It was all the reaction I needed.

  “Good bye, Chandler.” I spun away from him and headed to Mrs. Vickers’s office. I could feel Chandler’s heated stare on my back as I walked away, but truthfully I felt relieved to be done with him for good.

  I knocked on the office door. “Come in.” Mrs. Vickers looked up from her computer with the thick glasses that made her eyes look huge. Her face flattened to a frown. “Eden, come sit down. I’ve heard word from the scholarship committee.” Her tone made my stomach clench up in a knot.

  She removed her glasses and her eyes shrank back to a normal size. Her chair squeaked as she leaned forward and rested her forearms on the desk. “I’m afraid the news isn’t good. Your qualifications were stellar, but the committee felt that your history of poor school attendance makes you too much of a risk. You only qualify for a small scholarship. And since your parents neglected to file their taxes on time, you just won’t be able to get any financial aid. You could attend community college for a few years and then doors will open up for you.”

  I stared at the woman and blinked. She’d just pulled the curtain shut on my dreams, and somehow, I was certain that once I walked out of her office she’d continue calmly on with her morning, stopping into the teacher’s lounge for a donut, coffee, and a dose of gossip before returning to her endless paperwork. And Eden Saxon would just be another number in her computer.

  “I’m so sorry, Eden.”

  I pushed to my feet and picked up my backpack. Not wanting her to see my tears, I faced the door as I pulled the straps onto my shoulder. I took one step.

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