“Crap. Crap. Crap. Craaaaap. Where are my keys?”
The clock in the narrow hallway tells me I have fifty-two minutes to make a sixty-eight-minute drive if I want to get to the party on time.
I check my purse again, but the keys aren’t there. I run through the various locations. Dresser? No. Bathroom? Was just there. Kitchen? Maybe—
I’m about to pivot when I hear a jingle of metal behind me.
“You looking for these?”
Contempt lodges in my throat as I turn around and step into a living room so small that the five pieces of dated furniture—two tables, one loveseat, one sofa, and one chair—are squashed together like sardines in a can. The lump of flesh on the couch waves my keys in the air. At my sigh of irritation, he grins and shoves them under his sweatpants-covered ass.
“Come and get ’em.”
I drag a frustrated hand down my flat-ironed hair before stalking over to my stepfather. “Give me my keys,” I demand.
Ray leers in return. “Da-amn, you look hot tonight. You’ve turned into a real babe, Rina. You and me should get it on.”
I ignore the meaty hand that’s falling to his crotch. I’ve never known a man so desperate to touch his own junk. He makes Homer Simpson look like a gentleman.
“You and I don’t exist to each other. So don’t look at me, and don’t call me Rina.” Ray’s the only person who ever calls me that, and I fucking hate it. “Now give me my keys.”
“I told you—come and get ’em.”
With gritted teeth, I shove my hand under his lard-ass and root around for my keys. Ray grunts and squirms like the disgusting piece of shit he is until my hand connects with metal.
I drag the keys free and spin back to the doorway.
“What’s the big deal?” he mocks after me. “It’s not like we’re related, so there’s no incest problem.”
I stop and use thirty seconds of my precious time to stare at him in disbelief. “You’re my stepfather. You married my mother. And—” I swallow a rush of bile, “—and you’re sleeping with Nana now. So, no, it’s not about whether you and I are related. It’s because you’re the grossest person on the planet and you belong in prison.”
His hazel eyes darken. “Watch your mouth, missy, or one of these days you’ll come home and the doors will be locked.”
Whatever. “I pay for a third of the rent here,” I remind him.
“Well, maybe you’ll be in charge of more.”
He turns back to the television, and I spend another valuable thirty seconds fantasizing about bashing his head in with my purse. Worth it.
In the kitchen, Nana is sitting at the table, smoking a cigarette and reading an issue of People. “Did you see this?” she exclaims. “Kim K is nude again.”
“Goodie for her.” I grab my jacket off the back of the chair and head for the kitchen door.
I’ve found that it’s safer to leave the house through the back. There are usually street punks congregating on the stoops of the narrow townhouses on our less than affluent street in this less than affluent part of Southie. Besides, our carport is behind the house.
“Heard Rachel Berkovich got knocked up,” Nana remarks. “She should’ve aborted it, but I guess it’s against their religion.”
I clench my teeth again and turn to face my grandmother. As usual, she’s wearing a ratty robe and fuzzy pink slippers, but her dyed blonde hair is teased to perfection and her face is fully made-up even though she rarely goes out.
“She’s Jewish, Nana. I don’t think it’s against her religion, but even if it is, that’s her choice.”
“Probably wants those extra food stamps,” Nana concludes, blowing a long stream of smoke in my direction. Shit. I hope I don’t smell like an ashtray by the time I get to Hastings.
“I’m guessing that isn’t the reason Rachel’s keeping the baby.” One hand on the door, I shift restlessly, waiting for an opening to tell Nana goodbye.
“Your momma thought about aborting you.”
And there it is. “Okay, that’s enough,” I mutter. “I’m going to Hastings. I’ll be back tonight.”
Her head jerks up from the magazine and her eyes narrow as she takes in my black knit skirt, black short-sleeved sweater with a scoop neck, and three-inch heels. I can see the words forming in her mind before they even leave her mouth.
“You’re looking uppity. Going off to that fancy college of yours? You got classes on Saturday night?”
“It’s a cocktail party,” I answer grudgingly.
“Oooh, cocktail, schocktail. Hope your lips don’t get chapped kissing all the ass down there.”
“Yeah, thanks, Nana.” I wrench open the back door, forcing myself to add, “Love you.”
“Love you too, baby girl.”
She does love me, but sometimes that love is so tainted, I don’t know if it’s hurting me or helping me.
I don’t make the drive to the small town of Hastings in fifty-two minutes or sixty-eight minutes. Instead, it takes me an entire hour and a half because the roads are so damn bad. Another five minutes pass before I can find a parking space, and by the time I reach Professor Gibson’s house, I’m tenser than a piano wire—and feeling about as fragile.
“Hi, Mr. Gibson. I’m so sorry I’m late,” I tell the bespectacled man at the door.
Professor Gibson’s husband gives me a soft smile. “Don’t worry about it, Sabrina. The weather is terrible. Let me take your coat.” He holds out a hand and waits patiently while I struggle out of my wool jacket.
Professor Gibson arrives as her husband is hanging my cheap coat amongst all the expensive ones in the closet. It looks as out of place as I do. I shove aside the feelings of inadequacy and summon up a bright smile.
“Sabrina!” Professor Gibson calls out gaily. Her commanding presence jerks me to attention. “I’m so glad you arrived in one piece. Is it snowing yet?”
“No, just rain.”
She grimaces and takes my arm. “Even worse. I hope you don’t plan on driving back to the city tonight. The roads will be one sheet of ice.”
Since I have to work in the morning, I’ll be making that trek regardless of the road conditions, but I don’t want Prof to worry, so I smile reassuringly. “I’ll be fine. Is she still here?”
The professor squeezes my forearm. “She is, and she’s dying to meet you.”
Awesome. I take my first full breath since I got here and allow myself to be led across the room toward a short, gray-haired woman dressed in a boxy pastel suitcoat over a pair of black pants. The outfit is rather blah, but the diamonds sparkling in her ears are larger than my thumb. Also? She seems too genial for a professor of the law. I always envisioned them as dour, serious creatures. Like me.
“Amelia, let me introduce you to Sabrina James. She’s the student I’ve been telling you about. At the top of her class, holds down two jobs, and managed a one seventy-seven on her LSATs.” Professor Gibson turns to me. “Sabrina, Amelia Fromm, constitutional scholar extraordinaire.”
“So nice to meet you,” I say, holding out my hand and praying to God it feels dry and not damp. I practiced shaking my own hand for an hour leading up to this.
Amelia grips me lightly before stepping back. “Italian mother, Jewish grandfather, hence the odd combination of names. James is Scottish—is that where your family is from?” Her bright eyes sweep over me, and I resist the urge to fidget with my cheap Target clothing.
“I couldn’t say, ma’am.” My family comes from the gutter. Scotland seems far too nice and regal to be our homeland.
She waves a hand. “It’s not important. I dabble in genealogy on the side. So, you’ve applied to Harvard? That’s what Kelly has told me.”
Kelly? Do I know a Kelly?
“She means me, dear,” Professor Gibson says with a gentle laugh.
I blush. “Yes, sorry. I think of you as Prof.”
“So formal, Kelly!” Professor Fromm accuses. “Sabrina, where else have you applied?”