When I moved into my great-aunt’s house, I just wanted a little freedom.
I met a couple of cute (albeit weird) guys, and I was getting the hang of college.
Everything was going great. That is, until one of my classmates insisted that my maybe-boyfriend is one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
My freshman year was Hell.
Brimstone Series Book One | New Adult Urban Fantasy
“You’re absolutely sure this is okay?” asks Mom while loading the last two boxes into Dad’s black truck.
She’s worried about me living on my own. But I’m not really going to be on my own. “We’re only going to be living half an hour away from each other,” I say. I know it doesn’t reassure her at all.
She pulls her lower lip in between her teeth and chews lightly. For once she isn’t wearing makeup; it accentuates her age a little.
I mean, my mother isn’t a day over thirty, I swear.
“We won’t be back until December,” she says. “What if you need something?” She and Dad are about to embark on a much-needed second honeymoon. They’re going on a tour across Europe. Cliché, maybe. They’re excited nonetheless. So am I, but for entirely different reasons.
I’m about to start my first semester of college.
“You mom is right… What if you need us?” asks Dad, hopping down from the bed of the truck. “Everything’s good to go. With these boxes, you will no longer live with your parents.” His smile is big, but his sky blue eyes are sad. “I don’t quite know how to feel about this.”
“Oh, Dad.” I wrap one arm around his waist in an awkward side-hug. “You’re going to be back before you know it. And I’m going to be just fine in Aunt Janine’s house.”
Technically, she wasn’t my aunt; she was my great-aunt. She passed away a few months ago in her sleep. When she was here, she was a really fun lady. I miss her a lot.
“That’s another thing,” says Mom. A small sniffle gives away her grief, though she keeps the rest of her emotions in check. She feels the same way I do, probably. She and I used to visit with Janine every weekend. We used to go out to lunch, find crafty things to do, or just have a general girls’ day. “Why do you want to stay in Janine’s house again?”
A smile rises to my lips. “We can’t leave it empty anymore,” I tell her. “She wanted the house to stay in the family. That means we can’t sell.”
My parents exchange a look. “Well, we can,” says Mom. Dad shoots her a warning look. They’re clearly conversing silently. It irritates me, because no matter what, I can’t understand what they say to one another. Or rather, what they don’t say.
I’m frowning before I can stop myself. “We can’t go against her wishes, guys!” I cringe at the half whine in my tone. It isn’t very mature of me, but I absolutely don’t want to do something that would so blatantly be the opposite of what Janine wanted.
She never told us why she didn’t want to sell, but it seemed important to her. Whatever it was, she must not have thought it important enough to involve us.
Or, maybe she did involve my parents, and they’re just leaving me out of the loop. That thought isn’t pleasant. Growing up, my parents always tried to include me in things that were going on so I wouldn’t be surprised when I was finally thrust into the grown-up world.
“Honey, the house is a little big for you to be staying there alone,” says Dad, repeating words he’d shared previously on the matter. It’s a reasonable concern, I know.
I kind of shrug. “So I’ll get a roommate. Make some friends in my classes, and invite one to live with me,” I say. Their eyes widen in horror and I laugh. “Not a boy. Don’t worry.”
Mom makes a face at me. “You’re going to kill me one of these days, girl!” she says playfully, reaching out to ruffle my hair. “Let’s get these to the house before the sun goes down.”
Dad, running his fingers through his red hair, lets us venture inside alone. I imagine he’s still recovering from the thought of me inviting a boy to live with me.
I follow Mom inside, where she grabs her purse. My tote bag is buried somewhere under boxes that haven’t been put together yet. The moment I crouch down to try and locate it, Mom laughs.
“You’re always losing that thing,” she says. She helps me shift some boxes around until the strap is visible. Mom grabs it and swings the royal purple bag my way.
I catch it and say, “Yeah. I’ll get a coat rack or something for it at the house.”
She laughs and pushes stray hairs out of her face. Her hair is dyed a deep mahogany brown, but her natural color is sun-kissed blonde. She’s always had the fear that no one would take her seriously as a blonde, so she hides it from the world. Thanks to her blonde and Dad’s intense red hair, mine is a lovely strawberry blonde. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
“Put up a sign to remind you to leave it there, too,” teases Mom. I make a face at her and we head outside together.
While I lock the front door behind us, Mom climbs into the passenger seat of my navy blue 2008 Honda Civic. I give Dad a knowing look; Mom is trying to get as much time as she can with me before they go on their trip. I won’t be seeing them much tomorrow, except to drop them off at the airport, and I won’t be coming back here today. She’s never been away from me for so long.
“We’ll see you there,” I say to Dad.
The driver-side door creaks a little when I open it. My parents bought it gently used for Mom when she was still working for the Las Vegas Review Journal. When some guy ran a red light three years ago, hitting her, it messed up the front tire well and put Mom in the hospital for a while with back injuries.
Obviously she’s fine now, but the lingering pain after the accident made it hard for her to sit behind a desk all day. The newspaper didn’t have a choice in letting her go. Mom was really understanding about it, though I was livid at the time.
Our lawyer helped us settle with the guy’s family. His wife felt awful for the actions of her husband. In the end, she convinced her husband to settle. Our lawyers discouraged further contact with her, so we haven’t heard from her since she sent a letter of apology to us—through our lawyer—right after the ordeal was handled.
Insurance covered the damages to the car, with the exception of the loud groan the driver-side door gives every time it opens. As far as the company is concerned, out car can run, so it’s fine. It was annoying at first, but now it’s kind of an endearing trait. My parents gave it to me under the condition that I got a job, so I started working at the Starbucks near us. They think my love for coffee makes it less of a ‘work’ setting and more of a fun hangout.
They’re not wrong.
Beside me in the car, Mom shifts with a wince she obviously doesn’t want me to see. The sheepish smile she gives says it all.
“Mom? Is everything okay? Are you hurting? You didn’t carry anything heavy when we weren’t looking, did you?” I know I’m firing the questions off too fast for her to answer, but the concern always makes me a little crazy.
Mom’s eyes widen and she chuckles. “Jeez, girly. Who’s the parent here?” she asks. A sigh escapes her mouth. “I’m fine. Just achy. Here,” she says, pulling a bottle of prescribed painkillers out of her purse. Every time she takes one, she gets a little loopy and kind of dull to everything going on around her. She’s obviously reluctant to take one on our last day to hang out until the end of the semester.
“I know I’m not supposed to overdo it,” she says before taking the pill without a drink. That always grosses me out, but I guess after taking medicine for a long time it gets easier to take without water.
“Is leaving me here really bothering you that much?” I ask. I hate the thought of stressing her out.
She sighs and reaches over to pay my leg. “I’ll be fine, same as you, sweetie,” she says. “Now, let’s go on and meet your dad.”
Reluctantly, I turn to face the front of the car. After slipping the key in the ignition, I crank the engine while holding down the clutch. When teaching me how to drive, Dad always stressed the importance of me learning how to drive stick. While the car warms up, I recall one of the many times Dad talked to me about it.
“If you’re ever out on a date and a boy goes too far, you might need to fight back and get away from him. But what if he takes you out to the middle of nowhere to park? You would need to use his car to get back. If he drives a stick and you don’t know how, you’d be at his mercy,” he’d said, an ice cream scoop poised over the mouth of a quart of chocolate chip cookie dough. The way his eyes glazed over always made it clear he was in his own little world.
Dad’s a creative. He and Mom met when they were finishing up their journalism degrees, but his true calling is fiction. Horror, to be precise. His stories are absolutely terrifying, but he’s shy, so he only writes for himself and to show me from time to time. It’s probably where he got his tendency to ramble on about unpleasant things, like me having to fight back against some would-be rapist.
“Dad!” I’d laughed. “You’re assuming I’m strong enough or have enough stamina to get away. You know I’d be a goner in no time.” The words always flew from my mouth with no hesitation, accompanied by a deadpan expression. If he was going to keep spouting the morbid little stories, I fully intended to play along.
The fact that his horrified expression was always an act never made it any less amusing. “Remind me to sign you up for kickboxing classes.”
A few minutes later, I bring the car into first gear and start driving. Dad didn’t start driving ahead of us, so when I stop at the stop sign at the end of my street, I wave another car along so I can wait for him to pull his truck out of the driveway. When he pulls up beside me at the sign, I check the four-way crossing again, for safety’s sake.
Together, we drive through our neighborhood, then turn left onto Decatur boulevard, driving south towards Clark County Road 215. After turning left onto it, we continue east until we merge onto the I-15 freeway. From there, we drive alongside the Strip before taking the Tropicana exit. Once off the freeway, we stop at a red light at the intersection of the Strip that has the Excalibur, the MGM Grand, and the New York, New York casinos. I stare up at the buildings on the Strip while waiting for the light to change.
“It really is pretty here,” says Mom. The sun is setting behind us, throwing its red-orange light off the green windows of the MGM Grand. Her voice is kind of quiet; her pill must have kicked in.
“It is,” I agree.
“Don’t get into any trouble while we’re gone,” she mumbles. The next thing I hear is the gentle sound of her snoring.
“Oh, Mom,” I whisper. She’s really having a hard time. “Everything will be okay.”
Of course, everything gets strange after that.