When Britney imagined leaving her mom’s house, it was always for a good reason. She would leave for college, for love, for her own apartment in like a city with a cool job. But the day it actually happened was the worst of her life so far. Her mom got arrested for dealing drugs which… like, she didn’t deal drugs, she just always had some because she was from the ‘70s.
The cops came. A social worker said she had to stay with her dad even though she never been in dad’s house before that day, only seen it from outside when her parents did that hostage-exchange hand-off with her.
Big on the outside, big on the inside, that was dad’s house. Three floors, five bedrooms, and four bathrooms. There were two bathrooms on the ground floor, one for guests and one for family. Britney didn’t know which she was considered when she first arrived.
“We’ll just put your bags in the second office,” her step-mother said, squeezing Britney’s shoulder supportively. She had two sons with Britney’s dad — young, monstrous, smelly sons, and according to Britney’s dad, she only ever wanted daughters.
“There’s a futon in there now,” Britney’s dad said, “but if this situation becomes more… permanent, we’ll go bed shopping and decorate and all, make sure you’re comfortable.”
“Um, ‘kay,” Britney said. She didn’t often speak in more than a series of clicks and hums, like an insect.
But even Britney started to get an inkling of just how unfair things had been for her over that first weekend at dad’s. His den was full of large, glimmering exercise equipment when mom had to use the YMCA. His dishes were washed in a machine, not hand-scrubbed and racked to dry. There was a chandelier like an upside down tiered cake in his front room, which was called a foyer, instead of like, the living room. At Britney’s mom’s, the living room was the house itself, and the house itself for living in.
But apparently at dad’s you couldn’t live anywhere: under the chandelier was a big table, with different kinds of wood making a design in the top, and nothing on it ever, not even keys or bags when you came home. Keys would scratch and bags would scuff, and that table was simply too fancy to touch.
Resentment sprang up in Britney right away, but it didn’t mature enough to make itself known until she found out about the custody thing. Britney held it down as long as she assumed that she could go home again, but even without her mom being convicted of anything, even before two weeks had gone by, Britney’s dad petitioned for custody and got it.
“Thought you might like a copy of this, kiddo,” her dad said, setting a piece of paper down on the air hockey table where Britney was just gliding the puck around like it was her own neon Zen rock garden. “Those are the signatures that mean you get to stay here, you don’t have to go back to your mom’s.”
“What if I want to go back to mom’s?”
Britney’s dad made this skeptical face like it was a hypothetical question, and no one’s genuine desire.
“It isn’t a healthy environment over there. You’ll be better off here, trust me.”
Britney got quiet as that phrase sank in: trust me.
A commotion sprang up down the back hall; Britney’s stepmother, returned with her sons from soccer practice, going, “A little help, please.”
Britney’s dad patted her head like a puppy’s and went to his wife’s aid. Britney looked around at the den of her new home: air hockey table, treadmill, free weights, big TV, video games, roller skates, bowling balls, plush chairs, and a trophy case. Britney was grown up now, had even started doing the dishes without being asked first; it wasn’t fair that Dad would get the best of her too, when he already had the best of everything.
She was too old already for drawing on the walls and too young to want some skeezy boyfriend around, but Britney still wanted to let everyone, especially her father, know one thing very clearly.
“You don’t know me,” Britney gritted as she made a decision. “You people don’t know me at all.”
Britney walked over to the shelf of bowling balls. She wanted to pick the pink, swirling, melted-candy-on-the-dashboard one, but she knew that one would be her stepmother’s, just like she knew the ones with stickers of Batman symbols and dinosaurs would belong to her half-brothers. In time, Britney might have been represented on this shelf too, but she had no intention of fitting neatly into this family. She might not have had any choice in staying, but she could make everybody else just as unhappy about it as she was.
Britney picked up the deep, rippling midnight blue ball, the one with finger holes big enough for only dad, and she carried it cradled like a watermelon into the foyer.
Hoisted to her right shoulder, careful to push with the arm and not toss with the wrist, as it could easily sprain. She spun once, twice, three times, until the bowling ball started to pull itself away from her with its own momentum, and then upsey-daisy!
The bowling ball hit the chandelier, which was on like always, with the unheard-of luxury of a dimmer switch. Up over the top and smashed down through the center, like making a basket. The noise was a cheerful catastrophe. The glass came clattering down, a thousand tossed lights skittering over the floor, and the ball came down too (blam!) making one huge dent in that perfect table.
Britney could hear her “family” in the ringing silence afterward, disentangling themselves from the soccer gear, rushing down the long hallway to get to her, calling her name but unable to see her, or the grim determination on her face.
“I’m here,” Britney yelled back. Here, apparently to stay.
L.A. Fields is the author of The Disorder Series and My Dear Watson, a queer Sherlock Holmes pastiche. Her short fiction has appeared in anthologies of horror, erotica, and academia. Find her online at la-fields.livejournal.com.