She’s our daughter, Nick, we can’t just send her away!’
‘She’s a problem, we can’t have her influencing her brother.”
‘And you think you running around with your nurse girlfriend isn’t affecting him? Think that’s teaching him good things?’
‘Jessica, that’s different. Nicole is unnatural.’
‘Don’t you ever say that about your own children.’
“Ow! Shit!” Nicole was jolted away, her arm stinging. She could already feel a bruise forming on her shoulder and she looked besides her to see her little brother smirking at her, fist already pulled back for another punch.
“Language!” her mother said from the truck, “Jason, stop bothering your sister.”
Jason stuck his tongue out at Nicole and she jolted forward to grab him but her seatbelt stopped her, jerking her back. He cackled and hit her one more time on the arm before scrambling away from her and out of the car. “We’re here, loser!”
Nicole glared at him and he flipped her off.
“Jason!” their mother scolded. He turned red and ran into the house while Nicole made a silent vow to get him back later. She wiped whatever sleep was left in her eyes away with the back of her hand and undid her seatbelt. Scooting out of the car and stepping onto the pavement, she stretched. Every joint in her body seemed to crackle and pop from the long drive. Driving in the car for more than a few minutes always took a toll on her long lanky body. She had just begun to grow into it this year, but that didn’t stop her mother from calling her ‘stringbean’.
She took a look at the house, looming large at the end of the walkway. It was big. Bigger than they probably needed with her sister away now and her dad-...
Her mother claimed she was going to make use of the divorce settlement money. She was convinced she was going to do better by her kids. Move them away from the big town, get them into a small town with a good school and great opportunities. Away from their big shot doctor dad and anything that reminded her of him anyways.
“See, honey,” her mother said pointing to the basketball hoop over the garage, “You can practice there. Have your little friends over to play.”
Nicole turned to her mom who was leaning on a stack of boxes she had already taken out of the trunk. “Need help?”
“No, it’s fine, go get settled in with your brother,” Jessica said waving her away. Nicole reached into the back seat and grabbed her backpack, slinging it over her shoulder. Despite her mother’s words, Nicole grabbed the top box off the stack. Her mom sighed and rubbed Nicole’s back. “You’re a good kid. You know that?”
Jessica slung her arm over Nicole’s neck and kissed her cheek. “Mom,” Nicole grumbled even though she wasn’t able to keep a smile from quirking at the corners of her lips, “Stop.”
Nicole made a show of pulling away and walked up the driveway. Her footsteps echoed on the wooden floor as she stepped into the empty foyer. She heard the pattering of her brother running around upstairs, probably trying to claim the best room. Setting the box down, she yelled up the stairs. “Jason! I’m older I get the bigger room!”
Jason leaned over the rail of the second floor and shouted, “I’m turning thirteen. I need a teenagers room.”
“Yeah, well I’m turning eighteen and need an adult’s room,” Nicole countered.
“Next year,” Jason mocked with a roll of his eyes.
“Can we please have the first night in the new house without fighting please?” their mom said as she carried another box through the door.
Nicole gave her little brother a look and adjusted the backpack on her shoulder. She turned back to Jessica with a smile. “Mom, you shouldn’t be carrying boxes. Let me get them.”
“Sweetie,” Jessica said with a fond smile, “Thank you, but don’t worry about it. The movers will be here soon.”
“Suck up,” Jason muttered from upstairs.
Nicole only waited a second before she ran up the stairs, taking two at a time to get to her brother. Jason yelled and ran away into a room, slamming the door behind him. Nicole had to dig her heels in to stop, inches short from slamming into the door. She pounded on the door and said into the crack of the door, “I better see you helping Mom with the unpacking.”
Jason opened the door a crack to glare at her. “Why? It’s your fault we had to move. You help her.”
“Jason,” Nicole warned, fist tightening on the strap of her backpack.
“Dyke!” he yelled before slamming the door in her face. Nicole breathed harshly through her nose, fingernails cutting into her flesh as she balled her free hand into a fist. Her stomach clenched and hot tears pricked at the corners of her eyes. Every inch of her itched to barge into his room and make him take it back. But that scene had played out far too many times. They only led to half apologies and their Dad looking to her like... that .
Rolling her shoulders, she turned on her heels and walked down the hall past the master bedroom to the room at the furthest end of the hall. She pushed open the door and took in the room. It was big, empty...the smell of fresh paint still hanging in the air. The room was definitely bigger than her last one. She wondered how she would fill it. In the move she had thrown away all her basketball trophies. At least she had tried, but she saw her mom take them out of her bag for GoodWill.
Her footsteps muted as she walked over the carpet to the window. She pulled the string to open the blinds and looked out at the neighborhood. A kid riding a bike, someone watering a lawn. Typical. Boring, predictable and everything her mother was looking for. She dropped her backpack on the floor and slid down the wall to sit on the floor. Leaning over to grab her phone out of her jean pocket, she stretched her legs out in front of her with a groan.
JC 1 New Message
Nicole slid open the message.
How’s the new digs? Jason drive you up a wall yet?
JC was the only one in the family who really understood her. Her big sister had always looked over for her, made her feel safe. When their parents were fighting, she would shuffle Nicole and Jason into her room to watch a movie or listen to whatever singer her newest obsession was. She had left for college the year before and that’s when Nicole really started to feel lonely. It felt like the fights got worse after that.
She typed back a quick reply.
Not yet surprisingly. He only called me a dyke once today.
Her sister’s reply was quick: Yeah well, he learned that from Dad. He’s twelve and angry and just needs to get beat up once.
Nicole smiled and was typing back when a new notification popped into the top of her screen.
Shae 1 New Message
She hesitated a moment before opening it with a tap.
Hope you like your new place. I miss you.
Nicole sighed, fingers hovering over the keyboard before she locked her phone and slid it back into her jacket pocket. She wasn’t going to touch that right now. Her heart was still raw from when they said goodbye.
“You’re not gonna forget about me or anything, right?” Shae asked, wiping her eyes with the heel of her hands.
“Never,” Nicole whispered into her hair, “You know it’s just because I’m moving far away. Right?”
Shae nodded against her shoulder and Nicole just hugged her tighter.
Her phone buzzed again, pulling her from her thoughts and she pulled it out to see another text from JC.
Hey, good luck at school tomorrow. First day. Try not to break too many hearts. ;)
Nicole rolled her eyes and just sent her sister a winking face back. Her mom knocked on the door frame to get her attention. She held up a basketball and rolled it along the carpet to Nicole. Stopping it with her foot, she smiled up at her mom.
“Why don’t you go try out that hoop?” Jessica asked, her red hair spilled from a messy bun and Nicole wondered if she would look like her when she was older. Her dad had always told her she was the spitting image of her mother when she was growing up. When he still talked to her.
“I’m fine,” Nicole said nudging the ball a little away from her.
Jessica leaned against the doorway. “Well, then let me put it this way. The movers are putting in your furniture first and you need to get out of here while they do, stringbean.”
Nicole grumbled and stood up, shrugging her jacket off and letting it fall on top of her backpack. “Fine fine.”
She trudged down the stairs, rolling her eyes at the loud, bassy music coming from her brother’s room. The walls doing barely anything to mute the sound. She tried to remember that her brother was young and stupid, but it felt like each day he reminded her more and more of their dad. Something that was hard for her to swallow. She flattened herself against the wall as the movers carried in her mattress before slipping down the stairs and out the front door.
The sound of the basketball bouncing against the concrete was hollow, firm. It had become a comfort at this point, something she could lose herself in. There were times she could swear it synchronized with the beating of her heart. She stood a couple of yards away from the hoop and shot the ball, the old wood of the backboard thumping as the ball dropped through the hoop. She waited for it to roll down the tilted driveway back to her, stopping it with her foot and picking it up again.
She shot the ball a few more times, already growing old of the game. Her mother was still trying to convince her to join the basketball team at her new school, but she wasn’t entirely convinced. She was good, she knew she was...and it was an easy way to make friends. But it reminded her of her Dad and how he took her to the park every day after school when she was around Jason’s age to teach her how to play. Standing at the end of the driveway, she threw the basketball over her head at the hoop and was almost mad when it still went in.
The ball rolled back down the driveway a little further away than she expected. She missed it with her foot and grumbled to herself as it finished it’s journey in the gutter. Pushing her hair back with her hand, she trudged over to the end of the driveway. She bent down to get it, straightening as a car drove past.
It was an old pickup truck, exhaust popping a little and gears grinding as the driver shifted it wrong. Nicole would have been horrified if her eyes hadn’t seen the girl in the passenger seat, her breath stopping short. She had long brown hair, being blown gently from the open window. Hazel eyes turned on her and Nicole was frozen in place.
It was like one of those cheesy movies where the whole world slowed and an old country song played in the background. Probably Patsy Cline. Wait, that was Patsy Cline playing gently through the open window of the pickup truck as it drove past. Nicole’s eyes remained glued on the back of the truck until it turned the corner out of sight. The last thing she saw was the “Gas, Grass or Ass” sticker stuck haphazardly onto the bumper.
Nicole cleared her throat and looked down at the basketball in her hands that were sweaty for some reason. The buzzing of her phone in her pocket actually made her jump and she pulled it from her pocket before sitting on the edge of the curb.
“Hey, JC,” Nicole said holding the ball between her feet, forearms resting on her knees as she hunched over, “Miss me already?”
“You don’t give me time to miss you, dweeb, you never leave me alone,” her sister said dryly.
Nicole could practically imagine her lying in her dorm room, drowning in her favorite baggy sweatshirt and a pile of books on the end of the bed. Their mom had tried several times to get JC to throw it away, but she flat out refused. One year they went on vacation to Florida and it was horrible most of the time. Their parents were fighting, Jason was two and only wanted to pull on his sister’s hair, and Nicole was trying to figure out why watching the princess’ in the parade at Disneyland made her stomach ache in a not entirely unpleasant way. It was their last day and they went to the Kennedy Space Center, the one place an eight-year-old JC insisted they visit. JC dragged her little sister behind her to all the different displays until they, of course, ended up in the giftshop. JC set her eyes on a black hooded sweatshirt with a large NASA logo embroidered on the front and smaller patches along one of the sleeves for all the different missions. They only had an extra extra large left but JC wouldn’t let their Dad pry it from her hands.
“Space Case, where did you go?”
Nicole blinked and shook her head. “Sorry, I was thinking,” she tacked on a last minute retort, “And you’re the space case, not me.”
“Right, you’re a jock strap,” JC corrected.
Nicole gagged dramatically at the image just to make a point. “Why are you calling? Aren’t you too busy being all cool at college or something?”
“Oh, please,” JC said, clearly snacking on something, “Now, tell me about the new place. Did you save the biggest room for me?”
“No, I didn’t. But it’s a big house...nice,” Nicole looked at the woman gardening while her husband fixed the porch, “The neighborhood kinda blows though.”
“I thought that it was in one of those towns that Mom saw in her retirement magazine.”
“If it is someone should sue the magazine,” Nicole grumbled, scratching at some of the dirt on the basketball, “It’s just...too perfect. You know? Small town, friendly people, happy families. I’m probably the only queer person in a twenty mile radius. Seems like a ruze. Or a cover. Like we’re actually on a hell hole or something.”
JC sighed, “Were you watching Buffy again?”
“No,” Nicole said with a blush.
“Were you and Shae doing that thing where you watch it over the phone together after you already spent literally hours watching it together in your room?”
Nicole rubbed the back of her neck and rolled her shoulder. “Oh, yeah we uh...broke up. A few days ago.”
It sounded like JC had fallen out of the bed before she spoke again. “Fina-, I mean, why? When?”
“We just decided to break up. I wasn’t-...I’m really far away now and we agreed it would be too hard and honestly...she was kinda getting on my nerves anyways. This way I broke up with her without having to see her at school all the time,” Nicole said with a grimace.
JC was silent for a moment before she said almost in awe, “You’re stone cold, little sis. Now you can do that annoying thing where girls fawn all over you and you love it.”
Nicole sighed, tipping her knees together and resting her forehead on them. “Yeah yeah,” she said, “I’ll miss her still though. We decided we could be friends. Still talk.”
“I’m sure after the third straight girl you seduce to come to the dark side with you, you’ll stop missing her,” JC said with a smirk in her voice, “I mean, the whole cheerleading squad? Stone. Cold.”
“It wasn’t the whole team,” Nicole said with a roll of her eyes, “Only like...a third or whatever.” She shrugged and looked back at the house. “And I haven’t told Mom yet. I don’t like bringing this stuff up to her.”
“You’re gay stuff,” JC emphasized, “Why? You know she’s okay with it.”
“That’s the problem. Everytime I bring it up she asks me something embarrassing. Like if I’m using dental dams or who my favorite ‘Real L Word’ character was.”
“I know! They really missed a huge opportunity there.”
“Anyways, Mom’s going to be sad when you tell her. She heard about that whole UHaul thing and thought that you were going to marry her,” JC said, “So maybe you should tell her soon. Also because she’ll be sad you’re not telling her stuff like that.”
Nicole leaned back, propping herself up on her arm behind her. “She’s got a lot going on with the divorce and everything. I’ll tell her later.”
“Mhm,” JC said as a comfortable silence fell over them. The oldest Haught sighed. “I gotta go. I have an interview for a TA position.”
“Miss you, Nic.” Nicole cringed at the nickname but JC corrected herself quickly. “-Cole! Nicole. Sorry, Sis. Don’t send me another angry emotional text about it.”
Nicole scoffed. “I was PMSing.”
“Yeah sure. Talk to you later.”
Nicole waited for her sister’s picture disappear from the screen before putting it back into her pocket. She took another look down the street and saw a tractor trudging slowly through an intersection. The sight made Nicole roll her eyes and hang her head in self pity. She swore she could hear cows in the distance. It was definitely an argument when Nicole found out that their Mom was moving them to some middle of nowhere cowpoke town.
It was her Senior year, she was finally the top of the pack. She was on the varsity basketball team, a hot popular girlfriend and basically the run of the school. It was literally the worst time to leave. Then one day she ran into her Dad and his new girlfriend at the minimart. After that she couldn’t get out of there fast enough. She didn’t realize her Mom would move them somewhere like this though.
Her sister had a point, at least there was a fresh batch of girls to have some fun with. They’d probably be mostly if not all straight, but that hadn’t stopped her before and it wouldn’t now.
“Nicole!” she turned to see her Mom calling her from the porch, “I’m going to order pizza. Can you show me how to use this app thing?” She held up her phone and Nicole nodded.
“Sure, Mom,” she said as she stood up, basketball resting between her hip and arm.
She took the phone when she got up to the porch and put in the order for her mom. “Who were you talking to? Shae?” her mom asked with an exaggerated wink.
“No,” she said with a shake of her head, “JC.”
“Oh, how is your sister? I sent her a text yesterday but she hasn’t answered me yet,” Jessica said as Nicole handed her back the phone.
Nicole just nodded, “I’m going to go unpack,” and started into the house and up the stairs. She got to her room, now cluttered with stacked boxes. Her bed was set up under the window with drawers and desk against another wall. She opened one of the boxes marked clothes and began to put them in the drawers. At least this way she could get clothes a little easier in the morning.
Her stomach turned at the thought of starting school the next day. She wasn’t looking forward to all the awkward introductions in her classes and people staring at her. Wondering who she was. There would be the expectation to make friends and that really was the last thing she wanted to do. Even at her old school she didn’t really have friends. People she hung out with, sure. But the only person she’d ever really talked about anything that mattered with was JC. She figured it would be the same song and dance tomorrow. Be cool, make the right friends who wouldn’t put her on the bottom of the social pyramid, and just find a way to get through the year. A way that probably involved a lot of girls.
“Just one more year,” Nicole sighed as she put her shirts into the drawer. One more year of high school and then she could go away to college like her sister. Somewhere that wasn’t a tiny town that smelled vaguely of cow shit. “One more year.”