My father watched me with pain in his eyes. I knew this was killing him inside. “We do love you. You’re right, bunny, we’ve failed you. This is the only way we know how to fix this.”
“I know,” I said through my teeth. “Leaving someone else in charge of my fate has always been your go-to.”
He winced, and my mother guided him out and down the hall. Sally stayed behind with a smug smile on her face.
“You can go,” I said, looking at the window across the room where, only half an hour before, Finley and I had been admiring Paige’s beauty and discussing how I shouldn’t ruin her.
“You can call your parents, Ellison. But not to torture them. Not to beg. Not to try to change their minds. I will be with them for the next three months. Your phone bill has been transferred to your name and responsibility. You have a basic package until you can afford more, so use it wisely.”
I turned to her, hoping to kill her with my glare. “Why are you still here?”
“It is important that you use this time to better yourself. This is going to be life-changing for you, Ellie. Take advantage. What your parents are doing is the hardest thing they’ve ever done, and they’re doing it because they love you.”
Sally breathed out a laugh. “I’m glad to see you’ve maintained a sense of humor.”
“That wasn’t humor, imbecile; it was sarcasm. You can fuck right off with my gullible parents, you greedy, scheming snake.”
“Best to you, dear. I do hope we’ll talk soon.”
“I hope you text my parents asking for money, two seconds too long before looking up and being hit head-on by a truck full of toxic waste.”
Sally didn’t look appalled, but sad, turning for the door without another word. She spoke softly with my parents, Maricela, and José before the front door closed and their car headed for the gate.
I pounded my fists against the mattress, screaming as loudly as I could. The words coming from my mouth didn’t even make sense, and I couldn’t remember what was said from one sentence to the next, but I had no choices, and it was the only thing to do.
I rushed down the hall to Finley’s room. Her bed was made, her room empty, her luggage gone.
“What the fuck?” I said, running back to my room for my phone. I dialed Finley’s number.
She answered right away. “Ellie? Oh my Christ, honey, I’m in the car with Marco. They barely gave me time to get dressed. Maricela had my things packed and sitting next to the door when I got back to my room.”
“No. They want me to leave for Sanya. They said you need time alone.”
Finley grew quiet. “What are you going to do? Mother said you’re cut off.”
“I … I don’t know. I haven’t thought that far ahead. I guess … I guess I…” If I asked Finley for money, I would be as pathetic as every putrid mule we’d bitched about since puberty.
“They’ve forbidden me to help you,” Finley said, sounding defeated. “But I left all the cash I had in my nightstand. I think it’s eight or nine hundred. She’s taken your passport and frozen all of your accounts. I’m so sorry.”
“Did you know this was going to happen? Is that why you came home?”
“Of course not. You’re my sister, Ellie…”
“It’ll be okay. Thanks for the cash. When they stop being mad, they’ll feel bad and change their minds.”
“No,” Finley said softly. “They’ve turned over control to Sally.”
“They’ve signed a contract. Sally has to sign off on all monies or services extended to you. That’s what Mother told me. I don’t know what they’re going to do if you don’t find an apartment. Sally was talking about shelters in Estes Park.” I’d never heard Finley sound afraid before.
“That’s just … absurd. Once Daddy abandons this bullshit intervention, he’ll tell Sally to kick rocks. He loves me more than his own conscience, more than Mother—definitely more than a goddamn contract with a wannabe therapist.”
“Exactly. He loves you more than anything, Ellie. More than his guilt or pride, or your anger. More than me.”
“And you’re the one who requires the most attention.”
My chest ached. It was the truth, which made it that much more painful. I didn’t know Finley thought of me that way, and her opinion was the only one that mattered to me.
She continued like she hadn’t just ripped out my heart. “It’s too early to call, but I wouldn’t count on their help anytime soon. They’re serious this time. You’ve gone too far.”
“You have to talk to them.”
“I’ve tried. I’ve tried to talk to you, too, if you’ll remember.”
She paused for several seconds, and then sighed. “I am.”
Even though Finley couldn’t see me, I nodded, and then touched my fingers to my lips. She was right, but that didn’t make it fair. There were less dramatic ways for my parents to make their point.
“Yeah,” I said, pressing the END button. The phone fell from my palm onto the bed. I looked out the window at the snow blowing off the trees. Get a job? I have a degree in ceramics. Where in the fuck am I going to get a job in Estes Park?
“I said no,” I said, picking at the wood on Sterling’s monstrosity of a dining room table.
“It’s perfect for you,” Sterling said, sipping his third glass of red wine. He was still licking his wounds from our night with Finley. Contrary to what he’d said when he’d invited me over, Sterling wasn’t the least invested in ideas for me to find a job in Estes Park.
“A bartender?” I said. “The people in this town know who I am—most of all the bartenders. They will laugh me out of the building if I go looking for a job. They won’t believe that I need one.”
“They can’t discriminate against you, Ellie. If you’re qualified more than anyone else who’s applied, they’ll have to give it to you.”
“That’s not how this works. They hire grandsons and nieces in this town. And, no. Not a bartender. I just got kicked out of Turk’s. They’ll be afraid I’ll drink up their stock. Especially now that José has been ordered to remove all the liquor from the house.”
“What the hell did you do, Ellie? It can’t be worse than the time you—”
“It wasn’t. A painting was broken. A few vases and a table. Some vomit on the floor … nothing the cleaning crew couldn’t handle.”
“Then it’s not about the money.”
“You’re fucked. They’re not trying to teach you responsibility or appreciation, Ellison. They’re trying to save you from yourself. Betsy March’s parents did the same thing to her. You have no way out of this. You might as well give in or end it all now.”