Her recent manicure bit marks into her palms. She fought the urge to squirm under the acidic looks currently directed at her. “Annabelle Fortin, you will listen to your father,” her mother snapped, hands resting on her hips. Annabelle stood defiantly before her parents, desperately wishing her life was someone else’s—anyone else’s.
“You don’t need to punish me more,” she retaliated. “I know how bad this is, and how bad it looks.” Her relationship with her parents was strained, at best. Gavin and Monica Fortin wanted their child to live a life of decadence. However, with that lifestyle came lots of fun things to experiment with. And experiment she had.
Recently eighteen, Annabelle had already dabbled in sex, drugs, and other extra-curricular activities of the sordid variety. And she now had a record to prove it. The DUI had been an extremely unfortunate event. She had been terrified sitting in the car, waiting for the police officer to arrive at her window. The blue lights had created a blurry strobe effect in her rearview. Madison is going to kill me, she’d thought. Not her parents – she had been worried her best friend would look down on her. Her parents only felt shamed by fellow country clubbers, and as a result, Annabelle’s life was being scrutinized.
Part of her punishment: a six-month court ordered volunteer gig. She was pissed that she didn’t even get a say in where she would volunteer. She’d been assigned to Glenview. Four hours a day, once a week, for six long months, at an assisted living facility for people with early onset dementia. She disliked old people in general… Great, old people who don’t even know they’re old. She snickered at her own jab.
“Annabelle, your phone. Now,” her father barked. His hand stretched out. Palm flat, waiting expectantly, his eyes boring into hers in that deep, intense way only a father’s could.
She forked over her phone with a pout and scowled. Annabelle’s friends joked that her dad was hot enough to be a GQ model even at fifty-four. She hated the way her girlfriends giggled at his slight accent—at anything he said—and ogled him. It was lame and disgusting. He was old fashioned and didn’t parent the way other kids’ parents did. He said it was how he was raised, but she hated it. When she was little, she’d thought it was cool that her dad was foreign—but now, she wished he’d accept the way things were done in the US and leave his European parenting skills behind.
“I hardly think losing your phone is worth all the dramatics, Belle.” Annabelle said nothing as she stewed in anger. “Your mother and I have talked, and we’ve decided that for the duration of your probation, your curfew is six p.m. You’re to be home for dinner every night. And no friends are allowed over.”
She threw her hands up in the air. “Six months? I drove drunk! I didn’t kill anyone. You’ve been letting me drink at home since I was fifteen—”
“Enough!” her father roared. He raked a hand through his hair, gripping the back of his head in frustration. Annabelle cowered slightly at his booming voice. “You got lucky. You were driving my car. Using my money to buy alcohol, and hanging out with that degenerate boyfriend of yours—not studying at Madison’s house as you led us to believe.”
“I’m eighteen, Daddy…I could just leave.” She crossed her arms over her chest. Her father’s face descended into an unusual shade of red. The back of his hand pressed to his mouth as he stifled his first train of thought. She thought for a moment that steam might start billowing out from his ears like they did in the cartoons she used to watch as a child. His breathing was ragged and his nostrils flared. Her resolve faltered slightly.
“You wouldn’t even know how to begin to support yourself. We’ve spoiled you your entire life. But if you want to go—” he gestured to the door “—you know the way out.” His tone was venomous.
A wave of guilt engulfed her. Annabelle was spoiled, she had to admit. She didn’t have a clue what she’d do if she walked out of the house. She had no car, had never worked, had never paid a bill of her own…and—outside of her trust fund—had no accessible money until, ironically, her twenty-first birthday.
Her parents owned her.
She turned and stomped to her room, feeling helpless and irritated. School would be over in three months. She’d graduate and spend her entire summer before college confined to the house. This house. A toxic display case they called a home. Her life officially sucked more than it had before, which was a feat.
She had known she was too buzzed that night to drive but quite frankly, she just hadn’t cared enough to not do it. It was a rash decision. It never should have happened. Throwing herself onto her bed, she flipped onto her back and then reached toward her pocket—only to remember that she didn’t have her phone. She rolled onto her stomach, stuck her face into her pillow and screamed so loud and hard her voice finally gave out. Tears of frustration and bitterness still flowed long after.
Hours passed. She got bored. She tried reading. After a chapter in, she gave up. She couldn’t concentrate. Restless, she tried listening to music. She tried watching TV but only managed to endlessly flip through the channels. She tried on all the clothes in her closet. Nothing distracted her. Nothing held her interest. She hated feeling emotions. She did whatever it took to avoid facing the issues that plagued her. Her apathy for her home life bordered on acute hatred. For years now she buried herself with distractions. She did anything to keep her head in the sand. It was easier not to feel. It was easier to get up every morning and ignore the disappointment, the aloofness. Finally, she trudged downstairs to beg her mother for her laptop back. She’d need it for school, anyhow. They couldn’t take away everything.
“Belle,” her mother answered absently and glanced at the clock on the stove. Typical, Annabelle thought, look anywhere but at her very own daughter.
“Can I have my laptop back? I need it for schoolwork.”
“I will talk with your father about it.” Annabelle’s shoulders sagged at the response.
“Please,” she tried. Her mother turned to face her, her eyes softened.
“One hour. Bring it downstairs with you when you come down for dinner.”
Annabelle didn’t dare utter a word for fear her mom would change her mind. She quietly waited while her mom unlocked a drawer and pulled her laptop out.
“Thanks,” she said quietly as she took it from her mother’s hands. Quickly racing up to her room, she smiled before she plunked down on her bed and fired up the machine.
After messaging Damon, her boyfriend, and Madison, on Facebook, to let them know she would see them tomorrow at school and what her punishment was, she Googled the Assisted Living Facility where she’d be volunteering. She wasn’t fond of old people. They smelled funny and their wrinkled, loose skin made her gag.
“We pride ourselves in being an assisted living community that promotes living life to its fullest. By providing a wide range of activities, amenities, and events, we encourage our residents to enjoy the greatness life has to offer. We encourage independence while offering safety and support. When you live at Glenview, you are more than a resident. You are family.”
She sighed and shut the laptop lid. Family. She laughed at the notion. Nothing good seemed to come from family. She glanced at the picture on her nightstand. Smiling faces. Hair blowing in the salty wind, the beach and ocean behind them. It had been an amazing vacation. It had been the last time she remembered family as something good.
Annabelle’s day was chaotic. She’d barely had time to make the bus from school to the assisted living facility. Change would come, she thought. Maybe not today. But it would come. It had too. Annabelle had to believe. She closed her eyes, and pictured a different world. Where people were fearless and unified. Free. Healed and cheerful. A place where nothing hurt. She drew in a deep breath and stepped off the bus in the direction of Glenview. Tuesday, the day she was to volunteer. Her time would be dictated by the staff and spent in the kitchen or sitting in a recreation room with senile senior citizens. Neither option appealed to her at all.
She was a ball of raw nerves. She hadn’t volunteered before. She had never been in real trouble before. She pushed through the doors of the facility and stopped short. It smelled funny. It smelled like punishment. It was days like these she felt like the world was against her. That everyone around her seemed mean. And ugly. There were times she burned with antipathy. In those moments, she was repulsive too. She didn’t want to hate. Annabelle wanted to be kindhearted but had a difficult time executing her wants as of late.
“Can I help you?” A dirty blonde haired woman looked her up and down and Annabelle stiffened.
“Annabelle Fortin. I’m here to volunteer.” Her voice wasn’t her own. It sounded meek and pathetic even to her.
“Ah yes.” The woman smoothed an errant tendril of her hair, eyes locked on Annabelle. “We’re short staffed in the kitchen today. Follow me.”
Annabelle wanted to find a dark corner and hide there. The kitchen? She knew nothing about cooking or serving food. Life was beginning to look like a bad dream. She inhaled sharply, put one foot in front of the other and followed the dishwater blonde down the kitchen where she was promptly handed a hair net and a pair of plastic gloves. Ugh, she thought- this was so much worse than she imagined.