He grumbled to Violet about their sudden lack of privacy at school, protesting about the throng of girls that waited for them in the parking lot, or at his locker between classes, and even in the cafeteria at lunch. He began to notice girls individually, and each one had some annoying habit or an irritating personality flaw that grated on his nerves a little more with each passing day.
None of the girls noticed, or cared, that he didn’t give them the time of day. But Violet couldn’t help feeling smugly satisfied, although she kept her mouth shut and her opinions—even though she agreed with Jay—to herself.
She was grateful that he never seemed to tire of her.
Outwardly at least, nothing had changed between the two of them. They drove to school together in the morning, walked to classes they shared, ate together at lunch, and parted ways when she dropped him off again at his house, only to talk on the phone in the evening. It was nice. And even though Violet silently craved more, it was comfortable.
And this Friday afternoon was no different.
Violet dropped her backpack on the floor inside her front door. It was the area that her mother not-so-fondly referred to as the “shoe graveyard,” where everyone who came in left their coats, shoes, umbrellas, and in this case, a backpack.
She smelled dinner already, and she knew that her mom was making lasagna. Not because of the aroma drifting out to meet her, but instead because, when her mom actually cooked something, that was what she made. And it wasn’t of the homemade variety either, but one of the prepackaged, mass-marketed frozen ones. That, and a fresh loaf of French bread from the bakery, made up the meal that Violet had eaten more times than she cared to count. Her mom wasn’t exactly what you’d call a domestic diva.
“Vi? That you?” her mother called from the kitchen.
Violet kicked off her shoes and followed the scents.
“Hi,” Maggie Ambrose greeted her daughter as she stepped into the airy, farmhouse-style kitchen. “How was your day?”
Violet grabbed a pop from the fridge and sat at the table. “Pretty good. How was yours?”
That was all the encouragement her mom needed. “I’m almost finished with the painting I’ve been working on—you know, the one with the river? I can’t wait to show it to you.” What she lacked in cooking skills, she more than made up for in enthusiasm for her work.
Violet looked at her mother’s paint-covered smock and the rainbow of colors crusted beneath her short fingernails, and she smiled. “Mom, I think you got a little of that river on you.”
Her mom looked down at her fingernails and grimaced. “Yeah, occupational hazard, I guess.” And then she changed the subject. “I hope you’re hungry. I’m making lasagna for dinner.”
“Great,” Violet responded with as much zeal as she could muster under the circumstances. It was probably the only hot meal she would get all week, so she didn’t dare complain about it, for fear that her mom might go on strike permanently.
“Oh, and don’t forget, you’re babysitting for Uncle Stephen tonight.”
Violet made a face, but her mom stopped her before she could actually argue.
“You promised, remember? They asked you over a month ago, and you said you would do it.”
She was right, and Violet knew it, but it didn’t stop her from whining a little. “Yeah, well, a month ago it seemed like a good idea. Now, not so much. Besides, it’s the weekend.”
Violet loved her little cousins, but they weren’t exactly her ideal Friday night dates.
Her mom raised her eyebrows. “Oh, and did you have big plans, Cinderella? Big night at the ball?”
Violet laughed at the sarcasm in her mom’s words. “No. But even nothing is better than babysitting.” She sighed, knowing there was no way out of it. “Fine. I’m gonna go do some of my homework before I head over there.”
Violet went to her room and flopped down on the mass of rumpled blankets piled on top of her bed. She thought about studying, but she had all weekend, and right now, with the down comforter reaching up around her, she decided to close her eyes…just for a minute….
And then another. Her breathing became even…steady…and soon she drifted off….
It was the smell that jarred her back to consciousness. Not the familiar smell of melting mozzarella and marinara sauce, but something acrid—harsh—that felt like it was burning the skin inside of her nose.
She opened her eyes and looked around her.
She wrinkled her nose against it. The smell seemed to be right on top of her, but she couldn’t begin to imagine what it might be. She winced, holding her breath as she sat up, alarmed.
“What the—?” She scanned the room, not sure what she was looking for.
But there it was. Right in front of her.
The cat had jumped up on her bed while she’d been dozing, and the smell was coming off him in nearly visible, rippling waves, like heat coming off the desert sand.
“Carl!” she accused the fat tomcat at the same time she was scooping him off her bed and racing him toward her bedroom door.
She tried not to inhale as she rushed him down the stairs while he struggled against her hands, trying to wiggle free before she could toss him outside. It was a dance they had done before, and as usual, Violet won, slamming the door in the poor cat’s face.
The smell couldn’t actually be blocked by the barrier of the door, but the distance created some relief from it, at least enough so that Violet was able to breathe again.