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Two Separate Lives
Charity Rogerson fingered the price tag carefully. The ring wasn’t expensive. Only ten bucks. But she slipped it into the outer pocket of her bag anyway, careful not to lose the well-rehearsed look of naïveté on her face. As always, she tensed slightly passing through the security detectors, even though there was no way a security tag was hidden anywhere on the tiny piece of circular plastic. But the sales lady didn’t even glance at her. Piece of cake.
She had long since realized that you could steal almost anything as long as you looked the part. Which was why she was wearing the black pumps her mother bought her a year ago, the pumps that, as of this morning, had been crammed in the box at the very bottom of her closet, lost among a world of ruddy converse and forgotten socks. She also wore a designer sundress, ‘borrowed’ from her sister’s dresser. It was pink and frilly and the last thing Charity would ever be caught dead in with her friends. But to the oblivious judgmentals lining the aisles of Bloomingdales it was practically a homing beacon.
“Excuse me, miss?” She stopped dead, her skin prickling all over. She’d heard wrong, that was it. “Excuse me, in the pink.” Oh. My. God.
Heart pounding rapidly, she turned. It didn’t matter how crap the ring was. It was a felony just the same.
“Yeah?” The sales lady smiled.
“You dropped your bracelet.” Charity’s hand flew to her wrist and sure enough it was naked. Relief flooded her chest and she was able to breathe again.
“No problem.” Charity took the bracelet and hurried away from the smiling woman, but it was all she could do to keep from sprinting through the mall, out the door, and all the way home. She loved shoplifting, loved the natural high it gave her, but not close calls. And that had been a close one.
She’d never gotten caught, not once, because she wasn’t stupid about it. Violet and Nolan were idiots when it came to this sort of thing. She’d watched multiple times as one or both of them were paraded through a store in handcuffs, shoved into the back of a cop car, and taken down to the station. Parents were notified, gaskets were blown, and grounding ensued. It was a disgusting mess.
Charity couldn’t even imagine what would happen if her father found out. Nolan’s mom throwing his X-box out the window would seem pale in comparison, she was sure. But her mother would most likely do the opposite and pull a disappearing act. A couple Midol and she was out like a light. At least that had been the case during The Incident. But she didn’t want to think about that. Not now. Not ever.
The mall was crowded for a Sunday afternoon. All around her people zoomed past, each one sporting their own individual look of determination. Whether they were hitting the semi-annual sale at Victoria’s Secret, or trying quickly and painlessly to get through return after return, or buying that priceless gift for someone special, Charity didn’t care. She hated malls and hated all the people in them. A woman sped past, nearly knocking her over with the giant Michael Kors bag she was lugging, her cell phone super-glued to her ear. Charity wondered what was so damn important that the lady couldn’t even utter a simple ‘Excuse me.’ She wondered, but didn’t really care.
She spotted a group of girls entering the Juicy Couture Store and her mouth filled with the sour taste of disgust. She didn’t know whether it was because they reminded her so much of Isabel, with perfect hair and designer bags, or because they just radiated stupidity, but the words vain, lame, and superficial immediately popped into her head. So what if she was judgmental? The way she saw it, it wasn’t her fault. It was Isabel’s. Her sister gave girls like that a bad name.
As she emerged into the dreary parking lot outside Macy’s, she was shocked and more than a little bit thrown to see him standing there. Lars. He wasn’t known for punctuality. Or reliability. Come to think of it, he wasn’t known for anything except how many beers he could throw back before puking. Six. And still counting.
She hadn’t been expecting him. She had been expecting Violet or Nolan, or even Nolan’s older sister, Stacy. But now that Lars was here she wasn’t just surprised. She wished that he wasn’t.
“Nice dress,” he said as she hopped into the passenger seat of his black truck. Charity didn’t respond. “Lift anything pretty?”
“None of your business,” she said, feeling the weight of the ring in her pocket.
“I came all the way here to get you and you won’t even show me your loot?” he said. His black eyes were mocking.
“Why did you come all the way here to get me?” she grumbled. She wasn’t stupid. When Lars did something for you he expected something in return. She would know.
“Can’t I just do something nice for someone? Do there always have to be strings attached?”
“For you? Yes.” He flicked on the radio as he pulled the car onto the highway. The music was noise – loud, obnoxious banging and screaming – but Charity didn’t reach for the off button even though it was giving her a headache. Finally, Lars lowered the volume. It started to rain.
“Well, now that you mention it, there is something you can do for me.”
“Oh yeah? What’s that?” She didn’t look at him.
“The cops are asking questions again.” Something in her stomach jolted and her eyes snapped to his face. He wasn’t looking at her, but she could tell by the grim set of his lips that he was serious. This was serious.
“What do you mean?” It took every effort to keep her voice steady.
“Exactly what I said. Apparently something in your story didn’t check out.”
“Oh, so you assume it’s my fault?”
“This whole fucking thing is your fault.” She opened her mouth but no words came. He was right. And he knew it. “Look, I’m covering your ass here so don’t look at me like I’m some kind of insensitive jerk.” But he was. And he knew it.
“Not whatever. I’ll pick you up at ten tonight. We have things to discuss.”
“Does it really matter? You owe me so bad that it’s actually kind of pathetic.”
She slouched in her seat and picked at a pull in her sister’s dress. The more she played with it, the worse it got. She should have stopped, but she didn’t. Even though it wasn’t her dress. Even though it was Isabel’s.
She really didn’t care.
Lars stopped the truck and Charity looked up, startled. She hadn’t realized they were at her house already. The house was big and white, with two stone columns framing the front door and a perfectly even lawn. It was set slightly down a hill, which was the reason Lars didn’t pull into the driveway. Or maybe he just wanted her to get soaked in the rain. She would. In Isabel’s dress.
She still didn’t care.
The house had three garages, even though they only owned two cars, and an in-ground pool. It was actually kind of nice in the summer, but was mostly wasted on Isabel and her trashy friends. But wasn’t everything?
Charity sat there for a moment, watching the rain pound on the window. She didn’t want to go into the house, but she definitely didn’t want to stay here with him.
An impatient sigh. Then, “I don’t have all day.”
She left the car and began her descent down the driveway. She was a quarter of the way down when she heard the window roll open. She didn’t stop because she wanted to. She stopped because she had to.
“Remember, ten.” And then he drove away. She watched, her wet hair dripping into her eyes, the retreating lights on his black truck. She knew she was in deep. As deep as it got.
But that wasn’t the scary part. The scary part was that she owed him. She owed him everything.
Isabel watched as the black truck disappeared down the road and let the curtain fall shut. She hated that guy. Lars. Not only was he a creep, but he was a dangerous creep. At least, that’s what she’d heard from Jake. He’d told her to stay away from him.
And yet her sister practically lived with the guy, she thought disgustedly. Late at night, when she heard Charity’s door creak open quietly, heard her soft footsteps down the hall, heard the front door shut, that’s whose truck was always waiting at the top of the driveway. She wanted to tell Charity to stop seeing him. I mean, the guy was, like, nineteen, four years older. Wasn’t that illegal, or something?
But if Isabel voiced her opinion she knew her sister would shut her out, like she always did. And the truth, though she hated to admit it, was that Isabel didn’t care enough to try harder.
Her phone rang and she checked the ID. It was Jake.
“Hey, baby,” she said, sitting back on her bed. “How are you feeling?”
“Do you really have to ask?”
He borrowed some money from some guys a couple months ago and couldn’t pay them back. They threatened him, but he didn’t think they’d really go through with it. He was wrong.
Jake had a cracked rib and some serious bruising, though it was starting to heal and the pain was starting to fade. Though you’d never tell by the amount of pain pills he popped daily.
“Do you need anything?”
“Come over?” She smiled. After the accident he’d been distant. Dismissing her calls. Making excuses. Hiding. Trauma, she’d told herself. It’s the trauma. He just wanted to be alone.
But that didn’t make it hurt any less.
The thing was, she didn’t want to be one of those desperate girlfriends. She didn’t want to cling or question or redial his number when he didn’t pick up. What better way was there to kill a relationship? Or so she’d read in the latest issue of Seventeen. She just wanted to trust him, which admittedly had been a little hard after he’d lied about the whole money thing. She didn’t even know what he’d needed the money for.
She’d been afraid to ask.
“Of course. I’ll be right there.”
“Bring the Terminator. Oh, and a couple beers. I’m out.” She told him she would and hung up, feeling a tiny bit of dread in her stomach. How many times would they watch those boring Sci-fi thrillers before he got sick of them?
Before going downstairs she brushed out her long blonde hair and replaced the blue headband on her head. Then she stepped back from the mirror and looked at herself. The outfit was perfect but the girl inside it was not. She was too tall, too short, too skinny, too fat, too blonde, not blonde enough. It was what all the magazines said when they featured the perfect girls on the covers, though she’d never admit it to anyone. She grabbed her purse and turned away from her reflection.
Charity was in the kitchen.
Oh, not now, Isabel thought. She didn’t have time for her sister’s attitude. Not when Jake was waiting for her. Not when he needed her. She spared her sister a glance and did a double take. Not only was the girl soaking wet, but she was wearing a dress that Isabel recognized all too well.
You have got to be kidding me.
“Is that my dress?” she demanded. Charity looked down at the wet pink fabric sticking to her skin and shrugged. Isabel’s jaw clenched. “You’re paying for that. It was expensive, too.”
“Whatever.” Charity didn’t even look at her.
“Whatever? Is that all you have to say?”
“To you? Yes.”
“Oh, wait,” she said, opening the fridge. “Did you want me to apologize? Say I’m sorry? Well I’m not. And I’m not sorry that I’m not either.” By now Isabel was fuming. Her sister made her so…so…angry. And not just that, but she was a freak. She always wore baggy clothes, dark makeup, and she couldn’t even speak without having some snarky comeback tumble out of her mouth. It was the reason why she was grateful Charity was never home.
“You’re going to pay for that dress,” she said, trying to keep her voice calm. She didn’t know how her sister did it all the time. It was like she never showed any emotion. Isabel couldn’t even remember the last time she’d seen Charity smile. “You’re going to pay for it or I’ll tell dad where you go every night. And who you go with.”
That got Charity’s attention, Isabel thought with satisfaction. Charity looked at her for the first time, her eyes running from her sandals to her headband and stopping Isabel’s face. It made Isabel want to turn away, but she didn’t. Couldn’t. “It doesn’t matter,” she said eventually. “In case you forgot, he doesn’t care about me.”
Isabel opened her mouth to protest, but her cell phone rang again. Jake.
“Hey, are you okay?” she asked.
“Where are you?” he demanded. Isabel turned her back on Charity, conscious that her sister was watching her.
“I’m leaving now. Oh, and I couldn’t find the movie you wanted. Is Alien okay?”
“It’s fine,” he said shortly. “Don’t forget the beer.” The line went dead. Isabel took a steadying breath. Jake was just angry about his injury. Angry that he couldn’t start training for football at the end of August, angry that he was practically confined to his house, angry that he’d borrowed money from those shady guys in the first place. She took a steadying breath and faced her sister.
“Jake?” asked Charity flatly. Her brown hair was stuck to her face.
“Yes. I’m going there now so if mom and dad ask-”
“They won’t.” Isabel wanted to protest, but knew she was right.
“Fine.” Isabel pushed her sister out of the way and grabbed a case of beer from the fridge.
“Something I should know?” asked Charity, eyeing the beers in her sister’s hand with something like amusement. So Isabel didn’t drink. What was the big deal? It made you stupid and out of control. It made you stronger, though her sister thought she was weak.
“They’re not for me. They’re for Jake.” The amusement vanished.
“Oh, of course. Jake.” Isabel glared. She knew her sister didn’t like her boyfriend, but lately it had been unbearable. Whenever Isabel even mentioned the J word her sister always had something to say about it. About him.
“Shut up. You don’t even know him.” Charity shrugged and walked away.
Isabel didn’t care enough to chase after her.