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The Number 1 Cousin
I'm completely shocked. I don't know how to respond or even what to do. Why is this happening? How do I get out of it? My heart is racing and I'm thinking of a million different things at the same time. I'm thinking that it's hot outside, and of the past family reunions, and how the current reunion has gone so wrong. The air that first smelled like fresh grass, lake water, and the distant barbecue that was coming from my grandma’s house was so different.
"So you want it or not?" Sarah, my cousin, says and I realize she’s been talking to me the entire time I was panicking. Sarah's friend, Jade, was sitting on the grass in front of the lake, staring at me and expecting an answer. ?
"Want wha-?" I stopped suddenly, because my brain finally registered what she was offering. Sarah still staring at me while she passed Jade the cigarette.
Jade takes a puff and looks at me, "Come on just try it,” her hand holding out the cigarette towards me.
"Uhhh.. no thanks," I reply as I look behind my shoulder, checking to make sure no family comes our way. ?
“Why not?" Jade asks, looking at me like she is better than me.?
"I, um, don't want to... right now." I respond. Honestly, I did not want one at all. Those kinds of things never seemed appealing. Drugs, cigarettes, and alcohol seemed too unrealistic. Teenagers aren’t suppose to use those kind of things. I always wondered how teenagers even got those kind of things and why do they think it looks cool or attractive.
I plop down on the grass in front of the lake and pull at the grass. When they asked me if I wanted to go to the lake they called “Narnia” I thought it would be just to get out of the house, because they were being weird. Who talks and acts like a kid and then goes and smokes the next minute?
“I’m going back to the house,” I declare. I do not want anyone in the family see me here with Sarah and Jade. I start walking through backyards to head to my grandma’s. I hear them getting up to follow me. We’re approaching my grandma’s house and I start to panic again.
What if they know what they did? What if they smell the smoke and assume I joined them? I take a pause to wipe my face of guilt and then I open the creaking screen door and hold it open for my cousin and her friend. Morgan, my older sister, is sitting on the couch with my Dad and grandpa watching football when we get inside. Sarah and Jade turn to head to the upstairs room. I don’t want to follow. Who knows what else they will do today?
I turn my attention to my sister, “Happy Graduation! Are you glad high school is finally over?” I ask Morgan nervously.
“It’s fine. I have to go to college soon. So, it’s not like school is over for me.” She replies. Relief washes over me. If Morgan did not notice, I doubt anyone else will.
“That’s true. Is dinner ready?” I ask to everyone sitting on the couch.
“I guess. Everyone is just eating whenever they want to,” my Dad answers.
I start to wonder what Sarah is doing. I maneuver my way around more family and I manage to make it to the couch. I sit next to my Dad. My younger sister and younger cousins are screaming and running around. I decide to go upstairs to see what Sarah is up to.
As I'm going up the stairs, I'm trying to talk myself out of it. I don't really want to know what they are doing. Do I? I make it up the stairs before I finished my train of thought.
Sarah and Jade are sitting on the bottom bunk with there backs turned to me. It seems innocent enough, so I continue forward.
"Hey what are you guys doing?" I ask innocently.
Sarah and Jade turn around quickly. Sarah sighed with relief, "Oh good. It's just you." Sarah stands right in front of me. Jade is still suspiciously facing the opposite way.
"Yeah. Why does it matter who comes up here?" I say as I poke my head around Sarah, “This house is full of people who could come up here anytime.”
Jade is sitting on the bed holding a half empty bottle of liquor. She takes a sip and stands up and holds out her hand. "Take some." She says.
I grab the bottle and stand there looking at it. They probably just want me to have some so I won't tattle, but on the other hand I do want to try it. I can just take a sip. "Sure... Thanks," I said deciding to just take a tiny taste. I lift the bottle and take a whiff of it. The smell is incredibly strong. It smells like mint mouth wash and toothpaste.
My conscious tries one more time and screams at me to stop, but I lift the bottle and take a sip. All I can focus on is the taste. It tastes just as it smells. I can feel Sarah and Jade staring at me gauging my reaction. I don't want to seem weak, since they haven't had a rough time.
As I swallow it I decide that is the worst thing I could've done. My throat starts burning, like someone is shoving a hot iron down it. I put the cap on the bottle and throw it at Sarah.
I start coughing and choking. Between the coughing I yell, "How can you drink that!"
"Shhhhh! It's not that bad." Jade replies.
"That's disgusting. Why? Just why?"
"I don't know. We're bored." Sarah shrugs.
Thanks guys. I'm glad to know my family bores you. "Oh that's a great reason." I retort. I start to turn to go back downstairs and Sarah grabs me.
"Where are you going?" She asks.
"Back to the real party." I start walking away and make it to the stairs. I turn around one last time to see what they were doing. Jade was holding a water bottle and Sarah poured the liquor into it. "What are you going to do now?" I ask smugly.
"Fill it back up with water." I'm not sure who said it, because I didn't wait for the reply. I'm already halfway down the stairs. I make my way to the kitchen and check the clock. It's seven o'clock pm. I hear Sarah and Jade laughing as they come down the stairs.
"Laila. Do you want to spend the night?” Sarah asks me.
“Sure...” I turn to ask my Dad, “Dad, can I spend the night as Sarah’s?”
“Yeah that’s fine.” He replies.
As I’m saying goodbye to the family, I’m wondering if I should be going. I want to give Sarah the benefit of the doubt and every time I spend the night it goes fine. I start to think of the good sleepovers we’ve had and get into Sarah’s car.
It’s a long drive from Orlando to Tallahassee. I’m currently looking out the window and pretending to like the rap music on the radio. Sarah and Jade are sitting in the back seat with me dancing to whatever song.
“Mom can I have some gum?” Sarah yells over the radio.
“Sure. It’s in my purse. Just grab some.” Her mom replies.
Sarah reaches for the purse in the passenger seat and brings the purse in front of her. I look at her expectingly waiting for the gum. She lowers the purse to her feet and looks up at her mom. The bad feeling starts creeping up on me. Sarah shifts through the purse and instead of pulling out two pieces of gum she pulls out two cigarettes and sneaks them in her pocket. “Thanks mom.”
My stomach starts hurting and I look out the window. If I called my mom would she come pick me up? I seriously doubt it. By then we pulled into her driveway and start getting out of the car. Jade is still holding the water bottle full of liquor as we head into the house. Supplied with cigarettes and liquor we get into Sarah’s room. I sit on her bed hoping it can’t get worse.
“Let’s go outside.” Sarah suggests and Jade agrees right away.
“Yeah a great idea,” I say sarcastically. It went so well outside last time.
Sarah’s mom is in her room as we head outside. Sarah pulls our the cigarettes and hands one to Jade. They light them and start puffing away. It takes pretty much everything I have to not cough out a lung and I’m just sitting there. Once they are finished they wait a while, so the smell will be blown off of them. By the time they are done and we get back in her room it’s nine.
“Sarah, I’m going to go pick up some things at the store before it closes.” Sarah’s mom says as she walks in.
“Whatever.” Sarah says and then goes back to Facebook on her phone.
I look up and smile at my aunt. “See you later.”
No one says anything until we hear Sarah’s mom get in her car and drive away.
“Oh my god! I can’t believe she’s leaving again.” Sarah screeches.
“She’s just going to the grocery store,” I say.
“No she’s going to see her boyfriend and expects me to watch my brother.”
“Even if she is, it’s not really your problem slash business. Plus Tyler is sleeping.” I say. Sarah does not reply and turns back to her phone.
I think everything simmers down, but then the phone rings. Sarah sighs and gets up to find the phone. I lay on her bed and close my eyes.
“What the hell!” Sarah yells. Jade and I hurry out of Sarah’s room to see what’s going on. As we turn the corner into the living room I see that Sarah is still on the phone.
“Mom come home now!” Sarah says. Sarah also says some other harsh words.
“What’s going on?” I whisper to Jade. She shrugs in reply.
I start hearing a man’s voice yelling on the other end of the phone. Sarah is still screaming and cursing into the phone. Sarah suddenly hangs up and chucks the phone across the room. The back cover and the batteries spill out.
“Sarah what the heck!” I scream.
While ignoring me, Sarah runs to her room and Jade is following closely. I run after her. When I get to her room Sarah and Jade are throwing on jackets. “What are you doing?” I ask. Sarah doesn’t reply. She just throws a jacket at my face. I don’t question it and I put it on.
Sarah rushed out of the room to the front door. As she’s walking out the door I ask, “What are you doing?”
“What does it look like?” Jade says.
“Leaving.” Sarah replies.
“We are just going to walk to a friends house.” Sarah answers. Jade seems to be bored with the conversation, because she turns to her phone.
“We? You can’t leave your brother! He’s on the couch sleeping!”
“He’s not my child, so he’s not my problem!” She yells as she’s walks out the door with Jade.
I take one last look at Tyler and walk out the door yelling for Sarah to come back. I see Sarah turning the street corner. I start running after them. I grab Sarah’s arm as I try to reason with her, “Sarah! Sarah. Your little brother is on the couch alone. The door is unlocked! Anything can happen to him. What if he wakes up?” What if someone gets into the house and takes him. It would be all my fault. I stare at the front door until Sarah answers.
“Fine.” I take a sigh of relief and we start walking back to her house. As Sarah opens the door I think that the crisis is done with. I gesture for Sarah to open the door, so I can make sure she goes into the house herself. Sarah opens the door and turns so she can easily see the lock. She turns the lock and then slams the door shut.
“What did you just do? You locked us out and your brother in.” I yell at her face.
“Now you don’t have to worry about Tyler.” She retorts as she turns to go back down the same street we just came from. Jade is following her without a question.
I realize I have a decision to make. Follow them or stay on the doorstep alone. If I follow them I could get in huge trouble. I wouldn’t know where we are going and even when or if we’d get back to her house tonight. If I stayed with Sarah at least I would know she was fine and I’d be fine. Plus, she said her friend’s house was a couple streets away. I check my phone and see it’s ten o’clock. Her friend’s parents would definitely be home and we can get this straightened out. I also don’t want to be here when my aunt gets home and realizes her daughter isn’t here.
Sarah told me some really harsh stuff that happens when her mom is drunk, like Sarah said she is tonight. I feel really guilty about leaving her brother in the house all alone, but I couldn’t stay outside at night for who knows how long by myself. I turn to follow Sarah, scared out of my mind.
The supposed short walk took 30 minutes. When we finally got to her friend's house it was around midnight. I thought we would be going into the friend's house, but no. We stay in his back yard until Sarah's other friends come in their truck. Everyone is laughing and talking, while I'm laying on the side walk. The last time I asked Sarah if we could call her mom to get us she took my phone. Without my phone and no direction I had to go where Sarah was going.
"Come on Laila." Sarah says.
"Are we going home?" I say not even thinking it's a possibility.
"No we are going in Jason's car to his house."
"No. I'm not getting in his car." Who knows what drugs or alcohol he took or has in his car. There are endless possibilities of what could happen to us. He could be pulled over and we could go to jail for cramming six people in a three person truck, he could crash, we could get pulled over and drugs could be in the car, anything could happen. "I'm not getting in the car, Sarah. Let's go back to your house."
"No.... We're going to Jason's house," Sarah says as she gets into the car. Everyone else piles into the car. What if they leave me? I don't even have a phone anymore. The car starts and I open the door and climb in next to Sarah.
The drive was short and the driver wasn't as bad as I thought he'd be. I still didn't know where we were, but supposedly this was his house. We walk into his house and I see that he lives there alone. He's a squatter. Junk furniture and garbage is thrown around the living room. I sit on the ground and close my eyes. There's not any reason to keep asking Sarah if we could go home.
I open my eyes to see what the next adventure will be. I see Jason and some other people rolling up marijuana. They start passing it around. Sarah holds out the pot and I look away. I'm done talking to her. Everyone gets up to walk around outside and I reluctantly follow without a word.
Once they are done my phone starts ringing in Sarah's pocket. She answers it and I snatch it out of her hands. "Hello?"
"Laila? Where are you guys?" My Aunt Lacey asks me.
"At Sarah's friend's house. I don't know where."
She tells me to give the phone to Sarah and when I do they start yelling at each other. Eventually Sarah tells her the street we are at. I go outside with Jade to wait for Sarah's mom to arrive.
"Get in the car now!" Aunt Lacey screams. I rush to get in the car, while Sarah takes her time. My aunt keeps yelling at us. I'm too terrified and guilty to even answer any of her questions. The worst question and the one that makes me feel the most guilty is, "What about Tyler? Did any of you think of him?" Of course I did, but instead of being responsible I thought about my safety. We get to her house and she makes Jade and I sleep in Sarah's room. Later that night, Sarah sneaks back into her room and says, "Don't worry she's too drunk to remember this in the morning."
Aunt Lacey has to wake me up in the morning. Morgan is already there to pick me up and take me home. As we are hugging goodbye Aunt Lacey says, "Don't worry I won't tell your parents about last night." Of course she's remembers. There's another lie to add to Sarah's pile. I say bye to Jade and Sarah and as I get in the car I say hi to Morgan.
On the way home I think about how this could have happened. Sarah and I started off in the same place. We were both born in Tallahassee. Both lived in the same houses, one after the other. We ended up so completely different. If one thing was different in my life, would I be anything like that?