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I sigh, taking in my small apartment. Small is actually an understatement. More like tiny. Minuscule. What word did the landlady use again? Micro.
A micro studio apartment, but it’s mine and it’s absolutely perfect.
My mom and I never lived anywhere big or fancy save for that short stint with husband number three when we actually lived in a house. Not a shitty house either like the marriage before that, but a decent one with a bedroom just for me that I got to paint whatever color I wanted. I mean I didn’t, knowing we’d be out of there before the paint could even dry, but having the option mattered more than painting the room itself.
Between husbands, and live-in boyfriends, and whatever the hell else title my mom would use to describe her many suitors over the years, we would bounce around from dumpy apartment to dumpy apartment, each one crappier than the last, until my mom’s crazy would show, getting us evicted. That or the unpaid rent would finally catch up to her, forcing us to flee during the night in order to escape criminal charges for essentially squatting for months at a time.
Not anymore though. History will not be repeating itself. What the local car wash I work for lacks in hourly wages more than makes up for with tips affording me a chance to live on my own before high school is even over. That paired with the measly savings I was able to stash away are what got me into this micro studio a month before I graduate. With my mom’s freak-outs getting increasingly worse, I couldn’t wait until graduation. So, when the apartments next to my school posted a vacancy within my meager budget, I ran over during lunch break to fill out the application. Upon paying the deposit, I was handed the keys to not only my first place but my long-awaited shot at freedom. Freedom I’d been holding out hope for since I was too young to understand just how much it would actually cost. More than money, more than wishful thinking, more than anything I could’ve anticipated. But after years of tireless work, both mentally and physically, I’m finally here; move-in day, but more importantly, move-out day.
Today begins my chance to break from the dilapidated mold my mother haphazardly cast for me years ago—eighteen to be exact.
Drew, my ex-stepbrother, shuffles through the door carrying an overstuffed box, asking where he can set it. With a jerk of my chin, he takes the couple steps to find the bedroom portion of my studio, it really is small in here, then drops the box full of shoes next to the bare bed.
Drew’s father was the one with the big house matched with even bigger expectations of a blended family involving the Great and Formidable Rianne and her munchkin. It’s safe to say he did not find his happily ever after following that yellow brick road.
Drew, having the same sixth sense all kids and animals have, wisely chose not to visit his father all that often during the short marriage to my mom, but when he did, we were inseparable. A couple years older than me, Drew had no trouble slipping into the role of protective big brother once he witnessed my mother’s harsh treatment. Fortunately, instead of going our separate ways after the divorce, our relationship changed from part-time siblings to full-time best friends. Due to the constant upheaval, in both the physical and emotional sense, I was never able to make any long-lasting friendships, so Drew’s been the one constant in the last several years. Now that we’re older, we don’t get to see each other as much, particularly with his new girlfriend in the picture, but we still make it work when we can. His girlfriend, who lives in Portland, isn’t the biggest fan of our close bond which I can understand. I get how it may look on the outside, especially given my mother’s track record with men—she only keeps guys around long enough to get into their wallets with hopes of reaching their bank accounts soon after—however, even considering I’m nothing like my mother, I’ve only ever seen Drew as a brotherly figure. A relationship I fully cherish.
“Want me to help you unpack?”
“And have you put things where they don’t belong? No thanks,” I snicker.
“What do you mean?” Arms out, he gestures to the cramped space. “There’s only one room.”
Waving him off, Drew follows me to the door, glancing around on our way out.
We find one small box left in my Jeep that I reach for before he stops me with a hand on mine.
“Are you sure you don’t want me to stay the night?”
With a shake of my head, I tell him, “Not tonight. I need to do this by myself.” It’ll be my first official night in my first official apartment and I want to face it alone. A test of sorts to prove I not only can, but will, make this dream a reality. “Plus, I need to get used to the noises and smells of my new neighbors.”
Drew’s mouth dips. “Smells?”
“Yes, smells.” I roll my eyes playfully. “With my windows open, I’ll be able to smell all kinds of things from the people living around me.” He knocks my hand away when I try to ruffle his auburn hair, not that I could what with all the gel he uses to keep it in place. “Oh, that’s right. You’re not used to living in apartments, are you, rich boy?”
Now he’s the one rolling his eyes.
“I don’t like the idea of your windows always being open. You’re a young, pretty girl living all by herself. People might notice and try to take advantage of that.”
Hands in the pockets of my shredded shorts, my oversized cardigan falls off one shoulder from the steady breeze making this otherwise hot day bearable. The loose white tank peeking through conceals the nerves in my stomach leaping about just beneath.
“They won’t be all the time. Just at night when the temperature drops.”
Drew’s already shaking his head. “It’s like eighty degrees at night still. What the hell is opening your windows going to do besides invite perverts in?”
Is he serious? “Save money.” Duh. The truth is he doesn’t get it. Drew’s never had to skimp and save for everything he has. He’s never had to go to the store, paying with lost change he scrounged for. “Also, I’m on the second floor so it’d be pretty hard for someone to get through my window.”
Drew just shakes his head again, refusing to argue, instead leaning in to envelop me in a hug. He knows he’s in uncharted territory when I bring up money, or more accurately the lack thereof, and he’s smart enough not to push me on the issue.
Minutes pass as we breathe each other in before he speaks. “I’m so proud of you.”
“Please don’t go soft on me now. I moved out. People do it every day. I survived a crappy childhood. People do that every day, too.” Stepping back, he releases me but holds me at arm’s length, neither of us ready to let go quite yet. “I just…I want to be free. You know?” I don’t want to lug my mom, or the baggage she’s saddled me with, around with me for the rest of my life.
Eyes penetrating mine, he says, “I know. But that’s exactly why I’m proud of you. You’re breaking the cycle. You’ll do better. You. Are. Better.” The way Drew grits out each word makes them that much more believable. Kind of. “I just hope she lets you go. I don’t want her popping back up, trying to drag you down to her level.”
With a sigh, I sidestep him, glancing at the lone box labeled KITCHEN. I filled it with supplies I bought from the local discount store. Not that I know how to use any of them or anything; I just felt like it was the adult thing to do. Baking sheets? A spatula? Not sure what those would ever be used for, but one day I’d like to learn how to cook and those seem like important pieces in helping with that.
“Me, too. She doesn’t know which apartments I moved to though, just that I’m still in the area.” I thought that was close enough. “And since she despises the idea of earning an honest living, I doubt she’ll bother me at work. Those checks should do a good job holding her off, at least for a little while.”
When I first broke the news I was moving out, my mom went into full panic mode, scrambling for any excuse to keep me under her roof. For a woman who hates the very idea of me, I thought she’d be thrilled to finally see me off. Instead, she freaked, which I figured had less to with losing her youngest and more to do with the loss of the child support she receives while “caring” for said daughter. I offered her the two remaining checks as a sort of peace treaty to which she jumped on faster than a party of sugar-crazed toddlers at a trampoline park. How long it’ll last is anybody’s guess but I just needed out from under her cruel thumb and money was the quickest way of accomplishing that. I kept the exact location of my new place a secret in hopes of buying myself more time without her.
“That’s what I’m afraid of. What happens when those payments stop? Who will she take her misery out on? I think she’ll come looking for her favorite plaything sooner than you think.” He gives me a pointed look that I promptly ignore.
He’s right. I know it. He knows it. We all know it, but I’ve lived in fear for too damn long. I can’t let it, or her, squash my happiness any longer. Today marks the beginning in a long, hard journey but if I don’t take the shaky first step then how will I ever reach the highly anticipated destination?
“Thank you,” I say, poking his side. “Thank you for saving my sanity more times than I can count.”
“Well, we both know you can’t count that high so…”
I can’t help but laugh at his horrible joke. Jerk. Well accustomed to using humor to diffuse uncomfortable situations—hey, if you don’t laugh, you cry, right?—I recognize what he’s trying to do here. Drew likes to downplay his role in my life but there’s no denying he’s played a very large part in keeping me from falling into hopeless oblivion. He didn’t have to stick around after our parents turned into bitter rivals but he did—thankfully.
Drew plants a kiss on the top of my head while I crush myself against his chest, his usual tangy, berry-like scent as calming as his very presence. With one last squeeze before he walks over to his dad’s borrowed truck, he hops onto the shiny running board, pinning me with his tawny eyes, saying, “Call me if you need anything and I’ll be right over. I mean it.”
“I will.” In my own attempt to lighten the mood, I call out, “You’re my boy, Drew.”
Barely earning a smirk from my former step-sibling, he ducks inside while I swallow the stubborn lump in my throat.
Three motorcycles, with almost obnoxiously revving engines, pull into Creekwood Apartments just as Drew reaches the entrance. His brake lights hesitating tell me exactly what he’s thinking without even needing to see his face, but who says they live here? They could be visiting someone, anyone really. I haven’t met any neighbors yet so Drew’s guess is as good as mine.
As the noisy machines approach, three heads snap my way just before finding parking spaces across from my Jeep.
The winding engines cut off, filling the lot with complete silence save for Drew’s awkward idling. Why do big brothers, even ones not born to the position, lack any sense of subtlety?
With a flick of my hand to the truck, I grab the last box and make for the stairs but not before darting a glance over to the guys still sitting atop the street bikes. Motorcycles aren’t my area of expertise but these ones look nice. The car wash I work at doesn’t cater to bikes, which is a serious drawback in my opinion. Due to the relatively mild climate, this entire region is known for housing toys of all shapes, sizes, and speeds. Whether they’re for land, air, or water, they all get dirty just like cars do and would benefit from a place that could accommodate them accordingly.
None of the guys have removed their helmets yet and I almost don’t want them to. What if they do live around here? And they’re complete assholes?
What if they’re picking up a friend and I’m worrying for nothing?
I can’t help but admire their rides though. One is red with some numbers near the handlebar. The neon green one in the middle has the word Ninja splashed across the side while the last one is flat black with no distinguishable markings whatsoever.
The first two reaching for their helmets have me quickening my steps but the last one, the guy on the black bike, holds my gaze hostage. Even though I can’t make out his eyes hidden in his helmet’s shadow, it’s like I can feel them on me. Phantom gawking. It’s a thing, right? A chill runs up my spine despite the sporadic breeze dying down moments ago, leaving the sultry air to almost crackle against my skin. I tear my eyes away as I climb the rest of the stairs leading to my apartment.
Safely back inside, I turn on “Young, Dumb & Broke” by Khalid before taking stock of my limited belongings. I stay busy the rest of the night unpacking and decorating, dancing and singing, genuinely having a good time in my new place.
I like the sound of that.
Today is DETOUR’S one-month anniversary! Honestly, I’m still in shock a little bit. After a year and a half of working what felt like around . . .
Ever wondered how the Creekwood Crew would take the news of having to wear masks? Me, too! This scene has no bearing on the series . . .