Today's Reading

"Fine. Wear the shirt. But you are my least favorite," Vi spits. It's their worst sisterly insult, ever since Gram banned them from saying I hate you.

Vi's right. She is always the one to give in. It's not fair, but at the moment, Des is grateful for it.

"It's your turn to clean the bathroom, Kat," she says. "Today, please. It's gross."

Kat doesn't even acknowledge her. She's too busy squealing and fending off Vi's attempts to stab her with the strawberry-stained fork.

Des grabs her tote from the back of a chair and whirls around the kitchen for her phone, planner, and keys to the store. "I've got to go. See you two later."

There's probably a better way to handle this, but it would take time and patience and an authority she doesn't have. She's only nineteen; she's not their mom.

Lately, she really misses their mom.

* * *

The purple-haired waitress is back.

Des watches as the girl outside paws through her enormous black leather bag. She pulls out a sketchpad, a pair of headphones with three colored pencils caught in the tangled cords, a bottle of Diet Coke, a wallet, and a set of keys. The bottle falls to the brick sidewalk, followed by the keys. The girl drops her bag and cusses.  Des can't hear the words from inside the store, but she can read the shape of the girl's dark-lipsticked mouth. The girl looks up and down the street hopefully. The past two days, she's bummed change from kind passersby.

That's how people in Remington Hollow are: kind.

And curious, especially about strangers.

Des is no exception. She doesn't have any customers, so she grabs a dollar in quarters from the register and strolls outside.

"Hey," she says. "Do you need change for the meter?"

"Oh my God. Yes. Thank you so much." The girl takes the quarters from Des's outstretched hand. "Why can't I pay with the app on my phone? Whatkind of stupid hick town still requires actual quarters for parking meters?"

Des laughs. "Welcome to Remington Hollow. We peaked during the Revolutionary War."

"Ugh." The girl leaves her stuff splayed across the sidewalk and starts feeding the meter next to her beat-up silver Hyundai. "I guess. I have to remember I'm not in the city anymore."

"Where are you from? Annapolis? DC?" Des guesses.

"Baltimore," the girl says. "I go to MICA. Maryland Institute College of Arts?"

Des hasn't heard of it, but she feels as though she should have. She's an artist too, isn't she? That's the kind of thing she should know. Her not knowing feels like proof that Remington Hollow is a stupid hick town and, having lived here all her life, having no real plans to go anywhere else, she is a stupid hick too.

Of course this girl is an artist. She looks like one, with her vivid purple hair and mouth and the bright tattoos spiraling up and down her pale arms. Des feels embarrassingly plain in her ripped blue jeans and faded, worn-soft Pride and Prejudice T-shirt. She's not wearing any makeup, and her red curls are pulled back in a simple ponytail. Everyone in Remington Hollow already knows how she looks—how she looked at four and nine and fourteen too—so there's usually no point in trying very hard.

"I'm here for the summer. Staying with my grandmother." The girl confesses it like a prison sentence.

Des looks at the bookstore on the corner, at Tia Julia's next door, at the SunTrust and the pharmacy farther down Main Street. At the wooden benches spaced along the uneven brick sidewalks, and the U.S. and Maryland flags flapping in the wind outside the post office. Down the hill, four blocks away, the river sparkles in the sun. The briny scent of the water carries on the breeze, hidden beneath espresso beans from the Daily Grind and the fragrant blue hydrangeas in Mrs. Lynde's window box.

Des loves Remington Hollow. Yeah, it's small. But she has never been desperate to escape, to get away for college like some of her classmates. Like her best friend, Em. Like Bea and Kat and sometimes even Vi.
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