"This isn't funny!" her father yelled.
No, it wasn't, Kylie Galen thought as she leaned into the refrigerator to find something to drink. In fact, it was so not funny she wished she could crawl in beside the mustard and moldy hot dogs, shut the door, and not hear the angry voices spewing from the living room.
Her parents were at it again.
Not that it would go on much longer, she thought as the mist of the fridge seeped out the door.
Today was the day.
Kylie's throat tightened. She swallowed a lump of raw emotion and refused to cry.
Today had to be the suckiest day of her life. And she'd had some pretty sucky days lately, too. Acquiring a stalker, Trey breaking up with her, and her parents announcing their divorce‚Äîyup, sucky pretty much covered it. It was no wonder her night terrors had returned full force.
"What have you done with my underwear?" Her father's growl spilled into the kitchen, snuck under the refrigerator door, and bounced around the hot dogs.
His underwear? Kylie pressed a cold diet soda can to her forehead.
"Why would I do anything with your underwear?" her mother asked in her oh-so-nonchalant voice. That was her mom all right, nonchalant. Cold as ice.
Kylie's gaze shot out the kitchen window to the patio where she'd seen her mom earlier. There, a pair of her dad's tighty-whities dangled half out of the smoldering grill.
Just great. Her mother had barbecued her father's shorts. That's it. Kylie was never eating anything cooked on that grill again.
Fighting tears, she shoved the diet soda back on the rack, shut the fridge, and moved into the doorway. Maybe if they saw her, they'd stop acting like juveniles and let her be the kid again.
Her dad stood in the middle of the room, a pair of underwear clutched in his fist. Her mom sat on the sofa, calmly sipping hot tea.
"You need psychological help," her father yelled at her mom.
Two points for her dad, Kylie thought. Her mom did need help. So why was Kylie the one who had to sit on a shrink's sofa two days a week?
Why was her dad‚Äîthe man everyone swore Kylie had wrapped around her little finger‚Äîgoing to move out today and leave her behind?
She didn't blame her dad for wanting to leave her mom, aka the Ice Queen. But why wasn't he taking Kylie with him? Another lump rose in her throat.
Dad swung around and saw her, then shot back into the bedroom, obviously to pack the rest of his things‚minus his underwear, which at this moment sent up smoke signals from the backyard grill.
Kylie stood there, staring at her mom, who sat reading over work files as if it were any other day.
The framed photographs of Kylie and her father that hung over the sofa caught her attention and tears stung her eyes. The pictures had been taken on their annual father and daughter trips.
"You've got to do something," Kylie pleaded.
"Do what?" her mom asked.
"Change his mind. Tell him you're sorry you grilled his shorts." That you're sorry you've got ice water running through your veins. "I don't give a flip what you do, just don't let him go."
"You don't understand." And just like that, her mom, void of any emotion, shifted her attention back to her papers.
Right then, her dad, suitcase in his hand, shot through the living room. Kylie went after him and followed him out the door into Houston's stifling afternoon heat.
"Take me with you," she begged, not caring if he saw her tears. Maybe the tears would help. There'd been a time when crying got her whatever she wanted from him. "I don't eat much," she sniffled, giving humor a shot.
He shook his head but, unlike her mom, at least he had emotion in his eyes. "You don't understand."
You don't understand. "Why do y'all always say that? I'm sixteen years old. If I don't understand, then explain it to me. Tell me the big secret and get it over with."
He stared down at his feet as if this were a test and he'd penned the answers on the toes of his shoes. Sighing, he looked up. "Your mom . . . she needs you."
"Needs me? Are you kidding? She doesn't even want me." And neither do you. The realization caused Kylie's breath to catch in her lungs. He really didn't want her.
She wiped a tear from her cheek and that's when she saw him again. Not her dad, but Soldier Dude, aka her very own stalker. Standing across the street, he wore the same army duds as before. He looked as if he'd just walked out of one of those Gulf War movies her mom loved. Only instead of shooting at things or being blown up, he stood frozen in one spot and stared right at Kylie with sad, yet very scary eyes.
She'd noticed him stalking her a few weeks ago. He'd never spoken to her and she hadn't spoken to him. But the day she pointed him out to her mom, and Mom hadn't seen him . . . well, that's when Kylie's world slid off its axis. Her mom thought she was making it up to get attention, or worse. With the worse being that Kylie was losing her grip on reality. Sure, the night terrors that had tormented her when she was a kid had returned, worse than ever. Her mom said the shrink could help her work through them, but how could she do that when Kylie didn't even remember them? She only knew they were bad. Bad enough to have her wake up screaming.
Kylie wanted to scream now. Wanted to scream for her dad to turn around and look‚Äîto prove that she hadn't lost her mind. At the very least, maybe if her dad actually saw her stalker, her parents would let her off from seeing the shrink. It wasn't fair.
But life wasn't fair, as her mom had reminded her more than once.
Nevertheless, when Kylie looked back, he was gone. Not Soldier Dude, but her dad. She turned toward the driveway and saw him shoving his suitcase in the backseat of his red convertible Mustang. Mom had never liked that car, but Dad loved it.
Kylie ran to the car. "I'll make Grandma talk to Mom. She'll fix . . ." No sooner had the words escaped Kylie's lips than she remembered the other major sucky event she'd had plopped into her life.
She couldn't run to Grandma to fix her problems anymore. Because Grandma was dead. Gone. The vision of Nana lying cold in the casket filled Kylie's head and another lump crawled up her throat.
Her dad's expression morphed into parental concern, the same look that had landed Kylie at the shrink's office three weeks ago.
"I'm fine. I just forgot." Because remembering hurt too much. She felt a lone tear roll down her cheek.
Dad moved in and hugged her. The embrace lasted even longer than his usual hugs, but it ended too soon. How could she let him go? How could he leave her?
His arm dropped from around her and he physically set her back. "I'm just a phone call away, Pumpkin."
Swiping at her tears, hating her watery weakness, she watched her dad's red convertible get smaller as it buzzed down the street. Wanting to be alone in her room, she started to run inside. Then she remembered and looked back across the street to see if Soldier Dude had pulled his usual disappearing act.
Nope. He was still there, staring, stalking. Scaring the bejeebies out of her and making her angry at the same time. He was the reason she had to see a shrink.
Then Mrs. Baker, her elderly neighbor, toddled out to get her mail. She smiled at Kylie but not once did the old librarian glance at Soldier Dude taking up residence on her front lawn, even when he stood less than two feet from her.
So weird it sent an unnatural chill tiptoeing down Kylie's spine, the same kind of chill Kylie had gotten at Nana's funeral.
What the hell was going on?