A tinge of anger ran through me. “So sending me off to a person who doesn’t even care about my whereabouts was her choice?! I could have stayed with Jeremy! He’s more of a father to me than you ever have been!” I tasted it—the brutal flavor of my words. I hated myself for screaming them at Henry, but he was the only one there. And it had always been so easy to blame him for all of my letdowns in life.
Henry cleared his throat and swallowed hard. “It’s funny. You begged for people to talk to you, to let you in because you are an adult. Then when you are let in to the reality of adulthood, you instantly turn into that five-year-old girl you denied being.”
I knew he was right, but I hated the idea of him being right. I was that five-year-old hurt girl. Every thought flying through my mind was based on the idea of hurting Henry. Because he had hurt me by being right. I didn’t want him to be right! I wanted him to be the deadbeat father who’d walked out!
“At least I’m not a cheater!”
His eyes glassed over and he stumbled back, stunned. “You’re grounded.” His words didn’t make sense to me. Could he ground me? Did he reserve that right?
“I’m going out tonight.” I crossed my arms across my chest, sitting up straight.
“No. You’re not. As long as you live here, you follow my rules. I’m sick of it, Ashlyn!” His voice rose, sending chills through me. “I’m sick of the attitude. I’m sick of the blame. I’m sick of feeling like I can’t ask where you’re going because you might get pissed. I’m sick of it all. Yes, I wasn’t there when you were younger. I wasn’t there when you needed me the most. I f**ked up. But right now? Right now, you don’t get to talk to me any damn way you want. Right now, I’m in charge.”
“No buts. For the next week, you go to church, go to school, and come home. Wash, rinse, repeat. End of story. Dinner’s in an hour.”
“I’M. NOT. HUNGRY!”
“I. DON’T. CARE!” He left in haste, leaving his footprints in the carpet and slamming the door, making me scream against my pillow in irritation.
I sat at the dinner table while everyone took part in their prayers again. My folding chair was cutting into my thighs still, and I wiggled around in my seat.
Ryan bent over to me. “Switch spots?”
I declined his offer. He asked me almost every time we ate.
“Amen,” was muttered.
Henry was sitting across from me, so I made sure not to look his way. I hated the idea of being in the same room with him. I didn’t even know why I was. Stand up! Go! Leave! My brain was screaming at me to make my dash and say, “Screw you!” to Henry. But my heart was stupid, and currently it was louder than my head.
A part of me was pleased with the jerk for punishing me. He’d never looked more like a father than he had in that moment.
“Ashlyn, I hear you’re grounded for a while,” Rebecca said flatly, eating her dinner.
My eyes shifted to my peas, which I pushed around. “I guess.”
“Well, you’ll have a lot of company. Ryan’s grounded, too.”
Ryan pushed away from the table, shaking it. “What?! What did I do?!”
Rebecca’s voice was calm as ever. “What didn’t you do, Ryan? Rumor has it you were at a party last weekend.”
Ryan’s mouth dropped open and he rolled his eyes. “Really? You’re grounding me because I was at a party?! I’ve been at fifty parties this year!”
“No. I’m grounding you because of the drugs I found in the laundry.”
My eyes darted to Hailey, who was still from shock. Ryan’s confusion was painted across his face. When he turned toward Hailey, he cleared his expression and sighed, knowing for a fact that they were his sister’s.
“Fine. I’m grounded. Big deal.” He ran his hands through his hair and stayed calm. I didn’t know I could love Ryan more until I witnessed him take the blame for his younger sister.
“For the month.” Rebecca was coming down on him hard, and I cringed by the detestation in her tone. “Actually, make it two months.”
“What the hell is your problem?!” Ryan screamed, pushing himself farther from the table. “Seriously. What the f**k did I ever do to you?!”
“Watch your language.” His mom was angry, but it seemed like it had nothing to do with the drugs she’d found.
“Why would I?! Even if I did watch my language and do all of the ‘good boy’ things that you want me to do, I wouldn’t be enough for you. For the love of God, just say it. Say that you blame me for Dad’s death and then maybe for one day you can stop acting like such a complete bitch!” The words fly off Ryan’s tongue as fast as Rebecca’s hand slapped his face.
Henry stood up, stunned, and stepped between the two. “Cool it! Okay? Everyone take a breather!” Rebecca pushed to move around Henry, but he held her back.
“You’re an ungrateful boy who doesn’t know how much I helped you. I saved you, Ryan!” She had tears streaming down her cheeks.
“Saved me?! You’re crazy.”
Hailey rocketed from her chair. “They were my drugs.”
The room went silent until Rebecca laughed. “Don’t cover for your brother, Hailey.”
“I’m not.” She turned to her mom and her face went pale. “Theo gave them to me. I thought they would help our relationship because I wanted to have sex with him before he went to college. He told me that he would love me if I just tried what he liked.”