(Submission for the 2016 Rehoboth Beach Reads Short Story Competition)
As far as Tori was concerned, she and her father had been “managing just fine, thank you very much,” but Daddy had let “that nag” wheedle herself into the family, anyway. It had all happened in a flash, and all of it had been flashy: the ring, the invitations, the dress, the nighttime beach wedding, the reception. What Regina wants, Regina gets.
A rare exception was the delayed honeymoon, but even that had helped her get her way. Despite the builder’s polite discouragement, she had often dropped in unannounced on the new house—a project begun in the bittersweet year prior to Regina’s arrival—and ordered changes costing thousands of dollars.
Her stamp on the brick-accented bungalow had been heaviest in the hallway, a now bright and glamorous space thanks to a skylight, modern light fixtures, and luxurious purple carpeting.
But not even the densest carpet padding could hush Regina’s footfalls as she stormed toward her stepdaughter’s bedroom. She pushed the door open. “7 o’clock,” she crowed.
As she had done every morning since graduation, Tori pretended to be asleep.
“Playing possum again, huh?” Regina asked, arms akimbo, her shadow stretching into the room. “Well, you are an annoying and unpleasant creature that’s out all night.” Her shadowy hands lifted off her hips and wrung her new daughter’s neck.
Tori smiled inwardly as she listened to Regina try to find the light switch.
“Screw that,” she said, annoyed by what seemed to be a prank. She marched to the bed and jerked the duvet off Tori. “7 o’clock,” she repeated even more shrilly.
The teenaged lump was unresponsive.
“Rise and shine.”
An exaggerated sigh and a crack of the toes.
“Get up, Tori.”
Only Daddy and my girls call me that, the nineteen-year-old wanted to insist. You can call me Victoria.
Regina kicked the latest shoe trends under the bed and headed for the window. “High school’s over, and this ‘dance’ we’ve been doing ends today.” She yanked the curtains and blind open.
Sunrise had melted into morning, and eager rays struck the dark circles under Tori’s eyes. She pulled the sheet over her head.
“No, ma’am,” Regina snarled, stripping the covers off the bed. “If you can’t drag yourself off the beach before 2:00 a.m., then you’re gonna have to go to class tired.”
The beach closes at 1:00, not 2:00, clueless nag.
“You had two choices…and chose college.” She eyed Tori’s pageant sashes and tiaras. “I guess getting a real job was beneath you.”
Tori cracked her toes again.
Regina slapped them in disgust. “If it were up to me, you’d be out of my house altogether,” she said snottily.
Your house? Tori sneered. Daddy bought and laid each brick.
“Daddy” was a mason whose public face was as hard as his private one was soft. Steady work on a “fresh start in a brand new house” had gotten him through the grief of losing his wife to cancer. Tori used to sneak inside the old place while it was on the market, until the odor of fresh paint killed the scent of the woman who had made it a home—coconut milk body wash and light vanilla-lemon perfume.
Regina, however, smelled like a hair and nail salon. “I would have kicked you out right after graduation, like my parents did me.”
Even they couldn’t stand you.
Regina inched along the side of the bed. “But, of course, your father let you stay,” she huffed, jerking the down pillows off Tori. “Going to Wilmington University here in Rehoboth was your choice, so don’t blame me because you didn’t realize their summer classes start at 8:00.” She stared at Tori’s perfect skin before stomping over to the desk. “You’re just lucky those classes aren’t for credit, with all the times you’ve been late.” She rapped her gold-glittered fingernails on a new tablet. “But you being tardy stops now.” She tossed Tori’s backpack on the bed and then fumbled with her MP3 player, turning up a now “uncool” tune until the docking station’s speakers crackled. “I won’t tell you again to get up.”
Then don’t, nag.
“I mean it,” Regina insisted as she strutted toward the door.
Tori lay in wait with one eye open. Do it; I dare you.
Yesterday morning, before slouching off to her “Writing Your Memoirs” class—“who wants to read your life story?” Regina had scoffed—Tori’s spitefulness had trumped her brattiness.
After lazily attending to each of her toenails, she had used the file to back out the screws on “that thing that covers the light switch.” And then last night, before collapsing into bed, she had collaged the wall with fashion magazine pages using rhinestone tacks. Like the models, Tori was a rail-thin fashion plate, but only her ears were pierced; she was saving a more shocking piercing for when her new mother really pissed her off.
“You better not be in that bed when I come back,” Regina declared, groping for the switch under the magazine pages.
Tori opened the other eye.
The payoff came quickly.
“You don’t wanna be in that bed when I—”
Regina tore the pages off the wall and clicked the light on. She glared at the exposed screw heads, at her chipped manicure, and then at Tori.
Victoria smiled. Gold digger.