Could this story happen in today's world?
The day after Megan arrived in L.A., her father took her shopping. He followed her through the mall, yawning and pinching at the bridge of his nose as if he had a headache. Without batting an eye, he handed over his credit card so Megan could buy t-shirts, shorts, dresses, a hot pink bikini, and an assortment of expensive make-up. Technically, she wasn’t allowed to wear make-up, or two-piece bathing suits, until she turned thirteen at the end of the summer. Megan was sure her mother must have told her father this, and just as sure that he hadn’t paid attention to her mother’s rules.
“Dad, do you like this?” Megan held up a t-shirt that said “Bitch” across the chest in giant, sparkling letters. “Do you think I should get it?”
“That’s nice, honey.”
Megan stuffed the shirt back onto the rack.
They had Chinese take-out for dinner, and afterwards her father went to bed. Megan stayed up, sitting on the balcony of his two-story condo, sending text messages to her friends back home and looking down into the courtyard. Around the circular path, small lights illuminated the trunks of palm trees and pink flowering bushes. In the middle of the courtyard, on a slab of pristine white cement, the oval-shaped pool glowed an unnatural shade of turquoise.
In Maryland it was already past midnight, but Megan felt too jittery to sleep, like something important was about to happen, and if she didn't hurry up she might miss it. She was about to go inside when she saw someone slip out through the sliding glass doors of one of the condos on the other side of the courtyard. It was a teenage girl, and she walked around the circular path until she was nearly in front of Megan’s balcony. She sat down on a small, stone bench and pulled a pack of cigarettes from a bag that was slung across her chest. She put a cigarette to her lips and cupped a lighter around it. She tipped her head back to exhale, looking up into the starless L.A. sky. The girl sighed audibly, and smoke leaked from the end of her cigarette, meandering upwards in a thin, curling line.
In the light of the courtyard Megan could see her perfectly. She looked maybe fifteen or sixteen and wore thick, black eye makeup. Her lips were dark, too, contrasting with her hair, which was dyed platinum blond. Her ears glinted with silver studs in each lobe, and she had a labret piercing, the barbell jutting out just beneath her bottom lip. But despite the piercings, and the black, ripped-up t-shirt she wore, she seemed delicate; she had narrow shoulders and thin limbs, and she sat with one leg draped gracefully over the other, tucking her flip-flopped foot behind her calf.
A burst of music came from her bag, and she pulled out a cell phone and held it to her ear. “Hey. Yeah. I’ll be right out.”
She tossed the half-smoked cigarette into the bushes and walked towards the side gate, pulling at the frayed ends of her jean shorts. Megan watched her go then turned her attention to the spot where the girl had thrown the cigarette. Megan imagined it smoldering in the underbrush, slowly igniting dead leaves, and she wondered if she should go down and try to stamp it out before the entire courtyard caught fire. Instead she went inside and lay down on the futon in her father’s study, where she would be sleeping for the next six weeks.
Normally Megan only stayed for two weeks each summer, and that was plenty. Her father took time off from work, and the days were long and awkward. At first he would try to find ways to amuse her: mini golf, Six Flags, riding horses at Griffith Park. But they didn’t have anything to say to each other, and the fun felt forced and therefore not fun at all. After a few days her father usually ran out of steam, and Megan spent the rest of the two weeks swimming in his condo pool or watching television while he worked on his computer.
Megan didn’t want to spend six whole weeks with him this summer, but the alternative was even worse. “You’re welcome to come with me and Dave,” her mother said every time Megan complained about being shipped off to California. Megan’s mother and her mother’s boyfriend, Dave, were both teachers, and they’d decided to spend their vacation on Dave’s family’s land in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina. Megan had no desire to be shut up in a cabin in the wilderness, listening each night to the muffled sounds of her mother and Dave in the adjacent bedroom.
The whole thing with Dave made Megan realize what a hypocrite her mother was. She always told Megan to be “true to yourself,” but she obviously didn’t take her own advice. She did everything Dave told her to do, like not dying her hair (it looked awful now), and drinking soy milk (which Megan knew she secretly didn't like). Plus, her mother had only been dating Dave for a few weeks when he started spending the night over. “I thought you told me true love waits,” Megan said the morning after he left. Her mother changed the subject, and Dave continued to spend the night.
Megan resented the fact that now she had to eat her cereal with soy milk, and that Dave was always there in the mornings, standing in front of the stove in his stupid flannel pajamas, making tofu scramble and meatless bacon while her mother leaned against the counter next to him, laughing at some stupid joke he'd made. Fuck them both, Megan said in the shower the day before she left for L.A. It was the first time she'd ever said the f-word out loud, and she liked the way it felt.
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