That’s how many times I have looked at the clock while my mother has been lecturing me.
Five hundred times.
That’s how many times I’ve wished I could ram a sharp stick into my ears to prevent myself from having to listen. The ruptured ear drum would be So. Worth. It.
But unfortunately, I’ll need my hearing for my senior year this year. And also unfortunately, I can tell by the bright red hue to my mother’s cheeks that she’s far from finished.
I sigh and stare out the window.
And ponder my life.
Because I live in a bubble.
A fragile, beautiful, misleading bubble.
Anyone looking in might think that life within my shiny bubble is perfect. That I have the perfect parents, perfect home, a perfect life. But it is far from perfect and so am I.
Or just ask my mother.
“Take it out.”
Each word that Adrianna Giannis spits from her lips is like an ice pellet. She’s really pissed now, I can tell. But I don’t care because I’m pissed, too. My new nose ring isn’t hurting anyone. It’s just a little silver stud. It’s not like I got a tattoo on my face or my n**ples pierced. I tell her that and her nostrils flare out a little and she cocks her head in a very dangerous way.
I take a cautionary step back. My mother has never laid a hand on me, but all good things must come to an end sometime.
That time might seriously be now.
Mom narrows her eyes and I might be mistaken, but I think I see red in them.
“Mia Alexandria Giannis. We have put up with your black clothing and the way you dye your hair. We have even tolerated your new bad attitude. But this.” And at this point, she throws up her hands and waves them around. “This is ridiculous. You know that we have an image to protect because of your father. You know that. Yet you don’t seem to care. You don’t care about anything but yourself. What are we going to do with you?”
I stare back at her as firmly as I can and take a deep breath.
And then reluctantly dive back into the same-old, same-old argument that we’ve already had five hundred other times before.
Make that five-thousand.
“Mom. I don’t understand why I have to pretend to be someone that I’m not just because of my father’s job. It’s not like he’s the prime minister. He just works for the prime minister. People don’t care if the MoD’s daughter dresses in black or has a nose ring.”
“Yes, they do,” she insists. “They notice and then your father has to field their questions. The Minister of Defense is a very important position to hold and people watch him. And when they see you acting like this, it’s embarrassing.”
I freeze and my eyes meet hers.
Fiery green gaze meets fiery green gaze.
“So, I’m an embarrassment?”
My mother freezes too and for a moment, I see uncertainty in her eyes, a hesitant waver. But then she steels herself again.
“Why wouldn’t you be?” she demands harshly, all traces of the momentary softness gone. “You do everything you can possibly think of to embarrass us. And you do it on purpose. I don’t know why you sound surprised. Yes, right now, you embarrass us.”
I am quiet and still as I assess this. I never meant to embarrass them and it is a strange revelation. All I have ever wanted was to be left alone, left to dress how I want and act how I want. Is that really so much to ask?
And it hits me like a brick wall.
I’m not going to win this argument.
I am suddenly overwhelmed by frustration and anger and a little hurt, too. So I swallow hard, then swallow again. Then I walk right past my mother without saying a word. As I walk through my bedroom door, I grip the heavy wooden edge in my fingers and slam it as hard as I can.
The walls shake.
And I am satisfied with that.
I calmly stroll down the hall leading away from my bedroom, ignoring the shocked expression on a nearby maid’s face. Yes, we have maids. And butlers. And pool boys. No, I don’t like it. But apparently, my opinion is about as important as Monopoly money is in the real world.
My mother comes barreling out of my room, just like I knew she would.
If she had guns, they would be blazing.
“Where do you think you’re going? We do not slam doors in this house, young lady.”
I just did. But I don’t say that.
I am silent and mulish and I keep walking.
Mom tags along at my heels like a rat terrier, but I still keep walking. She grabs at my elbow and I shake her off. She falls behind and stays there.
“Just wait until your father comes home!” she calls.
I have to laugh at that.
It would be a terrifying threat, if in fact, my father comes home.
But he won’t.
Because he seldom does.
I keep walking. I know that I’m being a spoiled bitch, but I can’t see past my own annoyance at this point. This need of my mother’s to force me into a perfect mold without any concern for my own wishes has come to a boiling point. I can’t take it anymore.
I’m going to snap.
And maybe kill somebody.
And I won’t look good in an orange jumpsuit.
Or actually, I probably would. I do look lovely in orange.
But that’s beside the point.
I climb into my little red Mercedes convertible and jab at the button that slides the top down. There’s nothing like the wind in my hair as I speed too quickly along Caberra’s scenic highways. And I always, always speed too quickly.
I shift into first, then squeal my tires as I tear out of our curved semi-circle driveway. Mom ought to like that. She can just add it to her list of things that she’s pissed off about.
I can hear her voice in my head right now. Stanyos Giannis’ daughter does not squeal her tires, young lady. You’re an embarrassment.
And then I am embarrassed when I suddenly realize that hot tears are welling up in my eyes.
Damn it. I wipe at them quickly.
I hate that I let her get to me like this. This should not have escalated into the feud that it has become. It’s just a freaking nose stud. I can take it out and the hole will grow closed. It’s not the end of the world. My mother, my father and in fact, the entire world, can eff off.
I shift into third, then fourth gear as I speed along the highway that leads to Valese, the capitol of Caberra. We live ten minutes outside of town, in a sleepy house where nothing happens.
Except for a few screaming matches between my mother and father and me. And that seems to be happening more and more lately. It’s probably mostly my fault, but I can’t bring myself to conform to their stupid rules. Why should I have to? I’m not hurting anyone. Their stupid rules are stupid.
The shoulder strap of my black tank top slips down and I yank it back up. I seriously wish that my best friend was here. But Reece went back to her home in Kansas for her senior year, taking another of my best friends, Dante Giliberti, with her. Dante’s father is my father’s boss, which makes Dante one of the few people in the world who knows exactly how I feel about these things. But he’s gone now- a half a world away and I miss them both like crazy.
I fight the urge to pick up my phone and text Reece that very message. But these curves are too killer to text while driving. And I’ve already texted her that little message about 200 times since she left a month ago. It didn’t change anything. They’re still there and I’m still here.
I can still feel my temper, right under the surface, boiling and hot. I’ve got to calm myself down. But I don’t have anyone to talk to. Reece was my only real friend, besides Dante and Gavin. And Gavin is away until tomorrow on a trip with his dad.
I’m on my own, like usual.
And I’m pissed off at the world.
I sigh and maneuver my car through the busy streets of Valese. Before I can even think about it, I find myself driving toward the sea. My favorite place in the world. I love everything about it. The vastness, the saltiness, the beauty. I love the taste of it on my lips and the feel of the sea breeze in my hair. I love being here because I know that I will smell like the sea for hours after I leave. The water always seems to calm me down. So, before I even know it, I have parked my car and am standing with my toes in the water.
I’m not really sure how I got here.
Or why I am here.
But I’m happy that I am.
Caberra is beautiful. I have to give it that. An island nation just a stone’s throw from Greece, it is gorgeous and tranquil and ancient. I wiggle my toes in the wet sand and enjoy how the cool water laps at my ankles. If it weren’t daylight, I might just strip off my clothes and go skinny-dipping.
But it is.
So I don’t.
Even I won’t go that far.
My parents would freaking kill me.
Instead, I sit down and situate myself in the sand, keeping my toes in the water. I watch my black-glittery-toenail bob in and out of the current and I try to zone out, to forget my current angst with my mother.
I’m succeeding, too. That is, until a cowboy hat walks into my periphery.
A cowboy hat.
I stop what I’m doing, the zoning out into a vegetative state, and stare. I can’t help myself. We don’t have cowboys in Caberra.
But apparently, we do now.
A giant of a man, or a boy, or a man-boy, is striding over the rolling sand dunes of the beach wearing cowboy boots and a cowboy hat. That is striking enough in its own right. But the muscles on this guy, the guns. His biceps look as thick as my thighs. Which, as a thigh, isn’t that big. But as an arm! It’s enormous.
I gulp, then stare at him again.
He’s got sandy-blonde hair peeking from under his hat and what looks like dark brown eyes. He’s wearing a button-up blue and white checked cowboy shirt with the arms ripped off and Levi’s that look like they were created just for him.
He’s like a handsome alien creature here in Caberra, where the average guy wears board shorts and flip-flops and carries a surf board like it’s an accessory. And it intrigues me. He looks like the kind of guy who is no stranger to hard labor and I bet a dollar to doughnuts that he’s got calluses on his hands.
My heart flutters.
And so I imagine myself reaching in, wrapping my hands around it and squashing it like a bug.
Because a girl like me doesn’t get all fluttery over a boy.
Not even the tough, good-looking ones.
And he is that.
He hasn’t noticed me yet. I don’t know why, unless the brim of his cowboy hat impairs his vision. Although to be fair, he is momentarily distracted by a horseshoe crab.
I watch with interest as he kneels beside it and examines it, his face only a foot or so from the little beast. He acts like he’s never seen one before as he reaches out a finger and tentatively pokes it. It lies still and I wonder briefly if it is dead and has been washed in by the current.
He pokes at it again, probably wondering the same thing.
And then the thing lurches into life, scuttling in a haphazard direction directly at man-boy. Man-boy jumps backward in surprise, landing directly on his chiseled backside in the wet sand. The crab continues scuttling toward him, probably disoriented, and man-boy continues to scramble backward, kicking at the crab.