Before: Part 1: Before – Chapter: 4


When he first met the flame-haired girl whose arms were covered in tattoos, he saw something dark in her. He felt something competitive in the way she stared at her friend with hair lighter than her own. She compared everything they did, and he saw that desperation for attention that she held inside of her. She reminded him of a maiden named Roussette from a fairy tale he’d read when he was a child. The red-haired princess was jealous of her younger sisters when they married princes, even though she’d wed an admiral herself. It wasn’t good enough, though; he wasn’t good enough unless he made her better than her sisters. The girl hated the idea of losing anything, even things she claimed were not hers. She couldn’t stand being second-best, and she hungered to be the one people paid attention to. She couldn’t stand the idea of someone else getting what she felt she deserved, and she believed that what she deserved was nothing less than everything under the sun.

My dad is home late from work again. He’s been late every night, and I was supposed to be able to use his car to pick up my prom dress this week. All of my friends got their dresses a month ago, and I’m starting to panic. If I don’t have a dress for prom, I will lose my fucking mind. I’m so frustrated, and it’s complete bullshit that my dad is late again and my mom is too busy watching my niece to listen to my justified complaints.

Everything revolves around my sister and her baby. People always talk that bullshit about the youngest being the baby of the family. It sounds nice, but I grew up with nothing but hand-me-downs and last-minute birthday parties where no one showed up except my immediate family. I’m the reject of the family, the weird one who’s become a ghost in her own home. And I’m not even sure why.

The last time my mom said more than two words to me was when I stained the sink upstairs red with cheap hair dye. She was frantic because my timing was perfect: the night before my sister Olivia’s baby shower. I may have accidently spilled a little on the bath mat, and it’s possible that I used my parents’ embroidered towels to cover my shoulders while I let the fire-engine-red dye soak into my strands.

But I hadn’t dared ruin Olivia’s shirt from when she was my age, you see.

That’s another thing I hate to hear: “When Olivia was seventeen, she was the student council president,” or “When Olivia was seventeen, she had straight A’s and a popular boyfriend who she married right after high school.”

I’m so tired of being compared to my sister—she was the golden child, and there’s nothing I can do to even win silver, it feels like. I can’t wait to leave for college. Due to my parents’ constant pressure, I’m going to Washington Central, where Olivia graduated with honors.

They never cared about that college until my sister went there, and I’ll never live up to the comparisons to her, but I’m done trying and it’s easier just to say yes to going there and blow this place.

As soon as my dad’s Jeep pulls into the driveway, I grab my purse, check the mirror one last time, and rush down the stairs, where I nearly run into my mom—not that she even notices my fishnet tights or red leather top. She just mumbles something while looking at her e-reader. That’s all she ever does.

The front door opens, and my sister walks into the living room with my dad. Sierra, my baby niece, is asleep in my sister’s arms.

“I’m so tired,” Olivia announces to the room as she strolls through it.

Quickly, my mom appears, closing the case of her tablet and setting it absentmindedly on the mantel of the fireplace. Of course, for Olivia she can take a break from her precious screen.

“Stephanie can drive you home, honey,” my dad offers on my behalf.

“Dad, I have to get my prom dress, and they close in thirty minutes!” I toss my bag across my shoulder and reach for his keys.

“Olivia and Sierra can ride with you.”

My sister interrupts. “I won’t mind. Just let me use the bathroom for a second.”

Her soft brown hair moves when she talks. She’s wearing khakis and a short-sleeve shirt with bright flowers printed on it. My dad smiles like his eldest daughter is the most thoughtful and considerate girl alive.

It’s super annoying.

“Fine,” I huff. “But this is the last day they’ll hold it for me, so if I can’t go to prom, it’s your fault.” I glare at my sister. Olivia nods, and I push past my dad to get outside. “I’ll be in the car.”

I start the car and wait for Olivia. Five minutes pass. Ten minutes pass. I send two texts and she doesn’t respond. I know she read them from the little indicator on my phone. Yet she’s still inside the house. I’m guessing her and my mom are on their fourth goodbye hug. My mom does that when we go to my grandma’s house, too, requiring multiple hugs to satisfy her need for affection. Twelve minutes go by, and I finally leave the car to return to the house.

Just as I begin to close the car door, my sister walks outside with a languid pace and an oblivious smile on her face. She still has to buckle Sierra into her car seat.

“Olivia, we have to go,” I say, to rush her along.

She sighs and mutters a half-hearted apology.

IT’S 8:03 WHEN I PARK in front of the dark shop. The sign on the door is turned around to CLOSED and the lights are off.

And now I can’t get my dress. Today was the last day, and this was after my second extension. I begged for extra time, but I was told repeatedly that this was my last day. This sucks so bad.

“I’m sorry, Stephanie,” Olivia says as I lay my head on the steering wheel.

I turn my head to the side and scowl at her. “This is your fault.”

“It’s not my fault,” she says, with the nerve to look surprised. “Dad wanted to take me shopping to get some new shoes for Sierra. She outgrows them so fast—”

New baby shoes? Are you freaking serious? I missed my prom dress because her baby needed new shoes—the child doesn’t even walk!

“Why couldn’t Dad just take you home directly? You would have been back way sooner,” I say, raising my head, and my voice.

“I wasn’t tired then… I don’t know.” She shrugs her shoulders like my time means nothing to her. Like this isn’t a big deal.

“This is such bullshit!” I shake my head and put my hands over my face.

“Don’t talk like that in front of the baby!” my sister whisper-yells.

I groan and back out of the parking space. We’re both silent the entire way home. Olivia doesn’t feel as if she’s done anything wrong, and I’m too mad to talk to her right now. I’m so tired of her stealing everything from me—and on top of that, Sierra keeps crying as if she’s trying to split my brain in half.

I hate my life.

When we get to Olivia’s house, she thanks me for dropping her off. I don’t want to step foot into her new house, so I’m glad she doesn’t ask me in. A house that I’m pretty sure my parents helped her and Roger buy. Her husband is quiet; he doesn’t say much around my family. Olivia probably tells him not to. I’m sure everyone gets the warning label read to them before they have to have any exposure to me.

I don’t really want to go inside, but I have to pee and it’s another fifteen minutes back to my parents’. Walking into Olivia’s house, I immediately notice that it smells heavily of cinnamon. Olivia burns those candle-oil things in every room.

Roger is sitting on the couch with a remote in one hand and a computer on his lap. When he notices us entering the room, he smiles up at his wife and then politely asks me how I’ve been. I say I’m the same as before, though I can’t remember the last time I actually saw him.

After a few minutes of awkward small talk, Olivia tells us that she’s going to put the baby to bed. She walks upstairs with a stuffed teddy bear in one hand and a bottle in the other. Roger barely glances at me as I walk by, looking at all of their stupid family pictures on the mantel above the fake fireplace. Roger stands up and walks into the kitchen—trying to avoid further conversation with me, no doubt.

In the last picture, their perfect little family poses in all matching white and black in a small wooden frame. Heading toward the kitchen, I find, hanging on the hallway wall in a big metal frame, a picture of Olivia and Roger on their wedding day. She’s so perfect in the picture: perfect hair, perfect makeup, and her dress is beautiful. A soft, silky white dress that touches the floor in a regal way. She looks like a princess, like she was made for that dress.

Her dress is the exact opposite of my would-be prom dress. The dress I was supposed to pick up tonight is made from black cotton and tulle. The bodice is tight, lined with lacy tulle along the edges of the star-shaped skirt. It’s a dress that, thanks to Olivia, I’ll never have. I find myself wishing I had a bucket of black paint to ruin her stupid, perfect dress. I look to the next photo on the wall and stop at a picture of Roger, his arms wrapped around Olivia’s pregnant stomach.

She ruined my prom dress. I’ll ruin her wedding dress.

When I walk into the kitchen, Roger is standing in front of the fridge, his face buried inside and hidden by the doors. I tap my hand against the stone counter to get his attention. The moment he turns around, I tug on the hem of my shirt, exposing a nice amount of my cleavage to him. He inhales and then lets out a little cough.

I smile. I bet my sister hasn’t fucked her husband since she popped out his baby.

“Sorry.” I wrap my hair around my finger as Roger’s eyes try not to run down my legs, taking in my fishnet hose.

“Hi,” I say, and keep walking toward him.

My heart is racing and I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing, but I’m pissed off at my sister and I’m fucking tired of her getting everything and I’m thinking of how everything is always about perfect Olivia and nothing is ever mine and so she shouldn’t have anything that’s hers either. Especially not a cute and loyal puppy of a husband.

“W-what are you doing, Stephanie?” Roger asks me, his face much paler than it was just seconds ago.

“Nothing. Just talking.” I grab the waistline of my skirt and pull it up further, to the middle of my stomach, showing my lace panties to him, and when Roger backs away, his back hits the wooden cabinets, slamming one of the doors shut.

“What’s wrong?” I ask with a laugh. My stomach is in a knot and I feel like I’m going to pass out any freaking second, but I feel amazing and powerful at the same time. Adrenaline, it must be. I love it. I want more of it. I step even closer and reach for the zipper on the front of my shirt.

Roger covers his face. “Stop it, Stephanie.”

Fuck this, he’s actually a loyal puppy like I thought. Knowing this adds to the burn of my jealousy.

“Come on, Roger, don’t be such a—”

“Stephanie! What the hell are you doing?” Olivia’s voice fills the kitchen.

I look over to the doorway to see her leaning there. She changed into pajamas, flannel ones with blue lining. She’s pissed.

After a few seconds, she turns to her husband. “Roger?”

“I don’t know, babe, she just came in here and started trying to take her clothes off.” He tosses his hands up in the air in a frantic plea for his wife to see how crazy her slutty sister is.

She turns in my direction, glaring a hole through me. “Get out, Stephanie.”

“You didn’t even ask me if it wasn’t true,” I tell her, getting pretty pissed off about that fact. I toss my purse over my shoulder and pull my skirt back down to cover my body.

“I know you,” she says matter-of-factly.

She knows me? She doesn’t know me at all, actually. If she did, she would know better than to be such a selfish cunt.

“And…?” I look at Roger, and he inches back like I’m a snake. Like he can judge me? If he wasn’t afraid to get caught, I guarantee he would have me bent over their shiny granite counter.

“Well, did you try to come on to my husband or not?” Olivia’s mouth is trembling; she’s holding back tears. I should deny it, flip the script on both of them and blame him. He’s pathetic enough that she would believe me. I can cry on demand, too, and if I wanted to, I could convince her of anything.

Oh, please.

“You’re such a spoiled bitch!” she yells at me, and Roger crosses the kitchen and wraps his arm around her shoulders.

I’m a spoiled bitch? Is she serious? She gets everything she fucking wants, and it’s bullshit. I’m sick of being the runner-up to her. She’s lucky I didn’t do something worse. I could have hurt him, or her, in a far more serious way. Even some of the thoughts I’m having now are surprising me… and I like it.

“Get out, Stephanie.” Olivia shakes her head as her husband rubs her trembling hands.

I do just that. I won’t have to put up with any more of this shit soon.

I’m going to college soon.

And once I’m there, I’m going to run that fucking campus.


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