Driving home, Cindy grabbed her New Order cassette and shoved it into the player on her stereo.
Cranking the volume up, she sang along for a minute then laughed.
“We might not have love triangle, but it sure has been bizarre.”
Cindy parked in her spot in the driveway. Inside, her mom waited at the kitchen table holding a mug of steaming coffee between her hands. She had the newspaper spread out across the table, eyes closed, and her head resting on the back of the chair. She still wore her factory uniform, dark jeans and blue polo shirt. Molly’s mom worked at the same factory and made the uniform look like Paris’ latest gift to the fashion world. But her mom, with five kids and a sick husband, just looked tired.
“Hey, Mama.” Cindy hugged her around the neck from behind.
She opened her eyes and patted Cindy’s hand. “Hey, baby girl.”
Cindy kissed her cheek. “You want me to do anything for you, Mama?”
“No. I’m fine.” Yawning, she stretched her arms above her head. Her mom blew on, then sipped the coffee. Cindy sat next to her.
“You were at Molly’s a long time.”
“Yeah, we just wanted to hang out, you know. Girl time.” Cindy chewed on her thumb nail.
“How was school?”
“Same old same old.” Cindy sighed, eager to change the subject. “Can’t wait to get outta there.”
“Don’t wish your life away. It’ll pass fast enough on its own.”
“Maybe, but high school is boring.” And she could be free with Mike.
“Well I have something that might make it more fun.”
“What is it?”
“Some good news.” Her mom set the cup on the table and turned to take Cindy’s hands into hers. “Your daddy and I talked about it and we both think it’s time to let you date.”
Dating? As in boys? As in Mike “Uh, what?”
A smile filled her mom’s face. “It was your daddy’s idea. He finally convinced me.”
Adrenaline rushed to Cindy’s head, but she shook it back down. There had to be a catch.
“You said boys were nothing but trouble.”
“I know. And maybe some boys are.” Her mom dropped her gaze to the table. “But your daddy’s worried about the time he has left, and he wants to see that you find someone to treat you right. To take care of you when he’s gone.”
A flood of emotions crashed down on Cindy. She clung to the anger to pull her back to the surface. “First of all, I don’t need anyone to take care of me. And daddy has lots of time left.”
She pushed back her chair and walked to the sink, glaring at the sunny backyard beyond the window. Jeez, it wasn’t like she would get married at seventeen.
“Cindy, you know that isn’t true. No sense in lying to yourself.”
“I’m not lying.”
“Yes, you are.”
“He’s going to be fine. It just takes time to heal. That’s all.”
Cindy bit her bottom lip. She wouldn’t give up hope—even if her mom had.
Her mom stood, pulling Cindy into her arms.
“You’re strong. Just like I wanted you to be. Taking care of everyone.” She held Cindy by the shoulders. “But it’s time you faced the future and took care of yourself. And that means preparing for what’s to come.”
“Let’s talk about this later.” Her mom smiled and wiped the tear from Cindy’s cheek. “I have a surprise. You are going on a date.”
“A d-date?” Had they found out about Mike? Did Elijah tell them?
Her mom’s smile grew. “He’ll be here in an hour, so you better get ready.”
“Who’ll be here?”
“Your date. His name’s Tavis. I work with his mama.”
“What?” Cindy opened her mouth. “You set me up?”
Her mom laughed. “Yep. You can thank me later.”
Thank her? More like kill her. “Mama, I’m not going on a blind date!”
She pulled away from her mom and paced the kitchen. This can’t be happening.
“You are. Now go shower and get ready.”
“But, Mama, I have a…” In her panic, the forbidden word almost slipped out. “I have a test tomorrow. I need to study.”
“He can bring you home early.” Her mom clapped her hands. “You’re gonna like him.
He’s in college and has a job.”
With a huge effort, Cindy restrained from rolling her eyes. He could be a millionaire like Donald Trump, and she wouldn’t care.
“Shouldn’t I get to pick who I go out with?” She struggled to draw a breath of the thickening air.
“Hmph. You don’t go to school with anyone like him. He’s a good man. Your daddy approves, too.”
The creek of the wheelchair wheels on the kitchen tile made Cindy jump. She spun around to face her dad.
“Daddy approves what?” he asked with a knowing smile. “Tavis sounds like a nice young man. Perfect for my lil’ princess.”
Unable to speak past the lump in her throat, her gaze bounced between her parents’
Elijah entered the kitchen and jerked to a stop. “What’s up?”
“Don’t ask,” Cindy said with a groan.
Her mom answered. “Your sister has a date tonight.”
Cindy met her brother’s stare. Please get me out of this.
He raised his eyebrows. “Really? Is it with…?”
Cindy snapped her reply through clenched teeth. “Mama set me up.”
“No shit?” He laughed.
“Watch your language,” their mom said. “And yes, I did. She’s going with my friend’s son and they’ll have a great time.” The frown she gave Cindy added the or else.
Her brother laughed and she clenched her teeth. “You do know this is 19 86 not 1886, right? Parents don’t make arranged relationships anymore.”
“We thought you’d be happy.” Her dad squeezed her shoulders with a trembling hand.
“But if you don’t want to go you don’t have to.”
Throwing her hands up, her mom replied, “What’s she going to do? There’s nobody like Tavis at her school she can date.”
Cindy looked at Elijah again.
“True. Ain’t no brothers there.” He crossed his arms and raised his chin as if to say told ya.
Their mom frowned. “That’s not what I’m worried about. The boys here are too immature. Unless you have a friend for her.”
Elijah scratched his head. “Uhh.”
“Yeah, Elijah,” Cindy said with a sneer. “Tell Mama ‘bout your friends. Anyone you want me to date?”
“Ahem. Well, no. None of them are good enough for my sister.” His protective comment earned a smile from their parents, but Cindy narrowed her eyes.
Her mom pointed to the clock. “Go on. Get ready. If you don’t like him after this date, don’t go again. But I bet you’ll want to.”
Cindy’s gaze whirled between them. Her mom’s stern face, her dad’s hopeful smile, and Elijah’s smirk. She didn’t see a way out without telling them about Mike. And she knew that was a can of worms she couldn’t open tonight—maybe not ever.
“Fine. But I can guarantee this will be the only date with him.”
She shrugged out from her dad’s hold and stomped to her bedroom to get ready. Whoever Tavis was, he’d better be ready for a shitty night. And if he laid one hand on her, he would learn the real meaning of pain.
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