Excerpt from "Home for Wayward Girls" by Melanie Bishop
Excerpt from “Home for Wayward Girls”
It’s the night of her first date with Floyd when Renee’s lingerie starts to go missing. She’s looking through our laundry room for her favorite teddy — a lacy, mauve-colored thing with three snaps at the crotch and ribbon under the boob section. I’ve seen her sleep in it, now that I share the fold-out bed with her most nights. Even though Larissa’s not taking up my bed anymore, Gina has made the case that she should be the one with her own room now that Noreen’s gone. Certainly not Trina, who is only seven and hasn’t earned the right of privacy. Jake has his own room, but it’s because he’s a boy. Other things around here go by age, so Gina has a point, and Daddy agrees. I’m to move in permanently with Trina, but Renee says as long as she’s at The Home for Wayward Girls, I’m welcome to stay in the living room bed with her. She enjoys my company.
The teddy isn’t where she hung it up to dry, isn’t back in her overstuffed and messy suitcase, isn’t down the sides of the sofa where things sometimes end up. She wants to wear this teddy on her date, as it looks good under the low cut, poor-boy top she is wearing with her jeans. We both got the same shirt at the All American Jeans on the West Bank Expressway — hers light blue and mine forest green. You could wear the shirt innocent or sexy, she showed me, just by how many of the teeny little buttons up the front you fastened or didn’t. The mauve teddy tonight she means to be partly glimpsable beneath the shirt. It’s a good idea, since the first night he met Renee, lace was peeking out, too.
We cannot find the teddy, so she settles on her fancy, wine-colored, push-up bra instead. It doesn’t matter. The point is she looks real good.
I’m surprised when he doesn’t arrive in the police car. Instead he has a gold Pontiac LeMans in our driveway. Daddy shakes his hand and acts like Renee is his own daughter about to leave on a date.
“Floyd,” she says, “this is Roy, but I call him The Good Doctor.” She sets off to giggling.
“Pleased to make your acquaintance, Sir,” Floyd says, and I see his eyes are dreamy, like Renee said.
“And this,” Renee says, “is Miss Amelia, the smartest thirteen-year-old you will ever meet.”
“A million?” he says.
“AMELIA,” Renee clarifies, and an explosion of giggles fills the front hallway. Floyd takes my hand to shake it. His is huge and filled with bones.
“Renee’s a grown woman,” my father says to Floyd. “She can take care of herself. But while she’s living with us, I’d appreciate it if you got her back here by one.”
“No problem,” Floyd says. “Will do.”
I want to say something as they are leaving, besides “Have fun,” but that is all I come up with. The minute the door shuts, and I can still hear her laughing on the way to the gold car with him, our house feels sad. It’s a school night, so everyone’s home — Gina, Jake, Trina, of course — but none of them are possibilities for something to do with myself while Renee is on her date with Floyd. I am babysitting Baby, so I take him with me as I go around the house, trying to find the missing teddy. I ask everyone in the family, but no one has seen it. My mom shows me the gap in the lint trap in the dryer. “Sometimes a sock gets stuck in there for weeks,” she says. I tell her thanks, but the teddy is drip-dry.
“Well,” my mom says, “I guess it’s just a mystery.”
“The case of the mysterious missing teddy!” my father shouts from his chair. And then “Lingerie Goes Missing at Snyder’s Home for Wayward Girls!” He says it like it is a headline. Trina asks me if I want to play Chutes and Ladders, and I only say yes because of, one, how bored I am, and, two, how it’s only thirty minutes till her bedtime so the game’ll be short.
If Gina were nicer, I would knock on her door and see if we could listen to her albums together. Jake could get away with that because they are both at the high school now, and they like the same music. If I suggested to her that I join her for some music appreciation, she would think I was insane.
The last time Gina deigned to play with me, she was fourteen and I was ten. She was still Jeanette then, or Jeannie. It was the summer we all played card games non-stop, and also the summer when we would eventually go to Florida for six weeks for a temporary job my father had. Until the St. Petersburg trip, summer was so boring, and Jeannie and I would do tournaments that sometimes lasted days — Crazy Eights or Pounce or Spit. And at the start of any tournament you had to bet something — put something you really valued up in the pot and then when the whole tournament was over, the winner took whatever was in there. Jeannie always won, so she got more and more bold about what she was willing to bet — her Cat Stevens album, the one with “Sad Lisa” on it, her blue velvet headband, some new makeup she’d bought at K&B Drugstore. But the best thing she ever bet came from her secret chest of drawers in her side of our shared closet. It had been her chest for baby doll clothes when she was little, but, as she got older, it became the place where she would hide things. Sharing a room with her, I knew times there’d been packs of Marlboro in there, and I’d seen her put back a red locking diary, too. One drawer of the small, four-door dresser had sewing stuff and one had art supplies, but the two remaining were secret. We were settling down to what would be a weekend-long Crazy Eights tournament, when she pulled from the second drawer her Sucrets box full of money. It was babysitting money and, at fourteen, she did a lot of this. She didn’t let me count it, but she opened the box and let the rolled-up wad of green spring out. She showed me its cross-section — swirls and swirls of bills.
“You’re betting all that?” I said.
She just clicked the metal box shut again and threw it in between us. I put up my third-in-command stuffed animal — Buddy, the white dog. I felt like a traitor doing that, but she’d made the stakes so high.
The tournament commenced. We kept a scorecard. She was ahead, I was ahead, then she was. The day before we were leaving for St. Petersburg, my mom insisted we stop fooling around and end the game and get busy packing. We were tied 39 to 39. Jeannie said, “Tie breaker and then that’s it,” and she shuffled and dealt like it wasn’t even her Sucrets box of cash sitting between us. I was excited and nervous. I thought about what I would do with the money — had my eye on two things I’d seen on TV — Incredible Edibles and a Spirograph. I could get both if I won.
It’s almost impossible to lose a hand of Crazy Eights if you are lucky enough to be dealt two eights in your hand of five cards, and that’s just how lucky I was. The game lasted less than a minute, and I was out of cards and off the floor, screaming and jumping. “I won! I won!” Jeannie just looked annoyed at me, tossed her remaining cards into the center, pinging them off Buddy’s snout, plucked her Sucrets box from the floor between us, and put it right back in her doll dresser.
My mouth was open so wide, Buddy could’ve fit inside. “MOM!” I called out. “Jeannie’s cheating!”
When I explained it to my mother, she did not make Jeannie give me the money. I started crying. She said she was sorry Jeanette did that to me, but it had taken her most of the summer babysitting to save all of that money, and she had no business betting it in the first place. My mom said some things should be off limits, and that money was one thing my sister should not have put in jeopardy.
“But she DID,” I argued.
“If I had known, Honey, I would not have let her bet that box of money.”
Jeannie wasn’t someone I would trust again. I had won, fair and square.
Bishop’s young adult novel, My So-Called Ruined Life (Torrey House Press, 2014) was a top-five finalist in 2015 for both the John Gardner Award in Fiction and CLMP’s Firecracker Awards, and a top-ten finalist for the Lascaux Prize in Fiction. Bishop has published fiction and nonfiction in The New York Times, Glimmer Train, Georgetown Review, Greensboro Review, Florida Review, Valley Guide, Hospice Magazine, Puerto del Sol, The American, Potomac Review, Vela, and Family Circle. A short story, “Friday Night in America,” is being adapted for the stage as a monologue, premiering in 2019 in Orlando, by Beth Marshall Presents. Bishop is marketing a short story cycle, Home for Wayward Girls, which has been a finalist in seven book contests: Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction; University of Iowa Press Short Fiction Awards; Doris Bakwin Award; Tartt Fiction Award; the Eludia Award; the Serena McDonald Kennedy Award; and Augury Press’s Book Prize. In 1990, she received a screenwriting fellowship from the Chesterfield Film Project, co-sponsored by Universal Studios and Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment. Bishop is Faculty Emeritus at Prescott College in Arizona, where, for 22 years, she taught creative writing and was Founding Editor and Fiction / Nonfiction Editor of Alligator Juniper, a national literary magazine, three-time winner of the AWP Directors’ Prize. Currently Bishop offers retreats, instruction, editing, and coaching through Lexi Services. Learn more at her website.
Photo Credit: Staff