by Amanda Owens
Bullies come in all shapes, sizes, and ages.
Brynlee McAdams is used to relentless verbal criticism from her mother and tries to ignore that vitriol to focus on caring for her younger brothers, both of whom have her whole heart. When her brother Brayden becomes the target of school bullies, Brynlee steps in when her mother refuses to, even though she knows it could set them on a collision course with potentially devastating consequences.
When Sarah Cain—Brayden’s kind and engaging third-grade teacher—gets involved, Brynlee discovers she doesn’t really have to handle everything on her own. Brynlee’s blossoming relationship with Sarah also makes her realize that by trying to be the daughter her mother wanted and the sister her brothers needed, she might have forgotten about her own wants and needs.
But Brynlee’s path to happiness is littered with obstacles, and she learns that finding your way sometimes means going completely off track and trusting someone you love to guide you back.
|Publication Date||June 16, 2022|
|Cover Designer||Sheri Halal|
“Where are my damn keys, Brynlee?” Mom sits across from me at the dining table. She huffs loudly, clearly wanting my attention. I finish typing the last of my notes before looking up to see the scowl on her face. She is in one of her moods this morning.
“The last I saw them they were on the kitchen counter.”
“Well, find them.” She bends over to tie the laces on her steel-toed boots. “I’m going to be late for work.”
She is always losing her keys. Closing the laptop, I stand to do as I am told. I know to choose my battles wisely with her. I go to the kitchen and scour the counter. There are no keys in sight. I pull open the drawers and rummage through them, moving aside pens, old papers, and lighters, amongst all kinds of other junk. Still no keys.
“Find them?” Mom walks into the kitchen pulling a jacket over her shoulders.
“Not yet. Maybe in your room?”
Mom gives me a hard stare. The crease in her forehead moves down between her brows as they furrow together. “If you do not find those damn keys in the next five minutes you better not ask to drive my car again.”
She’s treating me like a child while trying to hold yet another thing over my head. It’s true, I don’t own a car yet. However, I have money in my savings for that. I just haven’t gotten around to it. Mom doesn’t know how much money I’ve put back, otherwise I wouldn’t have as much as I do. She is always borrowing money from me or asking me to give the boys lunch money for school, which I do without hesitation. I’m already helping with the utilities and groceries. I have to keep some money hidden or I would never be able to get a car. I’m twenty-two years old and still taking the bus everywhere.
I push past Mom to go look in her room, refusing to make eye contact on my way by. She is a tall woman. Her size is threatening to most and I’m no different than anyone else who refuses to confront her. She has a good five inches of height over me.
The keys are on her dresser, hidden behind the picture of Grandma and Grandpa. She probably left them there last night when she came in late. I haven’t driven the car in two days. I grab them and jog down the hall, finding Mom in the kitchen pouring coffee into a thermos.
“Here.” I lay the keys next to her and back away.
She picks them up along with the thermos and walks toward the door. “I’m working late tonight. Don’t forget to pick Ben up from practice.” She walks out the door without even a glance backward.
“You’re welcome,” I say quietly to the closing door. The door creaks back open slightly. My breath catches in my throat.
“Damnit!” Mom shouts as she slams the door shut. “Get some fucking WD-40 and fix this,” she calls out.
I release the breath I’m holding as her footsteps fade away. I sink back against the counter, my shoulders slump with relief.
The clock on the microwave practically shouts the time. It’s six thirty-five and I still have to get the boys up, feed them breakfast, clean myself up, and get us all to school and work. I’ve been working at the same place since I graduated high school. Luckily, I found this job early on. This allows me to take my college classes at night so I can help with the boys—the only way to make things work at home. Mom tried to talk me out of college because she needs my help at home. She told me that I can make a good career with the company I am with now and work my way up. But I don’t want to spend the rest of my life working in a warehouse.
I climb the stairs to the boys’ room, the first one to the right. “Boys, time to rise and shine.” I flip on the light, or they will completely ignore me. “Your cereal is on the table. Up and at ’em, you two.”
“Five more minutes.” Ben rolls over and pulls the cover over his head. His bed is on the left side of the room vertical to the door. Brayden’s bed is on the right side next to the doorway. They were bunk beds at first, but we separated them last summer when both boys kept fighting over the top bunk.
“Can’t do it, buddy. We are pushing for time.”
They slowly move themselves upright in bed. Brayden reaches his arms up high toward the ceiling, stretching as far as his arms can go. He is the youngest of us three at only nine years old. Ben’s three years older than Brayden and very mature for his age.
“Okay,” Ben says reluctantly, and pushes the covers back to stand. He grabs his T-shirt from the top of the dresser and slips it over his head.
Brayden stumbles sleepy-eyed toward me. He stops in the doorway where I’m standing to look up at me, a big crease across his cheek from his pillow. I rub my hand through his thick brown hair. “You awake, little man?” He bobs his head up and down before wrapping his arms around my waist for a hug. I squeeze him tight and kiss the top of his head.
I watch as the boys descend the stairs, Ben leading the way, then I turn to get myself presentable for the day. My bedroom is just down the hall from the boys. We share the only bathroom upstairs. It’s an old house that needs lots of work, but at least it’s home.
I take very little time to get ready. I shower after work, so not much time is needed for myself in the mornings. Pulling my long hair into a messy bun, I brush my teeth and quickly dress in my typical work clothes of jeans and a T-shirt.
The boys have finished eating by the time I get back downstairs. I rush them to get dressed and we head out. The school bus stops right in front of the house. It’s still lightly raining, but I can see the sun trying to break through the clouds. Brayden stands at my side with his Spider-Man backpack on underneath his blue rain jacket. Ben thinks he is too grown for a backpack, so he’s cradling his books inside his black rain jacket to keep them dry. I bought these jackets for the boys a couple months ago for this purpose exactly.
“Are you coming to my practice today?” Ben asks. He is on the basketball team for the middle school.
“Definitely. I’ll grab Brayden and we will be right over.”
“Is Mom coming?” Ben knows the answer to this question, but it doesn’t stop him from asking every time.
I shake my head. “I’m sorry, buddy. She has to work late.”
“She’s always working.” Brayden looks up at me.
“How about we get pizza for dinner tonight?” A change of subject is in order. I would rather the boys start the day off with positive thoughts. They shouldn’t worry about why our mother isn’t making an effort.
“Yeah!” both boys say at the same time.
The bus pulls up and they eagerly climb aboard to get out of the rain. Ben heads straight to the back to find his friends. I wave to Brayden after he takes his seat. He always looks to see if I’m still waiting.
I walk behind the bus for a bit before it turns left down the next street. My bus stop is two blocks away. The chill of the morning rain makes me shiver underneath my oversized rain jacket. Mom bought mine when I was in middle school and it still fits. She had said she wanted to give me room to grow. And that she did. I could buy a new one now, but I see no reason to when it’s still in good shape. There are more pressing things to spend money on.
The bus ride to work is short. I like to walk when it’s nice out, but when the weather is like this, I’d rather keep warm and dry. By the time the bus stops to let me off, the rain has ended. Unfortunately, there are still colder days ahead, so the bus and I will be seeing a lot of each other in the coming months.
I step off the bus and the chill of the air hits me. I pull the front of the coat together, closing the gap over my chest. Being in the South, our winter really starts in January and February.
“Hey, B,” a familiar voice comes from behind. Andrea and I have been working together since the day I started. We met in orientation and have been friends ever since.
“Good morning.” I look down at the cooler in her hand. “What did you bring me for lunch?”
“Sliced Virginia ham and smoked turkey with lettuce, cheese, onion, honey mustard and mayo, on a potato sub with a side of kosher dill pickle, SunChips, and a brownie.” The smile of proud achievement spreads across Andrea’s face.
“That sounds amazing! I love when you bring me lunch.” I bump my shoulder against hers as we walk into work. She had sent me a text last night ordering me not to bring anything today. Her exact words were that she was “giving me the hookup.” Andrea is nine years older than me and the only true friend I have.
“Girl, you know I got you.”
Our shift starts at eight o’clock. We clock in and begin our fast-paced day in the warehouse of scanning and sorting shipments as they are unloaded from the freight trucks. The job hours are only part time, but it pays so well that it makes up for it. Plus, if we ever want to get extra hours on the weekends, we can. Andrea has a little girl around Brayden’s age, so the hours are perfect for her. Being a single mom must be hard. At least Mom has me.
The time goes by fast, and before I know it, the lunch bell rings. We get a short twenty minutes to eat before getting at it again. Andrea is already sitting at our table with the sandwich and chips waiting. I slide onto the seat across from her.
“Dig in.” Andrea takes a bite of her sandwich and I follow suit.
Immediately, I fall in love with the savory goodness. “This is so delicious.” I take another bite before opening the chips. “You’re spoiling me.”
“It’s nice to have someone to share my love for food with. Baby girl has a limited selection of food choices.”
“Eight-year-olds and their taste buds.”
Andrea smiles. “You’ve got that right. That child would live off cereal or SpaghettiOs if I’d let her.”
“We need to get together soon so little man and baby girl can share a can of SpaghettiOs and you and I can have your famous margaritas.”
“Now that’s a plan I can get behind.”