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“Hey, Google,” I called across the kitchen to our Google Mini.
“No,” Kaz yelled from the sink.
“Charli, don’t this to us,” Mom said. “Stop with your musicals. We can’t take it anymore.”
Ignoring them, I kept speaking to Google. “Hey, Google, play ‘So Much Better’ from Legally Blond The Musical. Oh—and hey, Google—volume ten.”
Kaz swore under her breath.
Google launched into the song. It was like she’d been waiting to play it. I loved having another musical theater nerd in the house.
Mom turned from the compost bin where she’d been scraping the leftover tofu scramble from our dinner. “Charli, can you load the dishwasher, please?”
I cocked my hand behind my ear. “Sorry? What was that?”
The song reached its chorus. I joined in with the high note.
“Charli … help,” Kaz said.
“I am helping,” I said.
“Bullshit,” she snapped.
I stuck my tongue out at her. She was only two years older than me but always dishing out orders. Sometimes, she could be such a drag.
My cat, Chicken, jumped up onto the island and padded over to the butter dish.
“No, Chicken. No.” I picked her up and tapped her on the nose—everyone knew dairy was bad for cats—then I set her back down onto the tiles.
I went to the cupboard and fetched the broom. Sweeping was the best part of cleaning because it meant I could dance as well as sweep. I’d just got going when I saw Mom’s cell phone vibrate across the counter. She picked it up and studied it. Her face tightened.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
She didn’t answer.
“Hey, Google,” I called. “Pause the music.” Legally Blond music stopped. Silence fell, so loud that it hurt my ears. Still, Mom
stared at the phone.
“What happened?” I repeated.
“It’s the landlord,” she said. “He’s sent me an email. He wants to renovate the house and is giving us two months’ notice to find somewhere else.”
“Renovating?” Kaz snorted. “He’s not renovating. We’re being renovicted.”
“What’s that?” It sounded painful.
“Oh, all the landlords are doing it these days,” Kaz said airily. “They kick out their tenants, give their place a coat of paint, then get new people in and charge them double the rent.”
“But that’s not fair,” I said.
“It’s not like that,” Mom said.
“It totally is,” Kaz said,
“Colin’s nice,” Mom said. “He’s different from your average landlord, Here, listen. He’s giving us…” she read from the email, “‘a month’s rent in lieu in compensation.’ We have to think of this as a gift, as an opportunity. I’m sure we’ll find somewhere even better to live where you can each have your own room.”
I glanced around the kitchen, taking in the jungle of spider plants on the shelf, the macramé hangings near the oven, and the cuckoo clock. We’d lived in this house ever since I was seven after Mom and Dad had split up. I’d never thought of anyone actually owning the house. It had always been our home. There was a pear tree out the front I used to climb when I was little, and on foggy days, I could hear the tankers sounding their horns in the ocean. I’d always thought we’d live here forever. Still, it would be awesome to have my own room.
Once we’d cleared up the kitchen, I escaped to my bedroom. Well, the room I shared with Kaz. Chicken padded ahead of me, the bell jingling on her collar. We crossed to my side then picked our way around the marker pens, single socks, and crumpled cartons of iced tea that littered the floor to get to the bed. I sat down on the twisted duvet. Chicken jumped up beside me and curled herself into a ball.
As I stroked her, I eyed my Broadway playbills on the walls. One day, one of the posters would be of me. I had it all mapped out. At sixteen, I had to plan because time was running out. Way younger kids than me were already on Broadway being nominated for Tony Awards.
Once I graduated from my drama mini school, I was going to go to Blenheim University in Toronto, which had the best musical theater program in the whole of Canada. According to their website, eighty percent of their students got roles in productions once they’d finished their degree. But I wasn’t going to get just any part. I refused to be in the ensemble. No, I was going to play the lead.
I sang a bar of “What I Was Born to Do” from Bring It On. Just by singing, it felt like I was already leaving Vancouver and inching closer to Toronto to my dreams. I, Charli Reily, was going to be famous. Fact.
For the next few weeks, rather than making macramé plant hangers or trying out new vegetarian recipes, Mom spent her time hunched over her laptop in the kitchen, looking for rental listings on the internet. But all the places she found were either crazy expensive, a dive, or didn’t accept pets, which was no good because of Chicken.
She stopped going on about what a great opportunity this was and with every day that passed, the frown line between her eyebrows seemed to get deeper and deeper. And then she found a townhouse nearby. It was fifteen hundred bucks a month, which she claimed was cheap, but it seemed like a rip-off. So, at ten o’clock Saturday morning, Kaz and I hauled ourselves out of bed and went with Mom to the open house.
We parked close by then walked to the gate. I stared down the path at the house. It looked bigger than in the photos on the internet listing, which was a bonus, and a lot newer. It was all concrete and angles like a house in the future where a nuclear family of cyborgs lived. The doormat outside was piled with shoes, so I guessed that people, wannabe tenants, were already looking around inside. I scanned the windows on the second floor.
“Which do you think will be my room?” I asked.
“Your room?” Kaz’s top lip curled. “Yeah, like you’re the one who’s deciding. I’m the oldest, so I get to choose.”
“How about we race? Whoever claims a room first gets to keep it.”
Kaz’s eyes lit it up. She loved competitions. On sports day at elementary school, she used to take out kids in the sack race. Without saying anything or even shaking on the deal, she sprinted down the path in a whirlwind of Goth black.
“Cheat,” I yelled.
How dare she get a head start?
As I raced after her, I could hear Mom calling to me, something along the lines of, No, Charli. We need to make a good impression, but I ignored her. By now, Kaz had reached the doormat. She crouched down and started to tug at the laces of her knee-length army boots. I came up to the mat, and with a single movement, kicked off my runners.
“Ha-ha,” I said as I charged past her into the house.
Panting, I hurried along the hallway. Everything was white—the walls, the carpet. It was like being trapped in a snowstorm. People were walking from room to room and talking to each other in low, urgent voices. It was as if they were in a competition or were taking part in a daytime TV game show.
I ran past a couple and up the stairs to the landing where I came to four doors. All of them were shut. I opened the first door and stuck my head inside. It was a bedroom—bingo—but it was too small to be worth claiming, so I retreated onto the landing.
Any minute now, I’d hear Kaz clumping up the stairs. She couldn’t get the best room. I wouldn’t allow it. I burst through the second door. Someone screamed. A woman with diamond-studded earrings stood by a marble sink.
“Sorry,” I muttered then reversed sharply.
Now, there were only two doors left to choose between.
“Excuse me. Coming past,” a voice said.
My heart sped up, and I turned my head. It was Kaz. She was calling to people as she tried to get up the stairs. But the stairway was so crowded she had to stop and wait before she could edge past them.
I stared back at the last two doors. I had to act fast. At any moment, Kaz would reach the landing. Which door should I pick? The left? No, the right. Choose the left. My brain kept ping-ponging between the options.
I went for the left one, lunged for the door handle, pushed the door open, and fell inside. My feet sank into a thick wool carpet, and I breathed in the pine scent from an air freshener. Score. This was the master. It had a queen-sized bed, a walk-in closet, and acres and acres of space.
“This is mine,” I announced to no one.
Man, Kaz was going to be pissed.
I was about to sit on the bed to wait for her when I noticed the throw that was spread over the duvet. It was made from white fun fur and it looked like a queen’s robe. I draped it around my shoulders and began to sing the queen’s song from Roger’s and Hammerstein’s Cinderella. Some people thought that the old-time musicals were lame, but they were wrong. The songs were beautiful. This one was when the queen planned a wedding feast for her son.
“A thousand baby lobsters,” I sang as the queen.
The door opened.
I sat down on the bed. “It’s mine. Don’t try to argue. I won it fa…” I trailed off.
It wasn’t Kaz but a woman with dangle earrings and a clipboard. Two circles of color sat high on her cheeks. I froze.
“What are you doing? Put that back,” she screeched, pointing at the cover.
At that moment, Kaz came into the room, followed by Mom.
The woman swiveled to face Mom. “Is that your child?”
“Yes,” Mom said brightly. “That’s my daughter, Charlotte.”
I took off the throw and arranged it as neatly as I could across the bed.
Mom nodded at the woman’s clipboard. “You must be the owner. This is such a lovely place. It would be perfect for my daughters and me. I’m a nurse at the local hospital. We have strong ties to this community.”
The woman’s lips grew thinner.
“Oh,” she said. “Just the three of you?” Her words were pebbles dropping into a very deep well.
Now, her gaze was on Kaz. I sensed she was taking in Kaz’s black lipstick and all her piercings and her foundation, which was a shade called alabaster white.
“Look, I know they’re teenagers,” Mom said. “But they’re really no trouble. They’re extremely quiet.”
“We’re library quiet,” Kaz said. “We’re like bookish.”
I let out a laugh, which I hastily changed into a cough. The woman’s lips became so thin they seemed about to disappear into her face.
Mom pointed at the stack of application forms on the clipboard. “May I have one, please?”
“Of course,” the woman replied. “It’s been such a delight to meet you.”
She handed Mom a form then breezed past us out of the room.
I turned to Kaz. “See, I told you I’d win. This is the best freaking room in the whole house.”
“Let’s go,” Mom said stiffly.
As we hurried down the path, tons more people were arriving. A line of shiny SUVs crawled along the road as the drivers looked for somewhere to park. We stopped by our car, which seemed so small beside the SUVs. It was missing three of its hub caps.
I nodded at the application form Mom held. “I know. Let’s fill that out now. Then I can run back and give it to the woman before we go. I’ll save us time.”
Mom scrunched the form into a ball and dropped it into her purse.
“What are you doing?” I gasped.
“What does it look like?” she asked.
“But I wanted to live there,” I wailed.
Chicken would love the soft carpet, and there was so much space on the walls that I could buy new posters to add to my collection, maybe the playbill for Anastasia or the one from Dear Evan Hansen with the close-up of Conner’s cast.
Mom planted her hands on her hips. “Oh, you wanted to live there, did you? How exactly were you conveying that? What part of your appalling behavior gave the owner the impression that you wanted to live in her beautiful house?”
“And Kaz.” She turned on her. “You weren’t helping either. That library joke. Turning up looking like the Queen of the Dead.”
“She was a bitch,” Kaz said, “and she had crap earrings. We can’t give our money to someone with such a lame fashion sense.”
I expected Mom to go off on her. Instead, her eyes grew shiny.
“It was the only one,” she said. “The only single place on the whole of West Side. I’ve looked. Heaven knows I’ve been looking. No one can accuse me of not trying. Sometimes—” Her eyes grew even shinier. “Sometimes this city can be so hard.”
I scuffed my foot across the ground. “Sorry,” I mumbled.
She gave a broken laugh. “It doesn’t matter what you did. To be frank, we never stood a chance.”
But it was my fault. I knew it. No matter what she said. I always wrecked everything.
*End of sample chapter*
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