About the Author
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
This was it. Finally. The last stop on my tour. I shoved open the door to my private suite, and Kane, my bodyguard, closed it firmly behind me. The screaming on the other side of the door had only made my head hurt. This had been fun once. Now all I could think about was getting away from it. The girls. The relentless schedule. The lack of sleep and the pressure. I wanted to be someone else. Anywhere else.
The door opened and quickly closed behind me. I sank down onto the black leather sectional sofa and watched my younger brother, Jason, as he grinned at me with two beers in his hands.
“It’s over,” he announced. Only Jason understood my feelings lately. He’d been with me through this crazy ride. He saw my parents’ need to push me and my need to push back. He was my best friend. My only friend, really. I gave up trying to figure out who liked me for my money and fame a long time ago. It was pointless.
Jason handed me a beer and sat down on the sofa. “You killed it out there. The place was insane. No one would ever guess you were looking forward to running off to Alabama in the morning to hide away all summer.”
My agent, Marco, had told my parents about the private island on the Alabama coast. They were so ready to have somewhere other than our house in LA that they’d jumped at the idea.
Going back to my hometown—Austin, Texas—hadn’t been something they wanted to do. Too many people knew who we were.
The security Sea Breeze offered had always allowed me the freedom I’d lost when the world had embraced me. For a few weeks every summer we were a family again. I was just another guy, and I could walk out to the water and enjoy it without cameras and fans. No autographs. Just peace. Tomorrow we were headed back there. It was our summer break. But this year I was staying the whole damn summer. I didn’t care what my mother or my agent thought I should do. I was hiding out for three months, and they could all kiss Marco’s ass. What had started as my mother’s insistence that we spend the summers together in Alabama had become mine. I needed time with just them. I rarely saw them the rest of the year. It was the only house we had to call ours. I had my house in LA, and my parents and Jason had theirs.
“You’re coming down, right?” I asked him.
Jason nodded. “Yeah. I’ll be there, but not tomorrow. I need a few days. Mom and I had an argument about college. I want to give it a few days before I face her again. She’s driving me crazy.”
Our mother was a micromanager when it came to our lives. “Good idea. I’ll talk to her. Maybe I can get her to back off.”
Jason laid his head back on the leather. “Good luck. She’s on a mission to make me miserable.”
Lately I felt like she was doing the same to me. I no longer lived with her. I lived independently. I was the one who paid her bills. Why she thought she could still tell me what to do was beyond me. But she did. She always thought she knew what was best. I was done with that, and so was Jason. I’d talk to her, all right. She needed to remember who was actually in control here and back off.
“Take a few days. Enjoy yourself. Let me prep Mom for the fact that I’m not going to allow her to control your life. Then come south,” I told him before taking a long drink of my beer.
“Mom, are you going to work today?” I rolled my eyes at my very pregnant mother, who lay sprawled out on her bed in her panties and bra. Pregnancy made Jessica an even bigger drama queen than before having unsafe sex with another loser.
She moaned and covered her head with a pillow. “I feel awful, Sadie. You just go on without me.”
I’d seen this coming a mile away before school even let out. The last day of school landed yesterday, but instead of being able to go out and be a normal teenager, I was expected to make the money for us. It was almost as if Jessica had planned on me working in her place all along.
“I can’t just go to your workplace and take your position. Haven’t you explained the situation to them? They won’t be okay with your seventeen-year-old daughter doing your job.”
She pulled the pillow from her face and tossed me a sulk she’d perfected years ago. “Sadie, I can’t continue cleaning house with my stomach the size of a beach ball. I’m so hot and tired. I need you to help me. You can do it. You always figure stuff out.”
I walked over to the air conditioner and turned it off. “If you’d stop running it at a continuous sixty-eight degrees, we might be able to get by on less money. Do you have any idea how much it costs to run a window unit all day long?” I knew she didn’t know, nor did she care, but I still asked.
She grimaced and sat up. “Do you have any idea how hot I am with all this extra weight?” she shot back at me.
It took all my restraint to keep from reminding her that she got this way because she hadn’t used a condom. I bought them for her and made sure her purse always contained several. I even reminded her before she went out on dates.
Remembering who the adult was in our relationship could be difficult at times. Most of the time it seemed to me our roles were reversed. Being the adult, however, did not mean she made smart decisions, because Jessica simply did not know how to be responsible.
“I know you’re hot, but we can’t spend every dime we make on the air conditioner,” I reminded her.
She sighed and flopped back down on the bed. “Whatever,” she grumbled.
I walked over to her purse and opened it up. “All right, I’m going to go to your job today, by myself, and I hope they allow me inside the gate. If this doesn’t work, don’t say I didn’t warn you. All I am qualified for is minimum-wage jobs, which won’t pay our bills. If you would come with me, I would have a better chance of landing this position.” I knew as I spoke the words that I’d already been tuned out. At least she had managed to keep the job for two months.
“Sadie, you and I both know you can handle it by yourself.”
I sighed in defeat and left her there. She would go back to sleep as soon as I left. I wanted to be mad at her, but seeing her so big made me pity her instead. She wasn’t the best mom in the world, but she did belong to me. After I got my clothes on, I walked past her room and peeked through the door. She softly snored with the window unit once again cranked to sixty-eight degrees. I thought about turning it off, but changed my mind. The apartment already felt warm, and the day would only get hotter.
I stepped outside and got on my bike. It took me thirty minutes to get to the bridge. The bridge would take me from Sea Breeze, Alabama, onto the exclusive island that was connected to it. The island wasn’t where the locals lived, but where the wealthy came for the summer. Jessica had managed to snag a job as a domestic servant at one of the houses that employed full staffs. The pay was twelve dollars an hour. I prayed I would be able to take over her position without a hitch.
I found the address on her employee card I’d retrieved from her purse. My chances of getting this job were slim. The farther I pedaled onto the island, the larger and more extravagant the houses became. The address of my mother’s place of employment was coming up. She, of course, had to work at the most extravagant house on the block, not to mention the very last one before the beach. I pulled up to a large ornate iron gate and handed Jessica’s ID card to the guy working admittance. He frowned and gazed down at me. I handed him my driver’s license.
“I’m Jessica’s White’s daughter. She’s sick, and I’m supposed to work for her today.”
He continued to frown while he picked up a phone and called someone. That wasn’t a good thing, considering no one here knew I was coming in her place. For good. Two large men appeared and walked up to me. Both sported dark sunglasses and looked like they should be wearing football uniforms and playing on NFL teams instead of black suits.
“Miss White, can we see your bag, please,” one of them said, rather than asked, while the other one took it off my shoulder.
I swallowed and fought the urge to shudder. They were big and intimidating and didn’t appear to trust me. I wondered if I seemed dangerous to them, all five feet six inches of me. I glanced down at my skimpy white shorts and purple tank top and wondered if they’d considered the fact that it would be impossible to hide weapons in this outfit. I thought it somewhat strange that the two big guys were reluctant to let me in. Even if I happened to be a threat, I do believe either one of them could have taken me blindfolded with his hands tied behind his back. The image popped into my mind and made me want to laugh. I bit my bottom lip and waited to see if dangerous little me would be allowed entrance through the bigger-than-life iron gates.
“You’re free to enter, Miss White. Please take the servants’ entrance to the left of the stone wall and report to the kitchen, where you will be instructed how to proceed.”
Who were these people who needed two men the size of Goliath to guard their entrance? I got back on my bike and rode through the now open gates. Once I made it around the corner, past lush palm trees and tropical gardens, I saw the house. It reminded me of houses on MTV Cribs. I never would’ve guessed houses like this even existed in Alabama. I’d been to Nashville once and seen houses similar in size, but nothing quite this spectacular.
I composed myself and pushed my bike around the corner, trying to not stop and stare at the massive size of everything. I leaned my bike against a wall, out of sight. The entrance for the servants was designed to impress. At least twelve feet tall, the door was adorned with a beautifully engraved letter S. Not just tall, the door was really heavy, causing me to use all my strength to pull it open. I peeked inside the large entry hall and stepped into a small area with three different arched doorways ahead of me to choose from. Since I’d never been here before, I didn’t know where the kitchen might be located. I walked up to the first door on the right and looked through the opening. It appeared to be a large gathering room, but nothing fancy and no kitchen appliances, so I moved on to door number two, peeked inside, and found a large round table with people sitting around it. A large older lady stood in front of a stove unlike any I’d ever seen in a house. It was something you’d find in a restaurant.
This had to be the place. I stepped through the arched opening.
The lady standing noticed me and frowned. “Can I help you?” she asked in a sharp, authoritative tone, though she kind of reminded me of Aunt Bee from The Andy Griffith Show.
I smiled, and the heat rose, threatening to spike out the top of my head as I watched all the people in the room turn to face me. I hated attention and did whatever I could to draw little to myself. Even though it seemed to be getting harder the older I got. As much as possible, I tried to avoid situations that encouraged other people to speak to me. It’s not that I’m a recluse; it’s just the fact that I have a lot of responsibility. I figured out early in life that friendships would never work for me. I’m too busy taking care of my mom. So I’ve perfected the art of being uninteresting.
“Um, uh, yes, I was told to report to the kitchen for further instructions.” I quietly cleared my voice and waited.
I didn’t like the once-over the lady gave me, but since I was here, I had no choice but to stay.
“I know I sure didn’t hire you. Who told you to come here?”
I hated all those eyes on me and wished Jessica hadn’t been so stubborn. I needed her here, at least for today. Why did she always do these things to me?
“I’m Sadie White, Jessica White’s daughter. She . . . uh . . . wasn’t well today, so I am here to work for her. I’m . . . uh . . . supposed to be working with her this summer.”
I wished I didn’t sound so nervous, but the people stared. The lady up front frowned much like the way Aunt Bee looked when someone made her angry. It was tempting to turn and run.
“Jessica didn’t ask about you helping her this summer, and I don’t hire kids. It ain’t a good idea with the family comin’ down for the whole summer. Maybe during the fall when they leave we can give you a try.”
My nervousness from being the center of attention immediately disappeared, and I panicked at the thought of our losing this income we so desperately needed. If my mom found out I couldn’t work for her, she would quit. I pulled my grown-up voice out of the closet and decided I needed to show this lady I could do the job better than anyone else.
“I can understand your concern. However, if you would give me a chance, I can and will show you I’m an asset. I’ll never be late to work and will always complete the jobs assigned to me. Please, just a chance.”
The lady glanced down at someone at the table as if to get an opinion. She moved her eyes back up to me, and I could see I’d broken through her resolve. “I’m Ms. Mary, and I’m in charge of the household staff and I run the kitchen. You impress me and you have the job. Okay, Sadie White, your chance starts now. I’m gonna team you up with Fran here, who has been working in this home as long as I have. She’ll instruct you and report back to me. I will have you an answer at the end of the day. Here is your trial, Miss White. I suggest you don’t blow it.”
I nodded and smiled over at Fran, who was now standing.
“Follow me,” the tall, skinny redhead who appeared to be at least sixty-five years old said before she turned and left the room.
I did as instructed without making eye contact with any of the others. I had a job to save.
Fran walked me down a hallway and past several doors. We stopped, opened one, and stepped inside. The room contained shelves of books from the floor to the ceiling. Large dark-brown leather chairs were scattered around the room. None faced any of the others or looked to be used for any type of visiting or socializing. The room was clearly set up to be a library. A place where people could come, find a book, and lose themselves in one of the large cushy chairs.
Fran swung her arm out in front of her, gesturing to the room with a bit of flair. It surprised me coming from an older lady. “This is Mrs. Stone’s favorite spot. It’s been closed off all year. You will dust the books and shelves, clean the leather with the special cleaner, and clean the windows. Vacuum the drapes; clean and wax the floors. This room must shine. Mrs. Stone likes things perfect in her sanctuary. I will come get you at lunchtime, and we will dine in the kitchen.”
She walked to the door, and I heard her thank someone. She stepped back inside, pulling a cart full of cleaning supplies. “This will have everything you need. Be careful with all framed artwork and sculptures. I warn you, everything in this house is very valuable and must be treated with the utmost care. Now, I expect you to work hard and not waste any time with foolishness.” The tight-faced Fran left the room.
I circled around, taking in the extravagance of my surroundings. The room wasn’t really big; it just seemed full. I could clean this. I hadn’t been asked to do anything impossible. I went for the dusting supplies and headed to the ladder connected to the bookshelves. I might as well start at the top, since dust falls.
I managed to get everything dusted and the windows cleaned before Fran returned to get me for lunch. I needed a break and some food. Her frowning face was a welcome sight. She moved her gaze around the room and nodded before leading me in silence back down the same path I’d taken this morning. The smell of fresh-baked bread hit me as we rounded the corner and stepped into the large, bright kitchen. Ms. Mary stood over the stove, pointing to a younger lady, who wore her hair in a bun covered with a hairnet just like Ms. Mary’s.
“Smells good, Henrietta. I believe you’ve got it. We will test this batch out on the help today, and if everyone likes it, you can take over the bread baking for the family’s meals.” Ms. Mary turned, wiping her hands on her apron. “Ah, here is our new employee now. How are things going?”
Ms. Fran nodded and said, “Fine.”
Either this lady didn’t smile much or she just didn’t like me.
“Sit, sit. We have much to get done before the family arrives.”
I sat down after Fran did, and Ms. Mary set trays of food in front of us. I must have been doing something right since Fran directed her words in my direction. “All the help eat at this table. We all come at different shifts for lunch. You may choose what you want to eat.”
I nodded and reached for the tray of sandwiches and took one. I took some fresh fruit from a platter.
“The drinks are over there on the bar. You may go choose from what’s there or fix something yourself.”
I went over and poured some lemonade. I ate in silence while I listened to Ms. Mary direct Henrietta as they baked bread. Neither Fran nor I made any attempt at conversation.
After we were done, I followed Fran to the sink, where we rinsed our plates and loaded them into the large dishwasher ourselves. Just as silent, we returned to the library. I was a little less nervous now and more interested in my surroundings. I noticed the portraits as we walked down the hallway. There were portraits of two very cute little boys. The farther I walked, the older they seemed to get. Toward the arched entrance that led to the hallway where the library was located, an oddly familiar face smiled down at me from a life-size painting. A face I’d seen many times on television and in magazines. Just last night during dinner he had been on television. Jessica watched Entertainment Daily during our meal. Teen rocker and heartthrob Jax Stone was one of their favorite topics. Last night he’d had on his arm a girl rumored to be in his new music video. Fran stopped behind me. I turned to her, and she seemed focused on the portrait.
“This is his summer home. He will be arriving with his parents and brother tomorrow. Can you handle this?”
I simply nodded, unable to form words from the shock of seeing Jax Stone’s face on the wall.
Fran moved again, and I followed her into the library. “He’s the reason teenagers are not hired. This is a private escape for him. When he was younger, his parents insisted he take a break each summer and spend time with them away from the bright lights of Hollywood. Now he’s older and still comes here for the summer. He leaves now and then to go to different events, but for the most part, this is his getaway. He brings his family with him since they don’t see each other much during the year.” Fran paused dramatically and then continued. “If you can’t handle it, you will be fired immediately. His privacy is of the utmost importance. It’s why this is such a high-paying job.”
I straightened and grabbed the bucket I’d been using. “I can handle anything. This job is more important to me than a teenage rock star.”
Fran nodded, but from her frown, I could see she didn’t believe me.
I focused more energy into my work. At the end of a long day, I listened while the quiet, frowning Fran reported to Ms. Mary. She believed I would be a good worker and I should be given a chance. I thanked her and Ms. Mary. I figured I should be able to save enough money for the fall, when my mom would have the baby and not work, and I would be back in school. I could do this.
Yes, Jax Stone was famous, had incredible steel-blue eyes, and happened to be one of the most beautiful creations known to man. I made myself admit that much. However, everyone knows beauty is only skin deep. I assumed the shallowness radiating off of him would be so revolting I wouldn’t care that I cleaned his house and passed him in the halls.
Besides, guys were a species I knew nothing about. I never took the time to talk to one even when they did their best to talk to me. I’ve always had bigger problems in life, like making sure we ate and my mom remembered to pay our bills.
When I thought of all the money I’d wasted on the condoms I’d shoved into Jessica’s hands and purse before she went out with the countless men who flocked to her, I really had a hard time not getting angry with her. Even in thrift-store clothing, she looked gorgeous. One of her many disgusting men told me I’d inherited the cursed looks. From her curly blond hair to her clear blue eyes and heavy black lashes, I somehow managed to get it all. However, I had the one thing I knew would save me from certain disaster: My personality came across as rather dull. It was something my mother loved to remind me of, yet instead of being upset by it, I held on to it for dear life. What she thought of as a character defect, I liked to think of as my lifeline. I didn’t want to be like her. If having a dull personality kept me from following in her footsteps, then I would embrace it.
• • •
The apartment we lived in for almost five hundred a month sat underneath a huge old house. I walked in after my first day of work to find that Jessica wasn’t inside. With only four rooms, she couldn’t have gotten far.
“Mom?” I got no answer.
The sun was setting, so I stepped out onto what Jessica referred to as a patio. If you ask me, it was really more like a small piece of slab. She loved coming out here to look out over the water. She stood out in the yard with her increasing stomach on view for all to see, in a bikini I’d bought at a thrift store a few weeks ago. She turned and smiled. The facade of sickness from this morning no longer appeared on her face. Instead, she seemed to be glowing.
“Sadie, how did it go? Did ol’ Ms. Mary give you a hard time? If she did, I sure hope you were nice. We need this job, and you can be so rude and unsociable.”
I listened to her blabber on about my lack of social skills and waited until she finished before I spoke. “I got the job for the summer if I want it.”
Jessica sighed dramatically in relief. “Wonderful. I really need to rest these next few months. The baby is taking so much out of me. You just don’t understand how hard it is to be pregnant.”
I wanted to remind her I’d tried to keep her from getting pregnant by sacrificing food money to buy her some stupid condoms, which didn’t help at all! However, I nodded and walked inside with her.
“I’m starving, Sadie. Is there anything you can fix up real fast? I’m eating for two these days.”
I’d already planned what we would eat for dinner before I got home. I knew Mom was helpless in the kitchen. I’d somehow survived the early years of my life on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Somewhere around the time I turned eight, I realized my mother needed help, and I began growing up quicker than normal children. The more I offered to take on, the more she gave me. By the time I turned eleven, I did it all.
With the noodles boiling and the meat sauce simmering, I went to my room. I slipped out of my work clothes and into a pair of thrift-store cutoff jean shorts, which happen to be the core of my wardrobe, and a T-shirt. My wardrobe was simple.
The timer for the noodles went off, letting me know the food needed to be checked. Jessica wasn’t going to get up and help out anytime soon. I hurried back into the small kitchen, took out a spaghetti noodle on a fork, and slung it at the wall behind the stove. It stuck. It was ready.
“Really, Sadie, why you toss noodles on the wall is beyond me. Where did you get such an insane idea?”
I flipped my gaze up and over at Jessica. She was kicked back on the faded pastel couch, which had come with the apartment, in my bikini.
“I saw it on the television once when I was younger. It has stuck with me ever since. Besides, it works.”
“It’s disgusting, is what it is,” Jessica mumbled from her spot on the couch.
She couldn’t boil water if she wanted to, but I decided to bite my tongue and finish with dinner.
“It’s ready, Mom,” I said as I scooped a pile of spaghetti onto a plate, knowing she would ask me to bring her one.
“Bring me a plate, will ya, honey?”
I smirked. I was a step ahead of her. She rarely got up these days unless she absolutely had to. I slipped a fork and spoon onto the plate and took it to her. She didn’t even sit up. Instead, she placed it on the shelf of a belly she’d developed, and ate. I placed a glass of sweet iced tea down beside her and went back to fix my own plate. I’d worked up an appetite today. I needed food.