MASON padded around the kitchen downstairs, unself-consciously issuing bodily function noises as he fixed his breakfast. Angie, his 16-year-old, seven-months'-pregnant girlfriend, was still upstairs, monopolizing the bathroom again, playing evil music as she teased her hair over the sink.
It's my house, and they're the ones really living in it! marveled Louella. Thank God I got the mortgage on the condo and can get out of here!
She looked at the clock. The movers were due in a half hour. She stretched out on the twin bed one last time and watched the sunlight play on cracks in the ceiling plaster.
For once she wasn't second-guessing herself, worrying if she was doing the right thing. It's past time I got away from the folks, she thought. They need me too much, and the more I help them the less they all do for themselves. Their shock when they learned she was flying the coop-vacating her Patterson Park rowhouse adjacent to her parents' place-was a sure sign she was doing the right thing. They'd been more mad than glad for her.
Louella smiled, remembering how her sister Candy had accused her of having under-the-table income. "That's your style, not mine," Louella had rejoined. "I'm not about to run a phone sex line out of my place like you do, thank you very much."
"Always the Miss Hotsy-Totsy!" Candy had fumed. "Always have to be better than us! I suppose you won't be inviting us to the new place!"
Louella, recognizing the set-up, had ignored the question. Her mother fixed pleading eyes on her. "Whatever are we going to do without you, Lou?"
"You'll manage just fine, Mom. Mason's got a job again, and he's handy around the house. Come on, Mom, it was your idea for them to move into my house!"
"Yes, but I expected you to stay in there with them! They're so young!"
"Well, you can look in on them any time, can't you, Mom? You and Candy'll be able to help much more with the baby than I ever could." The idea of dirty diapers made Louella's stomach lurch. She couldn't imagine having to listen to all that crying. Plus if she lived with Angie and Mason, they'd stick her with babysitting.
Her father had weighed in with, "I still don't see how you can pay for the new place with what you earn. I mean, I know Giant cashiers make good money, but-"
"Let me worry about that, Dad. I'm okay." She'd never told the family about her secret Lottery winnings, and she never would. "My manager's nice to me, didn't fire me over being late that one time, gives me extra hours when I ask for them." She knew her father couldn't do the math if she complicated the word problem.
Money has made me free, she realized as she stretched and sat up. I'm buying my way out of this.
All at once she felt a rush of guilt, knowing the others would be left to handle the problems without her. Get over it! she told herself as she heard the doorbell ring and went down to answer it.