Read On the Edge Online

Authors: Allison Van Diepen

On the Edge

DEDICATION

For Jeremy

CONTENTS
THE PRIZE

“HOW ARE WE CELEBRATING TONIGHT?”
My best friend, Isadora, grabbed me in a bear hug from behind.

I laughed, then pried her off me. “I'm sure you can come up with something. I work till nine.”

It was so unreal. I'd been hoping to get into Florida State for as long as I could remember. But the scholarship was a surprise. My tuition was covered for
four whole years
. Sure, I'd still have to work my butt off for living expenses and books, but I had no complaints.

Hasta luego,
Miami. Sorry, I won't miss you
.

I couldn't wait to tell Mom. She'd already left for work when the admissions package arrived, and I'd been dying to text her with the news. But then I wouldn't get to see the look on her face when I told her. And I couldn't miss that.

“Come to my place after work. We'll party with the girls. I'm so proud of you!” Iz kissed my cheek, which would now be smeared with her trademark bright red lipstick.

“It's so last minute, Iz. Abby and Carmen might already have plans.”

“They're in. I texted them this morning. I'm gonna make a special drink for tonight. I'm calling it the Maddie Diaz Margarita.”

I grinned. “What's gonna be in it?”

“A
ton
of tequila.”

Her phone rang. She wrenched it out of the pocket of her tight designer jeans. “Rob, I told you not to call me at school.” She groaned. “I said I had to cancel tonight. I don't care how much you paid for the seats. My girl got a scholarship!”

I cringed. Iz was an awesome best friend but a terrible girlfriend. Every guy she dated thought he'd struck gold at first, since she looked like a young Eva Longoria. Fast-forward a few weeks, and they'd escape with whatever self-respect they had left. Her latest guy, Rob, had hung on for five months—a record for Iz.

She shoved the phone into her pocket. “What an ass. I wonder why I bother, you know? Now, about tonight, we'll see you at nine fifteen?”

“Ten. I wanna go home and shower first so I don't reek of French fries.”

“Good point. Make sure you look extra yummy, okay? I'm inviting some guys to chill with us later on.”

Iz's goal in life was to get me a boyfriend. She always complained that I was too closed off to guys, too aloof, but I knew that wasn't the problem. The problem was that none of the guys she tried to hook me up with did anything for me. They were too boring, too blah. They all talked the same shit, smoked the same shit, and rooted for the same sports teams. I wanted a guy who was more . . . something, I just didn't know what.

Maybe I'd find him at Florida State.

As we left the school, we snapped on our knockoff sunglasses. It was only March, but the heat was
hot
. When the city bus pulled up, we packed on with a boatload of other students. I didn't know which was worse: bumping up against sticky skin, or trying not to breathe the stale, sweaty air. I could feel my straightened hair curling up.

“Have you decided about next year?” I asked Iz mid–bus ride. So far, today had been all about my news, and I didn't want her to think that her plans were less important. Iz had a gift for the
artes decorativas
. She could look at any room and see a million possibilities for awesomeness. If I looked at the same space, I would see, well, a room.

“I'm thinking interior design at Miami Dade. My first job will be to decorate
your
dorm room.” She fanned herself with her long red fingernails. “You'll come back and see us, right?”

“Of course I'll be back.” But the truth was, I couldn't wait to put some distance between me and Miami.

When I got in the door, I dropped my knapsack and cursed. The landlord had promised to fix the air-conditioning today, damn it. Poor Dex. He'd been lying directly under the ceiling fan, but bounced to life when he heard the door.

I opened some windows, then grabbed an iced tea from the fridge and took Dex to the backyard. It was littered with the junk Boyd had left behind: the rusty boat he'd been working on, a Ranger ATV, half-broken patio furniture. Mom didn't want to contact him again to pick up the stuff, since any communication brought on a bunch of nasty voice mails. The divorce would be final soon, thank God.

I threw a ball, and Dex galloped after it. He was the one good thing Boyd had brought into their marriage, and the only good thing he'd left behind.

When Boyd first introduced Dex into our home, I was terrified. Mom had had the nerve to say, “But you always wanted a dog, Maddie.”

Yeah, a puppy. Not a hundred pounds of German shepherd.

Home hadn't felt like home anymore. Not with this big, unpleasant guy and his bloodthirsty dog.

Boyd had kept Dex in the kitchen, closed off by a gate, or tied up in the backyard. It was a shitty life—even I recognized it. I didn't dare go into the kitchen by myself, no matter how hungry I was.

Whenever Boyd wasn't home, I started throwing Dex doggie treats over the gate—a peace offering, so he wouldn't hate me. It worked. Dex would light up, wagging his tail and bouncing around. When I'd go back upstairs, he'd start whining.

Eventually I felt so bad for him that I started letting him out of his kitchen prison, and even taking him for walks. One afternoon when it was just us, I went to my room to take a nap, and woke to find Dex curled up at the foot of my bed.

And that was that.

After playing with Dex for a while, I brought him in while I got dressed for work. I looked at myself in the mirror and frowned. Although I rocked the McDonald's uniform the best I could, my chest was lost in the blouse, and the pants stretched too tight on my hips. At least my friend Abby, a part-time sub jammer, got to wear her own jeans with her Quiznos shirt.

It took ten minutes to walk to work. The early dinner rush had already started, so I grabbed an apron and got going, cooking burgers and dunking fries. Since I'd stuck it out here for two whole years, I was a senior employee and had my pick of jobs. I'd chosen to work in the back. My whole neighborhood ate here, and I didn't want to wait on people I knew.

“Big Mac without cheese,” Penny, a single mom, said into the mike.

“Got it,” I said, dropping the patties on the griddle.

“Burger biatch Maddie Diaz in da house,” came a voice over the speaker.

It was Manny, of course.

“You got an order for me or what?” I called back.

He stuck his head around the corner and winked at me. “Oh, I got something for ya, mamacita.”

I rolled my eyes. No matter what raunchiness came out of his mouth, it was never offensive. It was just Manny. “Sorry, I don't eat stale sausage.”

He cackled and turned back to his customers.

Manny was twenty-three and had ex-con written all over him—literally. The gang tattoos that covered his arms and chest told the story. But he had turned himself around, or so he said. It wasn't hard to tell that he was into me, since he propositioned me every other week. Although he was cute, with his goatee and crooked smile, he wasn't my type. I might not know exactly what my type was, but he wasn't it.

My shift flew by quicker than usual. After the dinner rush, I took my break and had a salad (I was being good) and a chocolate shake (well, not so good). Then there was some drama when a loudmouthed mom threw her cold fries at Penny the cashier, and Manny had to march her ass out of the place. But even that didn't bug me. I kept thinking of the acceptance letter, the scholarship, and the future so big and bright.

At nine o'clock, I gave up my corner of the kitchen to Anson, a full-timer who'd been working the register.

“Where you taking me tonight?” Manny asked, a mockery of suave. “Don't forget, I'm off at midnight.”

“Sorry, Manny. I'm seeing the girls tonight.” I thought it was better not to mention what we were celebrating. I doubted Manny had finished high school—gangbangers rarely did. “My friend's playing mixologist at her house.”

“What friend? Isa-dora the Explorer?”

“Don't
ever
let her hear you say that.”

“I won't. That girl has the
diablo
in her.” He shuddered. “Every guy around here knows it.”

I grinned. “And yet you all still line up like lambs to the slaughter.”

“Not me.” His eyes were oddly serious. I could tell he was thinking,
She's not the one I want
. “I'm on break. Let me walk you home.”

“Thanks, I'm good. I'll see you tomorrow.” I felt a twinge of regret. Manny was a nice guy, but I just couldn't see it happening.

I left McDonald's behind, hurrying toward home. I couldn't wait to degrease in the shower, put on the cami dress and shoes I'd scored on sale last weekend, and party with my friends.

And tell my mom the big news.

I found her in the backyard, smoking a cigarette and nursing a Diet Coke. She'd started smoking again when Boyd had moved in, after having quit for ten years. Now that he was gone, she'd at least agreed to smoke outside.

“I got this today.” I handed her the acceptance letter, my face not giving anything away.

She butted out her cigarette and read it. “Scholarship! Oh my God, Maddie!” She jumped off the lawn chair. “Oh my God!”

Mom caught me in a hug, laughing and crying at the same time.
This
Mom, this exuberant Mom, was the one I'd always loved. The mom before Dad died. My happiness was her happiness. Maybe this good news would help piece us together again.

Maybe.

My eyes welled up. For three years, Mom had chosen Boyd over me. His needs, his rules, his comfort. Sometimes I wondered if she still resented me for never giving him a chance. But how could I? I knew right away what it took her so long to figure out: that he was an asshole. It was obvious from the way he'd kicked Dex around.

Screw it. Mom was back, and that was all that mattered.

“Let's celebrate, Madeleina! Come, I'll make us some taquitos.”

“Sorry, Mom. Iz is having a little party for me.”

A flash of disappointment crossed her face. Was it so surprising? I'd been spending most of my free time at Iz's place for years. Mom never used to complain about it. But now that Boyd was gone, she wanted more from me.

“All right.” Mom mustered up a smile. “Then I'll help you get ready.”

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