There was once…


Chapter One

My name is Marie Elizabeth Josette Freeland. No shit. That’s my name. It sounds like a character in a nineteenth century romance novel, or at least that’s what I think every time I fill out a form. I’m called Josette. I can’t say I love the name but it’s the one I’ve heard for seventeen years. The story behind my name is worth telling. It’s funny.

My mother, Brianne Freeland, loves books, movies, history and is obsessed with the British royal family. So I am named after Marie Antoinette, Queen Elizabeth II and the little girl from Les Misérables.  If you’ve read the book or seen the movie than you know that the little girl’s name is not Josette. It is Cosette. The funny part is not the mix up of names but that my mother didn’t know for years after my birth that she’d gotten it wrong. As much as I’m on the fence about the name Josette, I know I don’t like the name Cosette so I guess it worked in my favor.

My mother was a dreamer. That’s not unusual, aren’t we all in the beginning?  So I ended up with a name that belongs in a time and place where porcelain skin women in empire waist dresses and satin shoes drank tea and my own love of a good book.

Do I believe in happily ever after…hell no, but once upon a time…well now, that’s another story. I’m rarely without a book. It’s more than love, it’s an obsession—maybe an addiction. I’ve sat down and read for forty-three hours straight. Really. I didn’t go to sleep for almost two days because I found a series of books that I fell in love with and couldn’t stop reading until I passed out from sleep deprivation. True story.

From the very beginning, before I drew my first breath, I—my life, seemed destined for something right out of a novel. Happily ever after is a dream and once upon a time walks hand and hand with it. So where does that leave me? Where is my prince charming, my knight in shining armor, my Mr. Darcy?

Picture me shrugging my shoulders.

I wake with humidity already wreaking havoc on my slightly overweight body. There’s no air conditioning in our three bedroom house and in the summer I sleep with the window open and a fan wedged in the frame. There’s a second smaller fan on the bedside table but the air blowing in my face is hot. There’s no escaping this kind of heat, not even in the pitch black of night. Before opening my eyes I know that my mother is up because I can hear the television and the smell of bacon hangs on the humid air like the ghost of breakfast past.

I roll out of bed and hope she isn’t in the bathroom.  My feet tangle in a pile of clothes on the floor. I put my hands out in front of me to catch myself on the back of the bedroom door. My room is a mess. It always is. My mom doesn’t have any strict rules on cleaning as long as the living room, kitchen and bathroom were company presentable. My room looks like a tornado swept through it. Clothes are all over the place, so many that I don’t know what’s clean and what’s dirty. A lot of the time I smell them to figure it out.

I open the door to my bedroom to make my way down the short narrow hallway but before I do I glance into the room directly across from my own. The curtains are open and early morning sunshine fall in lines through the cheap plastic blinds filled with dust particles. The bed is made and the antique, white, crochet bedspread doesn’t have a wrinkle in it. I know that the vanity, unseen on the wall next to the door, is too big for the room. I know without going into the room that the vanity holds a silver comb and brush set, a black King James Bible and a collection of perfume bottles displayed on an oblong mirrored tray.  On the wall next to the bed is a chifferobe that matches the bed and vanity.  The three pieces of furniture leaves just enough room to maneuver but crowds the tiny room. I’m brought back to the here and now by the sound of my mother’s voice.

“Good morning,” she calls from the kitchen.

It’s always dark in our house. The dark chocolate wood paneling guarantees it.  I turn the corner and see my mom sitting at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee and a cigarette between her slim fingers.

“Yeah, yeah,” I mumble.

I turn on the light in the bathroom and am greeted by the artificial glow of the naked bulb above the sink. The fixture has been broken for so long I don’t remember what it looked like. The wallpaper that my mom thought so pretty and put up incorrectly in her haste is peeling from the walls. Every time I come in the bathroom my eye is drawn to that one spot she missed when she painted the trim.  For the millionth time I wonder what would make a person leave something so close to done unfinished. The six inch strip along the ceiling directly above the door haunts me, but not enough for me to do anything about it or ask my mom…why? You’d have to know my mom. All of her projects are that way. Half done.  I’ve learned not to ask, or maybe I just don’t care.  I turn on the shower and brush my teeth while I wait for the water to get hot. I make quick work of bathing.  The hot water heater is old and we’re lucky to get ten good minutes of hot water. Not that I want much of the stuff anyway. It feels like it’s already a thousand degrees and in the summer a cold shower is my preference.

“I’ve been called in today so you’ll have to fend for yourself. There’s food in the fridge. I should be home around one.”

 I sit down next to my mom at our too big kitchen table. Her hair is tied back in a ponytail. We look more like sisters than mother and daughter. We’re the same height but my mom is smaller than me. Meaning, she’s skinner. She’s so small that I’m sure people use words like, petite and delicate when they describe her. Her skin is the color of coffee with cream and her hair is dark brown with just a little grey starting to blossom along her temples. She has no boobs and a tiny waist with slim hips and thighs but no one would ever mistake her for anything other than a woman.

My skin is a shade or two lighter than my mom’s.  My breasts are as large as hers are small. I am blessed with her small waist, although not as tiny, and I have hips and a booty. If I lose a little bit of weight…okay, if I lose about twenty pounds, I’d have a perfect hourglass figure but I’d never given my looks much thought and I don’t care enough to want to fit in with society’s standards.

“I really wish you wouldn’t,” she says, eyeing me as I tap a cigarette out of her pack.

“And if I had a nickel for every wish—” I start but don’t finish and light my cigarette. It’s stifling in the house, almost too hot to smoke. Almost.

“Go out. Do something that teenagers do on Saturdays,” my mom says, putting her cigarette out.

This is not something I would call an ongoing battle but it is a continued topic of conversation. My mom thinks I spend too much time alone. What she doesn’t know, or refuse to see, is that I really don’t like people. I prefer to keep to myself. She gets up from the table and kisses me on the top of my head before going back to her room to get dress for work. She’s working a double if she isn’t going to be back until one. I have to admit, I’m a little bit happy.  This means a whole day at home all alone. When she comes back a few minutes later she has on the God awful mustard yellow and burnt orange trimmed smock. Her green name tag completes the hot mess of a uniform. But somehow she pulls it off and even in the getup she’s pretty, the once beautiful girl, now a middle aged single mother.

“Really Josette, get out of the house for a little bit. If you drop me off at work you can have the car all day?”

I don’t know which is worse, the look of worry or that of disappointment in my mom’s eyes. Okay—the worry is real the disappointment may be a figment of my imagination.

 “I really like this book,” I say, picking up the ragged paperback from the table, “I can finish it today I bet.”

Back in the day my mom was popular. She fell in love with the local hot shot. He wasn’t on the football team and she wasn’t a cheerleader but they were popular in this small town.  Everyone thought they would go places and my dad did—when he found out he’d knocked up my mom their senior year.  My mom never had a chance at any other life. She was dealt a bum hand and is playing it the best she can. I’ve never met my father. There’s no love loss there. I don’t really care and haven’t given him a second thought since fifth grade. My mom’s good enough for me.

She gives me one last look before grabbing her purse from the counter and leaving me for the day. The silence of the house is a blessing. I think I could be a hermit if I had enough courage. Every time I think of the word I see myself living in some woods in a one room wood cabin with an outhouse next to a stream. No electricity but a small garden and a few chickens. Seems like a good life…in theory.


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