Cherie stood on the street corner. The mascara and blush she wasn’t used to wearing felt sticky in the hot summer sun. It made some of her curly brown hair stuck to her face, catching particles of the smog from the cars that sped past her. The draft they caused pulled at her pink flower dress and new high school diploma. The weight of her flip phone in the dress pocket kept it from flying up. She quickly started trying to put her diploma into the case, saddened by the wrinkles it already got. The words “Class of 2008” on her diploma was still as exciting as it was when she picked up her diploma two hours before.
The intersection of Broadway and Hampden in Englewood, Colorado was always a difficult street for her to cross. She recalled the memories of seeing people hit by cars there, always worried she’d be the next to get hit. The place she was going was more dangerous in many ways, but she knew how to run.
The loud ringing of the cross signal blasted and she started running. Two cars nearly hit her. Her pale pink high heels weren’t the best shoes for running, but her years on the sprinting team in high school helped her manage.
Once to the other side, she walked along, closing in on her cousin’s house that she could already see. Instead of grass, weeds and tire tracks decorated the lawn with broken beer bottles. The paint and chunks of the wooden frame chipped off in pieces large enough to be seen from the main road. Cobwebs seemed to blur to censor the vast hoarding that cluttered the front porch. The odor of cigarette smoke and beer radiated from the house. Cherie could recognize it as the Cobra-40 her cousin always drank with most of it coming from the bottle that was halfway filled with rainwater and mosquito larvae by the concrete steps.
She skipped over the uplifted curb steps and over the beer bottles as she walked up the steps. The porch door creaked open with the slightest gust of wind. Cherie walked in, avoiding stepping on a mouse that scurried past. She stood at the door and traced the mouse’s steps back to an old grocery-brand yogurt cup her cousin got from her work. She knocked on the door and waited for an answer.
I hope she likes it, Cherie thought. The first to graduate high school and I did it early! Oh she’ll be so happy for me! She’ll be so proud! I can’t wait! “Where will you do from here with all your success?” Mandy will ask and I’ll smile and say “oh nowhere special, just take my scholarships and start working towards my psychology degree. I can become a therapist and give you and your mom all the help for free you could ever need.” She’ll be so happy for me!
Creaking from the porch door swinging open brought her back to the front door where she had been waiting for ten minutes. She closed the porch door and knocked on the door again.
“Mandy!” Cherie called. “It’s me! Cherie! I’m not a cop or bill collector!”
Three minutes later, the front door flung open. Cherie’s cousin, Mandy walked out with a bottle of Cobra 40 in one hand and packet of cigarettes and lighter in the other. Her hair was freshly died black with a curler in the bangs. The black tank top she wore was missing a few studs on the trim. Her work-out shorts lightened her skin, but darkened her unshaved legs. Though she was already 31, the smoking aged her to look a few years ahead.
“Oh hi.” Mandy said. “Sorry. Didn’t know you were there. Why are you here?”
“I wanted to show you something.” Cherie said happily.
“Can’t be too long. I’ve got work in two hours and you know it takes me forever to get ready.” Mandy shoved a box a box onto the floor. It hid the futon that Mandy plopped down onto. She quickly lit a cigarette and started picking at her manicure.
“Of course—of course.” Cherie waited for her cousin to move over so she could sit down, but Mandy didn’t budge.
“Shouldn’t you be in school?”
“That’s what I came here to–.”
“You ditched school to some here? The thing you had better be willing to show me is a positive pregnancy test or something or I’m going to have to take you out back.”
“What? No! I got my diploma.”
“Sure you did. Where is it?”
Cherie sat it on the table in front of Mandy. She then cringed, suddenly realizing there was something sticky on the table when she sat it down. Mandy picked it up as though she were waiting for her nails to dry. Cherie grew nervous as the cigarette was held dangerously close to it. She held back the urge to say anything, worried any distraction might make the cigarette move in the wrong direction. Mandy sat it back down, lifting it back up for a second to look underneath it.
“Something sticky got on the back of it.” Mandy said. “Sorry.”
“Oh it’s fine.” Cherie lied. “I’ll just clean it off later.” She began shifting her weight between her feet instead of standing still. The high heels were beginning to hurt. A small flicker of worry sparked; being moody while in pain was something everyone in her family had and she was worried it would show itself if she didn’t get the chance to sit down. At the same time, she knew better than to as for Mandy to move because she always blew up whenever someone told her “no”.
“Seems legit.” Mandy said. “You should’ve gotten your GED instead though. Nobody’ll hire you with a diploma.”
“I know. Anywhere else wants a bachelor’s—.”
“You kidding me? College won’t get you nowhere. I have a job at the grocery store because I just have a GED. They’ve said before they’d never hire anyone with a college education. It says they expect to be paid way more than they deserve.”
“One of my friends works at the same type of store too and he got his diploma last year. I doubt they’ll turn you down for it that.”
“Probably had family hook him up or something. Did he say he was going to do anything after he graduated?”
Cherie caught a glimpse of a framed drawing in one of the boxes. It was a pastel and charcoal abstract piece. The 3D sphere looked perfectly realistic as it levitated over flat triangles and charcoal scratches. “To the Moon and Back” was written in cursive just under “Mandy Robbins 1993 Period 2”. Cherie recognized it. It was the piece Mandy had created in high school for art class. Cherie then remembered her younger years; the crayon drawings she made that were inspired by this piece inspired a dream to be a famous artist. The crayon drawings soon turned to reading books on music as she listened to her mother’s favorite albums her aunt showed her. Remembering her parent’s car accident bothered her too much to aspire being a doctor like Mandy and Aunt Kim had suggested before. The mandatory psychology class came to her, focusing on several statements her teacher made from “hoarding is often a result of being unable to move forward in something” and “the number one cause of mental illness progressing is the person’s inability to seek and receive help and the number one reason for that is lack of money” and several unimportant facts that coincide with the brain’s development after trauma.
“I don’t remember.” Cherie answered.
Cherie began searching her brain for a good answer. She didn’t want to disappoint her cousin.
“I think he said he was going for message therapy or something.” She lied.
“Yeah, like there’s any hope in that.” Mandy said bitterly.
The question of why Mandy never continued with high school came to Cherie’s mind, but she stopped. She suddenly remembered peaking at the expulsion papers on her kitchen table that Mandy had kept years later. The cup rings seemed to circle the biggest reasons of why she was expelled, though she couldn’t remember any more than fighting, not attending class and poor grades. Her aunt’s statement “don’t you ever aspire to be like that piece of trash” as the first thing she said to her when she boarded the car to leave to her new home came to mind too. Cherie then started worrying the smell of cigarettes and beer would have stained her dress, but knew better than to show fear.
“Oh darn.” Cherie said.
“’Darn’? What are you? Five? Afraid to swear around your mommy? Mommy and aunt Kimmy ain’t here you know.” Mandy barked.
“No, but I just remembered she did want to take me to dinner to celebrate.”
“What? She don’t feed you as it is and only does when you do something ‘good’?”
“I didn’t get my diploma to earn a fancy meal. I did it and she’s just proud of me and wants dinner to be extra special tonight.”
“Oh, so is that why you’re dressed like you think you’re better than me? Better than anyone else on this planet? Huh?”
“I’ve told you a million times before that getting a GED or dropping out would be better for you.” Mandy stood from the futon. Mandy towered over Cherie plenty of times before, but Cherie’s feet hurt too much from the shoes to be intimidated.
Cherie remained silent. She had no idea why she had the courage to not back down for once, but it felt good not to.
“You clearly have some mommy issues, little girl.” Mandy started yelling. “You just worship the ground your aunt Kim walks on. You think she knows what she’s talking about when she says to go to school and get a degree? She don’t have a diploma either so she’s nothing but a hypocrite.”
“Uncle Randy does.”
“Yeah and your Aunt Kimmy who you adopted as your new mommy is just a gold-digging slut to do that then. Why else would any woman merry someone with more money than her? Everyone knows this!”
“Since when was there money in teaching? And she earns more money than he does working tech support.”
Cherie quickly ran through her memories of Mandy’s relationships and realized she never dated anyone that had a job or education before. In fact, she was better off than anyone else she ever dated. The “gold-digger” statement came to mind, though she wasn’t sure why.
“You really are selfish, you know that?” Mandy said. “You just abandoned your dead parents like that? What if they knew that you’d be screwing yourself with a diploma? Huh? They had you stay with me so you could get some proper guidance.”
“Kim and Randy were appointed my legal guardians should anything happen to them. They just happened to be out of state when the car accident happened. You know this, just like you supposedly know any woman who doesn’t take care of their boyfriends isn’t always a gold-digger.”
Mandy crushed her box of cigarettes in her hand. Cherie’s eyes drifted to the beer bottle and back up at Mandy’s snarl.
Cherie quickly kicked off her high heels and ran out the porch door. She made it to the other side of the street before a car driving past could’ve struck her. She looked back to see Mandy stumbling to the edge of the sidewalk from her house. She pat onto the street and gave her the finger.
“I don’t ever want to see you on my front step again!” Mandy shouted. The words slurred out as she struggled to stay standing. “Come back and I’ll put this beer bottle in your face!”
“Should I report that as a threat to the police, who, by the way, have degrees?”
Mandy roared in aggravation and stomped back inside. Cherie hurried away from the house unsure-footed from walking on decorative gravel, hot asphalt and freshly-watered grass. She hurried her way to the streets she ran across to get to Mandy’s house. In the corner of her eye, she caught the restaurant she was meeting her Aunt and Uncle.
She pulled her phone from her dress pocket and flipped it open. The wallpaper was a picture of a photo. It was of her with her dad at the same restaurant on her eighth birthday, taken by her mother. She smiled at it and then speed-dialed her aunt.
“Hi sweetie.” Her aunt said from the other end. “How did telling Mandy go?”
“I’m going to need a new pair of heels.” Cherie said laughing. “Oh, and I think I’ll take a look at that list of degrees boulder is offering now. I don’t think psychology’s my thing. I have better things to go for than sacrificing my time to help someone who doesn’t want to be saved.”