“You’ve been playing me since the first time that you realized that I wanted you.”
“How?” she demanded.
“You keep yourself distant from me and you look for every little reason to fight.”
“I do not!”
“Oh no?” His eyebrows arched. “You’re mad at me because I paid off your debt so that you wouldn’t have to struggle for the rest of your life to fix your credit or scrape to get by.”
“I was doing just fine without your help.”
“Bullshit, I know the amount of debt you were facing.”
Through clenched teeth she spoke evenly. “I was doing fine. I didn’t need your help!”
“Oh no? I know you lied to your grandmother about using your savings against your student loan. If that was true they wouldn’t have been threatening to take you to court for nonpayment. Four months Madison, four months you missed payments. You have the same problem with the insurance company. They stopped your auto insurance four months ago. They just forgot to tell the police that or I guarantee someone in my department would have come for your plates.”
She looked away. “This is none of your business, Ephraim.”
“The Jeep is the only thing you own outright. What happened to all that money, Madison? You had over twenty grand saved up. The Jeep cost fifteen so what happened to all that money four months ago? Whatever it is you haven’t gotten out of trouble yet, because you fell behind on all of your bills. You don’t spend any money on yourself. You don’t put money in the bank. Hell, you never seem to have enough money to put gas in your car. Tell me where the money is going?”
He leaned forward. “Tell me.”
“You’re sending twelve hundred dollars a month to an online account.”
“Yeah, I know about that. Who does it belong to?”
“That's none of your business!”
He pulled back, smiling. His eyes were hard as stone. “Really? Not my business? Then you can explain how you plan on taking care of a sixteen year old boy on the meager two hundred dollars that you have left over after you send away the twelve hundred dollars?”
“Is Chris going to have to continue getting his food in the same manner after all?”
“What are you talking about?”
He crossed his arms over his bare chest. “Oh, you don’t know? Here I thought you knew everything. Chris’s mother doesn’t give a f**k about him. She won’t send a cent to help him out.”
“She gets food stamps and has a job at a bar,” she said, even though she wasn't counting on any help from her.
“Yes, she does. One would think she would use those stamps to buy the boy some food.”
“She trades them for money. For a lot less than they’re worth. Whatever she doesn’t spend on herself she spends on those losers she drags into her bed.”
“He looks healthy. I know he’s eating.”
He shrugged. “He waits until dear old mommy is on her back keeping the men busy while he lifts their wallets. She takes a cut of course and I've been dropping food off on their front steps when only he’s home for the past three years. He thinks the church has been leaving it.”
“I-I didn’t know.” She backed up now. He stalked forward.
“Tell me something, Madison, since you’re intent on pushing me out of the picture, are you planning on f**king for your cut as well? Might come in handy.”
She slapped him, hard. “I hate you.”
His tongue darted out to lick up the blood on his lip. “You didn’t answer me. How are you going to take care of a sixteen year old boy when you can’t even take care of yourself?”
“Not that it’s any of your business, but I talked to Grandma tonight she’s going to give me some hours here.”
“Scrubbing toilets? Yes, that’s perfect for someone with a college degree and a full time job.”
“Candy offered to help me, too.”
“She’s going to see if she can get me a position waiting tables.”
Ephraim didn’t dare move a muscle for fear that he would put his fist through something. In a deceivingly calm voice he asked, “Oh, and what percentage of your tips does she want if you get the job?”
“Twenty-five percent,” she muttered.
“Wow, you have a great mother, Madison. First she overlooks you to f**k everything with a dick and then she leaves you to raise her two kids. Now she’s willing to have you strip so she can make a profit. I can see now why you keep your legs closed, she’d probably sell the grandkids on the black market the first chance she gets.”
When he expected another slap she scoffed, “I don’t think we have to worry about that when it comes to you.”
He suddenly turned his back on her. “Go away, little girl. I’m sick of these games and I’m done with you.”
She didn’t move as Ephraim viciously yanked on a black tee shirt and jeans. He sat on a chair, pulling on socks and shoes. “What are you still doing here? I told you to leave.”
“Where are you going?”
“You don’t get to ask that question anymore.” He grabbed his wallet, keys and left her standing there feeling like her world just ended.
“I told you already that I’ll pay you tomorrow. It’s just been hectic at work. They screwed up on the checks, but I’ll have it by tomorrow,” Jason, the man who moved in over a month ago, promised yet again from the hallway.
Everyone in the dining room pretended they couldn’t hear Mrs. Buckman in the hallway practically begging for the rent.
“She’s going to have to raise the rent,” Mrs. Adle said. “I heard her talking on the phone to someone from the bank last week. She’s thinking of getting a mortgage.”
Madison dropped her fork. Great, just one more thing to worry about. Her grandmother was under too much financial pressure as it was and they were adding more. She should be paying her way and for the kids. Her eyes shot to Candy. She definitely should be paying for Jill and Joshua and her own way. Guilt twitched in her gut as she looked at Chris. One more mouth she added to the already straining mix.
His cheeks flushed as if he knew what she was thinking. “Madison, do you think you can get the school to give me a work permit? I’d like to pay for my own room and food.”
They heard the door close. “I won’t hear any of that nonsense, Christopher. You belong in school fixing your grades not pushing fries in some fast food joint.”
“Grandma, I don’t feel right about this,” Chris said as he looked guiltily at his food.
She slapped him upside the head. “Ow! What the hell was that for?”
“I said to drop it. You are part of this family so stop it and put some more food on your plate. I won’t have you losing weight and looking like a skeleton when I’ve been working so hard these last two weeks to put meat on your bones.”
When he didn’t move fast enough to eat she raised her hand to hit him upside his head again. “Okay!” He took more corn and potatoes. “Slave driver,” he muttered.