“I am giving it up. I’ve been cutting back. Don’t come on in here judging me.”

“I’m not judging. Just making sure you’re taking the best care of yourself.” Which she wasn’t, of course. Mama smoked a pack a day. Her cutting back wasn’t very likely.

“I am. Plus, I smoked like a chimney with you. You turned out decent.”

“Well, thanks, Mama,” I said, rolling my eyes. I pushed up my sleeves and walked into the kitchen to start working on the dishes. It was stupid that I was in charge of cleaning up the house even when I didn’t mess it up, but I wasn’t interested in getting on Charlie’s bad side. It worked best if I did the household chores and kept my mouth shut. Cinderella had two evil stepsisters and an evil stepmother; I only had an evil stepfather and an uninterested mother. I could’ve had it worse.

After I finished the dishes, I tossed in a load of laundry and headed back to the kitchen. I swung the refrigerator open and noticed the lack of food. It seemed that if I didn’t go grocery shopping, it didn’t happen. I was sure Charlie was out picking up food along the way for himself, but Mama hardly left the house. If there wasn’t food in the fridge, she probably wasn’t eating, which was a problem. Especially when she was supposed to be eating for two.

“Mama, did you eat dinner?”

“Charlie said he was bringing Chinese.”

I glanced at the time on the microwave. It was already past ten. Knowing Charlie, he could’ve been out for hours. Who knew when he’d bring the food for Mama?

“I can make you a grilled cheese,” I offered.

She accepted, and when I finished, I walked into the living room and joined her on the couch. She looked too skinny to be carrying a baby. She was almost five months but was hardly showing. Mama had always had a small frame, but I worried that she wasn’t getting enough nutrition throughout the day. When I received my first check, making sure the refrigerator was stocked up would be at the top of my list.

“Are you done cleaning?” she asked, biting into her sandwich.

“Yup. I just have to dry the load of clothes; then we’re all set.”

“Good. That means we can talk now before Charlie gets home.” She placed her plate on the coffee table and took my hands in hers. “Charlie and I think it’s best if you move on.”

My heart caught in my throat. “What?”

“He said all your stuff needs to be out by today. He doesn’t like how it feels as if you’re always judging our way of life, and you don’t really keep the house together. You’re always running around to God knows where—”

“I work, Mama.”

“Sounds like an excuse to me. Anyway, you can’t stay here anymore. There just isn’t enough room with the new baby coming and all. Pack up your things and go.”

“But I don’t have anywhere to go, Mama.” Did she really have me clean up the whole house before she kicked me out? Was that the woman I called my mother?

She pulled out another cigarette and lit it. “You’re over eighteen, Hazel. It’s time for you to fly the coop. We’re not going to support you forever. So get a move on.”

I wanted to argue with her and tell her how I’d done more for her over the past few years than she’d done for me. I wanted to yell and shout that if anyone had been acting like a burden, it was her and Charlie. I wanted to cry.

Gosh, how I wanted to fall apart. My mother was all I had in this world, and she was pushing me away without a split second of guilt or remorse. She was back to watching the TV, blowing smoke from between her lips.

When Charlie walked through the front door, my stomach churned. It was a good thing I’d made Mama a grilled cheese, because that man had no Chinese food to speak of.

His eyes darted from Mama to me and back to Mama. “I thought I told you to have her out by the time I got back.”

“I did. The girl’s hardheaded like her father,” Mama blurted, blowing out a cloud of smoke. She hardly ever spoke of my father. I didn’t even know his name, but whenever she brought him up, it was to insult him. I couldn’t really back him up much, seeing as how he meant nothing to me.

“I have nowhere to go tonight,” I said, standing from the couch.

“Tough cookies. When I was eighteen, my parents kicked me out too. It’s called being an adult. If I figured it out, you can too,” Charlie ordered. “I’m done with you being a moocher and not contributing to the house. Get your shit out in the next hour and move on. Gotta turn that room into a nursery.”

“It’s already past midnight.”

“I don’t give a damn,” Charlie replied as he lit up a cigarette. “Just get out.”

Mama didn’t say a word. She was back to watching television as if she hadn’t just taken part in crushing my soul.

I swallowed hard and walked toward my bedroom. I didn’t know where I was going to go or what I was going to do. All I knew was I had sixty minutes to gather up my life and leave.

There was something so unnerving about realizing your whole life could fit inside two garbage bags. I walked out of the house without any send-off and fought the tears that were pushing at the backs of my eyes.

My first thought of places to go was Garrett’s trailer—my on-again, off-again boyfriend. He was also Charlie’s nephew and his right-hand man in their family business. Garrett’s big dream was to take over for Charlie at some point down the line. He idolized his uncle, which was a major flaw in my mind. I couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to be like Charlie. He wasn’t someone to look up to at all.