Summer Heat (Cruel Summer #1)

Summer Heat (Cruel Summer #1)

Rachel Van Dyken

To hot summer nights, to summer camps, first loves, loves lost, and second chances. Cheers.

Senior Year 2014

I WATCHED THE princess in her glittery tower. My eyes burned with hatred, my anger was barely in check as I pushed the mower back and forth, back and forth.

One line.

Two lines.

Make the lines straight, Marlo.

Don’t get grass on the cement statues, Marlo.

You smell like dirt, Marlo.

I gripped the push mower and let the sound of the engine fuel the blood pumping through my veins as a bead of sweat ran down my right cheek.

The door slammed.

Nya, my foster mom, held out a silver tray, the same one I imagined held the silver spoon that was stuck in the princess’s mouth the day she was born. Mom made her way toward me, her gray hair curled with perspiration around her ears. Her black and white uniform looked crisp and ironed.

She probably did it herself.

The people she worked for didn’t lift a finger. I imagined when they had to shit they just rang a silver bell, you know, to match the tray and spoon, and asked for a butler to carry them to the marble bathroom big enough to fit my entire house plus two cars.

“Do not frown,” Nya scolded in a thick Ukrainian accent. Her hands shook a bit as she poured some lemonade into a tall shiny glass. I stopped mowing and walked over, grabbing the clean glass with my dirty hand and slamming back the cold liquid like it was life.

It dribbled down my chin at about the same time the princess walked out the door and stared.

I hated her stare almost as much as I hated everything else about her, from her polished toenails up her tan legs, past her slender hips and flat stomach, to the bored expression on her face, the perfect ice queen hair, and even to those crystal blue eyes. I hated it all. And my hate wasn’t something that had just appeared. No, my hate had been tended, it had been watered, it had been pruned. My hate was four years of high school. Four years of her and her friends looking down on me. Four years of facing whispers behind my back. Four years of being shoved into lockers. Four years of random Facebook messages saying I should kill myself.

Four. Fucking. Years.

Things should have changed that night.

They didn’t.

And now? Now that I could see freedom, college.

She took the last thing I had.

A drama scholarship to my school of choice.

She had the money.

So why apply?

I had to stay back one more year in order to afford school, I had to stay back and try for the same scholarship next year.

I got to mow lawns.

She opened her mouth like she was going to do something stupid and say sorry.

I shook my head in warning. Like any words wouldn’t be good enough. After all, words from her mouth were just as empty as her head.

She’d had her chance last week.

She’d had her chance at school and looked away.

She sighed and then slowly walked across the lawn I’d just mowed and toward the garage.

The engine to her BMW flared to life.

And then she was gone in a plume of smoke and all my disappointments in life just felt that much worse.

“Try not to judge her too harshly.” Nya patted my shoulder. “Things aren’t always as we believe them to be.”

I looked up at their twenty-two-bedroom house and snorted. “Really? Because from this angle it looks exactly how it’s always looked.”

I swallowed the knot in my throat and handed her back the lemonade.

“Don’t be a blind fool.” Nya slapped me on the back of the head. I winced and rubbed the spot. While she scowled. “We are all human, we all feel pain, we all have emotions. Judge all you want, Marlon, but a shiny house doesn’t mean we automatically have a happy heart.”

Guilt gnawed uncomfortably at my chest. “She got my scholarship.” Not just that, she got my dream. My escape. Self-worth. Identity.

Twenty-two fucking bedrooms.

“One day…” She chuckled under her breath. “One day you’ll grow up, one day you’ll see what I’ve seen ever since the first day we fostered you into our family, ever since you started working at this house.”

“That life isn’t fair?” I wondered out loud.

“The sparkle.” She shrugged. “An old woman notices these things. The way she stares at you, the way you stare at her. One day you’ll regret all this hate. One day she’ll regret all hers.”

“Is that also the day that zombies take over the planet? Cause I think I’m more prepared for that!”

“I will pray for the day to come!” She announced excitedly.

“The zombies?”

“No, you and Ray.” She grinned. “I will pray hard.”

“Please don’t,” I said through clenched teeth.

She started humming.

Great. Just great.

I started the lawnmower again. I would never be the princess’s friend. I would never be anything more than a foster kid mowing her lawn and wishing for a better life.

Hoping for more was useless.

A kid like me knew that.

Abandoned at six.

Owned by the state for another month.

Hope and Disney were one in the same.

A fantasy.

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