Ten Tiny Breaths Page 2

“Kacey!” I turn to find Livie holding a taxi cab door wide open, her brows raised.

“I hear dumpster diving for food isn’t as fun as it’s cracked up to be.”

She slams the cab door, her face twisting. “Another bus it is.” She gives her suitcase an irritated tug over the curb.

“Really? Five minutes in Miami and you’re already starting with the attitude? Do you want to eat garbage, Livie? I’ve got sweet f**k all left in my wallet to get us past Sunday.” I hold out my wallet for her to inspect.

She flushes. “Sorry, Kace. You’re right. I’m just out of sorts.”

I sigh and immediately feel bad for snapping. Livie doesn’t have an attitude-riddled bone in her body. Yeah, we bicker, but I’m always to blame and I know it. Livie’s a good kid. She’s always been a good kid. Straight-laced, even tempered. Mom and Dad never had to tell her anything twice. When they died and Mom’s sister took us in, Livie went out of her way to be an even better kid. I went in the opposite direction. Hard.

“Come on, this way.” I link arms with her and squeeze her as I unfold the piece of paper with the address. After a long and laborious conversation with the elderly man behind the glass partition—complete with a game of charades and a pencil diagram on a city map circling three transfers—we’re on a city bus and I hope we’re not heading toward Alaska.

I’m glad, because I’m beat. Aside from my twenty minute catnap on the bus, I haven’t slept in thirty-six hours. I’m tired and worried and I’d much rather ride in silence, but Livie’s fidgety hands in her lap kill that idea quickly. “What is it, Livie?”

She hesitates, furrowing her brow.

”Livie …”

“Do you think Aunt Darla called the cops?”

I reach down to squeeze her knee. “Don’t worry about it. We’ll be fine. They won’t find us and if they do, the cops will hear what happened.”

“But he didn’t do anything, Kace. He was probably too drunk to know which room was his.”

I glare at her. “Didn’t do anything? Did you forget about that disgusting old-man hard-on that pushed up against your thigh?”

Livie's mouth puckers like she’s about to vomit.

“He didn’t do anything, because you bolted out of there and came to my room. Don’t defend that ass**le.” I’d seen the looks Uncle Raymond gave a maturing Livie over the last year. Sweet, innocent Livie. I’d crush his nuts if he stepped foot inside my room and he knew that. Livie though …

“Well, I just hope they don’t come get us and bring us back.”

I shake my head. “That’s not going to happen. I’m your guardian now, and I don’t care about stupid legal paperwork. You’re not leaving my side. Besides, Aunt Darla hates Miami, remember?” Hate is an understatement. Aunt Darla is a born-again Christian, who spends all of her free time praying and making sure everyone else is praying or knowing that they should be praying to avoid Hell, syphilis, and unplanned pregnancy. She’s certain that major cities are the breeding ground for all evil in the world. To say she’s fanatical would be an understatement. She won’t come to Miami unless Jesus himself is holding a convention.

Livie nods her head. She lowers her voice to a whisper. “Do you think Uncle Raymond figured out what happened? We could get in real trouble for that.”

I shrug. “Do you care if he does?” Part of me wishes I ignored Livie’s pleading and called the cops over Uncle Raymond’s little “visit” to her room. But Livie didn’t want to deal with police reports and lawyers and Children’s Aid and we’d certainly deal with the full gamut. Maybe even the local news. Neither of us wanted that. We’d had enough of that after the accident. Who knows what they’d do with Livie, since she’s a minor? Probably stick her in foster care. They wouldn’t give her to me. I’ve been classified as “unstable” by too many professional reports to trust with someone’s life.

So Livie and I struck a deal. I wouldn’t report him if she left with me. Last night turned out to be the perfect night to run. Aunt Darla was away at an all-night religious retreat so I crushed three sleeping pills and dumped them into Uncle Raymond’s beer after dinner. I can’t believe the idiot took the glass I poured for him and handed to him so sweetly. I haven’t said ten words to him in the last two years, since I found out he lost our inheritance at a black jack table. He didn’t clue in to the deception though. By seven o’clock, he was sprawled and snoring on the couch, giving us enough time to grab our suitcases, clean out his wallet and Aunt Darla’s secret money box under the sink, and catch the bus out that night. Maybe drugging him and stealing their money was a little excessive. Then again, maybe Uncle Raymond shouldn’t have gone all creepy pedophile.

***

“One-twenty-four,” I read the numbers on the building out loud. “This is it.” This is real. We stand side-by-side on the sidewalk outside of our new home—a three-story apartment building on Jackson Drive with white stucco walls and small windows. It’s a neat-looking place with a beach house feel to it, though we’re half an hour from the beach. If I inhale deeply, I can almost catch a whiff of sunscreen and seaweed.

Livie runs a hand through her wild dark mane. “Where’d you find this place again?”

“www.desperateforanapartment.com?” I joke. After Livie stormed into my room in tears that night, I knew we needed out of Grand Rapids. One internet search led to another and I was emailing the landlord, offering him six months’ of rent in cash. Two years of pouring over-priced Starbucks coffee, gone.

And it’s worth every drop of coffee poured.

We climb the steps and walk up to a gated archway. “The picture with the ad looked great,” I say as I grab and pull the gate handle to find that it’s locked. “Good security.”

“Here.” Livie pushes on a cracked, round doorbell to the right. It makes no sound and I’m sure it’s broken. I stifle back a yawn as we wait for someone to pass through.

Three minutes later, my hands are cupped around my mouth and I’m about to yell the landlord’s name when I hear shoes dragging across concrete. A middle-aged man with rumpled clothes and a scruffy face appears. His eyes are uneven, he’s mostly bald on top, and I swear one ear is bigger than the other. He reminds me of Sloth from that old eighties movie my father made us watch, Goonies. A classic, my dad used to say.

Sloth scratches his protruding gut and says nothing. I’ll bet he’s as intelligent as his movie twin.

“Hi, I’m Kacey Cleary,” I introduce myself. “We’re looking for Mr. Tanner. We’re the new renters from Michigan.” His shrewd gaze lingers on me for a while, sizing me up. I silently praise myself for wearing jeans to cover the sizeable tattoo on my thigh in case he dare judge me on my appearance. His focus then shifts to Livie, where it rests too long for my liking.

“You gals’ sisters?”

“Our matching suitcases give it away?” I answer before I can stop myself. Get inside the gates before you let them know what a smart-ass you can be, Kace.

Luckily, Sloth’s lips curve upward. “Call me Tanner. This way.”

Livie and I share a shocked look. Sloth is our new landlord? With a loud clank and creak, he ushers us through the gate. Almost as an afterthought, he turns to me and extends his hand.

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