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“Hi,” I greeted. Already, I felt a little sad, because the first whiff from inside the house was the stale smell of medicine and illness. The difference between the living conditions of my family and that of Luca’s couldn’t be starker. “Oh, wonderful. You just caught Diana in time. She was just leaving, but now you can both say hello to each other.” My heart sank at her words. Diana was Laura’s daughter and my stepsister, and we simply didn’t get along. Growing up together and sharing a room in a tiny house had been difficult to say the least. Diana was four years older than me and I was desperate to please her, even be like her, but no matter what I did I always managed to irritate and annoy her. I must have been ten when I finally stopped trying and simply avoided her as much as I could. The strange thing is we both pretended to be friends in front of our respective parents. It was almost an unspoken agreement. I plastered a smile on my face. “That’s good.” Diana already had her coat on and was standing in the middle of the small living room. Her eyes narrowed when she saw me. “You two girls sit down and have a little chat. I’ll go put the kettle on. It’s nearly time for your dad to take his pills.” “Where did you get that coat from?” Diana demanded, as soon as Laura disappeared into the kitchen. “A friend gave it to me,” I said casually. Calling Luca a friend was a bit of a stretch, but what the hell. I didn’t owe Diana any explanations. She certainly didn’t furnish me with the details of her life. “A friend? What kind of friend?” she asked incredulously. I looked at her curiously. “What’s up with you? You’re never interested in anything that happens in my life.” Her head jerked forward. “Are you aware the coat you’re wearing was featured on the front cover of Vogue last month?” “What?” “Yes, it costs twelve thousand dollars,” she whispered fiercely. I blinked in shock. Of course, I knew it was expensive, but I had no idea it was worth six months of my wages at the restaurant. “So… who gave it to you?” I could hear children playing in the snow, shouting, carefree. In the kitchen, I could hear Laura talking lovingly with my father. Here in the living room the air was thick and poisonous. “My boyfriend,” I said quietly. There were twin spots of color on her cheeks as she walked up to me. She stood directly in front of me. Her eyes glittered strangely. And I realized then that she was jealous of me. She always had been. Maybe even from that first day Dad and Laura had introduced her to me. She was ten and I was six, and when my father and her mother had left the room, she had told me my blonde hair was ugly, and I should dye it a different color. Maybe brown or black. I was so young and clueless I had actually believed her and grieved that my hair was not brown like hers. Now I looked into the jealousy pouring from her eyes and said, “My boyfriend is Luca Messana.” She gasped with shock. “I don’t believe you.” She dropped her voice again to a whisper. “You think I don’t know what you’ve been up to. I know exactly how you paid for your father’s medical bills. You’re a whore, Skye. Nothing but a cheap whore. You can wear the most expensive coat in the world and it won’t change that little fact.” Without waiting for an answer from me, she stalked out of the house. I turned towards the window and watched her walk away, her movements were stiff and full of fury. “Has she gone without saying goodbye?” Laura asked in surprise as she came into the room. I turned to look at her. “Yeah, I think she had to go somewhere.” “Oh, she never mentioned it, but that’s okay. I’ll see her tomorrow,” she said cheerfully. “How’s Dad doing?” “Come and see for yourself,” she invited. I took my coat off and slung it over the sofa. “That’s a lovely coat,” Laura said admiringly. “I’ve never seen you in it. Is it new?” “Yes, it’s new. A friend gave it to me.” “I’m glad. You’re a good person, Skye. And you deserve good things.” I looked into her eyes and all I could see was sincerity. Unlike her daughter, it appeared as if she believed my story about borrowing money from my boss to pay for all my father’s bills. Well, I was about to stretch her credulity even more when I came up with the story that I was going to borrow even more money soon. “Thank you for being here for Dad, Laura.” She shrugged. “There’s no other place in the world I would rather be.” Her words were simple, but powerful because they shone with truth. In that tiny house that smelled of medicine and sickness, she shone like an angel. She was truly heroic and I admired her.
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