City of Secrets
Previously: Frankie, slacker and social outcast, vowed to turn over a new leaf at the start of her senior year, but so far, nothing has been working out the way she'd planned. She was forced to run out in the middle of class--talking back to the teacher in the process--which lead to her getting detention on the first day of school.
Frankie forgot about Billy as she neared the mansion. Not in any hurry to get inside, she slowed her steps, despite the rain. Nancy West, the housekeeper and Frankie’s self-appointed nanny, was on vacation. Nancy was more of a mother to Frankie than her own mother, and she was the only adult in the house who treated Frankie with respect. If it weren’t for Nancy, Frankie’s home life would be unbearable.
The limousine was sitting outside the garage, engine running. Lonnie, the driver, stood by the passenger door, umbrella held over his head. “Good afternoon, Ms. Moreno,” he said cordially.
“Maybe for you, but I’m guessing you didn’t walk home in the rain. Use your brain, Lenny,” she said, intentionally getting his name wrong. He was only being friendly because it was his job, and she was certain that every staff member with the exception of Nancy spied on her for Henry and Marcella. Lonnie looked flustered, but said nothing. She walked past him toward the front door, but cringed when she saw it was already open. Her stepfather, Henry Carlton, stood in the doorway. It was clear from the expression on his face that he’d heard her remark to Lonnie.
Henry towered over her, his mouth set in a thin line, his blond hair slicked back (Frankie suspected he dyed away the gray), and his blue eyes cold. “Charming as always, Francesca.”
“You know me,” she said, false sweetness in her voice. She looked pointedly past him, wishing he would move so she could go upstairs and disappear in her room, but no such luck. He remained where he was, glowering down at her.
“Your mother and I have accepted the fact that you clearly feel we’ve done you some great injustice, but the staff have done nothing to deserve your attitude. Apologize.”
Frankie gave her stepfather the most innocent look she could muster. “I’m sorry you have no sense of humor. I’m sorry you wish I’d never been born. I’m sorry I’m an embarrassment to you. Wait, scratch that. I love that I embarrass you.”
Henry sighed. “How long do you expect your mother and I to put up with this insubordination?”
“Ooh, points for the word of the day! I expect you to put up with it until June, when I’m eighteen and out of high school. Come on, Henry, don’t tell me you’re not counting the days?” she asked, a hint of a challenge in her voice.
Henry met her challenge with a smile—it was as icy as his gaze. “At this rate, Francesca, you are not going to be out of high school in June. The principal called. Seems you walked out in the middle of class. Got yourself detention already. Congratulations. I think that might be a new record.”
“I went to every class!” Frankie shouted defensively, because she really had intended to make a new start. It wasn’t her fault morning sickness had been given its name by a complete moron. “I just got—” She cut herself off. She’d been about to say she’d gotten sick in eighth period, but that might lead him to ask why she’d gotten sick. “I had an emergency. My period started.”Yeah right, she thought. If only.
“I don’t care what the excuse is this time. This behavior has to stop,” Henry said firmly, though his cheeks were tinged pink. Frankie couldn’t help but be pleased by his embarrassment. Henry stepped into the house. “Come inside, we need to talk.”
Oh, hell no, Frankie thought. “Billy’s being creepy again. Asking me weird questions about what I want. Can’t you tell him to go home?”
Henry’s expression softened. He sighed, turned back toward the door and called, “Lonnie, tell—”
Frankie didn’t listen to the rest of the exchange. Instead, she turned and headed through the foyer toward the stairs. Water dripped onto the hardwood floor as she went. She was halfway up when Henry called out, “Francesca! Get back down here!”
“Sorry, no can do.” She continued up the stairs, but froze as her mother, Marcella Carlton, started heading down. “Oh, wonderful. Marcella’s home.”
Frankie had stopped calling her mother “mom” sometime in middle school. At first Frankie had done it to hurt her, but the plan had backfired. Marcella had looked relieved the first time Frankie had called her by her name. It had almost been enough to make Frankie go back to calling her mom, but she couldn’t; it hurt Frankie too much. Marcella suited them both better.
“You will treat your father with respect, young lady.”
“Stepfather,” Frankie corrected, knowing they were about to get into an argument they’d had hundreds of times before. Frankie knew nothing about her biological father. Henry had married Marcella when Frankie was a baby, but she’d never been close to him. He’d never acted as though he’d wanted a daughter. As far as Frankie was concerned, he would always be her stepfather.
“He welcomed you into his home. He raised you as if you were his,” Marcella said, her words so full of passion that Frankie wondered who Marcella was trying to convince.
“If that were true, he would’ve given me his last name. Instead I have yours. Why is that? Shouldn’t I have my real father’s last name? Daddy dearest didn’t want anything to do with us? Or was it you he didn’t want anything to do with? What’s the matter, Marcella? Did he reject you? Or maybe you didn’t even know his name, is that it?” Frankie knew she was pushing it, but the red-hot anger that was spreading from her chest to her entire body wouldn’t let her care. Marcella had never answered a single question about Frankie’s father. Not one. Frankie didn’t even know whether or not he was Latino. It wasn’t fair. Marcella clearly wanted nothing to do with Frankie. How dare she push Henry—who also wanted nothing to do with Frankie—on her? How dare she keep Frankie’s real father from her? It wasn’t that Frankie had any delusions that some magical, wonderful father was out there somewhere—she’d learned a long time ago not to bother with fantasies—but she didn’t understand why Marcella insisted on pushing Henry on her.
“Henry. Is. Your. Father,” Marcella said, the anger in her voice matching Frankie’s.
“You just keep telling yourself that.”
Mother and daughter glared at one another, frozen in their fury. Looking at the two of them was like looking at an older and younger version of the same person. They had the same bronze skin, sharp features, and wavy black hair (though Frankie’s had a streak of purple in it). Their eyes—lighter than their hair, but darker than their skin—would turn a lesser person to stone at these moments. Even Henry didn’t like to come between them; he was currently busying himself by checking his voicemail.
“Go downstairs, Francesca. Henry and I need to speak with you,” Marcella said, not breaking her gaze.
It was the fact that Marcella had conceded and called him Henry, combined with the fact that Frankie was running out of fight for the day that made her give in. Without a word, she turned and trudged back to the foyer, dropping her backpack at the bottom of the stairs. It left a small puddle of water around it, which Henry glared at.
Henry slipped his phone in his pocket. “Your mother and I are going on an unexpected business trip.”
“What business? The team had a losing season,” she said. Henry was the owner of Colorado’s professional baseball team, which hadn’t made the playoffs in years. It was a fact Frankie never let him forget, though at that moment she regretted it. She didn’t want to risk pissing them off too much and having them decide to leave her with a babysitter.
Henry cleared his throat and looked at Frankie pointedly. “It’s a business trip for your mother. We’re looking at a restaurant she’s thinking of acquiring. As you know, Nancy is out of town as well. That means you’re in charge, but this isn’t a free-for-all. We expect the house spotless when we return next Monday. We’re leaving you the minivan. Mrs. Singer is going to call and check in with Tommy on a nightly basis. We will hear a good report. Is that clear?”
Oh thank you, thank you, thank you, Frankie thought. “Yeah, it’s cool. Everything will be fine,” she said, speaking politely to Henry for what she thought was the first time in weeks. She decided it was more like months. If she really thought about it, it was probably years.
Henry looked at her skeptically. “It better be,” he said. “Tommy! Come downstairs please!”
A herd of elephants stormed through the second floor and descended the stairs. Skidding to a halt just before running into Henry with a “whoa!” was not a herd of elephants, but a scrawny, seven-year-old boy. Frankie laughed, and she could’ve sworn Marcella was trying to keep a smile off her face.
Henry gave Tommy a stern look. “Watch where you’re going, son.”
Tommy swayed on his feet, waving his arms in the air. “Sorry, I was going so fast I almost couldn’t stop!” he said with a giggle. Frankie thought it was funny, though she couldn’t help but gape at her brother, who was wearing a tuxedo. What had Henry had him doing that required a tuxedo? She didn’t even know they made child-sized tuxedos.
“You know there’s no running in the house, young man,” Henry said.
“Yes, sir. Sorry, ” Tommy said, his eyes wide. Frankie figured that Henry was made of stone, otherwise he would’ve melted right there. With his mother’s black hair and his father’s blue eyes, Tommy was a heartbreaker. Technically, he was Frankie’s half-brother, but she didn’t think of him that way. She’d adored him since the second she’d laid eyes on him.
“Your mother and I are headed to the airport. The phone numbers are on the refrigerator. You call us or Mrs. Singer if you need anything, you hear?”
“Yes, sir,” Tommy said. Henry stepped forward and gave his son a light, crisp hug.
“I love you, sweetheart,” Marcella said.
“Love you too, Mommy.” Tommy threw his arms around Marcella. She knelt down and hugged him tightly.
Frankie looked away. Marcella had never hugged her like that. When Frankie was really little, she’d been convinced that she must smell bad or something, because Marcella never got too close when she hugged Frankie. As Frankie had gotten older and grown closer to Nancy, her mother had simply stopped hugging her altogether.
Before Tommy had been born, Frankie had told herself that Marcella just didn’t like kids, that she must not have wanted a child in the first place. It had almost been enough for Frankie to accept Marcella’s total lack of interest in her. But then Tommy had come along, and Marcella had showered him with affection. Frankie had needed Nancy to step in as a nanny, but Tommy hadn’t, because he had a mother who loved him.
But Frankie was over it. She didn’t care anymore.
At least that was what she told herself.
“I’ll miss you so much, sweetie.” Marcella kissed Tommy on the top of the head and followed her husband to the door.
“Be a good boy, son. Remember, don’t hesitate to call,” Henry said, glancing at Frankie.
“I won’t,” Tommy said.
Marcella blew Tommy a kiss. “Bye, sweetie.”
“Bye, Mommy,” Tommy said.
Henry and Marcella walked out the front door without another glance at Frankie, but she didn’t care. She was just glad they were gone. For an entire week, she was free.