Home > Magical Midlife Madness (Leveling Up #1)(2)

Magical Midlife Madness (Leveling Up #1)(2)
Author: K.F. Breene

I paused for a moment, contemplating the irony of that, but decided to press her about the state of the room instead. “What happened in here?” I asked. “What’s that?”

In addition to the books that had been stacked horizontally on every surface and heaped around the bed, a random pile of fur sat in the corner.

“Oh, that. Well, your dad shot an elk last year, but it wasn’t big enough to warrant stuffing the head, so he took the skin. It struck me—what was that Native American tribe that scalped people?” I stared at her, struck mute. “All the white men at the time acted so superior about that, didn’t they? How barbarian to scalp a kill, they said. And look at this! He cuts off heads and hangs them on the wall, and when that isn’t glorious enough, he scalps their bodies. Who’s the barbarian now?”

My mom pursed her lips and turned down the bed.

“That’s…” Best to ignore. Except… “Why is it in the corner? In a pile?”

“He wants to hang it somewhere.”

“But…isn’t Chris’s old room for all Dad’s junk?”

I wasn’t the only one who’d bounced back here—my brother Chris had come to stay with them a few years ago after a tough breakup. The state of the place had not only driven him out of the house, but out of the state, as well. He was now on the East Coast, happy to be on his own in a clutter-free zone.

“That’s the man cave. He’s got so much junk in there, he worried the elk scalp would get lost,” my mother replied.

I didn’t bother to tell her that scalps were on heads and pelts were on bodies. I didn’t think she’d care either way.

“Hmm. Do you need closet space? Because…” She pushed open the dirt-brown closet doors, revealing her clothes and shoes.

I’d never really noticed how many different shades of brown existed in this house. It was like they’d chosen a color palette with various shades of poop.

Sweat prickled my brow. The urge to flee was strong. “Why do you use this closet? Why not your closet?”

“There’s a bunch of old clothes I don’t wear in my closet.” She pushed a few things over, sparing a couple feet of hanging room. “There. That should do you. You mostly wear sweats anyway, right? You don’t need to put those in here. They can stay in your suitcase.”

I didn’t ask what had happened to my old dresser. It wasn’t here, at any rate.

“Right. Fine,” I said, suddenly exhausted.

“Need another beer?”

“Yes. Keep ’em coming. Morning, noon, and night. Just keep ’em coming.”


The next morning, I blinked up at Brad Pitt with his long hair and little smirk. Some of his chest peeked out of his open shirt. Legends of the Fall was scrawled across the bottom of the poster.

My mother slept in this room more often than not because of my dad’s snoring, yet she’d never taken down the hot guy poster from yesteryear? Brad Pitt wasn’t even that hot, anymore. Sure, he was still technically a looker, but he’d crapped on my girl Jennifer, and he’d gotten all scruffy with Angelina, and then he’d pressured her to marry him, only to get a divorce and contact Jennifer again…

I mean, the guy was a dung-dance of dependency. It needed to be said.

He didn’t deserve a place on my ceiling. That was a girl’s crush. A girl who hadn’t yet played the game and lost—and then glugged all the wine, flipped the table over, and slurred obscenities on her way out of there.

I was older now. Wiser. I was done getting sidetracked by a pretty face. Looks tarnished.

Brad had to go.

I flung the covers away, stood on the mattress, and tore from the edge of the poster. Brad’s face split in two. The tape stuck fast.

“Freakin’—” I grabbed the other side and did the same thing. Little blotches of paper stayed put in all of the corners. Brad’s eyeball waved at me from the small surviving portion of the poster. “Ugh. Get. Lost. Brad!” I caught the last shred, tore that, and frowned up at the specks still holding strong.

What had I used to pin him up, infinity glue?

Wadding up the poster, I contemplated jumping to the floor like I would’ve done the last time I’d lived here. Of course, back then I’d had eighteen-year-old knees and half the weight. If I jumped right now, my knees would probably buckle and dump me on my face.

I gingerly lowered to sitting before placing my feet on the faded brown carpet and pushing up to standing.

My phone chimed as I made my way downstairs. Matt, wondering about the closing papers on our old house.

“Yeah, I made it just fine, thanks. Doing great, couldn’t be better,” I grumbled, finding my mother at the sink again.

On the weekends she usually made a large breakfast, but it was only Tuesday, which meant she’d placed a cereal box, milk, and a bowl out on the table for my father. Given the bowl was empty but used, I suspected he’d finished up and would soon be heading to work. Or out to tinker with his project cars.

But as I stood at the entrance to the kitchen, the toilet flushed in the downstairs bathroom. Clearly the old man was still here.

I turned toward the bathroom, intending to use it next, when the door opened and too much skin stepped out.

“What the—” I covered my eyes and jerked my head away.

“Ladies do not swear,” my father said in disapproval even though I hadn’t gotten to the swear word.

“Fathers do not wander around the house without clothes on when their grown daughters are home, Dad! What are you doing?”

My mother turned from the sink, only then turning off her music. “What’s the matter—oh for the love of… Pete, put some clothes on!” She sighed and shook her head in commiseration with me. “Two months ago, he just up and decided that clothes in the morning were causing him anxiety.”

“I didn’t say they were causing me anxiety! I said they cut off the morning circulation to my begonias, and that caused me to feel a little tight in my chest, that’s all. Not enough circulation.”

“Anxiety,” my mom said, clearly annoyed.

“Not anxiety,” my dad replied, clearly just as annoyed.

“Awesome, great, sound logic—can you put some clothes on now? And use a towel on the dining room chair, please? I don’t want to sit on the same seat as your exposed…begonias,” I said.

“Jacinta Evans, when you speak to someone, you look them in the eye,” my father scolded.

“Pete, you have your testicles out. Of course the girl is going to look away!” My mother turned around, muttering, “I don’t blame her, quite frankly. You need to go to the doctor. I know those things sag, but it looks like you have a medical condition.”

“I can’t do this. I can’t…” I took two deep breaths, ignoring my parents’ continued bickering, and followed the wall to the bathroom. I didn’t want to risk looking around. There were many things a person would rather die without seeing, and the sagging bare backside of one’s father was at the top of the list.

The small downstairs bathroom stopped me short. An enormous, obviously fake tree stood in the corner. Its bright, unrealistically green leaves stretched out over the counter toward the sink and reached above the toilet. The toilet seat had been left up, showing the disgusting underbelly of both the seat, with its many dark cracks, and the pee-sprinkled edge of the bowl. A large digital painting with a jumping dolphin took up more of the wall than was artistically pleasing, not to mention those pictures hadn’t been in vogue since the early nineties. It was clear my dad had been offered some freebies.

My dad never passed up freebies.

I had to kick the seat down so as not to touch stale pee, ignore the plastic leaves poking me in the side of my face, and speed up this soul-searching process. I needed a new place and a new job, fast!

“How’s it going?” my oldest and best friend Diana asked later that day with a sympathetic smile. Her wire-rimmed glasses had a smudge on the side that she didn’t seem to notice. She cupped her hands around her steaming mug. It was September, yes, but it was also California. She was the only person I knew who drank hot coffee no matter the weather or time of day. She was a true fanatic.

A few people dotted the seats in the independent coffee shop, all hipsters with weird hair, a lot of piercings, and surprisingly hushed tones. They were young and looked ridiculous, but at least they were respectful.

“Good, mostly,” I said, dragging the pad of my finger down my sweating glass of iced tea. “It was time, with Matt. I’ve been a drone for too long, you know that. Jimmy is off to college, so it’s about time for me to be…well, me again. I don’t even know who me is, anymore, but it’s about time I found out.”

She nodded, her eyes crinkling a little at the corners. “I totally agree. You’d shut off for a while there. You can finally turn back on again and live for once. Make mistakes. Bang a few younger guys.” Her smile turned devilish. “Live a little! Actually, live a lot. I want stories.”

I gave her a sarcastic huff. She was happily married to her college sweetheart, but she would say anything to make me feel better. She wanted me to be happy. Always had. When everyone else was preaching about the sanctity of marriage and how could he?, she was asking if I remembered when I’d stopped smiling. She was the best friend a girl could have.

“I’m not looking for more stories. I’m looking for…” I paused, thinking about it. “I’m looking for adventure, I think. It feels like time is running out. It feels like I need to get my real life started, the sooner the better. Guys can wait.”

She bobbed her head, then took a sip of her coffee. “Definitely. But honestly, what I was really asking was…how’s it going with the parents?”

“Ugh!” I dropped my head, reminded of the morning. I’d gone on a walk to clear my head, and the instant I’d returned, my mom had asked why I’d taken down the poster on the ceiling. She’d wanted to know where she could get another of those “very pretty young men.” “At some point without my knowledge, she grabbed the cute outfit I’d worn yesterday and washed it. Except she didn’t care enough about the deed to see if it could be dried. She just went ahead and threw it in the dryer.”

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