Callie Yates always thought families were a lot like lottery tickets. You won’t really know if you’ve got a winner until you scratch away the silver fillings to match up the magic numbers.
Same with families. You won’t know if you’ve been lucky enough to be born into money, power, good looks or smarts until after you’ve hurtled through the birth canal screaming into the light.
Some people match up only one or two of the numbers. Money and looks. Power and intelligence. A few hit the jackpot, three of a kind.
But, not the Yates family. They’ve been scratching off duds longer than there’s been lottery tickets in the dusty west Texas town of Keane.
Callie rolled over and her alarm clock came into focus. 5:59. She even got shorted that last minute of sleep. A mountain of quilts tumbled to the floor. One stretched-out sock dangled from her foot, the other absent, the latest sacrifice to the Laundry Gods.
“Good morning, west Texas.” A deejay howled through her clock radio. Some mornings she greeted him with a cordial ‘Good morning, Mr. Deejay’ and other mornings she cursed at him as if he were the Devil incarnate. “If you’re not done with your Christmas shopping, get at it. Only two days left and, folks, looks like we’ve got some snow and ice moving into the Panhandle.”
She sighed and fell on her back, pulling her pillow over her head. This morning she wanted to punch him. Two days until Christmas. Two days to explain to her family why the only gifts under the tree were the wrapped empty boxes they’ve used for decorations. Two days to fess up that she’s known for some time that when the calendar flipped over to January, she’d be out of a job.
In a town as small as Keane, jobs were as rare as blue diamonds and were as heavily guarded.
Callie threw the pillow off her head. Make it through the holiday. Save that conversation for the 26th. Give them one last joyful Christmas. She cringed as her unsocked toe touched the floor. She’d already started preparing for January by closing off the vents in her room. It probably didn’t make much difference in the gas bill, but telling herself that her brother, sisters and dad deserved the heat more assuaged some guilt.
Emerging from her upstairs room was like crossing from a realm of peace into the bloodiest battle history has seen: her fifteen-year-old brother and seventeen-year-old sister were fighting to the death over the bathroom.
Laila won the looks lottery in the family. Long, thick auburn hair that belonged in a shampoo ad, not on the head of a poor west Texas teen, was Laila’s strength and the family’s curse, especially when it came to shower time.
The beleaguered it-takes-so-much-work-to-be-pretty whining amplified by don’t-hate-me-because-I’m-beautiful moaning usually ended with no-one-gets-me desperation. On a weekly basis Callie was hiding the scissors to prevent someone from cutting off Laila’s hair. Sometimes even hiding them from herself.
Blake’s recent growth spurt gave him a four-inch advantage over Laila, but his sister fought dirty.
“Laila, I’ll be out in three minutes,” he said, his bony arms trying to elbow her out of the doorframe. “After that it’s all yours.”
“You go in there and I’ll tell the entire school that I caught you with my aerobics DVDs.”
Callie cringed. It would have been so much easier if he’d been using those videos for working out.
“It’s Christmas break. Why are you both awake?”
The fighting paused at her question.
“I’m going to Lubbock to go shopping,” Laila said.
“And, I, uh,” Blake turned bright red and shrugged. In a quick, yet graceful move he pirouetted and shoved his sister into the hall and slammed the bathroom door.
Stunned, Laila stared at the door, her face growing redder than Santa’s coat. “He’s going to pay for that.”
“Can you do me a favor and go to the store today? There’s a list in the kitchen with everything we need for Christmas dinner, and I put an envelope of cash with it. It should cover everything but please bring me the change.”
“I’ve got plans today. Why can’t you?” Laila pulled her thick hair up into a ponytail and arched her back, as if her shopping excursion required a warm-up. They didn’t have near enough money for anyone to shop until they dropped. Not even enough for a shop-until-you-stumble.