Chapter 1 from Beau & Bett

Chapter One

(Once Upon A Time)

For one very long second, I wanted to believe this was someone else’s life—anyone who wasn’t named Beau LeFrancois. Anyone who wasn’t me.

Pause . . . Rewind . . . Play . . .

It’d been a long day at school, which was basically every day and any day. When I walked through the front door, my house was still the tiny, cramped, gloomy box it always was—no magical genie had transformed it into a palace while I was in class. Papa was sprawled out on the sofa like he always was, with one leg, plaster-casted from ankle to hip, resting on the sofa and the other leg slung over the side, foot planted firmly on the ground. Pillows propped behind his back and underneath his broken arm positioned him in a half-sitting, twisted pose that looked uncomfortable, but at least allowed him to watch TV.

“Beau, buddy,” he said. “Didn’t know if I was going to make it ’til you got home. Help me to the bathroom, would ya?”

“Papa, you can’t hold it in all day, it’s not healthy. That’s what the bottle’s for.”

“Healthy shmealthy. I’m not peein’ in that thing like some kinda animal.”

“Animals don’t pee in bottles.” I shoved aside a pillow and sat my butt down on the couch, taking his healthy arm and pulling it across my shoulders. He still had a strong grip, and his fingers dug into me as he swung that massive cast off the couch where it landed with a hard thud on the floor.

“Garbage dump!” His lips went purple with pain, and the substitute curse words he used—required by my mom—did nothing to mask his frustration and anger at the pathetic situation. “Holy fried apple chicken!” The pain crept up his leg until it enveloped his entire face in a red cloud. “Give me a minute.” He took a few jagged, stuttering breaths before regaining his usual composure.

“Did Angie call today?” I asked, hoping mention of my older sister would steer his mind away from the misery of shattered bones.

After a few seconds, his breathing returned to normal. “You betcha,” he said, and he was Papa again. We heaved in unison to pull him up into a standing positon—a move we were pretty good at after so much practice. “She doin’ good but she started in again with that crazy talk about postponin’ the wedding. I tole her not a chance. Tole her I’m gonna dance with the bride.”

We thumped our way toward the tiny bathroom off the hallway that led to the kitchen—me, the human crutch.

“In five weeks? I don’t think so, Papa. Maybe a spin around the dance floor in your wheelchair if you’re lucky.”

Which of course made me think again about the school dance this past weekend when Masie draped herself all over Ethan the Goose. And why should I care about that? But why didn’t matter since I did, and I was thinking about it the moment the door burst open and the twins came in, fighting as usual over one of their mindlessly ridiculous and invented catastrophes.

“Poppy, Claude threw my math book in the bushes.”

“Did not,” Claude said. “Del spit water all over the back of my shirt.” He peeled off his backpack, turning to display the wet evidence of Del’s crime.

But even before I had a chance to yell at them, or Papa had a chance to empty his bladder, my mom walked through the door as white as a ghost in a snowstorm—not that I’ve ever seen a snowstorm or a ghost. I steered Papa to line him up with the toilet and then gave him a nudge into the bathroom while I waited outside. There was no way he could fall in there with the bathroom being so small and a wall on either side just a few feet away from the throne.

“Charles?” she called out in a voice so shaky I wondered if I was going to have to keep her from falling over too. “Something terrible has happened.”

But Papa couldn’t hear her over the urgent stream that wouldn’t—couldn’t—stop, and his pleasurable moans of release.

“What is it?” I asked, ignoring the twins who by then were bashing each other with pillows from the sofa. “Are you okay?”

Freeze . . . Rewind . . . Stop . . .

Could this be someone else’s life? Please?

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