Home > The Stepsisters(5)

The Stepsisters(5)
Author: Susan Mallery

   “Why do you always get like this?”

   The unfair statement nearly left her speechless. “You moved into a hotel. You didn’t talk to me, you texted me. When I tried calling, you wouldn’t pick up. I still don’t know why you left. It was supposed to be for a few days. Now you tell me, again by text, that you’re checking into a long-term-stay hotel. Not that we’ve talked about anything. You’re just gone. And you want to know why I get like this?”

   “I can’t talk to you when you’re unreasonable.”

   Anger built up inside of her, accompanied by a big dose of fear. Because somehow that was always what happened—no matter how things started, he found a way to shut her down. If she shrieked back at him, which she wanted to do, she was proving his point. What was the right response?

   “Krissa is sick,” she said instead. “She’s throwing up and she has a fever. Ben’s better, but obviously he passed what he had along to her. Is it unreasonable to ask you to check on your kid?”

   “Your sarcasm doesn’t help.”

   “Neither does you blaming me for everything and then walking away. If you want to have a conversation about what we’re going to tell our children about you moving out, then I suggest we get that on the calendar.”

   “I’ll be there after work.”

   “Great.” She opened her mouth to say more, but he’d already disconnected the call.

 

* * *

 

   Much like the moneyed streets of Bel Air, the private school Sage Vitale had attended from third through twelfth grade was surprisingly unchanged. The wood paneling still gleamed, the students still wore black pants and white polo shirts as their uniforms. The computers appeared sleeker, but otherwise, she could have easily thought she had stepped back in time. Even Mrs. Lytton wasn’t that different. Her short, sensible haircut had a bit of gray in it, and reading glasses perched on the edge of her nose were a change, but otherwise the stern head of the languages department looked as she had twenty years ago.

   “You’re late,” Mrs. Lytton said as Sage walked into her office and took a seat. “By nearly half an hour. I shouldn’t have to remind you that our students are expected to be prompt and those around them are expected to set an example. Especially our tutors.”

   As a teenager, Sage would have slumped in her seat, allowing her posture and her eye roll to demonstrate how little she cared what Mrs. Lytton thought of her. Older and (hopefully) wiser Sage knew that attitude would get her nowhere.

   “I am late,” she said, offering her best smile. The one that nearly always worked on difficult clients. “I stopped to help someone with car trouble.”

   Mrs. Lytton’s thin mouth pressed into a flat line. “Really, Sage? Is that the best you can do? You were always so inventive with your excuses. My favorite was the time you claimed to have stopped to rescue baby ducks from a bobcat prowling the streets of Bel Air.”

   “I was helping Daisy,” Sage said. It was early to play such a powerful card, but Mrs. Lytton had left her no choice. “Krissa threw up in the car and Daisy had to pull over. I saw them and stopped to help. Then her car wouldn’t start, so I drove them home. That’s why I’m late.” She offered a forgiving smile. “You’re welcome to check with her, if you’d like. Apparently Ben got the flu first and now poor Krissa has it.”

   Mrs. Lytton’s eyebrows rose. “Well, if you were helping Daisy, then of course it’s all right. I didn’t know you two were still close.”

   They weren’t. Not back when their parents had first married, not after the divorce and certainly not now. If Sage went the rest of her life and never saw her former stepsister again, she could die a happy person.

   “We’re family,” Sage said simply, comfortable with the lie.

   “All right, then let’s get to it.” Mrs. Lytton opened a folder on her desk before saying in Italian, “I understand you lived in Italy for nearly three years. Are you conversational?”

   Sage answered in the same language. “Yes, and I have a basic understanding of grammar. My French is better. I lived in France nearly fifteen years. I’m fluent in both languages.”

   Mrs. Lytton switched to French. “Your first husband was French?”

   “Yes.” The third had been Italian. She didn’t talk about the second one.

   The department head ran her through a series of grammar drills, had her read from a book of French poetry, along with an Italian fashion magazine. When they were done, the older woman leaned back in her chair.

   “You have a decent enough understanding of both languages,” she said, her tone faintly grudging. “The pay is twenty-five dollars an hour with a thirty-minute minimum. We’ll get you set up on the school’s app and students can book you when you’re available.”

   Her gaze dropped to the Prada handbag Sage had set in the chair next to her own. “Are you sure you want to do this, Sage? Aren’t there other things you would rather do with your time?”

   “I’ve been giving English lessons in France and Italy since I moved to Europe. I think it will be fun to switch things around.”

   “You’re not going to get rich doing this.”

   Sage kept her smile in place as she said, “Yes, I know. But sometimes the joy of giving back is more than enough payment.”

   Mrs. Lytton made a sound that was suspiciously like a snort. “Very well. I’ll walk you over to the front office, where we’ll get you set up on the app. You should see bookings right away.”

   Sage followed the other woman down the long hallway. She was sure her willingness to tutor rich kids in French and Italian didn’t make sense to anyone but her, and sometimes she wasn’t sure about it, either, yet here she was.

   The idea, born on the long flight from Italy to Los Angeles, had surprised her, not only with its arrival but with her own willingness to actually do the work to make it happen. She knew the reason was that tutoring was very close to teaching and lately she’d been thinking that maybe it was time to see if she could do that. Maybe being the operative word. Finding a rich husband while she still had her looks probably made a lot more sense. But every now and then a girl had to do something crazy, right? So she would tutor a few kids, conjugate a few verbs. If it got too tedious or she met someone interesting, then she could dump the whole thing. No one, least of all Mrs. Lytton, would be shocked if it turned out she had no follow-through.

 

* * *

 

   By seven o’clock, Daisy thought she might have all the crises in her life a little more under control. Krissa hadn’t thrown up since the afternoon, and Ben was definitely on the mend.

   She leaned against the kitchen counter and debated whether to eat dinner or simply have a glass of wine and call it a night. The sensible choice was to eat something and she was mostly a sensible person. But she also had to face Jordan sometime in the next hour or so, and right now she was feeling ill-equipped.

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