Home > The Stepsisters(8)

The Stepsisters(8)
Author: Susan Mallery

   Sage pulled into the driveway and parked next to her mother’s Lexus. They might be scrambling to pay their property tax bill, but they drove nice cars. An LA thing, she thought as she collected her handbag and the heels she’d kicked off as soon as she’d gotten in the car. Having money was always better, but even if you didn’t, it was important to look as if you did. Around here, appearances mattered more than anything.

   Sage got out and locked her car before heading for the front door. For a second, she paused to study the one-story ranch-style house with its big front window and small front porch. So different from Daisy’s mansion, she thought. Joanne’s entire house could fit in the kitchen and family room of Daisy’s house with a few square feet to spare. Here there were only three bedrooms and two bathrooms. The backyard was a decent size, for the area. It was a normal, everyday kind of house. Nothing to be ashamed of, yet she had been. After the divorce, she’d been horrified at the thought of moving and had never brought friends home after school. How could she? They’d all seen Daisy’s house.

   Funny how time and distance changed things, she thought as she walked inside. These days she was grateful to have somewhere to stay. Sure, she had to pay her mother a thousand dollars a month for the privilege of her room, but it was worth it. At least for now.

   “It’s me,” she called, closing the front door behind her.

   The rarely used living room led into an average-sized kitchen, with the family room to the left of that. The master bedroom and bathroom were off to the right and the two spare bedrooms and guest bath were on the other side.

   “In here,” her mother answered.

   Sage found her mother in the family room, reading a magazine. Joanne glanced up and smiled at her.

   “How was your day?”

   “Good. I spent the morning doing inventory.”

   The annual accounting of stock had required her to start her day at eight, allowing her to leave at four. Of course she’d spent the first three hours without the chance of earning commission, so that sucked.

   She was about to go back to her room to change when she recognized the red silk blouse her mother had on.

   “Interesting top,” Sage said dryly. “Did you go through my things?”

   “I just wanted to have a look-see. This one is especially nice. Is it silk?”

   “Yes. It was nearly four hundred euros.”

   “I do love quality.” Her mother smiled. “I know you don’t mind. We’re practically the same size.”

   Joanne was in her late fifties but could pass for ten years younger. She worked hard to keep in shape but she was nearly two sizes bigger than Sage and the way the blouse pulled at the buttons and stretched at the shoulders illustrated that. Not that Sage would mention it. Instead she would be grateful that there was no way her mother could squeeze into her pants, and most of her dresses wouldn’t fit. Her shoes were also safe, what with Joanne’s feet being a size and a half smaller.

   Her handbags were in danger, but Sage had only brought a few home with her. Joanne didn’t know about the half dozen locked in the trunk of her car or the twenty or so that were carefully stored with a trusted friend in Rome. As far as her mother was concerned, Sage only had the one Prada that she used.

   In the next few weeks, Sage was going to have to figure out a way to get the bags from Italy so she could start selling them for cash, but not until she had a safe place to store them. No way she could leave them in the house—not with her mother around.

   “If you’re going to keep it, I’m taking three hundred dollars off this month’s rent,” Sage told her.

   “That’s not fair. I needed a pick-me-up.” Joanne sighed. “Anderson and I aren’t seeing each other anymore.”

   Sage rubbed the small of her back. “Anderson is the current boyfriend?”

   Joanne pouted. “Not anymore. He said he didn’t see any reason for us to take things to the next level. He was happy with how they were.”

   “So sex but not marriage.”

   “Men are such pigs.” Joanne tossed the magazine onto the coffee table. “He’s nearly seventy. Frankly, he’s not going to do better than me, but I guess he has to figure that out for himself.”

   Translation—Joanne had been dating Anderson because he was rich and old. A delicious combination for her mother, who strongly believed in marrying for money. She’d never gotten the big settlement she’d dreamed of, but she’d done well enough.

   Never give your heart. That was Joanne’s motto. Sage had lived by those words, not that they’d served her especially well. Here she was, back where she’d started—working in retail and living with her mother. It was depressing enough to give a girl wrinkles.

   “I’m seeing a couple of friends tonight,” Joanne said, glancing at her watch. “We’re going to get cocktails and see if we can find someone to buy us a nice dinner.”

   “Good luck with that.”

   Her mother smiled. “Don’t wait up.”

   Sage nodded, then walked back to her bedroom. The space, crowded with a bed, dresser and desk, was much messier than when she’d left it early that morning. Several of her dresser drawers stood open, as did the closet doors. Clothes were strewn across the bed and chair. Her neatly arranged shoes had been pushed to the back of the closet.

   Sage told herself there was no point in getting upset. Her mother was never going to change. Reality sucked and hers more than most. She’d been living in Europe for the past eighteen years. She had no credit or job history in the US, which made qualifying for an apartment tricky. Buying a small condo was out of the question—she didn’t have the money.

   Her only way out of the mess was to rent a room from her mom for a year, hold down a job and build up her credit score. She wasn’t going to screw with her plan over a silk blouse.

   She changed into jeans and a T-shirt, then cleaned up her room. By the time she was done, her mom was gone. Sage went into the kitchen and filled a tumbler with ice and water. She took it outside and sat on one of the lounge chairs in the shade. After taking a few deep breaths, she closed her eyes and tried to tell herself everything was going to be fine. She wasn’t a big, fat failure with nothing to show for her life beyond a few handbags and a couple, or three, failed marriages.

   She’d nearly convinced herself she would be all right when she became aware of a steady clicking sound and opened her eyes. The house on the right was hidden behind a tall cinder block wall, but the one on the left was separated only by a low wooden fence. She could see the trees and the lawn, along with the covered patio where a man sat at a folding table, typing on a computer.

   Sage grimaced, feeling violated by the presence of the neighbor. Why did he have to work outside when all she wanted was a little time alone? At least he hadn’t spoken to her.

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