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99 Days

Day 1

Julia Donnelly eggs my house the first night I’m back in Star Lake, and that’s how I know everyone still remembers everything.
“Quite the welcome wagon,” my mom says, coming outside to stand on the lawn beside me and survey the runny yellow damage to her lopsided lilac Victorian. There are yolks smeared down all the windows. There are eggshells in the shrubs. Just past ten in the morning, and it’s already starting to smell rotten, sulfurous and baking in the early summer sun. “They must have gone to Costco to get all those eggs.”
“Can you not?” My heart is pounding. I’d forgotten this, or tried to, what it was like before I ran away from here a year ago: Julia’s reign of holy terror, designed with ruthless precision to bring me to justice for all my various capital crimes. The bottoms of my feet are clammy inside my lace-up boots. I glance over my shoulder at the sleepy street beyond the long, windy driveway, half expecting to see her cruising by in her family’s ancient Bronco, admiring her handiwork. “Where’s the hose?”
“Oh, leave it.” My mom, of course, is completely unbothered, the toss of her curly blond head designed to let me know I’m overreacting. Nothing is a big deal when it comes to my mother: The President of the United States could egg her house, her house itself could burn down, and it would turn into not a big deal. It’s a good story, she used to say whenever I’d come to her with some little-kid unfair- ness to report, no recess or getting picked last for basketball. Remember this for later, Molly. It’ll make a good story someday. It never occurred to me to ask which one of us would be doing the telling. “I’ll call Alex to come clean it up this afternoon.” “Are you kidding?” I say shrilly. My face feels red and blotchy, and all I want to do is make myself as small as humanly possible—the size of a dust mote, the size of a speck—but there’s no way I’m letting my mom’s handyman spray a half-cooked omelet off the front of the house just because everyone in this town thinks I’m a slut and wants to remind me. “I said where’s the hose, Mom?”
“Watch the tone, please, Molly.” My mom shakes her head resolutely. Somewhere under the egg and the garden I can smell her, the lavender-sandalwood perfume she’s worn since I was a baby. She hasn’t changed at all since I left here: the silver rings on every one of her fingers, her tissue-thin black cardigan and her ripped jeans. When I was little I thought my mom was the most beautiful woman in the world. Whenever she’d go on tour, reading from her fat novels in bookstores in New York City and Chicago and L.A., I used to lie on my stomach in the Donnellys’ living room and look at the author photos on the backs of all her books. “Don’t you blame me; I’m not the one who did this to you.”
I turn on her then, standing on the grass in this place I never wanted to come back to, not in a hundred million years. “Who would you like me to blame, then?” I demand. For a second I let myself remember it, the cold, sick feeling of seeing the article in People for the first time in April of junior year, along with the grossest, juiciest scenes from the novel and a glossy picture of my mom leaning against her desk: Diana Barlow’s latest novel, Driftwood, was based on her daughter’s complicated relationship with two local boys. The knowing in my ribs and stomach and spine that now everyone else would know, too. “Who?
For a second my mom looks completely exhausted, older than I ever think of her as being—glamorous or not, she was almost forty when she adopted me, is close to sixty now. Then she blinks, and it’s gone. “Molly—”
“Look, don’t.” I hold up a hand to stop her, wanting so, so badly not to talk about it. To be anywhere other than here. Ninety-nine days between now and the first day of freshman orientation in Boston, I remind myself, trying to take a deep breath and not give in to the overwhelming urge to bolt for the nearest bus station as fast as my two legs can carry me—not as fast, admittedly, as they might have a year ago. Ninety-nine days, and I can leave for college and be done.
My mom stands in the yard and looks at me: She’s bare- foot like always, dark nails and a tattoo of a rose on her ankle like a cross between Carole King and the first lady of a motorcycle gang. It’ll make a great story someday. She said that, she told me what was going to happen, so really there’s no earthly reason to still be so baffled after all this time that I told her the worst, most secret, most important thing in my life—and she wrote a best-selling book about it.
“The hose is in the shed,” she finally says.
“Thank you.” I swallow down the phlegmy thickness in my throat and head for the backyard, squirming against the sour, panicky sweat I can feel gathered at the base of my backbone. I wait until I’m hidden in the blue-gray shade of the house before I let myself cry.

99 Days
by by Katie Cotugno