After finally marrying the man of her dreams and having the baby she’s always wanted, Cassandra Harte believes she has the perfect life. Could she, like Job in the Bible, have a life that’s too perfect? Cassandra feels she must have, or God wouldn’t have laid it on her husband Nick’s heart to have their fifteen-year-old stepdaughter return home from a two-year stint in a school for wayward girls. Although Renee’s doctor is confident that he’s come up with just the right cocktail to keep Renee in check, Cassandra wonders what’s really going to happen when Renee moves in and decides she hates Cassandra again.
The woman’s harrowing screams fill the room. I turn away, not wanting to see her savagely slaughtered.
“No, no. Go back! He’s right there, dude!”
Shaking my head, I open my eyes and glower at my twelve-year-old stepson, who’s now on his feet, flailing his arms. I can’t believe I let him talk me into watching this horror flick, but he brought straight A’s and a bouquet of my favorite flowers home today. What’s a stepmom to do? I couldn’t resist. “Calm down, Bri.”
He flops down on the sofa, eyes still glued to the large flat screen TV. “She’s crazy, Cass. She could have gotten away.”
“Bri, you’ve watched enough of these slasher movies to know how it works.”
“I know, but it still drives me nuts.”
“This movie is driving me nuts.”
“It’s not even that scary. I don’t know why you keep closing your eyes. They don’t show anybody being killed, and the blood and the body parts are fake.”
“Okay, Bri. Enough…I get it!”
He reaches into the bowl on the small table in front of him and grabs a fistful of popcorn. I smile at the sight of him stuffing his face and licking the salty butter off of his fingers. He’s such a boy and my heart. I’d give my life for Brian. He’s a good child and I pray he stays that way. However, I’m not sure if my prayers will be answered because tomorrow—
Renee— Brian’s fifteen-year-old sister— will return home from an almost two-year stint at a school for wayward girls. Concerned about what influence she may have on him, I’ve been a bundle of nerves ever since my husband and I reluctantly decided to let her back into our lives.
Suddenly the family room is illuminated. We look toward the door at Nick standing next to the light switch, clutching a script. He gives the TV a gander and then looks down, repeating lines under his breath. He stops mumbling and asks, “What’s going on?”
“Our son talked me into watching this gory movie. How are you doing with your lines?”
“I’m coming along,” he says, sitting on the arm of the sofa next to Brian.
“Whoa! Dad, this is the best. I mean the special effects are dope.”
“That’s nice,” Nick says, without looking up.
“Please don’t encourage him.”
“Encourage who?” Nick asks.
“Can’t you put that down for just a minute? You have all weekend to work on your lines. You don’t tape until Monday.”
“I know, babe. I just wanna get a jump on things. You know Andrew’s been on the producer’s case about expanding my part, and now that he’s given into our demands, the last thing I wanna do is screw up.”
“You won’t, dad.” Brian pats his father’s knee. Before Nick can respond, Brian jumps up like a Jack-in-the-Box ablaze and screams, “Oh no! He’s next. Wow, I can’t believe how good this is.” He moves the small table to the side and sits on the floor with his legs crossed.
“I never thought anything could get him more excited than soccer,” Nick says.
“Well, he can have it,” I say, rising.
“Where are you going?” Nick asks.
“To check on Nicky.”
“I just did. She’s still asleep.”
“Oh…okay. Well, I wanna just take a look.” I leave Brian gaping at the TV and head upstairs to our master bedroom. Nick follows me.
“Wait up, Cass. I was hoping we could revisit our conversation from this morning.”
Standing on the bottom stair, I pause with my back to Nick, afraid to turn around. At the moment, I’m not sure what’s more terrifying—the masked serial killer in the movie, or a discussion about Renee. I continue ascending the stairs and with a quick look over my shoulder say, “Okay, Nick. Just let me take a peek at the baby.”
“Sure. I’ll be in our room.”
At the top of the staircase, I watch Nick disappear into our bedroom and make my way to Nicky’s room. I step into her nursery and breathe in the sweet lilac and powder scent of our daughter. She’s a precocious ten-month old and the center of my universe. I stand over her crib in awe of her magnificence. A feeling of pure gratitude washes over me. My eyes sting and tear up when I think about how blessed I am. God has been so good to me. I have a wonderful husband, a sweet son, and a darling daughter. Not to mention, a nice home, a career I love, and extended family and friends. I guess, like Job in the Bible, my life’s too perfect. It must be, or God wouldn’t have laid it on Nick’s heart to have Renee come home. Sure, her doctor’s confident that he’s come up with just the right cocktail to keep her in check, but that’s all theory. What’s really going to happen when she moves in and decides she hates me again?