Wrong Side of Town Online

Chapter One

Estella

Even through the phone I could tell Dad was drunk again.

I could tell from the way he slurred incoherently and said the name over and over again like it was going to bring her back.

Fiona.

But the mantra wasn’t going to bring my mother back. Ghosts didn’t come back, even if they were living.

Squeezing my eyes shut, I tried to muster up some sort of courage, but that name had a crippling effect on me whenever Dad said it. He had this way of taking away all the good memories of her and replacing them with the bad.

I held the phone away from my ear and took a few deep breaths to calm myself. My eyes glided over the familiar pasty white walls of the Penthill Community Center, over the large bulletin board positioned just within the entrance, and finally to the service desk where Michelle stood staring at me.

Michelle was in her late-twenties and ran the volunteering program at the Penthill Community Center where I volunteered every Monday and Friday after school in the soup kitchen.

“Are you okay?” Michelle mouthed at me when I caught her eye.

Concern filtered through her eyes as she studied me. She was one of those people who couldn’t help but care.

Somehow, I managed to nod even though I was about as far from okay as I could get. My shift at the community center had just ended and I was about to go home to this—to my drunken dad who would probably be passed out by the time I got there.

Sometimes I wished I could just go away. Somewhere. Anywhere. I wanted to escape from the problems that continued to haunt me as I grew older. I wanted something to wrap me up and carry me away, until I felt as light and weightless as a cloud. Until my mind was floating somewhere else, lost in a blur of colors and sounds.

“That bitch…that whore…who the fuck does she think she is?”

I cringed as Dad said each word. It hurt to hear him talk about her like that. Even after all these years, it still hurt.

“Daddy, please, I’ll talk to you about this later.” There was a hint of desperation in my voice.

I hated how weak I sounded. I hated that I always let this get the better of me.

“Yeaaah, fine.” The line disconnected and I let out a quick breath.

My head was swimming, but now wasn’t the time to have a breakdown. I put my phone into my bag and feigned a smile as I walked over to Michelle who was still studying me with concern.

“Is everything okay, Estella?”

I forced my head up and down in a nod. “Yes, everything’s fine. If there isn’t anything else that needs to be done, do you mind if I leave? My brother should be here to pick me up soon.”

Truth be told, Nathan wouldn’t be here for another thirty minutes, but I needed to get outside into the fresh air and hope that Dad’s words would fade from my ears.

A frown pulled down on the corners of Michelle’s mouth, but she nodded regardless. She wanted to say more, but she didn’t know exactly what to say to me, the girl who was always so well put together and responsible.

Just like everyone else, she couldn’t quite figure out if there was really something wrong with me or not. And that was fine with me. I preferred it that way.

“Thanks for your help tonight. You’re fitting in really well around here.”

I’d started volunteering here a week ago after my brother, Nathan, had seen an ad posted on a noticeboard at his college. I’d been a volunteer at the Statlen animal shelter for a while and as much as I’d loved working there, I’d needed something more to distract me from my life.

“I’m glad you think so, it’s definitely been an experience.”

And that was the truth. Seeing the local homeless come in for a warm meal on cold nights like this one was affecting me in a way I’d never felt before. It hurt to think that they didn’t have a home or a family to take care of them.

“Well, be careful out there,” Michelle warned as I grabbed my bag from behind the counter and began heading towards the entrance. “Penthill’s never safe with that Madden gang lurking around.”

I paused and turned around, dread settling into me at the mention of the notorious motorcycle gang. “Are they really as bad as everyone says they are?”

I didn’t know much about the