Des has a morning routine. Des likes her morning routine. Her sisters slamming doors and screaming at each other is not part of that routine. Neither is the broken dishwasher, being out of sugar for her tea—she grimaces as she takes another still-scalding sip—or sleeping through her alarm.
"Des!" her youngest sister, Vi, screeches. "Kat locked me out!"
There's a loud thumping as Vi pounds on the bedroom door that she and Kat share. A moment later, she rushes into the kitchen, her auburn hair still tangled from sleep, her freckled face flushed with anger. "Did you hear me?"
"I'm busy," Des snaps, reaching into the sudsy sink. She needs to call Mr. Stan to come take a look at the dishwasher. And of course no one bothered to touch last night's dishes. It's Kat's week, but it's easier for Des to do it herself than to nag her sister.
"I got up to go to the bathroom, and Kat locked me out, and now she's FaceTiming with Pen about what to wear to their audition," Vi fumes. "Tell her to let me back in! I was sleeping!"
"Why don't you go sleep on the couch?" Des suggests.
She isn't sure when she became the arbiter of all her sisters' squabbles. They used to go to Gram with every skinned knee and hurt feeling, but lately—especially since Gram's knee replacement a few weeks ago—it's been on Des. It's 'all' been on Des: shopping for groceries, picking up Gram's prescriptions, cooking supper, washing the dishes, and doing the laundry—all that on top of running the bookstore. She thought things would go back to normal once Gram was home from the rehab center, but they haven't.
Maybe this is the way things are now. Forever. Dread washes over her at the thought.
"Why do I always have to give in?" Vi demands, twisting her hair into a ponytail. "You just don't want to fight with Kat."
There is some truth there. Kat has been extra venomous since her breakup. "I don't have time for this right now, Vi." Des tosses the clean silverware into the dish drainer. "I have to leave in five minutes if I want to open the store on time."
"Okay, okay." Vi yawns. "Where's Gram?"
"Miss Lydia picked her up and took her out for breakfast."
Vi points at the baking dish next to the stove. "Is that a strawberry crumble?"
Des nods. That's why there's no sugar for her tea. Des woke up when Bea came to bed at two in the morning after her late-night stress baking. That's been happening often enough lately that Des is starting to worry. She thought after Bea's acceptance to Georgetown—or at least after being named valedictorian—Bea would be able to chill out a little. She hasn't. If anything, she seems more tense than ever.
Des feels stretched in so many directions right now and inadequate in all of them.
Vi grabs the strawberry crumble and a clean fork. "Yay, breakfast!"
"Use a plate. And wash it when you're done." Des drains the sink, gulping down the rest of her bitter tea. God, when did she become their mother?
Footsteps pound down the wooden stairs, and then Kat saunters in, wearing high-waisted white shorts and a black The Future Is Female T-shirt. "What do you think? Do I look like a modern-day Jo March?"
"That's my shirt!" Vi protests.
Kat smirks. "It looks better on me."
Vi plants her hands on her slim hips. "You're going to stretch it out! Des!"
Des closes her eyes. Maybe if she closes her eyes, they'll go away.
"You're calling the sister with the eating disorder fat?" Kat scowls, tossing her red curls over her shoulder. "Nice, Vi."
"I was talking about your ginormous boobs, and you know it," Vi retorts.
"Okay, no talking about Kat's body." Des frowns. She's been worried about Kat relapsing since her douchebag boyfriend broke up with her last month. Is Kat's lack of appetite normal teenage heartbreak, or does she think Adam would still love her if she had a thigh gap? Des isn't sure.