"Grace!"

"Grace! Honey, it's nine thirty. What time does your father want you at the restaurant?"

"I don't care…" I groaned, willing her to go away.

"Grace,"

"What?"

"I shouldn't have to get you up."

"Then don't." I rolled over, clutching my pillow to my ears.

There was a loud obnoxious beeping coming from downstairs. Thank God! For once, Zoë's timing was perfect.

I didn't mind getting up now. It was just Mom's constant yelling that made me want to retreat farther into my warm cocoon of blankets.

I pushed back my sheets and placed my feet on the floor, wincing as the ice cold absorbed into my blood and shot throughout my entire body. I shivered. I needed something hot.

I trudged down the stairs, the awful smell of smoke attaching itself to every particle of air. I came into the kitchen to hear Zoë whining,

"I only wanted to make Daddy's birthday cake."

"Daddy likes German chocolate," I snickered as I entered. Not ash cake.

"I don't know how to make that," she admitted, "and get out of my life," she added nastily as I covered my mouth to try and hide my laugh and my "oh my God."

I tuned out Mom's and Zoë's banter as I opened the junk drawer.

"Mom, do we have any ribbon? I have to finish wrapping Dad's present."

"Kids, you have to go get dressed," she replied exasperated.

I rolled my eyes and marched up the stairs. I knew what I was going to wear. The only problem was: how was I going to where it? I mean an outfit can look great on a mannequin and look completely out of place and stupid on me…

Oh well. I slipped out of my comfortable warm pj's and turned to grab my shirt when I caught myself in the mirror.

Why is it that when you have a full length mirror you're always using the one that only reaches your shoulders? Oh, that's right, you just…don't want…to see. What's the word? Shame.

I touched my brown hair. The ends could use a trim, but I didn't like that straight, neat, orderly look that a trim gives it. I sigh and finish dressing with my back turned and my eyes closed.

For once I want to believe that I could be impulsive. Believe myself when I say maybe I'll cut my hair myself; my way…….. Yeah, right.

I scrambled back down the stairs; I wanted to get out of here as fast as I could.

"Look at you. You look beautiful." Judy was here. I love Judy, but she's just so different…especially from me; so far away.

"I'm working at the restaurant," I suppressed a grimace.

"As a hostess," Mom said with the hint of a smile (possibly pride?).

"As a person who seats people," I sighed.

Why does she always make everything BIGGER? I think it's because I don't make her proud enough so she has to look for it in meaningless trivial stuff.

"Wow, Sunday brunch. Now that's a fun crowd," Judy tries, she really does, and it's not like an invading privacy comment.

"I don't even know why I'm doing this," I grumbled.

"Because you made a commitment," Mom just has to add.

"I know," I sighed, "it's just I have so much homework. I really think I should just give him his present and leave."

"It was your idea to work at the restaurant; not your dad's and certainly not mine."

"Fine. I'll go."

Why does she have to make me feel guilty about wanting to back out of something Dad had guilted me into in the first place. She makes me feel like I'm committing a crime against her. That's me, Grace the Hardcore Criminal.

That's when Rick walks in. He's looking particularly weary and wet. I can feel a twinge of sympathy, but then everything else takes over.

"Mom, I really have to go. Dad wants me there at least an hour before we open," I add impatiently. It's just when Rick's in the room, how do I put this? It makes me want to leave it.

"But you haven't even brushed your hair,"

"I can do it at the restaurant. Can we go?" I don't care how it looks, I want to leave.

"I can take you. I have to open the store anyway," Judy suggests hesitantly. God Bless Aunt Judy!

"Okay! Let's go!"