If I close my eyes and pretend as hard as I can, the list in front of me has gallery dates and art supplies listed instead of line after line of jobs my step-mom thinks I can handle. I can barely tolerate being back home with her here. Once I have a job and can save enough to get my own place, I will be out of here before the ink dries on a lease agreement.

The walls of my childhood bedroom are still silver and black striped with my mixed media artwork displayed as a personal gallery. It looks the same now as it did during high school. My prior almost step-mom tried to talk my dad into shipping everything to me and turning this into a yoga studio for herself, but he had refused. Something or other about even though I was an adult who owned her own gallery, I was still his little girl and needed to have a place in his home. She never made it down the aisle with him; he wouldn’t marry someone who was so blatantly vicious about me. Jean, the current step-mom, was careful to be extra nice around him until they were married. Her behavior towards me since is another story, one more typical of stepmothers in fairy tales. I feel you, Cinderella.

When the economy went to shit, I could no longer afford my dream. I sold my car for two months of utilities and rent. Even with a loan from my father that floated my studio’s expenses for a few more after that, it was just too hard. It is not like I had become some big-name artist, but I was holding my own. For being just out of art school, I had done well for myself. A patron of the arts near my college had an old storefront he was looking to rent, and in exchange for some art and a date that didn’t go well for either of us, I had a gallery. Doing well for myself is not good enough in today’s world, however. With a tiny U-Haul of canvases, sculptures, and the assorted tools I couldn’t bear to sell to pay another month’s rent, I moved back home.

“Lia! It’s breakfast time. Get your lazy ass out of bed and come down here. Be a productive part of the household.” The intercom clicks off, but not before I hear Jean’s usual complaint. “That girl of yours is such a waste of space, honey. Can’t you do something?”

My dad won’t do anything to change her attitude; even in her mid-forties, she still has the body of a college coed—most of it plastic—and is his glorified trophy wife. They never expected me to move back home, and I think he believes this is just an adjustment period issue. Her only issue is with me. She lets him go play golf with his buddies or run off to Vegas for a “weekend with the guys” and never asks a question. I so much as breathe too loudly in Jean’s direction, and I’ve ruined her world. Jean is some sort of scientist, super smart, and if she could be anything but a raging bitch of an evil stepmother to me, I would like her. I try to for Dad’s sake.

Mom’s death still weighs on him. They were high school sweethearts, and I was their honeymoon baby. I am pretty sure the fact that I look so much like my mother is why Jean hates me so much. Okay, so maybe it was the four bottles of hairspray I gave her for the first Christmas she was with my dad along with a note that they might help with her 80s-era hairstyle.

I throw on a pair of jeans, buttoning them as I walk to my bedroom door. They are splattered with paint and scorched in a few places where they protected me from sparks while welding. Artists reserve the little black dresses for gallery openings, not for making art. At least spending my days in the studio has kept me in shape: hauling metal home from the scrapyard and holding parts over my head while welding was just as good of a workout as paying for a gym membership.

The intercom buzzes on again as I open the door. I press the button before Jean can yell, and I promise in my sweetest voice, “I’m on my way down.”

I grab my purse off the hook beside my door and head downstairs. Once upon a time, these stairs would have taken me past my dad and mom’s bedroom, but after Mom lost her battle with cancer, Dad could not stay in there any longer. It became the guest room, or rather Tasha’s room, once we were too big to sleep in the same bed.

Tasha is the highlight of being back home after years away. A best friend who is still my best friend despite so much time apart is a rare gift. She lives up to the designation of “BFF” in my contacts list. I do my best to make sure she knows how much I appreciate her and the use of her garage for a makeshift work studio. My sketchbook has a design I’m working on for of a tattoo that she wants to have done eventually, when she can summon up the courage to do it while still living under her dad’s roof.

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