A Love So Dangerous - Lili Valente



“Forgetting a debt doesn’t mean it’s been paid” –Irish proverb

In a week, it will all be over.

In a week, the pieces of my family will be scattered like dandelion seeds in a hard wind and there’s not a thing I can do about it.

Deep down, I know that. I know this time the Cooneys are so screwed there will be no sweet-talking our way out of trouble. Still, I keep shifting the bills around on the scarred kitchen counter and punching numbers into my calculator, hoping to find a way to keep the balls in the air and the kids out of the system.

But the state doesn’t care that I’ve been running this family since I was seventeen and doing a pretty good job of it until now. My father’s the legal guardian. All it will take is a hard look in our direction—the kind of hard look that will come when we get kicked out of the house and the kids start going to school smelling like they’re living in a van—and it will become obvious that Chuck is an unfit parent. Before you can say “throw the baby out with the bathwater,” the four underage Cooneys will be scooped up by the Department of Human Services and trundled off to separate foster homes.

All of that could be avoided, of course, if the taxman would give me a break. But the government doesn’t care that my father dropped all our mad money at The Sweet Pickle last month, paying off his bar tab before the owner’s grandson, Hal, made good on his threat to beat the money out of Chuck. The taxman wants the delinquent taxes, and the kids, whose lives that measly twelve hundred dollars is going to ruin, be damned.

You’d have the cash if you’d stood up to Chuck and kept your mouth shut about where the money was hidden.

“Right,” I mumble to myself. “And let a guy with a metal plate in his shoulder get beaten half to death.”

“You talking to me, Caitlin?” Danny calls out from the living room, where my twelve-year-old brother has settled in to play one of his bloody video games while the baby is watching Sesame Street upstairs.

“No!” I shout. “And turn that down. I can’t hear myself think.”

Danny ups the volume in response. I grit my teeth and shift the electrical bill to the back of the queue—it’s April and still cool, we can make do without air conditioning if the electricity gets shut off—but that only frees up another hundred and twenty bucks. I can snag a bag of groceries from Sister Maggie down at the church, but that won’t feed this crew for more than a few days.

Three boys between the ages of eight and twelve take down a lot of food, and even Emilie is starting to put away her share. Emmie’s always been on the small side so I’m glad she’s putting on weight, but at the rate these kids are sucking down mac 'n cheese there’s no way I’m paying the property tax without somebody going hungry. Unless a rich old aunt from the old country dies and leaves me her fortune, that twelve hundred, seventy-three dollars, and two cents I need by next Wednesday might as well be twelve million.

My gram always said you couldn’t make a silk purse from a sow’s ear, and I don’t even have a sow’s ear. I’ve got three little brothers, a two-year-old niece I’ve raised since she was two months old, a father who hasn’t held down a job in six months, a hundred bucks left in my bank account, and bills.

To say this is not the way I was hoping to spend my twentieth birthday would be an understatement.

“Well, look at you.” Daniel breezes into the kitchen, video game controller still in hand, to grab a fistful of pretzels from the bin on the counter. He munches as he looks me up and down, taking in my skintight black jeans and shimmering gold tank top with a curled lip. “Looking slutty. Where you going?”

“Out with Sherry,” I say, with a glare. “And watch your mouth.”

With his dark blonde curls, green eyes, and ski-slope nose, Danny and I resemble each other more than anyone else in the family, but we couldn’t be more different. I spend my life cleaning up other people’s messes; he spends his lighting fires for me to put out. He’s a smart-mouthed troublemaker who’s already made a name for himself with the Giffney P.D.