The Help (Kings of Linwood Academy #1) - Callie Rose

1

Our squat two-bedroom house looks even uglier now that it’s empty.

When my shoes sat by the door and Mom’s cheesy art prints decorated the walls and our stuff was spread around the low-ceilinged space, it was easier to pretend it wasn’t a shithole.

Now?

There’s nothing to hide the peeling paint and the cracks in the plaster, the warped floors or the faintly mildewy smell that I guess has always been here. The outdated appliances sit like homages to the eighties in the dingy, worn kitchen. And strangely, the house looks smaller without all our stuff in it, almost claustrophobically tight. Thank God we’re done packing up the truck, because I don’t really want to step foot inside this place again.

My mom wraps an arm around my shoulder as we stand on the front stoop peering into the empty space.

“Well, that’s it, kiddo. End of an era.”

She sounds wistful and nostalgic already, and I know in her head, she’s already carefully erasing all the bad shit that happened while we lived here, polishing up only the happy memories and placing them front and center. By the time we get to Connecticut, this old house in Arizona will have reached an almost mythical status in her head—only the good remembered, the bad buried as if it never happened.

I don’t bother pointing out that the past decade is an era we should both be happy to see end. She knows it.

She just doesn’t like to dwell on that stuff.

And I know planning and organizing the move has been stressful enough for her, so I just hug her back and rest my head on her shoulder. She’s a few inches taller than I am, and now that I’m seventeen, I’ve pretty much given up hope that I’m ever going to catch up to her in height.

“Yep. End of an era.”

“Are you sure you’re okay with this, Harlow?” She glances down at me, concern shining in her toffee-brown eyes. “I know it was sudden. And I hate to take you away from all your friends here—”

“Mom, it’s okay. I’m okay,” I say firmly, interrupting her before she lets her guilt snowball. She shouldn’t feel guilty for this at all. If anything, I’m the one who ruined her life. “This is an amazing job offer. You have to take it.”

She squeezes my shoulder tighter, and I feel her shrug. “Well, it’s not that amazing. It’s just housekeeping—”

“Yeah, but for a family that’s so fucking rich they can afford to pay you almost six figures a year to be their Executive Housekeeper or whatever.”

She pokes me in the side with her free hand as she laughs. “That’s Ms. Executive Housekeeper to you.”

I squirm out of her grasp then turn to face her, leveling her with my most serious stare. She was nineteen when she had me, so people often mistake her for my older sister. I look a lot like her—same straight nose, heart-shaped face, and dark chocolate hair—but I must’ve gotten my green eyes from my dad.

“Mom, this is a good thing. It’s worth moving for. I’ll miss Bayard, but I’m sure this Fox Hill place will be cool too.”

Actually, I looked it up online, and “cool” isn’t exactly the right word to describe it. “Painfully rich” or “extremely ostentatious” are probably better descriptors. It looks like an East Coast, yuppy waterfront town, and I’m not sure how the fuck I’m ever going to fit in there. Bayard might be kind of a shithole, just like our house, but at least it’s familiar. I know where I fit in here, and I don’t have to put on airs or try to please anybody but myself.

But I’d rather shove hot needles under my fingernails than say any of that to my mom. She’s already agonized over this decision enough.

“I think it will be.” She beams at me, her optimism breaking to the surface again like it always does. “You want the Nissan or the moving truck?”

“Ugh. Nissan, please.” The truck isn’t even that big, but I still cringe at the idea of trying to navigate my way through traffic in that thing.

“Deal.” She fishes her keys out of her pocket, closes and locks the front door of the house, and then hands the key ring to me. “You know where we’re stopping, right? In case we get separated.”

I roll my eyes. “Yup, I know, Mom. And I’ve got GPS on my phone. I’ll be fine.”

We’re heading down the walk toward the beat-up Nissan Versa and the moving truck parked