1)Hello, Wisconsin

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"Full Moon" by The Black Ghosts
***

Summer was here but my brother drove with the windows rolled up. Though it was May the weather was still brisk in Wisconsin. When we left the comforting warm weather of North Carolina it was seventy-five out, the sky a cloudless blue.
I brushed my long hair behind my ears and stared blankly out the window at the passing sign; Welcome to Wisconsin. This sky was a cloudy gray. It gave off the impression a heavy rain was approaching. Soon enough we passed a smaller sign stating the county we were arriving in. Located on the southwestern shore of Lake Michigan is a town called Kenosha. Looks are deceiving when arriving in this place. One passing through may assume this was a small town smacked between Milwaukee and Chicago, but it's not. The population is well over ninety-nine thousand. Even still, the city still holds small-town charm. Houses are close together in neighborhoods and small quick shop stores litter the downtown. The small-town atmosphere was the reason my father and mother left years previously. They wanted more than a simple town for their son and daughter.

My first thoughts of this deceivingly large town was noticing how fast people drove. During the forty-five-minute drive through Chicago, people whipped by at amazing speeds ranging from seventy-eighty miles per hour, and yet, all were such excellent drivers that they didn't crash. The same couldn't be said in my beloved state of North Carolina. People didn't drive at speeds nearly as but weren't as talented of drivers.

Still, bad drivers and all, I missed North Carolina. I missed my friends, the slight southern drawls people had, and most of all, I missed home.
If someone had informed me just two weeks ago I would be moving with my older brother to our grandparents' house in lower Wisconsin for the entire summer, I would have laughed at the absurdity of such a thing. But I wasn't laughing now. The mere thought of living without cable or phone reception for one whole summer had my stomach curdling.

My widowed father had recently remarried after a whirlwind six-month relationship. My brother Sam thought it was in our -but mostly my- better interest to give the newlyweds space as my father and his new bride jetted off to Europe for an extended honeymoon. Sam could see I didn't have the patience to deal with our dad's happy new bride. He thought it best to bring me with him instead of leaving me to stew with the jubilant newlyweds.

I found there was far too much to dislike about my new step-mom Lauren Hodges. From the outside looking in someone could make the argument my attitude towards my new step-mother was simply because I disliked the idea of no longer being daddy's little girl. This was not the case. Lauren was just too immature. She was always gushing about something or the other and it usually had something to do with hair products or some type of celebrity drama in gossip columns. She holds the mentality of a sixteen-year-old; a teenager trapped in a model-like twenty-six-year-olds body.

I personally feel Lauren is more immature than myself and that was saying a lot. I still enjoyed pushing my dad to his limits by extending my curfews and joyriding his beloved 1978 Chevy impala. I was stubborn and conceded but Lauren seemed even younger with her own nature. The young women had naïve perceptive on life that everything nearly always revolved around her. She had the audacity to still all her own father daddy. It was strange courtship for my dad. There less than a five-year age gap between Lauren and the twenty-one-year-old Sam. Even worse, I strongly suspected Lauren had been checking Sammy out during a recent beach trip when he had been shifting out of his shirt. The memory makes me wrinkle my nose in disgust. Even still, as bizarre as it is to see a man in his forties frolicking around with someone half his age, Lauren is still my new stepmother.

It had been eight years since our mother passed away, marking eight incredibly long years William Parker spent lonely as he raised his two children. Being alone as the sole caregiver of two kids, dad became a workaholic. Every week for him was dedicated to a three-to-four-day business trip out of state or country. When he was home he resorted to staying at his office until late hours of the night. Growing up the man missed nearly every football and soccer game along with parent-teacher conferences. For two of my birthdays he was out of town while celebrated with my paternal grandparents.
Then one day, William met Lauren. Gone was the father who seemed to lead a lackluster existence where he could barely smile. William Parker now had a spring in his step. He was always smiling like a fool, and, -as if to make up for the eight long years he had played the role of neglecting father- he started to incorporate himself more into his children's lives.

As much as it pleased me my depressing father had finally met someone new at his office to bring him out of what I had been mentally dubbing 'zombie mode', I couldn't help but wish the man had bothered to find someone his own age. This relationship was awkward at best. It was too cruel for a teenager having to see her forty-something father dress younger and 'hip' to attend Kanye West concerts. What made the situation worse was that dad thought the word 'hip' was still in style.

I always went out of my way to be cordial to Lauren even though she came across as a fool. It was only when my dad proposed that our relationship became more strained. Lauren had randomly taken to offering motherly advice or warning me to wear jackets when it was chilly outside.

Things became worse after that. Lauren gave me talks about having to adjust my bad attitude, sadly explaining that it wasn't healthy for me or my complexion to grimace so often. The straw that broke the camel's back for me was the young woman making jubilant plans to have more kids with William. After that, it cemented my utter dislike for Lauren altogether.
More children for the couple would mean I would lose baby status of my small family to some crying brat one day. I didn't know how Sam felt for I've never asked. I personally loathed the thought that after being ignored by our own father the last eight years he would suddenly play the role of doting father-of-the-year to his and Lauren's new children. It angered me and after that I made sure to treat any situation with Lauren as nothing but hostile.
That was where I went wrong. That was my crime for being forced to move to Kenosha for the summer.

Still, even with my father's ridiculous bride and new life ahead of him, I couldn't decide who I disliked more as Sam drove. My father and Lauren, or, Sam for making me move with him to our grandparent's house instead of living home alone. After all, I wasn't picky; I was sixteen. I could have stayed in another hotel room besides William and Lauren while they honeymooned. I didn't need to see my dad if he didn't want to remember he had a still-not-legally-adult child.
I could have spent almost four months living in a hotel room and traveling Europe without ever seeing my father and been happy as a clam. Or, -my request that was outright denied- I could have stayed home alone back in North Carolina. I could make myself simple meals, I knew how to use a takeout menu. A grocery store was less than two blocks away.
But instead of staying at home or traveling Europe I was instead being forced to move in with two old people I hadn't seen since I was ten.

I silently suspected Sam's ugly breakup with his girlfriend of three years was what propelled him in wanting to move fifteen hours across the country for an entire summer. I doubted this was any feeling of our dad and Lauren deserving personal space for why Sam up and moved. He was simply doing this to run away from his own problems. Even though it had been an ugly breakup where Sam's girlfriend had broken his heart after cheating on him, I didn't see why this was my problem.
Sam was nearing twenty-two and staring his junior year of college; if he wanted to up and move across the country for no good reason, he should've done it himself. Bringing his baby sister along just seemed terribly unnecessary.

But, Sam Parker was not only my favorite family member, he was also my best friend. He was the guy who would help me with homework whether it had been English or math. Sam would cover for me when I stayed out too late past curfew while also being the one who threatened to knock the teeth out of a kid's mouth for bullying me in middle school.
Sam was the kind of brother who read me bedtime stories as a kid even when a fourteen-year-old guy probably didn't want to read books to a child anymore. Sam made lunches and dinner when dad wasn't around. He spent fifty-five afternoons helping me improve on penalty and corner kicks when I had to practice for soccer tryouts. Sam was beyond loyal to the point he would do absolutely anything for me if I asked. As much as I wanted to hate him for forcing me to come along, I couldn't.

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