Off Limits

By: Lauren Landish

When Brittany came along, though, Daddy had gone from merely making sure I didn't get hurt, to letting Brittany set all sorts of rules about where I could go, what places were good enough for me, and worst of all, which people I could and could not see. She wanted me to carry on the society connections that she had given Daddy access to, including making sure I met up with the right kind of boys. Most of them were snobbish losers, and more than a few I felt even I could kick their asses. It was the biggest source of conflict within my family, and now that I was nearly twenty-three, I was sick of it.

"Daddy, one of the girls from my European history class invited me to an art exhibition, and I told her I’d go. I didn't know at the time about tonight. But if I leave now, I can meet up with her in time for the opening event," I said, trying not to put a hint of whine into my voice. I was a senior at Georgia Tech, for God's sake!

"I don't know, honey," Daddy said, looking at me worriedly. "Who is it?"

"The artist? I'm not really sure. I think it's someone from Germany," I said, blatantly avoiding the question since I already knew the reaction. I'd known Brittany long enough to practically read her mind on this subject.

"I think what Patrick wants to know is, which friend are we talking about?" Brittany asked. I didn't really like Brittany, but I didn't hate her either. She thought she was doing the right thing for me, even if she did treat it more as a duty than as a relationship. I could respect that, even if I didn't like it. I’d promised myself when I was younger that when or if I had a little girl, I would be more emotionally involved in her life than Brittany was in mine. "Is it Arianna?"

"No," I grumbled, not lying. I was raised better than that, and even if I was upset with Brittany or didn't like what she sometimes said, I wasn't going to lie, especially in front of Daddy.

"Who is it, Abby?" He asked, slicing through his steak. He dipped it in his little cup of sauce, chewing happily. Ever since his cardiac incident a few years prior, he'd been warned by his doctor to limit his red meat intake, and while he did his best, he relished opportunities like this to cut loose a little bit.

"Shawnie," I answered. Before Brittany could object, I started in on my defense. “She's really doing well, and her grades are good. We both graduate this year, and she's looking at going to grad school far away. So this may be one of the last chances the two of us have to do a social event together. Besides, the exhibition is near the bus stop, and I know that I can . . .”

"No," Brittany said, cutting me off. "Not with that girl. And certainly not after sunset. Do you know what sort of places girls like that go to?"

For the first time, my feelings drifted from annoyance toward anger. Brittany had never given Shawnie a chance for quite a few reasons. First of all, Shawnie was from the wrong part of the country, an out-of-state girl from the Sand Hill section of South Carolina. She'd grown up not just blue collar, but no collar at all, raised by her grandmother in Section Eight housing after her mother had abandoned her and her father went to jail. Second of all, Shawnie was independent, and fiercely so. She'd earned a full ride scholarship to Georgia Tech and was majoring in aeronautical engineering. It was only because she still had to take some core classes that we'd met at all, first by chance in a freshman English class, where we'd clicked despite the differences in our backgrounds, and then this year by design in European history, a core course that we'd both put off for far too long.

"Brittany, Shawnie's a good girl," I repeated, doing my best to keep calm. At least being angry took the whine out of my voice. "She's never been in trouble, and she's as smart as can be. A lot smarter than some of the people in this room, in my opinion. Besides, this exhibition is at The High. It's a high-class sort of event, it's close to campus, and it's going to be attended by a lot of the influential people."

"I'm sure Shawnie is a fine girl," Daddy said, trying to prevent a public argument between his wife and his daughter, "but your mother is right, honey. It's already after dark, and The High is in Midtown, where a lot of unsavory types go. Georgia Tech is a great school, and I'm proud that you're going there, but you have to admit that Midtown gets a little rowdy after dark. I'm sure that Shawnie wouldn't try to get you in trouble, but trouble could just find you in that part of town. I'm sorry, but the answer's no. Maybe next time."

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