Bad Girl Reputation by Elle Kennedy



Everyone even vaguely related to me is in this house. Dressed in black and huddled together in awkward conversation around cheese plates and casserole dishes. My baby pictures on the wall. In fits and starts, someone clinks a fork against a bottle of Guinness or a glass of Jameson to raise a toast and tell an inappropriate story about how Mom once rode a Jet Ski topless through the Independence Day boat parade. While my dad looks uncomfortable and stares out the window, I sit with my brothers and pretend we’re familiar with these old stories about our mother, the fun-loving, life-by-the-balls-grabbing Laurie Christine West … when in reality we never knew her at all.

“So we were hot-boxing it to Florida in the back of an old ice-cream truck,” starts Cary, one of my mother’s cousins. “And somewhere south of Savannah, we hear this noise, like a rustling around, coming from the back …”

I cling to a bottle of water, fearing what I’ll do without something in my hands. I picked a hell of a time to get sober. Everyone I’ve run into is trying to shove a drink in my hand because they don’t know what else to say to the poor motherless girl.

I’ve considered it. Sliding up to my old bedroom with a bottle of anything and knocking it back until this day ends. Except I’m still regretting the last time I slipped.

But it would certainly make this entire ordeal slightly more tolerable.

Great-aunt Milly is doing circles around the house like a goldfish in a bowl. Every pass, she stops at the sofa to pat my arm and weakly squeeze my wrist and tell me I look just like my mother.


“Someone’s gotta stop her,” my younger brother Billy whispers beside me. “She’s going to collapse. Those skinny little ankles.”

She’s sweet, but she’s starting to creep me out. If she calls me by my mom’s name, I might lose my shit.

“I tell Louis to turn down the radio,” Cousin Cary continues, getting excited about his story. “Because I’m trying to figure out exactly where the noise is coming from. Thought we might be dragging something.”

Mom had been sick for months before she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. According to Dad, she’d dealt with a constant pain in her back and abdomen that she’d ignored as the aches of getting older—and then a month later she was dead. But to me, this all started only a week ago. A call in the middle of the afternoon from my brother Jay urging me to come home, followed by another from my dad saying Mom wasn’t going to be around much longer.

They’d all kept me in the dark. Because she hadn’t wanted me to know.

How messed up is that?

“I’m talking about, for miles, this knocking around in there. Now, we’re all pretty baked, okay? You gotta understand. Ran into this old-timer hippie freak back in Myrtle Beach who hooked us up with some kush—”

Someone coughs, grumbles under their breath.

“Let’s not bore them with the details,” Cousin Eddie says. Knowing glances and conspiratorial smirks travel among the cousins.

“Anyway.” Cary starts up again, hushing them. “So we hear this, whatever it is. Tony’s driving, and your mom,” he says, gesturing his glass at us kids, “is standing in front of the freezer with a bong over her head like she’s about to beat a raccoon to death or something.”

My mind is far, far away from this ridiculous anecdote, jumbled and twisted with thoughts of my mother. She spent weeks lying in bed, preparing to die. Her last wish was for her only daughter to find out she was sick at the last possible moment. Even my brothers were forbidden from being at her bedside in the slow, agonizing slip into her final days. Mom preferring, as always, to suffer in silence while keeping her children at a distance. On the surface it might seem she did it for the benefit of her kids, but I suspect it was for her own sake—she wanted to avoid all those emotional, intimate moments that her impending death would no doubt trigger, the same way she avoided those moments in life.

In the end, she was relieved to have an excuse not to act like our mother.

“None of us want to open the freezer, and someone’s shouting at Tony to pull over, but he’s freaking out because he sees a cop a few cars behind us and, oh yeah, it occurs to us we’re carrying contraband across state lines, so …”

And I can forgive her. Until her last breath, she was herself. Never pretending to be anything else. Since we were kids, she’d made it clear she wasn’t particularly interested in us, so we never expected much. My dad and brothers, though—they should have told me about her illness. How do you keep something like that from your child, your sister? Even if I was living a hundred miles away. They should have told me, damn it. There might have been things I wanted to say to her. If I’d had the time to think about it more.

“Finally, Laurie tells me, you’re gonna flip open the lid and we’re gonna throw open the side door and Tony is gonna slow down enough to kick whatever it is out onto the shoulder of the road.”

Chuckles break out from the crowd.

“So we count to three, I close my eyes, and I throw open the lid, expecting fur and claws to leap for my face. Instead, we see some dude in there asleep. He wandered in who knows when. Somewhere back in Myrtle Beach, maybe. Just curled up and took a nap.”

This isn’t how I pictured coming back to Avalon Bay. The house I grew up in crowded with mourners. Flower arrangements and sympathy cards on every table. We left the funeral hours ago, but I guess these things follow you. For days. Weeks. Never knowing when it’s acceptable to say, okay, enough, go back to your lives and let me go back to mine. How do you even throw out a three-foot flower heart?