“You’ve changed,” Sara observed when we drove home on Friday.
“What are you talking about?”
“It’s not bad,” she said quickly. “I think it’s Evan – he’s made you…
happier. I like seeing you like this.” I absorbed her words with my eyes
scrunched. She continued, ignoring my reaction. “Why aren’t you dating
“Are you done?” I asked dubiously.
“Sara, I cannot date anyone, forget about Evan Mathews,” I declared.
“And despite your assumptions, he realy doesn’t want to date me.”
“Em, you’re seriously blind. Why wouldn’t he want to date you? He
spends just about every second that he can with you.”
“We’re friends,” I stressed.
“Whatever you have to say to convince yourself,” Sara said, shaking
her head. “But did you know that he’s been asked out by several girls
and won’t even give them the time of day?”
I shrugged, but a smirk crept on my face in hearing this. Sara eyed me
with a smal shake of her head as she puled up in front of my house.
“I’l pick you up at two o’clock tomorrow,” Sara said as I got out of the
“Have fun at the game tonight,” I told her, leaning in the car.
“Al the nominees get announced onto the field at half time, right?”
She roled her eyes at the thought of being paraded in front of the spectators.
I laughed and closed the door.
I practicaly hummed through my chores the next morning. I was looking
forward to getting out of the house for the last game before the
playoffs and the ice cream Evan, Sara and I were going to try to sneak
in on the way home. After replacing the trash bag in the kitchen, I
turned to go back to my room to find Carol blocking my path.
“What are you up to?” she demanded.
“I don’t understand,” I said slowly, recognizing the fire in her eyes. My
body tensed, evaluating her stance and checking to see if she was
holding anything in her hands. Her hands were empty and set firmly
on her hips.
“Are you fucking someone?” she accused with disgust. My jaw dropped
open. “I don’t know what you’re up to, but you don’t seem to care
about anyone other than yourself - even more than usual. When I figure
it out, you’l wish you never treated me with such disrespect.”
Confusion swirled with anxiety as the tension continued to build. I
couldn’t find the words to provide her with the proper answer to her
“Maybe you should be spending more time at home, so I know what
you’re up to.”
“I’m sorry,” I blurted, not knowing what else to say. I was terrified by
the thought of being confined within these wals any longer than I was
already sentenced, and it was the first thing that came out of my
mouth. My head rocked to the right as her closed fist colided with my
jaw. My hand instinctively covered where she made contact as my eyes
watered from the force of the blow. A sharp breath inhaled, but not
from me, folowed by whimpers. I looked toward the smal sounds and
found Jack and Leyla standing with big eyes in the dining room. Leyla
was crying, her sobs muffled by her smal hand that hung from her
mouth. Big tears soaked her soft, round cheeks. Jack was silent, but
his wide shocked eyes were more painful than Leyla’s uncontrolable
sobs. My heart broke as I stepped to comfort them. Carol grabbed my
arm, stopping me.
“Look what you’ve done,” she growled, glaring at me with her cold
hateful eyes. “Get out of my sight.” I alowed the heart wrenching image
of Leyla and Jack’s terrified faces to brand me before retreating to
I threw myself on my bed and cried into my pilow. My heart ached as
their image continued to burn in my head. They were never supposed
to see. It was never supposed to touch them. I couldn’t contain my
spasms as I cried harder, stifling my moans with my pilow. I was supposed
to protect them from this. The guilt consumed me until I
couldn’t cry anymore and sunk into a draining sleep.
My body tensed with a streak of pain across the back of my legs. I
shook out of my slumber, not certain if I’d dreamt it. The second lash
against my bare skin confirmed my waking nightmare.
“You selfish cunt.” I recognized the words through clenched teeth.
I puled my legs into me, covering my head with my hands, leaving my
back exposed. With each rageful swing, my body recoiled, receiving
the sharp burning lashes with a jaw tightened grunt.
“How could you hurt them like that?” she demanded, with a fury that
made her almost uninteligible. “I knew I should never have let you set
foot in my home - you’ve destroyed everything.” Her hatred streaked
across my back as she swung wildly. I could barely breathe. I clenched
my teeth harder, tensing with each strike, unable to escape.
“You fucking worthless piece of shit. You should never have been
born.” She continued with her expletives, inaudible to my ears. I remained
in my protective bal, shutting her off, and blocking out the fire
emblazoning my flesh – searching for an escape. I retreated deeper
until I was no longer in the room with her, blocking out the pain and
rage and the tears dripping off my nose.
“I don’t want to see you for the rest of the day,” she grunted in exhaustion,
leaving my room.
I remained stil for another minute, listening to my erratic pulse
thumping in my ears and my breath quivering with each inhale. I
slowly unwrapped myself, my back an inferno. I turned to sit on the
edge of my bed, looking down at my trembling hands, embossed with
I leaned forward, my forearms on my thighs, forcing the air to pass
through my lungs at a slow even pace. That’s when I noticed the thin
leather belt coiled on the floor. Anger overtook me, slithering around
my heart. I continued to breathe deeply through my nose with a
clenched jaw. I was consumed by loathing, alowing the venom to
pump fervently through my veins. I didn’t have the strength to push it
away. Instead, I let it rest under my skin and feed my weary muscles. I
stood to prepare for my game.
I slid gingerly into Sara’s car, sitting up straight to avoid contact with
“Hi,” she began with a smile, and stopped short – her smile instantly
fading. I knew what I looked like, and her eyes reflected back the same
image I had seen in my mirror. My face was pale, contrasting with the
dark circles under my withdrawn, vacant eyes. I kept my lips pressed
together, afraid of being betrayed by a gasp of pain. I couldn’t look at
her, but I didn’t try to be anything different than the person she stared
at in horror.
She slowly puled away, unable to say anything. We drove in silence for
a moment until she finaly demanded, “I need you to tel me what
happened.” I kept my eyes directed toward the side window, without
seeing the passing scenery.
“Emma, please.” I could hear the desperation in her voice.
“It’s nothing, Sara,” I said flatly, stil unwiling to look at her. We arrived
at the school without saying another word. Absently, I walked to
the field, not noticing Sara walking beside me until a few girls greeted
us. As we approached the field, I puled the hood of my sweatshirt over
my head, focusing on the ground, ignoring everyone around me. The
varsity game was the only game being played, so as soon as the other
team arrived, we gathered for our pre-game warm-ups.
The first half of the game was an agonizing blur. I couldn’t focus, and
my legs failed me when I sprinted to a pass. I ended up quickly passing
the bal off or was unable to intercept it at al. At half time, Coach Peña
puled me aside.
“Are you okay?” he asked, the concern reflecting in his eyes.
“You seem stiff out there. Are you hurt?”
“I think I moved wrong and puled something in my back,” I lied, looking
“Do you want the trainer to look at it?”
“No.” The urgent words came out too quickly; shock flashed across his
eyes. “I’l be fine, realy,” I pleaded.
“Okay.” He paused. “I’l sit you out the second half, so you don’t push
it. I can’t afford to have you injured for the quarter finals on Friday.” I
We returned to the team that was gathered around the bench. To
everyone’s surprise, Coach Peña told Katie Brennan she was starting
the second half in my place. I sat with my hood over my head and my
hands in my pocket, avoiding the questioning stares. When the final
whistle blew, I rushed to the locker room before anyone knew I was
gone. I knew I’d have the locker room to myself since everyone usualy
went home to shower and change. It was a quick shower with the
warm water burning my inflamed skin, making it difficult to breathe. I
was getting dressed with my back to the door when I heard footsteps
behind me. I should have puled the curtain shut behind me, but it
didn’t matter now. I didn’t turn around and the person behind me
didn’t say anything. I delicately puled the turtleneck over my head,
covering my marks of disgrace. Unable to avoid the confrontation any
longer, I turned to face Sara. She was sitting on the bench across from
me with tears running down her cheeks and her jaw tensed. She
“I can’t,” she began, but choked on the words. Sara stopped to breathe
it away before uttering, “I can’t do this anymore.” I could only stare at
her, watching her crumble. A wal encased me, separating me so I
wouldn’t break with her. “I can’t ignore it; I can’t pretend that I don’t
see what she’s doing to you.”
Sara’s shoulders sunk as she slowly lifted her head, revealing the tears
streaming down her cheeks. “Emma, you have to tel someone.” Her
words sounded desperate and urgent. “If you don’t, then I wil.”
“No, you won’t,” I snapped. My tone was coated with ice that made
“What do you mean?” she demanded, even more passionately.
“Did you see your back? The blood was seeping through your shirt
during the game. Emma, I’m afraid some morning when I pul up to get
you, you won’t come out. I care about you, and I can’t watch her do
this to you.”
“Then don’t,” I stated coldly. I was disconnected from my thoughts,
and the words dug into Sara like daggers. She recoiled with each jab.
This was a confrontation I never saw coming, and my defenses were
heightened, not wiling to let her jeopardize everything I’d sacrificed to
protect Leyla and Jack.
“You won’t tel anyone about me, and I won’t tel anyone about how you
fuck every other guy that gives you the time of day.”
Sara’s eyes widened filed with pain; the mortal blow had been driven.
“You’re not the only one who’s good at keeping her mouth shut. I
know exactly who you are Sara, so don’t think for one minute you
know what’s good for me.”
“You bitch,” she murmured, the shock settling into her shoulders as
she practicaly disintegrated in front of me. “You fucking bitch.” She
couldn’t look up at me, covering her face to conceal the cascade of
“Stay out of my life. And keep your mouth shut.” I took my possessed
body and left her fighting to gain control of her breath after my verbal
assault. I didn’t look back. With my bag in hand, I walked away – not
truly comprehending what I’d just done, and at that moment, I didn’t
Jason and Evan were waiting outside the building when I walked out
of the school.
“Sorry about the loss,” Evan said. Then he looked at me, taken aback,
like he didn’t recognize me.
“Can you drive me home?” I asked before he could say anything.
“Sure,” he answered, deciding it was best not to ask the question that
flashed across his eyes. Jason remained quiet as we left him waiting
I gave him directions in a foreign flat tone when we drove out of the
Unable to contain the question any longer, he asked, “What happened
I stared out the window, not wanting to think about what I’d done –
letting the question dissipate into the air. He let my silence answer for
me and kept driving.
“Do you want to talk about it?” he offered gently. I could feel him looking
at me, but I kept staring out the window. I shook my head and held
my hands together to conceal the shaking. We puled up to my house in
tense silence. I got out of the car and shut the door before he could
make me face my betrayal with another question.
Dazed, I walked up the driveway to the back door. I looked around,
perplexed, when I found it locked. That’s when I realized the driveway
was empty. I was too entangled in my whirling emotions to care that I
was locked out of the house. I sat on the top step of the deck and
wrapped myself in my jacket against the cold October evening. I
brought my knees up to my chest and colapsed my head in them, releasing
my regret. I cried until the muscles in my chest hurt and my
sobs were tearless.
When the anger washed away, I was left sad, defeated and alone. The
darkness surrounded me while I waited for someone to come home. I
shivered against the cold wind whipping against me. I had no idea how
long I’d been sitting there, but I was startled from my holowness when
the headlights iluminated the driveway. Suddenly comprehending
what this might mean, my stomach released a surge of paralyzing fear.
When George walked around the side of the house alone, I released
the tension with a long breath.
“Carol and the kids are staying over at her mother’s tonight,”
George stated as he unlocked the door. I folowed him in silence. Before
I could retreat to my cave, he added, “I don’t know what
happened between you two today, but I want you to take it easy on
The statement threw a shocked look across my face that I knew he
“She’s under a lot of stress at work, and she needs to be able to relax at
home,” he explained. “Do what you can to make it easy for her.”
I stared at him for a second, before I whispered, “Okay.” My stomach
turned in disgust as I continued toward my room. He was never
around to see what happened – he couldn’t feel guilty for what he refused
I entered the dark room, closing the door behind me - not bothering to
turn on the light. I dropped my jacket on the floor and colapsed onto
my bed, faling into a restless sleep.
I couldn’t breathe. I grasped at my neck, trying to loosen the tightening
cord as my feet were puled off the bed. I couldn’t see in the dark,
but I could feel my body sway with each jerk of the thin rope. I tried to
reach above me to find something to pul myself up on. The line was
cutting into my neck, crushing my trachea. I became dizzy with the
pressure building in my head and the screaming of my lungs, demanding
the air that would never come.