“Get down,” Sara instructed fervently, puling me onto the seat.
“What’s wrong?” Evan inspected our sunken silhouettes with concern.
“Evan, turn around,” Sara demanded. He recognized the terror on my
face and did.
Stil facing forward, he asked, “What is going on?”
Before she could redirect him, Jared puled into her driveway. Sara unfastened
our seatbelts so we could slide to the floor behind the front
“Shit,” she whispered and puled out her phone. “Jared, shut off the
car. Hi mom. Listen, Jared – please listen to this Jared – is going to
come to the front door and you’re going to answer. He’s going to look
like he’s asking if we’re home, and you’re going to shake your head and
look like you’re teling him we’ve already gone to bed.
“Jared, please go.”
Jared, definitely perplexed by the situation, obeyed as directed. Anna
said something to Sara. I clutched my knees, staring at her as my body
shook and my stomach turned.
“Mom, I promise I’l explain when I get home. Keep the back door unlocked.
She hung up the phone and watched the exchange at the door from
between the seats. From my position on the floor behind the passenger
seat, I was unable to see what happened, but it was brief. Jared was
back in the car within a minute, awaiting further instructions.
“Pul out of the driveway and drive back to the main road at the end of
my street,” Sara guided him. “Take a right on the road, and then the
first road on the right. Jared, let me know if that Jeep folows you.”
After a stomach wrenching eternity, he said, “No, it’s stil parked across
from your house.”
Sara let out a sigh for the both of us. I couldn’t tel if I was actualy
“Are you going to tel me what’s going on?” Evan demanded, growing
I couldn’t bring myself to talk. I could only stare at Sara and shake my
“Who’s in the Jeep?” Evan inquired.
“My aunt,” I whispered, finding my voice. The admission of her presence
made me feel faint. What was she doing here?
“Are we on the other street yet?” Sara asked.
“Yeah,” Jared answered.
Sara sat back up on the seat, but I couldn’t bring myself to move.
“It’l be okay,” Sara consoled, puling me up by my hands and urging me
to sit on the seat. I slid onto the leather and sat with my head in my
shaking hands. “There’s no way she saw us. We noticed her from the
top of the hil, before she could see in the car.”
Evan turned around. “Are you not supposed to be out?”
“I’m never supposed to be out,” I quivered. I couldn’t look at him. I
leaned against the window and nervously puled at my lower lip with
“Stop at the blue house that’s stil under construction.” Sara leaned
over the seat to point it out to Jared. “Do you have a flashlight that I
“Sure, it’s in the trunk.”
They got out of the car, leaving Evan and I alone.
“What’s going to happen?”
“I don’t know,” I whispered, shaking my head.
“You’re going to be okay, right?” he asked, the concern resounding in
Before I could answer, Sara opened my door and puled me out by my
hand. Evan opened his door to folow. I fought to find my feet beneath
me, and leaned into Sara for support.
“Sara, what’s going to happen?” Evan questioned.
“We have to go. I’l talk to you later,” Sara blurted over her shoulder,
escorting me along the dirt path that would eventualy be a driveway,
heading towards the construction site.
“Emma,” Evan yeled. But I didn’t turn around. I alowed Sara to hurry
me along into the darkness.
I didn’t remember our trek through the woods from the back of the
unfinished property, to Sara’s expansive backyard. Fear had a way of
making time disappear, and the images came in flashes. I remembered
walking through the downstairs door, the sight of Anna’s concerned
face, and Sara laying me in the bed. I couldn’t close my eyes, and
stared blankly at the dark sky through her skylights.
My head spun rapidly, trying to figure out how she knew. Had she folowed
us al night? Eventualy, the fear subsided into a manageable
place. I sensed Sara sitting next to me, watching me nervously.
“Did she leave?” I whispered.
“Right before we came into the house, my mom said.”
“Do you think she knows?”
“I can’t see how. My mom said that she caled around seven and asked
to speak with you. She told Carol we went to get something to eat and
asked if you should cal her when you got back. Carol said no. My mom
doesn’t remember when the car showed up across the street, but noticed
it about fifteen minutes before I caled her.”
“What does your mom think?”
“She knows, Em. She doesn’t know everything, but she knows how impossible
they are. She would never say anything, I swear.”
I believed her.
“Does he know?”
“He’s caled a couple of times. Al he knows is that you’re realy freaked.
I wouldn’t tel him why, and he got angry with me. He wanted to come
back over, but I told him he couldn’t, so he asked to come by in the
morning. I convinced him that there wasn’t enough time since I had to
get you home by eight.
“She won’t do anything wil she?” For the first time since we saw
Carol’s car, Sara sounded scared.
“No, I’m sure she’l just accuse me of whatever lie she decides on, insult
me a lot, and send me to my room.” I looked up at Sara and realized I
couldn’t let her know how truly terrified I was to go home. I pushed
the fear away so I could put on a reassuring face for Sara’s sake.
I propped myself up to sit against the headboard.
“I realy freaked out, huh?” I tried to let out a laugh, but it sounded
“Em, you were so pale, I was afraid you might pass out.”
“I thought for sure that she saw us, that’s al. I was expecting her to
confront me and didn’t know if I could face her.” I was hoping to
downplay my paralyzed reaction in the car.
“My mom offered to try talking to her,” Sara stated halfheartedly.
“You know that won’t work,” I replied, trying to control the panic in
“I know,” Sara agreed with a defeated breath.
“I can’t believe I reacted like that,” I blurted, replaying my horrified reaction
in my head. “Evan’s probably wondering what the hel’s wrong
“He’s just worried,” Sara tried to soothe me. “He doesn’t think any less
of you, honestly.”
I took a deep breath, trying to regain control over my quivering body
before Sara noticed. What I couldn’t tel her was that if her mom caled,
it would be the worst thing that could happen. What I couldn’t show
her was that I was petrified and didn’t know how I was going to walk
into that house in the morning. I knew Carol didn’t need proof that I
disobeyed her. She just had to believe I did.
I sat straight up, heaving and covered in sweat. I looked around the
room, trying to place where I was. I recognized Sara and eased my fists
from their white knuckled grip of the blanket.
“You sounded like you couldn’t breathe.”
“Just a nightmare,” I explained, trying to relax my erected posture.
“What time is it?”
“Six-thirty,” she reported, stil concerned by my appearance.
“Do you want to talk about it?”
“I realy don’t remember it,” I lied. “You should get some more sleep.
I’m going to take a shower, okay?”
The smel of the earth stil lingered in my nose as did the burn in my
lungs from the weight of the dirt on my body, pressing the air out of
my chest. I shivered and pushed the nightmare away. Sara didn’t go
back to sleep. She was on her bed, waiting for me with a silver box in
“This was supposed to be a Christmas gift, but I can’t wait another
month.” Her face was too serious to be presenting a gift.
“It’s not as big of a deal as you think, but I realy need you to have it before
you go home today.”
Her choice of words struck me. I glanced at the silver package with apprehension.
Sara handed it to me with a stiff smile.
“Thanks.” I tried to smile back, but couldn’t get past her odd behavior.
I opened the box and unwrapped the tissue paper, and a silver cel
phone fel onto my hand. Why was Sara so uncomfortable giving it to
“Thank you, Sara. This is so great. Is this a prepaid phone?” I asked,
trying to sound as happy with the gift as I was.
“It’s actualy on my family’s plan. Don’t worry; it didn’t cost anything to
“Wow, that’s perfect. I’m not sure how often I’l be able to use it, but
this is so great.” I was genuinely appreciative, but her cautious tone
kept me from being able to express it. Then I found out why.
“You have to promise to cal me when you get home and let me know
that you’re okay,” she requested delicately. “If I don’t hear from you by
the end of the day, I’m caling the police.”
“Sara,” I implored, “don’t do that. I promise you, I’l be fine.”
“Then cal me,” she pleaded. “I have phone numbers already programmed.”
She showed me how to quick dial her cel and her home
phone. There were two other numbers set in the memory as wel.
“911, realy Sara?” I questioned incredulously. “You don’t think I could
manage that one on my own?”
“One button is faster than four,” she explained with a slight grin. I
puled up the fourth number and looked up at Sara in disbelief. She
shrugged with a smal smile.
“I set the ringer to vibrate so no one wil hear it in your room. There’s a
charger in the box too.”
“Sara, I’m not having it on in my house,” I stated emphaticaly.
“You have to. I swear I won’t cal you, and no one else has the number.
You have to promise me that you’l have it on.” Her request sounded so
desperate, I couldn’t argue.
“Okay, I promise.” I decided to keep it in the inner pocket of my jacket
so it wouldn’t be accidentaly discovered. “We should get going.”
I didn’t know how I convinced my body to cooperate and walk down
the stairs with my bag in my hand. But my legs failed to move when I
opened the front door and saw the Jeep parked on the side of the
“Oh, Emma,” Sara whispered in alarm behind me.
“Hi Sara,” Carol belowed with sickening charm. “I was driving home
from my mother’s and thought I’d pick up Emily on the way. Thank
you for letting her stay with you.” I felt Sara squeeze my arm, her panic
was obvious. I kept staring at the woman with the wide smile, unable
“Come on, Emily, don’t just stand there.” I stumbled down the front
stairs, afraid to look back at Sara, but feeling the weight of the cel
phone in my jacket pocket. I let the car devour me as I shut the passenger
door, staring straight ahead. My body tightened and shrunk
away from her, trapped in the confined space. Silence stung my ears,
as I waited for her words, her accusations and insults. But there was
nothing. Then again, she didn’t need words when my head colided
against the side window with a sudden thrust of her hand. My head
rung with an involuntary grunt of pain.
“You don’t breathe unless I tel you you can. You seem to have forgotten
whose house you’re living in. You’ve pushed it too fucking far, and
it’s over. Don’t go behind my back again.”
We were puling into the driveway before I could let her words sink in.
When we entered the kitchen, Amanda, our thirteen year old neighbor,
said left the kids playing upstairs and went home. I continued down
the hal and stopped, staring at the door leading to my room. The door
was closed, and it was never closed when I wasn’t home – one of
Carol’s irrational rules. I approached slowly and cautiously pushed the
door open, letting out a defeated breath. I faltered through the doorway,
looking around in horrified dismay.
The closet door stood ajar, and the crawl space in the back was a vacant
hole. Remnants of what it once protected were spewed at me feet.
“You think you’re so smart,” Carol accused. My back tensed as every
nerve hummed beneath my skin. I turned to find her leaning against
the door frame with her arms crossed, and I instinctively took a couple
steps back, my bag sliding from my shoulder, dropping to the floor.
“I can see right through you, and you’re not going to divide us.”
I was perplexed, unable to make sense of her accusations. “He wil always
choose me. I wanted to remind you of that.”
“Carol,” I heard George yel anxiously from the back door.
“I’m here,” Carol holered back with a distraught voice. She backed
away from my door and caught George in an embrace. I watched the
drama unfold, unable to predict the ending.
“George, I don’t know what got into her,” Carol flailed, burying her
head in his shoulder. George attempted to peer around Carol to see into
my room. “She burst in yeling that she’s tired of being here, and
how horrible we are to her. Then she locked herself in her room. That’s
when I caled you. She was scaring me and the kids.”
What?! What was she doing?
“I finaly convinced her to open the door and … wel, you can see for
yourself.” Carol released him from her desperate grasp, alowing George
to enter. His concern changed to anger as he viewed the repercussions
of my rage.
He looked from the destruction of my things to my stunned face and
back down again. I thought I caught him wince when he saw the
shattered glass and torn picture of him and his brother crushed on the
floor. I couldn’t move as I watched his anger grow.
“What did you do?” he belowed. “How could you do this?”
My mouth dropped, shocked by his reaction. How could he think I did
this? His face turned red as he scanned my torn canvases, along with
shreds of smiles and smal chubby baby hands and feet strewn
George moved to me before I could react. He grabbed my arms and
started shaking me. He struggled with the words between his clenched
teeth, gripping my arms tighter. The tears flowed down my cheeks as I
tried to speak.
“I…,” I wept.
I was interrupted with a startling sting on my cheek. The force
knocked me to the floor. I grabbed the spot where his hand had connected
and looked down at the floor, stunned.
“If you weren’t my brother’s daughter, I’d…” he began. I tilted my head
up toward him. His face was so red, it was almost purple as he shook
with fury. Behind the rage, I thought I recognized sadness in his eyes.
“You are not going anywhere for the next week. No sports, no newspaper,
nothing. I cannot believe you did this!”
His sorrow broke through when he murmured, “He was my brother.”
Carol watched him leave in confusion, or perhaps it was disappointment
when his reaction wasn’t as severe as she’d intended. As soon as
he disappeared, she peered down at me and grinned in contempt.
“This is not over,” she threatened. “Clean this up, and get your chores
done before I get home.”
She shut the door, leaving me with the destruction of her hate.
Everything I had that was mine - that was truly mine - was in pieces
around me. I picked up the images of my parents and baby pictures of
me and tried to find a way to fit them together. I let the broken pieces
fal through my fingers and colapsed into a fit of tears. This pain was
sharper than any slap or blow. She had taken the evidence that there
was a time when I was happy and obliterated it, leaving only the
I sat up when I heard a knock and looked to the door, but the sound
wasn’t right – it was more of a tapping. I looked around and found
that it was coming from the window. No, please don’t tell me. I closed
my eyes as the tap hit the window again. I wiped my face and rushed
to open the window before the tapping repeated, and they heard it.
“You can’t be here,” I whispered desperately.
“What happened? I wanted to make sure you’re okay.”
“Evan, leave.” My voice was urgent as I pleaded with him to go.
“Why is your face red? Did he hit you?”
“You can’t be here,” I stressed. “Please, please just go.” Tears roled
down my cheeks as I franticaly looked from his face to the door, expecting
it to open at any minute.
He gazed past me, extended onto his toes, to see into my room.
“What happened, Emma?” he gasped at the devastating scene.
“You’re only going to make it worse. Please leave.” I tried to position
my body between his eyes and my room.
“I’m picking you up Monday so that you can tel me what this is al
about,” he insisted.
“Fine, just leave,” I begged.
Evan finaly acknowledged the pleading in my eyes and the urgency in
my voice and backed away from the window. He hesitated, but I closed
the window and puled down my shade before he could say anything
I turned back to my broken world and knelt amongst its remains. I
heard Carol say she’d be back soon and knew I didn’t have time to
mourn. I found a backpack in which to place the fragments of my pictures
and letters from my mother, refusing to throw them away. I
tossed the broken frames and sliced canvasses in a trash bag.
I mindlessly performed my list of chores. I was secured in this desolate
state when I retreated to my room. I slid onto the floor with my back
against my bed and stared at the blank wal across from me. The ache
in my chest was curtained behind the numbness. If I hadn’t been able
to admit it before now, I knew in this moment that I hated Carol. I
clenched my jaw, pushing away the destructive screams that raged in
my head. My nails dug into the palms of my hands, wanting so much
to release the emotion. Instead I gasped and colapsed into chest-heaving
Her malevolence threatened to penetrate the only sanctity I had left,
and I moaned in pain at how close she had come to crushing me. Was I
realy strong enough to not let her break me? Six hundred and nine
days suddenly felt like a life sentence. Would I be able to recognize
myself when I was finaly released?
I sat in the closet and dialed Sara’s number.
“Em, are you okay?” Sara asked in a single breath.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” I whispered.
“You sound so sad. What did she do?”
“I can’t talk about it right now. But I wanted you to hear from me like I
“Evan came over this morning.”
I didn’t say anything.
“He was realy upset and wanted to know what was happening, and if
you were being hurt. He was basicaly screaming at me to tel him. I
didn’t, I swear, but he’s insisting on picking you up on Monday. I
wanted to warn you. I can be there too, so you can go with me instead
if you want.”
“No, it’s okay,” I mumbled. I knew I’d have to face him eventualy.
“Emma, whatever happened there this morning, I am so sorry,”
she said softly.
“I’l see you Monday,” I whispered and hung up the phone. I didn’t
leave my room except to sneak out to use the bathroom. I heard the
murmur of voices and the glee of the kids in the dining room. Not too
long after, singing carried through the wal from the television folowed
by a quick rap on my door.
“Your uncle and I would like to speak with you.” I watched her leave as
I sat at the desk, hovering over my Chemistry book. I pushed the chair
back and alowed my legs to carry my shel to the kitchen.
George and Carol stood on one side of the island, waiting for me. The
remnants of grief remained in George’s eyes while the smirk of victory
reflected in Carol’s.
“Your uncle and I wanted you to know how heartbroken you made us
when you chose to act out and destroy your things. We are sorry you
don’t feel happy here since we’ve done everything to provide you with
whatever it is you’ve asked. You play sports and are part of the school’s
clubs. We think we’ve been very accommodating.
“I thought we should ban you from al of your privileges for the remainder
of the year.” My eyes widened, and my throat closed.
“But your uncle has decided to be generous and alow you to be a part
of the school activities, hoping it wil make you a better person. But you
wil not be doing anything at al for the next week. You’l have to find a
way to explain this to your coach and other teachers, and we better not
hear that you’ve blamed us in any way. This is your own doing, and
you need to own up to that.
“Since we aren’t able to trust you to be home by yourself, you’l go to
the library after school. You can have whoever it is who’s chauffeuring
you around these days drop you off at the house. You can ride your
bike to and from the library. I arranged this with the head librarian,
Marcia Pendle, this afternoon. She wil sign you in and out every day.
She has a desk for you to use, so you’re in her sight the entire time.
Don’t even think about trying anything. If we hear that you weren’t
there or didn’t cooperate, you will lose basketbal for the season. Do
“Yes,” I murmured.
“Your destruction has hurt your uncle a great deal, and we think it’s
best that during the next couple of weeks, you alow him to find a way
to forgive you. So you should stay out of sight while you’re in the
house. I’l let you know when we’re done with dinner, because you are
not getting out of your obligations. We’l have a plate set aside for you
to eat before you do the dishes. But other than that, you wil stay in
your room. Understood?”
“Now, what do you have to say to your uncle?” She pursed her lips to
try to conceal her smirk. I tightened my eyes in disgust before I could
mask my loathing. “Wel?”
I whispered, “I’m sorry you were hurt.”
I wasn’t lying, but I wasn’t apologizing for something I didn’t do
either. He only nodded in acceptance.
I was banned to my room for the remainder of the weekend. As uneventful
as it was, it was better than being anywhere near Carol. It
gave me time to think about what I was going to say to my basketbal
coach and the other teachers. I couldn’t come up with anything other
than a vague explanation of obligations at home that I hoped they
wouldn’t question too much.
I couldn’t think about Evan, and what I’d say to him on Monday. Every
time I thought of him, and what he’d seen on Friday night, and then
again on Saturday morning, I felt miserable. He saw a glimpse of my
world, and I didn’t like how it reflected back in his eyes.