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Coming of Age Suspense Teens & Young Adult

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

"Mom?" I hiss.

Its pitch black; this house that belongs to her friend, where we are apparently staying for awhile. Carefully, I thread my way between stacks of unpacked, various-sized boxes, haphazardly spread in looming towers throughout the completely alien bedroom I am sharing with my little brother. Miraculously, I make it to the doorway. It opens onto a short, squat hallway. I blindly reach to my right and feel a deep void that I remember being a bathroom as I scurry forward. 

Not wanting to wake her friend, I grope my way forward, into the yawning darkness. I stop abruptly. I sense open space in every direction and know I reached the living room. Bent slightly at the waist, I continue to feel my way toward the low set of couches I recall being set almost mid-room to my left.

Mother!” I whisper again, praying to arouse only her from sleep. I feel the soft material of the edge of the couch and feel relief flood my body. It is short-lived; I hear a small, whining voice drifting through the dark.

Kay…” my brother whimpers.

SSHHH!” I shoot back, impatient and annoyed and if I were being honest, I was also teetering on the verge of utter panic. It was the week following Christmas. Cody and I had been picked up, that day, from Cody’s Dad’s place where we had been dropped off two weeks ago.

Late November, 1990:

The bell in Jr. High was not so much a bell as it was a buzzer; an overly-long, low tone that hummed hourly from day’s beginning to day’s end. Its presence was just as present as the students it directed here and there. I gather my stuff and join kids queuing up to exit the final class of the day. I receive a painful jolt to my left shoulder that sends me into the other side of the door jamb. I succinctly hear a fake cough and the trademark whisper, “Raisin Tits!”

Bullies! It had begun toward the end of Elementary School. Apparently, my budding breasts were a source of entertainment for some. For me, it was an emotional and strained time, everything felt alien to me. The flood of hormones, the boys in my class becoming something different to look at, though they were pretty much the same… Between that, the uncertainty of Jr. High, and the complete dubiousness of safety at home, I was really in no mood for the shit.

I squat down in front of my locker and spin the faded dial, then open it. I trade binders and books accordingly and unsurprisingly hear a female practically sing, “See ya later, R.T.!” Without turning around, I hold my hand up with middle finger extended, and give a mock salute.

I make my way outside and am greeted by a blast of welcomed, comfortably cool and crisp smelling air. Our school sat atop a sharply inclined hill. At the bottom of the hill was a one-way road lined with school busses all lying lazily in the autumn sun, head to tail. They were dappled with shade from several mammoth oak trees, making them look like prehistoric, spotted yellow dogs.

That day, I was supposed to ride the bus home to meet up with my little brother, seven years younger, so I could watch him while his Dad and our Mom went to some function at the chamber of commerce where they made ‘business contacts.’ It was a gathering of wannabe-Yuppies, eager to glad-hand and smile big fake smiles at each other while they enjoyed the open bar.

Therefore, I was surprised to see my Mom’s Suburban parked at the end of the line of busses. I stomp down the steep grade. The window was half open on the passenger side of the car.

“I thought I was riding the bus home so I can watch ---“I sputter to a stop when I see the backend of the Suburban. It is tightly packed with the majority of our belongings. I open the door, jaw slack with shock, climb up into the running car, and close the door. Though the animated voices and raucous laughter of my peers could still be heard outside, an unnatural silence fell over us.

My Mother is a stunning woman with glossy dark hair falling straight down her back, piercing green eyes, tan, trim; I hoped one day to look like even half that good. At that moment, for the first time, I could see her age and it struck a chord within me that scared me in some foreign, unpleasant way. She looked care-worn and frightened but also laser-focused and serious as Hell.

“When we get home, I want you to grab everything you can from your bedroom- but only the things you really need! Grab ALL of your clothes! Don’t fold anything! Just grab as many things as you can from the closet, leave everything on the hangers, and load them- wherever you can find space,” she directed as she swung out of the line of busses and slowly passed them finally leaving campus a moment later, heading toward home.

Wait, do we have one anymore? Where the Hell were we going? I was just sitting in Study Hall dreaming of Winter Break.

When he found out, he was not going to like it. Things had been becoming increasingly more scary and I had a feeling the ante was about to be raised. My stomach clenched.

Snapping me out of my thoughts, she begins speaking in a more indirect, hushed tone, “Okay, when we get there, you’ve got your room… I need to call the neighbors to let them know not to let their kids ride bikes or play ball in the street.”

She knows the neighbors, since when? It's as if when I left Study Hall earlier, I was transported to some other reality entirely.

“I just know he’s going to be roaring up and down the streets…Those kids definitely need to just play inside this evening.” I actually felt like I might vomit, right here, into my lap.

I look to my Mom, my Constant. I mean, I knew this was going to happen eventually, this or he would wind up killing her. Roughly two months ago, after a particularly traumatizing fight had erupted because my Mom had told the guy Cody’s Dad had been playing basketball with that he played a good game as a show of sportsmanship, Cody’s Dad had lost his friggin’ mind! He had choked her nearly to the point of blacking out while she had been driving, punched out the picture window in the hallway, and beat several new holes in the walls. Shortly after this died down, I was summoned before them. In voices quavering with emotion, they asked me, with all of my decade’s worth of wisdom, if they should divorce.

Did I really get a voice in this?

Cody and I were generally just along for the ride- Scared and Clueless. I couldn’t say that day. I felt like no matter what I said, I was going to hurt somebody. They had vowed to improve. That had devolved pretty quickly. Nights were often wakeful ones, hiding under the covers to try to block out the yelling and screaming and pounding, praying that those things didn’t get too close to your door. Days were long lectures I wished I could focus on, intercut with the insufferable whispers and taunts by my clever peer group.

As I watch, we blow by the house, I am about to speak up when the car suddenly begins backing down the long driveway toward the light yellow, single-wide trailer. She stops mere inches from the wooden front porch. I remember the summer Cody’s Dad and his brothers had worked on it, all shirtless with suntanned hairy, beer bellies. Except for Cody’s Dad, he kept in shape by playing for many of the intramural teams in the community: volleyball, basketball, baseball, even billiards. Now, I was unsure if I would ever bound up these steps to go inside, flop on the couch, and watch TV again?

I hop out of the Suburban, turn to grab my backpack, then reconsider.

Where will I be doing my homework tonight?

My face feels almost fevered as my nose starts to run, my eyes quickly follow and begin leaking- despite my efforts to be a Big Girl about things. I climb up those long ago built stairs. Once inside, I immediately turn left and face a narrow hallway with a length of about twenty-five feet. The small area that has been my space is through the first door on the right.

My tiny but tidy bedroom looks nothing like it did when I left it at 7:30 this morning.

Was that really just this morning? When I left, things might have sucked but at least they made some kind of sense?

My dresser drawers, so meticulously well-kept this morning had been upended, their previously folded contents now in a heap on my bottom bunk. The drawers themselves are in their rightful place.

I face my small but orderly closet and stretch my skinny arms as wide as they can comfortably go and begin, marching a path back and forth between my room and the car. I make this trip several times before the closet is empty, each time throwing nervous glances down the road, looking for his Jeep. I had no idea what I would do if I saw it; I just keep steeling myself for anything.

Domestic violence is more a “family issue,” than a legal one. In small, rural places, I believe it is still referred to as, “home correction,” by some. For instance, if your large, drunk, pissed off Stepfather comes home and launches you down a twenty-five foot hallway, you didn’t make an appointment with the school counselor or sit down after class to have some talk with a trusted adult. You just got up, as usual, and went through your day; even if the outside of your body actually matched the inside.

When I get back to what is slowly morphing into something I don't recognize, I turn my attention to my white bunk beds complete with matching bedding where the heap from my dresser sits. I grab a large bag and an old backpack and start stuffing them full of underwear, training bras, pajamas, socks, and one random purple leg-warmer. I zip it all up and begin to turn around to head back out to the car when my mother appears in my doorway, looking frazzled, “When you finish up here, do you mind doing the same with Cody’s room? I haven’t even begun to....” she trails off, distracted as she turns around to go back toward her room again.

I look out of the picture window and down the road as I nod and walk back outside and laid my bags on the floor of the backset. I stare into the Suburban at the detritus of our lives and feel as if the sky itself is pressing down on me. With another look over my shoulder at the street we once lived on, I head back inside and further down the hallway to Cody’s room. Matchbox cars of varying color are lined up with tractors, dump trucks, and semi-trucks; there is an almost formed path from the door to the bed and closet. I navigate this path where there were blocks, LEGOs, spaceships, stuffed animals, action figures, and the occasional book lying to the sides. I start to grab a large chunk of his little clothes out of the closet, and then pause, letting my arms fall to my sides.

Do I even take all of his stuff? Cody is his actual child so won’t he probably coming back at some point? How long is he going to be gone at a time? He's a pain in the ass, Cody but I love him fiercely!

I start to call out for my Mom, and then think against it. She is stressed, I can figure this out. I grab half of his seasonally appropriate clothes and leave the rest. I stand on tiptoe and wrestle a duffel bag and a small, green backpack shaped like an alien from the top shelf. I open each of his drawers and remove half of his little boy briefs, small socks, and super hero adorned pajamas. I shove all of this into the bags and heave them across my back. I stop and grab his stuffed Little Foot that has more of a broken neck than a long one off of his bed.

He’s going to need something that at least smells familiar, isn't he?

We are starting to stack things across the center console up front so I cram his bags and Little Foot on the floor of the passenger side with my school stuff. When I turn to go back inside, my Mom is on the porch, door closing behind her, keys in hand saying, “We’ve got to go! Get in! We need to pick Cody up…. Oh, I hope he doesn’t try to pick him up!” We leave with a trail of dust spraying out from the back tires. I watch out of the sideview mirror as my old swing set and then the tall basketball hoop disappears along with our past life.

As we drive through town to pick up Cody from preschool, we keep a constant eye out for the blue Jeep. When Cody gets in the car, his eyes go as wide as saucers. I motion him over to the front passenger seat with me and stretch out the seatbelt so he can plop on my lap. I can feel the fear rolling off him in waves and grab Little Foot by the neck and hand it to him. He wraps his arms around the stuffed dinosaur.

It is roughly one month before the Winter Holiday. At the start of the break, Cody and I are both dropped off; right back at the yellow, single-wide we just fled weeks before. All I knew was that Mom wanted us to have a “real Christmas,” she would be staying with a friend while things cooled off, and she would be back. Once again, I stare out of that damned picture window in the hallway, this time not in terror, rather in deep, melancholic longing. As I am the babysitter for my brother, every morning of the two weeks we are there, Cody’s Dad wakes me from my strangely empty bedroom and ushers me to the master bedroom where Cody is sleeping so he can leave for work. I lay there, in Mom’s spot, staring at the red glow of the digits on the alarm clock: 2:45. He doesn't start work until around 8:00 AM… so, he wasn’t at work, he was hunting my Mother.

The Present:

I reach my way along the back of the low couch, where I am confronted by linens and other bedding. I gently run my fingertips up to where Mom’s ankle or leg should be, and then I desperately search the couch, silently pulling off the sheets and blanket. They are cool to the touch. No one had been sleeping here!

"Did she leave us here? What, was she abducted? Maybe she’s in the restroom?" I think, unconvincingly reaching out for any justification than the one I fear the most. I had just passed the restroom… while whispering for her. Surely she would have answered?

From the open doorway of the master bedroom across the living room, I hear the low, rumbling snores of her rather brawny, gruff-voiced friend. At that moment, comprehension turns my feeling of stark dread into irritation.

Kaaaay….” My brother continues to whine, dragging out the vowel in my name annoyingly. I glance again toward the open doorway where the loud snores continue to emanate from. The only thing visible in any direction comes from the glowing red numerals on the alarm clock on what I presume is the bedside table.

Gravity feels amplified as I force myself in that direction, my fear palpable, and my pulse making a whooshing noise in my ears. Hearing Cody whisper my name again tells me he is on the verge of a giant, shitfit. I raise my foot, once again forcing myself toward the sleeping giant that is dead ahead.

I made it!

I hesitate in the doorway, my mouth starting to open, then snapping closed again. Calling out to my Mom in someone else’s bedroom feels bizarre and awfully presumptuous, though I am certain she is in there…

Do I call out to him instead? What is appropriate in this scenario? What was his name again? Is it Ron, or was it Don?

Running the risk of- I wasn’t sure what, I throw caution to the wind and in a voice that I am sure betrays my incredible consternation, I say, “Um… Ron?” The snoring abruptly ceases.

Oh God! Is he going to be angry? Is he going to yell and throw things and pound on the walls? What if she’s not even in there and Cody and I are alone again?

I hurry on, probably speaking ridiculously fast, “Cody’s awake and he wants Mom but… Well, I checked the couch for her but she’s not there, do you know where she went?” I feel breathless, panic-stricken as I await his response. Time slows to a crawl. It feels like the entire world came to a screeching halt and then I hear a tired sigh.

“I’m in here, Kay,” my mother’s voice comes sleepily from the other side of the bed. Momentarily, I feel as if all language had been siphoned from my brain. I feel as if the Earth is bending and slanting sideways. I feel like I might faint. I hear the bedcovers rustle as she stands up from her friend’s bed. I breathe deeply in and out of my nose.

Well, “I think, “at least we’re not alone...

August 12, 2023 00:03

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1 comment

Mary Bendickson
01:10 Aug 13, 2023

Turmoil upon turmoil.


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