I’m sitting under the moon on a cold, hard bench. It’s windy and slightly chilly. I wrap my red sweater tighter around me, savouring the feeling of the prickly fabric against my skin. It smells like home, where I lived. It smells like Momma’s baking, pumpkin muffins and turn-over apple pie. It smells like the natural soap she used to use when I was younger to wash my hair. It smells like the perfume that Molly used to wear, that floated like a cloud whenever she walked into the room through the dark wood doorways, flowers in her hair. She looked like Momma, just as pretty too. She inherited the looks. She inherited the brains. She inherited the wit and the smile. I inherited the bad luck, the curse of our family, the sadness. I inherited her depression. I inherited dad’s short temper and impatience.
I kick a pebble lying on the cracked sidewalk. I look up at the bus sign. 202. It should be here now. I know I didn’t miss it, I was here five hours early. It’s not like I have anything else to do. I don’t have a school to attend or job to go to. I don’t have anywhere to go to. Finally, the bus turns the corner, the greyhound bound for New York City. It rattles and clunks as it hurdles toward me and pulls up at the stop, the driver stomping viciously on the break. As I step up and hand him the ten dollar bill from my backpack I can smell the tobacco pipe he smokes and can see through the night shadows the frown on his dark features, scowling, anger restless in his piercing black eyes. I sit way at the back, the last seat. I hold my back pack tightly on my lap. Except for the jeans, t-shirt, converse, basketball cap and sweater I wear, all my possessions are in here. The two packs of cigarettes, the ninety seven dollars I stole from the CD box of all the Golden Girls episodes in mom’s room, an extra pair of jeans, underwear, socks and a striped, long sleeve turtleneck. A bag of sun chips, an apple, a plastic water bottle.
The bus is playing elevator music so quietly you can hardly hear it at first. There are only three other people taking the Greyhound, but I guess that’s to be expected at this hour from this place. It’s not far for New York City, about 12 miles, approximately half an hour away, no one notices it, not compared to the bustling metropolitan. Not compared to the City that never sleeps, no, we were just a tiny speckle on a vast map. A grain of dirt you could just brush away with a flick of the thumb.
The bus turns onto the highway. There’s no traffic, it’s past that hour. I take a look at my watch. It’s one am. I have dark circles under my eyes but I don’t feel the exhaustion setting in, no, I only feel the adrenaline pumping, throbbing, pushing me to get on this greyhound, to head toward the twinkling, promising lights in the distance. They are visible now as Rowen comes and joins me at the back of the bus, perching himself on the seat beside me.
“So, you’re really doing this? I half expected you to bail.” He sneers, jokingly, brotherly. I don’t respond. He continues to rattle on, relieving the tension with his endless chatter. “Do you even know what you’re getting yourself into?” He asks. As if I don’t know. I simply nod, not wanting him to think I’m a coward. I finally speak.
“Will you shut up?” I ask, savouring this silence. I know once we get to New York City there will be sound everywhere. I just want this bit of peace to think.
“You know, you might not find her.” He comments, ignoring my plea for him to leave me alone. Of course I might not find her. Of course I know that! We wait, and wait. The silence accumulates to a loud crescendo as the bus pulls to a stop. I swing my backpack over one shoulder and head to the folding doors. They open and I step back into the dead of night. He follows me. I look up at the street sign. 6th avenue. I look back at the minuscule piece of crumpled up paper wedged into my pocket. It’s merely two blocks away. I feel a hand on my shoulder, I shrug it off. I’m determined. I don’t care what he says, I’m doing this for me, not him. He’s the one who insisted on coming as my ‘loyal best friend’.
We round the corner, walk another block. I stop in front of a building, ratty, it looks uninhabited. Thick planks of stained wood cover some of the windows, the rest are broken with shards of glass poking out, blood thirsty, ready to stab you, threatening you. They tell me everything. They tell me “don’t get too close.” They tell me “stop right there.” But having inherited my stubbornness from dad, my will from Momma, I don’t listen to them. I walk right up to the doorway hidden by shadows. I knock. A rustling from inside as someone walks over, stopping before they reach it.
‘’Who is it?’’ The voice is commanding and strict. Tough. Like it’s challenging me. I try to sound as fierce as he does, but my voice wavers a little. I take a shaky breath. Inhale. Exhale. Remember why you’re here.
‘’Friends of Don’s.’’
‘’Come in.’’ There’s a clink of metal and shuffling of feet as the metal door creaks open, leaving marks in a semicircle on the dusty wooden floor of the apartment. A warm glow invites us in. I can see the slight frown in the man’s expression, he’s taller than I’d expected, with a scar, running down from his ear to his chin, muscles large like boulders, a shadow of stubble, a mop of curly brown hair, skin the color of milk.
I step inside, Rowen clambering in after me, tripping on the ledge. I glare at him. ‘Careful’. I mouth. Because I can see the glint of the gun holster in the back pocket of the man’s torn, bloodied jeans. He closes the door behind us with a bang.
‘’Wait here.’’ He orders, his voice gruff and low. He goes up a flight of stairs. The lights are warm, but everything else about the place is cold.The stiff leather couch in the corner. The heating doesn’t seem to be working, it’s the same temperature inside as out there. My heart is hammering away, telling me to turn back. But I don’t listen to it. I can hear the footsteps pounding down the stairs. Coming back. And they appear at the top of the staircase, advancing towards us. Her expression says fear. Plain fear. Her face twisted in anger, jaw clenched. Eyes wide. Eye wide. The other is swollen shut, purple and black and blue. I want to look away. But I don’t. They reach the bottom of the stairs.
‘’Here. Have fun. This is Molly. She’s seventeen years old. A feisty one .I checked with Don. He says you’re trustworthy.’’ He gives us a look that says, ‘he’d better be right’, and clamps a hand on Molly’s forearm, shoving her towards us, clomping back upstairs. She stares at me. Reading into me. I can’t help it. I look away.
‘’What are you doing here?’’ Her voice is a hoarse whisper, scratchy as if she’s not used to talking. She tries to stand up tall, but she winces, and hunches back over.
‘’Are you okay?’’ I don’t know why I say it. The answer’s obvious.
‘’I’m fine.’’ She snaps. In her eyes though, I see the desperation. ‘Help me.’ She mouths. They can’t hear her say it. She’d be killed. ‘How did you find me?’ She mouths.
‘The paper. Don left it.’ I respond. She looks away.
‘He knew.’ She mouths. ‘He set it all up. With Kris. The kidnapping.’’ I can feel the tickle in my nose, threatening to betray me. I want to let her fall into my arms, let me hold her. But they’d see. And he has a shotgun. The kidnapping. I feel bile rise in my throat and burning, like the vodka dad kept locked in the cabinet, but sometimes, in a drunken haze, forgot to close. Rowen stood quietly next to me. He didn’t say anything. Just stood.
‘Don. He regretted it. He helped me find you.’ I don’t know why I’m defending him. It’s not an excuse. He’d hurt her. He’d hurt her more than anyone could ever forgive. There’d been police searches, if he’d told me then, maybe by now she’d be back home. Maybe.
‘He told me he loved me. He told me I could go live with him in New York City. Go to art school.’ She bites her lip, chapped with blood. I step forward. Take her hands in mine.
‘Look at me, Molly, we’ll get you out of here.’ I try to sound convincing, but I know my voice betrays me. She averts her eyes, focusing on the broken TV, smashed in.
‘No. You won’t.’ She’s shaking. A tear leaks down her cheek. I brush it off with my thumb like mom used to do. ‘Get away from here. Please. I need to know you’re safe.’ I shake my head no. I won’t leave her.
‘We came to get you out of here. We aren’t abandoning now.’ Rowen speaks up from behind me. ‘But we have to move quickly. Kris’ll be back soon.’’ She nods. I grip her hand tighter.
‘Fast. We have to move fast. There’s a bus arriving in five minutes. We timed it. Do you think you can make it?’ Rowen asks, since I can’t seem to talk. I’m shaking uncontrollably. These past few months weren’t just a nightmare. They were real. It was all real. She was really here. We’d really been able to find her. We had to move. Quickly. We had to stop them. We couldn’t let them hurt her. More than they already had.
‘I’m going to open the door. He didn’t lock it. Get ready. Quick. If this is the last time...If this the end, it was worth it.’ It’s not a statement, he sounds as if he’s trying to convince himself of it. ‘We’ll make it.’ He sounds determined. I try not to think of what could happen. Of the fact that this could be the last time I see either of them. ‘Let’s go. On my count.’ Creaaaaakkkkk. Slowly, the door opens. “Now.”
My legs take over. I sprint forward, just behind Rowen, just in front of Molly. I cough. Wheeze. Half a block blurs by, ‘quick, quick.’ I can hear Molly whispering under her breath. “If we die tonight, I love you.” I whisper back as we race, heart pounding, breath ragged. “If we don’t die tonight, I love you anyways.” She whispers back. Like we used to say to each other. Expect then, it was if I don’t see you at school today, I love you. My throat tightens with every breath, sputtering, crying, shedding tears with every step. As we’re about to turn the corner, a sour taste in my mouth,
Three shots ring out
through the silent night. A man barking. “You thought we wouldn’t catch you?” Except it’s not Kris’s voice. It’s Don’s.
They’re after us. I can hear them shouting, their voices ringing in my head. Like that night. Trapped in the back of the truck, that smelled like rotten fish, a gag over my mouth to shut me up, my hands tied behind my back so I couldn’t reach the red Swiss Army knife I always kept in the pocket of my jeans. I couldn’t breath. My ribs hurt from a blow when I’d fussed. Don. He’d betrayed me. I could’ve killed him then. I would’ve. But I hadn’t, because I was sixteen, and I still believed good in everyone. I was naive then.
I hadn’t thought she’d come for me. I thought I was alone, I thought I stood no chance. But she had. Autumn. My twin sister would do anything for me. I should know that. I feel guilty for not believing it. But in a place like the one Kris headed, you don’t have much of a choice than to forget, because it hurts too much to remember.
A bullet slices through the night air, we scatter. My eyes are starting to adjust to the dark, but I can’t make out Autumn amid the chaos. Run, I tell myself, run. Quick, I tell myself, quicker. The bus stop? Where was it? I don’t have time to think, I round a bend, down an alley. Did I lose them? I don’t see them, but I can still hear them shouting. “Come back! We’ll find you, it’ll be easier if you show yourself now.” I will never be safe. They will always hunt me. Part of me wants to give up. I am so tired. But the rest of me knows that if I do, I will regret it. I stand still for a split second, take a breath, but I know I can’t stop any longer, I push through my exhaustion and continue running, one block, two, whizz by in a daze. A bus pulls up at a station. I jump on. I don‘t know where it‘s headed, just that it’s away from there. From back there. I know, I need to find Autumn. I can’t let them take her. Maybe, maybe the driver will help. The folding doors close behind me. Inside, it‘s still. I’m the only one on the bus. In the middle of the night. He must see the frantic look in my eyes, because he asks,
”Ms, are you alright?” And after I catch my breath, I try to formulate a reply, I stand next to him, point at the poster taped to the his window. At the picture of my face, though years younger, me. Still me. So different, but still me. Missing peoples. His eyes widen. He understands.
“I’ll call the police, where do you want me to bring you?” He speaks to his phone as he drives, “SIRI, dial 9-1-1.” He’s surprisingly calm. He talks to the police. I tell him to go to Kris‘s adress. Autumn and Rowen. Find them. I say, with desperation. The bus driver drives me to the nearest police station, speeding. There’s barely anyone else out on the street.
”You’ll be safe here.” He promises, but my mind is going haywire. Autumn. Rowen. You have to find them. Please. I beg. I know I’m safe now, but as soon as I leave, they’ll come for me. I talk to a lady, I try to explain between sobs. Find them. You have to find them.
“They’re looking,” she says, “They’re on their way. So are your parents.” She tries to get more information out of me. “What do they look like?” She asks, “Do you know they’re last names? Don told me his, but for all I know, he could‘ve lied. He probably had. I’m shaking, uncontrollably. And then Autumn’s in the door way, but Rowen’s not. She’s in my arms, crying, sobbing, next to me. ‘Where is he?’ I want to ask, but I don’t, because I already know. He risked his life for me. He died for me. And I cry more, at sunrise, when our parents arrive with Rowen’s, we cry and we cry, and they hold me, because after five months, I’m home. And I know things there aren’t perfect, I know mom and dad fight. A lot. But right now I don’t care. I let everything out. They tell me that Don and Kris were taken away, that I’m safe, that they’ll be trials and hearings, and so much to clear up, but they won’t harm me anymore, or any other girls like me. And I want to believe them, but I can’t, because they’ve recked me. I don’t know anything anymore, five months have felt like forever, it’s like I barely know how to function anymore. But I take a deep breath. Inhale. Exhale. And I cry. Because I’ve been holding it in for five months, because I missed love and being loved, and because I know now, my life will never be the same as it was. But maybe that’s okay.