Jenna, the friend I was crashing with, drove me back to that house right after school. I told her I would call when I needed a pick-up. If I timed it right, work wasn’t over yet and I had some time for either a rescue or a confrontation. Whichever one, I was ready.

I shouldered my heavy backpack and knocked on the door. Rule of the house, the door didn’t open unless both of them were home, but I knew they would make an exception for me. It had been three months since I’d packed up my things and left. Both of them had probably been waiting for me to break down and come crawling back. One would smirk at me with condescension, the other would be genuinely happy to see me but too afraid to show it. 

The house reflected the state of my former family. The paint on the bricks was bright red and cheery, but if I looked closely, the mortar holding the layers together was slowly crumbling away. The door had a Christmas wreath on it, even though April was around the corner. It hung ignored and forgotten, now just a fixture where there was once significance. The immaculately kept yard had chiggers hidden in the grass, ready to burrow and eat into anyone who got too close. A Corvette was parked in the garage but never driven because all we could afford was the status symbol, not the upkeep attached to it. I noticed all of this in an instant and wondered how no one else couldn’t see our obvious cry for help. 

My shoulders were starting to hurt from my bag. I rang the doorbell. Once. Twice. Three times. Come on, I thought, I know you’re home. I could hear meowing on the other side of the door. Sometimes I wanted to hate K.C. because she was used to keep us in check. If we disobeyed, the cat would suffer. I never stopped loving her though. She used to sleep with me every night and hold the bad dreams at bay. She would wake me up in the middle of the night, which would’ve been annoying if it hadn’t reminded me to go to the bathroom. My bedwetting problem finally stopped after we got her, when I turned seven. With me being sixteen now, that meant K.C. was a little over nine years old. Leaving her behind was difficult, but I knew there was one person who needed her more than me.

The meows stopped and the lock started turning. I looked at the door in anticipation. Today, I would get him to walk away with me.

My dad opened the door. He looked at me in shock, and then I was in his arms being crushed to him. I wrapped my arms around his neck and held on tight for a long moment, because it had been so long. 

Finally, we broke away. “Sydney, what are you doing here?”

“I’ve come to take you away. I found a place for us and a job we can both do, and together we can make it work. Pack your things, and I’ll find a carrier for K.C.”

He shook his head and smiled sadly. I seethed inwardly. I had known that would be his reaction but hoped he would do what was best for him, just this once. Outwardly, he looked impeccable. My mother made my dad and I dress very nicely to impress everyone. His collared gray shirt was perfectly ironed, coupled with cuffed black pants that fell to the ankles of expensive boots. 

Only I ever noticed the way he looked at her after every sentence, seeking her approval. He never ventured an opinion that was not already expressed by my mother. She constantly belittled him whenever she wasn’t straight-up ignoring him, and basically used him as a trophy to show off to her neighbors and coworkers. I’d seen her cheating multiple times throughout my childhood. She brought her men back to the house and ordered my dad and I to stay downstairs while she “finished up some work upstairs.” Whenever she would do things like that, she would yell at my dad later and make him feel so guilty that he would apologize for anything. She would leave him broken and defeated, and he couldn’t even turn to anyone. At least I had my friends at school, but he had no one. I was the only person who cared about him. And I was determined to get him out of this hell-hole.

His phone buzzed. He looked apologetically at me and took it out. “It’s your mother. She knows the door was opened, she has alarms in place.”

“Dad, don’t answer it.”

“You know what she’ll do if I don’t.” He motioned for me to move aside. I paused, then reluctantly stepped aside and he took a picture of himself in the empty doorway. He texted her some sort of explanation and put his phone back in his pocket. “I had hoped you’d given up on this whole runaway situation and were coming back to us,” he said softly.

Frustration overwhelmed me and I snapped at him. “You need to listen to me. I know you haven’t left her because you don’t have anywhere to go, but I have a way out for us.” I flipped my backpack around to the front and unzipped it, taking out some papers. “I’ve got a job and a housing contract from Mr. Walt. He says that you and I can come live with him and Jenna and their whole family. He’ll pay you full-time as a housekeeper and I can work part-time after school. This is how we can both escape for good.”

He shook his head again and my fists clenched, wrinkling the paper. “Why not?”

“Your mother needs me here.”

“No, Dad, she needs a trophy-husband! Not you! You are replaceable in her brain, why can’t you see that?”

“She said she would kill herself if I left.”

“She’s always said that! If I didn’t do my homework as a little kid, she would say that to me and make me cry, saying “I was going to kill mommy because I was such a bad girl”! When that stopped working, she started threatening the cat. Don’t you see it’s all a game to her?”

He was silent for a long moment. “You don’t know her like I do.”

I wanted to yell at him again, but that was something my mother did. I took a deep breath and exhaled. When I was calm, I said, “Explain it to me then. I’m listening.”

He motioned for me to come inside, but I stubbornly stayed on the doorstep. I did put my backpack down though--it was getting too heavy to handle.

“Sixteen years ago when she was still pregnant with you, I found her in the bathroom after… an attempt.” I started to interrupt him, but he held up a hand and I fell silent. “You don’t need to know the details. I rushed her to the hospital and prayed that she hadn’t harmed herself or you permanently. It was the worst 24 hours of my life when she didn’t wake up.” 

He let that sink in. I remained unmoved. He might be describing his wife, but I heard him describing a monster that failed to end herself. I was almost sorry that she hadn’t succeeded.

“During that time, I promised myself and her that I would always stay by her side if it meant keeping both of you safe. And it worked. She hasn’t tried again since then. But you need to come back home, honey. It’s getting bad for her again.”

I gaped at him in disbelief.

“She’s started drinking again, and you know how she gets.”

I knew all too well. The bruises had long since faded, but the memories hadn’t.

“And whenever she comes out of it, she starts crying and I have to hold her until she falls asleep. She needs both of us here, Sydney. Please come back.”

“Dad.” I took a deep breath. “I’m sorry that this happened to you, and I’m sorry that my escape has had an impact on you. But did you even miss me? You’ve talked about my mother this whole time but you haven’t asked about me once.”

His eyes started tearing up. “Of course I missed, I love you, I--”

I cut him off. “Then why haven’t you called me? Or texted, or emailed…”

“I’m so sorry, I wanted to, but your mother was very hurt and didn’t want--”

“So you’re putting her before me again.”

“No! What I’m saying is--”

“Dad, we both know that you’re being swallowed up by that woman. You need to leave her and take some time to work on yourself. You’re a shadow of the man you were, I mean, look at you! You’re a mess! You need some major therapy and a way out of this situation. Take the deal I’m offering you.”

He smiled at me through unshed tears, genuine love on his face.

And then he said something that I could never forgive.

“You’re so much like your mother.”

August 23, 2019 03:24

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