“Prayers are meant to be said on your knees before God, not in the kitchen,” he scolded, setting a thick bank envelope on top of the counter before walking to the living room adjacent to the kitchen. “I need you to take the deposit to the bank first thing in the morning.”
“Yes, sir.” An idea that had been forming in my mind was starting to make more and more sense. An idea that had started to take shape first at my mother’s funeral and then when I discovered the box upstairs. Now, staring at the envelope on the counter it had slithered its way into the center of my brain and taken hold. It was no longer just an idea.
It was a plan.
Father slammed his glass down on the table and my spine jumped. I tried to go about making dinner and ignoring the anger I felt billowing around him like a dust bowl as he pushed off the chair and stomped his way back into the kitchen, but it was impossible to ignore him once he’d gotten that look in his eyes. There was no getting out of what was to come.
It didn’t matter what I’d said.
It didn’t matter what I did or didn’t do.
It was always the same.
“I didn’t forget your outburst from earlier. You are to be quiet in public unless spoken to. Just because your mother isn’t here anymore doesn’t change the rules. Not my rules and not God’s rules.” Father stood behind me and I heard the sound I hated most in the world. His belt buckle clanking as he slipped it from the loops. He cracked the leather together in the air, a warning of what was to come. I braced myself with my forearms against the counter like I had a thousand times before.
“The Lord doesn’t tolerate that kind of insubordination, and neither do I,” he ground out, bringing the belt down onto my lower back, the slap felt like a sting at first before turning into a slow burn, growing hotter and hotter as he took out the anger he felt toward the world on me. Blow after blow.
Thankfully, I wasn’t there.
After that first strike, I felt no pain. My mind wandered to the letter from my mom. The keys. The deed to land I never knew she owned and left for me.
I found myself smiling through the pain.
Father struck me for the last time, pushed on my shoulders and sent me falling to the floor. I landed on my hands and knees on the kitchen tile facing the cabinets.
“Get dinner on the table in twenty minutes,” he demanded like a king commanding one of his servants. He threw his belt to the floor. “Pick that up.”
He stomped back to the living room, taking with him whatever sick satisfaction he got from disciplining me. No matter how many times I heard how the Lord required the frequent discipline of women throughout my life I’d never believed it.
I never believed any of it.
I placed my hands on the countertop and used the leverage to pull myself to my feet. I picked up the thick bank envelope and suddenly became very overwhelmed with a feeling I wasn’t familiar with that must have come with my newly formed defiance.
My shoulders shook and I turned my back to the living room, covering my mouth to prevent any sound from escaping, but again, it was too late.
“Quit your sobbing. She’s gone. There is nothing we can do about it now but pray,” My father called out from the living room.
He didn’t know that I wasn’t actually sobbing.
Especially, since I was too busy laughing.
It was my birthday.
While most young women turning twenty-one (outside of the church of course) would’ve been out celebrating the milestone with friends and family, my plans didn’t involve presents or parties.
Mine involved something much, much different.
Rusty and Blue had been exactly where Mother had said they would be in the storage unit. It took a lot of sneaking around to get to them, and was mostly done while father was attending the men’s service and thought I was in the women’s center helping prepare the after-service meal.
Rusty and Blue were both…old. However, when I turned the key for the first time and Rusty roared to life I squealed with joy. After a week of teaching myself how to drive a manual in the parking lot, I still wasn’t great, but I could manage.
I didn’t have time for great.
The front door slammed shut, my spine jolted with unwelcome awareness.
He was home early.
“Get down here, Sawyer!” Father’s deep voice called up the stairs. “The deposit from last week was never made.” I heard him opening and slamming drawers in the kitchen, rustling through the contents.
Instinctually, I froze as if my lack of movement might make him think I wasn’t really there. My heart was beating so hard and so loud that I was afraid he was going to hear it through the closed door of my room. I held my breath for a few beats. Blood rushed to my ears, burning them as if the walls of my room were on fire.
If I’m going to do this, I have to do it now.
I pushed the building panic down deep inside, and resumed hastily shoving whatever clothing was within reach into a backpack.
“I know you’re up there! Answer me, girl!” Father yelled out. This time there was a discernable slur in his words. His heavy footsteps hit the stairs. The smell of liquor wafted under my door just as he thundered onto the landing. “Once you remember where you placed the church’s money you’re going to face the harshest discipline of your life.”
He thinks I misplaced it.
I snapped thick rubber bands around the ancient pink shoebox in both directions and shoved it into my backpack.
The door handle jiggled, and my fingers fumbled as I tried to zip my bag without crushing the box. When it finally gave way and I was able to zip it all the way shut, I slung the backpack over my shoulders.
What sounded like a balled fist connected with the door. Twice. The third bang came with the sound of wood splintering. “Sawyer, you open this fucking door right fucking now!”
Jogging over to my window I slid the slow moving thick pane of glass open with a grunt. I was sitting on the ledge with my legs dangling over the side when the door flew off the hinges and fell with a thud into the room.
“Where do you think you’re going?” Father barked. There was a slight sway to his step and I knew he was more than his usual weekday-drunk when he stumbled sideways into my dresser, sending picture frames crashing to the floor.
I lowered my feet onto the roof below. It was angled so in order not to fall off the narrow space I turned sideways and shuffled toward the back of the house.
When I reached the edge, I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw the ladder I’d stowed under the corner of the overhang was still there.
I lifted it up and lowered it down to the grass, the muscles in my arms trembling under the heaviness of the metal ladder.
There was a commotion behind me followed by the sound of Father’s boots shuffling over the rough asphalt of the shingles.
There was no time to check the sturdiness of the ladder. It shook each time I placed my foot on another rung. Father stumbled toward me, reaching the edge of the roof while I was still only in the middle of the ladder.
He looked down and with his dark eyes glinting in the moonlight he kicked over the top of the ladder, sending me sailing back into the grass and the heavy metal to land on top of me.
When I connected with the ground, the air was forcefully pushed from my lungs. Thankfully, my backpack had protected me from suffering any major injuries. Other than the wind being knocked out of me, I was bruised and battered, but in one piece.
“You’re leaving everything you’ve ever known. You won’t survive out there and I won’t come looking for you. You’ll be dead to me, Sawyer. Dead!” Father swayed slightly and then he lost his footing completely. His hands waving in the air as he attempted to regain his balance, but it was no use. He began to fall.
I was shaking with adrenaline as I pushed myself to my feet. I stood just in time for him to land right where
I could barely register the sound of snapping bone over my heart hammering in my ears.
Father groaned in pain and grabbed at his leg which was jutting out from his body at an unnatural angle.
Help, obey, and serve your father.
I turned around and without the worry of him chasing me I strolled casually toward the back fence.
“Fuck, you!” he roared after me. “Don’t you dare come back here. You will rot in the depths of hell for this!”
“Don’t worry, I won’t ever be coming back,” I called in a calm tone that surprised even myself. I risked a glance back and watched as he tried to get up, only to fall again when his leg didn’t cooperate.
Father might’ve actually meant what he said, although it wasn’t true. He might have thought he had no intention of coming for me, but again, I knew better. I patted my pocket, the one that held the deed.
Too bad he was never going to find me.
I lifted my long skirt and started to climb over the tall fence. At the top, I paused.
When Father spotted me looking back at him writhing around on the grass, he went silent. For a moment, we were locked in a war of unspoken words. There had been a time for words. There had been a time when I’d have felt sympathy for him. A time when I would’ve rushed to his side without question.
Those times were long gone.
“Help me,” Father begged.
I tore my eyes from his and dropped down to the other side of the fence.
“Saaaawyer!” his screams echoed through the alley over and over again. The anger he had momentarily shoved aside to beg for my help was back in full force.
It always was.
The door to Rusty squealed when I opened it and leapt inside, tossing my bag to the passenger seat. Getting him and Blue into the alley was nothing short of a miracle. Now there I was, starting the engine. The loud noise thankfully drowning out my father’s cries.
I wasn’t stupid. I knew I would still hear him. No engine would ever be loud enough to mask him completely. No amount of distance between us would ever truly silence him.
But I was going to try anyway.
I blew out a long-held breath. Twenty-one years long-held, and shifted the truck into drive. I took off into the night. Before I turned down the road that led to the highway I glanced in the rearview mirror and whispered the last words I’d ever speak to the man who had become a monster.
“I can’t believe it’s been two years,” I said, feeling the effects of the whiskey as it heated my skin and dulled my senses.
“Two years without you,” I continued. “Two years of thinking about you every single day.”
I chuckled. “Two years of sitting up here talking to myself and pretending like you’re still here.”
“Oh, sorry, Jackie,” I noticed the slur in my own words. I was well past the point of giving a shit that I’d drank too much.
Two years past the point, to be exact.
“I haven’t offered you any,” I continued. “You remember this?” I pointed to the label. “This stuff here is the gross shit we used to drink after a game. You remember? It’s the cheapest crap Donna sells at the Go-Mart but she would sell it to us for three times the price because we were underage. What a scam.” I laughed, remembering how Jackie was an expert at getting people to do her bidding for her. It may have come at a price but she always got the job done one way or another.
I tipped the bottle over and poured a generous amount of the cheap booze down the slide watching it twirl around and around the graffiti covered plastic until I heard it leak onto the concrete of the empty pool below.
“Drink up.” I saluted the air with the bottle and swallowed down the last of the contents in several large gulps.
My eyes watered and my throat burned. I coughed and whiskey dripped down my chin. I wiped it with the back of my hand.
“I guess whiskey was never meant to be chugged,” I said with a chuckle. “It never stopped us though, did it?”
I tossed the empty bottle into the air and watched it spin around and around and around until I was rotating the upper half of my body to spin with it. The sound of shattering glass echoed all around me when it crashed to the ground five stories below.
“You know. I kind of fucking hate you,” I said, sniffling hard. The weather must have shifted because the air was growing thicker and more humid than when I’d first arrived. “We were supposed to do…we were supposed to do a lot more than we got to fucking do is all.”
I lit a joint. “Josh told me a while back that I haven’t properly grieved you.” I scratched my forehead with my thumb. “She’s wrong, you know. All I feel is grief. The only thing I’ve done wrong in this whole process is recover. Get over you. Can’t seem to wrap my head around that concept. Josh may have a dude’s name, but she’s all woman and wrath and things I’m not going to get within ten feet of.”
I pounded my closed fist roughly against my chest, growling out my frustrations.
“You know, it fucking hurts,” my voice grew scratchy. I cleared my throat.
“It still hurts just as bad as it did two years ago. If you were here right now I’d…” I could feel the pang in my chest at the sound of my words. “Doesn’t matter,” I muttered. “Because you’re not here.”
My heart sputtered out a few irregular beats and I coughed. After it calmed down to a regular pace I took a long hit from the joint and blew the smoke out into the empty space next to me. It was Jackie’s spot. It’s where she should’ve still been sitting.
If it weren’t for me, she might still be.
I held up my joint. “It’s not the shit I used to get from Miller, but it does the job.” I sighed.
“You know, I haven’t seen him in a while. Or Josh. After you died, I couldn’t face them. They gave me the space I wanted and now it’s become this big crater between the three of us. I can see them on the other side, but in order to get to them I’d have to jump in and see what’s sitting there at the bottom of it all.” I shook my head. “I’m not ready. I don’t know if I’ll ever be. They just remind me of how things will never be the same again. It was too fucking much to lose you. I just can’t have even more reminders that you’re not here,” I explained.
My eyes watered. I must have been blowing the smoke too close to my face. “Every building in this damned town. Every back road. Every drip of moss and every single song reminds me that you’re not here.”
“It should have been me.” I pushed up to my feet and hung onto the railing for support. “It ain’t fucking fair.” The railing gave way and suddenly I was gazing straight down five stories at the ground below, falling forward.
At the bottom, I saw Jackie smiling up at me. Perfect blonde hair and matching smile. She was waving up at me.
Waiting for me.
Jackie disappeared when I was yanked back onto the platform with such force I landed on top of the person who’d done the yanking.
“Jackie?” I asked in my confused, drunken, high, and somewhat delirious state.