THE SAVIOR: Chapter 5
“Oh Logan?” Erin yells for me.
“What?” I shout from downstairs.
I tromp up the stairs, enter the kitchen, and take the phone from my sister. “Hello?” I ask, wondering who’d be calling this late.
“Hey Logan, it’s Spencer.”
Oh wow, I think. When was the last time I talked to Spencer? It feels like a lifetime. “Hey man,” I say. “What’s up?”
“Where’ve you been?” he asks impatiently.
“Um…my mom’s”—What was our excuse again? —“cousin and husband died recently and so their daughter just moved in with us,” I awkwardly explain, scratching through the curls on my head. “It’s been kind of crazy here lately.”
“Wow,” Spencer says, lowering his voice. “I didn’t know. Sorry.”
“Yeah, it was really tragic,” I begin, hoping I sound somewhat convincing. “She’s going through a tough time right now.”
“Wow, that’s horrible,” he says, pausing for a minute. “Well, do you think you have time to hang out sometime soon?”
“Hang out?” I say, thinking this over for a moment.
A fly buzzes around the kitchen and I swat it away from my face.
“Yeah,” he says. “I want to hang out with you and Harris before my family and I leave for Switzerland.”
“Oh, yeah,” I say. “Sure. When’re you going?”
“In five days,” he tells me.
“That soon?” I ask. “I thought you guys normally left on August sixth?”
“Logan, it’s August first,” he tells me, wondering what the heck my problem is. Well, obviously keeping track of time hasn’t exactly been my number one priority lately.
“Oh,” I say stupidly. “Wow. Summer is going by fast.”
That retarded fly buzzes near me again. I roll up a crinkled newspaper on the kitchen table and swat at it, missing of course. Darn fly.
“Yeah, I guess. Look, Harris’s dad and Selene are having a barbeque at Selene’s house in two days. You’re invited if you want to come,” he informs me. “My family is going, Harris is obviously going to be there, and…well, yeah, Marley is coming too.”
Marley? I think. That name is almost foreign to me. What is this world coming to?
“Sure that sounds great,” I tell him. “What time should I come?”
“Robert said to come around six,” Spencer tells me.
“Ok,” I say. “Would it be alright if I brought Juna along?”
“Is that your mom’s cousin’s—”
“Yeah,” I answer immediately, eyeing the fly that’s landed on the wall.
“Yeah,” he tells me. “I’m sure that’d be fine.”
“Ok. Great. See you in two days.”
“Ok bye.” He hangs up.
I tip toe to the wall and WHAM! Got him!
It happens in the middle of the night. The voice cuts like a knife, a woman screaming, yanking me back into the world of consciousness. I shoot out of bed with blood pounding behind my ears and goose bumps bursting from my skin. My vision blackens and a blurred scene of a woman being yanked out of her car flashes through my mind. Her head hits the rocky road as she is ruthlessly dragged across the ground by the ankles. Then with a sharp tug, I’m pulled back into the sight of the here and now, but the young woman’s piercing cry still fills my ears.
I turn my head toward the girls, sleeping peacefully in their bunks, eternally grateful to be the only one who has to hear this atrocious event. The thought of Noah subjected to the horrors in my head pains me.
My temple throbs so hard it hurts, makes me nauseous. Muscles start twitching, anticipating the transformation and so I rip off the covers and get out of bed.
“Juna,” Noah calls after me, her voice groggy with sleep. “Where you going?”
Wheeling around, I force my hands down, away from my throbbing temples. I mustn’t worry her. “I have to go kiddo,” I whisper to her as calmly as possible. “I’ll be right back. Go to sleep.”
“Oh…ok,” she mumbles, her voice drunk with sleep. She yawns and then instantly falls back into a deep slumber against her plump pillow.
I leave the room and then sprint down the stairs, wrenching open Logan’s door and scaring the shit out of him as I flip on his bedroom lights.
He pops up, ripping the headphones from his ears. “What’s wrong?” he asks, breathlessly.
“I have to go,” I tell him and then without warning my vision goes black, filling in with a blurry scene of a woman pressed against a gutter, her clothes torn, face bloody. A large hand grips her right shoulder, pressing her further into the ground. She tries to scream, but something is shoved into her mouth.
I don’t know. I can’t tell.
Then with a sharp tug I’m pulled from the vision, my eyes meeting Logan’s.
I spin around and race for the backyard, unlocking the sliding glass door, and then jerking it open. My bare feet flit across the moist grass as I dive into the air, launching myself through the woods.
I get out of bed because there is no freaking way I can fall back asleep after knowing that she is out there fighting crime and possibly getting injured. Besides, I think the reason she lets me know before she leaves is so that I can wait for her when she gets back and I am glad for that.
I go grab the first aid kit from upstairs just in case, hating the thought of what that just in case might be.
Ugh, I think I’m gonna puke.
This is her sixth time out and about fighting crime and it just keeps getting worse for me.
I snatch up my iPod and listen to a song from Coldplay, hoping the calming lyrics will soothe me, bring my pulse back down to a healthy tempo. But it does no good, instead, the only thing I hear right now is the blood pulsating behind my ears, going THU-THUMP, THU-THUMP, THU-THUMP.
I pace the entire downstairs floor, circling around the couches, the pool table, into the bathroom out of the bathroom, into my room and then back out of my room. At one point I even hover over the toilet, contemplating on whether or not I got to urinate, throw up, or dispose of any other bodily fluid that wants to leave my system.
Every five minutes I glance down at my watch, freaking out when I realize that an hour has gone by.
Come on, I think. Where are you?
Two hours pass by and I am going insane.
I wheel around to the sound of the sliding glass door opening and there she is, panting as she closes and locks the door behind her. I pull my earbuds out and toss my iPod onto the couch.
She turns around, eyes meeting mine. Something crumbles inside of me as Juna’s hands shield her face, a soft whimpering sound escaping her lips.
I carefully tread over the carpet toward her, getting a really bad feeling about this.
Hands drop down to her sides and the moonlight illuminates her face. “Jesus Christ,” I say, referring to her eye that is completely swollen shut and bruised like a plum. “What happened?”
“I think I’m gonna throw up,” she slurs.
I quickly help her to the bathroom, swapping on the lights and lifting the toilet seat open. Her knees buckle, hitting the ground with a loud thump as she starts retching—and man, oh man is it a lot! It stinks too, but what the hell do I expect? Roses? It lasts for about fifteen minutes. Her hands—clenched around the edge of the bowl—shake harder and harder with each upheaval.
I sit on the lip of the tub, trying to help her out in any possible way I can. I hold her hair out of the way of her mouth as she vomits, trying to soothe her by rubbing small circles onto her back.
She makes a strange whimpering noise again and then weakly turns to me and says, “I think…I think that’s it.”
“Ok,” I begin. “Well, why don’t you clean up, while I get an ice pack for that eye. Want a glass of water or something?”
I creep up the stairs, grab an ice pack, fill up a glass with water, and shake two pills out from the Advil bottle.
Back downstairs we sit side by side on the couch. She swallows the two pills and then slowly drinks the rest of the water down. Carefully placing the icepack against her eye, she winces at the pain.
“So,” I begin hesitantly. “Uh, what happened?”
I learn that a young woman was sitting in her car in the parking lot of a bar and at some point a man dragged her out of the vehicle, stuffing a sock into her mouth first, and then raped her in the gutter across the street.
“I attacked him,” she tells me, “but he was a strong guy and ended up kicking me hard in the face.” Juna readjusts the icepack against her eye and then says, “It was a tough fight, but I managed to drag him back to the bar.”
This caused a huge commotion because no one understood that Juna was saving a woman’s life, but rather saw her attacking this man. The owner ran out with his gun and began shooting at her. Juna raced back to the woman and barked, trying to redirect his attention.
Unconscious, bleeding, and almost completely naked, the woman was barely alive and because she lay in a ditch no one in the bar could see her. “He finally got close enough to see her,” Juna explains, “and the look on his face said it all. He understood why I did what I did and was in shock.”
Juna hid behind some nearby shrubbery to make sure that both the man and woman were taken care of. Then she came back home.
“I’m so sorry,” I say and it’s the only thing I can think of saying because once again I am overwhelmed by all that she has gone through. I’ve never known anyone who was raped or witnessed a raping before. Chills ripple down my spine at the thought.
Tears spill over her eyes, but she makes no sound and I realize it’s the first time I have ever seen Juna cry. Something about these silent stoic tears of hers unnerves me.
I finally gather enough courage to touch her. I stroke her hair, feeling the bones along her neck and spine through her sweaty, thick, tangled waves.
Anger rolls over her like a tsunami. “It makes me so mad,” she says through clenched teeth. “There’s too much violence in the world and I hate it!”
“I know,” I whisper, moving my hand down to her shoulder, but what do I really know? Nothing. I don’t know squat about the sort of crap she has to deal with.
“I just wish I could have gotten to her sooner,” Juna sobs. “Right before she was raped…not after. Why couldn’t I have saved her?”
“What are you talking about?” I ask. “You did save her?”
She just shakes her head as more tears drip down her face. Juna drags the heel of her hand across her cheeks, wiping away at the tears even when the action is unnecessary.
We sit there for another hour. Juna hugs her knees tighter against her chest, rocking back and forth, crying. I rub her shoulder and do the best I can do to comfort her.
Eventually, her tears subside into jerky hiccups. “I should go to bed,” she tells me, eyes and nose now swollen pink, her face slick with mucus.
“Okay.” I nod and escort her to the stairs.
“Goodnight,” I say, attempting a hug, but before I can reach her she wheels around and trudges up the steps.
“Night,” she whispers.
I am careful not to make any noise when I enter the girls’ room, but as I climb into bed I have no control over the sob that unexpectedly bursts up through my throat. It is loud and causes me to cry all over again. I push my head into the pillow and bite it until my jaw muscles burn. My body convulses and I feel sick, empty. My right eye is in agony.
An image of Lylan enters my mind—she sits on her bed with her knees pressed up against her chest, arms hugging them tightly, and she won’t look me in the eye. This is the image of the day she confessed the abuse she had suffered by her father.
The memory of her tiny figure lying in a casket wracks my body with grief.
Why oh why is this world so fucked up?
I clamp my left eye shut—as tight as it will go—and I wonder if this is what the rest of my life is going to be like. Will I always see pain? Be in pain? Whether that pain is the physical—like my current swollen right eye—or mental, always remembering—haunted by the images of those I’ve saved or failed trying to save.
I don’t want to live like this.
I force all negative thoughts and images out of my head and try to paint a happy scene across the canvas of my mind: the lake.
Sunshine spills across my face as I tread water. Max races off the diving board and then leaps into the air, splashing me as his body hits the water. I rub the water out of my eyes and when I reopen them Max’s nose is touching mine. His warm breath plays over my skin and I find my lips curving into a smile.
The next morning I jog up the stairs and swap on the news. Mom pours herself a fresh cup of hot coffee in the kitchen. “Morning,” I say as I plop down on the couch.
“Oh, morning sweetheart,” she says groggily, hiking her plum-colored yoga pants up a bit.
I grab the remote and flip on the television to our local news station. I want to see if they have any information about the woman Juna saved last night. Her savings aren’t always reported on the news, but I like to check anyhow.
I browse through the channels until the familiar Chinese anchorwoman appears on screen and to my surprise she is not her usual vivacious self today. Instead, she looks sick.
She takes a deep breath before saying, “In today’s top story we’ll be revealing some violent images that may be inappropriate for young children and might be disturbing to some viewers. Viewer discretion is advised.”
The black viewer discretion sign flashes across the screen for about three minutes. Mom walks out of the kitchen and stands behind the couch. “What’s going on?” she asks.
“I don’t know,” I murmur, eyes tuned to the screen.
The scene changes to the redheaded reporter. He stands in a tall, grassy field beside a distraught looking heavy-set man. In the lower left hand corner of the screen the word “LIVE” is written in all caps, glowing crimson. Sweat dripping down his forehead he appears mortified. He swallows before beginning, “Hello, Duncan Gonzales here with Les Freeman, a local farmer of Dallas, Oregon. We’re standing in his field where a truly devastating event has taken place. Mr. Freeman owns a thirty-five acre ranch where he raises an assortment of livestock. Last night he awoke to a strange commotion. Running outside with his gun, he was shocked as he came across this horrifying sight. Go ahead show them Nick.” Duncan directs the cameraman.
Panning away from the two men the camera reveals what looks to be like a post battlefield scene. Mutilated cows scatter the field; the once tall grass now matted and drenched in their blood. The scene changes to a pen of pigs, ripped to pieces, lying in a dark maroon pool of blood. We also see several mangled horses, sheep, llamas, and then nothing but chicken feathers sprawled out in a coop.
I think I saw an eyeball dangling out of one of the horse’s heads and I suddenly feel nauseated, on the verge of throwing up. I want click the TV off and be done with this, but some disturbing curiosity of mine glues my eyes to the screen.
“What in the hell,” Mom whispers beside me and I can’t believe the word hell has just passed her lips. She never swears in front of us kids, but sometimes she’ll slip with me.
I stare down at the carpet and swallow hard, wishing this wasn’t happening.
Someone begins sniffling and so I look back to the television.
“Tell us your feeling on this, Les,” Duncan probes.
With the sleeve of his shirt, Les dabs away at the tears in his eyes before replying, “I don’t know what to say. I don’t know if it was a human that did this or some kind of animal.” He sniffs and then continues, “I’ve had coyotes out here before, but they normally take a couple chickens. I just don’t know. It makes me sick because this here’s my livelihood.”
“There have been speculations that this mysterious wolf who’s been rescuing people for the past month might be responsible for this destruction.”—Mom inhales sharply—“Do you have a comment?” Duncan inquires.
“Hmm.”—He sniffs, wiping his nose on his sleeve—“I don’t know what to think right now. Whatever this thing is, it ain’t normal. It just ain’t normal. That’s all I’ve got to say,” he finalizes, biting his lip.
The scene cuts back to the news station. The Chinese woman tells viewers, “Authorities are trying to figure out what killed those animals and are not certain when they’ll have these answers available. They are, however, advising that all pet owners keep their animals indoors for the time being, especially at night.”
Mom snatches the remote from me and clicks the TV off. She huffs.
“What?” I ask.
My mom wheels around and marches toward the kitchen.
I stand up from the couch and call out to her, “What mom?”
She spins around to face me and I watch as something flares up behind her eyes. “Do you think Juna—”
“No I don’t,” I immediately cut her off. Her eyes flicker down the hallway and then dart back to me.
“But how can we be sure?” she questions, eyebrows pinching together.
I can’t believe her.
“She’d never do something like that. Besides she saved a rape victim last night,” I tell her, moving around the couch toward the kitchen, stopping in front of her.
“So, she was out last night?” Her eyebrows rise.
“This”—She points to the TV screen—“happened last night,” she seethes.
“Yeah, I know, but—”
“It could’ve been her. She’s capable of doing something like this,” my mother’s voice quavers. “Oh god. I knew something like this would happen.”
“Mom. Stop it!” I spit. “She didn’t do it.”
“How do you know though?” she snaps, throwing her arms up. Coffee spills across the lip of her mug. “Shit.” She mutters.
“I just know,” I huff, watching her set the mug down on the countertop and grab a paper towel to wipe the linoleum floor. “She always tells me what happens when she gets back home and trust me, she was saving a rape victim last night. It was…awful.”
“Honey,”—she wads up the damp paper towel and tosses it into the trash—“she might’ve been crying out of the guilt she felt from what she did,” Mom tells me in this disgustingly matter-of-fact tone.
“What the hell is your problem?” I growl. “You’ve hated her ever since she got here. You’re overreacting!”
“Maybe I am,” she hisses. “But it’s my duty to keep my family safe. Logan, listen, your grandma Nellie put me in a really awkward situation. I’ve got enough on my plate as it is around here. You six kids. My business. Now this! Look at it from my point of view. I never wanted her. She’s a—she’s a monster Logan and I’m afraid she’s going to hurt my children.”
Noah toddles into the room, dragging her stuffed alligator, Sampson, along with her. Eyes glossy with tears, she whimpers, “What’s wrong?”
Mom’s eyes pinch shut for a moment. She runs a hand through her dark blonde curls, inhales deeply, opens her eyes, and then tells my little sister, “Nothing darling. I’m making hash browns and scrambled eggs for breakfast. How’s that sound?”
“Good,” Noah says, smiling hesitantly. “Sampson loves hash browns.”
“Come on.” Mom motions Noah into the kitchen. “I could use some help,” she says.
When I wake up my eyes and throat ache from all the retching and crying I did last night and a pain still burns deep beneath my breastbone, but I figure these discomforts should leave me in a day or two.
I go into the bathroom and take a cold shower. Icy water and soap runs down my skin, washing the grime of the night away. Staring down at my naked, trembling body I can’t help but think about the girl. Will she be all right? How does a person move on with life after something like that happens?
The events of last night reel through my mind once more and I find myself shaking so hard I have to sit down in the tub as the water drips over my body, barely able to breathe.
Every inch of my skin dries within seconds as I step out of the tub, but my hair remains wet.
I look into the mirror and see that my right eye has completely healed and thankfully no longer makes me look like Quasimodo.
In the mirror the girl smiles at me, a faint thing that tells me she is struggling to keep her pain hidden and so I smile wider, try to make my eyes more convincing, but fail miserably.
I sigh. I guess that will have to do, I think, shrugging my shoulders and gathering my things before exciting the bathroom.
It’s the afternoon now and Brianne is at work.
Today, Logan, the kids, and I do nothing but chores. The girls have to vacuum, dust, and clean the upstairs bathroom, while Rowan and Connor mow both lawns and have to do a bit of weeding. Logan and I, we tackle the laundry. All of this has to be done before Brianne gets back home.
Logan has hardly spoken a word to me this morning. Whenever our eyes meet he forces a smile and almost seems apologetic in the way he looks at me.
As I sit on the couch, folding endless amounts of clothes, my eyes roam along his body. Every muscle is taut, jaw clenched tight. I am dying to know what is bothering him. “Did you see anything on the news earlier today… about the girl?” I ask.
He shakes his head. “No.”
“Did you watch the news at all today?” I ask, fingers folding Noah’s yellow dress.
“Yeah,” he mutters, without looking at me. “I did.”
“And?” I urge him.
“Nothing?” I repeat, stunned. So much happened. How could it not be reported on the news?
“Yup,” he mutters, grabbing a pair of boxers out of the pile to fold.
“Well, maybe they have something about it on now,” I say, reaching for the remote on the coffee table.
“No!” He yells, lunging for it first.
Logan and I both stare at each other for a moment and the closer I inspect, the more I recognize that same look in my prey’s eyes right before I kill them. “What?” I snap.
His eyes drop to his lap, embarrassed. “I just don’t wanna watch the news today,” he admits, shrugging, but I get the sense it’s something more than that and wonder why he won’t tell me. “Wanna watch a movie instead?”
I am quiet.
“You can pick it out,” he persuades me, eyes meeting mine again, forcing a smile. “What’cha feel like watching?”
“Is…is everything ok?” I ask, pausing with my clothes folding for the moment. “ I mean, you kind of seem on edge today.”
“Yeah, of course, it is,” he replies, his eyes flickering back and forth between the TV and me. “I mean”—he shrugs—“yeah, I’m kind of tired, but I’m fine. How about you?”
“I don’t know,” I mumble, looking down to my lap. “Last night was hard.”
He nods and says nothing.
I stack Connor’s Darth Vader t-shirt in its designated pile, lift my head, and ask, “So, what movie do you want to watch?”
Brianne gets home at around six o’clock with four bags from Burgerville. Erin and Noah carry in the milkshakes: five chocolate and two raspberry flavored. The smell of grease and salt rises from the bags and fills my nostrils, making my mouth flood with saliva.
Holy moly, I think, that smells great!
I wish I could will myself into liking human food again. I want it so badly. I don’t understand why my body refuses to eat it when the smell certainly seduces me.
The rest of the kids pour into the kitchen, grabbing their meals out of the crinkly brown grease stained bags. I walk over to Brianne and tell her, “I’ll be back soon.”
She nods, refusing to look at me. I know that the whole hunting thing creeps her out and all—which I can’t say that I blame her for—but I wish she’d at least look at me once in a while.
“Have fun killing Bambi,” Erin teases me and then rips into her cheeseburger.
“Nice,” I laugh. “Fine, I will.”
“Bambi?” Noah shrieks.
Erin rolls her eyes and swallows down her food. “I was kidding Noah.”
Connor is cracking up.
As I stride across the porch my instincts take over, like I’m kicking into some other mode of being. A quiet pulse fills my ears and grows louder with each step as I near the woods. Before jogging down the porch steps I close my eyes tight for a moment to track the animal down, allowing the image to rip through me. A deer grazes on a patch of grass. And just like that the image is gone.
Hunger takes over and all I can think about now is sinking my snout into some hot, bloody, juicy meat.
I spring down the stairs, my pulse accelerating as I race across the lawn, barely touching the ground. Spasms ripple down my spine as I inhale one last deep breath before leaping into the air. When I dive forward my limbs seem to tug in each direction like my body is taffy as I mold into my wolf form. This sensation lasts for about a second and then I’m on all fours, charging into the woods.
Running through the forest as a wolf, I have to admit, is one of the coolest things in the world. Power. Speed. Adrenaline. Wind hitting my face. It’s addictive really. A feeling once strange and unfamiliar to me is now natural and comfortable even. As if I was born to do this.
When the deer comes into view I lunge.
When I get back home from hunting I take a shower and then plop myself down at the computer to check my email. No mail. Well, there is, but it’s from Leslie and although I don’t open it I assume it’s the same old redundant stuff—just updates on camp and questions about how I am doing. I’m doing okay, not great. I’m just pissed off at Max for not emailing me. I am going to have to pummel him the next time I see him.
And when will that be? I wonder.
Sighing, I log off the computer and then head for bed.
Hannah and Noah lie settled in their beds, while Erin and the boys play video games downstairs. Noah, sound asleep, is so cute even with a stream of drool curling down her chin like a comma. Warmth unfurls in my chest at the sight of her and I want to hug her, want to kiss the top of her head, but I don’t. Instead, I simply climb into bed and prepare for sleep.
Resting on my pillow, I glance up at Hannah for a moment and for the first time she looks me straight in the eyes, setting her book, Sense and Sensibility, down onto her lap. A small, yet sincere smile plays across her lips. I smile back, shocked, and then look elsewhere. “Logan told me what happened last night,” she whispers.
My eyes flick in her direction again, pained by the thought of last night. It’s a memory that will haunt me the rest of my life. “Oh?” I whisper, surprise coloring my voice.
“The Lovely Bones is one of my favorite books,” she begins and I’m still stunned at the fact that she is speaking to me, “and I really wished someone was there to save Susie, but I’m just glad you were able to catch the real George Harvey.”
“Well…thanks,” I say, not knowing who these characters were or what they did, but from what happened last night I’m glad I caught the real George Harvey too.
I think about the young woman. Blood. Screams. Violence. Rape. It all comes back to me. The sights. Sounds. Smells. Emotions. It all comes roaring back in small pieces; pieces that once puzzled together make up a horror story, seared into my memory forever.
Blood. Screams. Violence. Rape.
Rape. The word itself is an ugly, ugly thing. If it were a tangible item I’d rip it to shreds. Burn it. Destroy it. Never allow those four letters to be arranged in that combination ever again. I’d force it into extinction, and then, maybe just then, I could eradicate the real thing for which it defines.
I’m shivering beneath the sheets as I close my eyes and turn to the door, away from Hannah and Noah.
I hope she is okay, I think of the girl. Yes she has been bruised and bloodied, but it’s the emotional scars that worry me the most.
In third grade my teacher had the class take out a piece of paper and instructed us to crumple it up, stomp on it, do anything we could possibly do to mess it up. Next she had us unfold the paper, told us to smooth it out and examine the damage we had done to it. Along with being crinkled like a raisin, my paper was muddied because I played soccer during recess. My teacher told us to apologize to the paper, to try to fix it to the best of our abilities, make those scars vanish. We all tried our best, but the scars remained. The lesson was on bullying and how no matter the amount of times a child may say they’re sorry the scars remain there forever. If that’s what bullying looks like then what on earth does a rape victim’s piece of paper look like?
And what did that mean for my piece of paper?
What did mine look like?
“Goodnight,” Hannah whispers, pulling me away from my thoughts.
I open my eyes for a moment. “Goodnight Hannah,” I say, but before I am able to close them again, Brianne steps into the room, glaring at me.
She then gazes up at Hannah, her expression softening as she tells her, “Goodnight sweetheart.” Eyes turning back on me again I see the Dr. Jekyll in her morphing into Mr. Hyde. Yep, I think, the woman pisses icicles. “Juna,” she mutters, giving me a nod and then leaves the room.
I find that my shivering has gotten worse as I close my eyes a second time.
A high-pitched scream pierces my ears in the middle of the night, yanking me from a deep slumber. I don’t hesitate this time with pointless things like checking to see if the girls heard it—of course they didn’t hear it—or to tell Logan that I’m leaving. Instead I leap from my bed and bolt out of the room for the front door. Every second is precious and could mean life or death.
As I seize open the front door my vision goes black and a child’s voice enters my head, Don’t, daddy you’re hurting him! Daddy please stop! My vision clears, but I still hear the swish of something slicing through the air, slapping against someone’s flesh.
Springing off the porch steps I race down the driveway, diving into the air and then landing onto all four paws. I rocket forward, everything narrowing and blurring around me as though I were running through a straw. Red and white lights stream past me as I glide in and out between cars.
It isn’t long before I come to an abrupt halt and see the house I need to get in to. Rushing up to the front door I try to nudge it open, but it’s shut tight. I rise to my hind legs, leaning into the door with my front paws and wrapping my mouth around the handle, trying to turn the knob with my teeth.
A horrible shriek sounds from inside the house. Hackles rising I move away from the door, desperate for an open window.
Come on, I think angrily, loosing patience. There has to be an open window around here somewhere.
But there isn’t. Everything is locked up.
Damn it, I think.
A child cries and a man’s voice shouts, “Shut up!”
Propped against the side of the house is a rusty shovel and here is where I get my crazy idea. I charge for the shovel and as I do this I transform into my human self. With shaky legs I grasp the shovel between both hands, my heart pounding for what feels like a million beats per second as I realize how risky this decision is.
I slam the shovel into the nearest window, breaking the glass. I beat at it a couple times, getting the big shards out of the way. Clearing the frame of glass I pull myself up and into the building, bringing my shovel with me. My feet sear the moment they hit the floor—damn it—I forgot I was barefoot, but I cannot dwell on this misfortune right now. I don’t have time.
I move through the suddenly silent house.
Blood pounds in my face and I desperately wish I could hush my panting.
“Who the fuck are you?” A man bellows from behind.
I wheel around with my heart in my throat.
“Well?” He thunders, his anger filling up the entire room, the entire house.
I flinch violently, but say nothing.
Eyes flicking from the window’s shattered glass back to me, he yells, “You bitch!” spewing a mist of spit into the air as he says this. “You’re gonna pay for that.” He snarls.
It is not until he is charging for me that I notice the bloody kitchen knife seized in his right hand, but my feet are glued to the floor and won’t budge.
The man raises his knife high in the air, reaching out for me with his other hand and before I even realize what I’m doing, the head of the shovel clunks against both his left arm and head. Howling in pain, he stumbles backwards and with a clanking noise the knife drops from his hand.
Shaking violently, I tighten my grip on the shovel, hardly knowing what to do next because I can barely breathe.
“Son of a bitch,” the man wheezes, bending over in search for the knife.
“No,” I scream, hitting him over the head again. The impact makes a loud clunking noise. He drops all the way to the floor this time and doesn’t get up.
I stand there paralyzed for a moment, brain blurred by fear.
You panic, you die. You panic, you die. You panic, you die. Max’s words reel through my mind.
Ok, I think. Inhale. Exhale. You can do this.
I move past the man, maneuvering around sprawled out limbs in order to get to the hallway. Blood splatters the walls. Red splotches on picture frames make nightmares out of cherished family moments. “Hello?” I call out, my voice shaky and unfamiliar to me.
I peer into a room, my eyes settling on two little boys—looking no older than ten—huddled together in the furthest corner. Gathering his blood-soaked younger brother closer to him, the older boy’s eyes widen in horror as I approach them. Pale and unable to keep his eyes open for more than five seconds, the youngest looks close to death.
The older one’s eyes keep flicking back to my hands. Glancing down I realize the shovel is still clenched between them. “Whoops,” I say, setting the shovel down and then holding out my palms, a peaceful gesture that does not put him at ease right away. “It’s ok. I’m here to help.”
My nose burns of urine as I walk closer.
Clinging tighter to his brother, the older boy’s eyes dart frantically around the room, looking for an escape.
Gently smiling, I whisper, “Hey there, buddy. We need to get him to a hospital. So, I’m gonna need your help.”
The boy nods, shoulders releasing some.
“We need to wrap him up in some towels, okay?” I say. “Do you know where we can find some towels?”
The boy nods, pushes himself from the floor and hurries out the room.
I kneel down beside the younger one. “Hey, buddy,” I whisper, trying to get him to open his eyes.
Like the dwindling flame of a candle, his little eyes flicker halfway open and I can tell he is trying his absolute best to listen to me. I count about six or seven stab wounds. “It’s going to be okay bubba,” I assure him. “We’re gonna get you some help. I promise.”
He gives a little nod and without thinking I kiss his forehead, tasting sweat.
The older boy dashes back into the room, a stack of beach towels piled in his arms. I take them from him and begin wrapping the little boy up, trying to stem the bleeding and keep him warm. Turning to the eldest again I ask, “Do you have a telephone that you can bring to me? Because I need to call 911.”
He nods and then races for the phone.
I rub the little boy’s head, brushing the sweaty hair that clings to forehead off to the side and out of his eyes. “How you doing bubba?” I ask, knowing it’s stupid question.
He gives a little nod and then whimpers, “O…k.”
“You’re doing great,” I tell him. “You’re a very brave boy.”
The eldest rushes into the room, thrusting the telephone into my hand. I dial 911 and explain the situation, my voice wavering as I speak. The operator asks me a series questions such as my age and how old the little boys are. Nine and five are their answers. The dispatcher locates our house without me telling her. I verify this with the oldest brother. I tell her exactly where the three of us are located in the house and where the unconscious father lies. She tells me an ambulance is coming and then instructs me to keep on the line until help arrives. “Now, honey,” the dispatcher begins, “is the door of the room you are in locked?”
“Sh—crap,” I mutter, rising from the floor.
“No, it isn’t,” I tell her, “but I’m doing it right now.”
I close the door and lock it.
“Is it locked?”
“Yes,” I say. “How much longer is it gonna take?”
“Not much, sweetheart,” she answers soothingly. “Now, I want you to do anything you can to comfort these boys. Okay?”
“Yes,” I say. “Is it okay if I put the phone down now? I’ll keep it on speaker.”
“Yes, go right ahead sweetie.”
I set the phone to the floor and kneel beside the two brothers, hoisting the little boy onto my lap, cradling him in my arms as though he were my own newborn son. Tears stream down the eldest boy’s cheeks. “What’s your name?” I ask him.
His eyes, so blackened by fear, make it difficult to see their real color. The older boy sniffs before answering, “Christopher.”
“And what’s your name bubba?” I ask the youngest, the tip of my nose skimming his forehead.
His eyes flicker open. He’s trying so hard.
“What’s your name?” I ask again.
“I’m Nathan,” he whispers.
“What nice names,” I say, trying my best to comfort them. Not sure how it’s working. “I’m Juna.”
Christopher cries harder, starts hyperventilating.
“Christopher,” I say, my hand reaching out for him. He takes my hand and then sits down beside me, his arms wrap around both Nathan and me. “Hey, buddy, it’s going to be okay. Help is on the way.”
He nods, still crying. Mucus descends from his nose and runs along the edge of his mouth.
I do the only thing I can think of. I sing. It’s what Leslie did whenever I was in pain as a child. She’d rock me in her arms and sing Bob Marley. I begin singing, “Three Little Birds.”
Christopher’s breathing slows to a healthier pace.
It isn’t long after I’ve begun singing that sirens blare from somewhere down the road. A sound once considered an annoyance while living in San Francisco is now the most beautiful sound in the whole wide world. “Hear that?” I ask Nathan.
He nods ever so slightly.
“Help is coming,” I tell them both.
“Miss? Miss?” A voice asks. “Are you still there?”
Whoops, I totally forgot about the dispatcher on the other line. I snatch the phone up off the floor and tell her I hear the sirens. We hang up.
Blue and red lights glow outside and it sounds as though the front door has been kicked down. “This is the Gresham Police,” a deep voice booms throughout the house.
Gresham? I think. Where the heck is that?
I tug Nathan closer to my body as I get to my feet. Christopher races to the door, unlocks it for me, and we leave the room. Nathan grips the sleeve of my shirt as I carry him down the hallway. Blood has soaked through the towels and stains my clothes.
A policeman races up to me. “Here,” he says, reaching out for Nathan, “I’ll take the boy.”
The absence of Nathan’s weight in my arms leaves me uncomfortably light and empty. My hand moves to Christopher’s back and I urge him forward. Outside several police cars, an ambulance, and a fire truck await us.
A team of paramedics takes Nathan from the policeman and places him on a gurney, rapidly loading him into the ambulance. Christopher follows after them and is pulled into the ambulance as well. A woman orders me into the vehicle. “We need to get you checked out too,” she tells me.
“No,” I say in a panic, backing away. “I’m fine.” Even though I am drenched in blood. “I wasn’t hurt. This from carrying Nathan.”
“And are these your younger brothers,” a different, huskier voice asks from behind.
I turn in the direction of the speaker. Another policeman.
“No,” I say. “I just…I just heard the screaming, so I came to see what the matter was.”
“Do you live around here then?” He asks.
Oh, shit, I think.
The ambulance doors close, sirens blare, and the vehicle takes off. A part of me wishes to be in there with the boys, to comfort them, but the other part of me wants to get the hell out of here, avoid all questioning.
The man’s eyes bore into mine, full of questions, waiting for my answers.
“Uh, no,” I say. “No, I don’t.”
“Then what were you doing around here?”
Fear prickles in my chest and I wish Max were here to help me lie my way out of this mess. “I’m staying with my aunt and uncle for the week,” I tell him, gulping.
“And where are they now?”
My feet begin fidgeting. “They were asleep,” I explain. “I didn’t want to disturb them because I wasn’t sure that anything was wrong.”
“What did you do next?”
“Next?” I ask.
He nods and the back of my neck is on fire.
“Well, I…you see…I…I um, I went outside and peered into the house and saw what was happening,” I tell him. Another lie. Nothing was seen, for I heard it all.
“What did you see?”
“The man stabbing his youngest son,” I answer.
“Then what did you do?”
I have to get out of here. Got to figure something out quick because this guy is going to get suspicious.
I look down at my feet for a moment and try to think of what Max would do.
Come on, think, I demand. What would Max do?
You panic, you die. You panic, you die. You panic, you die. My mantra twirls through my brain.
The blood splatters on my shirt give me an idea. Not the most brilliant idea in the world, but it’s the only one I got, so it will have to make do. I slowly raise my head, look the policeman in the eye, and sway backwards saying, “Um, I’m not feeling so well. Way too much blood. I think—oh god, I think I’m gonna throw up.”
“Oh,” he says, eyes widening. “Of course. Well, let’s just have you sit down on the curb right here,”—He steers me to the edge of the sidewalk—“while I go fetch the first aid kit and a bottle of water from my car.”
I nod, pretending to take a seat, but the instant the policeman turns around I bolt for the backyard, diving into the air as my surroundings blur around me, my feet barely touching the ground. Red and white lights stream past me as I race home.
Relief loosens my muscles as I come to a jerking halt, but the stiffness of dread tightens my limbs back up when I realize that home is not where I am at the moment. Instead, I am back at that stupid white farmhouse out in the middle of nowhere.
Damn it, I think. Not again.
Before leaving, I do my routine inspection. Trotting around the perimeter of the house with my nose to the ground and ears wide open I try to detect any signs of distress.
But there is nothing. Always nothing.
Biggest waste of my life. I don’t know what the hell is wrong with me.
So, I urge my legs forward and race home.
I almost face-plant onto the driveway when I transform back into my human self. Regaining my balance I go around to the side of the garage and turn on the hose, rinsing the blood off my legs, hands, and feet. The icy water feels good. Its numbing effect is what I so desperately needed.
Next I take a seat on the porch and pick out the shards of glass embedded in my feet. Salt water gathers in my eyes as I do this. I hadn’t realized how much glass was stuck in my feet. A new stream of blood trickles down my foot with each sliver I pull out. It takes forever, but eventually I get it all out.
I rinse off my feet with the hose again before entering the house, locking the front door behind me and then quickly make my way down the hall to the bathroom. Stripping off my clothes first I climb into the shower and just sit there beneath the steady flow of water, allowing the heat of it to undo the knots in my shoulders.
I try to relax. I really do, but just can’t.
How can I?
Every muscle in my body is in spasms and I’m afraid the vein in my forehead is beating so damn hard that it will explode into a fountain of blood, causing the bathroom to look like something out of a Janet Leigh film.
All I can think about right now is Nathan and Christopher. Will little Nathan be all right? Will he survive?
The image of him barely capable of opening his eyes is forever branded into my brain. Just like the woman who was raped, or the mother who was protecting her daughter from her evil ex, or even Lylan.
Another set of unanswerable questions roll through my mind. Where is their mother? Is she even alive? What will happen to them next? Why would a father do such a horrible thing to his own children?
Bile burns in my mouth.
My body starts complaining, but it has nothing to do with the fade of adrenaline. It feels as though a knife has been jammed into my heart. The sting of it is unbearable. I look down at my naked chest, checking for any signs of damage. I find nothing, of course, but now it feels as though someone has grabbed hold of this knife and is twisting it around and around in a circle, desperately trying to end my life.
I can’t deny the part of me that wishes this were true. Wishes that I were being put to death, put out of this misery. I don’t know how much more of this I can handle. It is too much.
It is just too much.
Why the hell didn’t I just transform back into a wolf after I broke the window? I could have easily jumped through it.
I find that being a wolf is easier. Life isn’t quite real when I move on four paws. Panning out more like a video game than reality. The adrenaline remains, but no matter what happens I know, in the end, I will always be okay, fueling me with the blinding confidence I so desperately need.
When I am human, I think more.
Maybe I ought to remain a wolf forever. It would make saving people easier. Cuts down the time it takes to transform. Instead, I could just go.
Trying to clear my head of all thoughts, I roll onto my side, curling into a fetal position, with my eyes clamped tight as the water drips hot and thick over my body. I beg the hot water to loosen my muscles, to slow my heartbeat, to please just wash everything away.
Far, far away.
I head up the stairs earlier than normal this morning to catch my mom before she heads off to work. I know it being a Monday she has to leave a bit earlier than normal.
Like I thought, she is in the kitchen, standing by the stove cooking poached eggs or maybe it’s soft-boiled—actually I can’t tell from where I stand, but knowing her it has got to be something with eggs. Why it matters though, beats me. Fingers tear off pieces of bread as she places the bits into a bowl beside the stove. Close by, the coffee machine steams and drips methodically into a pot. The smell makes me think of my dad. He drank coffee religiously, couldn’t make it through the day without his two steaming hot, blackened cups in the morning. Like father like son I’ve become pretty darn addicted to the stuff too. “Morning mom,” I say.
“You’re up early,” she mutters, pouring the coffee into her favorite thermos, it’s the kind with a clear slot wrapped around it, holding several embarrassing baby photos and two pictures of her and Dad together.
“Well, I wanted to ask you something,” I say, straightening my back.
“And what’s that?” she questions, eying me as she sips her coffee.
“Harris’s dad is having a barbecue tonight at Selene’s,” I tell her in the politest tone I can possibly muster, “and I was wondering if we could go?”
“We who?” She arches an eyebrow.
“Juna and me,” I say evenly, irritated with her already.
Mom remains silent for a moment. The clock ticks the seconds away as I wait. It’s the only sound heard.
“Doesn’t Selene live in Amity?” she probes, pursing her lips.
“Yes,” I answer.
“Hmm, I don’t know Logan,” she sighs, leaning against the countertop. “Not all that fond of the idea of Juna going around that area right now.”
“Why?” I demand.
“You saw what happened yesterday,” she whispers harshly and sort of ducks her head a little bit like she doesn’t want anyone else to hear her. “Amity is too close to Dallas.”
I take a second to swallow. To take a deep breath. To relax. I have to relax. Can’t yell. I just can’t. Not right now. Got to push all that anger back down because it won’t help. Not now. Not when I need to win this. “Mom,” I say soothingly, “nothing is going to happen and secondly, she didn’t do that.”
She shakes her head, not giving in. “It’s a bad idea,” Mom says, “I don’t trust her.”
“Mom,” I groan.
“What?” she snaps, eyes practically shooting sparks.
“We’ll only be down there for a little bit. I promise,” I tell her, pleading with my eyes. “Just want to say hi to my friends. Cuz’ I haven’t seen them in forever. I’ll introduce them to Juna, get a bite to eat, and then we’ll go. Please?”
“Logan, why won’t you respect my feelings? I don’t—”
“Nothing will happen. Nothing ever happened. I already told you she was saving a girl who was being raped that night!” I say, my voice nearing a shout.
She removes the spoon from her thermos and clicks the end of it against her front teeth, making this horrible clinking sound that makes me think she is going to chip a tooth or something. Gaze lowering to the checkered linoleum floor she lets out a deep sigh. “Fine,” Mom breathes. “But not too long.”
I wake up to the muffled sounds of Brianne and Logan fighting in the kitchen. Once my name enters the conversation I tune them out.
Aching for Leslie, I hum “Michelle” by the Beatles.
I grit my teeth together, visualize her face, and think: Why didn’t you just adopt me? Heat blisters at the backs of my eyes, but I refuse to cry. Not again. Not after last night. So, I grit my teeth harder. Leslie, we could have handled this wolf thing just fine on our own together. Sure, it would have been weird and taken a little bit of time getting used to, but we could’ve done it. I’m nothing but a burden here. I need a mother in my life who actually loves me.
And Max, I think, I’d still be with Max, too.
It amazes me how when little insignificant things taken away can suddenly rebirth into significance. Like for example whenever Leslie passed me by she’d rub small circles into my back, ruffle my hair, or kiss the top of my head; these were the little gestures that said: I love you. Brianne doesn’t do this with me and I doubt will ever do.
Sighing, I stare up at the wooden planks of the upper bunk, knowing Erin happily snoozes away up there. All three girls remain sound asleep, as it is still early in the morning. Their slow, deep rhythmic breaths, like the sound of the tides brushing back and forth across the sand, help to keep me calm. I cross my eyes and notice a wisp of hair resting on the tip of my nose. I blow it off to the side of my face.
The yelling comes to a halt and now Brianne is outside, climbing into her car, slamming the door shut, and then backs out of the driveway like she intends on killing someone.
I climb out of bed and head for the kitchen.
Logan looks like a cornered mouse as I, the cat, step onto the checkered linoleum floor. “Oh hey,” his voice cracks. He coughs, face reddening. If his body is made of water its ice now.
“Morning,” I mumble.
“Nope,” I answer flatly.
“Oh…” His smile fades. “Sorry,” he says, his voice sincere.
“There was a stabbing last night,” I inform him. “Two little boys.”
He remains silent.
“That’s what the gauze is for,” I say, gesturing to my feet. “There was a lot of glass, but it should be healed by now. I mean they feel fine.”
Glancing down at them for a moment, he says, “Why didn’t you come wake me up?” sounding as though the glass shards were lodged into his feet rather than mine.
I take a seat and start unwrapping the gauze from my right foot. “I didn’t want to waste time waking you up. Just wanted to get there as soon as possible,” I explain.
I remove all the gauze from my right foot. Not even a scratch.
“Well, what about when you got back?” He probes.
“I still didn’t want to bother you,” I say, removing the gauze off my left foot. “I had things under control. Plus I know how much you hate blood.”
“I don’t—” He begins, but my expression cuts him off midsentence. “Well, I’m getting used to it, but, point is, I want to be there when you get back.”
“Well,”—I wad the gauze up into a tight ball—“what if I wanna deal with it alone?” I ask.
He thinks this over for a moment, pressing his lips together.
“Because after all that shit,” I say, “I just want silence.”
“I can be silent,” he whines and I don’t think he meant to sound that way by his reaction to it. He quickly clears his throat and then says, “I just want to make sure you’ll be alright when you get back home.”
“I’ll be fine,” I say, staring out the kitchen window, compressing the bloody gauze into a ball between my hands.
“Juna?” Logan asks, his voice taut as a wire.
I turn my head.
“Promise me you’ll let me know when you leave next time. Okay? Please?” He begs, the words coiling out of him. “I’d just like to know.” In that one moment his face reveals all the love and fear he has for me, so naked that I have to look away.
“What’s the point?” I whisper, staring down at the checkered linoleum floor. “I mean, the only reason to tell you when I’m going is so that if by chance I don’t come back you’ll know where to find me, right?”
I look up to him. He nods and opens his mouth, about to say something, but I cut him off. “But that’s the problem now isn’t it,” I say, rising from my chair and then marching over to the trashcan to throw the gauze away. “Because I never know where the hell I’m gonna be. So, what’s the point of telling you?”
He blows out a breath of air, running a hand through his thick curls.
I step over to the sink and wash my hands.
He turns to me. “Juna,” he whispers, touching me, “please?”
I jerk his hand off my shoulder and mutter, “Fine.”
“You okay?” Logan asks me as I stomp past him, seriously wanting to go out for a run right now.
This sends me over the edge. “Oh yeah,” I say sarcastically. “Everything’s awesome with me. I’m just, you know, loving life right now, but here’s my question: Is everything alright with you and your mom because it didn’t sound like it a few minutes ago?”
“What do you mean?”
“Oh please,” I hiss, hands resting on my hips. “You know exactly what I’m talking about.”—My left eyebrow arches—“What were you and Brianne fighting about?”
He takes a step back, a dubious expression plastered across his face. “Nothing much,” he says coolly. “She just didn’t want me taking you out to a barbecue at a friend’s house tonight, but I convinced her.”
“We’re going to a barbecue tonight?” I ask, taken aback.
“Yeah,” he smiles, his icy limbs melting back into water. “I forgot to tell you yesterday, but, yeah, my friend Spencer—who you’ll meet tonight—invited us.”
“It’ll be kind of weird, though, don’t you think?” I ask.
“Because I won’t eat anything,” I say. “Won’t that seem kind of rude?”
“Well,” he begins, thinking this over for about a second. “Yeah, but it’s okay. They won’t mind. We’re not staying that long anyways. I just want to say hi to my friends, introduce you to them, get a bite to eat, and then we’ll go.”
“Why doesn’t Brianne want me to go?”
“Oh no, it’s not just you,” he says abruptly, itching at the side of his nose. “She doesn’t want either one of us to go. Thinks we need to have some more family time together.”
“Really?” I ask, squinting. “I mean, I kind of guess that makes sense with me leaving almost every night and you out partying all the time, but seriously she doesn’t think that we’re spending enough time together?”
“Yeah,” he says, dragging the word out, feet fidgeting like he is standing on hot coals. “I know, weird right?” He turns around to grab a bowl from the cupboard.
“Logan!” I holler.
He jerks around, almost dropping his bowl.
“What’s really going on with Brianne?” I ask. “I mean, why doesn’t she want me to go to this barbecue tonight? Or better yet, why does she hate me so much?”
“I don’t know,” he admits with a dejected sigh. “I think part of it has to do with the fact that she’s still shocked that you even exist. She never believed in all this savior stuff when she was younger or grown up. I mean we’re all still pretty shocked about it. You know, because this isn’t a normal thing.”
“But,” he adds, “just give her some time and I’m sure she’ll warm up to you.”
“Okay,” I say, letting the subject go…for now.
Before we leave for the barbecue I check my email one last time.
But it’s empty. Again. Well, no that is not true, because I do have an email from Leslie waiting to be read, but, honestly, I don’t care to read it right now.
Damn it Max! I bury my face into my hands and groan. Why the hell won’t you email me?
“My mom’s back. Ready to go?” Logan pokes his head into the office.
“Yes,” I answer, when what I’m really thinking is: No.
I turn the radio on once we get into the minivan and—of course—“Loser” by Beck starts playing. I groan.
“What?” Juna asks, confused.
“Uh,” I begin and I can’t help from cracking up. “For whatever reason—not sure what I did to deserve this—but apparently my radio thinks I’m a loser because every time I turn it on this song plays.”
Juna directs her eyes to the radio, listening to the lyrics intently for a moment. She bursts into laughter and it’s the first sincere smile I’ve seen from her today. She won’t stop laughing, so I leave the station on for her enjoyment. I even turn up the volume.
I smile too. This feels good to see her laughing, even if the amusement is at my own expense. She can hardly breathe when she says, “Sorry. I don’t know why that’s so funny to me.”
“Yeah,” I say teasingly, quickly glancing over at her. “I don’t know why that’s so funny to you either.”
Juna gives a final chuckle and then lets out a deep breath of air.
“Loser” stops playing and then “I Was Made For Loving You” by Kiss comes on.
She reaches over to click the radio off.
I glance over at her and it looks like someone took a needle to her balloon. “You don’t like that song?” I ask.
She shakes her head. “I don’t feel like listening to music right now,” she answers. “So, who am I meeting today?”
What was that all about? I wonder, but don’t dwell on it too long. I tell her about my two best friends and their families. I start with Spencer. I love Spencer’s family. His dad, Carson Lauten, is a police officer and mom, Heather, is an interior designer. She actually helped my mom decorate several rooms in our house for free. Spencer’s only sibling, Mei, is fourteen-years-old, plays soccer with Erin, and is basically Heather’s mini-me.
Carson Lauten’s father grew up in Interlaken, Switzerland, but then moved to the U.S. where he met Spencer’s grandma. Carson’s dad still owns that house in Switzerland, so every other year during the month of August the Lautens travel there to visit relatives and spend time exploring other parts of Europe. Spencer’s mom is also half Chinese, so they travel to Asia sometimes too. That’s the cool thing about Spencer’s family—they travel a lot. See the world whenever they get the chance.
Yep. They’re a pretty awesome normal family.
Harris has had a rough life in comparison. “When he was three his mom, Rebecca, and baby sister, Rachel, died in the hospital from some sort of complication,” I explain.
“That’s horrible,” Juna says softly.
“Yeah.” I nod. “He moved up here from the Bay Area after that. His dad actually grew up in Silverton, which isn’t all that far from Salem. Harris lived with us for a bit because of how depressed his dad was, but by the time Rob recovered my dad had a heart attack…right after Noah was born.” My jaw clenches tight for a moment. “Rob has always been there for me,” I add.
“Good,” Juna whispers.
Silence lapses between us as I drive a couple more miles down the road.
“So, what does his dad do for a living then?” Juna asks.
“Oh,” I begin, my grip loosening on the wheel. “Rob is a History teacher at our high school. He teaches juniors and seniors, so you might have him next year.”
“Oh,” she responds. “So, who’s house are we going to again?”
“Selene’s,” I tell her.
“And who is Selene?”
“Selene is Rob’s really good friend. They’ve known each other since high school I think. I swear there is something going on between them. Harris doesn’t like to talk about it, but Spencer and I can obviously tell Selene has a huge thing for him. I’ve known her forever too,” I explain. “Selene lives in Amity. She owns a hazel nut tree farm. It’s a pretty cool property. You’ll like it.”
Once we have nothing left to talk about my thoughts linger.
Lingering is a dangerous thing.
An image of Nathan and Christopher huddled in the corner of a dark, bloodstained room flashes across my mental theater. The smell of urine fills my nose again as if it were right in front of me. Nathan’s little face, pale and bloodied, warped and twisted by an unfathomable pain burns in my brain; makes my stomach coil like a spring, hard and tight. A small ache winces across my chest at the realization that Nathan might not even be alive right now.
I have a sudden urge to leap out of the car and race back home, to bury myself beneath the sheets on my bed.
But, instead, I unroll my window and hot air pours into the car, the heat of the day clogging my nostrils. My hair whips wildly across my face and I, unfortunately, don’t have a rubber band with me to tame it.
The smell of fire filters into the car and this is when I notice three enormous white stacks of smoke, billowing into the sky. Emerging from the other side of the hill, these grand columns look like blasts from an atomic bomb, but when I ask Logan about it, he tells me that this is perfectly normal, that Oregon farmers always burn their fields during this time of the year. I shrug, accepting this and stare up at the sun, which is now discolored and blocked by a filmy layer of smoke.
Logan finally turns the minivan onto a twisted road, which he explains leads directly up to Selene’s house. The road is lined with trees, creating a beautiful and highly photogenic canopy above us. Beyond these trees are more trees, orchards, which I assume contain hazelnuts.
A white farmhouse with cobalt shutters and a bright cherry red door comes into view. The front lawn is a large stretch of unusually green grass, which has been trimmed to a perfect golf-course length. Several lush rows of yellow and red tulips lie below the porch. All around the house is nothing, but endless fields of orchards.
Parked to the right of the house are four cars: a black BMW, a creamy white Volvo, a red mini-cooper, and a navy blue Subaru Outback. Logan pulls the minivan up next to the Subaru.
Logan hops out of the minivan and opens the door for me and as I slide out of the seat, my feet touching the ground, a thought hits me: I’ve been here before.
A chill flutes over my skin. “Oh my god,” I exhale. This is that stupid white farmhouse I keep coming back to.
“What?” Logan asks, confused.
My eyes flicker between him and the house a couple of times before I answer. “Um,” I begin, blinking fast. “I’ve…I’ve been here before.”
“What?” He asks, his eyebrows pulling together. “When?”
“Well,” I say, a little hesitant, closing the car door behind me, “for whatever reason I keep coming back here when I try to go home. I don’t know why.”
“Man that’s weird,” he notes, holding my gaze.
“I know,” I agree, pulling my tangled hair into a bundle over my right shoulder. I really need a good pair of scissors right now.
“Well,” he begins, glancing up at the house for a second, “are you ready to go meet everyone?”
No, I think, but nod and mumble, “Sure.”
The cars are parked downhill from the house, so in order to get to the lawn we have to climb up a set of brick stairs.
Ahead of us, two men stand at a large black barbecue, grilling hamburger patties that sizzle like hissing snakes. Beyond them, relaxing at a picnic table, sit two middle-aged women and a younger girl who looks about Erin’s age. The auburn haired woman jumps to her feet the instant we emerge from the driveway and I immediately feel perverted because although she is an attractive woman my eyes are not drawn to her face, but rather down at her watermelon-sized breasts, which bounce up and down to the rhythm of her steps.
“Holy crack!” Logan whispers to me and then shakes his head. “I mean crap!”
The woman gives Logan a viscous hug, snatching him into her arms like a vise. Turning his face toward me with a look of sheer awkwardness, I can’t help from cracking up. She pulls back and smiles so widely at me I immediately think of the Cheshire cat. It’s a scary smile, smothered in a bright shade of red lipstick. “Juna sweetheart!” She exclaims, crushing those hefty watermelons against my lungs almost to the point of total suffocation. “Hello darling!”
“Hi,” I wheeze. She releases me. “You know my name.”
“Well of course I know your name dear. Spencer informed us all about you. I’m so sorry about your parents darling.” She rubs my right arm. “If there is anything I can do for you, please don’t hesitate to ask.”
I nod and then jerk back as this woman suddenly shrieks, both hands shooting up to the sides of her face like someone has scared her. “Where are my manners?” she cries and her hand comes forward to shake mine, which seems rather pointless now. “I’m Selene Delaney by the way. This is my house. It’s a pleasure to have you here,” she tells me jubilantly.
Dragging me over to meet the others, Selene introduces me to the two men at the barbecue. The man with the thinning blonde hair and a red and white Swiss t-shirt is Spencer’s father, Carson Lauten. “Hello.” He waves to me, smiling sincerely.
“Hi.” I wave back.
I turn my attention to the black haired man with striking green eyes framed by bold rectangular designer glasses. He wears a gray polo shirt that has a strange flower-like symbol on the pocket with the word Firenze below it. “And this,” Selene begins, “is my very good friend Bobby Pratt.”
He glances at me curiously and I am reminded of that same expression Logan gave me the first time we met, a look of recognition, but I shake the thought away because there is no way on earth this man could possibly know me. “Nice to meet you young lady,” he says, looking pained for a second and then masking that pain with a smile. “How’re you liking Oregon?”
“Um,” I say, “I love it here.”
“Good,” he chuckles huskily. “You like hamburgers?”
“Alright more people to meet!” Selene trills, pushing me toward the picnic table to meet the rest of Spencer’s family. Selene introduces me to Spencer’s mother, Heather, a petite Chinese woman with her hair pulled back in a beautiful flower barrette. Heather rubs small circles into her daughter’s back, Mei, who shares a strong resemblance to her. My chest aches just looking at them. They smile at me and I smile back, not forcing it this time.
“Ah, there they are,” Selene says under her breath as three teenagers emerge from the orchard, making their way to us.
Spencer, I guess, is the blonde guy with partially slanted blue eyes. Slightly shorter than me, he is dressed unusually nice for a teenage boy at a casual family picnic, sporting a green button down shirt and beige slacks. The next teen over must be Harris, a tan-skinned, brown-eyed boy whose features highly resemble Robert’s. He is tall like Logan, but unlike Logan has thick Thor-like muscles and veins, the size of electrical cords, running up his arms. Holding his hand is a gorgeous banana-haired girl with root beer colored eyes. She is slender, athletically built, and wears a flattering green dress with white polka dots on it.
Selene introduces me to the trio and I learn that the girl’s name is Marley.
“My son will be out here shortly. He’s still taking care of a few things in the house,” Selene informs us. “Harris? Go ahead and show them around.”
“Sure,” Harris says, smiling at me.
Logan and I follow the three out to a picnic table near the edge of the orchard. Logan and I sit on the opposite side of the table from the three with our backs turned to the house.
Quit staring at her! I want to scream at Spencer and Harris.
I glance at Juna from the corner of my eye. Good, I think. She isn’t looking at them. Actually, she looks as though something else entirely is on her mind.
I’m not the only one bothered by the staring. Marley gently nudges Harris in the ribs to get his attention. He snaps out of his gaping trance.
Juna, still oblivious to it all, stares aimlessly out into the orchards.
Marley’s eyes meet mine and for the first time—in like what…forever?—I feel perfectly calm in her presence as though my crush on her was nonexistent. “So, you two are cousins…right?” Marley asks, looking back and forth between Juna and I.
Juna turns her attention to Marley and nods.
“Yeah,” I mutter. Why the heck do we have to be known as cousins, or related at all for that matter? “We’re second cousins,” I add as if this makes a difference.
“I’m sorry about your parents,” Marley tells Juna, her tone gentle, caring as always.
“It’s ok,” she says, nodding politely. “Thank you, though.”
Harris surprises me, by not stepping in to save our idle conversation. He is unusually quiet today. Marley is the only one picking up the slack the rest of us lack. She asks me if I’ve taken my ACT or SAT yet, which I reply with a no, but I neglect to tell her that it’s not a requirement for taxi drivers.
A breeze sweeps through the property, causing Juna’s hair to spill across her shoulders. Her long strands brush against the skin of my arm, tickling me. It’s driving me nuts.
“You okay?” Harris asks me.
“I’m fine,” I blurt out of embarrassment and then add, “but, man, I’m starving.”
“Yeah, me too,” Harris agrees, shifting in his seat.
A thought pops into my head and I’m surprised I didn’t ask about it earlier, “Did I hear wrong or something or did Selene say that her son was coming out later? Since when does she have a son?”
“Oh yeah,” Harris says. “Most random thing ever. She adopted a kid this summer. Max.”
Juna’s head perks up. “From where?” Her question shoots out like a bullet.
I know exactly what she is thinking, but it’s impossible. There is no way Selene could have adopted that Max.
“Bay area, I think,” Harris replies, making my eyes widen.
I can almost hear Juna’s pulse quickening with excitement. “How old is he? What does he look like?” she splutters.
Harris’s eyebrows pull together, confused by her overwhelming interest in the matter. He gazes past us, eyebrows rising. “Speak of the devil,” he says with a smile. “Hey Max.”