First time here? Read the intro first - then chapter 1 pt. 1 & pt. 2 :) I went through school in a daze and a slight smile on my lips. Every once in awhile I would blush when the memory of Kevin’s kiss made its way across my thoughts. I made it through classes relatively unscathed - with only one situation in Pre-Cal where in my daydream I conveniently shut out what Mrs. Houghton was asking the class. I never heard her call my name. I spent ten minutes after class, apologizing for my absent-mindedness and promised to pay attention in the future and trying to avoid her constant glances towards the bruise on my cheek. As soon as I could, I turned around and brushed my hair across my face again in a protective sweep.
“Hey Stephanie?” I winced as I slowly turned and responded to Mrs. Houghton’s question with a smile plastered across my face.
She glances at me and I watched her toy with the idea of asking me what happened. I see the wheels turning and her decide to forget about it, to not get involved, before she waved her hand at me as if to say, nothing - don’t worry about it.
She smiles and simply says, “you did well on your test the other day. I just wanted to thank you for your hard work.”
Despite my desire to remain invisible, to not bring attention to myself, my heart sank. Would there ever be anyone who was brave enough to take on my father? I knew the answer already. There was - and I hadn’t seen her in a long time. With new resolve, I decided to go pay Emma a visit after school. Besides, with Kevin’s kiss still burning on my lips, it makes sense to end the day on a good note. My cheeks blaze crimson at the thought of Kevin. I smile and make my way down the school hallway, stopping by my locker to get my Physics notes. The test I have coming up just might eat my lunch and ruin my average. I am out the door as the last bell rings for the day - I need to see Emma. I need to be reminded someone notices what I am going through at home.
Walking up to her door, I smiled at the fall decorations littering her porch. Carved pumpkins, cornucopias filled with fake fruit and twigs of numerous styles, shapes and sizes formed a cozy little nook around her two ancient looking rocking chairs. Never one to scrimp on decorations, Emma stocked up on anything to celebrate the current season. Her zest for life echoed throughout everything - even the fake cobwebs hanging from the corner of the railing.
I didn’t need to knock. I helped myself to the cookies already on the counter & plopped on the couch. I could hear her in the room next to the kitchen - probably doing laundry, I thought with a smirk - and then I frowned. I couldn’t even remember the last time I had washed my jeans. I suddenly glanced down at the couch, expecting to see a spot where I was sitting from dirt & grime. I breathed a quiet sigh of relief when I saw no signs of dirt and continued to eat the chocolatey goodness.
“There’s milk in the fridge, Steph” I heard Emma call from the laundry room and a slow smile spread across my lips. How she managed to make me feel so at home was beyond me.
“Is it that nasty organic stuff you always buy or soy milk?” I called back - knowing my question would light a fire in Emma’s already spunky attitude. I don’t drink soy mile - even the thought of it makes me wrinkle my nose. I head over to the fridge to look for the fresh gallon she promised. I hear something drop in the laundry room and her stifled laughter. Yep. Teasing her is always worth the entertainment.
“Stephanie,” she called from the hallway, “either drink the milk or go buy yourself some milky water substitute for the real thing. You know you aren’t going to find soy milk in this house.” She walked in the room with a room full of clothes and peeked her head above mounds of towels and baby clothes. “Besides. You know I’m allergic to soy.” She threw the clothes on the couch and collapsed in the middle of them. “You wanna help me fold? Benjamin nearly soiled every single pair of onesies he had this week. I don’t care what people say. Infants have more mess in them than anyone can ever imagine. I swear if he has another diaper blowout I just may puke.” Looking at me, she brushed the hair out of her eyes and sat up straight.
“What happened, Steph.”
Her questions were never optional. I thought back to when I first met her in my Creative Writing class in high school. She was my teacher. I was her student. Something happened in the middle of the year though - after I turned in a paper explaining my tendencies of self-denial & habitual expectation of failure - we became more like mother/daughter and less like your standard teacher/student. I will never forget the first time she held me after class and asked me her first question formed as a statement. I had no choice but to respond - and to be honest. Looking back, I know it was her who saved me that semester from some dangerous decisions I was bound to make. Looking back, I know it was her who likely called the authorities due to my continual bruises & quiet tears.
As always, the authorities did nothing.
As always, Emma had been there - door unlocked, phone ready.
I glanced at her and took a deep breath.
“He hit me again, Emma.”
She breathed in sharply and begin to speak, but I put my hand up before she could get any words out, “It’s okay, Emma. I survived. He apologized afterwards. And I know it sounds weird, but I know he didn’t mean to do it. For some reason he always seems to take his anger out on me. My mom’s been cheating on him - I had a feeling, but last night we actually found out the truth. The guy just stood there as dad hit me and yelled at me.” I shuddered involuntarily at the memory and continue - straightening my back as well as my resolve, “we worked it out though.” I looked at Emma, begging her to not make a big deal out what happened, even though I knew with every fiber of my being just how big of a deal it is for my dad to do what he did to me - continually. My knee is proof - it still throbbed from where he pushed me up against the desk and where I later crashed against the pavement.
She curses under her breath and I hide a smile, it takes a lot for Emma to throw out a cuss word, “Steph, this is not okay. When are you going to get out of there? When are you going to finally accept it’s not your responsibility? You are meant for something great - something big. How can you amount to anything if you are fighting for your life?”
I let her words wash over me. I’ve heard them before - I heard them from Kevin just that morning. Honestly, much of what she says runs through my head on its own accord. But I know it makes no difference. Nothing was going to change - if I tried to leave, it would only make it worse.
“Emma, I just can’t leave. It’s not possible. How would I manage? Where would I go? Who would take care of Pacey? There’s just too many obstacles right now. Besides, it’s only a couple months.” I shrug and play with the string on my jacket’s hood, “I can do anything for a couple of months.”
Our conversation is interrupted by the unadulterated cry of an infant & Emma wrinkles her eyebrows. “I need to feed him. Are you able to stay tonight? Dinner’s going to be ready here in about thirty minutes or so.” She turns and looks at me and points at the couch, “hold that thought. This conversation is far from over.”
I stretch against the pillows and fight the urge to run. The last thing I really want to experience is a sense of domesticity - even though I know it’s what I crave. One of the hardest things for me to see is a family who loves each other, knowing my own family waits at home for me - all too willing to yell my indiscretions to the world as the bruises form on my skin.
Emma walks back in the room and Benjamin giggles at the sight of me. My heart melts and against my better judgment, I decide to stay. I may get nauseous at the sight of a close-knit family, but I can’t ever turn down the affections of this little boy. I smile at Emma & reach for Benjamin.
“You’re evil, you know that, Emma? Pure evil. And your timing? Impeccable.”
Emma chuckles and passes her son off to me and turns towards the kitchen. Calling over her shoulder, she says, “Is it really my timing or you being absolutely predictable?”
I threw a pillow at her and miss her retreating figure by mere centimeters. Dang it.
“Watch out for the candles!” She hollers from the other room.
I grit my teeth and glance at Benjamin who stares at me from big, brown eyes. Grabbing the bottle from the nearby table I sigh. “How does she know, Benjamin? How does she always know?”
He shrieks at the sight of the bottle and reaches for sustenance. For a brief moment, I wonder if my parents ever felt for me what I feel right at this moment - watching Benjamin, a sudden urge to protect him at all cost creeps into my heart without notice or invitation. My eyes began to mist over at the realization.
As if on cue, Emma walks back into the room and kisses the top of my head. “You’re beautiful, you know that girl? Your heart for others is hopeful and pure and trusting. No matter what anyone else has told you, you are worth much to this family and even though you may not have a home with your mom and dad, you have a home here.”
I let the tears flow freely then. Leaning against her shoulder, with Benjamin in my lap, I let myself rest for the first time in hours. For a few minutes, I allowed myself the ability to forget about the nightmare of the past twenty-four hours and to build dreams of the future I hoped to create. For a few minutes, I imagined what it would be like to have a home and to have a family who loved me and cared for me and wanted the best for me. I imagined what it would feel like to be protected at all costs.
And for a brief moment of time, I actually believed what Emma said.
I actually believed I was worth something.