"You Can Call Me...."

February 16, 2010
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I’ve never felt more scared of anything than I do right now.

Mrs. Smith waves goodbye to me as Mr. Brown loads my plastic bag of belongings in the trunk of he and his wife’s car. I get in the backseat and buckle my seatbelt. Mrs. Brown turns around in her seat and smiles at me. She seems so nice, like the mother I’ve never had. She’s very beautiful. Her eyes are a sparkling blue against premature silvery curls.

Mr. Brown seems much more reluctant to have me. He doesn’t talk to me as much as his wife, but maybe that’s just his style. I can only hope.

“How often do you see your brother, Zach?” Mrs. Brown asks me.

“He used to come and visit me every Sunday, Ma’am.”

She smiles her kind smile. “We’ll look forward to meeting him; and please, call me Karen.”

“Karen.” I quickly correct myself. The name felt foreign on my tongue, but I guess I couldn’t go around calling them “sir” and “ma’am” for the rest of my life.

“How old are you again, Zach?” Mr. Brown asks, keeping his eyes on the road.

“Fourteen, Sir.” Sir! There I go again.

I watch in the rear view mirror, as his eyes crinkle at the corners during a smile. “My father is called “sir”, Zach. No one has ever called me “sir” and I don’t intend to let them. Call me Ryan.”


“Do you like school, Zach?” Karen asks me, trying to keep with the conversation. I’d never talked so much about myself in my whole life.

“Yes, Ma—Karen.”

“You make good grades?” Ryan asks next. I can see Karen give him a look as if to say, ‘Don’t ask him such personal questions!” I don’t mind really. No one has ever taken such a genuine interest in me.

“Straight As.” I answer, admittedly bragging a bit. I could tell by the look on his face that he and his wife had done some research. If you Google, “Symptoms of child abuse”, a decrease in grades almost always comes up. I wonder what else they are expecting of me.

I am wearing a short sleeve T-shirt on purpose. I don’t want any secrets to be between my new parents and me. I remember what my fourth grade teacher told me once during yet another unfair detention:

“Zach, do you like to read?” She’d asked me.

“Yes, Ma’am.”

“Have you ever heard of Victor Hugo?”

“Sorry, Ma’am.” I said, feeling ashamed.

She smiled kindly. “Most nine-year olds haven’t.”

Well, I was not like most nine-year olds. That’s probably why she even bothered asking.
“He’s a poet and a novelist.” She explained. “He once said, “No one keeps a secret so well as a child.”

I swallowed and remained silent. No one knew that better than I did.

I’d kept a secret that had nearly killed me. I wasn’t about to start keeping them again so easily. So, why not reveal everything from the start?

Even as I tried, it was more difficult then I thought to restrain from covering up the thick scar that ran down from the crease in my arm to my wrist.

I turn my head and take a look out the window. We were driving in the middle of nowhere. Trees surround everything and everyone, only allowing a certain amount of light to peek through.

Soon Ryan pulls the car to a stop in front of a large white house. I can’t help but stare in awe. I’ve lived in so many different places, and none of them have been so big and open. I wonder if I’ll be granted the luck of having my own room.

I open the car door and shut it behind me. I lift my light bag from the trunk and follow Karen and Ryan up the stairs into what is now my new, and hopefully permanent, home.

I, slightly timid, step over the threshold and close the door behind me. I’ve never seen anything more beautiful. I’m embarrassed for myself as I feel my throat constrict in emotion.

“Welcome home.” Karen whispers, placing a hand tentatively on my shoulder. I try not to flinch so much.

As I look around I see a flutter of life dart down the staircase. She stops when she sees us. Claire, I understand. My new sister. Her hair is so blonde it’s almost white, and it nearly surpasses her waist in length. She has her mother’s smile and her father’s steely gray eyes.

“Claire, this is Zach, your big brother.” Ryan says.

I privately like the sound of that. Before, it had always been:

“Who’s that?”

“That’s Rob’s little brother….his name’s Jack or something.”

“Rob’s brother? You mean the one who gets beaten?”


Claire smiles at me with all of the innocence of a normal eleven-year old girl. Then I watch, my heart sinking slightly, as her eyes settle on my scars. The one on my arm and the one along my jaw are the most visible, and unfortunately most grotesque, ones. I feel a twinge of regret for not wearing long sleeves. She looks almost frightened.

But she puts on a brave face and glides toward me.

“It’s nice to finally meet you.” She says, sticking out her hand.

I slowly raise my hand to shake hers. As she takes my hand the tip of her thumb brushes against the end of my scar. Her hand freezes and she pulls back slowly, as to be polite.

“Claire, show Zach his room.” Ryan says.


Claire leads me up the stair case. I can’t help feel self conscious about my plastic bag, so I try to hide it behind my back.

Claire makes a sharp left and stops at the second, and last, door. She turns the knob and opens it for me soundlessly. She holds out her hand, gesturing for me to go in first. I could cry out of happiness. I’ve never had a room to myself before. There’s a big bed set up against the far wall, where a large window streams sunlight across the blue comforter. There’s a closet and a rocking chair.

I wander over to the bed and lay my bag down.

“Do you like it?” Claire asks from the hallway. She doesn’t step in.

“It’s perfect.” I whisper, half to myself.

She smiles a tiny smile. “The bathroom’s across the hall, first door, and the other room is my….our parents’. The one next to this one is mine.”

“Thank you.” I say, truly grateful.

There is silence between us for a couple minutes. Finally she whispers, so softly that I must strain to hear, “Do they hurt?”

I know immediately that she’s referring to the scars. “No, not any more.” I answer.

She nods.

“What happened?” She asks tentatively.

Well, this isn’t particularly what I’d prefer to talk about upon meeting my sister for the first time, but, I would tell her whatever she wanted to know.

“I guess my mother was never taught that she shouldn’t play with knives.”

I hear her catch her breath in horror. “I’m sorry, I didn’t know.” She says quickly.

I try to shrug as if I don’t care; as if the pains from those memories don’t boil in my stomach like hot acid, making me queasy.

“Your parents didn’t tell you?” I ask curiously. Why would they keep something like this from their daughter?

“All they said was that you didn’t have a good home life, and they told me not to ask you any questions about your family.” A light shade of red makes its way across her cheek bones. “But they would never elaborate. I guess curiosity got the better of me.” She smiles sheepishly.

“I don’t mind. You can ask me anything.”

“Can I?” She asks uncertainly.

“Of course. I’ve never kept secrets from my brother. Why should I keep them from my sister?”

She smiles. “That’s nice to hear. My brother is eight years older than me, so we never really got to talk and be the regular “brother and sister”. He was always off with his “high school” friends. I didn’t even get to annoy him like little sisters are supposed to.”

I let out a short laugh. She could annoy me all she wanted. I understood. I’d been was the younger sibling once.

“Besides, it’s really boring here all alone now that he’s in college.” She added.

“My brother is seven years older than me.” I offer eager to share a similarity between us.

Claire ventures a step inside the room. “Really?”

I nod.

“Did he….?” She left the question open, but I knew what she was getting at. Did he get beaten, too?

“No.” I say, simply.

“That’s not fair.” She walks all the way into the room until she’s sitting on the edge of my bed.

Instead of staying, ‘life isn’t fair,’ or ‘I’d rather it be me than him’, even though those are both true, I say, “It wasn’t.”

I was beginning to really like this girl. She didn’t have that wary expression on her face when she was around me. She didn’t speak slow as if I was stupid, or watch her every movement so she wouldn’t startle me like I was a skittish cat.

She treated me like I was a normal human being. For once in my life I felt like I belonged. After six years of abuse, I didn’t feel like I was living in a prison any longer. I had a home. I had a real mother and a father. I had a brother, and a sister, and a friend.

Join the Discussion

This article has 33 comments. Post your own now!

redsoxandsunshine said...
Jun. 2, 2010 at 5:39 pm
Sometimes I read a piece and think... why isn't this one of the top rated pieces? This is one of them. There are so many talented authors out there who don't make the magazine. I don't even know what to say... but keep writing, girl!
katie-cat replied...
Jun. 2, 2010 at 8:52 pm
Thanks, I really appreciate it! :)
redsoxandsunshine replied...
Jun. 3, 2010 at 6:18 pm
haha I forgot that if these get enough reviews and votes they can MAKE the magazine. Well, i'll be voting for it!
katie-cat replied...
Jun. 3, 2010 at 6:56 pm

Thank you :))


banangela29 This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Jun. 2, 2010 at 2:15 pm

Good, but I have the same qualms as ajkstarr. Clarify some stuff and it'll be great. Also, you had a tense error he says "straight as" it wshould say "i can see" rather than "i could see"

great job :)

katie-cat replied...
Jun. 2, 2010 at 2:38 pm
thanks!  this was my first piece trying it in the present tense, I'm so used typing "could" instead of "can", or "sat" instead of sit.  Thanks for the pointers! :)
roxymutt said...
Jun. 1, 2010 at 10:20 pm
This was so well written!!! I applaud the details and your diction!!! keep up the good work
katie-cat replied...
Jun. 2, 2010 at 2:50 pm
Thank you so much!
ajkstarr said...
Jun. 1, 2010 at 9:02 pm

I enjoyed it, but it was never really clear to me who Mrs. Smith was. Is she a social worker? Family friend?That confused me immeadiatly. I kept expecting her to make an appearance.

I liked the character of the little girl

katie-cat replied...
Jun. 2, 2010 at 2:49 pm
Thanks for the help!  I wrote this on the spur of the moment and thought of Mrs. Smith as being his, foster mother, I guess you could call it.  Zach was taken away from his home and put into foster care at the age of twelve, meanwhile his brother Rob was too old at 19 to go with him, and it was a mutual decision between Zach and Rob to have Zach live in foster care, instead of with Rob.  Hope this cleared things up - thanks again! :)
burnt-toast said...
Jun. 1, 2010 at 6:33 am
I really enjoyed this... I swear I got a little lump in my throat as I was reading it, you are excellent at displaying the emotions. Good stuff :)
katie-cat replied...
Jun. 1, 2010 at 7:26 pm
Thank you! :)
Kandabear said...
May 1, 2010 at 8:23 am
You have hand for caturing a reader in the hopes of sympathy. It's a beautiful and kind of frightfully suspenseful. I like it. My heart reaches out to the main protagonist. Great job.
katie-cat replied...
May 3, 2010 at 5:21 pm
Thank you so much!  I really appreciate this. 
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