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Once Upon A Time
Why is it that we associate these four words with a happy ending, a beautiful struggle between dark and light in which light will always triumph? It seems as if all of our most beloved stories begin with this simple, notorious phrase. Why can’t our stories begin with Not So Long Ago, or even In A Time Like This One? Are we doomed to believe that the only happy lives out there began with Once Upon A Time? Is it even possible to break the vicious cycle and begin our happiest stories with another expression- or will all stories told otherwise become dark and twisted?
My own story didn’t begin with Once Upon A Time. Yet it had all the elements of a beloved and celebrated fairytale: a desperate skirmish between good and evil, a brave heroine and her equally courageous counterpart, an ending- which, despite not ending in a Happily Ever After or in a way even remotely happy in the normal sense, ended in the way it was meant to. My story doesn’t take place deep in the woods, or atop a giant castle, innumerable years ago, nor is magic in any way involved. I wasn’t particularly rich, or particularly poor. I was completely ordinary- except for an arsenal of secrets that would send even the most prominent gossiper’s enlarged head reeling on their shoulders. Secrets so dangerous they could get me killed… but that’s not really a problem anymore, is it?
So it’s time to tell my story. It’s not a pretty one. It’s filled with death, and sorrow. But also incredible hope. And that’s why it’s got to be told- in all its gruesome glory.
My story, of course, began in a completely innocent and normal way, with a squealing, squirming baby screaming her way into existence. Me. I was, for a baby, average. Bald with a little bit of peach fuzz splattering my soft head, muddy eyes that were impossible to label one single color, not unusually small or large. Small everything; fingers, toes, nose, and everything between.
Basically, I was a normal newborn. I went home soon thereafter with my two doting parents, who spent more time cooing at me and rubbing my soft baby belly than was probably necessary. I know; I’ve seen the family videos that prove it. I was healthy and stylish, growing adorably plump in little pink booties and fashion diapers. My parents, having begun their family after establishing their careers, were rather well-off, and I was, I’ll admit, spoiled. It didn’t help that I was the first grandchild on both sides of my family, my father having been an only child and my mother’s sister more interested in having a good time with her college funds than settling down and finding a job. The first ten years of my life are bubbly memories of warm hugs and homemade cookies.
Of course, as all people will tell you, happy times will always be marred by tragedy. My mother had been struggling with depression and anxiety since she was a teenager, and the older she got the worse she got. She took an incredible amount of pills that were supposed to keep her pleasant and happy, but as time wore on they gradually stopped working. My father, worried about her influence on me, as I was becoming moody and sad even as she was, took her to a psychiatrist, who diagnosed her with schizophrenia. He recommended a strong medicine that would make her loopy and tired. My mom, however, became convinced that the enormous pills were poisoned by the doctor and secretly stopped taking them. Her disease made her wild and unpredictable, but she was clever enough to hide it in public. When we were alone, though, she went crazy: cutting my hair up to my ears in jagged swipes, digging her nails into my skin so hard I bled, holding a lit match against my palm. She was certain I was a demon working with the doctor to kill her, and punished me for it. The moment my father came home and questioned my cut hair and bloody arms and burns, she blamed me. After all, I was just a kid, right? It was hard to say so early whether I was sick, too, she said. She’d open her eyes wide and show her empty medicine bottles, claiming she’d taken the required dose, when really the pills had been flushed down the toilet or force-fed to the cat. I suffered horrendously from my mother’s abuse. Yet by some dark miracle, I survived. I folded in on myself, went from a bubbly and happy child to a sullen, quiet one. I was always afraid my mother was around the corner, just waiting to hurt me. Everyone wondered where adorable little me had gone. And only I knew she’d been cut into submission.
It wasn’t soon before my dad’s suspicions arose and he confronted my mom about her medicine. I was standing outside their door, cowering; I practically heard her mind break, knew the exact moment she snapped. Then she screamed at the top of her lungs, the door flew open, and my father ran out of the room and grabbed my hand, pulling me outside. She followed us out into the street, her face wild, as we drove away. We slept at a hotel that night.
The next day, when we got home, a trail of blood led into my room. I saw her before my dad had time to push me away, his face pale. Her blue eyes, usually so wide and bright, stared at the ceiling blankly, the light in them gone forever. Her blonde hair was spread spectacularly across the floor. But worst of all, most horrible of all, was the red stain marring my pink shag carpet, the blood dotting her light skin like gruesome freckles, the long streaks of it down her arms and shirt and neck. I screamed. Oh, how I screamed. Not because I was sad, because I really wasn’t. But because her frame, in my mind, was replaced with mine. It was so easy to imagine myself in her place; every time I looked in the mirror, I saw her face. So I screamed, imagining it was my body lying on the floor with gashes in my wrists and blood staining my hair red.
I was thirteen.
If people say happy times will ruined by tragedy, then they must also say that tragedies are followed by more of the same. After my mother died, my father wasn’t the same. He spent the funeral in the car, staring at a picture of mom propped in the steering wheel. I had to stand in the receiving line by myself, my scars covered by black clothes and makeup, and pretend to be sad, instead of jubilant over my newfound freedom. I shook hands and accepted hugs, while inwardly I was aching to go outside into the thunderstorm and dance in the rain naked, let the rain wash away all of the fear and blood and sorrow. Surely, I thought, things couldn’t get worse.
Three weeks later, lying in a pool of my own blood on the very floor where my mom had lain, I looked back on the funeral and the hope I felt and laughed bitterly.
If my mother had been sick, my father was diseased. The moment everything was over and done with, my carpet replaced and the flowers on Mom’s grave wilting, he went insane. Worse, even, than she had been. I found myself locked in a closet with no food for days, or hiding under my bed while he searched through the house with a belt in one hand and a beer in the other. Drinking made him terrifying. I constantly hid the knives, claiming it was the maids rearranging things, so he wouldn’t kill me, but he simply fired the maids and bought a gun. I ran away, tried to go to my grandparents, but five minutes into my story they hauled me back to him. His reprimand was swift and painful- I skipped school the next week so the gash across my cheek and eyebrow could heal enough to be covered with makeup. There was simply no escaping him… so I gave up. I bought loose clothes and stopped talking in class. I let everyone think I couldn’t cope with my mother’s death, when in reality I couldn’t cope with my father’s life. No one questioned me. The cuts up and down my arms, when even seen, were given sympathetic glances and assumed to be self-harm scars. The councilor tried to give me help; I smiled, nodded, said I’d try harder and get help, then went home to a beating and kept my damn mouth shut like dear old dad had told me to.
I just guessed I’d wait until college, then change my name and run away and never go back. The belt buckle bruises on my back and thighs were enough to convince me to keep my grades up, so I could at least get into college, even if it wasn’t a great one. Eventually, everyone forgot about me. And that was how I needed it to be, if I was to survive.
I didn’t expect my junior year to be any different from the others. The night before the first day of school, I’d hid in my bathroom with the door locked so my father would drink himself into a stupor instead of hurting me and I’d be able to go to school with no brand-new abrasions, though the one on the back of my skull from a particularly nasty twist of the hair still bled when I pulled my hair into a ponytail. Not surprisingly, the only welcome I got when I walked into homeroom was a stiff nod of the head from Mrs. Callahan. I took my usual seat at the back of the class and hid my face behind my hair, quickly slipping an aspirin I’d taken from the medicine cabinet into my mouth. I took a hasty sip of water and coughed as it hesitantly slid down my throat. I cursed. Strep, and the first bell on the first day of my junior year hadn’t even started. Was it even strep time of year? I wouldn’t know. I got sick, so what? It happened all the time, more so than most of the kids in my class, probably from germs easily getting into my system through open wounds. Either way, it meant I’d be miserable all day. I thanked my foresight to take medicine, even if it was for my throbbing head and aching back, and scooted down in my chair as the rest of my homeroom shuffled in right as the bell rang. The only empty seats were the five seats of those who’d graduated the year before, and it looked as if we had only gotten two freshmen. The late bell trilled, and everyone quieted as the intercom buzzed on, the principal’s deep voice echoing out of the decades-old speakers.
“Welcome, students…” I zoned out. It was the same every year, there was no point in paying any attention. Instead, I meditated, something the school councilor had taught me back before I was old news. If I was going to survive the day, I needed to keep up my energy, something that sleeping in a bathroom wasn’t going to help with. A titter from the front of the classroom startled me, and I opened my eyes, peering past a curtain of hair towards the front, where the vice principal was introducing a tall, gangly boy with dark hair.
“Class, this is Jackson Lowry.” He said, looking bored. Jackson waved, his long-sleeve shirt immediately grabbing my attention (it was, after all, summer), and a few of the girls giggled. I sighed. He was attractive and athletic-looking; he was sure to be accepted into the popular crowd. “He’s a senior this year. I hope all of you will make him welcome.” He nodded tersely to Mrs. Callahan and left, leaving the new kid to stare awkwardly at the rest of us. Except he didn’t look awkward: he looked us all in the eyes and grinned mischievously. His eyes were dark like his hair, and I could have sworn they lingered longer on me than on the others. Then I rolled my eyes at myself. It’d been a long, long time since I’d been desirable. Most likely, he’d been looking at the pretty girl in front of me. Shannon, I think? I turned my attention to a notebook and begun writing a fake tale of beaches and museums for the “What Did You Do Over The Summer?” essay Mrs. Callahan assigned every year. A poke in the side made me jump, my back exploding in waves, and my eyes shot to the empty desk beside me. Or, rather, the desk that had been empty, but which was now being occupied by the dark-haired boy. I swallowed a whimper as my back spasmed and gave him a weak smile.
“I’m Jack Lowry,” He said, beaming, and held out his hand. I started to take it, the thought better of moving my arm for fear of hurting myself even worse and withdrew it. His smile flickered for such a small amount of time I could’ve imagined it (only I didn’t). I just stared at him, until he cleared his throat and raised an eyebrow. “And you are…?”
I blushed, embarrassed. I’d been Miss Manners when I was little, but after not talking for so long my skills had worn a bit at the edges. “Tamara,” I said. “Tamara Thomas. But my-“ I froze for half a second- I had no friends. I corrected myself. “But… everyone calls me Mara. I’m a junior.” He grinned and peered over my shoulder at my essay. I started to reprimand him for being nosy, then realized it’d been rude of me to refuse his handshake and let him read it. “Mrs. Callahan always assigns the same project, I figured I’d get a head start on it. I don’t like to be late, and I don’t think I’ll have time this weekend.” I grimace. That’s not a complete lie- my father rarely let me do anything but stand with my hands over my head over the weekends while he whipped my bare back. Even the thought made my back burn.
He shakes his head, incredulous. “This is all a lie,” He says, and leans back in his chair, grinning. I give him an odd look, and my heart skipped a beat. How did he…? “Oh, please. The beach? You’re white as a ghost, no offense.”
I automatically defended my lie. “I don’t tan.”
“Not even a faint bathing suit line.”
“I wear a strapless. Besides, I was rarely outside. I’m an inside kind of girl.”
He laughs quietly. “You don’t wear a strapless. You’re covered from neck to toe on the first day of school- the girls who wear strapless sit up there.” He waved vaguely at the front couple of rows, where scantily-clad girls lounge across the seats, flaunting their only-barely school-code appropriate outfits.
I shrugged. “Okay, so I didn’t go to the beach. So what? Mrs. Callahan doesn’t need to know that.” He scoffed. “Besides, it’s none of your business.” He rolled his eyes and mumbles something that sounds remotely like I wish it were. I passed it off on my lack of sleep and returned to writing. He watched me write.
“Uh… not to be nosy,” I snorted. Yeah, cause he was doing a fabulous job of that. “but why are you writing like that?” I glanced at him, and he holds his pencil the way I do. “You know, like it hurts to use your pointer finger or something.” I shrugged again. There was no I was going to tell him it was from breaking that finger so many times it was crooked and rubbed awkwardly when I wrote.
I tried to tune him out, but he’s so inquisitive, questioning everything I do. Why do I keep my hair like that? Why did my leg shake when Joshua brushed against me when he was passing papers out? Was I afraid of him? Or someone else? Why was I lying in my paper? Eventually, I give up and turn to him, confused and a bit angry. “Look, James or whatever your name is.” He looks hurt, and I regret pretending to forget his name. “For a senior, you sure are acting like a five year old who just won’t shut up. I don’t want to talk. I don’t want to talk to you. I have no interest in playing nice with you. So why don’t you just close your mouth and mind your own business so I can do the same?”
Instead of looking hurt or frustrated like I’d expected, he nodded. “So I was right about you.” My throat went dry. Knew what, exactly? “God, you’re so readable. Who hurt you? Mom, dad? It’s okay if you tell me, I know what it’s like.” He pulled his shirtsleeve up to reveal a knotted scar on his bicep. I flinched. Only a serrated knife could make a scar like that- I knew, because I had a similar one on my stomach. I shook my head rapidly, almost as fast as my heart was beating. No, no, no, he couldn’t find out, he couldn’t. My father had threatened to kill me if he ever heard I’d told.
“I- I haven’t been…” My voice shakes, and his smile fades. Of course. Only another abused kid would have any idea what signs to look for, because they’d had the same tells only years before. I coughed and tried desperately to calm myself down. “Jack, I’m sorry about…” I wave my arms around. “you know. But I can’t, I don’t- I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
His smile faded and he lowered his sleeve, frowning. He faced the front of the classroom, and I felt a pang like I always did when I pushed potential friends away. Then the corner of his mouth turned up a bit, and his brown eyes flicked back to mine. “I knew you didn’t forget my name,” He raised his chin and crossed his arms, relaxing into his seat.
I huff and start writing a phony story about an elaborate Fourth of July party I hadn’t had.
Jack followed me around for months. At first he tried to strike conversations, get me talking, but once he realized I genuinely didn’t want to chat he lapsed into silence. I think it was around that time I started falling in love with him. When I missed school and walked into homeroom the next day with a barely concealed limp, he asked to take me to the nurse for a Tylenol and held me in the hall while I cried. We sat next to each other on a window seat in the library, our legs swinging identically as we studied for chemistry or just read for pleasure. He drove me to school when I missed the bus, brought me chocolate after a three-day weekend, rubbed my back when I sat in the back of the class and tried not to puke. Without meaning to, I let him in and we became the best of friends, inseparable and incredibly close. I never actually told him about Dad. He knew my mom was dead, but that was it. I just wasn’t strong enough to tell him. He told me plenty, though. About his mother and father and how they hated him, though he had no idea why, and how he’d get locked outside as just a little boy, with a bunch of dogs that bullied him almost as much as his parents did. How the councilor called the police after he came to school with his shirtsleeve soaked in scarlet. How he got sewed up and lived in the hospital for a year before they allowed him to go into a foster family. He was littler than I was when he started getting hurt. It all stopped when he was eleven, the same year all of my problems started. His parents were arrested, the dogs put down, his siblings sent away. He was quiet, for a while. Then he realized being silent was getting him nowhere and started making friends. Then, out of nowhere his foster family had moved into a house too small to include him, and he’d been sent to a new one, started a new school. At that point in the story he’d always cup my chin and smile at me, his eyes glowing. Mara, he’d say, and I’d avert my eyes so he couldn’t see the tears welling there. I saw you, and I’d never seen anyone in such desperate need of a friend. Then I’d collapse in his lap, sobbing, and he’d stroke my hair.
Somehow, without meaning to, we went from friends to a ‘thing’. The other girls, particularly the ones Jack sometimes hung out with, were furious. Then, when they saw how much I’d needed him, they backed off and moved on. Sure, they’d lost an attractive guy to the school freak, but there were other guys, ones who didn’t freak out when I wasn’t at school and demand the school didn’t call my dad (so I wouldn’t get punished by him for all the missed days), or who didn’t ditch them on a Friday night to ‘tutor’ me (when really he was giving me an excuse to get out of the house). Over winter break, I told my father I had a project and, with a little help from Jack’s amazing foster mom, managed to slip away all day at least once a week to hang out with Jack or just get some much-needed rest. The second semester was brutal. My beatings got worse, I took medicine, and it was harder to concentrate in class. My grades started to slip… resulting in even worse beatings. It was a circle of horror. I had to bite my tongue to keep from telling Jack everything, no matter that he would listen and stand by me despite whatever I said.
And then I got the devastating news: Dad wasn’t going to let me go off to college.
In a drunken rage, he’d seized me by my long blonde hair and shaken me. Then he’d pulled me up to his eyelevel and, with hazy eyes, said, “B!@#h, there ain’t no way in hell I’mma let a dumb b!@#h like you spend my damn money on f!@#$%^g college.”
I rushed into school the next day in tears. Jack pulled me into a deserted classroom and rubbed my shoulders until I was composed enough to speak.
He looked down at me with warm brown eyes, eyes I’d come to adore. “Mara…” He whispered, placing his chin on my head and pulling me into a hug. “What’s wrong?”
The dam inside of me broke, and I choked out my story: my mom’s schizophrenia and her torture of me, her death, the toll it took on my dad, my daily beatings. Then I buried my face in his t-shirt, the soft scent of him filling my nostrils, and told him about the night before, and my father’s words. “Jack,” I sobbed, my tears dripping down my cheeks. “I- I have to get out… I have to! I c-can’t live l-l-like this anymore. I need out-t-t. Wh-what have I done to d-deserve this? I thou-thought I’d been g-good-”
He rubbed circles on my back, gently so his fingers wouldn’t cause me pain, and shushed me. “You haven’t done anything wrong.” He said it fiercely, hard enough that my eyes shoot to his. There was a fire there I hadn’t ever seen before. “Nothing, you understand me? Your parents were wrong- are wrong. You’re just a kid. You don’t deserve this… this… horror.” He pressed his lips against mine, softly. I leaned into him, and for a moment it seemed as if things were going to be okay. Then I remembered and I gently pulled away.
“But… what am I going to do?!” Tears welled in my eyes again, so he carefully wiped them away with the pads of his thumbs. “I- I have to go to college. But my GPA isn’t high enough for a full-ride scholarship, and-“ I hung my head. “He spent all of the money they’d saved up for my college funds. On beer.” My face screwed up, and I mentally cursed the idiot who’d created the ghastly drink.
Jack rested his forehead on mine, our lips just inches away from each other. My skin tingled where his touched it. “We’ll find a way. I promise.” His forehead wrinkled in the adorable way it always did when he was thinking hard. “You- you said your dad once cut so deep into your flesh you had to lay in bed without moving for a week,” His eyes flicked quickly down to his hands, holding mine between us. “Could… could I see it?”
My breath hitched in my throat. Then I nodded, hesitantly, and let his hands fall from mine. I stepped backwards, and lifted up my shirt, so part of my stomach was revealed.
Being either starved or exercised half to death since puberty had made my hipbones prominent in a way most girls envied, though the way I had gotten them disgusted me. My stomach was firm as well- not because I ran or played a sport, but because I used all of my fat to sustain myself when I went days without food or drink. A thick scar stretched from just below my ribs, around my bellybutton, and stopped just before my hipbone. Jack’s face hardened, then softened, and he slowly reached a hand out and traced the scar, his fingers soft. I stiffened, then shivered and leaned into his touch. He wrapped his arms around my waist, under my shirt, and dragged me into him, his lips landing harshly on top of mine.
He kissed me, harder than he ever had before. His hand cupped the small of my back, his skin on mine, and pulled me closer and closer. I closed my eyes tightly and shuddered, then wrapped my fingers in his hair and kissed him back.
Everything, to me, was okay at that moment. I had the person, the man, I wanted to spend my life with in my arms, and nothing could go wrong.
Or so I thought.
The last month of school was always hectic and sad. More so for me, knowing what I was going to be spending most of my time with. The only small ray of sunshine in my dreary world was Jack. He was constantly there, holding my hand, pressing a kiss to my jaw, rubbing my neck where the chunk of my hair had gotten ripped out soon before I met him for the first time. I couldn’t remember a life without him. Everything was perfect- or, rather, better than it’d been in years. I knew that I could make it two more years, two more and then I would find a job and go to school, somewhere near wherever Jack was.
We were emptying our lockers when the intercom buzzed on and I was called into the office. My heart beating wildly, I made my way down and knocked on the door. My knees shook. A voice told me to enter, and I turned the doorknob.
Inside the principal’s office was an assortment of people I knew, some more than others. Jack’s foster mom, the school nurse, my English teacher, Mrs. Callahan. My eyes almost immediately fell on Jack, his eyes turned away from mine, which I found odd and worrying. Then I saw her. The woman my father had warned me about: a social worker.
I felt a sudden urge to run out of the room screaming.
Then the principal took my arm and directed me to the empty chair next to Jack, who took my hand and squeezed it reassuringly, finally meeting my eyes. Instantly the world was okay again. We both turned our gazes to the adults.
“Tamara,” Principal Riley began, then the government woman held up a hand and he shut up, looking miffed. She gave me a warm smile.
“Mara,” She said, and stopped. “That is what you prefer to be called, correct?” I nodded, and she beamed. “Good, then we’re already a step closer to being friends! Mara, it has come to my attention that you are in great need of my help.” She raised her eyebrows at me, as if asking if this were true. I chose not to answer. “It was Mrs. Callahan who suggested I get a call, actually. She, like the others in this room (save a few nameless individuals),” At this, she glanced at Jack, who raised his chin defiantly. I felt a surge of affection for him and squeezed his hand. Like I’d asked him to, he’d kept my plight a secret. “was becoming increasingly worried about you. She, like me, connected the dots: all of the absences, the unexplained bruises… the tears.” Her sharp eyes softened. “Mara, you can trust us. We are on your side. But we can’t help you if you’re going to refuse our help.”
Here she paused, and reached for me, taking my hand in hers and grasping it. I resisted the urge to recoil and disinfect it. She gazed deep into my eyes, not saying anything, long enough that I squirmed. Then she smiled bitterly. “Sweetie… are you being abused by your father?”
I yanked my hand from hers and her sympathetic smile faded. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said, fiercely, though my heart trembled. I yearned to come clean, but I was too upset and too scared and too shaken and too angry to think carefully about the decision laid in front of me. I vaguely noticed Jack’s hand slipping from mine. “Look, you all just to mind your own dang business. So, I’m clumsy. I fall down the stairs get bruised and junk all the time, but that doesn’t mean I’m being… hurt.” My voice trembles. “You just like to jump to conclusions, don’t you? Make drama for the rest of us. My mom died. My life isn’t exactly picture-perfect. But that is none of your business. Now, I have to get to class, so I’d appreciate it if you were to leave me alone.” I avoided everyone’s eyes and stormed away.
But instead of going to class, I ran into the bathroom, locked myself into a stall, and cried, staring at the red marks across my arms.
Jack refused to talk to me for weeks after the incident. I thought my world would explode, would end, right then and there. I simply had nothing more to live for. I seriously contemplated suicide- even going so far as to hold a knife to my forearms before losing my nerve and dropping to the ground in a heap, short of breath. I hid from my father more and more, claiming I was contagious, or doing homework, or whatever else to keep him happy. Soon, he started going out on dates, drinking less. There was a new woman in our house almost every day, normally jerks, but I didn’t care because Dad was sober (or, more sober than he’d been in years) and that meant less beatings. I was as nice as possible to every woman, prayed that he’d hold onto one, preferably a decent one, and marry her, and then I’d be able to go to college and maybe make it past my nineteenth birthday. But, more than anything, I wanted Jack.
Then, a few days into summer vacation, while Dad was out on a date with some new skank, he showed up at the door with red-rimmed eyes.
We collapsed into each other, fell to the ground with the door wide open and cried. He apologized over and over again, and pressed kisses to my forehead, his tears dripping onto my hair. I sobbed into his shirt like I had when I’d told him my story, too emotional to do anything but lay there in his arms. Eventually, we picked ourselves up and curled up together on the couch, so close it was near impossible to tell where he ended and I began. He played with my hair and I pressed my ear to his chest, listening to his heart beat out the only melody I was interested in hearing. We fell asleep like that, tears drying on our lips and our arms around each other.
By some miracle, my father slept over at his date’s house and I woke to the delicious smell of bacon sizzling on the stove. I stretched languidly and reached down for my sheets, but they weren’t there for me to grab. It took me half a second to remember the night before, Jack’s face and his kisses, then tears sprung to my eyes and I smiled, happier than I’d been since Jack and I had first kissed. My father was gone, and I finally had Jack to myself, no strings attached. I walked into the kitchen and wrapped my arms around his waist as he stirred grits.
He turned and put his arms around my shoulders, resting his head on mine and humming softly. The moment was too precious for words, something both of us, as survivors of horror, could recognize and honor. I was surrounded by his wonderful scent, and I felt on top of the world. Our hearts beat at the same time, synchronized, and my cheeks began to burn from grinning so hard.
But, like all other good things in my life, it had to end.
The door slammed open, and my dad’s drunken form staggered in, breathing hard. We jumped away from each other, our eyes trained on the gun in his hand.
“D-Dad…” I whispered, horrified. I wasn’t scared, I knew he was going to kill me- but I didn’t want Jack in the middle of it. I swallowed my tears and tried to take a step forward. “Please, Dad, let’s just talk about th-“
“No, we damn won’t just talk about it!” He screeched, waving the weapon wildly. Jack and I both flinched. I started crying silently, my gaze on Jack instead of the gun, wishing desperately he hadn’t showed up the night before, hadn’t stayed, Dad hadn’t come home early, he hadn’t had a gun… The wishing crowded my mind, blocked out the rest of the world. I didn’t even hear Jack pleading with my father, or the shot, I only saw Jack jump towards me, then felt a searing pain in my side.
So, so much.
The pain was at once terrible and liberating.
Through a haze of pain, I saw my father drop the gun and run, felt Jack wrap his arms around me and lift my body.
The movement sent tremors through my side.
“Please…” His tears dripped onto my face. I reached up and cupped his cheek. “Please, Mara…”
“You are so beautiful, Jack.” I said, then my hand was too heavy to hold up and I let it drop.
Blood soaked the hardwood floor.
I remembered more blood then. Mom’s. Funny how I was in the same situation she’d been in years before, because of my dad no less.
Jack’s tears mixed with the blood on his hands, my clothes, my face.
It was hard to breathe.
Suddenly the world got smaller.
I couldn’t focus on anything.
The world was hazy and white.
Except for Jack. He was still there. Still huge and wonderful.
He pressed one last kiss to my lips, then threw his head back and howled.
My head fell to the side.
I slipped into darkness…
And that was okay.