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Home Before Six
He snuck up to her room while the moonlight cascaded through the open window shades. Meanwhile, their father was face down on the kitchen table with a beer bottle gripped tightly in his hand. He pushed the door open with hesitation, as if a single inch too far would ruin his plan. In the dim light, he watched his older sister cuddle into her blankets, trying to sleep. She held tight to her worn teddy bear named Ezekiel. Their older brother, Krage, had given to her the day she was born. He named the bear after the angel to keep her safe when he couldn't be there with her.
"Naomi," he whispered, approaching her and gently tapping her shoulder.
She yawned, tucking herself tighter into her blankets.
"Naomi," he repeated a little louder, nudging her harder.
"What?" She jerked under her sheets, realizing she wasn't alone anymore.
"Wake up. I have something for you."
"What is it?" she mumbled. "Why can't it just wait until tomorrow?" She rolled around to face her baby brother.
He held out his tiny hand with a brand new, oversized, scarlet bracelet. Upon sight, her soft left dimple held onto the darkness within the room while all around the indention glowed.
"Oh my God, Cad. You're the best, I love it. What's it for?" She motioned for him to tie it around her wrist.
"Krage gave you that bear when you were born and I wanted you to have something from me whenever I'm not with you."
"I wanted to give it to you earlier but I knew if Dad saw it he'd take it."
Her brief joy soon faded when she realized what he was doing. "Cad, you have to be quiet and you have to leave."
"You know why. If you're loud he'll hear you, and if you're out of your room at this hour he'll be mad."
"Fine." He took heavy steps towards the door but Naomi soon stopped him.
"What is it now?"
"Shh. Do you hear that?" Dull thuds sounded through the walls.
They looked at each other, Caduto with his hand on the door, Naomi with her body half hanging off her bed. He had awakened.
"What do we do now?" Caduto whispered. His questionable tone reminded her that she was older and was responsible for him.
"Get under my bed." Naomi spoke no hesitation.
He crawled beneath her bed while she covered herself with her comforter. Both tried to stay still and silent as they heard more of their father's muffled steps up the stairs towards his own room. The door creaked, and he peeked his head into Naomi's room. He trudged inside towards her bed. He watched her sleep like a lion watching prey that it can't eat.
Caduto choked on his breath and quickly covered his hands over his mouth. His heart was racing and he braced himself for the worst.
Their father looked sharply at the floor. When nothing more caught his attention, he gave up and walked out of the door to his bedroom. Naomi and Caduto stayed motionless in their spots until the footsteps of their father stopped.
"Go to bed."
Caduto crawled out from beneath his spot underneath the bed. When he returned to his feet, he stared at Naomi. The initial shock of what just happened paralyzing him from any further motion.
"It's time for you to go to bed before he leaves his room."
After fully understanding his sisters instruction, he obeyed and tip-toed away from Naomi into his own room.
On the way home from school the next day, Krage, Caduto, and Naomi met each other at Vermillion River, on the far side of Cotton Park. The three of them always met at the prison-like double-doors of the schol and left together.
"You know, Ms. Dolt sucks," Krage said.
"What'd she do this time?" Caduto replied.
"She singled me out because I didn't turn in my homework. 'Krage you never do your homework. Krage you can't continue like this. Krage you need to put your education first.' Krage this, Krage that. How about you get over yourself, Dolt!"
"I'm sorry," Naomi replied.
"It's not your fault. She went as far as to insult us, too."
"What'd she say?" Naomi asked.
"She said that my family wouldn't approve of my behavior and that she was surprised they hadn't done anything about it yet. She kept repeating that getting less than a 75% on a fourth grade report card was unacceptable."
"Where is she? I'll give her something she won't forget." Caduto started bouncing on both feet, his little hands balled up into fists.
"Cad, don't do that." Naomi stepped closer to him.
"Take a step closer and I'll sock it to you like I will to Ms. Bolt."
"You mean Dolt?" Krage corrected.
"Yeah, whatever." Caduto put his hands back to his sides and the three continued walking. They resembled stairs with Krage towering over Caduto and Naomi standing smugly in between.
When they finally reached the river, Krage decided to climb onto a low tree branch. "You know what we need to do?"
"What?" Naomi asked.
"We need to make a pact," Krage announced.
Caduto looked to Naomi, silently asking what a pact was. She read the confusion on his face and explained. "It's like a deal."
"I don’t know what that is either."
"You do. It's like an agreement that a group of people will stick together through thick and thin," Krage answered.
Naomi looked up at Krage, who was still standing on the tree branch. "Why?"
"Why what?" Krage asked.
"Why do you want us to form a pact?"
"So that we can stick together all the time. So nothing can get in our way. So we all know we have each others backs."
Caduto interrupted the two. "Oh. Well that sounds pretty awesome. Let's do it."
"Okay, so what we're going to do is this..." Krage hesitated, thinking about how to initiate the pact. "We are going to...oh I know! We'll take this," he hopped down from the tree and picked up a jagged rock. "We'll do this." He took the rock and cut the skin barely below his elbow.
He passed it to Naomi, who held the rock in her left hand. "Why do you want us to cut ourselves with this dirty rock?"
"That's part of making a pact--you have to draw blood. It shows your determination and commitment to the others and the deal."
"You have to be kidding right now?"
"Look. I already did it and you two have to do it too for it to work. Oldest knows best."
Naomi scowled at her older brother and quickly did as he wanted. Once her turn was over, she passed it to Caduto.
"I don't wanna do that," Caduto said.
"Oh c'mon Cad. Even Naomi did it."
"Yeah Cad, all of us have to do it for it to work," Naomi said. "You trust us, don't you?"
"Yeah, we wouldn't do anything that'd put you in real danger."
"If I have too." With a solemn expression, Caduto pushed it into his skin. His blood stuck to the rock above Naomi's and Krage's. He was tempted to cry and cover his wound, but Naomi and Krage didn't cry. They took deep breaths and maintained solid faces.
"Good job, Cad. There's just two more things to do, and then we're done." Krage started walking closer to the river and motioned to Naomi and Caduto to join him. Krage pulled up his sleeves and reached into the flowing water. He cupped a little bit of the river water and sipped it from his hands. Then, to dry his hands, he washed cut on his arm with the water. "Come on guys. You do it too."
The other two mimicked Krage with no hesitation this time.
"Okay, so what's the last thing we gotta do?" Caduto asked.
"We have to swear in." Krage lead them back away from the river. "Here guys. You just have to say what I say. I'll talk in little bits so you don't get confused. Say 'I, your name, promise that I will always stand by the other two names.' Put your right hand on your heart and your left hand in the air."
"I, Naomi Cascata, promise that I will always stand by Krage and Caduto Cascata."
"I, Caduto Cascata promise that I will always stand by Naomi and Krage Cascata."
"I, Krage Cascata, promise that I will always stand by Naomi and Caduto Cascata."
"I will protect them with all the power I can and I will do whatever it takes to keep them safe and I will be there in their times of need." Krage crossed his heart and when the two finished repeating him, they crossed their arms as well.
"Is that it?" Naomi asked.
"Sure is," Krage answered.
"Yay. I'm in a gang now!" Caduto announced.
"No, you've made a pact with us," Krage corrected. "But we should probably start heading home now. Feels like we've been here a minute."
The three walked away from the park, up South Dakota Street, then turned towards their house on Forest Avenue. Trees glowed tall and strong, separating to form a path to guide the three kids home. Despite their strength it was still clear that they were fading. Few trees remained green while others shone with vivid yellow, electric green, and red. As they walked towards the driveway, Krage asked Naomi what time it was.
Naomi checked her watch. "Little after six."
"Crap." Krage reprimanded himself under his breath.
"What is it?" Caduto asked.
"Nothing. Just give me a second to think, okay?" Krage said.
Krage knew what waited for them inside the house wasn't going to be pretty. Six was when he stopped being a father. Six was when he didn't want his rules to be broken.
"Okay. Naomi, you'll walk in behind me. If he starts acting out, take Cad and lock yourselves in one of your rooms. I'll try my best to take care of it. Okay?" They nodded. "And Cad--"
"Stay close to Naomi and do what she says. Remember the pact."
Caduto nodded and the three lined up and walked inside the house. Their father was waiting at the door.
"Where in God's name have you been?" he shouted.
"We were at Cotton Park like we always are after school. I'm sorry. I thought--" Krage answered.
"Who gives a rat's ass what you thought? I have one rule and you kids won't even follow it!" Krage could smell the alcohol on his father's breath as he shouted.
"I'm sor--" Krage started, but his words were cut short as his father smacked him.
Naomi grabbed Caduto's wrist and pulled him towards her room.
"Where the hell do you think you're goin'?" Their dad turned away from Krage and caught Naomi's wrist.
Naomi pulled her hand back as her father twisted and threw her on the floor. She screamed from the intense pain in her wrist as salty tears flooded her face.
"Keep screaming and I'll do it again!"
Naomi whimpered, cradling her wrist, closing her eyes to escape the room.
From behind his fathers leg, Krage tried to get Caduto and Naomi's attention. When I hop on his back, you run and hide, okay? He mouthed.
Krage attempted to jump and wrap his arms around his father's neck, but failed. His father began to advance on him, as he began to back away.
"Are you askin' to end up like Naomi?" His father asked in a disgruntled, low voice.
Caduto was already running towards his room and was safely inside before their father even noticed he was gone.
"I'm sorry, sir." Krage said quietly
"No the father you ain't. If you was sorry, you wouldn't have done it in the first place."
He grabbed the collar of Krage's shirt and pulled him closer to his face. "If you ever so much as speak to me, touch me, or walk through those doors after six o'clock again, you ain't gonna be able to stand anymore." He pushed Krage back on the floor and turned from him.
Krage rubbed his neck.
"I think we might need to get Naomi's wrist checked."
Krage scurried over towards Naomi, who was still lying in tears on the floor. "Are you okay?'
"I'm fine enough. Where's Cad?"
"He locked himself in his room. He wasn't touched."
"Do you have an excuse yet?"
"No, he usually thinks of one."
"Yeah. When he's ready to take us, I'll get Cad from his room."
She slumped down on her dorm bed, pulling and picking at the red bracelet adorning her wrist.
"Who is it?" Naomi glanced towards her door.
"Emma. Can you let me in?" A muffled voice asked.
Emma only stepped in and stared at Naomi.
"What's up?" Naomi sat up on her bed, taking note of Emma's silence.
"There are some people down at the bottom of the dorm who want to talk to you."
"A couple police officers are talking to Mr. Allen. He told me to let you know."
"What do they want?" Naomi grabbed her purse and moved towards the door.
"I don't know. Wouldn't tell me."
Emma and Naomi made their way down the stairs. Once at the bottom, they met the principal of University of South Dakota and police officers. Emma was told to leave.
"Miss Cascata?" One of the two officers spoke up, a woman with her hair pulled tightly back from her face.
"Would you be willing to come with us?"
"We have some information regarding a member of your family."
Her heart and stomach dropped. Terrible scenarios began to play out in her mind.
The officers pulled her aside. Naomi looked around and saw a small group of people surrounding her and the police officers. She noticed a large amount of people walking by, trying to hear what the officers were saying.
"Did something happen to him?"
"I'm afraid so. Miss Cascata, we don't know all the facts yet."
Naomi didn't appear to be blinking.
"I'm sorry to inform you, but Caduto was most likely murdered."
Naomi bit her quivering lip. "No."
"I'm so sorry."
"You're lying." She spoke in a whisper.
"I'm sorry. I understand this is hard for you."
Naomi avoided eye contact. "No. That's not possible. He's only 17."
"He was found face down in a river with visible bruises and gashes, most likely from a switch blade."
Naomi said nothing and waited for the officer to keep talking.
"I know this is hard for you to understand right now but because of this evidence, he was most likely murdered then dropped off in the River."
No answer from Naomi.
"Who did it?" She stared at the ground when she spoke, tears sliding down her cheeks.
"We have some possible suspects but we would really appreciate it if you answered some questions for us."
"What do you mean?"
"We need more information about the deceased."
Naomi paused. "What do you need to know?"
"Not to speak ill of the dead, but did he ever do anything that could make someone want to hurt him?"
"Nothing that I can think of."
"Is there anyone who would want to hurt him?"
Naomi didn't answer.
"Is there someone?"
"Why do you say that?"
"He didn't have any issue beating the rest of us when we were kids."
"What do you mean?"
Her tears turned to fury as the mere thought of her father entered her mind. "When we were younger he had no issue breaking bones or hitting us."
The officer took note of this and continued. "Where did Caduto work?"
She sighed and tried to think. "He worked at the steakhouse on East Main and went to school at Vermillion High."
The officer scribbled notes of everything Naomi was saying about her brother.
"Was there anyone he said he didn't like? Or anyone you hear didn't like him?"
"He didn't like how this one kid, James, would skip class all the time to get high."
"Why did your brother care what James did?"
"They had been friends for a really long time and James kind of fell in with the wrong crowd. His grades didn't suffer, which was unfair to Cad because he always tried his best and couldn't get much higher than a C. But James sort of got mad at Cad for not following him through drugs and parties. Cad felt like it was his responsibility to keep him from screwing up his life forever."
"Do you remember his last name?"
Naomi thought, still staring at the ground. She raised her head to the officer and spoke."I can't remember."
"What did your brother do?"
"He told James' parents about it but asked if they'd go easy on him about it and not bring up his name. Either they told on my brother or James figured out some other way. I'm not sure exactly what his parents did to him, but the next day Cad came home and told us that James threatened him, but he didn't take it seriously. We didn't hear anything about him for a while after that."
"What did he say?"
"Maybe to stay away from him? I can't remember exactly what it was. It was a few months ago."
"What kind of drugs did he take?"
"A mix. It used to just be weed but his friends were more open minded. I'm sure he's probably had a little bit of everything at this point."
"Have you ever seen him at the steakhouse?"
"What was he doing?"
"He was being escorted out. It wasn't that long ago and he was kind of yelping and flailing his arms and just making a scene. He seemed pretty mad."
"What did he do inside the restaurant?"
"He probably tried to pick a fight with a waitress or something. Maybe catcalled her a few times. Or he could've just been taking up a booth around happy hour and since he wasn't planning on buying anything, they could have asked him to leave. I'm not sure though. I wasn't near where he was sitting. I just saw him being taken out and yelling complaints and insults at the employees."
"Do you think he could have still been angry with your brother and was trying to hurt him then?"
"He was halfway aggressive and probably still mad about what happened, but he wasn't one to follow through with fights."
"You said earlier he threatened your brother. What makes you think he wouldn't be willing to keep his word on that?"
"James is not a man of his word, that's for sure. But he's never gotten into a fight before in his life and he's made plenty of threats that he's never gone through with."
"How do you know all this?"
"Him and Caduto were best friends, like I said earlier. Caduto told me everything."
"Is there anything else you can tell me about James?"
"What do you mean?"
"Does he have weapons or close access to them?"
"I don't know."
"Is there anybody else?"
"Cad's coworkers may not be happy with him because he's at a higher level than him but that's not important. Him and his girlfriend broke up maybe a month ago.
"Okay thank you. I know this was incredibly hard for you to do. We'll keep you updated on anything we find that we're certain of."
"Just one more thing."
"Find the evil son of a b**** that killed my brother before I do."
"We'll find them."
Naomi walked silently to her dorm, ignoring the multiple questions she received as she walked through the building. She was not in the mood to talk to nosy people.
When she opened her door, Emma and Olivia rose from their seats.
"What'd they want?" Emma asked.
"What'd they do?" Olivia asked.
Naomi remained silent and only stared at them.
"What?" Emma asked.
Naomi gave no answer.
"I don't think she wants to talk right now, Emma." Olivia was the first to understand what was going on.
The sun hadn't set yet, but Naomi still curled up under her blankets and pretended to sleep. Naomi heard everything that night. The sound of them making false hypotheses about what happened at the station, the two questioning what the series and sequence of a problem is, and the sound of their heavy snores as they slept all kept her awake. Not even the sound of rain whispering in Morse code on her window could lull her to sleep.
Weeks of sleepless nights with thinking and dozing off in class went by. Each day, waiting for the moment when she'd get that call to come down to the department, that moment when she'd be told he was caught, that moment when she could look the killer in the eye and watch him pay for what he'd done.
She couldn't wait forever though.
The night was right. She left her dorm campus in her car and drove. Images of her father were stuck in her mind. At this point, it felt like the officers were waiting for her to crack. They were giving her time to think about all her father had done in the past and let it build up inside her. It was one thing for him to beat on her and her brothers, but even the possibility that he could have done more than that to her baby brother is what broke her.
She stopped at Cotton Park and walked towards that house on Forest Avenue.
When she stepped onto the driveway, she checked her phone. The time read 5:35 and she whispered to herself as she pulled out a pair of rubber gloves from her purse and the set of house keys she hadn't had a reason to touch in years, but as long as Caduto lived there she needed to have them. "Made it here before six this time."
She walked in the front door and walked towards her fathers bedroom.
She was silent when the door opened. She walked into the familiar room that reeked of alcohol and grabbed the pillow beside her father. It was clear he had changed his habit of passing out on the kitchen table to passing out in bed, from the empty bottles crowding his bedside table.
"You really haven't drank yourself to death have you?"
She pushed the pillow onto his face. He began convulsing under the sheets. He tried to cry out, but only muffled shouts made it through the pillow.
"Keep thrashing and I'll do it again," Naomi whispered.
A few minutes passed and he stopped jerking.
"Are you sorry now?" Naomi asked the lifeless face of her father.
She put the pillow back where she found it and walked out of the house that was no longer a home. When she stepped outside the front door, she locked the door she would never touch again behind her. She walked calmly back to her car, her eyes boring into the road ahead as she drove to her dorm. Once, she slipped silently back into her bed, she finally rested in peace.
Her professors took pity on her and allowed her to catch up with the work she had missed. Halfway through the day, the police department called Naomi and asked her to come to the station when she could. Naomi left her make-up work and drove down to the station.
When she walked through the doors, she was escorted into a back room where the same officer she talked to weeks prior waited.
"I have good news and bad news. Which would you like to hear first?"
She wore a solemn face. "Okay. Your father was found dead this morning. We suspect foul play considering how close it was to Caduto's death."
Naomi looked at her lap and forced tears down her face. She was worried a lack of emotion may result in her being a suspect.
The officer remained quiet for a little while before she asked, "Are you ready to hear the good news?"
Naomi nodded but stayed staring at her knees.
"We found enough substantial evidence to convict the man who killed Caduto."
Naomi looked up to her, met her gaze. "Who?" She waited for a dead mans name to slip from the officers tongue.
The officer went on to tell Naomi about the specifics of the case but Naomi didn't hear her. All sound slurred together, everything around her blurred into one, and the color drained from her face.