Authors: Bonnie R. Paulson
~15 years old~
I woke in a sweat and stared at the clock. My fifteenth birthday would be over in forty-five minutes. What had woken me? Oh my nightmare. I rolled onto my back, wiping the moisture from my forehead, breathing heavy.
Nightmares. More than I could count weighed on me.
Closing my eyes, I breathed deep, trying to slow my heart rate. But the nightmare’s face flashed before me. His square teeth, discolored in spots, glinted at me from under the street lamp. His long, lean fingers had moved like lightning, reaching and squeezing parts of me I’d never okayed. His laugh had sent chills down my spine.
When he’d pinched my nipple, giving it a hard, cruel twist I’d yelped, only deepening his smile.
“I’ll pay twenty, little girl. My car’s this way.” Little girl. Always in my dreams they called me little girl. Liked to see how much pain I’d take before they’d commit to buy.
They never suspected I’d slice off their dicks, slice their legs open at the Vs, drain their evil blood onto the floors of their cars. He didn’t think I could do it. When I looked in the mirror, I didn’t think I could do it.
But I woke up before I had to do anything, before they could get very far with me.
I trained. Over and over, day in and day out, I trained.
Deegan hadn’t run with me since our tattoo incident. The memory brought tears to my eyes. Jogging continued, but I ran alone and lied to my mom about it.
boxing team didn’t allow freshmen, so my parents paid for me to join a boxing class in town. My first fight had been the week before. I’d left a message for Deegan in his locker, inviting him.
hadn’t been there.
I’d won and he hadn’t been there. So much for
Researching for my next anniversary hadn’t been easy.
Nausea at the thought of killing again had fed my resistance. But my determination had won out and I’d looked into so many different avenues to find someone who might “deserve” punishment. If only I could apply what my coach pushed – consistency and discipline – I’d be successful. I just knew it.
My running route changed
and every once in a while, I would sneak out of my room at one or two in the morning and jog down to the path parallel to the freeway and follow it into town. No more than a half hour of running one way would get me onto the streets where the perverts searched for sex-for-hire.
Somehow I would get into one of those cars. I never watched for long, and used my fear to fuel my run home.
I could save those girls, just like I’d saved Kari and her brothers. Just like I’d saved myself from Bobby. My invincibility had proven itself over and over.
Acknowledging the huge part that Deegan played hurt too bad. I couldn’t have done it without him on those two, but on the upcoming one – the one where I entered with intent and a plan – I wouldn’t need any help.
Thirty minutes until my birthday would be over. I hit my pillow and rolled onto my side. I didn’t want to age. The last year had sucked, boring and long with small spurts of run-ins with Deegan where he brushed me off. Almost like I’d lost twelve months of extreme importance.
Hunger sent me to the kitchen. Mom had wrapped leftover cake and tucked it into the oven.
I shuffled around the tiled floor. A fork and plate as well as a glass of milk joined the tray of white-on-white cake slices.
minutes left of the longest year of my life.
I saw Deegan almost every day. But not on my birthday
even when I was at school. The fact depressed the hell out of me. I’m an emotional eater and Deegan didn’t help matters. With all the running I did, all the boxing, all the workouts, I couldn’t eat enough. I had a lean look to me, a younger look. Straight hips and small breasts. I didn’t look my age.
The first bite of cake didn’t have much impact, but the second one hit me like a slap in the face. Sugar
rushes wouldn’t help me sleep.
My mind raced.
Deegan wouldn’t speak to me. Not about us, not about what we’d done the year before at Kari’s house.
Kari’s family had moved to a different town. I missed her. Guilt had pulled me into myself and I’d lost my other “friends”.
A scratch by the stairs and my mom appeared, blinking hard and yawning. “Hey, Birthday Girl. What are you doing up so late?”
“I can’t sleep.” I stuffed more cake into my mouth. Mom wouldn’t understand the nightmares, not in her perfect world, not where she prays and believes and follows – never questions. Certainly never sins.
From the silverware drawer, she pulled another fork and stood beside me, picking at my piece and
licking the tines with careful deliberation. She studied me, head to foot in my shorts and tee. “You know, you shouldn’t be so fit if you’re not running as much. Why’d you give it up?”
Exasperation filled me. “I told you, Mom, it’s boring. I’m trying the boxing thing, remember?”
No one knew I ran at night. I’d learned to keep parts of myself hidden from others…
“Yeah, I do remember, but what I’m wondering is how you’re staying so thin with just an hour or two of boxing four days a week. You’re eating more than your brother, your dad, and me combined.
I don’t remember the last time you went out with friends.” She stabbed another bite and held it close to her lips, as if nervous about what she wanted to say. “Cass, honey, are you doing drugs?”
The question threw me for a loop. I’d never considered drugs. But I could see where she was going with it, how she had arrived at that conclusion. Every parent’s nightmare, right?
Like it was the worst thing her daughter could be doing – drugs.
slowly. A part of me wished it was drugs, something tangible, something I could stop, something that was illegal but didn’t hurt anyone. Didn’t leave me with nightmares about violation and hot foul breath that made me want to throw up on my pillow. Another part of me wanted to laugh desperately. “No, Mom, I’m not doing drugs. I’m just trying to fit in, you know?” Which made sense in that moment.
Fitting in was important, so important, but I couldn’t define where my niche was. I had become my own entity and I looked down on everyone around me for not doing the same things I was doing to protect other girls, other kids.
In essence, I judged. And that was almost as bad as what I was doing for my extracurricular activity.
“Honey, you don’t need to be so skinny to fit in. You don’t even look your age.” She fingered a strand of my hair. “If you want, we could skip school tomorrow to get your hair done and nails? It might be fun.” She curved her lips in a soft smile, one that meant she didn’t want to pressure me, but at the same time, she’d never been more worried.
The fact that she hadn’t scolded me about being up so late on a school night spoke volumes. I hated Monday nights and she knew it.
Even with all my
confusion and desperation piled with the stinging need in my gut for just one more second with Deegan, I had no defense against my mom trying to make me happy. She was my mom and always there for me. Even when she didn’t know what I was doing.
But my year was coming to an end. I hadn’t chosen my anniversary victim.
Deegan had never gotten back to me on how far he wanted to take it and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I felt terrible, but at the same time someone had to secure justice. I just felt it in my gut. Dad was always saying that if your feelings or thoughts stemmed from good intentions, than you need to do them, because you never know when they come from a Higher Power.
While I did
n’t believe a Higher Being was telling me to kill, my intentions were good and that had to count for something.
Mom waited for my answer.
“Thanks, Mom, but I better not. I have a couple tests tomorrow and then my boxing class. Maybe next weekend?” I wouldn’t go. The countdown had begun and I was less than a week away. Doing the day-to-day stuff wouldn’t hold my interest. Maybe after, but I could never define it that plainly.
“Alright, but if you change your mind…” She shrugged and stuffed a bite into her mouth, the corners of her eyes crinkling with her full-mouth-smile.
She swallowed. “Okay, I’m off to bed. I’ll see you in the morning.” She smacked my butt and laughed. “You are tight, sis. Maybe I should start boxing with you. I almost joined you for your runs. I used to love running.” She left the kitchen with a bemused expression. I’d never known she was a runner to begin with.
I couldn’t skip boxing.
Something in the connection of fist to bag, fist to pad, fist to flesh. If I worked hard enough, I might get on the school’s team and then I could see Deegan four to five days a week and he couldn’t get away from me.
He’d asked me to kiss him, but had ignored me ever since.
Not one word from Deegan or anyone else about my birthday. Same as the day before. Damn it. Shutting down had taken its toll.
I got home and called out for
my parents. Rule of the house was to let them know when you’re home. I slammed the front door harder than necessary and winced. If Dad were home, I’d get in trouble. He hated fixing the door jams after one of mine or my brother’s fits.
But no one came to reprimand me. I dropped my backpack in the hall and walked through the house. All the lights were on. Dad’s office door had been left open, the small desk lamp glowed
above the warm wooden surface. His Holy Bible lay open, a pen resting between its pages along the crease of the spine. I hadn’t seen his Bible abandoned so carelessly in – my whole life.
A small inkling of fear chilled my fingertips and toes.
The phone on the desk rang. I jumped at the shrill sound, pressing my hand to my chest. Holy frick.
The phone line ran through the whole house. I picked up the handset. “Hello?”
“Cassie? Are you home alone? Where’s your brother?” Dad’s frantic breathing created a choppy effect.
“Yeah, I’m home alone.
I think he’s at a friend’s. What’s wrong, Dad?” I spun his office chair out so I could sit in it, the large desk spreading before me like a ship console.
red the mouthpiece, muffling his conversation with someone. I picked up small words, but nothing I could string together. Something about Mom.
“Dad. Dad. What’s going on? Why aren’t you and Mom here?” I couldn’t get him on the other line.
One finger tapped the handset. I swiveled back and forth, back and forth in his chair.
His sobs filled the earpiece.
“Oh, my word. Oh, no. Please, Lord, no!”
Somehow I knew, before he’d finished his crying and whimpers. I knew. Mom was gone. And I
’d chosen to go to school instead of ditching and hanging out with her. I should’ve been with her.
My week dragged on. I skipped everything. My throat stuck and I couldn’t speak. Every time Dad tried talking to me I turned and left the room.
All I did was bum around the house in my mom’s jammies I stole from her drawer.
I didn’t see my brother.
rubbed the vine running up my side with one finger, bare skinned, over my shirt, it didn’t matter. No, it didn’t itch exactly, more like throbbed with my pulse at weird, inconvenient times like when I used the bathroom or brushed my teeth.
Dad planned Mom’s funeral for the
weekend of my anniversary. He didn’t ask us. He just did it. I didn’t go. I couldn’t go. She’d understand.
I should’ve been with her. When Dad had finally gathered himself enough to tell me what had happened, he reported that Mom had gone to an Italian restaurant to get some of my dishes for that night. She’d picked up some of my favorite movies. Had wanted to do a family night centered around showing me I fit in just fine with them. Car accidents ignored plans. Car accidents laughed and mocked plans made, no matter how important.
My tears never came. I couldn’t cry. Her death had less reality than the kills I’d grown so comforted by. I’d sat in my room and watched the digital numbers count her into the ground.
to vent my anger which I’d held in check for a year bubbled over, escaping its chains.
I waited until
Dad and my brother came home, staying in my room until the sounds of other people in the house disappeared. Maybe like me, they didn’t want to face anyone else without her around. But I couldn’t wait any longer, an antsy irritation filled me and I scratched at my side, even pinching it to see if I could feel again.
y bedroom window opened silently, letting in the cooling late-night air. Mom had been in the ground only hours… But I couldn’t think about that, about the warmth of her smile, and how even sleeping Mom had always seemed so happy. I hadn’t seen her dead. I hadn’t been allowed to and they hadn’t done a viewing until the funeral.
Picturing her in the
ground, inside a dark, confining coffin made my stomach twist. My mom. I just wanted to crawl into her arms and cry, maybe play with her hair. Go back in time and take her up on the offer to spend time together, or better yet, not tell her I didn’t fit in. No parent wants to hear that from their child. Mom’s sensitivity had always been heightened.