While they waited at the bowling alley for everyone to get there, Bailee thought back to earlier that day. Dad had been mad about the party. He hadn’t wanted them to go, and so he’d yelled at Kylie for a long, long time.
Bailee sat on a chair and crossed her leg. Kylie had managed to keep quiet and simply listen, but when Dad had said something about sneaking off to be with her boyfriend, Kylie had adamantly pointed out that she had no boyfriends and none were coming to her birthday party. Dad had gotten angry and grabbed her arms hard, shaking her so hard her head wobbled around like a bobble-head doll while he yelled some more. Bailee was just thankful he hadn’t hit Kylie. The bruises on her arms where he grabbed her were enough. She didn’t need one on her face too. Bailee had been afraid he wouldn’t let them go, but thankfully he’d finally given in, although she thought it was more because of his alcohol than anything on their part. Mom hadn’t been there at all during the exchange because she’d been at work, which seemed to be where she usually was these days.
Kylie’s excited voice brought Bailee back. “Oh look! Luke’s here. Oh… and Steven and Miles came with him. I didn’t realize they were friends.”
Bailee almost laughed. She and Miles made fun of Luke and Kylie when they weren’t around. It was little Miss Love-struck and Mister Big-teeth, although Miles and Bailee had promised to never tell anyone those names.
“Hi, guys.” Kylie gushed, her eyes shining with a rare sparkle. “Luke, I’m glad you could make it.” She smiled a dazzling smile at him, which he returned with a large one of his own. Bailee avoided Miles’ eyes, knowing they would burst out laughing if she did.
“Hey, Steven,” Kylie waved to him, almost as if she’d forgotten he was there. “Faith, Rachel, and Alina will be here soon, so we’re just waiting on them.” As she started chattering with Luke and Steven, Miles sidled close to Bailee.
“Loves-truck strikes again,” he murmured. Bailee giggled and elbowed him. “Shush, Miles. You need to behave or you’ll go home.”
Mile cocked an eyebrow the same sandy color as his hair. “And just whose party is this?”
“Kylie’s of course, but since she invited you solely for the purpose of keeping me company, I’d say I have charge over you.” Bailee stuck her tongue out at him.
Miles crossed his arms. “I just can’t wait to beat you, Bailee.”
Bailee gave him a challenging glare. “Oh, yeah? Well I can’t wait to wipe that gloating smile off your face.”
“Stop fighting, you two.” Steven flicked the back of Miles’ head and grinned at Bailee. “Do I need to take him home?”
She smiled back. “Just make sure he comes in last in bowling and we’ll all be fine. He needs to be taken down a notch or two.”
Steven’s grin got larger. “Really?” He turned to Miles. “Well, that shouldn’t be too hard, huh, little brother?” he punched Miles’ shoulder.
“Knock it off, Steven.” He turned towards the window. “Hey, Rachel, Faith, and Alina are here, Kylie.”
Kylie turned away from Luke. “Oh, great.”
The girls came in and they all went to bowl, renting two lanes and shoes for each of them.
At the end of two games Bailee looked smugly at Miles. “And where’s that proud little smile now, Miles, huh? Now that you’ve been beat twice in a row—by me?”
“Just wait, Bailee. Your turns coming.” He pointed a threatening finger at her as he put his original shoes back on.
“Oh, ok. I’m reeeal scared now.” She grinned as she leaned over to untie her bowling shoes.
“That’s it—” He lunged for her, tickling her and almost knocking her over. She squealed once before she pushed him away, red heating her cheeks at the looks people were sending their way. “Miles! Stop it and be good. I don’t appreciate you making me look stupid.”
“I’m pretty sure you made your own self look stupid.” Miles laughed and dodged out of the way as Bailee’s bowling shoes swung towards him.
“How about you both stop and behave.” Kylie said. “You’re making everybody stare.”
“It’s Miles fault.” Bailee muttered.
“Of course it is.” He slung an arm over her shoulder as they left and squeezed, feeling more like the big brother Bailee had never had.
They headed to Duffy’s Diner and squished into a booth, laughing and giggling. Bailee couldn’t remember having this much fun in a long time, and it was nice to pretend that she was like everyone else, with normal parents and a normal life. She was pretty sure that if they hadn’t left when they did, the waitress would’ve kicked them out anyway, with all the noise and mess they were making. The boys wouldn’t stop throwing mashed-up straw wrappers at each other, and once Steven went to throw one at Miles, accidentally tossing it too hard and hitting the head of a girl in the booth behind them. She’d looked back with a scowl that immediately turned upside down when she saw Steven, much to her boyfriend’s annoyance.
It was close to ten-thirty when they finally left. “That was fun, huh?” Kylie said as they drove home.
“A lot of fun. I haven’t had that much fun for a long time.” Bailee rubbed at a little spot of chocolate ice cream that had dribbled on the gray summery skirt she wore.
Kylie glanced down at it, then flicked her gaze back to the road. “Mom can get that out.”
“I hope so. This is like, my favorite skirt.”
Kylie looked at Bailee again, this time with a little upturn at the right side of her mouth.
Bailee looked up. “What?”
Kylie sighed. “Oh, nothing. I was just thinking how close you and Miles are. He’s like a brother, isn’t he?”
“Mmm. Feels just like it. I’m really gonna miss him when he goes to college.” Just the thought made her sad. She couldn’t imagine life without Miles, but in just two short years, he would be gone, and she knew it wouldn’t ever be the same as the loving, casual relationship they shared now.
“So you still think Luke is such a special guy?” Bailee changed the course of the conversation, not missing the way Kylie’s cheeks started glowing.
“Oh he’s special, all right.”
“But he said he already had a girlfriend, which I didn’t know.”
“Oh. I’m sorry Kylie.”
Kylie shrugged. “It’s no biggie. I’m still gonna be his friend.”
Yeah, just praying for his girlfriend to break up with him. “I know your perseverance, Kylie.” Bailee grinned in the dark.
“I’m not that bad, Bailee. Am I?”
“Most of the time… no. Sometimes… yes.” They turned onto Cinnamon Street and she shivered. She wasn’t ready to be home yet. “Too bad we can’t stay out all night.”
“I know, Lee. I wish we could too. And believe me, I would’ve, but I know it will get us in worse trouble than facing Dad head-on. Say a prayer for us before you go in, ok? Don’t forget that he’s up there too.”
Bailee resisted the urge to roll her eyes. Sometimes Kylie sounded so old lady-ish. Even if God cared about them—which she really doubted he did, judging from the way things have been for the past ten years—she certainly didn’t want to pray to him. He was the one who had gotten them in this mess in the first place.
Bailee had forgotten Kylie was still there. “Yeah?”
Be with us, God. “There. Just did. Now can we go in?”
Kylie searched her with a probing gaze before finally nodding, her blue eyes troubled. She flipped her curly hair over her shoulder before pushing the front door open. It swung open without one of its usual creaks, something Bailee was very thankful for. They quietly closed it and started up the stairs. They were two steps from their bedroom, breathing sighs of relief when suddenly a tall frame towered over them. Bailee shrieked with fright, and backed against the wall with a thump. Kylie was right beside her.
“Thought you could sneak in, did you?” The menacing growl was low as he leaned close, the smell of his breath mixing with Bailee’s fear, making her want to throw up. The milkshake she’d eaten at Duffy’s curdled in her stomach, and it took everything in her to resist the urge of letting it come out.
“I’m sorry, Dad. We didn’t mean to wake you.” Kylie’s voice trembled.
“No, ‘course you didn’t. You wanted to get in here without me knowin’, didn’t you? Have a good time out with your boyfriend, darlin’?” The name was spoken with such revulsion, and Bailee wondered how a man could hate his children so much. She could see the hurt in Kylie’s face, although she tried hard to hide it. “I don’t have a boyfriend, Dad.”
Dad turned to Bailee, his eyes glinting in the moonlight like steel. She swallowed hard, the hard lump of fright refusing to budge from her throat.
“And did you, my little angel, have a good time with wonderful little What’s-His-Face?”
“Miles?” The word squeaked out.
Dad slid a hand along Bailee’s jaw, and she tried hard to repress a shudder, along with the fear that cloyed her throat. “Yeah, Miles. He your boyfriend, huh Bailee?”
Dad’s hand cupped her cheek. “Really? Such a little pretty thing like you?” He ran a piece of her dark brown hair between his fingers and she shivered. “You’re such a pretty little girl, Bailee.” He whispered. He let go of the piece of hair. “Although, you’re not such a little girl anymore, are you?” He leaned close, and Bailee turned her head away, pressing her cheek against the cool wall.
“Ah. So that’s how it’s going to be is it?” His voice was cold shards of ice. He grabbed her chin and forced her head around, leaning close to brush his lips against her cheek. Bailee shuddered as his stubble rubbed roughly against her skin.
“Goodnight, darlin’.” He let go of her chin and headed back to the room he shared with Courtney.
As soon as the door closed, Kylie and Bailee rushed to the protection of their room, shutting the door and locking it.
Kylie gripped Bailee’s arms. “Are you all right? I’ve never seen him act like that before.”
Bailee shook her head and slowly sank to her bed. “It almost worse than the yelling and hitting.” She admitted. Bailee looked up at Kylie and tears blurred her vision. “I’ve dreamed about him so much, Kylie. About him being like other dads, loving us and hugging us. But not like that. That was… evil.” She shuddered, replaying the scene in her head.
“I know.” Kylie pulled her dress off and reach for her pajama bottoms. “Just stay away from him, ok Bailee? Maybe he’s interested in more than just yelling and hitting now.”
Bailee curled up on the bed, sorrow and anger and fear welling deep within her. “I know,” she sobbed. Kylie came and put her arms around her, rubbing her back, soothing her with silence.
“I hate him, Kylie! I really do.” Bailee burst out. Tears riveted down her face, soaking the bedspread beneath her.
“Shh…” Kylie held her tighter, and Bailee felt a tear drip on her cheek, and she realized Kylie must be crying too.
“Why does he do this?”
“I don’t know, Bailee… I thought he might change, but—”
“No, why does God do this?” Bailee sat up with a distress distorting her features. “Why does he torture us? Mom and you say that he’s our Father and he loves us, so why does he enjoy hurting us this way?!”
Kylie’s tears fell harder, and she swiped them away with a hurt look on her face. “Bailee, God is simply allowing this to happen because—” Bailee started to roll her eyes and Kylie leaned forward, her body filled with fervor. “—because he loves us.”
“That’s dumb, Kylie. That’s the stupidest thing I’ve heard. That’s like saying you stuck your foot out to trip me because you love me! That doesn’t make sense, Kylie.” Bailee stood up and jerked the shirt over her head, throwing it across the room. She grabbed her nightshirt and put it on angrily.
“No… you have to listen to me.” Kylie grabbed Bailee’s hand, but she shook it off, ignoring her as she went to put on her pajama pants.
“Bailee! Listen to me!” Bailee stopped and stood still, listening for her sister’s sake, though nothing would make her happier than to clap her hands over her ears.
“Just because we believe in God and follow him doesn’t mean that we’re going to have a perfect life and everything’s going to work just fine. That’s not what God or the Bible says.”
Bailee let out a blast of air and put her hand to her eyes, the anger draining out of her as fast as the air. “I was just venting, Kylie. It really wasn’t questions I expected answers to.”
Kylie stood, and Bailee avoided her eyes as she climbed into bed. “I just want you to want God too, Bailee. Like Mom and me.”
Bailee forced a smile and then turned over on her side away from Kylie, closing her eyes. “I know, Kylie. Goodnight, I love you.”
Bailee heard Kylie sigh. “I love you too.”
… “Come here, Bailee!” Bailee runs with everything in her, the horrible monster behind her getting closer with every lunge. Clawed hands reach for her and grab her, spinning her around. “I got you now, pretty, and you’re mine. All mine.” The monster grinned with an evil gleam in his eyes and opened his mouth, rows and rows of jagged teeth gleaming and sparkling. Bailee screams, but the monster pulls her closer and closer, his mouth getting wider and wider. Suddenly the monster stops and shakes her. Over and over again, calling her name.
“Bailee!” Bailee’s eyes popped open, and she saw the silhouette of Kylie leaning over her bed, the moonlight casting a strange glow over her curls.
“What’s wrong?” Bailee struggled to sit up, begging her heart to return to its normal speed. “Did I wake you up?”
Kylie’s forehead pulled in concern. “You were screaming… really loud. I hope you didn’t wake Mom or Dad. What were you dreaming?”
All at once, the dream came pounding back in full force, sending Bailee sinking back against her pillow. She whimpered. “It’s horrible, Kylie. I can’t stand it. I never used to get these. I’ve only just recently started getting nightmares, and I don’t know how to stop them. How do I stop them?”
“I don’t know, Bailee. Are they about Dad?”
Bailee squeezed her eyes shut and nodded, a tear escaping under the tightly closed lid.
“You want me to stay with you?”
Bailee nodded again, and Kylie slid under the covers, cuddling close to her sister. Kylie wrapped her arms around her, and soon the soft, even rhythm of her breathing was feathering the hair around Bailee’s face. But Bailee was afraid to go back to sleep. Afraid that if she closed her eyes, the terrifying things would reappear. So she laid there in Kylie’s comforting arms and stared at the ceiling until sleep weighed so heavily on her eyelids that she finally gave in.