Thursday, October 11, 2012

Chapter Twelve


                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?”
            “Will you?”
            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?”
            “No, sir.”
            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.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Chapter Eleven


            Spring transformed to summer, the grass in front of the yellow house on Cinnamon Street growing knee high. Bailee would mow it if she could, but she knew she couldn’t. Besides her being too small, their mower was half broken and a pain in the neck to push, or so Sydney and Ava said. And now that Ava was away at college… well, who knew when it would get done.
            Bailee ran around the high grass, playing with Dizzy. Mommy was at work again, and Daddy was watching TV again with his beer. She had thrown the idea of getting rid of his drink out the window after her talk with Ava, when she realized how badly she would be punished.
            “Hey, Bailee!” Bailee looked out of the gated yard at Miles Gunner, who stood there holding a stick. His knees were covered in dirt, and so was his face. The snot running from his nose—mixing messily with the dirt—made him look more like a five-year-old than the close to nine-year-old that he was.
            “Oh, hi Miles.” Bailee came and leaned on the fence, Dizzy making wild circles around them. “Whatcha doin’?”
            Miles shook his head, getting his shaggy blond hair out of his pale blue eyes. “Digging for worms so my frog will have something to eat. Wanna help?”
            “Your frog eats worms?”
            Miles shrugged and one dirty strand of hair fell over his left eye. “I dunno; I’ve never given ‘em to him. But I’m gonna dig for some and see if he likes ‘em. Wanna help?” He asked again.
            “Sure. But I gotta ask my dad first.” Bailee ran inside and found Daddy right where she knew he’d be, watching some dumb commercial on the television. “Daddy?”
            Daddy didn’t even spare her a glance. With his eyes glued to the screen where some women was holding up a can of something and smiling, he replied, “What, kid?”
            “Can I go play with Miles?”
            “Who’s Miles?”
            “My friend from down the street. We’re digging for worms.”
            “Why do you think I care, kid?” He lifted the remote and changed the channel, but it was fuzzy. He changed to another, and when it was fuzzy as well, he swore.
            Bailee faltered. “Well, Mommy makes me ask for per—”
            “I don’t care what ‘Mommy’ says. You’re always ‘Mommy this’ and ‘Mommy that’.” Daddy made a nasty face and made his voice high and nasal to mock her. “For all I care, you could go to the—”
Bailee clapped her hands over her ears. She didn’t like it when Daddy yelled at her.
“Just leave me alone.”
            When Bailee didn’t move, he called her the name she was getting familiar with. She’d tried calling Dizzy it one time when she’d peed on the floor, and Mommy had washed her mouth out with soap. Bailee didn’t understand why Daddy was allowed to say it and she wasn’t.
            She ran outside to where Miles was waiting. “He said yes.”
They wandered down the sidewalk, digging in random places with sticks looking for worms. Miles carried along an empty jar, and after they’d been out for an hour, he still had no worms.
            “I don’t think this is working, Miles. Wanna go to the park instead?” Bailee offered. She was really getting tired of digging in the dirt, but she wouldn’t have told Miles that. He was her best friend in the whole world.
            Miles sighed and stood, stowing the baby food jar in his pocket. Bailee guessed he’d stolen it from the trash after his mom had finished feeding Ally, his little sister. “I guess.” He started running. “Race you there!” He hollered over his shoulder, his hair flopping all around.
            “Hey!” But Bailee wasn’t worried. With her long legs she dashed after him, barely beating him by an inch at the park entrance.
            Miles leaned over his knees. “No fair!”
            “Race you to the swings!” Bailee said and started jogging again. She reached her favorite swing and hopped on, digging her toes in the ground to give herself a giant push. She looked over her shoulder at Miles, but he wasn’t running. He was walking to her, holding a worm proudly in his fingers with a big smile on his grimy face. “Look, Lee-Lee, I found a worm after you dashed off. I’ll save it for Pete.” He shoved the poor worm into the jar and then closed the lid tightly.
            Bailee thought the worm would die because he had no air, but she didn’t say so. Maybe Pete liked dead worms just as well as live ones.
            Miles joined her on the swings. “Say, Bailee, you think he’ll eat it?”
            “I don’t know. I thought he liked crickets.”
            “Yeah. Maybe we shoulda’ looked for them instead.” He gave a great pump. “Oh, well. Hey, Bailee, what’d ya do to your cheek?”
            Bailee fingered the bruise that was turning an ugly yellow-brown color and turned red. “Um… I ran into the wall the other day.” She had run into the wall… in a sense. Daddy had been angry at her and Kylie so he’d hit them both, sending them across the room. Bailee had hit the back of her head against the wall, so it really was a half-truth.
            “Huh. I fell down our basement stairs yesterday, but I didn’t get hurt. Mom had left a laundry basket by the top, but I didn’t see it and I tripped over it.”
            “Too bad.” Bailee knew what his basement stairs were like, and it was a wonder he didn’t hurt himself. They were steep and had the most threadbare carpet on them. She’d been kinda scared to go on them herself, especially since there wasn’t a railing.
            “Yeah, well, Mom gave me ice cream to make up for it, so I didn’t mind so much.”
            If only she got ice cream when she got hurt. They barely ever had ice cream since Mommy said they didn’t have extra money. It was an occasional piece of candy or nothing at all.
            They played at the park for an hour or more before Mile’s oldest brother Danny—who was fourteen— came and told him that Mrs. Gunner wanted him home. Bailee said goodbye but didn’t head home. She didn’t want to be with Daddy. Not just yet. She swung on the swing for a long time, imagining that her life was like Miles. A mommy who was always home. A daddy who came home happy and smiley with kind, sparkly eyes. Who played and wrestled on the floor with his kids. Bailee had been at the Gunners’ house many times before when Mr. Gunner would come home and pick up his kids, squeezing them hard and tickling them, making them laugh and squeal. She always stood in the back, watching, wishing. She hated leaving the gunners house because Mr. Gunner was always so nice to her. He didn’t get angry or ever lose his temper.
            Bailee gave an extra hard pump, watching her shadow on the dirt swing back and forth, back and forth. Miles often asked her if he could come to her house, but she always made some excuse. Daddy wouldn’t want him there, and Miles wouldn’t want to be there with Daddy if he saw him. The Gunners had never met Daddy.
            Finally, after letting the swing glide back and forth until it slowed and finally stopped, she slid off and started meandering home, picking some wildflowers in the field by the park. Maybe she would give them to Mommy.
            Bailee reached the back door of the house and pushed it open, wiping a strand of her dark hair out of her eyes as they scanned the kitchen.
            “Mommy?” She knew she was here somewhere because she had seen her little blue car outside. “Mommy!”
            “Bailee, hush! Dad’s gonna get mad.” Sydney scowled at her from where she perched on the kitchen counter, reading a book and stirring something in a pot.
            Bailee peered in at the steaming mixture. “What’s that?”
            Sydney flipped a page of her book. “Pudding. Mom said to make some for dessert tonight.”
            Bailee sniffed appreciatively. “Yum-m-m. We haven’t had pudding in forever.
            Sydney’s mouth turned up a bit on one side. “I know.” She gave the pudding a sharp stir, and it sloshed dangerously up one side of the pan.
            Bailee suddenly remembered the wilted flowers in her hand. “Well, do you know where Mommy is?”
            “I think she’s getting a shower. Why?”
            “I have these for her.” Bailee held up the drooping, pathetic-looking flowers. “Could you get a cup for me to put them in?”
            “Sure.” Sydney reached behind her and got a cup out of the cabinet, handing it to Bailee.
            “Thanks.” Bailee filled the cup with water and set the flowers in it, then put the arrangement in the middle of the table.
            All at once they heard a door slamming loudly upstairs and then shouting. Daddy was yelling about something, but they couldn’t decipher what. It sounded like a lot of swearing. Bailee heard a voice that sounded like Mommy’s, but she supposed it could’ve been Kylie’s too. The girl voice pleaded something, and they heard a dull thud, followed by a soft whimper.
            There was pounding down the stairs and Bailee instinctively moved closer to Sydney, who rested a hand on her little sister’s head in a protective gesture.
            The front door opened and closed, and when they were sure it was safe to come out, Sydney said, “Come on, Bailee. Let’s make sure she’s ok.” She hopped off the counter, leaving her book, and raced up the stairs, Bailee following right behind.
            They reached their parents’ bedroom and Bailee peeked around the corner, relief flowing through her when she saw her mother standing in front of the mirror instead of collapsed somewhere like she was sometimes after Daddy hit her.
            “What happened, Mom?” Sydney asked her, going into the room.
            Mommy leaned close to the mirror, and that’s when Bailee saw the swelling gash on the side of Mommy’s forehead. She turned around, giving them a tremulous smile. “Nothing much. He was just a little angry, that’s all.” She gave an extra smile for their benefit. “Really, I’m fine. Now, I’m going to go clean this up, then get dinner fixed, ok?”
            Sydney avoided Bailee’s and Mom’s eyes as she went out of the room, muttering about her pudding. Bailee thought she might either be crying or really, really angry. She seemed to get angrier about Daddy lately than she used to.
            Bailee tagged along with Mommy as she went in the bathroom, pulling peroxide and a cotton ball out of the cabinet. Bailee watched as she cleaned the cut. “Mommy, why do you stay here if Daddy hurts you… and us?”
            Mommy’s eyes filled with tears as she looked at Bailee through the mirror. “Oh, sweetie…” She turned and engulfed Bailee in a hug, rubbing her back and kissing her head. “Baby, I love Daddy and I’m married to him. I want to stay with him and make him a better man again.” Mommy pulled back and searched Bailee’s eyes. “Do you understand?”
            A tear trickled down Bailee’s face. “I… I d-don’t think s-so.”
            Mommy hugged her again, a low moan coming from deep within her. “You will someday, sweetheart, you will.” She stood and went back to cleaning the cut. After it was finished, she put away the medicine, and then paused, giving Bailee a soft smile. “And you know God wants me to stay with him, right?”
            Bailee nodded solemnly and right then and there, she realized just how much she loved her mother. She also didn’t think she’d ever understand.

            The June after Bailee turned eight, Daddy hurt Mommy the most he ever had, sending her to the hospital for a broken arm and stitches in the back of her head. Daddy went away for a couple days, causing Bailee, Kylie, and Sydney to stay at the Gunner’s house overnight.
            They walked in the door of the Gunner’s spacious home with timid smiles on their faces and hope shining in their eyes. This was like a vacation with extra brothers and sisters. They all ran to greet the Steven sisters as she entered—Miles approaching first who threw his arms around Bailee. Maggie, the shy little five-year-old stood next to her mother, following like her like a shadow. Twelve-year-old Steven came in next, toting his two-year-old little sister, who was a terror. Finally Danny made his appearance, and soon there was as much loud chattering and laughing as if they’d been together all their lives. That was the most fun they’d had in a long time, and they were all close to tears when they left to go home the next day.
            They had to help out with the house for Mommy since her arm was in a bulky cast, but Bailee didn’t mind. As long as Daddy wasn’t there, they could pretend things were normal. But all too soon, he was there again, being the tyrant and monster that terrified Bailee, even in her nightmares.
One day, ten-year-old Bailee had come down the stairs when she saw her mother sitting on the couch in the living room with Kylie sitting beside her, her cheek cradled in Mommy’s hand, a tender, loving look in her eyes. “You are such a beautiful girl, you know that? I love you, Kylie, so much.” Mommy had wrapped her arms around her, stroking Kylie’s long, curly hair that was a beautiful blond. Kylie’s gorgeous, blue eyes had filled with love and devotion, and Bailee had ducked out of sight, feeling her first affects of the jealousy that would plague her for years. Kylie was the prettiest one of all of them, even though Sydney with dark blond hair and pale blue eyes and pixie face came in close second. Ava was still beautiful with her sad-looking hazel eyes and light brown hair. But Bailee had always been the “plain Jane”. The one that wasn’t noticed. It was always, “Kylie, look how beautiful you’ve gotten!” or, “Sydney, you have become such a gorgeous young lady.”
            People never said that to Bailee. Could be because of her boring brown eyes and straight, unexciting, dark brown hair. She lied to herself countless times by saying it didn’t bother her, but she knew in her heart that it really did. Even Dad seemed to fall prey to Kylie’s beauty sometimes, never seeming to hit her as much or get angry at her.
            When Bailee turned eleven she stopped calling Dad “Daddy. It sounded like an endearing term, and when she spoke of him or to him, it was anything but endearing. She would call him the worst name she could think of if she could, and in her mind she often did just that.
Now Bailee was only a few weeks away from being fifteen, and she hated him more than ever. He had no right. He had no right to beat them, to manhandle them and act as if his precious family were nothing more than his own personal punching bags. It wasn’t fair, and Bailee hated it. She hated him. She knew if Mom heard that, she would be sad and tell Bailee to honor her father and love him and pray for him, even if sometimes it seemed useless.  But Mom didn’t know it, and Bailee refused to pray for him. He was an animal that didn’t deserve praying for. He deserved to rot in a dark, black hole, or better yet, the flaming lake of fire. Bailee would love to watch Dad stuck down there, crying, begging for mercy. But it would be too late. He would have lost his chance. And she would laugh at him and tell him what a sorry—
            “Bailee, have you heard a word I said?”
            Bailee jerked her head up and looked at Kylie, who was standing over her, hands on hips with a miffed look on her face.
            Bailee sighed and shifted positions on her bed, trying not to look too bored. “Sorry, Kylie. What’d you say?” Kylie had just turned seventeen yesterday, and was going out with friends for a party tonight. She was driving Bailee crazy with her rambling about Luke Brannigan who would be coming with them. Bailee had seen Luke before, and honestly, she really didn’t think that he was as good-looking as Kylie made him out to be.
            “C’mon, Bailee. You have to admit he’s cute.”
            “I don’t have to admit anything. Honestly, I think his ears are too big and so are his teeth.”
            Kylie crossed her arms. “Well, you know you don’t have to come with us tonight.”
            Bailee groaned. “Yes, I do. Mom wants me to… to hold you in line.” She grinned. “But I don’t think it’ll work so well.” Plus, Bailee liked to think of this as partly her birthday party too, since her birthday was in two weeks on May thirtieth.
            With Ava roaming the world and Sydney at college, Kylie and Bailee had formed a strong bond, although they had already been really close. Kylie was Bailee’s best friend, though she didn’t know if Kylie felt quite the same way. She seemed pretty drawn to Faith, a girl she’d met at church. Faith was a good girl and fun to be around, Bailee supposed, but she wasn’t her type. She was much too outgoing and rambunctious, when Bailee would much rather sit calmly and read books all day.
            Bailee got off the bed and stretched. “Who all’s going to be at this party again? And where is it?”
            Kylie held a knee-length summery dress in front of her and stood before the mirror admiring it. “Well, let’s see, Faith will be there, of course, and Luke, and Steven Gunner, Alina, and Rachel. Oh, and you,” She added as an afterthought. “Miles will be there too… I guess he can keep you company. And we’ll be going bowling and then to Duffy’s Diner. What do you think of this dress, Bailee? Think I should wear it tonight?” Kylie twirled in the dress. “The blue flowers on it match my eyes exactly.”
            Jealousy surfaced and Bailee tried to shove it down. “Um… sure, if you want. Although you have been wearing it a lot lately, you know.”
            Kylie looked disappointed. “Only twice.”
            “Yeah, in the past week.” Bailee pointed out.
            “That’s true, I guess.” Kylie dropped the dress on her bed. “Oh, I don’t know what to wear!” She moaned as she sagged down on the edge of it.
            “Well… what should I wear?” Bailee ventured to ask.
            Kylie looked up. “I don’t know. You’ll look great in anything.”
            Bailee couldn’t resist. “And what will make my eyes stand out?”
            Kylie waved a hand at her and pick up the dress again as if it were more important than Bailee and her questions. Bailee wanted to snatch it from her hands; it was annoying how much Kylie was fawning over it. “Well?”
            “Well, I don’t think any color, exactly. Your eyes aren’t exactly the kind that just ‘pop’ out. But maybe you could try brown. Or, you know, you look great in purple.”
            Bailee knew Kylie was being nice and giving her honest advice, but it was still discouraging to hear that her eyes weren’t the kind that could ‘pop’. Wasn’t there something that could make her more attractive?
            Suddenly Kylie jumped up. “Oh, Bailee, I have something that would look great on you!” As Kylie rummaged around in her forever messy closet, Bailee sank to the edge of her bed, wondering why Kylie got to have such a great party when the only parties Bailee had ever had were with her family at her house… and sometimes Miles. Why was it that Kylie suddenly got to have this fantastic party with all these friends?
            “Here it is!” Kylie surfaced, triumphantly holding up a pretty purple top. “I think this will fit you, Bailee. Come on, try it on.”
            Bailee quickly put on the purple shirt, standing in front of the mirror as Kylie adjusted it—pulling it a little here, a little there. “Well?”
            “I… I like it.”
            “You can wear it tonight, ok? It looks great on you, and it really goes well with your eyes and hair.” Kylie smiled indulgingly.
            Bailee did agree that it looked good on her. Impulsively she threw her arms around her sister. “Thanks, sis.”
            “You’re welcome. Now… we better get ready ‘cause we have to leave soon.” And with that, Kylie held up the dress one last time. “I think I will wear this after all.”

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Chapter Ten

May 19, 1993
            Bailee whooped with joy and waved goodbye to her second grade schoolmates as she hopped off the bus. The schoolmates that she wouldn’t see until next year.
            “Bye, Sara. Goodbye, Miles.” She waved to the students that had gotten off the bus with her as they went the opposite way.
She trudged down the sidewalk, adjusting her heavy backpack from one side to the other. She didn’t really want to go home. At home was shouting and unhappiness. But at school there were lots of happy kids that had happy mommies and daddies; kind teachers like Ms. Stull. She had been Bailee’s second grade teacher, and she had loved her. She had a great big smile that seemed to make her eyes sparkle. A kind of smile that Bailee never saw at home. And Ms. Stull liked to hug her, and she always smelled good. She had a smell that reminded her of butterflies. Mommy didn’t usually smell like that, but she still smelled good, in her own sort of way.
Bailee turned the corner and made her way to the small, yellow house that sat second on Cinnamon Street. She swung open the dilapidated, old gate of the front yard, wondering why their grass was always so much longer than the other people’s on this street. Sometimes Mommy mowed it, and once in a while Ava and Sydney did, but mostly Mommy. Ava wasn’t around much, and really, she almost like it better when she wasn’t. When Ava was home there seemed to be extra shouting and grumpiness, and so Bailee would just sit in a corner with her hands over her ears until they were done. But sometimes it took a long time for them to be done, and so it was just easier when Ava wasn’t there.
She opened the front door and soundlessly made her way to the bedroom she shared with Kylie in case Daddy was sleeping on the couch. The last thing she wanted to do was disturb him. After dropping her backpack on her bed and kicking off her shoes, she made her way to the kitchen, being extra quiet as she passed Daddy snoring loudly on the couch. Sometimes when she tried to be very quiet, Daddy would still wake up. Then he would be really angry at her, and sometimes he would hit her. She was kind of scared of him; well, actually, she was really scared of him, but she tried not to let him see, because Kylie had told her it made it worse if you let him see you were scared. She didn’t really see a difference one way or another, but Kylie must know.
Bailee stood in the entrance of the kitchen and watcher her mother move about the kitchen, humming something. Mommy was wearing her funny apron, the one that said, “Eat your grapes!” She thought Sydney had gotten that for Mommy last year for her birthday, but she wasn’t sure.
Mommy turned around and when she saw Bailee, she got a big smile on her face. “Hi, sweetie.” She reached out her arms and Bailee ran to them, wrapping her scrawny arms around her and hugging her tightly.
“How’s my big girl, hmm?” Mommy kissed the top of her head, and Bailee gave her an extra squeeze before she let go. She loved these times when she came home from school with Mommy. This was one of her only times to have a chance to be alone with her. Kylie didn’t come home till almost a half hour after her, and Sydney and Ava didn’t come home till close to 4:00. But today, with it the last day of school, Bailee had to make it extra special since they wouldn’t be having anymore alone time for a while.
“How was your last day of school, Bailee?” Mommy asked as she pulled a pan of cookies out of the oven. They smelled like chocolate chip, and when Mommy wasn’t looking, Bailee stole some of the dough to see for sure.
“It was ok. Mandy didn’t want to sit by me at lunch because she was going to Elizabeth’s birthday party and I’m not.”
“Did you get it all worked out?”
She shrugged. “She played with me at recess, so I guess so.”
“Good.” Mommy got out a napkin and placed two cookies on it, setting it on the table. “Sit down Bailee, and I’ll get your milk.”
“Thanks.” Bailee ate the cookies slowly, reveling in the warm, gooey taste that she didn’t get to enjoy very often. Mommy must have made them as a special treat since it was the last day of school.
Bailee watched Mommy pull out the last pan of cookies and set them on the stovetop to cool. Then she removed the apron, hung it on a hook, and left the kitchen, giving Bailee’s shoulder a gentle squeeze as she went by. Bailee knew what Mommy was doing. She was getting ready for work, wherever it was. Daddy used to be the one to go to work, but then he stopped and Mommy started going. Now Daddy either slept on the couch all day or was gone. Whenever he came home he was always extra grouchy and mean and scary, and he had a weird smell that bothered Bailee’s nose.
Bailee finished her cookies and milk and threw away the napkin, then went upstairs to play with her stuffed animals on her bed. Only a few minutes had gone by when Bailee heard the front door open. She knew Kylie was home. Soon, her sister made an appearance at the bedroom door.
“Hi, Kylie.”
Kylie smiled really big, something she hardly ever did. “Hi, Bailee.” Kylie went and hung her backpack in the closet and jumped around, clasping her hands in front of her. “Guess what?” Kylie didn’t wait for an answer, but started telling Bailee “what”. “Ellie asked me to come to her birthday party! I’m so excited! I hope Mommy says yes.”
“Daddy will say no.”
The excitement didn’t leave Kylie’s eyes, though her voice lost some enthusiasm. “You’re right. Maybe I can ask Mommy and she won’t tell Daddy.”
“Ask Mommy what, sweetie?” Mommy had just walked by their door, looking really pretty in a fancy pink shirt and gray skirt.
“Oh, Mommy, Ellie asked me to come to her party. Can I go, Mommy?”
Mommy smiled softly. “We’ll see, honey. I have to go now, but we’ll talk about it later, ok?” Mommy hugged them both and told them she loved them, then left. They were in the care of Daddy, but they always just hoped that he would sleep the whole time. Most of the time he did. It was only once in a while that he got up, and then if he did, he usually left, which scared Kylie and Bailee too, because they didn’t like to be left alone.
Bailee told Kylie about the cookies and while Kylie went and ate some Bailee played with her stuffed animals some more. When Kylie was done they played Barbie’s together.
Sydney and Ava came home at their usual time, and ate cookies too, and then Ava lied on her bed reading a magazine and listening to music on her headphones, like she always seemed to do. Bailee really never spent much time with her. Which, she supposed was understandable since Ava was eleven years older than her and had better things to do then play Barbie’s. Still, it would be nice for Ava to acknowledge her once in a while.
Sydney took a walk with Dizzy, their little terrier. Bailee knew that Sydney was the only one who took Dizzy out for walks. Mommy was too busy, Kylie was too young to go by herself, and Ava just didn’t care.
It had taken a lot of convincing for Mom to let them have Dizzy. Dad didn’t care one way or another, but Mommy had said that it was too much work to take care of with her having to work and them at school. But finally, after much begging and pleading, Mommy gave in.
“Bailee? I just asked Meg to come play with Carrie.”
Kylie’s words brought Bailee back. She looked down at the doll that Kylie was holding. “Sorry. Yes, I’ll come and play with you, Carrie.” Bailee made her voice sound high and squeaky.
They played for several hours before they heard Daddy get up, and when they did, the subconsciously shrunk further into their bedroom and started talking quieter. It didn’t matter. Daddy didn’t come upstairs. They heard the front door open and close, and then Daddy’s car start. He was leaving to go to the place he always went to. Bailee had asked Mommy one time, and she had told her that it was a bad place called a bar. Bailee knew what bars were, but she didn’t understand why Daddy thought it was so fun to go to them, especially since that was the place that always made him the scariest.
Ava finally came out of her bedroom and warmed up the meal Mommy had fixed them—chicken, green beans and muffins—and the four girls sat down to eat, not bothering to save any for Daddy. He wouldn’t be home till long after they were in bed, anyway. The meal was eaten and cleaned up in silence.
Mommy got home around 8:00 and put Bailee to bed, hugging her tightly. Bailee could smell that aroma that belonged to her Mommy only, and it made her hug her tighter. “Don’t leave me, Mommy. Please don’t leave me.”
Mommy kissed her head and then lay down beside her. Bailee knew Mommy would be gone when she woke up, but it was a comfort to fall asleep with her beside her. She dozed off, holding tightly to Mommy’s hand.

As the days past, Bailee got more excited about her birthday. She would be turning seven on this Saturday, which was only three days away. She hoped Mommy would bake her a butterfly cake, but Mommy always kept the cakes a secret until the special day.
On Saturday, Bailee woke to Mommy, Sydney, Kylie and Ava standing over her bed singing to her.
“Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birth…”
            The front door slammed and they all heard heavy clomping up the stairs. “Would you all just shut up!” The singing stopped as abruptly as if a door had shut on it. Daddy stood in Kylie and Bailee’s doorway, looking horrible. Bailee was pretty sure he’d stayed out all night long.
            Bailee shrunk back, not missing the wild look in her father’s eyes.
            Daddy’s eyes found her, and his lip curled up in a sneer. “Having a party for dear little Bailee, are we?” He came closer and Bailee tried to hide her fear, but she started shaking anyway. He reached for her chin and she jerked away, knowing right away it was the worst thing she could’ve done.
            Daddy’s hand came down against her cheek before she had time to even react. The pounding blow sent her head reeling. Tears came to her eyes, and she squeezed them tightly shut.
            Daddy grabbed for her chin again, and this time she let him grip it in a painful hold, yanking her face to look at him. “Do not ever jerk away from me when I touch you. Do you understand me?” Daddy’s voice was not quiet or controlled. He was angry, terribly angry, a thought that made Bailee shake all the more.
            “Yes s-sir, D-Daddy. I-I-I’m sorry.” The tears flowed now, and they would only make the pounding in her head worse.
            Daddy pushed her chin away roughly and turned around, heading for the door and calling her a bad name as he did so.
            When he was gone from the room, Mommy came and sat down next to Bailee, wrapping her arms around her skinny frame. “I’m so sorry, honey. I’m so sorry.” Bailee just sat there shaking. It was a fairly normal thing for Daddy to hit them, but it never seemed to make her act more normal every time he did it. In fact, she seemed to get worse. She couldn’t help her violent shaking when he got angry, and that always made her stutter. Daddy didn’t like the stuttering, and that was bad, because the only person she did it around was him.
            “Would you finish singing to me, please?” Bailee asked with a quivering of her chin, wiping her hands over her face.
            Mommy gave her a kiss on the head and stood and they all sang the birthday song again, being much quieter this time.
            When they all left her, Bailee got dressed and then went down for her birthday breakfast, which was a pancake in the shape of a smiley face with whipped cream hair. After breakfast, Mommy took her out shopping, and she got some new clothes and a new teddy bear.
            Mommy told her she was sorry on the way home, because she had to leave for work and wouldn’t be there for all of Bailee’s birthday. Bailee told her it was ok, but inside she really wished that Mommy could be there. Mommy had a way of making birthdays fun, even when Daddy was there, but Bailee knew she didn’t have a choice about going to work or staying home, so she said it was fine.
            That night Bailee tinkered around on the piano, waiting for Mommy to get home so they could have cake. Mommy was the only one who played the piano, though she was working on giving Sydney lessons. She didn’t get to play it often, but Bailee liked to listen to her when she did, because she sounded so good.
            Bailee heard Daddy come down the stairs and stopped playing. She hadn’t known he was here.
            Daddy made his way through the living room, acting like she wasn’t there, mumbling about something. He went to the kitchen and rummaged around in the cupboards, pulling out random things. He came out carrying a bowl of chips and a dark bottle, sat down in front of the TV, and flipped it on, watching a ball game. Bailee knew she couldn’t play the piano anymore. Daddy would get angry because he wouldn’t be able to hear his game. She watched him unseen from the piano bench. Shoving chips in his mouth. Taking long swigs from the bottle.
            Bailee hated it. She hated the things that made him act like this. When he was done she would go to the fridge and take out every brown bottle and throw them out. If beer was what made him scary, then she would throw it away, and then he’d be happy again. She knew he would.
            But Daddy didn’t go upstairs for a long time. And Bailee knew she couldn’t throw out his beer with him there. So she went upstairs and wandered around, seeing what her sisters were up to.
            She knocked on Ava’s door. No answer. She knocked louder. Still no answer. Finally Bailee just opened the door. Ava was lying on her bed with her headphones again, staring at the ceiling.
            “Ava?” When Ava didn’t respond, Bailee went and turned off her sister’s music. Ava sat up and took off the headphones. “What do you want?”
            Bailee sat cross-legged on her bed. “Well, you know how Daddy’s beer makes him angry?”
            Ava’s face looked puzzled. “What?”
            “I mean, when he drinks it too much, he gets angry and scary and hits us.”
            Recognition dawned on her sister’s face along with more than a touch of anger and resentment. “Oh. Yeah. So?”
            “So, I was thinking, when he leaves or goes to bed tonight or whatever, we can throw it all away.”
            “Don’t be stupid, Bailee. Don’t you think he’d care? Once he found out there wouldn’t only be a beating for you. We’d all get one. We’d all get in major trouble.”
            Bailee looked down. “Oh. I guess I didn’t really think of that.”
            Ava took her hand and squeezed it. “I want the same thing as you, Bailee. Really. I want Dad to stop drinking and hitting and whatever. And maybe we just have to wait, and he will. He really didn’t used to be like that. He was nicer. Not like everyone else’s dads who give their kids anything they want and dote on them and stuff, but he was nice to us and he didn’t drink.”
            Bailee looked into her sister’s eyes, and the subdued rage there scared her. “What happened?”
            “Oh, I don’t know. He just started going out for drinks here and there, every couple nights, you know. Soon he didn’t always come home at night. Then, before you know it, he’s like a major alcoholic. And he lost his job. And that’s the end of the story, Bailee.”
            Bailee looked past her sister at the wall behind her head, remembering. “Sometimes I feel like I can remember how he used to be. Like when I’m trying to go to sleep I see it, like little pictures. I see him smiling. A nice, real smile, not like the kind he does now.” Bailee thought of the sneer he’d given her this morning, and she gently touched her bruised cheek.
            “Yeah? Well, maybe you do remember.” Ava looked at her cheek that had turned blue and tenderness transformed her eyes. She reached out and hugged Bailee.
            Bailee clung to her. “I love you, Ava. Please don’t ever go away.” Ava didn’t say anything, just kept holding her.