|You Always Have Me By Sherell Cummings|
This was survival.
I waited for the front doorâ€™s slam and the thud of his heavy boots against the ancient wooden floors. This farmhouse sat lonely on the end of Saints Road, surrounded by yearsâ€™ growth of grass and weeds so tall that you couldnâ€™t tell the color of the peeling paint on the walls. The only things separating the two small bedrooms from the living room and kitchen were wood and rusty nails. When it was quiet you could hear a pin drop all the way up the street.
I found a photo album some years back filled with pictures of two little boys and their parents standing in front of a farmhouse. As I scanned through the album I saw how beautiful this house once was with its cream walls, fresh flowers on the dining room table, comfortable clean floral furniture and so many family portraits on the walls. It was a home. A home I desperately wanted to live in but never could, because it was destroyed.
Sometimes I wished I could have what he had growing up. Wished he could be like Jeff, the grandfather I never knew. Something turned that smiling little boy in those pictures into the heartless, careless beast he was today. He didnâ€™t care about me; he tolerated me, and that was as far as the affection went. I was in constant fear that one day he would kill me and bury my body in the back of the house, and because I wasnâ€™t memorable and my life didnâ€™t make an impact on the world, I wouldnâ€™t be missed. Iâ€™d never be found.
â€œKale.â€ The piercing sound of my name echoed through the thin walls as I pressed myself harder, praying to God for mercy. I always prayed. Sometimes He heard me and made my father so drunk he would pass out with the slightest touch. Other times I believed he was busy helping someone in more trouble than I was. Those were the times things were bad.
All I could hear was my heavy breathing and the thump-thump of my heart. The monster wasnâ€™t gone and it wasnâ€™t safe no matter how hard I pushed. He would tear this door apart whether I was against it or not.
â€œKale, where the fuck are you?â€ My back jolted at what I presumed were his fists hitting the door. I spread my arms wide for balance as the next hit sent me clear across the small room where I hit the wall with a thud that rattled my bones. A striking pain shot up my spine.
His staggering form swayed in front of me. Cold, dead, droopy eyes scanned my crumpled body as I balled myself into its natural protective state, awaiting the first blow. He always aimed for the ribs, said the less people knew the better. But people knew whether it was hidden under my shirt or not. Because they knew him as well as I did.
â€œYou thinkâ€¦y-y-you could hide from me, girl,â€ he slurred, drifting from side to side as his eyes rolled with every word. I covered my face with my arms but heard every muffled word. â€œThe only reason I kept you around was for that money. Thatâ€™sâ€¦all you were ever good forâ€¦ tha-that money, my money. Now what the fuck do I do, huh?â€ he yelled.
Yesterday he shoved a letter at me and a smile broke my lips as I read the words, completely forgetting he was still in the room. I finally knew why I was here, why he even bothered with the colored-skin daughter he never wanted. Money. Money that in a few short months he would no longer have, because he would no longer have me.
Heâ€™d seen the smile. Hated seeing me happy, especially when it was on his behalf. This time nothing could dampen the happiness I felt knowing this nightmare was almost over. I didnâ€™t care about the money. All I wanted was my freedom, but instead, I got a wicked slap across the face. Now I anticipated it. Hardly felt a thing with the first hit. It was like my brain had become so immune to the beatings that it took three or four hits for me to feel pain anymore. It was why he tried so much harder to make me scream. By the fourth, I had shut down completely and everything around me became a mess of blurry figures that eventually faded into my safe place, with him.
â€œOpen your eyes, Kale.â€
â€œWhy?â€ I whispered, eyes still closed. We were in the cornfield, lying between the stalks like we always did. The sun was out but not blinding as it hid between the clouds, and the smell of rain was in the air.
â€œHow else are you going to see whatâ€™s around you?â€
â€œItâ€™s nothing I havenâ€™t seen before. Same old boring place, same old boring people. You.â€ I smiled as he began tickling my bare feet. My eyes popped open as I scrambled to sit up, trying to pull my legs away. He laughed along with me as he continued to torture my feet. â€œStop,â€ I cried.
He shook his head. â€œYou said Iâ€™m boring.â€
â€œDidnâ€™t mean you.â€ I laughed, finally getting my feet from his grasp. â€œI was only kidding.â€
â€œI know, but you still hurt my feelings. So, to make it up to me Iâ€™m giving you a head start.â€
I stood up and grinned, looking for the perfect path between the corn husks. â€œHow much?â€
â€œTen seconds.â€ He stood, grinning like the Cheshire Cat.
â€œPerfect, bet you wonâ€™t catch me this time,â€ I yelled, taking off.
I woke up to rain pounding on the thin roof. A tear slipped down my cheek as the memory faded into black. I hated feeling like this, all broken and empty whenever I saw his face in my head, only to have it fade seconds later. I missed him. I wished I didnâ€™t so much so I could move on.
My eyes took a minute to adjust as a stinging pain radiated in my chest. My ribs werenâ€™t broken, experience taught me that, but they were bruised. I rolled onto my knees, wincing from the pain as I placed my hands against the wall, pushing myself to stand. Once up, I walked over to my bureau, pulling on the first drawer. Inside, I found my aged first-aid kit, which Iâ€™d recently stocked, knowing the bruises would come back. The mirror above the bureau had seen better days with a large crack right down the center. I barely used it, because there was nothing to see. Same brown skin, same dead grey eyes, same dark curly hair, same sunken cheeks and dried cracked lips. Nothing special stared back at me, so what was the point in looking? Grabbing a bandage, I moved over to my bed, sitting on the edge. My eyes drifted to a few droplets as they slid down my half-broken window.
Rain in Black County was like sunshine in the Caribbean. It was an everyday occurrence, with violent storms passing through every other month. People round here were pretty much set in their ways; once it didnâ€™t kill them or damage their homes, they were guaranteed to stick around forever.
Strange how an old town a few hours outside of Ohio, that hadnâ€™t been updated in centuries was able to sustain bad weather. Most of the houses were French colonial and Victorian style and were probably beautiful thirty years ago, but as the years went by they deteriorated with the lack of care and maintenance.
The young moved away as soon as the ink dried on their diplomas, and who could blame them? There wasnâ€™t much here. Everyone still lived in the past as they tried to keep the homegrown values from diminishing. The old prepared themselves to be buried with the town and the rest of us couldnâ€™t care less if one day everything disappeared.
I got up and was about to turn away when a flashing light caught my attention. It wasnâ€™t lightning, that much I knew from living out where lightning literally touched the ground. I eased off the bed and moved toward the window with one arm wrapped around my stomach as I used the other to push the window up, using the old prop stick to keep it open.
It was pitch black, with the rain falling so heavily it was even harder to see once the light flicked off. I watched for a few seconds as it came on again, moving slowly across the yard before flickering off again.
Carefully, I opened my bedroom door and walked down the short hall into the living room to where my father was already passed out on the recliner. The room was so small he took up most of it as I stepped over his outstretched legs and every other piece of crap furniture just to get to the door.
I slipped out the front door onto the porch. By now it was pouring so hard I couldnâ€™t see anything save for sheets of rain over the darkness. The grass had grown so high in the past few years that one couldnâ€™t find the actual path to the front door. Whoever was out there I feared was lost in the weeds or probably swallowed whole by a mud puddle. Squinting with my hand above my eyes I tried hard to see who was out there, but with no luck. The light was already gone.
Black County High School, home of the Vikings, had school spirit if it lacked anything else. Walking through the halls and seeing the green and black banners marked â€œGo Vikingsâ€ and â€œWin Win Winâ€ was like being transported into an episode of Saved by the Bell. They were everywhereâ€”hanging from the ceiling, on the lockers and the wallsâ€”every corner you turned there was a picture of the horned mascot with his beady little eyes staring back at you.
Football was one of those small-town things that bonded the people of Black County. Every Thursday night, no matter the weather or social standing, people would gather on the schoolâ€™s football field to watch the Vikings play. The football team wasnâ€™t as good as everyone would likeâ€”hell, they lost more than they wonâ€”but it wasnâ€™t about winning or losing. To some it was about support, to others it was hope, and to the rest, it was a place to hang out on Thursday night.
The entire school was buzzing with excitement for tonightâ€™s game. I, on the other hand, had a meeting with the student advisor before class. She slipped a note in my locker yesterday asking me to visit her office first thing this morning. I knew why she wanted to see me. College applications were going out and all the juniors had to meet with her as a prerequisite. I was probably the only one she hadnâ€™t seen, since I was on the fence about my impeding future. Where everyone was giddy with joy and excitement, I decided not to think about it, which is what led me here. Knocking on Mrs. Russellâ€™s door.
She spotted me through the window in the door and waved me in. â€œKale, come in and have a seat.â€
I closed the door and took a seat in one of the two chairs in front of her desk. â€œYou wanted to see me?â€ I asked, placing my bag on the ground at my feet and leaning back.
â€œYes.â€ She smiled and placed her hands together on her desk. â€œHow are you, Kale?â€
I inwardly rolled my eyes and plastered a fake smile on my face. They all knew how I was. I may not say it, and may be a pro at covering my bruises, but they knew. My skin itched from the brown cotton wrapped tightly under my loose t-shirt, but I smiled through the pain and the itch and responded with the only answer I could. â€œIâ€™m fine, Mrs. Russell.â€
â€œThatâ€™s very good to hear. Now Iâ€™m sure youâ€™re wondering why I wanted to see you. Well, it has come to my attention that you havenâ€™t filled out any college applications yet. Iâ€™ve been going through your file, Kale, and so farâ€â€”she opened the file in front of herâ€”â€œyouâ€™re a straight-A student, more or less an overachiever. Youâ€™re completing all your class projects and reading assignments ahead of time, and although youâ€™ve never participated in any extracurricular activities, there is still a chance of you getting into a really good college if you apply. Why havenâ€™t you?â€ she asked with a crinkle of her brows. Mrs. Russell had one of those overly enthusiastic type of personalities. You know those people that always believed that there was a bright side to every situation and there was magic at the end of a rainbow? Yep, that was her. Mrs. Brightside, with her heart-shaped face and bright blue eyes. She had no reason to be sad or angry.
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