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Rabbits in the garden, p.10

Rabbits in the Garden, page 10

 

Rabbits in the Garden
 


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  “What?”

  “What’s taking so long?” Faye asked.

  “I'm just straightening up,” Natalie answered and then turned back to the boy. “Please, I’ll never ask you for anything else ever again. I’ll just introduce you and then you can leave.”

  “Well, if I’m going to be your boyfriend, don’t you think I should know your name?”

  “Oh, right. It’s Natalie Hayworth.”

  “Nice to meet you, Natalie Hayworth. I’m Paul,” he replied and she nodded gratefully before flinging open the door.

  The smile on Faye’s face disappeared the instant she laid eyes on the boy in Natalie’s room, and his face drained to white.

  “Mrs. Norton?” he squeaked.

  “Paul Dillon. You’ve grown,” she replied and sauntered into the room. “What on earth are you doing here?”

  “Am I missing something? How do you two know each other?” Natalie asked.

  “Are you telling me that you don’t recognize your sister’s friend Paul?”

  “You’re that Natalie? You said your last name was Hayworth.”

  “Hold on. You two don’t even know each other? What is he doing in your room at 9am then, Natalie?”

  “I—we - ”

  “Oh, dear Lord! You slept with him?!”

  “I didn’t know who he was!”

  “That’s even worse! Oh God, I think I’m going to be sick,” Faye said as she wilted down onto the couch. “So I guess you’re two for two now, Paul? Destroying Avery’s life apparently wasn’t enough for you.”

  “Me? You’re the one who destroyed Avery. You’re the reason she’s locked up in that madhouse.”

  “Please. Everyone knows that it was you who drove her off the deep end. Yes, I was guilty of hiding her crimes, but you led her on. You let her believe she was sane and that you cared for her.”

  “I loved her. I still love her. There isn’t a day that’s gone by that I don’t think of her,” he protested.

  “Were you thinking of her when you were with Natalie? Oh God, you disgust me. Both of you.”

  “Wait, why is my mother the reason Avery’s in Taunton?” Natalie asked, and Faye glared at Paul with a fiery warning in her eyes.

  “I’m not a kid anymore, Mrs. Norton. You don’t scare me, and you can’t hurt me. Avery forced me into silence for the sake of me and my family, but I’ve been silent long enough.”

  “Don’t listen to him, Natalie. He’s just trying to hurt me because Avery had to be sent away. He’s always blamed me.”

  “You deserve the blame! You’ve lied to and about her for years, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re doing the same thing to Natalie.”

  “Will someone please explain what’s going on?”

  “Natalie, Avery isn’t a murderer, and she’s not crazy. Everything she said was true. Five years ago, Avery and I stowed away in the back of your mother’s car and saw her put two dead bodies in her trunk.”

  “This is ridiculous. Don’t believe a word of it, Natalie.”

  “Why would I lie? What would I have to gain?” Paul asked.

  “I don’t know, but you obviously feel like I need to be punished for something. Well, if you think this thing between you two isn’t painful enough, you’re wrong. And it’s not just painful for me; it’s going to break poor Avery’s heart. She was just telling me today how much she still cares for you, Paul.”

  “That’s bullshit. You’ve never set foot in that hospital more than once,” Paul spat, and Faye was visibly taken aback.

  “That can’t be right. My mom visits Avery all the time,” Natalie said.

  “No, she doesn’t.”

  “How would you know?”

  “Because four years ago, Avery wrote me a letter. She said that she was scared and alone and missed her sister terribly. She really wishes you’d visit her, Natalie.”

  “You told me she didn’t want to see me!” she screamed at Faye.

  “And she was told you didn’t want to see her. Lies and manipulation all courtesy of your mother,” he replied. “Unfortunately, I didn’t get the letter until recently. If it was up to my parents, I probably wouldn’t have gotten it at all.”

  “I don’t know what to believe,” Natalie whimpered.

  “Natalie, I have no reason to lie to you,” Paul said.

  “No? If she takes your side, you’re more apt to get another night in her bed. That’s what this is really about, isn’t it, Paul?” Faye replied icily.

  “Not at all actually.”

  “Both of you just stop it,” Natalie demanded. “I think I should go see Avery. I need to hear her side of this.”

  “Natalie, I told you: she doesn’t want to see you.”

  “But Paul says she does, and honestly, I do have more reason to trust him than you.”

  “You’re just confused. You need time to think. Why don’t you take a break? You can come home with me.”

  “I’m not going anywhere with you.”

  “Natalie, please be reasonable. You’re not really going to go see her. Not you. Not in a place like that.”

  “If it’s good enough for Avery, it’s good enough for me,” she replied and then sighed heavily. “I think you should go home, Mom. I have a lot of thinking to do.”

  “Are you sure?”

  “About this, yes. I do need time to think, but I need to do it alone.”

  “Why does he get to stay?” she hissed at Paul.

  “He's leaving too, but you're leaving first.”

  It was obvious that Faye was angry, but she still managed to force an amiable smile.

  “Well, if you need any help figuring things out, I’m always here for you,” Faye said, kissed Natalie on the cheek, and said goodbye, but before she slammed the door behind her, she flashed Paul a sinister glower.

  “Do you mind if I stay here for a bit? All I can picture is walking out of here and your mother bashing my brains out with a hammer two seconds later,” Paul said with a chuckle, but there was true fear in his eyes.

  “You don’t really think she killed those people, do you? My mom’s a little nuts, but I don’t think she’s capable of murder.”

  “And Avery is? Some of those people were twice her size.”

  “She’s always been strong though. Athletic.”

  “So that makes her capable of killing innocent people?”

  “Physically.”

  “You don't believe it though, do you? Think of her, think of Avery and tell me you really think she killed those people,” Paul said and Natalie sighed as she collapsed onto the bed.

  “I think I need to be alone,” she finally said. “But before you go, I need to know something about last night.”

  “It was great, if memory serves.”

  “Yes, it was, but that’s not what I was going to ask. It’s just that, well, I can’t remember if we used anything. A condom, I mean.”

  “Oh, that,” he replied shamefully, and Natalie instantly knew the answer. “I’m sorry. I know it’s not an excuse, but I was just really nervous and excited, and I guess I just forgot. I don’t have anything bad you need to worry about though. You were actually my first.”

  “Oh,” she said in a mixture of surprise and pride.

  “I swear I didn’t know who you were when it happened, but now that I do, I’m even happier that we did what we did. But this can't happen again.”

  “I know. If Avery found out - ”

  “She can't. She won't. I don’t want to hurt her. There’s no reason this whole thing can’t stay our little secret.”

  “Unless - ” Natalie started, but she was afraid that finishing her sentence might doom them both.

  Unfortunately, whether she spoke her fears aloud or not was irrelevant, and within the month, Natalie found herself in the campus clinic, staring down the barrel of a positive pregnancy test. She knew her options, but one of them wasn’t an option at all. When it came down to it, she was going to have a baby. The only remaining question was
whether or not she’d be raising it herself.

  “I can’t believe this,” Paul said dryly as he paced the room and massaged his temples.

  “I know. We’re really great at keeping secrets, aren’t we?”

  “What are we going to do?”

  “Have it, and I think we should keep it.”

  “What about school? What about Avery?”

  “I’ll go see her. I’ll talk to her, and maybe she’ll understand. After all, it was an accident.”

  “But what about - ” he started, but he suddenly stopped pacing and got down on one knee in front of Natalie.

  “Paul, what are you doing?”

  “The right thing,” he replied resolutely and took her hand into his. “Natalie, will you marry me?”

  “You're kidding, right? Don’t you think the baby is bad enough?”

  “It’s the right thing, Natalie. It’s the smart thing.”

  “But we’re not in love, Paul. You really want to get into a loveless marriage?”

  “It won’t be loveless. I’m already in love with my baby,” Paul replied and touched Natalie’s stomach.

  “Are you sure?” she asked firmly.

  “I am. I just wish I had something to give you.”

  “This is enough,” she replied and kissed his hands. “Thank you, Paul.”

  “Is that a yes?” he asked and she nodded her head with a tight smile that showed just how much she was trying to hold back her tears.

  As they embraced, Paul knew that the tears she was holding back weren’t tears of a joyful engagement, and he couldn’t blame her. Truthfully, the face of a different Norton sister flashed into his mind the moment his knee touched the floor.

  CHAPTER EIGHT

  “Avery Norton, you have a visitor,” Nurse Wilkens announced, and Avery popped up from the couch in utter disbelief.

  “You did say ‘Avery Norton’, didn’t you?” she asked.

  “Why are you so surprised? Wasn't it your birthday last month?”

  “Yes, but considering no one visited me on thirteen through sixteen, I wasn’t expecting any visitors.”

  “Well, you’ve got one. A very determined one. Wait in your room and we’ll let her through.”

  Avery ran to her room in such unbridled excitement that she never felt her feet touch the floor. She sat on her bed with her knees jumping and fingers twisting around each other almost as badly as Flint’s did. She had no expectations, only hopes, but when her door eased open and she saw the face of her visitor, her heart sunk slightly.

  “Happy birthday, sweetheart!” Faye exclaimed as she burst into the room and wrapped her arms around Avery.

  She was glad for the contact, but her body became rigid in the embrace, something that Faye noticed right away.

  “What’s wrong? I thought you'd be happy to see me,” she said with her lip pouted.

  “I am. I just thought it might be someone else.”

  “But I told you I was coming.”

  “You’ve been saying that for five years and this is the first time you’ve shown up. I’m sorry if I wasn’t exactly expecting you.”

  “Well, that’s all over now. I’m going to visit you every month, every week if I can.”

  “Why now?”

  “This is for you,” Faye said and handed her a small blue box with a bow. “Happy birthday, Avery.”

  “I really wasn’t expecting anything.”

  “It’s just a trifle, really. Actually, it was yours to begin with, and it’s time it went back to you.”

  Avery opened the box and gasped at the brass ring nestled in a cloud of cotton.

  “Why? After five years, why now?” she asked her mother with tears starting to brim.

  “I guess it was a symbol of what I thought was being taken from me, of Paul taking you away from me. You were my baby, and I wanted to protect you. It was wrong of me, I know, but you’ll understand when you have children one day,” she replied. “None of that matters anymore, not since he became involved in such a serious relationship.”

  Avery felt her face droop from the pain of Faye's statement, but she clenched her jaw tightly and forced a small smile.

  “Oh? I hadn’t heard.”

  “Really? I thought one of them would’ve told you.”

  “One of who?”

  “Paul and Natalie, of course. They’ve fallen madly in love.”

  “Natalie? My sister Natalie? With Paul? I don’t believe you.”

  “It’s true. I saw it with my own eyes.”

  “No, I don't believe it.”

  “Ring and vow in judge's chambers. I was a little disappointed that they couldn't wait for the church, but how could I hold apart two people who love each other so much?”

  “Why did you come here today? Was it just to throw this in my face?”

  “I wanted to wish you a happy birthday in person. I’m only sorry that I couldn’t make it sooner.”

  “Bullshit. You wanted to gloat. You wanted to torture me. Haven’t I already suffered enough? When is this ever going to end?”

  “My darling, I do wish you’d stop thinking that I’m out to get you. I came here with the very best of intentions. I’ve missed so many of your birthdays…”

  “You missed this one too. You’re a month late.”

  “And it’s high time I started making up for it. You need me now, Avery. More than ever.”

  Faye wrapped her arms around her daughter, and initially, Avery savored the feeling, but then she realized that she loathed the source too much and wriggled free.

  “If Paul really is with Natalie then I doubt you’re really as happy as you’re acting,” Avery said and then shook her head in sad realization. “So that’s why you’re here. You’re mad at Natalie for being with Paul, and you figured I’d be mad at her too. Well, I’m sorry, Mom. If you thought you’d be able to get me to form some alliance against her, you’re sadly mistaken.”

  “It’s not just her, Avery. Paul has betrayed you too,” she replied. “He told us about the letter.”

  “Letter?”

  “The one you sent him four years ago. He told us all about it. He was mocking it, mocking each and every word of love you declared for him. He’s not the boy you remember. He’s changed.”

  “But you’re alright with Natalie marrying him? You’re so full of shit,” she said and Faye replied with a swift, disciplinary hand across Avery’s cheek.

  “Get out,” Avery growled as she clutched her face.

  “Honey, I’m sorry,” she said as she reached out for her daughter, but the sound of someone clearing their throat caused her to turn to the two girls and one girlish boy staring her down from the doorway.

  “Mrs. Norton, it’s so nice to finally meet you,” Flint said with sarcastic cordiality. “We’ve heard so much about you.”

  “All good, I hope,” she chuckled nervously, but the sour expressions on their faces said it all, and their cold eyes forced her to her feet. “I should get going, but I’d like to see you again, Avery. Soon. We really can’t let so much time pass between visits.”

  “That’s never been up to me.”

  “I know, and I’m going to remedy everything. I’m going to be a much better mother to you. You need me, and I need you.”

  “I told you to get out,” Avery stated with her eyes averted, and Faye nodded in surrender, but before she walked out of the room, she turned viciously.

  “None of you really understand, do you? You want to make me the bad guy, Avery? You want to believe that I don’t care? Go ahead. But I do care. I care deeply. All I’ve ever wanted was for us to be a loving, wholesome family, and you and Natalie have fought me every step of the way. Your rebellion cast me as the villain, and I’ll play the part if you want. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if all of your parents feel the same way. If you believe we're evil, what else can we be but evil?” she asked, and Avery watched as her friends’ resolve wilted. “It's no wonder they don’t come to visit you.”

&n
bsp; “Don’t listen to her. Your parents don’t visit because they’re scared. They’re not trying to punish you. She’s the only one who thinks like that,” Avery said.

  “How could a child know how a parent thinks? They don’t visit because you blame them, because you embarrass them, because you refuse to be normal. They don’t visit because they’ve given up on you. But unlike your parents, I will not give up on Avery. Some people just ignore the problem, but not me. I endure, I study, I learn how to correct the problem. That Jack Graham fellow knew how to fix his problems, and I've learned how too.”

  As Faye walked out, she made sure to notice how the children’s heads fell in shame, and when she saw Avery’s spiteful glare, she smiled in success. There was a silence that seemed almost solid; it encased them in agitated misery and filled their minds with scores of doubts that were echoed in their expressions. Avery didn’t know what to say. She was angry at her mother, no doubt, but her anger was larger than that. As her friends walked out with their heads bowed, she felt a definite hardening of her heart. She grasped the brass ring so tightly that when she finally opened her fist, there was a purple indentation across her palm. She pried up the floorboard where she kept her diary and dropped the brass ring inside without a second thought before slamming the board back into place. She didn’t expect another visit from her mother and nothing further about Paul and Natalie, so with that slam, she declared the past the past and the future completely dependent on her progression. She repeated it as she laid down, but as she stared up at the ceiling, she found herself searching the emptiness. She wasn’t sure what she was searching for, but she couldn’t seem to shake the image of Paul looking up at her as she ordered him away. She'd made him run. She’d made everybody run.

  “No!” her heart shouted to her mind. “It wasn’t your fault. You may have made them run, but your mother laid the track and lit the fire beneath them. You were just the unfortunate billows.”

  She closed her eyes with every intention of putting her mind to bed, but it only became more talkative as the minutes clicked by and reminded her that in Taunton, time heals no wounds. In Taunton, time was only circumstantial.

  To Natalie, time was also an enemy, but for very different reasons. She’d managed to keep her pregnancy a secret from her mother for a few months, but Faye had weaseled it out of her in the same way she had gotten the engagement out of her. As Paul and Natalie stood before the Judge, Faye stood at her daughter’s side like a dutiful maid-of-honor while the bride tried to hold in her swelling stomach. She tried so hard to focus on her vows and keep her eyes fixed on her future husband, but they inevitably slipped away.

 
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