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Rabbits in the garden, p.13

Rabbits in the Garden, page 13

 

Rabbits in the Garden
 


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  “No, they didn’t. Unfortunately, she didn’t live to keep that appointment,” Faye replied, and Avery could tell that she was smiling. “So you see, Avery, I do still have a few cards to play.”

  “You bitch.”

  “Say one more word and I won’t let you come to her funeral,” Faye warned, and when Avery didn’t respond, she chuckled softly. “It’s tomorrow at Sacred Heart. I’ve already spoken with your doctors, and they’ve agreed to let you out for a few hours - under the supervision of a policeman and an orderly.”

  “You mean in handcuffs.”

  “Well, you are a criminal, Avery, but you are still my daughter and Natalie’s sister. I’d think you’d endure anything to see her one last time, even if its to be laid to rest,” Faye said. “But if you do anything, if you say anything…”

  “I won’t.”

  “Good. I’ll see you tomorrow then.”

  “Wait. Will be Paul be there?” she asked, but the only response was the deafening click of Faye severing the connection.

  “I’m sorry about your sister,” Nurse Radcliffe said as Avery hung up the phone. “Didn’t she just have a baby?”

  “Yes. A girl.”

  “At least that’s something, some consolation for your poor mother: a granddaughter to love and nurture.”

  “That’s what I’m afraid of,” Avery whispered.

  “What’s wrong?” Flint asked when Avery walked into the room without a drop of color in her face.

  “My sister is dead.”

  “What? How?”

  “My mom said it was an accident, faulty wires, but I don’t buy it.”

  “So what happened then?” Flint asked, and Avery looked at her sadly as she bit her lip. “You think your mom did it, don’t you? Just like you think she killed those people.”

  “I know she killed them.”

  “But I thought they were just cut up and stuff.”

  “She mentioned that guy from the news, remember? Jack Graham? Didn’t he make a bomb that killed his mother?”

  “I think so. What are you going to do?”

  “I’m going to say goodbye to my sister and honor my promise to her. I have to watch out for Sophie. God knows what would happen if my mom got a hold of her,” she replied. “She may have thought her secret would die with Natalie, but I still have Paul. I can still get out of here.”

  “Avery, the more I hear you say that, the crazier it sounds.”

  “Natalie believed me, Flint. Why can’t you?”

  “Because the innocent ones are few and far between. Wouldn’t you agree?”

  “But you know me. In the five years we’ve known each other, have I done anything that made me appear capable of murder? Have I ever done anything crazier than protest my innocence?”

  “No. Even in the most messed up parts of my mind, I can’t imagine you doing those things,” Flint replied. “I know you’re not crazy, Avery, at least not like the rest of us. It's because you’re not crazy that I’m going to miss you so much. I didn’t think a normal person could ever be friends with someone like me. You’ll get out of here and go live a normal life, but I’ll just get passed on to another ward to be someone else’s problem.”

  “Flint, if there’s anything I’ve learned in here, it’s that ‘normal’ is subjective.”

  “And if I’ve learned anything, it’s that even with as normal as you are, you’re in for a heap of judgment at that funeral, Avery.”

  “At this point, I think I’d feel more uncomfortable if people weren’t judging me,” she replied.

  “When do you leave?”

  “The funeral’s tomorrow.”

  “Then you should be back before my birthday,” she said and then added sadly, “before I get moved.”

  “You’re my best friend and I wouldn’t miss it for the world. But if you don’t mind, I’d kinda like to be alone right now. To say goodbye to Natalie in my own way.”

  “Of course. If you need anything…” Flint said as she squeezed Avery’s hand and left her to grieve.

  Avery spoke a thousand words that could never match the sheer volume of her tears. She spent hours apologizing through shuddering sobs, not knowing what she was apologizing for, and the rest of the time, she repeated the vow she'd made to her sister.

  “I’ll never let Sophie feel alone either, Natalie, and I won’t let Mom get her hands on her.”

  The morning was wet and gray, but it was appropriate. Dressed in an ill-fitting sheath dress that Flint had lent her, Avery pressed her wrists together and allowed the cold metal to close around them.

  “You aren’t too uncomfortable, are you?” Patrick the orderly asked.

  “Would it make any difference if I said ‘yes’?” she replied, but he didn’t answer.

  He just said, “It’s chilly,” and draped a wool coat over Avery shoulders. She knew then that it was probably the most sympathy she was likely to get that day.

  Both the orderly and Officer Hanley were armed with their respective weapons: Hanley with a club and pistol and Patrick with plenty of syringes, but before they left the ward, Avery was coaxed into taking two doses of vitamin T. As soon as she was strapped into the car, the pills knocked her out, and although she woke up during the ferry ride to the island, she was too woozy to stay awake for long. She didn’t mind though; there were few places that could’ve been more comforting than the start of the dream she had during her travel, one in which she was coming home under much happier circumstances. Yes, a summer vacation is just what Avery needed: to be wild and free and scale the rooftops of Gingerbread Houses with youthful exuberance. And to make it even better, she wasn’t alone in her joy. Paul was there beside her, bronzed by a July sun, and although his beauty had been preserved by her memory, her imagination had granted him the glow of maturity. It was only an estimation, but it was an appealing one. When she looked down from the roof of the Wooden Valentine, she saw her mother’s garden stretching out to sea, and strolling between the rows of daylilies, she saw Natalie wearing a halo of sunlight. Soft music on the breeze swept Natalie up, and she began to dance through the garden. As the sun fled from the sky, she continued to dance, unaware of the ghastly shadows creeping up behind her. Avery called out warnings to her, but Natalie could only hear the music. She couldn’t even hear the sound of a crying child growing louder with each swell of the melody. The sea swelled too, and it doused the sun completely, but there was still light surrounding Natalie’s face. Even as the darkness oozed towards her, her expression stayed serene and her movements indifferent to the impending danger. Avery screamed frantically, but nothing could break Natalie’s serenity. The dark garden grew immense behind her and the plants amalgamated into a menacing beast with enormous fangs that curled over Natalie’s head. Avery shrieked in horror as its mouth lowered, and with a snap, its jaws slammed closed on Natalie and permanently extinguished her light. The beast crashed to the ground and the garden became a swirling black pit which such strength that the ornate trim and décor from the Wooden Valentine began ripping away. Avery clung to the roof as shingles flew past her, but Paul stood beside her without a care in the world and started strolling to the edge of the roof. She tried to pull him back but he was always just out of reach, and just like Natalie, he smiled at her calmly while she screamed for him. When he outstretched his arms in surrender, he was plucked from the roof and tumbled down into the garden pit. He vanished into the darkness, but the only fear she heard came from her and the crying child sitting on the apex of the house.

  “Sophie!” she screeched as she dug her nails into the shingles and pulled herself toward the baby, but when her fingers were only inches away, the garden’s vacuum drastically increased and it ripped Avery from the roof.

  As she was tossed by the wind and sucked down into the vortex, Sophie cried louder, but it wasn’t because Avery had been taken or because the world was being swallowed. She was crying because of the woman lifting her up and cradling her as if she was her own. The last thin
g Avery heard before the darkness devoured her was the woman hushing the baby and saying softly,

  “Sophie, I’m giving you the garden.”

  Avery awoke with a shriek that caused Officer Hanley to reach for his club, but Patrick gestured for him to put it away.

  “Where are we?” Avery asked dazedly, but when she saw the Portuguese-American Club, she knew they were close to the Sacred Heart cemetery.

  Her dress was rumpled and hiked, and it was difficult to readjust it with her hands cuffed, so she had to ask Patrick to pull it down before she got out of the car. The weather hadn’t improved in the slightest, and as the fog rolled through the graveyard, it looked like something out of a scary movie. The mourners were already gathered around a grave, but she couldn’t see their faces. Even when they turned to stare at her, the fog obscured their faces and Avery thought that it might be just another dream; there was even the sound of a crying baby. The chatter began as soon as she surmounted the hill. The voices were garbled but obviously pointed in intent, and when she shrank back, Patrick asked her if she wanted to leave. At first, she actually considered it, but when a familiar man stepped through the fog, the look on his face drew her forward. It was an expression she’d only ever seen twice before, and both times, it had belonged to Paul. It was one of equal sadness and adoration, and it captivated her completely, but Officer Hanley grabbed her arm before she could pick up her pace to meet him.

  “Hello, Avery.”

  His greeting sounded like a sigh of relief, and when she whispered his name, he closed his eyes to better absorb it. He looked just how she’d pictured him. He was still the tall, trim boy she remembered, but he had acquired more than a few stylish charms. She moved from his ice blue eyes to the ones looking up at her from between the folds of the pink blanket in Paul’s arms. She reached out to touch Sophie’s cheek, but even if her handcuffs hadn’t stopped her, Patrick and Hanley were right there to pull her back. Avery scanned the rest of the mourners and found many of them unfamiliar only because she wasn’t used to them looking at her with such disdain. Her eyes crawled around the circle until she found Faye: the most disdainful of all. She had a black veil pulled over her eyes, but Avery could still see every glare as she took her place next to Paul on the opposite side of the grave.

  Sophie was crying, but Avery didn’t mind the noise. She wished she could be so open with her emotions, but instead, she tried as best she could to subdue them. She gritted her teeth, striving to keep her lips clamped shut, but they eventually trembled open and caught her falling tears. Because of her own rampant thoughts drowning him out, she didn’t hear most of what the priest said, but she did note that “ashes to ashes and dust to dust” was all too evocative.

  “Would anyone like to say a few words?” he asked.

  “I would,” Faye replied, and once she was standing at the head of the tomb, her eyes fell on Avery and Paul. “This is a sad day, and it’s one I never imagined I’d see. But we must try to take what comfort that we can from it. We’re together. I’m sorry that it took this to bring us together, but here we are, all loving Natalie, all missing her. Today is for her. It’s for her and for her young daughter who will never know the kind of woman she was. She was a strong woman. She was my daughter, and she was a strong woman,” Faye said and wiped away a few fake tears amidst the real ones. “I hope that she’s happy now. I tried to make an example in myself for both of my daughters, and all I can do is hope they take the lessons they’ve learned in this life and use them well in the next. I know that she sees us now. I know that she’s watching, and I hope she knows I’m still watching her. We all are.”

  The mourners nodded, but Avery and Paul’s heads didn’t even bob. They understood the double meaning in everything Faye had said.

  “I only have one more thing to say. I know it’s not exactly the best time, but I feel it’s somewhat appropriate,” she said and withdrew a piece of paper from her coat. “This is a letter Natalie wrote to me before her death, before Sophie was born actually. There are things in it that shame me as her mother, but I’m not here to judge her. That’s God’s job. I’m here to honor her wishes, wishes she disclosed to me in this letter.”

  She sighed heavily, and to everyone else, it was the epitome of the sorrowful mother preparing to delve deeper into her sadness, but Avery and Paul exchanged glances that knew better.

  “Dear Mom, two months to go! Part of me can’t wait until it’s all over, and the other part wishes it would never end. I don’t know how you did it twice, but I’m glad you’re around to help me through it. Now I have to tell you the real reason for this letter: I need to tell you something, and it’s something you’re probably not going to like. If I could keep it hidden forever, I would, but things have gotten a bit scary, and I don’t know what to do anymore. The truth is that I’m in love with another man, and I’ve been seeing him behind Paul’s back.”

  A collective gasp arose from the circle, and all eyes shot to Paul who tried his best not to meet anyone’s gaze.

  “Paul knows all about it though,” Faye continued. “I couldn’t bear to hide it anymore, so I told him everything. He did not react well. I can’t exactly blame him for being angry, but it just keeps getting worse. He yells at me all the time. He threatens me, and he threatens the life of our child. And now, he’s hitting me too - ”

  “What are you doing, Faye?” Paul asked.

  “I’m just trying to tell the truth, Paul. Natalie wanted me to know these things, and I want the world to know them.”

  “But they’re lies! Natalie didn’t write that! She’s lying!” Paul protested.

  “I’d actually like to hear the rest of the letter,” Officer Hanley said sternly as he looked at Paul with his hand on his club.

  “Thank you, Officer. I’m glad you’re here, and I’m glad the others will be here soon too,” Faye said.

  “What others?” Paul asked, but Faye just cleared her throat and resumed reading.

  “I’m afraid, Mom. I’m afraid that he might do something to me and Noah. He talks about it sometimes. He talks about how he might do it so no one would ever find us. Sometimes I think he’s joking, but there are times when I think he’s completely serious. If he wanted to, I think he could just blow us up, and no one would ever know he did it.”

  “You’re unbelievable. You’re sick!” Paul growled.

  “If something happens to me, please take care of my baby. Please keep her safe,” Faye continued, but Paul burst forward and ripped the letter out of her hands.

  Officer Hanley and Patrick rushed toward him, and while Patrick took Sophie out of Paul’s arms, Hanley struck him in the shoulder with his club. The people shrieked and scattered, but Avery stood frozen, staring at her mother’s satisfied expression at watching three police cars pull up to the cemetery.

  “Right on time,” she whispered.

  The police ran up the hill, and while they wrestled Paul to the ground and cuffed his hands behind his back, Patrick handed the crying child to Faye.

  Seeing Sophie in Faye’s arms promptly melted Avery’s shock and pushed her forward. She screamed as she barreled towards Faye with her cuffed hands reaching for her throat, but she was only able to grab a handful of hair before Patrick wrenched her off.

  “I’m only doing what’s best for Sophie,” Faye said in a dramatically wounded voice. “I wish you could understand. It’s what Natalie wanted.”

  “Bullshit! You’re a liar and a murderer! You’re the last person who should have custody of her. You’re the one who did this to us! You’re the one who deserved to die!”

  When Patrick tried to cover her mouth, she chomped down on his hand and wriggled free of his grasp, but she didn’t get very far before she felt the distinctive pain of a needle penetrating her neck. Vitamin P charged through her veins like fire, and as she sank to the ground, the world became a dizzy pool of pale color. With her cheek planted against the soil intended to cover her sister’s grave, she saw Paul still pinned to the
ground. Their gaze was only moments long, but they held onto it for as long as possible.

  “Thank you, Avery,” Paul whispered. “Thank you for trying.”

  The police pulled him to his feet, and as they started leading him to the car, Sophie’s cries turned shrill and Faye clutched her tighter. The sedative made it difficult for Avery to lift her head, but she fought against the strong desire to sleep and looked up at her mother. Faye was only smiling slightly, but to Avery, she was laughing; she was slapping her knee and pointing at the fools she’d conquered so easily.

  “Not smart, Avery. Really, not smart,” Patrick said as he scooped her up, but Avery heard him speaking in her mother’s voice.

  The sedative was so strong, she couldn’t hold onto her senses for long, but before she lost consciousness, she opened her eyes as wide as she possibly could and looked at her mother. She heard Paul’s gratitude repeating in her mind, and as the curtain fell, Avery said,

  “I will never stop trying.”

  A strange smell crept through the tiny hole in Avery’s oblivion and found its way into her dreams. There were many different facets to the odor, but the two strongest attributes were contradicting ones. The first was a clean but sharp smell, and the other was savagely raw and strangely smoky like a cinder that had jumped the hearth. The smell grew stronger as her consciousness returned, and when she opened her eyes and saw the gurney in the center of the room, a justified panic seized Avery’s mind. She’d never seen the room firsthand, but she’d heard enough stories to know exactly where she was.

  “Assault, Avery?” Nurse Meredith asked as she unbuckled the straps on the gurney. “That’s something we just can’t tolerate.”

  “I didn’t mean to hurt Patrick. I don’t want to hurt anyone but my mom,” she whispered dryly.

  “That’s a horrible thing to say. That poor woman has been to hell and back these past few years.”

  “A hell of her own design. She’s the cause of all of this. She should be the one in here; not me.”

  “I really thought you were progressing. We all did. We thought you actually stood a chance of getting better without us having to resort to this.”

 
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