Rabbits in the garden, p.19
Rabbits in the Garden, page 19
“I’m not leaving you, Avery. You’ll never be alone. Never again,” Paul said, looking as beautiful as ever as he sat beside her, holding her hand.
“Never. I never want it to end,” she whispered.
“End? No, Avery, this is only the beginning.”
An antiseptic smell wafted in and roused Avery from her dreams, but she didn’t open her eyes for fear of finding herself back in a certain room at Taunton.
“Open your eyes,” Paul said softly, and she obeyed, expecting to see his sweet face, but instead, she saw a face that was unfamiliar and far less sweet.
“Finally decided to come around, huh?” the nurse asked.
“Where am I?”
“Martha's Vineyard Hospital,” she replied and Avery groaned. “You were very lucky. Someone must be watching over you.”
“Someone always is,” she replied. “Where's Sophie?”
“The baby? She's in the ICU, but I think she's going to be alright. It looks like you got the worse of it. Well except for...”
The nurse cleared her throat and forced a smile before walking out, but when Avery's eyes followed her, she realized that there was a shadowy figure sitting in the corner. It was also then that she realized her wrists were tethered to the handrails of the bed.
“Don't struggle,” the ominous figure scolded. “You have some pretty bad burns on your wrists, and you wouldn't want to make them worse, would you?”
There were several bandages wrapped around her hands and arms, but what frightened her more than her injuries was the absence of her engagement ring.
“Where is it?” she snarled as Faye stepped into the light and looked down on her daughter in what Avery perceived as a look of amused satisfaction. “Where's my ring?”
“Just because I took the first ring he gave you doesn't mean I took this one. Besides, it doesn't matter now anyway. You can’t marry a corpse.”
Avery growled as she fought against her bonds and tried to claw at her mother, but when Faye's only reaction was lilting laughter, Avery flopped back down and screamed in frustration.
“Don't act like such a child. You know as well as I that these restraints won't hold you for long. You escaped from Taunton, remember? This place is nothing. Congratulations, by the way. I appreciate you implicating yourself in the other explosions by setting the hospital on fire. Like mother, like daughter, I suppose.”
“I'm nothing like you.”
“No? Tell that to the innocent people you burned alive in Taunton. Was it worth it, Avery: killing all of those people just to end up here? Have you ever thought that maybe this happened because you killed those people? Have you thought that maybe God took Paul away because of what you took from so many others?”
“If God worked like that, you'd be suffering worse than me.”
“That’s where you’re wrong. Everyone I killed, I killed for Him, to honor Him. You killed those people for you, and there wasn't a scrap of honor in it.”
“Where was the honor in killing Anna Mulberry? She was just a nanny.”
“Nobody is just anything. From what you knew of her, I can imagine why’d she’d seem like an innocent person, but from what I knew and saw, she was no better than a mismatched rabbit. I did her a favor by releasing her. I’m not the monster you think I am, and you’re not the victim you think you are. Look at you, Avery. I don’t even recognize you anymore.”
“That we can agree on.”
“Can't you also agree that it’s time for this to stop? Don't you want this whole thing to be over? Think of everything you've lost, Avery. You’re all that’s left. Don’t you think it’s about time to cut and run? You should be taking this time to grieve, not to come after me.”
“As if you'd ever let me go. How can I trust that I wouldn't get a rude awakening one morning: a gardening bag at the foot of my bed?”
“I'm done trying to teach you a lesson you refuse to learn. I gave you the chance to be with Paul just like you wanted, but you had to be difficult. You had to fight against what was best for you.”
“What chance? You never would've let us be together.”
“Wrong. I gave you the chance to be together in death.”
“Bullshit. You think I'm going to Hell for my sins. So, Paul and I couldn't be together in death, could we?”
“Wrong again. I believed he was going to Hell too,” she replied. “Please don't press this, Avery. You can’t win. Just go. Leave. Disappear.”
“What about Sophie?”
“Sophie stays with me. That's the deal,” Faye replied.
“But you tried to kill her!” Avery protested.
“That doesn't mean I don't love her. Just like I love you,” Faye said and stroked her daughter's cheek.
Without a second's pause, Avery spat in her mother’s face, and Faye immediately responded with a cruel slap across Avery's burned cheek. She wiped away the offense with her handkerchief and tossed it at Avery with a snarl.
“You brought this all on yourself. You started this all those years ago when you let Paul have his way with you.”
“We were just kids. We didn't do anything wrong!” Avery protested.
“That's what they all say. They all clutch their chests in shock when they hear their sins retold, but they know. They knew with every smile, every kiss, every dirty little touch that they were poisoning themselves and the rest of the world. They knew every time they walked out the door, they were heading through another, one that would lead them to another woman, another man, another sin upon sin upon sin.”
“You really have lost your mind,” Avery whispered in fright.
“No, it's you, Avery. You're the one who's lost, and if you don't believe me about that, believe me about this: if you ever come after us, if you ever try to get Sophie, I will tell the world everything. Everything you have and haven't done. And when they capture you, they won't just lock you up in an asylum. They'll lobotomize you, Avery, so you can never hurt anyone ever again.”
“Why do you hate me so much? It can't just be about me and Paul. Why are you so intent on torturing me? Please, just tell me.”
“What, and put you out of your misery?” she asked with a sneer and headed for the door.
“Wait: where's my ring?” Avery asked and Faye shook her head sadly.
“Don't press this, Avery. Don't throw your life away pursuing me. You’re young, and now that you're blond, you shouldn't have any trouble picking up some pathetic man who will be willing to put up with your baggage in exchange for - well, you know perfectly well, don't you?”
“You're so wrong about me, it's scary. You think I'm some kind of slut, but I haven't even...I've never...” she started but then lowered her head as the tears came. “You robbed me of that, of my first time with him and every other time for the rest of our lives.”
“You're better off, trust me. When they're trying to get it, you're something special, but once they've gotten it, you're just another place they've already been. Paul wouldn't have been any different. He would've told you he was working late, but while you were home with a baby or two, he'd be off screwing someone else. That was your future until I stepped in and rescued you, and I'll do the same for Sophie. As soon as she’s recovered, I’ll start teaching her. That's the key: start early. I waited too long with you and Natalie, but I'll have Sophie tending the garden before she starts walking. Speaking of which, I should really get her home.”
“You're going to ruin her just like you ruined me.”
“No, you ruined yourself when you rebelled. It's all you, Avery. Every drop of blood spilt, every life lost: it's all on you. Learn to live with it or live in misery, but whatever you choose, stay away from us. I don't want to see your face. I don't even want to hear your voice. Do we understand each other?”
She tried to look her mother in the eye, but there was a lovely apparition behind Faye that stole Avery's attention.
“Say 'yes',” Paul whispered. “Tell her you understand. Don't worry; she'll
“Yes, I understand,” Avery replied robotically and when Faye smiled in victory, so did Paul.
Faye started out the door, but before Avery could relish the bittersweet warmth of solitude, her mother stuck her head back in the room with a blazing grin.
“By the way, you didn’t say anything about my new necklace. I wore it especially for you,” she sang as she held out a silver chain with Avery’s engagement ring dangling from it.
Avery exploded with rage and Faye chuckled as she walked out again, but when Paul sat beside her, she found she couldn’t be angry when heaven was so close.
She had seen the emery board in the nurse's front pocket, but it was Paul who told her how to covertly slip her hand in and grab it, as well as how to position it in order to slice her restraints. The straps dug into her burns as she filed them thinner and thinner, and when they were only strings, she tore them free with a grunt.
“The window is unlocked, but you have to be quiet. If they catch you - well, you don't want them to catch you,” Paul said.
“Where will I go?”
“I know a place not too far away. Do you remember our camping trips? In the woods in Oak Bluffs?”
“I could never forget it. Do you really think I can make it there?”
“You have to, Avery,” he said as he kissed her bandaged hands. “Now, go. I’ll be there waiting for you, and I won’t be alone.”
She found some clothes hanging on a line just a few miles down the street, but the true find was the canvas boy scout tent hanging beside them and the can of sterno sitting on the porch. With the damp clothes donned and tent rolled up under her arm, she set off toward the woods where she’d first realized just how much she cared for Paul Dillon. It made her somewhat sad to think back on those days knowing that they could never exist again, but Paul's lingering voice in her mind told her to dry her tears and pick up her pace.
“I'll be there waiting for you, and I won't be alone.”
However, when she reached their campground, she found herself still hopelessly alone. She pitched the tent alone, watched the sun set alone, and as she settled down to go to sleep, she had to resign herself to the possibility that no matter what her mind told her, she might be in for doing a lot of things alone. The night whispered in a hundred different voices, but none of them were the voice she longed to hear most. Paul's presence in the hospital had cast a spell over her, and now that he'd been gone for several hours, the spell was breaking. Once again, was starting to question something she had just regained confidence in: her sanity. She tried to lose her worries in sleep, but the wind was a bothersome bedfellow. It nipped at her feet and shook her tent and imitated all manner of monsters to keep Avery's eyes peeled and her heart racing. Her pulse didn't slow until she felt the warmth of a hand graze her cheek, and when soft lips touched her forehead, she felt the smile that bloomed across her face in every inch of her body. His eyes glittered of their own volition and lit his face with a soft glow that bled onto her skin when he lowered to kiss her. She enjoyed every gentle touch, but with each one, the alarm sounding in her mind got louder and louder. Eventually, she couldn’t take the din anymore and rolled away from Paul.
“What is it, Avery? What's wrong?”
“Do you really have to ask?” she sobbed. “You’re dead, Paul. I saw you. I felt you.”
“But I'm here, Avery. I don't know how, but I am. Please don't start thinking I'm not supposed to be here; I'm afraid it'll rip me away.”
“I can't help it. Part of me wants to give in and believe that its really you, but the other part...”
“The other part doesn't matter. The other part is your logic, and there's nothing logical about love,” he chuckled and peppered her face with kisses. “I love you, Avery, and I refuse to let a little thing like death stop us from being together.”
“It's not fair. We were so close to having everything,” she whispered.
“We can get even closer,” he said, and with his hand clamped around the back of her neck, he pressed his lips against hers, and she couldn’t do anything but surrender to it.
It no longer mattered whether it was sane or not. He tasted too good for her to ever pull away. There in the same woods where her feelings for Paul had first blossomed, Avery came full circle - in a variety of ways. His love was deeper than she'd ever envisioned on those lonely nights in Taunton, and with each delicious surge of passion, her mind emptied until there was only him: the boy who always believed in her. And she believed in him. She believed in each touch and gentle thrust and declaration of love he whispered achingly into her ear. It didn't last long, but it was all she needed; just to be with him in a way she thought she might never get to experience. She played it over and over in her mind afterwards as they lay in each other's arms.
“You're beautiful,” he said as he stroked her face. “Open your eyes, my love.”
She slowly lifted her eyelids to see his ice blue irises, but looking beyond them caused her to scream in terror, and she tried to wiggle out from beneath him.
“What's wrong, Avery? Don't you love me anymore?”
The flesh on his face had been peeled back by the flames, and what was left was soggy with seawater. His teeth were blackened and hair burnt down to sticky stubble, and when he touched her face, his charred bone scraped against her skin.
“No, please God, no!” Avery moaned.
“We're together, Avery. That's all that matters. You and me.”
“And me,” a familiar voice said from behind the tent flap, and when it flew open, Avery screamed at the scorched face of her sister staring in at her from lidless eyes.
She was smiling, but the grin was only discernible on the right side of her face where a bit of the muscle still remained.
“No!” Avery howled as she pushed Paul and Natalie aside and flew out of the tent, but once she stood in the clearing, she was surrounded on all sides by a mob of charred corpses.
There were dozens of faces, and she found a great many of them familiar, even through their disfiguration. Familiar or not, they knew Avery for sure, as did the maimed rabbits hopping around her feet. There was a large animal chasing the rabbits, but Avery couldn’t tell what it was. In addition to being burnt beyond recognition, its characteristics didn’t lend themselves to any species she’d ever seen. However, when a scorched girl ran over and scooped up the animal into her arms, Avery finally recognized them as Brianne and her imaginary cohort Tyler - no, not imaginary. Not even invisible. After that, she began to recognize all of them. From Rachel and Frankie to those who served more as scenery on the Taunton stage in Avery’s life. One such person was Violet, vacant as ever, but oddly, she wasn’t burnt like the rest of the ward. There was another face, however, that drew Avery's attentions. She barely had a face left, but the way she fidgeted with her clothes instantly gave her away. Avery wanted so badly to embrace Flint, but she was so afraid.
“I told you you'd never be alone again,” Paul said as he tried to wrap his arms around her waist, but she shoved him back and fell to the ground with a sob.
“Please don't hurt me,” she stammered between frightful wails.
“We don't want to hurt you, Avery,” Flint said.
“It's true. We're here to help you,” Nurse Meredith hissed through a broken smile.
“Stay away from me, all of you!”
Natalie knelt beside Avery and placed her hand on her knee as delicately as she could, but the crispy skin caused Avery to cringe and curl herself into a trembling ball.
“Please, Avery, don’t be afraid of me. I know what this must seem like, but we really are here to help you,” Natalie attested. “No one here despises or blames you for anything. There's not one death here that didn't originate with Mom. You're safe, I promise.”
“Then why are you here?”
“You have a lot of work to do, Avery. You can’t let Mom get away with what she did to us.”
“I can't stop her. Every time I
“I'd rather have my daughter in my dead arms than have Mom succeed in corrupting her.”
“I can’t. She’s too strong.”
“You’re stronger, Avery,” Paul said. “We all believe you are. We all believe in you.”
“You do?” she asked meekly, and the charred crowd nodded collectively.
“And we're not the only ones,” Natalie said.
When the hoards parted, someone she hadn't seen in over a decade stepped forward. Deep lacerations obstructed his face, he had a massive gash in his throat, and his clothes were soaked through with blood, but she recognized him immediately. She reached out to him, and when he lifted her up, she noticed that several of his fingers were missing, but his hand upon her cheek felt wonderful nevertheless.
“Dad? Daddy?” she whimpered and Jason Norton hugged his daughter joyfully.
“Avery, my little girl, my little button,” he said and cradled her face. “Avery, you have to do this for us. I know you’re scared, but you’re the only one left who has the strength to stop her. None of us can rest until Faye gets her comeuppance, and you'll never have a full and happy life until she does.”
by Jessica McHugh have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes