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Rabbits in the garden, p.9

Rabbits in the Garden, page 9

 

Rabbits in the Garden
 


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  The nurses sedated Sheila and loaded her into a wheelchair, and the girls stood in awe as she was wheeled past them and out of the ward. Avery awaited Sheila’s return with morbid curiosity. On the couch in the common room, her eyes constantly darted back and forth from the television to Violet to the ward doors. Each time she heard the sound of wheels on the linoleum, she turned around expecting to see Sheila being pushed back down the hall, but by the time the clock struck 1AM, her curiosity was conquered by her exhaustion.

  She jolted out of her dream suddenly but with no indication to what had roused her. She thought it had been a scream, or at least a yelp, but the ward was still and quiet, and she allowed herself to drift back to sleep. In the morning, Sheila was nowhere to be seen, and her door was still shut which made more than a few girls uneasy. After an hour of debating whether something should be done, the girls convinced Avery to knock on the door.

  “Sheila, are you alright?” she whispered, and when there was no response, she slowly began twisting the doorknob.

  She assumed that, mid-turn, she would hear Sheila telling her to go away, but she heard nothing. Avery eased the door open and illuminated the dark room. Her eyes automatically went to the bed, but it was empty except for a strange shadow splashed across the sheets. When she walked further into the room, she recoiled in the realization that the shadow was blood. A soft coo from the corner caused Avery to jump, and peering through the dimness, she saw Sheila crouched in the closet with a bundle of blankets in her arms. Her face lifted to Avery, and it was as white as snow except for the spots of blood across her chin and cheeks. As Avery cautiously approached, Sheila clutched her bundle tighter and the soft noise came again…but not from her.

  “Sheila, are you okay? Are you hurt?”

  She nodded “yes” but when she looked down at her bundle, she whispered, “No.”

  She pulled back the blanket for Avery to see the biggest, bluest eyes she’d ever seen, and although the baby was covered with blood and viscera, she could see the mother in the child’s fair face.

  “What’s going on? Is she okay or not?” Flint asked as she stormed into the room, and when she saw the baby in Sheila’s arms, she gasped loudly.

  “Quiet,” she hissed. “I don’t want Meredith to hear. Close the door.”

  “Sheila, you can’t keep this a secret. Babies cry. Plus, it probably needs medical attention, and so do you,” Flint said.

  “She; not it,” she corrected and kissed her daughter’s forehead.

  “How did this happen?”

  “The last thing I remember was being here, getting vitamins. I blacked out, and when I woke up, I didn't know where I was. I didn't know who I was.”

  “Sheila, what are you talking about?”

  “I was all...Violet-ish,” she explained. “It wasn't long after my memory came back that the pain began. Then, there was her.”

  “Flint is right. You have to tell someone.”

  “No. I know what they'll do. I've seen babies born in here. I know what happens, and so do you , Flint. They'll take her away. I'll never see her again!”

  “Yeah, I know what will happen, but you can't do this on your own. How did this even happen? I haven’t seen any of your boyfriends here since last Christmas.”

  “It was the dare, I presume.”

  “You mean Frankie is the father? Well, at the very least, we have to tell him,” Flint said.

  “No one can know,” she said as she grabbed Flint’s wrist and pulled her close. “No one. Do you understand?”

  “Yes.”

  “Avery?”

  “I won’t say anything, but Sheila, my God - ”

  “No one can know,” she said sternly, and the two girls nodded as Sheila hugged her baby to her chest and kissed her forehead.

  No one did know - for about five hours. When the baby started wailing and Sheila couldn’t mask the distinctive noise, the nurses burst into her room to find her desperately trying to hush the baby. She screamed as they pried the child out of her hands and thrashed against the nurses trying to hold her back, and even as the sedative flooded into her veins, she kicked and screeched and reached for her baby. Avery watched in horror as Sheila finally surrendered to the drug and wilted to the floor, but her eyes stayed on the baby, clinging to those last moments before mother and daughter were torn apart forever. It broke Avery’s heart to see the broken mother being dragged away from her crying newborn, and she never craved her own mother’s presence so badly: to be held and consoled and made to believe that the terrible sight, along with every other terrible sight in Taunton, was all just a bad dream. That night, once Flint was asleep, Avery ripped a page out of her diary and began to write. Since the incident with Sheila, she'd been thinking of her mother, for sure, but she’d also been thinking deeper than that. She thought of Sheila having that baby and how she herself had envisioned having a baby of her own: with her husband, with someone she loved, with Paul perhaps. She was still young, but she couldn't deny that her mind had danced over the possibility once or twice. She had been so cruel to the boy she envisioned being “the one”, and she had to try to make amends whether he accepted her apology or not. It was rumored that the nurses read the patients' mail, but she didn't care. She poured her aching heart onto the page, and it bled down the paper with each falling tear.

  Dear Paul,

  I would understand if you throw away this letter as soon as you realize it’s from me. I would understand if you curse every word I write and tear them into a thousand pieces. I don’t deserve your consideration after what I did to you. There isn’t a day that passes that I don’t regret it. But still, I wouldn’t change it. I know it’s best for you to have a life that doesn’t include someone as crazy as me, but I still wish I was a part of your life. I know now that I loved you, that I still love you, and that’s why I had to turn away the day you came to see me. I hope you can understand that now. I am so alone, so scared. My mother always says she’ll come, but she never does. I haven’t seen her since I was first brought here. I question every thought that enters my mind and every memory I have. I question my innocence and now, there are days that I truly believe I’m guilty. There are days I believe I’m truly insane. There are days I want to die and feel like I deserve to die. But then there are days when all I can think about is you and how you used to look at me, and I can’t imagine that I was ever as bad as they say. I think of Natalie and wish she could forgive me and come visit me. I think of my mother and what she had to go through because of me, and I hate myself for it. But I also hate her because a part of me still wants to believe that she’s the cause of my suffering.

  This is the only letter I will write you, Paul, and I don’t expect a response. I just wanted you to know how much I still love you and how much you are still a part of my life even if I can’t be a part of yours.

  I just hope I have to courage to send this.

  Yours Always, Avery

  She cried for him, and she cried for herself, but most of all, she cried for what she'd lost: love, family, and all of the wonderful and terrible things the world outside of Taunton provided. The letter was sent, but she had no idea whether it would actually reach Paul or not, and if it did, she couldn’t be sure of his reaction. She dreamt that he would read the letter and come back to her, that he’d storm Taunton with guns blazing and rescue her from an agonized life, but as the years began to roll by, she grew less and less hopeful that anyone, let alone Paul, would ever come to save her from sorrow.

  CHAPTER SEVEN

  The new Arabian was a bit skittish. Two girls had already passed him by, and he stood in his stall with his head hung in apparent dejection. When Natalie walked past, he gave a sad little whinny that tugged at her heartstrings and she opened the door to his stall.

  “Come on then,” she sighed, and although he shied away at first, when she held out a handful of oats, he walked right up and buried his muzzle in her palm.

  As she was tacking him up, she hummed to hers
elf. It was something she’d trained herself to do so that she could drown out the many people who whispered,

  “Isn’t that the Norton girl? The sister of that girl who slaughtered all those people?”

  She had taken her mother up on the offer to change her last name to Hayworth, but she still got “the Norton girl” almost everywhere she went. Despite her success at staying out of the spotlight during the trial, she was still a celebrity to most New Englanders; much to her disdain, but she refused to turn tail and hide. When it came time for Natalie to start researching which university she wanted to attend, Faye suggested west coast schools that would distance her from the shame of her sister’s crimes, but Natalie wouldn’t even consider the notion. She was an east coast girl and she was dedicated to remaining one, public scrutiny or not. Although she considered branching out, she knew that she couldn’t leave Massachusetts. Despite all of her complaints about Dana Hall, she had grown to appreciate it and frequently visited the stables even after graduation. She was recognized there more than anywhere except for on Martha's Vineyard, but she didn’t care. The stables seemed more like home to her than any other place, even if she had to suffer constant stares and whispers, but she had become quite fond of Northeastern too. The coed environment suited her, and after a brief period of shy wading in coed waters, she took a large breath and swam straight to the deep end. Whenever her mother came for a visit, however, she swore up and down that she had no interest in the boys. She was in school to learn, after all. It was difficult when Faye dropped in at least once a month though. She always claimed that she happened to be in the neighborhood after visiting Avery, despite the fact that Taunton and Northeastern were hardly in the same neighborhood. Natalie would always ask how the visit was and if Avery was doing any better, but Faye never gave her much of an answer.

  “Oh, you have far more important things to think about,” she said.

  “But she is important to me. I wish - ”

  “I know, I know, but she doesn’t want to see you, Natalie. It’s struggle enough to calm her down for my visits, but I keep going anyway whether she wants me there or not. I’m her mother. Let me worry about her.”

  “I wish no one had to worry. I wish - ”

  “That's enough, Natalie. Must we spend this entire visit drudging up unpleasantness?”

  She hated how her Mom just shrugged off the fact that Natalie still cared for her sister. She’d wanted to visit her so many times, and it broke her heart to know that Avery didn’t want her around. She still couldn’t wrap her head around Avery doing those horrible things, but she hadn’t lived in that house for so long; who knows what had been going on while she was off island? She couldn’t imagine that Avery was capable of it, but she couldn’t really imagine anyone being capable of such things. When it first happened, her initial reaction was to call her mother a liar. She hadn’t remembered Avery having any blackouts or being prone to violence in the slightest, but if those things happened when she was a child herself, she might’ve just been too caught up in her own life to notice anyone else. At least, that’s how Faye explained it, and she’d had no choice but to accept it. There was a certain fishiness about the whole thing though, especially concerning the body of Natalie’s ex-boyfriend Tom being among the victims. Tom had fallen out of touch about the time Natalie had been shipped off to Dana Hall, and she’d assumed that his mother had reacted the same way as Faye had and shipped him away. She refused to believe that Avery killed him, but she wasn’t allowed to dispute it. She took it all in, knotted it up, and buried it in a hidden place that she seldom allowed to rise and tug at her heart. She knew it wasn’t the healthiest way to deal with the situation, but it was the only way she could be happy, or at the very least, pretend to be.

  It was youthful abandon that caused Natalie to be sent away to boarding school, but even with the strict tutelage there, university allowed the youthful abandon to come trickling and then streaming, back. By the end of her freshman year, she’d had four boyfriends her mother hadn’t known about, and as they never transitioned into the meaningful relationship she’d hoped for, she saw no need to tell her anything. There was only one boy she considered mentioning, but he’d ended their eight month tryst for a girl he’d met at a freshman orientation party. Natalie was upset, but she wasn’t exactly surprised. It was common for guys and girls alike to prey upon the incoming freshmen. Natalie had a handful of her own indiscretions too, but as she was entering her junior year, she decided to abstain from the current festivities. She’d made far too many mistakes and gotten far too lucky. That’s why on the day of the biggest freshmen mixers, Natalie was at the Dana Hall stables trying not to listen to the girls just a few feet away whispering about her.

  “Hey, aren’t you the Norton girl?” one of the girls finally asked.

  “No, I’m the Hayworth girl,” Natalie replied without turning.

  “But you used to be the Norton girl, right? Your sister killed all of those people, didn't she?”

  “She was accused of that, yes.”

  “She's locked away in Taunton though, right?”

  “That doesn’t mean she’s guilty.”

  “Who are you: her lawyer?”

  “I defend her better than her lawyers ever did. They didn’t even give her the chance to speak at the trial,” she replied.

  “Well, I don’t exactly blame them. She did slaughter a hundred people.”

  “No she didn’t. Not even close.”

  “What about that song? How does it go?”

  “Little Avery Norton,

  With her hair done up in curls,

  Got bored one day and so she killed

  A hundred boys and girls!” they sang.

  “She doesn’t even have curls,” Natalie grumbled.

  “What are you even doing here? Didn’t you graduate a while ago?”

  “I’m allowed to visit the stables.”

  “Didn’t it ever occur to you that the school might’ve been glad to see you go? You can’t be doing anything for its reputation.”

  “Wait, didn’t I hear that your sister killed animals too? God, what if that runs in the family? They really shouldn’t let you around the horses.”

  The girls broke into fits of cackling laughter, and as it grew louder, Natalie felt more and more defeated. She’d already heard every insult and judgment that could be thrown at her, but it never stopped hurting, and the fact that she didn’t know whether defending Avery was right or wrong made it hurt even more. She couldn’t stay in the stables. Not with the cruel girls glaring at her and whispering about her to everyone that passed. Regretfully, she put the Arabian back in his stall, all tacked up with nowhere to go, and trudged across the campus to her car. She didn’t want to go back to school because she knew what would happen: two cocktails would become ten, and a stranger would become much more than just a friend, but she began the drive back anyway. She’d much rather have been driving to see her sister, but she was afraid of what she may or may not be able to say. Also, she was afraid of what Avery might say or, worse, do. Their mother had made it abundantly clear that Avery absolutely didn’t want to see Natalie, and although she often wanted to negate what Avery might want for what she might need, she always lost her nerve and turned the car toward Northeastern.

  She was right about what would happen when she got back to school. Her sadness from being ridiculed caused her to drink heavily at one of the freshman mixers. For a while after the sadness turned anger, she stewed by herself in the corner, drinking and grumbling under her breath about the “ignorant little snots”. But when she realized she was being watched from across the room, she forgot all about the stable girls. Usually when she was being stared at so intensely, it was because someone was trying to figure out if she was “the Norton girl”, but the dark-haired boy across the room was looking at her in a completely different and new way. She felt ignited by his ice blue eyes as he moved toward her like a moth to a flame. He gently took her hand and lifted her from the
chair, and in a voice that was as soft as his other attributes, he asked her to dance. Her head swam from the alcohol and the grandeur of being plucked from the shadows and brought into the light, and when she rested her head on his shoulder, he linked his arms around her and she felt safe.

  She still felt safe in the morning, but she couldn’t be sure if she’d acted safely. When she woke up with the handsome stranger in her bed, she didn’t have to wonder whether she’d done something stupid; she knew it right away. Scenes from the night flashed through her mind, but not one of them involved the stranger putting on a condom. She slipped out of bed and began searching the floor for the discarded prophylactic or its wrapper, but except for a few books and dirty socks, the floor was clean. When she finally looked back up at the bed, the boy with dark hair was staring down at her with larger and bluer eyes than she’d realized the night before.

  “Good morning,” he said as his arms called her into an embrace, and although Natalie was still a bit frantic, she couldn’t deny his sweetness and climbed back into bed.

  He nuzzled against the back of her neck, but she couldn’t enjoy it. She couldn’t stop her eyes from continuing the search for some hint that she hadn't been a complete fool.

  “Is everything alright? I didn’t do anything wrong, did I?”

  Before Natalie could think of a subtle way to ask him if he’d used protection, there was a knock on the door so surprising that it knocked Natalie out of bed.

  “Who is it?” she asked as she threw on a robe.

  “It’s Mom. I was in the neighborhood,” Faye chimed.

  “Shit!” Natalie screamed quietly and tossed the boy’s clothes at him. “It’s my mother. Get dressed!”

  “Oh God,” he replied in more amusement than worry while Natalie slipped on a dress and frantically repeated expletives under her breath.

  “Can you do me a big favor?” she whispered as she grasped his hands. “Can you pretend to be my boyfriend?”

 
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