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Safe and sound, p.1

Safe and Sound, page 1

 

Safe and Sound
 


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Safe and Sound


  Safe and Sound

  Lindy Zart

  For Jamie and Joshua

  1

  No one wanted to know about her problems. They acted concerned, but as soon as she began to talk, they changed the subject. Their eyes glazed over. They turned away.

  Lately whenever anyone asked how she was doing, Lola smiled and said everything was okay. Even if it wasn’t. And it never was.

  She blinked her burning eyes and slammed the locker door shut. Kids hurried up and down the hall, eager to get out of the stuffy brick building. Voices overlapped until it was one loud buzzing noise in her ears. Cologne and perfume and body odor polluted the air. Lola hunched her shoulders and lowered her head, trying not to draw attention to herself as she walked down the corridor.

  It was a small school, as Morgan Creek, Wisconsin was a small town with a population under two thousand. There were less than one hundred kids in each grade. Still enough to make the hallway crowded as she maneuvered her way outside.

  The thought of going home made her stomach queasy. Lola sucked in a ragged breath of the cool spring air and squinted her eyes against the bright day her pale blue eyes were forever sensitive to. She should have learned by now to carry sunglasses with her. One more thing she couldn’t seem to do right.

  She was jostled from behind. Lola tightened her grip on the backpack strap and kept walking. Tree limbs swayed in the breeze, showing off their new green leaves. She turned down the sidewalk. Footsteps echoed her own. Lola glanced behind her, her pace slowing.

  Sebastian averted his eyes and rushed past when she paused. He didn’t say anything, didn’t acknowledge her in any way. Lola stared after his tall, lanky frame, wondering why it still hurt so much. They hadn’t spoken in close to a year, not since before her seventeenth birthday.

  One year was enough time to move on, to forget the pain, to get over a lost friendship. Why did her chest and throat still tighten every time he brushed by her? Every time their eyes met and his slid away?

  Lola swallowed. The house before her blurred and she blinked until it came into focus. It was a tan ranch-style with brown trim. The grass was overgrown and ready for its first cut of the year. A fold-up chair lay on its side near a towering pine tree.

  She slowly made her way to the door, her racing pulse at odds with her movements. Lola went through a mental list in her head, trying to think of what she may or may not have done to cause his anger.

  Hand on the cool door handle; she looked over her shoulder to the house across the street. Sebastian stood there, hands in his jeans pockets. He watched her, his expression blank.

  The wind ran invisible fingers through his light brown hair, tousling it. When their gazes locked Sebastian turned away and went inside. Lola had no choice but to do so as well.

  ***

  Lola took a deep breath and quietly opened the door. She wrinkled her nose. It smelled like unwashed bodies and fried food. The living room was dark. The television was on, the volume low. Lola found the remote under an old newspaper and turned the TV off.

  The house had once been spotless and smelled of whatever cake or cookies her mother was baking when she got home from school. Now it was dirty except for when Lola cleaned, and there was no baking. Other than glimpses of and shortly held conversations, there was no mother either.

  Lola took a deep breath against the sharp pain in her chest.

  She righted a pillow, straightened magazines on the coffee table. Lola folded a blanket and put it on the arm of the tan recliner. Lola opened the windows to allow fresh air in. She sprayed fabric freshener on the furniture and started to vacuum.

  “What the hell are you doing?” a low voice growled in her ear.

  Lola jumped and fumbled with the off switch on the vacuum cleaner. She backpedaled away from Bob until her back hit the wall.

  “Nothing,” she was quick to answer.

  Bob was over six feet tall and burly. He had a gut that hung over his pants from all the beer he drank. His black hair was thinning and he had oily skin. His features were plain, but the ever-present sneer on his lips and unkind gleam in his small brown eyes showed his true nature. He had on a stained white tee shirt and his pale, hairy legs could be seen below his red boxers.

  He punched the vacuum cleaner to the floor with a beefy fist. “It doesn’t look like nothing.” Bob advanced on her, the smell of unwashed skin amplifying. “Are you lying to me, girl?”

  Lola shook her head, strands of auburn hair sticking to her flushed cheeks. “No! I was just…just cleaning.” She pressed her back flat to the wall, wanting to sink into it and away from him.

  Bob put his face close to hers, his breath hot and putrid. Lola turned her head to the side and squeezed her eyes shut. “So you were lying. You said you were doing nothing and you were doing something.”

  Her stomach turned as his breath hit her. “Please,” she whispered.

  Bob shoved away from the wall. “Your mother is trying to sleep. In case you forgot, she works third shift. Keep it down.” He shook a finger at her. “No vacuuming.”

  “No vacuuming. Sorry. I should have known that.”

  His lips twisted. Bob ambled from the room, kicking over a soda can as he went. Fizzy brown liquid soaked through the carpet in an uneven circle.

  She went to her knees, anger and fear and relief warring inside her. She hated Bob; she was also terribly scared of him. Lola’s body trembled and tears seeped from the corners of her eyes, dropping to her lap.

  At times like this, she almost hated her mother as much as him. How could she allow this to happen?

  A sob escaped her. Lola put a hand to her mouth and slowly got to her feet. She took a deep, calming breath. And another. This time wasn’t so bad. It could have been worse. With that thought in her mind, Lola cleaned up the spilled soda.

  ***

  Lola’s bedroom was her safe haven, the one place in the whole house where she wasn’t afraid. The room she spent as much time in as she could when she had to be at 310 Sycamore Drive.

  She sat on her bed with the pink and white polka dot bedspread. Lola and her mother had picked it out together. Before. She ran a hand across the soft material, sadness washing over her.

  The bedroom was big enough for the daybed, dresser, and computer desk, but not much more. A full-length mirror hung on the back of the door. She and her mother had painted the walls lavender. The lone window in the room had iridescent curtains that shimmered in rainbow colors when the sun shone.

  Everything in the room had been done pre Bob Holden. It had been so long ago some days all those happy memories seemed like they had all been nothing but a dream. All the laughter and smiles shared with her mom. Maybe none of it had ever happened. Maybe it was all in her head and now was the reality and always had been.

  Her mother had met Bob when he’d started working third shift at Ray-O-Vac, the factory outside of town that made batteries. At first he hadn’t seemed so bad. At first Lola had thought everything might be okay. As soon as he’d moved in, he’d gotten mean. And once he and her mother married, he’d gotten even meaner.

  It had started out with a teasing comment that wasn’t exactly teasing, ridicule, a criticism, and escalated into physical and mental abuse. A pinch here, a shove there, a slap across the face, name calling. And what had her mother done about it? Nothing. She had done nothing and she continued to do nothing.

  A knock sounded at the door and Lola scrambled to her feet, her pulse immediately racing.

  Please don’t be him.

  “Lola?”

  The door opened and there stood a washed-out version of Lana Murphy; now Lana Holden. She wore a red shirt that went to her knees and black pajama pants. Her auburn hair was dull and showed gray.

  Lana’s pale
blue eyes were tired and shadows had found a home beneath them. Her stooped shoulders made her seem shorter than her five feet six inches; her body was thin to the point of unhealthy.

  Lola stood by her bed, keeping her distance. “Hi, Mom.”

  It physically hurt Lola to look at her mother. It was her mom, but it wasn’t. The changes had been so gradual Lola hadn’t noticed them until one day she’d looked at her sad, worn-out mother and hadn’t recognized her.

  Lana’s lips turned up in a fleeting smile. “Hi, honey. Did you start supper?”

  Her skin flushed and she looked at the glowing red numbers of the alarm clock on the stand beside her bed. “Of course I did. I do every night, don’t I?”

  Her mother’s face fell and Lola’s chest constricted. She looked down so she didn’t have to see the pain in her mother’s eyes. “Thank you for that. I’m just so tired all the time.” Lana lifted a hand to her limp hair and let it fall to her side. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me,” she mumbled, turning away.

  Lola wanted to scream at her, to shake her. She wanted to throw something, to hit the wall. Anything to get her attention, to force her to wake up.

  You know what’s wrong and you do nothing about it!

  Her hands fisted and she clenched her teeth. The words she so desperately wanted to shout would have no effect on her mother except to make her sad. And then Bob would get involved. She knew from experience.

  ***

  Lola worked most nights at Granger’s, the local grocery store in Morgan Creek. Three to four hours at the cash register on weeknights and usually six hours either Saturday or Sunday, but sometimes both days. It was how she paid for her clothes and whatever else she wanted that Bob didn’t consider a necessity.

  She’d been saving up for a car and had close to one thousand dollars in her savings account. Another thousand and Lola would have enough to get a somewhat decent car.

  The temperature in the store was kept cool and the store smelled of cleaning solution. Low music played from speakers in the ceiling. The wall near the registers was made up of windows. It was odd to look out at the dark night from the brightly lit interior; it was like a different world out there.

  It was nine-thirty and she had half an hour left to go before the store closed. It was slow and she and the other two cashiers passed the time by talking to one another. Well, they talked, and she listened.

  “Lola, you’re quiet tonight. What’s the matter?” Dorothy asked in her loud voice.

  Lola’s face burned. She wasn’t being any quieter than any other night, but as Dorothy needed constant chatter, she could see how she would come to such a conclusion. She looked up from the uneven fingernail she’d been staring at.

  Dorothy Dean was in her fifties, plump, and had a laugh that made others around her want to laugh as well. She was retired and said she worked part-time at the store so she didn’t go completely nuts from boredom at home.

  Her green top and black slacks clung to her body. Her gray hair was short and spiky. Her olive green eyes always danced and Lola found herself smiling more than usual in Dorothy’s company. But not tonight.

  Dorothy and Roxanne were watching her.

  “Nothing. Everything’s fine.” She even managed a brief smile, though it felt forced. It was forced.

  Dorothy narrowed her eyes and pursed her lips. “I’m a mother. I know when something’s not right with a child. What is it?”

  Lola bit her lip and looked away. What she wouldn’t give for her mother to acknowledge something wasn’t right. Lana was in denial. Lola knew that. It was Bob’s word against Lola’s and Lola’s didn’t matter.

  She felt like nothing; like she was nothing and meant nothing to her mother.

  “I’m fine,” she said in a shaky voice.

  “She’s always like that, Dot, you know that,” Roxanne said. “Might as well save your breath and not bother talking to her.”

  Lola bristled, but kept her back to them.

  “Roxanne. You hush,” Dorothy admonished.

  Roxanne Zanders was a year ahead of Lola in school. She was also most recently Sebastian Jones’ girlfriend. Lola didn’t like her, but that wasn’t why. She didn’t like her because Roxanne was manipulative, sneaky, and mean. To her, anyway. Lola didn’t know what she was like to other people and she didn’t care.

  Roxanne was tall, slender, had flaming red hair, and just as red lips. Freckles spattered her pale skin, somehow adding to her cold beauty. Her eyes were an unusual shade of green; close to lime, and flashed with dislike whenever they encountered Lola. Roxanne had a perfect body and liked to show it off in tight, short clothing. Even her work outfit molded to her lithe frame in a positive way.

  Lola may have had a good body at one point, but it was too thin now. She didn’t eat much because her stomach was upset all of the time. She knew most girls her age would love to have such a problem, but she would trade with them without hesitation to be able to eat a large burger and fries and not throw it back up.

  “I’m just stating a fact,” Roxanne said.

  “Facts aren’t always nice, nor do they always need to be stated,” Dorothy retorted.

  Lola’s lips curved up and a small, but significant weight lifted. She looked at Dorothy and mouthed, “Thank you.”

  A few customers straggled through Lola’s checkout lane and the store closed for the night. She went about her closing duties with the register, pulled on her white hooded sweatshirt, and grabbed her purse.

  She shivered in the chilly night air. Street lamps offered a little light in the parking lot, but not much. Two cars were in the parking lot; one a blue Nissan and the other a silver Pontiac.

  Dorothy squeezed her shoulder as she passed. “You have a good night, sweetheart. Don’t let Roxanne get to you.”

  Lola knew it was stupid and weak of her, but her eyes pricked at the thoughtful gesture. She watched as Dorothy contorted her large frame into her little blue car and drove off.

  The door opened to the other car and Sebastian got out. For one brief, dizzying moment, Lola thought he was there for her. Then reality set in. Roxanne brushed past, bumping her shoulder, and skipped over to him. She flung her arms around him and kissed him long and hard.

  Lola felt sick and turned away. She began to walk toward home. Her mother didn’t have to be to work until eleven, but she never offered to pick her up. And the one time Lola had asked, Bob had ridiculed her so badly she’d never asked again.

  She kicked at a rock with her tennis shoe. She walked to and from work in the winter, in the spring, in the summer, and in the fall. No matter the weather; no matter how cold or hot it was. Dorothy was nice, but even she had never offered to pick Lola up or drop her off.

  Lola was alone. There was no one.

  Sebastian’s car slowed beside her. Lola didn’t acknowledge its presence. The window rolled down and warm air taunted her cold body.

  “Need a ride?” Roxanne asked, not sounding the least bit happy about it.

  “No,” she bit out, teeth chattering.

  Only six blocks to go. If you get too cold, you can run them.

  Lola didn’t want a ride from them, especially if Sebastian was so chicken he made his girlfriend ask; his girlfriend that loathed her.

  One more reason for her to hate me. Great.

  “She said no. Let’s go. Come on, Sebastian.”

  Lola kept her eyes trained ahead, wishing they would leave. She hunched her shoulders against the cold. What she wouldn’t give for a scarf or gloves. Winter was supposedly over, but maybe someone should have told April that.

  She didn’t realize the car had stopped until a door slammed. Lola halted only when Sebastian placed himself directly in her path. His hair was windswept. He wore dark jeans, a black leather bomber jacket, and black boots.

  His jaw was clenched in that stubborn way of his, his brows lowered over stormy gray eyes. Lola’s breath caught. She’d forgotten how stunning he was up close, especially when he turned his i
ntense gaze on her.

  “Get in the car, Lola,” he said in a low voice.

  Lola lifted her chin, though her body quaked. “No.”

  It had been so long since he’d talked to her, so long since he’d spoken her name. A tidal wave of conflicting emotions crashed over her; the most prominent one resentment.

  She didn’t know what she’d done to make him stop speaking to her; she didn’t know why he’d decided not to be her friend anymore. She’d needed him. She’d needed him to be her friend; he’d been her closest friend, and he’d just…left her. He’d abandoned her. When she’d needed him the most, he wasn’t there. Sebastian never even had the decency to explain why.

  It still hurt. It would always hurt.

  “Sebastian, really? She said no. I’m cold and I’m tired and I don’t have time for this.”

  They stared at each other, not speaking. Lola put everything she was feeling into her eyes and she hoped he choked on what he saw.

  Sebastian finally looked away. When he turned back, there was renewed determination etched into his features. “It’s thirty degrees out. You can’t walk home. Get in the car.”

  “You have no manners. And you’re bossy. I never realized that before. Better now than never, right?”

  His jaw clenched and he took a quick step toward her. Lola took one back. He stopped and narrowed his eyes at her.

  “Sebastian!” A car door slammed and Roxanne stormed over, putting herself between them. She gave Lola a look that blazed with animosity. I will get you for this, those eyes promised.

  Roxanne crossed her arms. “She doesn’t want a ride. She said so herself.” She turned to Lola. “Right, Lola? You don’t want a ride.”

  Agree, or I will make your life hell, she said without uttering a single word.

  Lola looked Sebastian in the eye, something he hadn’t allowed for close to a year. She wondered what had changed. Lola decided it didn’t matter. “Right.”

  Roxanne grabbed his arm and tugged. “Come on. My parents are going to be pissed if I’m not home in about two minutes.”

  Sebastian didn’t budge, his eyes like laser beams of heat on Lola’s skin. He pressed his lips together and finally turned away. Relief and sorrow simultaneously hit Lola.

 
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