By: Aria Cage

No, Charlie won’t do anything out of her norm. Just like him, she has become a creature of habit. At four a.m., before her father rises, she will slide into her favorite shorts and Green Bay Packers tee and totter through the dark over to my place. She will let herself in, climb my stairs, and slide into my bed with me, where we hold one another until Nona calls us for breakfast.

Not long ago, I tried to meet her outside, but the next day she never came. Freaked the shit out of me when I got to the yard in the pitch black of night, and she was nowhere in sight. I thought something terrible had happened to her, so I bolted to her open window and her empty room, calling for her, hoping not to wake him. My gut heaved at the thought he had come for her. I jumped from her window and headed to the garage, where it was darker than sin. She wasn’t there, and I swear I could have cried. I ran for my house, needing to see if I missed her, hoping she was waiting for me in my bed while I was searching. I took the stairs to the porch faster than I ever have in my life, when something caught my eye. There curled up in the corner of my porch steps, in the dark by Nona’s large pot of flowers, was Charlie. She was shivering and so cold to touch, even though the night was warm. I knew right then that I had to let her do her thing, or I would likely lose her.

Nona knows there’s something going on with her, but she puts it down to a father who isn’t there for her. I wish he wasn’t there at all.

The school cafeteria is loud today. I don’t know if it’s always this loud, but it feels louder. I think Charlie feels it too because she is tucking into me. I kiss the top of her head and smell her sweet shampoo. It smells of babies or something. “You okay?”

She glances up at me, and I can see a darkness under her eyes that I haven’t seen before.

“I don’t want to do this anymore,” she mumbles.

I sigh because I don’t want her to have to either. “I know, Charlie.”

“I don’t even want to live anymore.”

I jerk back, for a second I think I misheard her. But as I look into her dark brown eyes I realize how lost they are. She’s giving up on me. “Don’t you dare! Don’t you fucking dare leave me, Charlotte!”

“Don’t call me Charlotte.” She shakes her head and doesn’t stop. “Don’t call me that ever. He calls me that.”

I reach for her and pull her in tight; ignoring the stares we are getting despite our voices being low amongst the noise of the student body. “Sorry. I know he does. I’m sorry. You’re just scaring me. I’m scared, Charlie.”

“I’m scared every day.”

Motherfucker. She breaks my heart. “I know. But you need to hang in there. Come on, let’s skip the rest of the day. I want to show you something.”

“What?” She tilts her head and looks up at me with those desperately lost eyes; they beg me to save her.

I stand up and gather our untouched lunch, shoving what I can in my bag. “It’s a surprise.”

“You know I hate surprises,” she groans. It’s true; she does, but she needs to feel the elation of a surprise. She needs to feel alive. “Come on. It’s Friday, and your dad will be working all weekend and Nona will be busy with some craft show on Highway 151. We have free rein. Let’s go on a trip.”

“But we never go on trips. We never leave Beaver Dam.”

“All the more reason.” I grab her hand and practically drag her from the cafeteria. She begins to laugh, and I stop as we get to the front quad. “What are you laughing at?”

“Just how do you think we will go on a trip? I’m thirteen; you’re fifteen. Neither of us has a licence.”

“Heard of a bus?”

“Heard of accommodation for the underage where you plan to take me?”


She laughs again. “Uh-huh.” At least she’s laughing. Her face is brighter, and that in itself is a big something.

“Plan B.” Again I grab hold of her, and I begin to drag her until she starts to keep the same pace down the road and along the tree line to try and keep her cool. I slow down to a walk, and she follows in suit, her breathing hard and fast, along with mine. I never did sports; the school asked me to play every seasonal sport they have, but I would always say no. They train three times a week, Saturday mornings, Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. You can see the dilemma there. It’s like neon. Charlie could watch me practice every day but that third Thursday. If she weren’t where she was supposed to be, it was way worse for her. We learned that lesson the hard way.

There is more than one reason Charlie likes to please her dad; one, because he brainwashed her to, but two, because when he isn’t pleased, he is downright dangerous. She claims she was sick around this time last year; maybe she needed to believe that. She couldn’t get out of bed for a little while and then had three weeks off school. I know what was really wrong with her, though. I could see the bruises high on her arm when her shirt lifted, when I felt her soft skin under my fingers. I saw the one on her neck where I kissed her better. I never left her side while she recovered, and the only time I went to the bathroom was when I knew her dad was out of the house.

She never did tell me what really happened. I wonder to this day if she blocked it out. What I do know is, that Thursday, before returning to school, we crossed a big line that was never recovered. It changed everything within us. We became something lighter to one another and darker to the world.

We get home, hot and sweaty, when Davey meets us on the porch. “It’s not time yet,” he says in alarm. “It’s not time to come home.”

“No. But Charlie needs you to give her a hug, so we rushed home so you can give her one,” I say as I leave Charlie breathless on the porch and race inside to beg Nona to help me with plan B.

I find her in the kitchen cooking biscuits. “Nona.” She gives me the brow, the one that says I’m in for it if I don’t have a damn good reason as to why I’m not a school. “Charlie needs us.”

Nona sighs and wipes her hands on her apron which has pale flowers all over it. It’s her favorite. “I thought this week would be particularly rough on her.”

“What do you mean?”

“Child, it’s the anniversary of her mother’s passing.”

“Holy shit. How can I not know this? I know everything about Charlie... at least I thought I did.” I slump into the stool and cradle my head in my hands. I don’t know what it’s like to lose a mother that way. Mine abandoned us when Davey was born, and I was two.