They paid me off. I wasn’t going into that wretched house without some sort of incentive. I didn’t come at a cheap price either, grabbing cash from the two of them by the time I was shuffling to the front of the house, dropping the new found money into the pockets of my jacket. I hadn’t thought up my response to whoever would open the door, brain storming while gaping at the enormity of her home. I hadn’t stopped by in so long—given obvious reasons. It was wise to not befriend a full-time whack-job like Beth Giller and her evil sidekick Xander. I’d forgotten how big her house was, and the land surrounding it.
I figured I should’ve stuck around long enough to get pricey gifts out of her, but it was a fleeting thought, reminding myself why I cut her off to begin with. Nothing was worth the insanity and stress of having her around. I hadn’t enjoyed our friendship all that much once boys got involved. I suspected if she wasn’t so boy crazy—and you know, a psycho who dressed up like me to seduce Pierson into bed—then maybe we could’ve salvaged something. It was too late to think about the alternative paths, knowing that I was better without her in the long run. I had learned my lesson. Not much could change my stance.
Holding my breath, I raised my hand to the door knocker, swinging it against the wood. I waited, praying that no one was home. But the drive way wasn’t vacant. My prayers were frivolous. A blue Toyota and white Mercedes were parked to the left of me.
“Are you lost?” A voice snarled.
I blinked, seeing the front door wide open, and Beth dressed in a traditional Somali dirac. It confused the hell out of me, more and more, the longer I took note of her attire. Gold and white detailing shimmered, popping against the sheer blue material that hung loose on her body. Dirac’s weren’t automatically meant for formal settings—depending on the quality and style. Long ago, in a time during my childhood, I remembered my mother waltzing throughout the house in dirac’s that had more modest designs and with no shimmer or shine. The type Beth had on was not for casual lounging at home, but rather for a wedding.
“I’m here for my mother.”
“She didn’t tell me you were coming,” she said, squinting at the space above my head. “Who brought you here? I don’t see your car.”
“Why do you want to know? I’m here to stay. I’m not going anywhere.” I stated, but she didn’t move out of the way to let me into the house. “Mom!”
In minutes, the door was thrown fully open, revealing my mother standing before her in a similar dirac, but her colors were red and gold, suiting well against her chestnut skin. My fists tightened at the sight before me. I hadn’t seen my mother this happy in so long. Years ago, she dropped all inherent attributes of her Somali background, no longer speaking in the language or clothing herself in the traditional garments. It was around the same time she had turned to drugs, losing herself in the intoxicating cloud to mask the pain of the divorce.
She clapped her hands together, grabbing at me. “You made it!”
“You wanted her to come?” Beth boomed. “You didn’t tell mom that.”
“Your mom’ll be fine with it. Come on in, Silvia. I want you to help. I’ve been teaching Beth how to buraanbur. You remember how?”
I was getting pissed off at the loudness of the music so I turned it off.
“Why would she need to know how to buraanbur? It’s not like she’s going to a wedding...” I trailed off, however, found myself at a loss of words at the noise of Somali music pouring out of the hallways, shaking me into a fright when I saw more dirac laid out on the couch and table. “What’s going on?”
“Didn’t you hear the news?”
My heart skipped a beat, waiting for her to tell me.
“Your cousin Ahmed is getting married in San Diego. I’m planning on taking Beth and her brother with me. It’ll be fun; you should come, too.”
“You haven’t talked to that side of your family in a decade. Mom, duh I don’t know about that. I’m shocked you care and know about it.” I scoffed, deflating her mood. What was with her? She wasn’t the same woman I knew in Maine, only ever getting excited over child support checks coming in the mail. “I don’t see why you’re suddenly remembering you’re Somali.”
“I’ve always considered myself Somali. Who are you talking to like that, nayaa.”
“I’m not a little girl,” I hissed at her remark. “You know I hate when you call me that.” There was a negative connotation to the remark, only ever said to kids who acted up. It was even more disrespectful if you said it someone who was your elder, quite possibly leading you to get slapped back to your senses.
“I’m your hooya. I can say it if I want.”
I laughed. “What year am I in? It’s like I’ve stepped into a time machine. Someone take me back to the present day you. Because this,” I motioned at her get-up, “isn’t you. Or at least it’s not anymore. I don’t know who you’re fooling.”
“I’m trying, Silvia. And I would appreciate it if you did, too,” she pleaded, linking my hand to hers. I yanked it out of her reach, faltering her previous excited and jubilant expression into a sad, defeated look.
Good, I thought. Maybe she’ll start to feel the way I did for years. Unwanted. Uncared for.
“I’m not in the mood for forgiveness,” I puffed, “I’m not that easily fooled, either.”
“I wasn’t intending on fooling you.”
“You’ve been fooling them, for what? Weeks now? You can keep at this act, but it’s not going to make me think you’ve changed overnight, mom. I’m not that gullible.”
Perhaps if I was younger, entranced with naive ideas, I would’ve been convinced that she had changed. I used to wish for that day to come around, wishing for when she’d sober up and treat me like her daughter and not an obnoxious duty to tend to. She had times of periodic sobriety, promising that she was off it for good, but I had lost count on how constant that cycle was.
I’d given up hope, realizing that my prayers weren’t being met. When she finally did stop for a long point of time, it didn’t stop her from picking up other bad habits. She stole from me, wrote off things that didn’t belong to her to feed into her new impulsive tendencies and shrugged whenever I caught her in the act.
“I’m sorry.” Her big eyes, a trait my brother inherited and thankfully not me, grew in size as they glassed over. “I don’t want to make new empty promises, but I have—”
“So, don’t.” I cut her off. “Leave it at that, then.”
She shook her head, backing up into the coffee table by mistake. She settled down on to the armrest of the sofa, peering at me as if she’d discovered something in my explosive reply. “I’m not the only one who’s acting completely different.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You,” she retorted, “You’ve been acting different. You used to not talk back to me like that. You never said things like that to me before.”
“Well, you could say I’ve grown a backbone,” I noted, “I’m not a kid anymore, mom. And you can’t keep treating me like one.”
“You’ll always be my little girl.”
“I was never your little girl. Because if I was, you would’ve protected me.”
Her face fell to the floor, wiping the racing tear that went down her cheek. “I said I was sorry.”
“No, actually, last time I checked you only ever said sorry for what Jared did in court—in front of a judge. We both know that speech you did wasn’t a plea for my forgiveness but a plea for a lighter sentence. You didn’t say sorry when I first told you about it happening to me. You didn’t believe me.” My voice shook, and before I knew it, my entire body was, too. I was bubbling with rage, pint up from years of swallowing my feelings because there wasn’t a soul who wanted to know what was breaking me on the inside. All along, it was the silence of my mother.
“You want to know something?” I whispered, tightening my hands around my knees to stop them from visibly trembling. I didn’t pause to see if she wanted to know what I was about to explain to her, saying a secret I had left unknown till now. “Do you remember what my favorite number is?”
“Do you know why?”
She hesitated. “I...I can’t recall why.”
“Fifteen is the number I would count to when Jared...” I croaked, regaining confidence. “When he would bring his friends in and do what they wanted with me. I counted to fifteen, and then restart until they stopped. There were fifteen glow in the dark stickers on my ceiling. I counted them, numerous times, hoping that would distract me enough. I knew that eventually, at one point, they would stop and then I wouldn’t have to count anymore.” I explained. “But I’m still counting to this day. Anytime my anxiety takes over me, I can’t stop but use that tactic for distraction.”
“I’m so sorry, baby. I’m sorry,” she rushed for me, going for an embrace. I didn’t move; I didn’t reciprocate it at all. I was being forced against my will to be this close to her. I understood that if I had a say in it, I wouldn’t let this woman touch me ever again. “I should’ve believed you. I should’ve listened to you. That’s where I messed up.”
I retreated, holding her off with my unrestful hands. “No, you should’ve never let him in our house. You shouldn’t have used drugs to be an answer for your failing marriage. You should’ve never used the child support money on Kevin, instead of on me. You shouldn’t have robbed me every single time I had money. Your problems aren’t exclusively in relations to Jared.”
“I’m working on fixing that, I promise,” she swore.
“I thought you said you would stop with the empty promises.”
“This one I’m sure about.” She hastily rubbed her face and red eyes. “Are you hungry? You must be starving. You are staying for dinner, right?”
“You invited me to talk to Beth.” I eyed the room, sweeping over the doorway. She wasn’t there. “I’m not planning on staying for long.”
“I’ll go see where she’s at.” She nodded, exiting the living room. I eased into the recliner, crossing my legs at the ankle. Bringing out my cell phone, I sent a text to Ronnie. She asked what was taking so long and I gave a short explanation about my talk with my mother.
Beth left, her next text read. I saw her drive off in her car. It’s the perfect opportunity.
“That’s so odd,” my mother said, reemerging into the living room. “I thought she was here, but I just checked the driveway and her car isn’t there. I guess she stepped out. I’ll call her to come back.”
“You don’t need to. I’ll stick around,” I told her. “Hey, where’s the bathroom?”
“Oh, it’s up the stairs and to the left.” She gestured to the spiraling stairway. “Is there anything in particular you want to eat, Silvia?”
“I’m not that hungry, mom.”
“I’ll make you a small snack,” she replied, ignoring my response about not wanting food like a typical mom. It reminded me of who she used to be, back when she actually was a mother to me.
I jogged up the steps, checking behind me to see where my mother was. She wasn’t in plain sight. I turned right instead of left, vaguely recalling how to get to Beth’s bedroom. Walking through these hallways, seeing the interior of the house, sent chills down my spine while I thought of the first time I had come to her house.
The night I met Dakota, leaning against the wall next to a flickering red light, felt as if it was in another life. I was so detached from that memory, grappling to not revisit that time without a pang striking my heart.
I missed him. I missed his remarks, his lingering warm touch, and the electrifying affect it caused through my bloodstreams. Dakota’s love set my world on fire. He had a way with his words, stringing me along in a daze. I was lost in his eyes, senselessly falling to my knees if he ever asked. I didn’t like who I was when I had him in close proximately. He muddied the waters, making me struggle to grasp any reminisce of sensibility.
Beth was a smart girl after all. She knew I was coming up here. Once I reached her room, the door was locked from the inside. She had a door with a hole in the center, meaning that it could easily be picked with a bobby pin. I released my bun, retrieving the pin and got to an eye level with the doorknob. It took some effort, but I had it popped open in less than a minute.
Unlike her bedroom door, the desktop didn’t have a lock on it. I yanked the rolling chair out of the way and clicked into her messages. Her computer was linked to her cell phone text messages.
I scrolled through the pointless conversations she had with family members. A notification appeared, showing a new message. It reverted my attention off of the texts she was sharing with Finn to her conversation with Xander. After skimming a few lines, I caught on what they were talking about. It was in the middle of a heated debate. Xander was trying to convince her to bring along Doug to the wedding she was attending in San Diego.
Nice to know he hasn’t changed. Still controlling her life.
I wasn’t stunned to see this. It was the usual Xander I was accustomed to seeing. What did, though, make me shutter in surprise was what she said next. She erupted in excessive exclamations marks, commenting that he had no right to picked who she went to the wedding with when his boyfriend wouldn’t even take him on a date. She advised him to get his life together before dictating what happened in hers.
“He has a boyfriend?” I gaped. My shock only intensified when Xander said not to drag Maven into this discussion. ”Maven?!”
Did Faye know about this? I couldn’t believe I didn’t know about this before. Maven and Xander did a great job in hiding whatever it was they had. I had problems with Dakota not showing affection to me while at school so I knew how that felt. If I gave a damn about Xander’s feelings, I would’ve felt an ounce of sadness for the situation he was. I didn’t, though, and laughed at his situation instead, loving that he had misfortune in the dating world.
“Why Maven?” I gagged. “He’s a mess.”
I got bored of their bickering. Clicking off their talk, I went through her emails and other text messages to search for what Heath and Ronnie asked me to snoop for. I brought the chair back around, sitting down as I read with fast eyes. I had stumbled upon an email she had sent to Dakota, assuring him that they would give him knowledge of his sister’s suicide if he made sure to attend the party I kissed him, drunk out of my mind.
She informed him that someone would drop the next task to him at the house, giving me a hint as to what he was up to when he disappeared at the party. A few days later, Dakota messaged her, saying something I didn’t expect to see. He wanted out. He asked, repeatedly, what it was he had to do to wipe his hands clean. She reminded him that it was too late to back out now and that he had no choice but to go forth with their mission to get me out of Crescent Heights.
How much did you pay for her spot? Tell me. I’ll give you just as much, if not more, so that I can take it.
She refused instantly, saying that it wasn’t up for grabs. She jokingly said he wouldn’t be able to afford it either way. He didn’t give up easily. He repeated his request, and each time, she denied him a way out of their agreement.
I forwarded the emails to my own address, and then processed to delete the proof that I had. I forwarded the emails she had with Finn, as well as two she had with other Segg members from a semester before I got to campus and also when I arrived. My shoulders felt heavy, disregarding all that I knew now. I would’ve imagined that the pressure would’ve lessened and that I could breathe easier. It was the exact opposite. My throat felt tight, trapping a scream deep within.
I closed the door behind me, making sure I had it locked before doing so. With everything I had seen, I contacted Ronnie and asked her to come back around to pick me up. Before putting my phone away, I opened a new empty text.
This time, it was for Dakota.