In that place, she searched for recovery. It reeked of medicine and the color scheme reminded Millaray of a funeral home. Her seat spit dust as she sat in it, the dirt of many names tickling her clean hands. Perhaps those names needed to be here. Maybe those names had been through something worth being here. Millaray never saw the need of this place. She didn’t believe in its power, until she was pushed in here. Not by family, and certainly not by any friends. Instead, pain pushed her here. The pain in her heart, the fear of empty and dark streets, the fear of groups of people, and the pain of not being able to fall into someone’s arms and cry. The fish inside the pillar of a fish tank mocked her. Tiny schools of goldfish and clownfish danced in groups, ate together like family.
“Millaray Palomo?” a nurse, struggling to say her name, adjusted down her glasses, and looked around the room, as if there was anyone else.
Millaray’s fish trance ceased, and she collected her purse, keys, and a water bottle with haste, and trotted to the tired looking lady.
“Right this way.” Millaray followed the kind woman, without a sense of the layout of the clinic. The nurse led her to a door that seemed different from the rest. It seemed morphed in Millaray’s eyes. Dizziness took over her for a brief second, but the nurse brought her back with a brief phrase, “The doctor will be right with you.”
The sun crept through the blinds, touching the coffee table and feeling Millaray’s legs on the comfortable couch. The smell of freshly brewed coffee and lavender air freshener made up the atmosphere. It smelled like a school morning back in Millaray’s day. When her father, tall with a newborn potbelly, stood in the dim light under the stove watching the coffee brew and the eggs fry.
The flowers the doctor had for decoration, erect and facing the window in joy, were of a rich green and fluorescent purple. On the coffee table sat a projector and space for a laptop.
Biting her nails and feeling her dry hands, Millaray waited. And the eerie sound of silence filled her ears, piercing through her soul and veins. She couldn’t stand coffee anymore, and she desperately needed to get the smell out of her nose. The ticking of the fancy mahogany clock on the wall made sharp, short headaches with each tick. A punch on her temples every second.
“Hello! You must be Millaray? Am I saying it right? Milla…”
“Yes, you’re saying it right.” Millaray said, sweating anxiety.
“My name is Dr. Ferhland, and I’m your therapist. Now tell me, Millaray: What brought you here?” A fit woman of dark skin tone and wide hips extended her hand to Millaray. She wore dark glasses with a high prescription, and her hair was neatly tied in a bun. Her robe had accessories that made it far from boring, and she wore bright colored pants and shiny silver earrings.
Millaray’s memories were a ball of static in her brain. Floating in the air, menacing balloons. They pop occasionally, making Millaray re-live a useless event, or a devastating one, but there’s no in between. Then the balloons refill themselves up and store themselves away, waiting for a time to pop randomly again. Millaray struggled with giving them value. Were they worthy enough to pop them all, bury their broken remains where oxygen wasn’t available, and leave space for new ones? Or were they just dad watching the coffee brew under a dim, almost burned out light?
“I… I don’t know.” she said shyly, her hands shaking at the thought of the past.
“Well, why don’t we start from the beginning?”
The temperature had dropped at least ten degrees in a matter of five hours. The leaves on the domesticated white oaks and apple trees were saddened in their new fiery colors, often falling to the ground in piles at every gentle push of the wind. Victoria Conrad, one year older than the rest of her friend group, finished her first day of high school in Beaver Falls High. That evening she planned on meeting up with her best friends because they (well, mostly Pamela Darling) were eager to know what high school was like. Victoria cat-walked her way down the block, her oily golden brown skin shining in the pale sun. Halfway to their meeting spot, Pamela Darling sprinted towards Victoria, her ankle-length skirt and denim jacket twisting in the breeze.
“So what does… ninth grade… feel like?” Pamela Darling asked in a halt, running out of breath and hyperventilating violently.
“Calm down, Pam. Let me get there first.” Victoria Conrad giggled, “Do you have your inhaler?”
Victoria Conrad walked fifteen minutes from her house in the city neighborhood to the neighborhood park full of annoying children, where most middle schoolers met up to hang out or walk elsewhere. That evening, one of the friends, Dolores Espinoza, wasn’t allowed to hang out, but Kendra Savidge and Millaray were there, near the swings, shooing off kids. Kendra and Millaray didn’t feel the same excitement as Pamela Darling did. High school. More work and harder work, they thought. Being excited was inane to them. High school was inane to Millaray because she knew her friends would be there.
From the park, they walked five minutes to a local pizza shop, where they were happily greeted. On a normal day, the line of the shop would snake outside the doors. But on this chilly Monday afternoon, there were at most ten other customers enjoying a warm, melty slice of pizza, making the dining area feel barren. During the fall and winter was when Millaray and her friends most loved to go to the pizza shop. In the sixth grade, they used to choose a parent to take them there. It was usually Pamela Darling’s mom, an at-home worker, or Dolores Espinoza’s mom, a stay-at-home trophy wife who nobody believed had a good time taking care of her triplets. Kendra Savidge’s parents were too busy arguing about the youngest, Kenneth, ignoring each other, or depress napping. Victoria Conrad’s mother, as well as Millaray’s father, worked long and punishing shifts, making them available only on weekends. In the seventh and eighth grade they were finally allowed to walk there by themselves. They killed the hostess’s boredom as she sat them on the right side of the establishment, where the sun was put to rest. The golden rays of sunshine reflected beautifully against the bright colors of the stained glass lamp that hung above them. Millaray traced her finger along the green shadow that it cast against the table.
“Is it true that the boys finally get hot?” Pamela Darling asked, “Do you get to choose your classes? Are the teachers nice?”
“Pam, just let her talk.” Millaray said, slowly growing irritated at the sound of her childish voice. Pamela’s voice reminded Millaray of a cartoon. The words she used and her body language reflected a kids show that aired at ten in the morning.
“Well, it wasn’t all that exciting. I thought that I was gonna be in a class full of upperclassmen because Sarah told me that that could happen, but I got the same boring people I’ve always been with.” Victoria Conrad hoped she’d get to hang out with upperclassmen. That’s what the cool freshmen do. Sarah Goodwin was a good friend of hers, then in tenth grade, so Victoria felt like she had easy access to the upperclassmen with her, and maybe a good group of friends. Friends that weren’t in eighth grade.
“Did you get in the smart classes?” Pamela asked, her voice seeming to quicken.
“No, you get to choose. Smart people are annoying, and I just want to pass.” Victoria said knowing well that Pamela had been an honor student for as long as she’s known her.
“Maybe next year you can get into Honors Algebra Three. That’s what I’m doing. We could be in the same class, we could!” Pamela exclaimed, ignoring Victoria’s comment.
“Pam, nobody wants to be in Honors Algebra Three. You’re really smart and you have to understand that others don’t want to go above and beyond like you.” Kendra Savidge said, irritated.
“I don’t think I’m that smart. You know Lassandra? She has a 4.2 gpa! I don’t think she’s ever failed a test in her life.” The rest of the girls found her squeaky voice incredibly annoying, and most times, nobody cared about what she had to say.
“Pam, you literally cry when you get a ninety percent. I get a sixty-five and I pat myself on the back.” Kendra replied, tired of repairing Pamela’s self-esteem over and over again.
“It’s because you don’t care about your future, and I do.” Pamela had already envisioned herself sitting on the throne that was the bench, judging who goes to jail and who doesn’t. Maybe she would even get to have one of those shows and people would refer to her as Judge Pam on the streets.
“We’re in eighth grade. Nobody cares about eighth grade.” Kendra, much like Victoria, wanted to just get the hell out of school in general.
“I do.” Pamela lowered her head into her slice of pizza. Often she wondered why she hung out with these people. She considered how they grew up together. Victoria, Millaray and Kendra were like sisters she never wanted.
“Ninth grade doesn’t even sound like a big deal.” Millaray said, reverting back to the original topic.
“It really isn’t. The upperclassmen hate us for no reason. I saw Connor almost get beat up by juniors. Something about him bragging about how he already has a truck and the juniors he said it to, don’t have cars yet.”
“That dude is always doing something to flex. Did they actually beat him up?” said Millaray.
“Yeah, and no.” Victoria chuckled silently. Connor got off the hook really easily. They all hoped he got beat up.
The melted cheese warmed up Millaray’s throat, a good feeling to her. When only she and her dad came there, she liked to make him laugh by swallowing half the melted cheese, opening her mouth, and swinging the other half around like a lasso. It never embarrassed her dad that she was often goofy and giggly. It instead made him look down at her, in his older age for a dad, and smile. As they indulged in their meal, Victoria Conrad’s phone went off with a text notification.
“Oh!” she exclaimed as her eyes grew larger in wonder. Those eyes of hers could draw anyone in. Deep, brown, beautiful seas of tea, “That was quicker than I thought.”
“Who texted you?” Kendra said, expecting it to be some upperclassmen douche that was after her once again.
“The plug.” Victoria answered, “I thought they would take much longer than this.”
“The plug?” innocent Pamela Darling asked.
“Yup. They’ll be in the alleyway behind the Dollar Tree on Drew Street.” Victoria was excited. This was the first time she would ever make a purchase like this. It was her last time as well.
“That’s such a shady place.” Pamela did not comprehend the dark corners that lie in our world, an only child, safe under mommy and daddy’s arms.
“That’s the point.” said Millaray.
“But why?” Pamela’s curious gaze infuriated everyone at the table. Especially Millaray, who hated incompetence. But she grew up with Pamela, and loved her like a younger sister, though they were roughly the same age.
“To go get something.” Victoria said, getting impatient. “You know, without getting caught. They gotta hide somehow. You know what I mean?”
“What are you gonna get?” Pamela whispered, slight fear and paleness coming to her face.
“Weed, Pamela. She’s getting weed, marijuana. Holy fuck.” Kendra whispered in a tone that seemed like a mother yelling at her toddler quietly to shut up because he’s causing a scene in the grocery store.
“Who are these people?” Kendra viciously turned her face from Pamela to Victoria. Millaray, seated next to Victoria, could imagine foam at the corners of Kendra’s mouth. She could imagine Kendra as a pitbull. Killing the innocent because it’s easy.
“A senior. I think his name was Zach. He said he’d hook me up with someone with great prices. He was really chill about it too, and said they’re very good friends of his. They’ll be there at eight. So, in like, half an hour. We better get going.” Victoria was ready to leave her half-slice of pizza to meet up with a man behind the dollar tree on Drew Street.
“We?” Pamela asked, skeptical. She didn’t like where this was going. Nobody said anything about drugs. She just wanted pizza and gossip. No drugs. Drugs are bad, mom said. Say no to drugs, dad repeated.
“Yes, we. How do I look like going into a dark alleyway by myself?” Victoria challenged Pamela, “Besides, where are you gonna go?”
“You’d look really suspicious getting somewhere all by yourself. What will your explanation be, then?” Millaray followed up, intrigued at seeing weed, and maybe smoking it with Victoria.
“I just know you’re not gonna snitch, Pam.” Kendra said casually, with undertones of smugness.
They happened to be close to Drew Street, ten walking minutes away. The sun was fast asleep and it snored indigo into the sky. Millaray hadn’t realized that the street lights turned on, or that the few cars on the roads were rays of white and red. The ten minute walk felt like thirty, and it gave Millaray plenty of time to stare down at her house on Sun Street, which intersected Drew Street. Two two-bedroom apartments sitting on top of each other, making it look like one whole house. In the bottom one, she lived as an only child with her father. Millaray knew she had older siblings from her dad’s side, but her father always refused to talk, or even acknowledge that they existed. She stared at the two-bedroom apartment hard. Millaray felt she could see her father through the window on the side. Watching funny sports like golf or horse-riding on the TV, alongside an oily, cheap, and buttery bag of popcorn. Waiting for Millaray to walk through the door and tell him about how great the pizza was tonight. He would ask her how Victoria thought the High School was. He would ask about Millaray’s first day of eighth grade too. Then, he would tell her to take a shower and sit next to him to watch the funny horses trot away at an obstacle course. Instead, Millaray crossed the intersection, further down Drew Street, and dread took over her veins. The girls remained silent as their footsteps sang to them for entertainment. Millaray thought about asking Victoria Conrad if she was sure about this, but Millaray wasn’t Pamela Darling. Millaray wasn’t a pussy.
Down Drew Street, minutes seemed like hours, and the indigo skies turned black. Not even the moon wanted to see them, and even the stars decided to hide with it. The ugly orange street lights and the flickering signs of run down stores seemed to be the only source of light. Finally behind the Dollar Tree, Pamela Darling kept pleading Victoria Conrad to do it quick, and Kendra Savidge kept telling her to shut the fuck up. The four of them stood in the middle of the alleyway, looking for a sign of life. A car door opened, and a tall, fit man walked out from within. He took three heavy steps to the front of the car, and stood in silence for a few seconds. His shadow elongated with the headlights from the crummy car behind him, and it appeared as though Millaray stepped on his face.
“Do you want it?” his teeth shone bright in the dark, but his eyes were dark pits of no emotion, “Come here. Give me the money.”
Millaray took the first steps, ahead of the others in the group. She turned her head slightly back to them, a look that asked them to walk with her. Hesitant, they began moving as one, pacing in slow motion towards the man. The lion of a man stood quietly, not moving a single muscle. Victoria Conrad, money shriveled in her hands, felt like something wasn’t right. As the silent message spread through the group, it was too late. The lion pounced.
Millaray’s sweat felt like a dam broke in her pores. Pouring down her armpits and her forehead. Her heart ran like a furious cheetah after a zebra. Dr. Fehrland studied Millaray as the young woman took a not-so refreshing gulp of water from her water bottle and how her legs jiggled in anxiety.
“And he… the girls could have… he… ” is what she could blurt out. Millaray hyperventilated and surprised herself that she shared the lightest information and had a panic attack. Millaray hadn’t even started her story.
“Let’s take it slow Millaray. Breathe in, and out. What did the man do?” Dr. Ferhland asked, sitting next to her, perfume of vanilla bliss. Her voice was soothing.
“I can’t. I’m afraid.” Millaray responded, sinking her face into her palms. She let a couple tears fall into her hands, and wiped her eyes with the same tears. Dr. Fehrland handed her napkins.
“We’ll leave the story for now. Let’s do some exercises to help you in your panic attacks and help you face the history that lives here.” Dr. Fehrland pointed at her own head, signifying the past stuck in Millaray’s mind.
Time ran low, and Millaray couldn’t continue her journey down Memory Lane. Millaray thought of the waiting room. There must have been people there who truly needed Dr. Fehrland. Unlike Millaray, who felt she was being dramatic. Pathetically, with a fake grin, Millaray thaked Dr. Fehrland and promised her she would put those exercises to use when she felt anxious. Dr. Fehrland said she expected her next Friday, and with that, Millaray slipped out the door without a sound, and lowered her head. Her eyes narrowed to the ground. She ignored the sun, the butterflies, and the gorgeous trees, almost running to her father’s old car. As usual, she drove in silence to her university dorm, where she spent almost all her days, if it wasn’t for work and school. She spent the evening scrolling through her social media and watching Netflix. In the night, her roommate, Daisy, unlocked the door and walked in, sitting down on her desk, ready to study.
“Hi, Milla.” she said, “I was hoping not to see you here.” Millaray’s roommate was the embodiment of Millaray’s envy. Her name suited her perfectly because that’s what Daisy was, a flower.
“Hey.” Millaray sounded tired, dull, and out of it. She rolled over her bed, fitting an invisible mold of herself.
“Are you okay?” Daisy put her books aside, and turned her office chair towards Millaray.
It was that question, are you okay? It always struck an emotional nerve on Millaray. She had never told anyone what happened before that day, and there, in that enclosed, tiny space with two twin beds, she opened up for the first time, after five years. Her tears hurried, and many fell at the same time. Her face cringed as she started whimpering, and Daisy stood up in a hurry, ignoring her unopened books to hug Millaray. Millaray cried loudly, almost a scream. Daisy laid next to her, and put Millaray’s head on her shoulder. Millaray smelled the flowery perfume, and felt Daisy’s silky, long blonde hair tickle her face. Her dark green eyes, freckled skin and rosy, smooth lips looked down at Millray’s crispy brown face with oily black hair and puffy red eyes.
“You don’t have to talk about it. But it really helps sometimes.” Daisy said, nurturing Millaray.
Millaray, at peak vulnerability, told her about everything. Her fears, her past, her life. The people, the places, the times. Her sorrows rained down like fierce thunderstorms in November afternoons, and she hurt. It pained her, every single detail of the terrors. After she finished her story, silence named itself a speaker, as Daisy did not know how to react. In the room lit up by a single lamp, they stared at nothing. They said nothing, as Millaray received silent comfort from this stranger. It had only been a month since they met. The window in between the beds displayed the crescent moon and the dots that accompanied it. In the distance, people could be heard talking, laughing, and partying until four in the morning. Nobody knows what Millaray’s been through. Nobody should, in her opinion. But here she was: lying down on a bed with a woman she did not know, who stroked her hair with her gentle hand, to the tune of the white noise of the city of Philadelphia. After Millaray stopped crying, Daisy held Millaray’s face in between her soft, white palms.
“You’re far away from them. They can’t reach you anymore. Your psychologist will definitely give you the help you deserve.” Daisy smiled warmly at Millaray, dimples showing, and a set of glowing eyes.
Daisy still had to study, and she told Millaray to rest, as she put quiet violins and pianos for background sound.
Millaray’s routine after high school changed. Maybe for the better, maybe for the worse. On weekends she worked in the restaurant she co-owned, left by her father. Once a week, she visited him on his grave, where he slept peacefully for the fifth month. During her free time, she’d lay on her bed and try to reach her mother, sending a text message through Messenger every day, hoping for a reply, a call, anything.
“Hey, this is your daughter. I know you forgot I existed. Please call me.”
“I know you don’t know me, but I want to know you. I forgive you for running away. At least you didn’t abort me, haha.”
“Mom, it’s Millaray. Your daughter. It says you’re active right now, please answer me.”
You can no longer send messages to this person.
Still, she tried. Even though she knew her mother blocked her, she tried to send a message every day.
You can no longer send messages to this person.
You can no longer send messages to this person.
You can no longer send messages to this person.
During the week, she tried to focus on studying. She majored in restaurant management to further pursue her father’s career. Millaray needed a tutor, though, as she had never been the smartest kid. Her stubborn personality served her as motivation, and she refused to let Zacarias’s Corner fall. The restaurant is all she had of her father.
Zacarias Palomo. A model for Millaray. Raised her as a single father, educated her in what’s right and wrong. Saved her during her worst times, and never left her side. A sickness soon strapped him to a bed, and on graduation day he left the earth, leaving Millaray with no family to take care of her. Independently, she drove herself to her college home from Beaver Falls,leaving all her father’s belongings behind, and some of her own, and tried to settle herself and make herself comfortable. An impossible task. Millaray never gave herself time to breathe, to grieve, or to think.
Finally Friday came again, and Deja Vu hit Millaray hard. The fish tank, the dirty seat, the weird paintings and color scheme. The waiting, the nurse, the room, the projector, the sun, and she shook in terror once more. She wanted to face her fears again like she did a week ago with Daisy.
“How are you feeling today, Millaray?” Dr. Fehrland asked, entering the room, and instead of sitting at her desk, she sat on the leather couch with Millaray.
“I want to get rid of my memories.” Millaray said, a knot forming in her throat. She won’t cry. Not this time.
“I can’t do that. What I can do is teach you how to deal with them. I recommend first talking about them. Are you ready?”
In the blink of an eye, there were four men standing in front of the headlights, and it seemed like their heads ate the girls’ feet. No second thoughts, the men sprinted in their attack. The First Man put his arm tightly around Millaray’s neck, and tried to drag her back to the car. Millaray struggled, but the more she did, the more she ran out of air. Kendra Savidge and Victoria Conrad were skilled street fighters, and Pamela Darling’s sharp reflexes had helped her just enough to dodge the other men. In between fear, tears and grunts, Millaray’s best friends since daycare had the perfect opportunity to save her. A few seconds was enough to weaken the grip against her neck, setting her free. Millaray’s eyes looked into theirs, pleading for salvation. Yet, Kendra Savidge, Victoria Conrad, and Pamela Darling gazed into her eyes, read her desperate message, and fled. The First Man locked Millaray in the car, which had the locks on the inside broken on purpose. The noise was muffled, all Millaray could do was watch. Kendra pointed at The Second Man with his own gun, threatening him. Then there was silence. Thinking. The Second Man spoke, threatening back. Millaray caught one thing: we have people everywhere, you will die if you say a word. Rapid steps faded away into the distance. The girls escaped with success.
It reeked of marijuana in the car, a smell familiar to Millaray, but not to this extent. Four men sat around Millaray, whose mouth sported a gag cloth saturated in tears. Before they pulled away, they put a black bag over her face. Her sobs echoed, but she let out a scream of suffering when The Third Man beside her caressed her thigh gently. She bounced on her seat, trying to escape his grip. His hand slowly traveled up her thigh, nearing her hip, setting in towards the middle. The Fourth Man, sitting on her other side, saw what he did and stopped him.
“Not yet.” he said.
His words sent shivers down Millaray’s spine. She had heard of girls being abducted before. She had heard of how this all works and why they would ever take innocent children. She never thought it would happen to her. During the ride, she was injected with a liquid that put her to sleep for a while, and suddenly she was at the destination. Dizzy and nauseous. The Third Man put his hand on her back, caressing it with a gun.
“Now listen closely, honey. If you scream, fight, or try anything, your head is getting blown off,” he nudged her leg with the pistol, and slid it quickly to her forehead, “You’re gonna go in there, and be the good girl that you are supposed to be. Am I clear?”
With every emphasis on his words, he pushed Millaray’s head with the gun. The car turned off and they pulled Millaray out. They bent her head at a ninety degree angle. Millaray could hear what happened around her. At first she heard regular sounds, like the back of a bar or a restaurant. They walked through a door and the sound ceased. They walked through a second door, an elevator door that went down: their headquarters. They made Millaray stand in a certain spot, stripped her to her underwear, and tore the bag off her head.
A camera faced her, and her almost naked body was displayed in a glass case like room. Behind the camera, outside of the room, sat the four men, along with two more people. A man and a woman.
“What’s your name?” the woman asked.
Millaray stuttered, her lips quivered, and nothing could come out of her mouth.
“I asked something!” the woman yelled.
“Mi… Millaray Palomo.”