H A Y E S
I haven’t called Jonathan ‘Dad’ since I was at the young age of fourteen. I stopped calling him such a thing because he didn’t ever act like one.
He never taught me how to ride a bike, or change a flat tire. He never talked to me about the birds and the bees, and he never took me out to get ice cream on my bad days, or he never took care of me when I was sick with the flu.
He walks with a drunken stumble, talks like he’s got a mouthful of food, and hateful, angry curses he just can’t wait to spit at my mom, or brothers. He has fists he’s put too close to my face, threats he’s thrown at me since I was able to speak.
He never once laid a hand on me, and then when I towered over him just at the age of seventeen, he never once looked at me either.
I thought that’s what I wanted when I was younger, to be feared by him, and for him to leave me alone– to stop looking at me like I meant nothing to him. But then I noticed the way he would watch Brooks, would hear the way he’d yell at him down the hall. I never thought anything of it, thought that maybe he was picking through us all, thought that once Brooks grew to his full height, and gained a bit of weight, Jonathan would be too afraid to pick on Brooks anymore.
But Brooks hardly gained anymore weight. He grew taller, of course he did, but he’s always been so scrawny that one single shove could send him flying. So that last time I was ever in my childhood home again, that night we were all seated at the dinner table, and Jonathan had this look about him– the way his eyes lingered on Brooklyn– made me snap.
And now, standing here in front of my childhood home that I haven’t been inside of in months, fills me with such overwhelming anxiety I think I might just fall over. Chance places a hand on my arm like he knows the affect this house has on me.
Brooklyn sits anxiously in the passenger seat of Mabel’s running truck, the pretty brunette sitting right beside him, and Leo clambering out of the backseat to join us. Brooks was discharged not even thirty minutes ago, the doctors and nurses saying he didn’t have severe enough injuries to be held overnight, which was relieving to hear.
“Can we bring Peaches, Hayes?” Leo asks innocently from where he now stands at my side, reaching up to grab my hand. “She’ll be so sad if she can’t come.”
I smile down at my littlest brother despite the fact that my heart is nearly shattering my ribcage.
“Yeah, buddy, we can bring Peaches.” Chance smiles softly when I say it.
I push the front door open, take a steadying breath as I step inside. Instantly, there’s a loud, excited bark echoing throughout the house, the sound of nails against hardwood, and a large golden retriever comes bounding toward me. She jumps up instantly at the sight of me, crashing into my chest, and nearly knocking me off my feet. I can’t help but grin when I see her, my hands buried in her golden fur as she showers me with kisses.
I haven’t seen her in months, this dog that I’ve always called mine despite Jonathan buying her only to make money off of her– breed her like she’s nothing but a rabbit.
“Hi, Peaches.” I laugh, and I notice Chance’s eyes widen when I do, but I ignore it.
Peaches barks again, drops back down on the floor before circling around me. Chance walks further into the house, running up the stairs two at a time to pack his things, Leo hot on his heels. I pat the excited dog’s head before stepping further into the quiet house. It all still looks the same to me, though some things are a bit different. There’s some holes in the walls where they weren’t before, where Jonathan had clearly gotten angry, and had thrown mom’s valuables, or punched holes into the once smooth surfaces. The wall closest to the stairs is still busted in, it’s been that way ever since Jonathan slammed mom’s head against it so hard that he dislocated her jaw.
I had just turned fifteen then.
The second step still has a loose board, still creaks loudly when I step up on it. I always knew to quickly hide whatever I was doing the moment I heard that loud creak, would always shove whoever was in my room with me in the closet, or beneath the bed when I’d hear Jonathan stomping up these old stairs.
Jonathan never allowed us to have friends over, he knew that if anyone ever stepped foot inside our house they’d know what took place behind closed doors, and blossomed on skin beneath concealing clothes.
“Hayes?” Chance calls softly from the top of the stairs.
I wet my lips, flick my tongue over the metal in my lip as I force my head up to look at him. I notice how he’s changed so much since I lived here, since we shared a bedroom and a bed and clothes.
Only several months ago, Chance used to be so lanky, used to let his shoulders sag with insecurity, and could never stop talking no matter how hard he tried. Now he’s only a fraction shorter than me, gained a bit of weight, and runs his heart out on the football field.
Now my brother smiles like we don’t have a father who’s capable of murder.
“Thank you,” Chance says with an easy smile, leans against the stained wall with a heavy sigh. “For everything.”
I blink away the burning in my eyes, look towards the broken railing in silence before meeting my brother’s gaze.
“Yeah well,” I shrug, aim for nonchalance, but every part of me screams uncomfortable, and anxious. “You deserve better than what you’re getting.”
He pushes himself off the wall with his shoulder, looks me over with sad eyes,
“So do you.” He breathes before heading down the hall.
Some days I wish I could go back to the days where I shared a bed with Chance throughout high school, wish I could go back, and put Jonathan in his place– wish I could go back, and fucking kill him.
But I’m beginning to realize that I’m wishing for too much.
“Get your fucking kid, Olivia,” Jonathan snarls from the dining room, angry eyes watching me as I stumble into the kitchen. “He’s going to get paint all over the damned kitchen.”
Always just Mom’s kid, never his.
Never his son.
Mom’s sitting at the other end of the table with tears in her eyes, know she’s watching me in silence as I scrub my paint covered hands in the sink, can tell Jonathan’s been hard on her today. I lean against the counter, ignore the way my full backpack digs into the bruised skin of my lower back as I reach for an apple.
A couple of the jocks roughed me up in the locker room today when they caught sight of my scars, slammed me so hard against the lockers that I still get a jolt of pain every time I suck in a breath– shoved my sketchbooks in the toilet.
Even at the age of sixteen, I still don’t have the courage to fight back.
I bite into my apple.
“I’m your kid too, ya know.” I grit, limp through the dining room, apple in hand, hope Jonathan catches on to the bite in my tone.
It’s just a bad day, I try to tell myself, just a bad day.
I’m almost in the living room when the sound of him pushing back in his chair stops me, can hear the sound of his dirty work boots stomp across the dining room floor, and I turn to look at him at the sound of my mother’s loud cry.
“What was that, kid?” He’s up in my face now, hand fisted in my shirt the same way he grabs my mom, grabs me like maybe beating on her isn’t enough for him anymore.
I don’t know where my brothers are, but I’m grateful they’re not in here to see this– to see one more person that they love get thrown around like they’re nothing.
“Jonathan,” my mom begs, doesn’t bother rising from her seat as she sobs. “Please, sweetie. He’s just tired, he didn’t mean it, you know how he can get.”
Always my fault, always on me.
Jonathan’s dark, uncut hair falls over his eyes, makes him look even more menacing than he really is as he glares at me.
“He needs to learn some manners before I teach him a lesson,” he snarls before wrenching his hand from my shirt, smacks the apple out of my hand, and onto the floor out of spite. “Get your damned kid under control, Olivia, or I’ll beat his fucking face in.”
I lock myself up in my room for the rest of the night, don’t even come out for dinner, not even for breakfast the next morning.
When Mabel pulls up in front of my house, my siblings in the backseat of her truck, my faces goes pale at the sight of Amir, and his men leaning against his parked van. He’s angry, I can see it in the way he keeps his arms crossed, and glares at me through the windshield.
Mabel turns to look at me wide eyed, and I hate myself a little bit more because I keep fucking ruining everything.
“Hayes,” Chance says from the backseat, and I don’t have the courage to look at him. “Who the fuck is that?”
My heart is racing in my chest and I think about how today has been the most I’ve felt in days and today was one of my good days but now it’s going to end so, so badly.
“Stay in the truck.” I demand, force air down my dry throat, and into my caving chest.
I owe him money— money I don’t fucking have.
But I reach to open the door, curse under my breath at the sight of my shaking fingers, and jump out into the frigid air. I open my chapped lips to say something, to say anything that will somehow get me out of this situation.
But before I can even speak, Amir lunges.
He has me slammed up against the hood of Mabel’s truck instantly, fists curling in the collar of my sweatshirt, nearly choking me. The metal of her truck is scorching from running for so long, burning into the small of my back from where my sweatshirt has ridden up.
I hiss in pain.
“Give me my fucking money, boy.” Amir seethes, fingers tightening.
Mabel screams from the driver’s seat, scrambles for the door handle, and shoves the door open. She isn’t even given the opportunity to grab for me because one of Amir’s men has his hands on her in an instant.
I hate myself a bit more when the rest of them drag my brothers out of the car, and Peaches snarls protectively— nuzzles up against Leo’s side.
Mabel is kicking at the man who has his arms around her, screeching for him to let her go as her fists go flying. Her fists collide with his jaw, but he grips tighter onto her, drags a greedy hand through her hair before giving a hard pull.
Amir begins searching my empty pockets for money that I don’t have. Chance attempts to step forward to grab at the man, but one scorching glare from me has him stepping back beside my quiet brothers. Mabel is calling out my name, telling me to give them whatever they want, and let it all go.
But I don’t have anything that they would want.
I’m just a broke University student who got involved with the wrong kind of people.
“Where is my fucking money, boy?” He yanks me forward only to shove me painfully against Mabel’s truck again. “Huh? You better have my damned money, or I’ll mess you up, you hear?”
Brooklyn pulls a horrified Leo against him, trying to shelter him from all of this.
All of this madness.
“I’ll get you your money,” I gasp, press my palms against the truck’s hood in an attempt to ease up on the pain. “Okay? I swear, I’ll get your money, I don’t have it right now, but I’ll get it.”
Mabel shrieks out in pain when the man gives another sharp tug on her hair, and she reaches up to dig her nails into his arm. Chance can’t break his angry gaze away from her, from the gruff man who reminds me so much of Jonathan.
“Let her go!” Chance yells, reaches across the short distance between them, and latches onto Mabel’s wrist. “Please, let her go, okay? She’s had nothing to do with this.”
Amir grins over his shoulder before he turns to look at me, pushes me harder against the hot metal, spits on my chest. The man holding Mabel only grips on tighter with an evil, satisfied smile when an angry tear slips down her cheek.
“You heard the kid,” someone grits, and I peer over Amir’s shoulder to find Mabel’s father standing behind Mabel, and the sinister man, armed with a rifle. “You let go of my daughter right this instant, or I’ll blow your head off your shoulders.”
All Amir’s men chuckle as if they believe he’s joking. But that alone has Mr. Baker planting the butt of his rifle against his shoulder, and clicking off the safety with deadly silence.
Mabel smiles hatefully at the man with his hands in her beautiful hair, smiles at him through the tears, and he lets her go. She goes staggering forward, Chance is quick to yank her to him, wrapping a protective arm around her.
“Now you let go of that boy,” Mr. Baker shoves through the men as if they were never there to begin with, steps toward Amir with the barrel of his rifle aimed at the back of his blond head. “Or I’ll have your brain sprayed out across my daughter’s truck, and I really like that truck, so I’m hoping your next move is a wise one, Mr. Amir Fouche.”
Amir glares at me before turning his attention to the armed man. He doesn’t seem bothered by the fact that he has a loaded rifle a hand’s breadth away from his nose.
“The boy owes me money,” he smiles, still has me pressed against the truck. “When I get my money, Adam Baker, then I’ll let him go.”
I nearly flinch, look over at Mabel with apologetic eyes, but she avoids my gaze, turns to see if the boys are okay.
Mr. Baker digs into his back pocket, throws his leather wallet out onto the wet cement of the road, and aims his rifle again. Amir does nothing, but stare at the worn wallet on the ground with distaste.
“Take your damned money,” Mr. Baker snaps, waits for Amir to let me go before lowering his gun. “Now leave.”
Amir shoves me against the truck one final time, making me groan in pain, and then he bends down to snatch up the wallet. He flips through it quickly, finds an old photo of a young Mabel, and smiles wolfishly before ripping it in half. He lets the paper pieces scatter on the wet road, and then hollers for his men to load up in the van.
They speed away, kicking up muddy water, and wet gravel. I stare at my brothers, at the enraged expressions on Brooklyn’s, and Chance’s faces.
I look at Mabel, she rubs at her sore scalp with her busted fingers, curses softly under her breath before shuffling towards her father.
I glare at the ground, think how much better it would be if I was splattered out on the cement.
“Thank you.” I say to Mr. Baker, though I can’t quite meet his stare, too ashamed to even hold eye contact with anyone.
I begin to drag myself up towards my house, motioning for my brothers to follow.
I’m not sure what more to say to Adam Baker, don’t even know how to look his daughter in the eyes after what just occurred. I know I just need to go home, lock the front door, crawl into bed, and stay there.
Stay hidden beneath the safety of my covers and forget about college and being a fully functioning adult and just hide away from the world.
“Where do you think you’re going, young man?” Mabel’s father calls out to me, and Mabel grabs onto his arm in warning, but he ignores her.
I turn to look at them in confusion, see my brothers still standing beside Mabel in quiet rage. I sigh in frustration, wish none of this even happened, wish I hadn’t fucked up my own suicide.
“Come on over to our place, and we’ll talk over dinner.”