I'm Still Here

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Chapter 3: Hide Away

“Mr. Blue Sky, please tell us why you had to hide away for so long. Where did we go wrong?” - Electric Light Orchestra

“Jeanie, can you throw me some soy sauce packets?” Tommy lounged at their new kitchen table, his mouth full of chop suey. Jean rolled her eyes, rifling through the plastic take-out bag with one hand and balancing her plate with the other. Finding said packets, she tossed them aimlessly at her brother. One landed in his food, another hit him in the arm.

“Thanks” he chuffed through a scampish, food-filled grin. He was incorrigible.

Jean sat down across from him, plate piled high with rice and Mongolian beef. They ate in silence for a few moments, digesting the day. They had successfully moved into the house, having only shipped ahead a few boxes of personal items. The ride from Philadelphia to Connecticut had taken over three hours, and Jean was exhausted. She had done manual labor most of the day, not to mention the mishap she’d had that morning at the diner.

As if reading her thoughts, Tommy smirked. “So, you really let that dude have it this morning, huh?”

Jean grunted, not looking up from her food. “He was being a scumbag. You wouldn’t have let him feel up that girl either.”

“Definitely not,” her brother nodded, “but I think I would’ve left him with his front teeth. Pretty sure he got the message after the second punch.”

Jean sighed. Ever since they were kids, her little brother had followed her lead on almost everything. When she wanted to climb trees, he broke his arm trying to go higher than her. When she snuck out to get her first tattoo, he went with her to watch. In highschool, when she keyed Brian McCreary’s car for cheating on her best friend, Tommy took the blame for it so Jean could still go to homecoming. They had always been each other’s closest confidant, and rarely argued about anything. The only exception was Jean’s temper.

“Look, I didn’t make the dude any uglier than he already was. I told him to back up, he didn’t. End of story.”

“And much as I appreciate your noble defense of a woman’s virtue, it’d really be great if we didn’t have another reason for the police to sniff around. Especially now that we got this job.”

Jean exhaled slowly. Her brother was right. They couldn’t go back to Philadelphia. It would mean trouble for everyone. If there was one thing she didn’t need more of, it was trouble.

“Look,” he sighed, “I want to finish this just as much as you do. But if we can’t make this work, then we have to go back to the gang. And if you can’t keep your anger in check, then we can’t make this work. Yeah?”

Jean clenched her jaw at the mention of the gang, but said nothing. Her brother continued.

“These are high class people. They don’t know how to deal with folks like us. We just need to keep our heads down, do our jobs, and eventually we’ll forget our ruffian ways and be happy productive citizens.” At this, Jean couldn’t help a small grin. It was hard to imagine her and Tommy as happy productive citizens. Living in a cul de sac, driving an SUV, working a 9 to 5. It was laughable.

“You’re right,” she sighed.

“I know.”

She was eager to change the subject. “Speaking of new jobs, I hope you’re ready to mow tomorrow. This place has a lot of freakin’ land,” she teased. Tommy rolled his eyes.

“You could say that again,” he mumbled around another bite of food. “You’re definitely gonna be the one mowing around the garden. I’m not giving that Casey woman any reason to chew me out.”

Jean laughed lightly. “Actually, I talked with her a bit earlier, she’s real nice. I think she just puts a lot of herself into the garden, that’s all.”

Tommy quirked an eyebrow. “She’s kind of awkward though.”

“Yeah, but in a cute way.”

“Cute? I thought it was a rich person thing. You know, like. ‘Yes peasant, do my bidding.’”

Jean rolled her eyes. “As ever, dear brother, you see but you do not observe.” Tommy raised his eyebrows, but gestured with his fork for her to continue.

“Her voice was shaking, her hands were sweaty, her pupils were dilated. She wasn’t being condescending, she was scared to death.”

“Scared to death to give her employees instructions?”

“I know this is hard to believe, but not everybody is a social butterfly like you.”

Tommy chuckled, getting up to rinse his plate. “Oh Jeanie, and all this time I thought there was just something wrong with you.”

Jean smirked. “You’re just jealous because I read people better than you. It’s why I’ve won more fights.”

The taller man scoffed. “Um, no. You’ve won more fights because you get in more fights. My superior height would overcome your experience and fury everytime.”

Jean snorted as she rose to rinse her plate too. “Sure, Morell. Remember that next time I tap you out.”

“Strong words from someone in scuffling distance.”

“Them’s is fightin’ words, little brother.”

A playful yet spirited wrestling match ensued.

Tommy sulked for the rest of the night, after he was indeed forced to tap out.


Marietta sat at the large oak dinner table, carefully chewing her filet mignon. No one had spoken since the main course was served. George sat at the opposite end of the table, still in his suit jacket, carefully reading some sort of business report. Her mother sat to her right, delicately sipping wine.

“Renee,” George finally said, clearing his throat. He put down the paper and took off his reading glasses. “Have you discussed the gala with Marietta?”

Her mother smiled and delicately patted the corner of her mouth with a cloth napkin. “Yes, I did. She said she’d be more than happy to attend. Didn’t you Marietta?”

Marietta swallowed nervously. She had been willing to attend the event to please her mother, but now that she knew he was going to be there, she could hardly breathe.

“I, um, I don’t...” she stuttered. George looked at her in that cool, cavalier way he seemed to have perfected. His mouth twitched ever so slightly.

“I don’t know if it would be wise for me to attend.” Her mother looked at her sharply, irritation evident in her expression. Marietta avoided her eyes.

“Why is that, Marietta?” George asked neutrally. She got the sense that this was the voice he used in his business dealings.

“It’s just that, well. William Brating will be there,” she said, wincing at his name. “I recognize his family is important, but I find his presence to be…” Vulgar. Terrifying. Unbearable. “...uncomfortable,” she finished. “He’s always acted rather peculiarly towards me.” Her heart was pounding, both at the thought of William and at the effort of standing up for herself.

George nodded thoughtfully. “I understand you don’t have the easiest time being around others Marietta. That’s not unheard of. But you must understand that, as your mother’s daughter, there are certain obligations you have. Renee Holt is a world renowned artist, and she deserves the full support of her family at this gala.”

Marietta wondered if she had imagined the self-satisfaction in his tone when he said the word “Holt.” She found herself desperately wishing her father could be there. He had always stuck up for her when she was afraid.

“I understand I have obligations, but regardless, I don’t feel comfortable attending. Please understand.” Her voice trembled as tears came to her eyes.

Marietta,” her mother hissed. “Don’t forget who funds your garden. I don’t see why I should be supporting you if you can’t support me. Appearances are essential.”

Marietta could no longer breathe. The room was spinning. George’s voice blurred into white noise, and she felt nothing except the pounding in her chest and the lump in her throat. She had to get out.

She shakily got up from the table, ignoring the calls from her mother, and stumbled out of the house into the darkness. The moon was bright enough for her to find her way to the garden. Within moments, she was curled up on the soft ground, crying.

She was not an unfortunate person. She had been born into a rich family that provided for all her material needs. She was able to pursue her passion without monetary restraint. She was privileged enough to have never known the effects of oppressive systems and societal burdens.

And yet, Marietta lacked the one thing in the world that everyone seemed to think was essential. Love. She hadn’t felt loved since her father died. She had Lola, but the dog could only understand so much. Her garden, the one thing that made her feel alive, was being threatened, all for the sake of forcing her to socialize with a demon. She curled further into herself, feeling nothing but fear and despair.

Sometimes, she understood what it felt like to die.

She lay there for what felt like hours, choking on sobs. She knew she was hyperventilating, knew this was a panic attack, but could do nothing to ease it. She was certain she was going to suffocate.

Suddenly, she heard the sound of footsteps to her left. She couldn’t physically lift her head to see who was approaching, so she just lay there, trying to take in enough oxygen to see straight. A warm hand touched her shoulder, and suddenly she was looking into dark eyes.

“Hey, Miss Casey?” The softest voice she had ever heard broke through her thoughts. It was the nice woman from before. Jean.

“Marietta, can you hear me? It’s Jean. I’m not going to hurt you.” Marietta blinked. She knew that. Jean was nice.

“I’m not going to hurt you,” the woman repeated, gently wiping back the sweaty hair plastered to Marietta’s forehead. “Just take deep breaths. You’re breathing too fast right now. Try and breathe in through your nose slowly, then out through your mouth. Real slow. Can you do that with me?”

Marietta managed a nod, and tried matching Jean’s deep breaths. After a few minutes, she found the world had stopped spinning.

“Good, very good” Jean murmured, gently squeezing the redhead’s shoulder. “Are you hurt? Were you injured anywhere?”

Marietta shook her head.

“Okay,” Jean exhaled. “That’s good. Just keep breathing.” She began rubbing small circles on the redhead’s back. That was comforting. In that moment, Marietta was fairly certain that Jean’s eyes were the only thing anchoring her to the earth. Without them, she would just drift into oblivion. She kept breathing.

“Can you sit up for me sweetheart?” Jean asked softly. “I know you love your plants, but I don’t think laying in the dirt is a good idea.”

Marietta breathed for a few moments. It felt like her whole body was shaking. Sitting up sounded difficult. “I don’t think I can,” she rasped. Jean kept rubbing her back.

“Okay, that’s okay. I’ll help you. Is it okay if I help you sit up?”

Marietta closed her eyes. Suddenly she was so, so tired. “I just want to sleep,” she mumbled. Her limbs felt like lead.

“Marietta?”

That was her name. Given to her by her father. It sounded nice when Jean said it.

“Marietta, I’m going to help you back inside, okay? You can sleep in there.”

Marietta found she wasn’t capable of forming a reply. She felt two strong arms lift her off the ground, and then the world went black.

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