I knew I was dreaming as I surveyed my childhood room. I hadn’t been in this room in nearly eleven years.
These were the worst nightmares, the ones I couldn’t ignore because they weren’t just dreams — they were memories.
Bile rose in my throat, and I inhaled shakily, trying to swallow my fears.
“Alexandra!” John called out, slamming the door behind him. I heard him toss his boots off his feet, sighing loudly.
I held my breath as I stepped over the half-a-foot-wide hole in my bedroom floor. The rotting wood was deep brown and covered in dust, and the back of my heel rubbed the too-soft timber.
“Coming!” I yelled out, worried that his damaged ears wouldn’t hear me.
“I have a friend here today!”
My stomach dropped through the floor.
As I rounded the corner, I recognized the worn face of one of the men who frequented my house. His silver wedding band glimmered in the dim lighting as he spun it around his finger.
“Hello, Alexandra,” he greeted. The sunspots that covered his face folded into his smile lines, and I avoided looking into his dark brown eyes, instead glancing at my feet.
“Hi,” I practically whispered, my voice faltering.
“Is that how we greet our friends?” John asked.
“Hello, sir,” I greeted.
“How are you, young lady?” The man dropped to his knees, inching closer to me, and I took an apprehensive step back.
“I’m okay. How are you?” I refused to meet his intense gaze.
“I’m well, thank you,” he responded.
I stayed quiet, looking at the rough floorboards beneath my feet.
“Alexandra?” the man asked.
Without taking a breath, I slowly lifted my eyes to meet the man’s stare, cringing as his concerned gaze searched my face.
“Do you wanna watch the game with us?” he asked.
“No, thank you,” I murmured.
“Then let’s go to the bar, John,” the man said, standing.
“You can go to your room,” John said, although it was more of an order than an offer.
As I turned around to walk down the hallway, I heard rustling from behind me. I glanced over my shoulder to see Melissa standing at the end of the hallway, her face morphed in fear.
“John, you know how you get when you’re drunk,” she whispered urgently.
The man, John’s friend, gently grabbed my hand and walked me down the hallway, his long legs moving too fast for my pace. I stumbled over my feet as I looked over my shoulder, scared for Melissa.
“Hush!” John hissed, lifting his hand as if to hit her.
She dropped her head, backing away in cowardice. “You promised this would stop,” she murmured, thick curls obscuring her face.
“Melissa,” he warned through his clenched teeth.
“You have to stop this!” she retorted.
John’s face contorted in anger, and I turned away.
A loud resounding smack echoed through the hallway, and I flinched, squeezing my eyes shut.
I tripped over a loose floorboard, and the man helped me up, now extremely desperate to get me out of the hallway, away from the arguing I saw everyday. I looked up at him, confused why he cared.
Melissa whimpered, and I couldn’t remember how to move my legs.
He tugged on my hand, and I dragged my feet as we walked down the hallway, my heart racing in fear at the sound of Melissa hitting the ground again.
When we finally reached my room, the man asked me to show him my favorite toys or coloring books, to which I tilted my head in confusion. His face went blank with shock, and he shook his head, running a hand over his face.
“I’ll teach you a game, then,” he said, and grabbed a math worksheet from my dresser. “Have you heard of tic-tac-toe?”
“No,” I answered, not meeting his eyes. “Mrs. Culler wants us to keep our worksheets clean. No extra marks.”
“Okay. Do you have any, um, clean pieces of paper that we can use?”
I nodded, and after handing him a new sheet, we played tic-tac-toe until John told us he was ready.
“Bye, Alexandra,” the man said. He looked sad, and I furrowed my eyebrows.
Tic-tac-toe is no fun by yourself, but I tried for the rest of the night, slow dread creeping through my veins.
Finally, John peeked his head into my room. “What are you doing?” he asked, his words slurred.
“Tic-tac-toe,” I answered, holding out a pencil for him to use.
“Where’d you learn that?”
“My friend,” he echoed, his voice quiet, like it always gets right before he yells.
I brought my knees up to my chest, squeezing my eyes shut as he walked closer...
And then it was over. It was as if my brain shied away from the too painful parts of my memories, my subconscious protecting me from my own past. They always ended right before I could remember any of the haunting details.
I shot up, my heart thumping loudly in my chest, and a sense of dread washed over my body.
I knew he wasn’t there. Impossible, I told myself. It was just a memory. But the shirt hanging from my door looked like his slender body, and I shivered, unable to turn away.
“Mom?” I rasped as loudly as I could, but I still wasn’t loud enough for anyone to hear.
I wrapped my arms around my torso, turning onto my side and biting the inside of my cheek. “It was just a dream,” I murmured to myself, shaking my head.
“Alex?” someone whispered from the entrance of my room.
I looked up to find my younger brother, Kamden, peeking past the door.
“Do you need Mom?” he asked, his eyebrows furrowed.
I nodded, taking a deep breath. Guilt tainted my thoughts, and I immediately regretted making any noise.
“Thanks, Kam.” My voice was hoarse and quiet, but seemed loud in the still silence of my house.
He nodded, not quite meeting my eyes and closing the door behind him. I heard the light padding of his feet as he ran lightly down the stairs, trying not to wake up the dogs.
Once his feet met the last step, I curled up tighter, wrapping my arms around my knees. I could still feel the man’s hands on my arms, see his dark eyes follow my every move.
It was only a few seconds before my mom arrived.
“Alex?” she murmured from the door. “Was it another memory dream?” Her voice was soft.
I nodded. Why can’t I stop this?
“John hit her,” I whispered, tears pouring from my eyes.
My mom frowned slightly, her eyes sad as she approached my bed.
“A man took me back into my room and — .”
“Shhh, it’s okay,” she soothed, motioning for me to come closer. I sat up, biting my lip as she pulled me into her embrace, murmuring softly and rubbing my back.
“I’m so sorry. I’m just so scared.” I avoided her eyes, shame overpowering my sorrow.
“I know sweetie. It’s okay to be scared; everyone is afraid of something.”
I stared at the lines of my pajama shorts until my breathing slowed and my eyelids grew heavy. It must have been at least a half an hour before I felt calm enough to be alone.
“Why don’t you try to go back to sleep, okay? If you want, you can sleep in my bed.” My mom reached forward, running her hand over my hair.
I shook my head, glancing around the room for my brown tabby cat. “Where’s Hazel?”
My mom smiled slightly, the wrinkles of her forehead smoothing out. “I’ll bring her to you. You just lay down and try to fall asleep.” She stood, pulling the covers up over my legs. “I love you, Alex.”
“Love you too, Mom,” I murmured, laying back down and turning onto my side. My body sunk into the bed, worn out from all the commotion. Soon enough, I succumbed to the darkness and fell asleep.
I ruffled Kam’s hair playfully as I grabbed a granola bar from the cupboard, smiling as he huffed and hurriedly adjusted his dark locks.
“I’m gonna head out, Ma,” I half-shouted, slipping on my tennis shoes.
“Are you visiting Ms. Miller?” she asked, entering the room with her phone pressed against her ear. She grabbed a banana off the counter, her short, black heels clicking on the tile.
“Yeah, and I’m taking Princess on a walk.”
Both of my dogs scurried into the kitchen at the word “walk,” wagging their tails and jumping at my legs.
“Oops.” I glanced at Kam, smiling in apology. “Could you…?”
“Yeah,” he sighed, slipping out of his chair and grabbing their leashes off the counter.
I scratched behind my dog Lola’s ear. “Alright, I’m heading out.”
“See you soon, honey.” Mom hastily planted a kiss on my cheek and muttered something into the phone.
After plucking my keys from the bowl on the island, I skipped to the door, rubbing my dogs’ heads on the way out. I walked 15 yards to my neighbor’s house with my bike at my side, setting it against the small, wooden porch.
“Ms. Miller, I’m here!” I shouted, toeing my shoes off. “Princess!” A large, black Great Dane came barelling into the foyer, her tail wagging as she hopped onto my shoulders.
“Down, Princess!” a stern voice said.
I smiled at Ms. Miller, who stood at the bottom of the stairs, frowning.
“I already told you,” I reminded her, turning my face so Princess could lick my cheek, “that her standing like a human is the only reason I still come to this dump.”
Ms. Miller scowled, although her eyes surveyed me fondly. “You’ve lost some weight, haven’t you?”
“I think you’re just going crazy.” I gave Princess one last scratch and pushed her paws off my shoulders.
“You know, I think it’s all that running and biking you’ve been doing. You look good.” She smiled at me as Princess shoved past her, grumbling at her owner.
“How’d you sleep?” I flipped my hair over so I could put it in a bun as she answered.
“Alright.” Ms. Miller motioned for me to follow her into the kitchen. “Princess climbed in bed with me at around midnight, so I didn’t get as much sleep as I would’ve liked. That dog’s spoiled rotten.” She glowered at Princess, who was laying on the couch in the living room. “I hope you didn’t forget that you’re helping me move in my grandkids today.”
“Do you even know me, Ms. Miller? I have the memory of an elephant.”
“I sure hope so because I’m gonna need your help.”
“That’s why I volunteered to help move boxes. I didn’t do it because I like you.” I pretended to shudder, opening her fridge. “Do you want me to make you breakfast?”
“I’m not as old and fragile as you think.” She shook her finger at me, nudging me away from the refrigerator. “I’m only 63, Alexandra.”
“I don’t think you’re old and fragile!” I said, laughing. “I already know you’re more capable than most people.”
“You’re right. I am more capable.” She grabbed the egg carton, a self-satisfied smirk stretching across her face. “Now go take Princess on her walk. I don’t pay you to stand around.”
After I walked Princess, Ms. Miller handed me 10 dollars and told me to stop by at noon so I could eat before I helped her grandkids move in.
“See you soon!” I called out as I closed the front door behind me. I popped my earbuds in and climbed on my bike, slipping my phone into my back pocket.
As I pedaled on the rough backroads, I scanned my familiar surroundings. My town, Tiwal, Maryland, was about the average size, population-wise. The huge, sprawling woods that accounted for most of the town made it look much larger than it felt. It wasn’t like everyone knew everyone in town, but you definitely knew the name of every person in your neighborhood.
When I reached the light blue house that felt like my second home, I was greeted by my best friend Vivian, bouncing on the balls of her feet excitedly.
“I missed you!” she shrieked, bounding over to me before I’d even hopped off my bike.
“Vi!” I clambered off, allowing it to fall to the ground as she threw her arms around my shoulders. Her dark curls obscured my vision.
“Two weeks is too long,” she groaned, squeezing me tightly.
Toward the beginning of every summer, Vi visited her grandparents in Georgia. It’s a huge ordeal for her family. Her dad didn’t talk to his parents for almost ten years after he got his then-girlfriend, now-wife, pregnant with Vivian. Since they were only 19, he knew his parents wouldn’t approve, so they moved in with his aunt and uncle in Tiwal.
“I know. But you’re back now, so we can finally catch up.”
She finally released me, slipping her hand in mine so she could tug me into the house. “My parents are at the store right now. We didn’t have any food.”
Once we stepped inside, I glanced at the pictures lining the wall as we raced up the steps. Vi’s face at every age — most of which I recognized — whipped past as we hurried upstairs. After plopping on Vi’s bed, I turned to her.
“Tell me everything. How many cat figurines do they have now?”
“At least 200.” She rolled her dark eyes, reaching deep into her duffle bag and pulling out a small box. “Well, 199 now.” She tossed it into my lap, grinning widely.
“No way. You didn’t!” I giggled in disbelief and tore open the package. “You even wrapped it for me!” I’d always wanted to see her grandparents’ figurine collection, but she refused to take a picture. She joked that her social life would be ruined if even one person saw the picture.
“This is horrifying!” I fell back onto the bed, shaking with laughter and holding the pink figurine in the air.
“Trust me, I know.” She fake shuddered. “Imagine how terrified I was to walk into that room with all of their demon eyes staring at me while I stole one.”
“You’re so brave, Vi. All for me.” I jumped up and threw my arms around her, but she shoved me back onto the bed.
“‘You’re so brave, Vi,’” she mocked, flopping onto the bed next to me. “Okay, now it’s your turn. Fill me in.”
“Not much happened, honestly.” I turned to face her. “Ms. Miller said I looked skinnier, and I didn’t know if that was a compliment or not. And last week she made me some brownies.”
“Okay, I love that woman to death, but if you spent the last two weeks with an old lady, I will murder you.”
“Jeez, okay.” I scrambled for information to give her. “Well, I did go swimming with Jade, Lucas, and Shane quite a bit. We hung out in the treehouse a few times, and Jade slept over once.”
“Did you do anything crazy or new?”
“Not really, no.”
“You’re so boring, Alex.” Vi tousled my hair, grinning.
Laughing, I jumped up and grabbed a pillow. “You know I hate that.” I lifted up the pillow, grinning.
“Hit me. I dare you.” She lifted her brow at me, crossing her arms smugly.
I shrugged. “Okay.”
The pillow hit her face with a loud thud, and she gasped in surprise, grabbing my arms.
“You jerk!” Vi shoved me off the bed, and I fell in a heap on the floor, laughing uncontrollably.
“Oh my gosh, I didn’t mean to push you so hard!” She reached her hand out to help me up.
I pulled her down as hard as I could, and she crumpled on the floor next to me.
“Even?” she asked, gasping for air.
“Yep.” I hopped up, panting as I slipped my hand in hers. “Come on, get up.”
“Fine,” I huffed, laying down on the floor next to her. We sat silent for a moment, catching our breath.
“How were the memory dreams while I was gone?” she asked quietly, turning onto her side so she could see my face. My mind went blank at the sudden conversation change.
“They’re getting clearer.” I didn’t meet her eyes, instead staring at the grooves of her popcorn ceiling. “I’m remembering more, and I can’t decide if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. I saw her face.”
“Your mom’s?” Vi sat up quickly, her eyes wide. They turned emerald in the sunlight streaming through her window. “You saw Melissa’s face?”
“Yeah.” I sat up with her.
“What does she look like?”
“I have her nose.” My tone was slightly bitter, and I picked at the rug beneath my feet. “Her hair’s frizzier than mine, and her eyes are a much darker brown.” I looked up at Vi, watching as she surveyed my face.
“Wow. It feels like you haven’t seen her face in forever.”
“It’s been 8 years, so it’s almost like I haven’t.” I swallowed my swelling anger, scanning her face as it lulled.
Vi pulled me into her arms, sighing. “You’re such a liar. I knew something happened while I was gone.”
I rolled my eyes, and Vi perked up at the sound of her parents pulling into the driveway.
“They brought snacks.” She jumped up and raced for her door.
“Dude!” I shouted, running after her. We scrambled down the stairs, giggling when I slipped on one of the steps.
“Hi Mrs. and Mr. Davis,” I greeted, hopping off the last stair. “How was your trip?”
“It was great, sweetie.” Mrs. Davis pulled me into her arms. “How was it while we were gone?”
“It was kinda boring without Vi,” I admitted, smiling at Mr. Davis. “Did you guys do anything fun in Georgia?”
“We went to an amusement park, but mostly just spent time with my parents.” Mr. Davis smiled wistfully, and I could tell he missed them. I couldn’t imagine only seeing my parents twice a year.
Mr. Davis started toward the kitchen, and I glanced at the bags in his arms.
“I’ll take that,” I offered, holding my arms out. “You go finish unpacking. I already know where everything goes, anyway.” I grinned as he handed over the groceries and turned to go into the kitchen.
“You coming, Vi?” I called over my shoulder. After dumping the groceries on the counter, I tossed Vi an orange.
“Are you gonna help or what?”
She rolled her eyes and reached into the bags. “I have nothing better to do.” She grinned at me and turned to the fridge.
“Oh, I forgot to tell you. I have to help Ms. Miller move her grandkids in. They’re moving into the open house across from mine.”
“Why are they moving?” Vi asked.
“I think it had something to do with the kids’ mom; it must be something really sad because Ms. Miller never wanted to talk about it. I don’t think it’s my business, so I never asked.”
“Right.” Her face turned slightly pink as she put a can in the cabinet next to me. “It would be kind of intrusive to ask.”
We put the rest of the groceries away as swiftly as we could, and once I put the bags away, Vi turned to me.
“Let’s go to the treehouse.”
When my brother was in kindergarten, my uncle built him a treehouse in my backyard. He’d never expressed any interest in it, and eventually, my parents gave it to me for my tenth birthday. After that, Vi and I practically lived there when we spent time together.
“Okay,” I agreed eagerly. “We should add another drawing.”
“We’re going to Alex’s house!” Vi called up the steps.
“Alright!” her mom answered. “Make sure you’re home for dinner!”
“Okay! See you soon!”
After shoving on our shoes, we raced out the door.
“Wait!” Vi abruptly stopped. “Your figurine.”
I gasped. “I almost forgot!”
“I can’t believe it. Do you even love her?”
“It’s a she?”
“Of course it is.” Vi rolled her eyes as if it were obvious. “Some kind of pet owner you are.”
“You are so bizarre.” I shook my head.
“Shut up and go get your daughter.”
A/N: hey all! I was thinking of saying what songs I think fit/I listened to while writing at the end of each chapter. What do you think?
I don’t really expect any replies — I doubt anyone will see this or read it. If you do, hey!
Are you enjoying my ongoing story? Please let me know what you think by leaving a review! Thanks, Elodie DavineWrite a Review