I draw in a deep breath, my hands gripping the steering wheel so hard that my knuckles begin to go white. "Calm down Beckette." I recite to myself as if the foolish words could quell the pain that I feel deep in my gut.
"You're going nowhere in life if you keep up with this little— infatuation with art that you have. Doodling is not a real career." The word nowhere drew out way longer than it should have— driving the point home. My mother continued her tirade as I sat there on the sofa, my fists clenched in my lap. Her face is so close to mine that I have to hold my breath to quell the nausea rolling in my stomach from the overwhelming scent of alcohol permeating from her breath.
I didn't know whether I wanted to scream back at her or if I wanted to burst into tears. I was so sick of being belittled by her. I know Art isn't necessarily a respectable degree, but I've been told for years by every art teacher that I've come across that I need to pursue my passion.
My whole life I did nothing but try to win my mother's love and to make her proud of me. I've spent the past eight years since my father's death trying to be good enough for her; trying to do anything to make her happy and to stop drinking— but no matter what I did and how hard I tried, nothing ever made her stop, nothing ever made her love me— she just started hating me more.
I've been a near straight A student since I started school, getting awards and even a scholarship this year for my art but nothing is ever good enough for my mother. Oh, I didn't do the dishes? I'm a piece of shit. I was out a little past curfew; I'm out doing drugs or out getting some random girl pregnant. Most nights I opted to stay in just because it was easier than having to deal with her judgment and crazy accusations.
The sad thing is, even with how she treats me I still feel some sense of duty to take care of her, to make sure she's alright. I don't think my mom will ever fully be okay ever again, but I just have to make sure she doesn't end up dead in a ditch somewhere.
I reach forward and turn up the music to damn near deafening levels, feeling the bass of the music reverberate through my body. It's almost ten thirty and I needed to escape the situation at home. My mother was drunk and coming at me with every insult in the book and I couldn't sit there and let myself be berated by her anymore. I'm smart enough to never talk back or try to assert any dominance towards her— that just makes it worse. Instead, I sit back and take it, or leave the situation.
The beat drops and the chorus follows next; I find myself singing— no, screaming at the top of my lungs along with the words. As the song comes to an end my headlights catch the silhouette of something- too big to be an animal, but who'd be crazy enough to be out alone walking on these back roads at ten pm? I look at my dash and the outside temperature reads 35 degrees.
I pull my car to the side of the road and see a young girl walking down the shoulder of the road. She looks to be about my age, and I can see her shivering, her arms wrapped tightly around her body.
Her head whips around when she hears my tires come to a halt in the gravel behind her. I throw the car in park and slowly get out. Before I move from beside my car I suck in a deep breath. "Are you okay?"
She stares at me, shielding her eyes against the bright light of my headlights before they shut off automatically. She shuffles back just a step but I catch the fear in her eyes immediately.
"I'm not going to hurt you—" I hold my hands up to show her that I'm somehow harmless.
"I just saw you walking down the side of the road, and you look cold. It's also late, I just wanted to make sure you were okay and see if you possibly needed a ride home." I can see her contemplating what I say to her and she pulls her full bottom lip between her teeth, chewing on it before giving me a slight nod of her head.
I give her a warm smile as she closes the gap between us. I open my passenger door for her, waiting until she's safely inside before closing the door behind her. I open the back door and rifle around in the back seat trying to find the blanket that I stashed in here a few weeks ago when my mother kicked me out for the umpteenth time. I finally locate it under a pile of clothes and pull it to my face, giving it a sniff. It smells clean enough. I close the back door and open the passenger door again, draping the blanket across the girl. She looks up at me and I swear in the moonlight I see the shimmer of tears in the corner of her eyes but when she blinks, they're gone. She gives me a small smile as I close the door and jog over to the driver's side.
I climb in and start the ignition. I give the car a moment to warm up before leaning over and turning the heat all the way up, positioning the fans towards her so that she receives most of the warm air. She gives me another small smile but this time I realize that it doesn't reach her eyes and the look of sadness is back.
I can't help but bite my lip as I study her face. She's beautiful. Her blonde hair is pulled up in a high ponytail and her body is covered with a sweatshirt that is about three sizes too big. I can't help but grin. She's breathtaking.
I peel my eyes away from her, warmth filling my cheeks as I catch myself staring, and shift the car into drive, pulling away from the shoulder and back onto the road.
I chance a glance back over at her and she's staring out the window, watching the trees around us go rushing by and I notice that she's clutching a book in her lap. I can't read the title, but with the way she's holding it, it must be good.
"Are you still cold?" I ask and she just shakes her head in response as she continues to stare out the window.
"I'm Beckette, by the way." I return my eyes to the road for a moment before looking back over at her. Her eyes are trained on me now and she's quiet for a moment before her soft, sweet voice finally fills the air between us.
"It's nice to meet you, my name is Winter." And just as fast as it happened the moment was gone and she was back staring out the window.
A few more moments went by before I finally realized that I had no idea where I was taking her.
"So, where am I dropping you off?" I hesitate to ask.
Her beautiful doe eyes look over at me and I can feel my mouth fall open just slightly at the sight of her. The moon's white glow washes over her as we finally reach a clearing in the trees— and god, she looks heaven sent.
"Connor's court, please." She flashes me another tight-lipped smile.
I nod my head. Connor's court is halfway across town, this poor girl would've froze to death before she even made it home.
"If you don't mind me asking, where were you even coming from? It seems like a long walk on such a cold night." I say cautiously, keeping my eyes trained on the road in front of us.
There's another pause before she speaks. "The library." She keeps it short and simple, looking down at her hands in her lap as she picks at a stray piece of thread that's poking out from her sweater.
If she was coming from the library, that means she had walked almost a mile and a half, already.
I study her for a moment and decide not to ask anymore questions. "Well, good thing I drove by. You would've turned into a popsicle by the time you got home." I let out a small chuckle, trying to lift some of the tension from the air, and she returns it followed by a smile that ever so slightly reaches her eyes.
About ten minutes later we pull into the Connor's Court community and head down the main drag. Halfway near the end of the main road she whispers.
"This is it." She says and points to a modest colonial style house. It's dark, no lights on inside and for some reason it makes me feel uneasy.
"Is anyone home?" I mutter as I crane my neck to get a closer look; yup no car in the driveway either.
"Yes." She looks over at me with a look that I can't quite register; she almost looks nervous.
"You just um... Looked upset. Just didn't want to leave you alone." I cringe at the words as they rush out of my mouth. Nice one, Beck. Now you sound like a creep.
My words must not phase her, because she smiles at me— and the smile reaches her eyes. She's beaming. "It's okay. Thank you for caring, as well as the ride." She hesitates for a moment as if she doesn't want to get out, but then she reaches in and gives my hand a squeeze before turning and opening the car door.
As she leans out to push the car door open and climb out, her sweater rides up just slightly and my stomach drops at what I see— a massive, angry bruise. My mouth dries and just as I'm about to grab her arm to have her explain what the fuck I just saw, she's out of the car and halfway across the lawn. Once she reaches her porch she turns and gives me a small wave before slipping inside.
The whole ride home I couldn't get Winter out of my head— especially the bruise I saw.
I sat in front of her house for a good ten minutes before forcing myself to finally head home. I didn't want to leave— couldn't leave. I didn't even know the girl, but I feared for her safety and every alarm in me blared the moment I saw the bruise.
I drove home in a complete daze, barely remembering how I got from point A to point B. One minute I'm pulling away from her house, the next thing I know, I'm home.
Once I pull in the driveway, I notice that all of the lights are off except for the porch light— which I made sure to leave on for myself when I left.
I rake a shaky hand through my messy hair and suck in a deep breath, trying to calm myself before I make my way inside. Hopefully the dark house means that my mother is sleeping.
I climb out and make my way up to the front door, shoving my key in the lock and letting myself in. The house is silent when I enter— which is a good sign that my mother is sleeping or at least close to it.
I kick my shoes off by the door and head into the kitchen, grabbing myself a bottle of water from the fridge before quietly making my way upstairs and into my bedroom.
The events of the night play over in my head— between the nasty things my mother said to me, to meeting Winter. I know I'm pretty much useless when it comes to my mother, but with Winter, maybe there's something I could do— some way I could help.
I throw myself across my bed after changing into a pair of shorts. I heave a sigh before turning on the television, aimlessly flipping through the channels until coming across something that will act as decent background noise.
I grab my phone from my bedside table; it's almost midnight and I'm completely restless— looks like it's going to be another sleepless night for me.
I find myself scrolling through Facebook for over an hour, eventually making my way to the search bar where I dare type in Winter.
A few profiles pop up, but hers is the first. I bite the corner of my bottom lip and pull up her profile.
Her page is pretty private except for a few posts and pictures.
I start by scrolling through the posts that she has public- a few strings of song lyrics here and there, a few memes and birthday posts.
I can't help but smile because the Winter portrayed on her Facebook page is such a stark contrast to the girl I met tonight. From her profile, she seemed happy, carefree- the girl who I met tonight seemed tormented.
I click through her pictures, unable to help myself— my curiosity getting the best of me. I'm smiling like a fool as I pass picture after picture of Winter smiling and posing for the camera. My heart constricts at the thought of her and what danger she could possibly be in; this beautiful, bubbly, happy girl that's staring back at me from my phone screen doesn't deserve to have such a look of sadness in her eyes, let alone bruises like that on her body.
I sigh to myself after pausing on the last picture of her. The date reads 2018, she can't be any older than fourteen. She's giving the camera duck lips and holding up a peace sign. I chuckle to myself and my smile just spreads. She looks so carefree and cute and I can't help but to think, what went wrong?
I close out of Facebook and plug my phone in for the night. The last I checked it was almost two a.m. I know I'm going to be exhausted in the morning, but that's my day most days- somehow I still pull through anyway. I eventually drift off to sleep an hour or so later and my dreams are immediately consumed by the Winter I saw on Facebook— and her bright smile.
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