Copyright © 2016 by Alice Rachel
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any way or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods without written permission by the author and publisher.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters, or incidents resembling events, locales or persons, living or dead, events, are coincidental. They originated from the author’s imagination and are used fictitiously.
Edited by Krista Venero
Cover by Alice Rachel.
All pictures by Alice Rachel.
Willow: A Short Story 2
Willow – Seven Years Old
“I’ll see you at four, Sis,” Lila says as she picks up her backpack.
“Have a nice day, Lila.”
She smiles and I’m still waving goodbye when Mommy walks into the foyer. Lila closes the door and I wrap my arms around Mommy’s tummy really tight.
“I’m going out to look for some mushrooms,” she says. “Are you coming?”
She always asks me if I want to come along like I have a choice, but I’m not allowed to stay home alone. I nod a few times before I put on my shoes. Then she takes my hand and leads me out.
I always have trouble keeping up with her when we walk through the woods. And sometimes, Mommy doesn’t take the normal path and my hand slips out of her grasp. But I try not to lose her, and every so often she casts glances at me.
“You’re okay, sweetie? Do I need to carry you?” she asks.
“No, Mommy, I’m okay.”
I scurry after her, but a bunny catches my attention. I stop in my tracks to look at it. Mommy taught me not to move when I see a wild animal, so I stay there and watch the bunny. His little nose moves as he sits still. He’s so cute. I wonder if the bunny would let me pet him. He scratches the leaves all around with his paws, and when I look up, Mommy is gone. I gasp, which scares the bunny away.
“Mommy? Mommy?” I call, running through the woods.
“Willow, over here.”
I follow her voice. My foot catches on a root when I run to her, and I fall face down on the ground. My knees hit a rock and I let out a little yelp. Mommy appears among the trees, rushing toward me.
“Willow, aw, sweetie.” She comes to me and crouches by my side.
I blink fast because I don’t like crying in front of Mommy. It makes her really sad when I cry, and I don’t like it when my Mommy is sad. She strokes my hair away from my face and kisses my forehead.
“Did you get a booboo?” she asks sweetly.
I nod and one tear rolls down my face before Mommy kisses my cheek. “That’s my big girl, yes?”
I nod and look into her deep blue eyes.
“I didn’t even cry,” I say, puffing my chest as I rise to my feet. “See!”
She smiles at me. “We’ll disinfect the booboo at home. You’re going to be okay long enough to help me find the mushrooms?”
“Yes, Mommy, I’m fine.”
I look at my leg and see a bit of blood. The booboo itches, but I smile at Mommy when she ruffles my hair and winks at me before taking my hand.
“You stay right by my side this time, okay?”
I do as she says and we enter a clearing in the woods.
“There was a bunny, Mommy. He was so cute. That’s why I stayed behind.”
“You can’t wander away, Willow. The woods are dangerous. What if you get lost?”
“I know, Mommy. But the bunny was really cute.”
Mommy laughs and bends down to leave her basket on the ground and pull me up into her arms.
“Can I have a pet bunny, Mommy?” I ask.
“Wild animals are happier outside, sweetie. We’ve already discussed that.”
“When we’ve found the mushrooms, will we go to the stream? I saw a frog there the other day. Can I have that frog as a pet?”
Mommy shakes her head while rubbing her nose against mine. It always tickles when she does that, and I giggle. Then she puts me back down and we start looking for mushrooms. I try really hard to find as many as possible, but I only find a couple. Mommy already has at least ten of them. I stand there and look at her. How did she find so many?
“How did you find all the mushrooms, Mommy?”
She looks at the ones I’m holding. “Those are not good, Willow. Drop them.”
“How do you know?”
“See, these ones are morels,” she explains while showing me the strange mushrooms she’s already put in the basket. “Look! They have black or brown uppers with little holes in them. The ones you picked up are white. They’re called amanitas and they’re poisonous.”
I drop the mushrooms when Mommy says “poisonous.” Poisonous means I’m going to be really sick and die if I eat the mushrooms. Mommy told me that when I was really little.
She takes out a small bottle of liquid that she sprays on my hands before she wipes my palms with a napkin that she has pulled out of her pocket.
“Stay by my side. I don’t want you to pick up bad mushrooms again. And as soon as we get home, you will wash your hands.”
We stay in the clearing for a while, and by the time we leave, the bottom of Mommy’s basket is full. She takes the few mushrooms I found and thanks me.
“Let’s go home. I’ll make an omelet with these and the eggs we’re going to pick up now.”
“Do you think Gina is still sick?” I ask.
Gina is my favorite hen. She’s had a bad case of fowl pox. We’ve had to keep her away from our other chickens because Mommy said the disease is contagious. I didn’t know what contagious meant, but Mommy said it means the other hens will get sick if they get close to Gina. I cried when Mommy said it, but she gave me a big hug and told me it would all be fine. She explained that Gina got the disease from a mosquito, but that she should be fine soon.
It’s been a week though, and Gina was still sick yesterday.
“She’s recovering, sweetie. Don’t worry about Gina. She will be fine, I promise.”
“So we won’t eat her, right?” I ask. “You promise?”
Mommy gives me a tiny smile. “No, sweetie, we won’t eat Gina.”
I threw a fit last week because Daddy killed one of our chickens for dinner. I cried and cried and screamed even, and Daddy got upset at me because he said I was being difficult. But I don’t want to eat my pets I told him, or any other animals because they are my only friends besides Lila. Daddy looked at me sadly and nodded his head, but he said I still had to eat meat. I refused to leave my room when it was time for dinner because I’m not okay with watching my family eat one of my friends. I sulked for a week and I’m still mad at Daddy.
“You promise?” I ask Mommy again.
“Yes, I promise we won’t eat Gina.”
Mommy grabs my hand and we walk side by side even though I slow her down because I can’t keep up with her long legs. Because I’m so short, I don’t need to duck under the branches, but I can’t wait to grow taller so I can climb trees like Lila does. Lila is much bigger than me. She’s nine already and very tall. One day, I will be big like her. And then I can climb trees and go to school. Just like her.
“When will I go to school like Lila?” I ask. “She’s only two years older than me. I know she was going to my school when she was seven. I remember.”
Mommy gives me a sad glance, and she looks away before she lets out a long sigh.
“We’ll talk about it when we get home, Willow. Okay?”
Mommy always says that, but she never gives me the answers I want. Sometimes I forget I asked. But I’m going to try and remember this time because I really want to go to school.
When we get home, Mommy leaves the mushrooms on the kitchen counter and opens the fridge.
“Mommy, can I go to school soon?” I ask again. “Lila told me she’s learning math, and she knows how to read. When will I learn how to read, Mommy?”
Mommy’s shoulders sag as she closes the fridge. Then she looks at me sadly again. She tilts her chin toward the living room and asks me to follow her. I run in front of her and jump on the couch even though I’m not allowed.
“Willow, don’t jump on the couch.”
I giggle and fall on my behind before settling down with a cushion on my lap. Mommy comes to sit next to me and grabs one of my hands. “Remember when I said we couldn’t go to the city or leave the forest?”
I nod. I’m not allowed to go shopping. Daddy goes with Lila while Mommy stays here with me. I’ve never seen a city before, but Lila showed me a book once that was called Eboracum City, or the New State Capital. It had pretty pictures of shops with wide windows and plenty of people walking around. I asked Mommy when I could go to that Eboracum City place, but she told me we couldn’t go. She never said why, though. I asked every day for a week after that, but then Mommy got a bit upset so I stopped asking.
“You know how I said that people couldn’t find out about you, sweetie? How there are mean people out there who would hurt you if they knew about you?”
I nod and swallow hard. My heart hurts because now it’s beating fast. I don’t like the mean people who want to hurt me. And I don’t like it when Mommy talks about them, either. She already told me those people would do bad things to me if they found me, but she didn’t tell me why. She kept saying “Unwanted,” but I don’t understand that word and she didn’t explain when I asked. But I know I have to hide from the mean people. That’s why Mommy and Daddy are keeping me here, in the forest. But I don’t understand why Lila doesn’t need to hide. She gets to go to school and have friends and everything.
Mommy is about to talk about the mean people some more. I can tell and I just want to hide under the cushion. The mean people give me nightmares sometimes. In my nightmares, I run through the forest and they run after me and then they catch me. They look like big scary monsters. I even had a few accidents in my bed during the bad dreams, but Mommy said it was normal to be scared. I don’t want to be scared anymore. I want to go to school, and I want to go to that Eboracum City place, too.
“I will teach you how to read and how to write, Willow. I will also teach you some math. We can use Lila’s old school books.”
I sigh. I never get anything new. Everything I own used to belong to Lila: her clothes, her shoes, her toys. Mommy said they don’t have enough money to buy me new things, but everything Lila gets is new while everything I own is used and ugly. I pout when Mommy says I won’t get new school books and we’ll use Lila’s instead.
“But I want to go to school,” I insist.
Mommy taps her lap and I move to sit on it. She wraps her arms around my tummy and kisses my temple.
“Sweetie, you know Mommy and Daddy love you very much, right?”
I nod. “And Lila too,” I say.
“Yes, and Lila too,” Mommy replies. “Did I ever tell you the story of your birth, sweetie?”
I shake my head.
“You see, Mommy and Daddy belong to the middle class. That means we were only allowed to have one child. Before you were born, Mommy had a surgery.”
“Surgery, sweetie. It means some doctors operated on me so I wouldn’t have another baby. But Daddy and Mommy really wanted another child and we were really sad. Thankfully, the surgery didn’t work, and then a miracle happened and that miracle was you.”
I turn around to look at Mommy.
“You are our miracle and our secret, sweetie. When I was pregnant with you, we moved here so I could give birth at home and hide you. Daddy got a new job. We loved you so much even when you were in my tummy, and we are so happy to have you. Daddy cried when I told him I was pregnant with you.” Mommy sighs. “But people from the middle class are only allowed to have one child.”
I looked at Mommy again. “What does it mean?”
“It means that some mean people think you never should have been born, sweetie. But Mommy and Daddy didn’t care about those people’s opinions because we wanted you so much.”
I blink. I think I understand. “What would the bad people do to me if they found me?”
“Don’t worry about that, sweetie. Mommy and Daddy are here to protect you, always. But you can’t go places where those bad people are. Like the city, for example. We need you to be safe.”
I nod, but say nothing.
“I will teach you how to read and write and everything else Lila is learning that you want to know. But I also want to teach you how to survive in the wild. I want you to know how to live in the forest without relying on any resources besides what nature has to offer you.”
She strokes my hair.
“Lila said she has friends. Will I be able to make friends someday, too?”
Mommy’s face turns really sad. “Lila is your friend.”
“It’s not the same. She told me her best friend is named Melinda.”
Mommy sighs and changes the subject. “Daddy said he’d bring you a surprise today. Are you excited?”
“Is it the paint I asked for?” I say, rising to my feet and jumping up and down.
“Maybe. We knew you wanted something of your own.”
I make a little dance and twirl around. Yes! Finally something just for me!
“Can I take it outside?” I shout. “And then I can paint the frog I saw by the stream.”
“If you promise not to lose anything. Paint is expensive.”
I nod ten times or twenty, and Mommy pulls me into a tight hug. “I love you, my sweetie.”
“I love you too, Mommy.”
Willow, Nine Years Old
“Is it bad if the neighbors see me?” I ask as Mom and I walk by the house where new people moved in a few months ago. Mom said the people are really shy, and no one opened the door when she went to greet them.
“They’re obviously not home right now. But it’s best if you don’t come around here alone. I need to meet them first and see what kind of people they are.”
Something crashes inside the house as if someone has broken some plates or glass, and I hear a little boy’s voice yelling, “I hate you. I hate you. I HATE YOU!”
“Come back here this instant and clean up the mess you’ve made!” a woman screams. “Wait till Daddy comes home and hears about this.”
“Clean it up yourself.” A loud bang echoes through the house like a door being slammed.
“Come back here and apologize, you hear me?!”
“No. I hate you!”
Mommy covers my ears as she pushes me forward quickly, but I can still hear the bad words the little boy keeps yelling at his Mommy.
“I thought you said there was nobody home,” I say.
“I guess I was wrong. It might be best to avoid this place in the future, sweetie. I don’t like the sound of what’s going on in that house.”
I nod, and Mommy and I move into the forest.
“Daddy’s coming back at five today,” she says. “He’ll take you hunting.”
I let out a whimper before I can stop myself. Mommy turns her head to me. She knows I hate it when Daddy hurts the animals.
“Remember what I said before, Willow.”
“Yes, I need to learn how to feed myself in the wild,” I reply.
“I’m never going to kill an animal, though,” I protest and cross my arms as I crease my face into a frown.
Mommy looks at me. “Being difficult doesn’t become you, Willow.”
I look away and pout.
“Sulking now, are you?” she asks, with a tiny lopsided smile.
I don’t reply. I don’t like hunting and I don’t like killing animals. I already said it and said it. If Mom and Dad don’t want to listen, fine! But I won’t go this time.
“Daddy will be sad if you don’t eat his game, sweetie.”
I mope some more, with my bottom lip sticking out. Daddy doesn’t care if the animals are sad when they die. So I don’t care if he’s sad, either. He’s killing my friends, and I don’t like him very much right now. “I don’t want to go hunt.”
Mommy sighs and pats me on the head. “We’ll see.”
Yes, you’ll see. You’ll see that I’m not going!
The Next Day
“Are you done writing your paragraph, sweetie?”
“Let me see.” Mom grabs my paper and takes my pencil to correct my mistakes. “It’s ‘if I were you,’ sweetie. Not ‘if I was you.’”
I look at my mistake over her arm.
“You did well. Let’s go outside now. I need some mushrooms to season the meat tonight.”
I feel nauseated and Mommy gives me a look. “We’re not having that talk again, Willow. I won’t back down this time. You’re eating your meat tonight.”
I huff loudly and stand up. When I reach the front door, I pick up my shoes and put them on. Mommy walks by me. “Lock the door, sweetie.”
I do as she says and run after her.
When we find the part of the forest that has the most mushrooms, Mommy points at one of them.
“How about this one?” she asks.
I chuckle. “You’re trying to trick me. This one is poisonous.”
She winks at me. “Yes, yes, it is.”
“Mom, when we get back home, can we get some borage from the garden for the chickens?”
I’ll pick up some of the blue flowers for myself too because I love them. Yum!
I return to my task and help Mom find a few mushrooms, but I get distracted by the leaves. They make crunchy noises under my feet when I walk. I giggle and start jumping around. Crunch, crunch, crunch!
“Willow, stay close.”
I keep on jumping until a close-by noise stops me. I look up, but don’t see anything. But then a boy about my age appears from behind a tree. I blink and wave at him. Mom told me I can’t talk to strangers, but I’ve never seen anyone around here before, and the boy can’t be one of the mean people. He doesn’t look like one of the monsters Mom has described. A smile appears on his face when I wave, and he waves back. I giggle and go back to Mommy.
The boy is here every day. He thinks I can’t see him, but I know he’s there looking at me. I left some fruits behind for him the other day, just to see if he was watching, and the next day the fruits were gone. The boy is really shy though, and I don’t want to talk to him either. When I told Mommy about him, I saw the fear in her eyes. She told me not to speak to him. I can’t imagine why the boy would hurt me, though. And there’s something sad about him, except when he’s smiling. I like his smiles.
Willow – Seventeen Years Old
“Hello, sweetheart,” Stephen says, his grin spreading on his face.
I can feel my cheeks burning under his stare. “Hi, Stevie. I brought you something.”
“You did?” He cocks an eyebrow playfully and pulls me to him. His hands are warm on my waist even through the fabric of my shirt, and when he bends over to kiss me, I almost drop the basket I’m holding.
He inhales deeply. “You smell so good.”
I kiss his cheek and hand him the basket. He stares at it, then at me before he pulls away the towel covering the top.
“Fruit?” he asks, licking his lips as if he’s hungry already.
“Mostly apples and pears from our backyard. Technically, I’m not allowed to take them, but I wanted you to have them.”
“Why?” he asks, his eyes piercing through my gaze.
Because you look so thin and your brother is an Unwanted, so I’m sure you have to share food with him and that’s probably why you’re so skinny.
I don’t tell him that, though. I don’t think he’d like it if I referred to him as skinny.
“Because I love you,” I say.
His lips rise on one side. “Yeah?”
He bites his bottom lip. “How much?”
“This much!” I reply as I give him the tightest hug I can.
His smile widens when I let go, and his eyes fill with merriment as he grabs my hand and sits down on the ground, dragging me down with him. I fall in his lap and he bends over to kiss my neck and my cheek, his mouth tickling my skin, making me giggle.
“I love you,” he whispers in my ear. “Stay with me forever.”
“Always and forever,” I reply.
“Where do you see your future going?” he asks.
“What do you mean?”
He scratches the back of his head when I sit up by his side. “Well, what do you want to do, say ten years from now?”
I think about it for a while. “I want to be an artist.”
“You already are an artist,” he says.
“No, silly,” I reply, tapping his forearm. “A real artist. I want to sell my art and make a living out of it.”
Stephen narrows his eyes a bit. “Okay…”
“Dad is helping me grow a clientele. I’m using a fake artist name.”
“You are? You never told me that.”
I blush. “I don’t have much success. Dad has sold a few of my paintings to some upper-class restaurants, but they have very specific tastes.”
“Dad told me that all art is controlled and I can only paint certain things. But I would like to change that. I like art for the sake of art. I don’t like painting to make money. I don’t like to follow rules when I paint. It’s stifling. But Dad said that’s the only way I can make myself known.”
“Do you believe in using art to make a statement, then?” Stephen asks.
“To make a statement?”
“Yes, what if your art had a double meaning? The surface could mean one thing, but the underlying message would be more profound.”
I think about it for a while. “And what message would that be?”
“You’re an Unwanted, Willow. You have to hide from the world because of some people you don’t even know. You could express that in your art. I mean, don’t you ever feel anger?”
“Anger is useless, Stevie. It will only cause me pain.”
His lips rise on one side before he pulls me into a kiss.
“And that’s why I love you, sweetheart. You are everything this world is not.” His smile spreads and his gaze roams my face. “What if you become famous, though? What happens then?”
I look away sadly and push the leaves around with my foot. “Nothing will happen then.” I give him a quick glance. “I’m not supposed to be alive. I can’t go out there and take credit for my art.”
“Who’s taking credit for it now?” he asks.
“My dad. He told the restaurants the art was his and the fake artist name, too.”
Stephen’s jaw clenches. “One day I will take you away from here. You will take credit for your art and have the life you want. I promise.”
I look down sadly. “Don’t make promises like that, Stephen. It will only hurt me in the end.”
He reaches for my chin and pulls my face toward his, pinning his dark eyes on mine. “I will take you away from here,” he says, his eyes filling with impossible dreams. And when he talks like that, I almost let myself believe him.
I know he’s just trying to be nice, but Stephen can’t take me anywhere. We can never get married. I’ll never get to go to the city. I’ll never live off my art or become famous. I’ll never be able to have children either because I could never give them a normal life.
Eventually, Stephen will see all that. He’ll find someone like him, someone he can live a real life with, and he’ll forget all about me. I just enjoy what I have with him now before he takes it all away and breaks my heart. Because I already know that one day, he will realize there is no future for us and he’ll leave me behind.
I inhale deeply to push away my welling tears, and Stephen’s face turns sullen. “I’m sorry, sweetheart. Did I say something wrong? I love you, and I will take you away from here. You and me together forever. Promise me!”
I look at him. I can’t demand that of him. I won’t ask him to waste his future on me.
“Promise me!” he insists.
“I promise,” I say in a weak voice, and he beams at me again before kissing me and pushing me down against the leaves.
Willow – Weeks Later
“Willow, is that you?” Mom asks when I come home.
“Where were you?” She enters the hallway. “You weren’t in your room. You can’t leave like that without telling me. What if something had happened to you? I wouldn’t even know where you are.”
“I’m sorry, Mom. I’ll tell you next time.”
“Well, where were you anyway? You weren’t at the barn either.”
I lick my lower lip. “I was with Stephen.”
“Again? Willow, you know how I feel about that,” she scolds me, though not harshly. “We’ve already had that discussion.”
“He’s safe, Mom. He would never tell anyone about me.”
Mom sighs. “That’s not the point, sweetie. You’re putting him in danger. I already explained all that to you. This won’t go anywhere, sweetie.”
“So I’m not allowed to be with anyone ever in my life?” I ask.
“I didn’t say that.”
“Yes, you did! I can’t have a normal life or go anywhere or date anyone. Why did you give birth to me, Mom? Why am I here if I can’t have a life?”
My heart aches when I see how much my words hurt her.
“You don’t mean that, sweetie,” she says.
I don’t reply, but I do mean it. If I can’t do anything with my life, then why live at all?
Mom and Dad will die someday. What will happen to me, then? I know Stephen will leave me eventually too when he finds someone else he can actually be with. Is it so bad to have him while he still wants me?
I don’t look at Mom as I run to my room.
“Willow?” she calls after me, and when I don’t reply, she comes up the stairs, opens my door, and finds me sprawled face down on the bed, with my head hidden under the pillows.
The bed moves when she sits by my side and strokes my shoulder. “Willow, you know what they would do to Stephen if they found out about the two of you. You’re putting him in danger and you’re being selfish.”
She pulls the pillows away.
“Stephen’s brother is an Unwanted,” I say, staring at her. “Stephen is already in danger because he’s related to Chi. You’re lying to me to make my life difficult.”
Mom sighs heavily. “I already told you Stephen’s mom wants him to have a normal life. She doesn’t want you to see Stephen anymore, sweetie. Stephen is her son. I can’t allow you to go against her will.”
I stare at her. “What about what Stephen and I want? He loves me and I love him.”
“I know, sweetie, but he can never have a life with you. Don’t you want him to be happy?”
“I make him happy,” I say.
“Maybe for now. But how happy will he be when he can’t leave these woods because of his attachment to you, sweetie? How happy will he be if he can’t have a normal life? It’s a huge sacrifice to ask of someone. Your Dad and I, we love you more than life itself. We wanted you, and we can’t live without you. But you are our daughter. Stephen, though, is a boy who doesn’t understand what such a life entails.”
I shake my head. “He already knows. He has lived his whole life with an Unwanted.”
“Yes, he did. But don’t you think he deserves freedom? That he deserves a different kind of life? Please, think about it.”
She pats my shoulder and stands before leaving my room. I drop my head on the pillow and close my eyes. Is Mom right? Would Stephen be better off without me? Will I only drag him down or keep him from moving forward?
My heart aches at the thought of leaving him. But deep down, I already know Mom is right. Stephen deserves better than an anchor like me, and someday he will see that too.
Willow – Weeks Later
“I don’t want to date Chi!”
Mom casts me a sad look, but I can’t give up.
“I don’t want to hurt Stephen.”
“Mrs. Richards won’t let Stephen date you anymore, Willow. I already told you that. I can’t go against her will. He is her son, after all. She has the right to protect him the same way I want to protect you.”
“But why should I date Chi? If I can’t be with Stephen, then why should I be with anyone at all? I want to be with him and no one else.”
“What will happen when your dad and I pass away, Willow? You need someone. I’ve explained it to you many times already, sweetie. Give Chi a chance. He’s such a sweet boy.”
“It will hurt Stephen if I date Chi,” I exclaim. “I don’t want to hurt Stephen, Mom. I don’t want to be with Chi. Please don’t make me.”
Mom swallows hard on a ball of sorrow.
“Why can’t Chi take Stephen’s place?” I ask. “Stephen could be the Unwanted and then we could be together.”
Mom loses patience then, which is unusual for her. “Do you even realize what you are asking, Willow? You can’t ask something like that of Stephen!”
“I know…I just…” My shoulders sag, and Mom pulls me into a hug before kissing my hair.
“Sweetie, I want you to be happy. Please, give Chi a chance. Stephen will move on.”
Her words make my heart squeeze with pain. I don’t want Stephen to move on. I don’t want him to date anyone else. I want him to be with me, always.
Mom cups my face. “I love you, Willow. I only want you to be safe.”
I nod, though I don’t feel it in my heart. To be safe is to avoid life, apparently.
The Evening She Is To Run Away With Stephen
I arrive right on time, with a small bag of clothes. My heart aches. Mom and Dad will be so upset when they find out I’m gone. But I’m done listening to them. I’m done hurting the boy I love.
I wait, but Stephen is late. It’s not like him. He’s always so punctual. That’s one of those things I love about him. I can always count on him to be on time. I look around and listen for his footsteps, but I don’t hear anything.
After ten more minutes, I grow anxious. Stephen should be here by now. I’ve been apprehensive since he left yesterday. I’ve had this strange feeling, and now my doubts are intensifying.
After an hour of waiting, I know something has happened. Stevie would never leave me stranded like this. I’ll go to his house. Maybe just walk by. If anyone sees me, I can pretend I was visiting Chi.
I grab my backpack and head that way. His house is not far from here, and soon I see the dark roof. I walk toward the entrance and find the door ajar. My heart is hammering fast, though I can’t explain this pain in my chest. Something isn’t right here.
I walk up the steps and knock on the door, but no one answers, so I push it open and step inside.
“Hello. Is anybody home?”
No one replies.
“Chi? Stephen? Are you there?”
The house is dark and eerie when I walk into the living room. I spot a stain on the ground, and my legs start shaking. The stain looks like blood. A whole pool of it has dried on the hardwood floor.
“Stephen, are you there?” I shout, panicked as I drop my backpack and run through the ground floor looking for him.
I pass through each room, calling for him frantically. Where is he? Please, please, please, let Stevie be okay. I don’t see anyone downstairs, so I dash upstairs next. I don’t know this place at all. The first room I walk into looks like his parents’ bedroom.
I head to the next one, which smells like Chi—his distinctive boyish scent mixed with spearmint. I run down the hall next, toward the last room—Stephen’s room, I’m sure. I turn the knob, my heart racing so fast I can’t breathe. Chi told me the officers had come for him once before. I fear they may have found him again.
I step into the room and turn on the light so I can see better. Stephen isn’t here. But I already knew that. My heart deflates all the same as I run out and away from the house until I find my parents in our backyard. Their eyes widen with shock when they see the terror on my face and I tell them we have to find Stephen’s family.
The next day, I visit Stephen’s room again. He hasn’t returned and now I know for sure that something bad has happened. I tried to run away yesterday to find him, but I didn’t go far. Dad was there waiting for me when I reached the road leading out of the forest. He was truly upset and yelled at me for the first time in my life. He told me I wasn’t being reasonable, and I yelled back that he and Mom had forced me away from Stephen and now Stephen was gone.
I’ve hardly talked to anyone since then. If I had run away with Stephen like he asked me to, none of this would have happened. I would have taken care of Stephen out there in the wild and he would be safe.
I look around as I enter his room. It still smells like him, his boyish scent filling my nose, with a light touch of cinnamon. The bed against the wall is tightly made, without a single wrinkle on the covers, and the nightstand table on its side is stacked with perfectly-arranged piles of books. A dresser faces the bed with a stuffed, grayish bunny sitting on top. Just like the rest of Stephen’s room, the desk by his dresser is so clean it looks unused, except for a few notebooks in one corner.
I walk to the desk, open a notebook, and find Stephen’s beautiful cursive handwriting filling the pages. I fingertip the letters and my heart swells. I open the drawer next and find more books, as well as a journal carefully hidden underneath them. I pull it out and look through the first pages.
I blink at the words and clutch the journal to my chest as I take another look at Stephen’s clean, tidy room. There are no posters or decorations on his beige walls. It’s wrong that I have the urge to look through his journal again. I try hard not to, but the pull is too strong. I turn the pages and read a few lines. So much anger. So much pain. The date on the page tells me this entry is two years old. Stephen was fifteen when he wrote this.
When I turn more pages quickly to look for a more recent entry, my heart breaks. I stop breathing and the journal falls to the ground as tears fill my eyes. Oh, Stephen, I never knew! How could they? How could his own parents do this to him? I tighten my fingers into a fist as more tears roll down my face.
It’s been two months since I last saw Stephen or Chi. Mom said they might have moved away, but that’s a blatant lie and she knows it, too. I saw the blood in their living room. I know something bad happened. I don’t want to think of the worst. I don’t think I could survive it.
I’ve hardly left my room since I found his diary, and my parents are worried. I cry at night and when I wake up. I stole the bunny from his dresser, but it hardly smells like him anymore. I’ve read his journal at least ten times already.
Stephen once asked me if I ever felt anger. I didn’t understand why he had asked that question back then, but now it all makes sense. The anger I feel is deep and foreign. It’s as if my head is about to explode. I can’t accept the things his parents did to him. He never told me. He hid his secret so well behind his broad smiles. But now I understand why his smiles never quite hid the sadness in his eyes. And his journal is filled with so much rage, shame, and pain, his words have torn my heart apart and left it in pieces.
I grab the journal to look at the pages I’ve stained with my tears, when a hard knock resounds from downstairs, followed by shouts and my mom’s screams.
I jump out of bed and hurry to open my bedroom door, just in time to see Lila turn around from down the hall where she’s standing by the stairs. She makes a shushing sign and shakes her head at me.
“Where is he?” a male voice bellows from downstairs.
“Who?” Mom asks.
“Darling, what’s going…?” Father asks. “What are you doing in our house?”
“You’re under arrest for sheltering an Unwanted,” the man answers.
Lila looks at me with her eyes wide open in terror. She tiptoes her way toward me and pushes me back into my room. Then she closes the door and shoves me in the corner, her body blocking me.
The man’s voice rises from downstairs. “Where is Chi Richards?”
“Chi?” I ask in a whisper.
“Shhhhh,” Lila scolds me.
She presses her hand against my mouth, her glare warning me to keep quiet.
I can’t hear what my parents are saying, but then a shot is fired and my mom shouts my father’s name. There’s a lot of commotion downstairs as if they are fighting. Another shot shakes the air, and a whimper escapes my throat. Lila’s eyes glisten with tears before she pulls me into a hug.
We hear the officers’ footsteps coming upstairs, and my heartbeat quickens as I watch Lila’s face morph with fear.
“We need to leave,” I say through my repressed sobs. “We can climb down the tree.”
She nods and we walk on tiptoes. Are Mom and Dad truly dead? I cover my mouth with my hand when another sob shakes my body, and Lila gives me a sorrowful glance.
The door flies open.
“There are two of them here,” the officer shouts as he steps forward.
“Two? They only have one daughter,” someone else replies from the hall.
The man sneers at us wickedly. He points his gun at my sister, and before she can react I shield her body with mine as the officer shoots.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Alice Rachel grew up in France before moving to the Unites States to live with her husband. When she doesn’t write, Alice teaches French to students of all ages.
She also spends hours reading books of all kinds (Young Adult, New Adult, Mystery, Horror, Romance, History, Graphic Novels…There probably isn’t a genre that she doesn’t like). She also enjoys going to the movies, visiting museums with her hubby, taking care of her guinea pigs, and drawing.
Alice loves to interact with her readers (and so do her characters). You can find her on Twitter under @AliceRachelWrit. She also likes to chat through her website at www.alicerachelwrites.com as well as on Instagram, GoodReads, and Facebook.