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Hear Me Baby, Hold Together: Part 1

CONTENTS

Title

copyright notice

Dedication

Quotes

Drive

June in June

Chapter One – Nervous in Suburbia

Chapter Two – Talk About the Passion

Chapter Three – Mad World

Chapter Four – Helter Skelter

Chapter Five – Transmission

Chapter Six – The Mighty Quinn

Chapter Seven – Hell is for Children

Chapter Eight – Driven to Tears

Chapter Nine – She’s Leaving Home

Chapter Ten – Keep on Runnin’

Chapter Eleven – Nothing Bad Ever Happens to Me

Chapter Twelve – A Day Without Me

Chapter Thirteen – Time Stand Still

coming soon

Hear Me Baby, Hold Together, Part 1

By Jeff Silvey

Copyright 2015 by Jeff Silvey

Shakespir Edition, License Notes

Thank you for downloading this ebook. This book remains the copyrighted property of the author, and may not be redistributed to others for commercial or non-commercial purposes. If you enjoyed this book, please encourage your friends to download their own copy from their favorite authorized retailer. Thank you for your support.

This book is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and locations (except where indicated) are all fictional. Any resemblance to actual persons or events, living or dead, are entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of either the author or publisher.

[]

For the survivors,

Hold on. There’s always a way.

[]

[_Be careful of your thoughts, for your thoughts become your words. Be careful of your words, for your words become your actions. Be careful of your actions, for your actions become your habits. Be careful of your habits, for your habits become your character. Be careful of your character, for your character becomes your destiny. _]

~ Chinese proverb, author unknown

She was also an adult, and when adults fight children, adults always win.

From The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

[]

December 13, 1989

Interstate 15

between Barstow, California

and the Nevada border

June Addison grips the steering wheel tight as the anxious thoughts swirl around in her head. This could all be a big mistake. She never should have agreed to go on this trip. She can barely handle the car; each minute behind the wheel feels like she is on a wild steed about to break her off her mount. She keeps her foot loose on the gas pedal, and tries to keep the thought of just blowing off the road into a ditch from her mind.

It wasn’t so long ago when she drove all night in a car just like this one, and she hated every minute of that, too. She’s not good with cars, or boys for that matter. But then he showed up in her life. This behemoth is his baby: a finely refurbished something-or-other, the exact name escapes her. All she knows of the car is that it is his undying obsession. To her dismay, she’s actually getting jealous.

The truth is he loves this car more than anything, and she loves seeing him happy, those rare moments when his wry smirk becomes something real; the veil lifts back and she can see him, the real him. Though he only appeared in her life two weeks ago, she already feels like she’s known him forever. She suddenly found the thing that makes everything all right. She knows she’s lucky—some people go their whole life without finding it, and she is young, with still so much time ahead of her.

One thing is certain: they don’t make them like this anymore, the car or the boy. Or is it man? This isn’t high school anymore. Regardless, the car is the only thing she doesn’t like about John, and it was almost a dealbreaker—a black muscle car with two vertical white stripes running down the hood and an engine that sounds like a lion’s roar.

Douchemobile. That’s what she would have called it, cooing the words nonchalantly to her best friend as they giggled together on their way to campus. Back when she had friends. Back before her life fell apart.

So much has changed since that summer night. She can pinpoint the exact moment when she realized her mother had been lying to her for so long. The thread was pulled and her whole life unraveled, just like that. Though she had to fight her way back from the abyss, she’s not looking for a medal—right now she is simply fighting to stay awake and in her own lane. Crashing into the ditch that runs along this stretch of I-15 probably isn’t the best way to start a new relationship, if this even is a relationship. She still doesn’t know what to call this thing she started up with this strange man who walked into her life one hectic winter morning.

The dark haired man with the implacable smile just walked into the restaurant where she was working and it was like she was seeing the sun for the first time. They didn’t even talk then, just noticed each other from across the dining area. When she saw his face, his smile, his eyes—the whole world reduced itself to a pinhole. Life suddenly became so clear. There was simply what mattered and what didn’t.

She knew better but she couldn’t help herself. It wasn’t fair—John disarming her with that constant grin of his. He was on the last day of a two-week stint in Southern California, doing whatever it was that he did for work. Something to do with insurance companies and big buildings and terrible accidents. He was getting ready to say goodbye, move on to the next city and the next catastrophic liability. She knew she would never see him again. But then he turned to her and said something so casually that, at first, she thought it was a joke.

“Hey, want to go to Vegas?”

“You’re kidding, right?” She laughed and smiled.

Truth be told, he kind of was; still, his eyes got narrow and he asked it again, adding that question that at her age makes everything all right. “Why not? You never know, the world could end tomorrow.”

And it wasn’t even his face—his kind eyes, his upturned mouth or cleft chin—but rather his attitude, his pure assurance that life would be good and everything was going to be fine, come what may. Thoughts and plans popped off in her head: How much cash is left in my account? Do I get any vacation time in this place? It felt like a once-in-a-lifetime flash, the kind of moment she knew she would look back on later in life and say: That’s when everything changed.

It wasn’t long before they were rolling toward the most famous city in Nevada, John driving with the radio on full blast, both of them screaming, “Whoo-hoo Vegas!” at the top of their lungs. But when things quieted down and John started nodding off, June made him stop in Barstow to stretch their legs. After she offered to drive several times, he finally relented; and now there he is, sawing logs with his face leaning against the passenger side window, drool running down his chin, his head bobbing with every slight dip in the road.

Even though the speed limit is 70, June doesn’t want to push it; this car has too much torque for her to handle. So she mentally whispers an apology to Sammy Hagar as she putts along at a safe 55 miles per hour.

The only other car on the road has been tailgating her for the last five miles: a beat up white Honda Accord with an overweight red-haired man behind the wheel. He gives her the finger as he finally speeds by in the passing lane. June doesn’t care, he can have the road. She has all the time in the world, at least that’s what she tells herself. But the truth is she only has one more week until the man she adores but barely knows will walk right out of her life, probably forever. Her life is a mess; she can’t plan more than three hours ahead on any given day. The concept of forever is like Chinese algebra to her. She only knows that all she gets is a dream week in Vegas. Take it or leave it.

She’ll take it.

She eases up on the gas and her knuckles turn white holding the wheel; the floorboard rumbles beneath her black and white Chuck Taylors.

The ensuing quiet gives her too much time to think. She just wants to enjoy the moment, not ruminate on all the twisted ways of how she ended up here. Fidgety, she gets out a cigarette and uses the lighter in the dash, its coils burning bright red. At least this old car is good for something. Thoughts of that other car, the one like this from what seems so long ago, seep into her mind again. The time she drove all night, headlights cutting through the darkness; June didn’t know what to do and had nowhere to go, couldn’t see the road through her own tears. That car smelled too much like him, the Big Bad Him and his bullshit Drakar that he doused himself with whenever he went out; and though the stink was awful enough, it wasn’t even the worst part—she will never forget the horror she found in the trunk.

June takes a slow drag on her cigarette and blows smoke out the slightly open window. As bad as things got, she always remained a survivor. She had to keep telling herself to hold on, there’s always a way. And it’s worked out so far.

She looks over at John and smiles. Damn that man, he made me take this trip. When she was trying to make up her mind, he was already on the phone making plans. This is a man who knows what he wants and knows he is going to get it. She longs for that—to be so sure of herself, so comfortable in her own skin. Being around him is intoxicating; she has to get to know him better. Is he always like this? What’s the secret of this strange mystery man who simply walked into her restaurant in Los Angeles on that cold winter’s morning and changed everything?

She only found out his full name yesterday—John Pearce. Though he is in his mid-twenties, he walks like an old soul and seems to live in a state of perpetual relaxation, always knowing what to do or say wherever he finds himself. What’s that like? June has no idea; she worries over everything, the poster child of social awkwardness.

Biting her lip ruefully, she has to admit that lying to John was a mistake. She always believed withholding the truth is the same as lying, and she hasn’t been completely honest with him. She knows that. But he can’t know her whole story, not yet. She can’t risk losing him when it feels like her life just started.

She puts the cigarette to her lips and inhales again, letting the smoke burn her throat. She winces, but wants to feel the pain, as some twisted form of penance for her lie. As she flicks the butt out the window, her eyes hover on the side-mirror. A police car is keeping pace just behind her.

“Shit.”

She glances back in her rearview mirror thinking maybe she got it wrong, maybe anxiety from the trip is just playing tricks on her mind. But no—there it is—black and white car, square headlights, light bar across the roof. How could she have missed that? Her mind reels: How long has he been there? Would he stop someone for driving too slow? Did he see me throw that cigarette out the window? She isn’t sure if that is a punishable crime on the highway. The dark asphalt won’t mind. It’s not like they are in the middle of a forest or a grassy field.

The lights flash on from behind and her vision clouds over with red and blue swirls. June’s head starts spinning as her stomach tightens. Then something far worse occurs to her, what she’s been running from for the last six months: They’ve found me. After everything, all that I’ve endured, this is how it ends. They’re going to put me away for life.

The cop speeds up, goes into the passing lane and pulls up beside her. Time stops. All the sound is sucked out of the world, leaving her in a vacuum, her ears ringing in the silence. She can see him, the cliche rendered before her eyes—mirrored sunglasses, brown mustache, smug look on his face. June can’t breathe.

He turns to face her, gives her a nod and a little wave with the top two fingers of his right hand in a gesture that is almost a salute; his mouth parts—she hears the word in her mind: Ma’am. Then his siren blares and he takes off ahead, speeding into the distance.

June sighs in relief.

Her hand shakes as she closes the window and straightens her hair in the rearview mirror. Thinking music might soothe her frazzled nerves, she reaches down and turns on the radio. It’s like an explosion, a sudden cacophony of drums and guitar from some classic rock station John left on too loud. She swears and punches off the radio as fast as she can.

John stirs and lifts his head, his eyes bleary from slumber. He mumbles something incoherent.

“Sorry,” June says. “Just trying to calm my nerves.”

“Nerves?” John sits up. “Nervous about being on a trip with a man you hardly know?”

“Just excited.”

“Me too. Pull over, I’ll drive the rest of the way.”

IN JUNE

CHAPTER ONE

[
**]

IN SUBURBIA

[]

June Addison turns to lie on her stomach, her yellow beach towel crunching beneath her on the dry grass. It is another hot day in Vacaville, California—105 degrees and counting—and with no clouds in the sky, there is nothing to hold back the sun from baking everything in sight. Though extreme, this is nothing new; May fed into June with an unrelenting heatwave that is likely to last throughout the summer. Every day the same non-changing weather pattern continues without fail; though as bad as it is, the weather is the least of June’s worries.

Her best friend—Bree Murphy—invited herself over again, even though her parents have a giant house and a much bigger pool. Maybe they’re fighting again, or maybe they’re adding another wing to their house. Whatever the case may be, this is the Sunday before the last week of school, and June is just glad to not be alone. So the girls are doing the only thing there is to do on a torrid afternoon like this—spend their time sunning and swimming and talking about boys.

Bree is lying on her elbows with her chin in her hands; a chatterbox as always, going on about some hilarious party she went to last night. As complicated as high school can be, there is one thing you can always count on: if it’s Saturday night, Bree Murphy is at a party. Her legs kick up and down as she works herself up into a frenzy.

“So I’m standing at the fridge, and there’s only one wine cooler left. Todd is totally going for it. You know Todd, from third period history? The one with the glasses? I look at him and say, ‘Whoah, dude, you just got here. You’re like, totally sober. But look, I’ve had a few, I’m feeling it.’ He just looks at me like I’m crazy, but I know he’s kind of a pushover, so I say, ‘Look, you take that, you won’t feel a thing. It’s just one. And that’s all we’ve got. If I drink it, it’s going to get me more buzzed. Think about it.’ He actually scratches his head. I know, right? I just give him my big girlie smile and ask, ‘Seriously, Todd, who could use it more?’ And he just stands there like a big dope, so I take that fucking Seagrams and leave him holding his dick.”

June’s eyes get wide.

“So to speak!”

“Oh, Bree, can’t take you anywhere.”

“Can’t take me anywhere? At least I go out. Where were you?” Bree says. “Should’ve been there, girl. Todd’s a dork, but there were some cuties in the house. You know what they say.”

Not really, June thought. When she was sixteen, a drunk driver totaled her father’s car; and ever since then she always equated drinking with being an asshole. Never again. Being in a house full of people getting sloppy would only make her feel like there were spiders crawling all over her skin.

Bree is about to graduate from Vaca High and is making plans to move away at the end of the summer. She and her parents are currently waiting on acceptance letters from several colleges; her top two choices are UCLA in Los Angeles and USF in San Francisco. She is bursting out of her skin as she counts the days until fall. June tries her best to hide her annoyance.

At nineteen, June is two years older than her best friend, and yet still has her senior year ahead of her. Being older than her classmates makes her self-conscious and awkward in social settings. When nervous, she compulsively touches the burn scars on her left shoulder, which only draws more attention to herself. She doesn’t go out much on weekends, other than to the movies or to the mall with Bree.

She lets her mind wander while Bree continues her diatribe. June loves her best friend, but damn it’s hard to think around her sometimes. June always believed the good things in life were inherently simple: a quiet moment—like now with the sun sparkling and dancing on top of the pool, the light moving in waves as the water flows with the breeze. Bree, however, is a drama queen; nothing is ever simple with her. They are opposites in many ways, but maybe that’s what June likes about Bree—she keeps life interesting. June wonders what it will be like when her only real friend moves away.

The truth is that life in the Addison household has taken a bizarre turn, in the worst way, and June is having a difficult time broaching the subject with her friend, the party-girl, whose worst problem in life is trying to pick a nail polish that matches her outfit. But June knows she has to say something, otherwise she’ll explode, so she takes a deep breath; when anxiety makes her hesitate, Bree continues spouting off again.

“They say he’s into himself, but I know …”

Bree’s mouth is in constant motion—her lips going up and down, then opening wide to let out her high-pitched laugh. Always happy, forever enjoying the moment. More often than not June can’t help but laugh along with her.

No, Bree isn’t so bad; she’s a good distraction—which is what June really needs. She doesn’t want to think too much. You think too much you might notice things, too many things that just aren’t right. Sometimes, especially when you don’t have any control, it’s best to simply put your head down and keep trudging ahead. Her mom used to have a calendar tacked on the kitchen wall that showed a caricature “working man” with his giant cartoon foot sticking out in slanted perspective; the caption read: Keep On Keeping On.

Sometimes that’s all you can do. Sometimes that’s enough.

Bree lets out a big sigh and rolls over onto her back. “OK, I admit it, that’s all true. But he’s the hottest guy in fourth period …”

June knows she’s being prompted, but doesn’t respond, just lets the moment hang and listens to the sparrows chirping in the trees behind them. So sparkling, so innocent.

“Hey, are you OK?” Bree asks.

“Yeah, why?”

You’re being quiet.”

“Can I tell you something?” June says, and closes her eyes. This is it, she thinks, my chance to tell my only friend about what’s going on in this messed up family. Her mother puts on a good front whenever anyone else is around, so things must look fine to any outsiders. But June is miserable, and although she knows she has a good reason, she has to make sure it isn’t all in her head.

A car drives by not far beyond the brown wooden fence that runs the perimeter of the backyard. Tires grip the pavement near the stop sign at the end of Greeley Street, then give off a high pitched squeal as the car peels out and speeds off.

“Boys,” June says, matter-of-factly. Too many boys with so much to prove. A common occurrence in Cowtown. June means the car; but Bree takes it literally: as in boys. As in lack-thereof.

“Oh, Junie, what’re we gonna do?”

There it is, Bree’s undying loyalty to her friend. It is always “we,” always “us.” June loves her for it. It’s nice to have at least one person you can always count on; well, one person besides your family, your family has to be there for you, that’s a given. June only knew that feeling for a brief time in her young life. Everything changed when her father died. Now she can’t count on anyone except her best and only friend.

Bree goes on in a desperate voice. “Another week? I don’t think I can stand another day of school. Kill me. Why can’t it be the Golden Week right now?”

June puts her head down flat against her arms and says into her towel, “Soon, Bree. Real soon.”

∞∞∞

[]

The American Dream.

You know the drill—white picket fence, two car garage, two-point-five kids.

In the United States there is nothing more insidious and pervasive as this age old ideal. Imagine a giant sea monster, with tentacles reaching out from its monstrous face to grab everything in its path. No one is safe. You can see its influence everywhere: in movies, television shows, novels, even in the polite discussions people have as they wait in line at the local supermarket.

For every era there is a perfect time and place, a bubble in space-time where its values and social mores are rendered completely and transparently, warts and all. The era of the American Dream is no exception, with ground zero being Small Town America: unassuming pockets of plain folks and cultural nothingness sprinkled across a country massive enough to dominate a continent bordered by two oceans.

There is no better epitome of Small Town America than a place the locals call Cowtown—both for its rural nature and because that is the name’s literal translation. And believe me, it lives up to that moniker. A rural suburb in Northern California, not quite halfway between San Francisco and the state capital of Sacramento.

Vacaville.

A one high school town full of pick-up trucks with big tires, family-run businesses along Main Street, and yes, many houses with two-car garages and those two-point-five kids. In spring, folks dress in denim from head to toe and mosey their way up the hill to Andrews Park for the Fiesta Days Parade; every weekend the front page of the local newspaper features the latest exploits of the high school football team; and day after day the town’s only radio station, Quick 95.3, plays the soft hits of the 80s, the greatest time to be alive. Sunshine and a light breeze are the norm. From the outside, it looks like any easy rural suburb off the highway, a place for Californians to stop for gas or a burger on their way to Sacramento.

To be fair, not everyone feels this way; just ask the young people who live there. Like many small towns, there is nothing for the teenagers to do but get into trouble. High school jocks drive the streets of town after practice in their pick-up trucks, yelling out obscenities and questioning the sexuality of any young men unfortunate enough to be walking in their path. There is a thrift store downtown called Exodus Mart, and every Saturday night skate punks grind against the curbs and hand rails that lead up its front steps, while smoking clove cigarettes and keeping an eye out for any cop cars that might turn the corner onto Main Street. Most of the other kids bide their weekend nights at the Dollar Theater, watching outdated movies and trying their best not to wear their crushing ennui on their sleeve.

On the surface, a small town like any other: it could be in Ohio or Nebraska; with its focus on high school football, it could easily be a small stop in Texas. But something sets this place apart from all the other tiny burbs in America—most of them are not within spitting distance of a major state prison.

Standing against the foothills on the south side of town is California State Prison, Solano. It is Vacaville’s one claim to fame. For the townsfolk who live within the distance of a short drive, the fact that it is a medium security institution is small comfort; the fact that it is already overcrowded even less so.

Ergo, when the moon shines down on sleepy little Cowtown and all the teenagers are snug in their beds dreaming of one day getting out and into a real city—the prison inmates lie in their bunks and fantasize of an escape of their own. In the community at large, both give the parents nightmares. They fear the day of reckoning when their babies flee the nest and move off to the great unknown, but also dread that one night they could find an escaped convict suddenly appear in their backyard—the hulking figure, pipe gripped in hand, strides toward the house with grim determination.

∞∞∞

[]

It is the irony of summer: even though they both have three months off from school, they spend most of their time working. It happens every year. Bree is a cashier at the outlet mall near the highway on the outskirts of town; June is a hostess at Vaca Pete’s, a family restaurant just off Main Street. Not content with the meager time together their busy schedules allowed, the girls made a sacred pact, and thus the “Golden Week” was born. Every year, at least until one of them moves away to college, they both take the same week off and spend it together doing whatever they want.

The glorious Golden Week, a little island of time with no responsibilities, when they could pretend to be thirteen again; unfortunately, this year a horrible truth threatens to darken their halcyon days.

“I hate to say it,” June starts.

“Then don’t say it,” Bree says, eyes closed, face up toward the sun.

June whispers, “It looks like Creepy Randy is going to be here all month. And yeah, even that week.”

Bree sighs. “He’s going to ruin everything.”

“Let’s keep our voices down,” June says. “I don’t know if he’s still home. He might hear us.”

Randy Volker is her mother’s boyfriend, and June’s most hated enemy. He and her mother moved in together last year, and June’s been miserable ever since. She tries to spend as little time with him as possible, and when he is around she invokes her golden rule about dealing with useless and mean authority figures: Speak Only When Spoken To.

Luckily, he is away for long stretches of time on business trips that take him all over California and the greater Southwest. His absences are met with smiles from June and indifference from her mother. Though not imposing in stature, Randy is ruthless with those that he thinks are weaker than him, which unfortunately includes June. It is easy for her to see through his overpowering discipline and know him for the bully he truly is; but her mother always seems oblivious, like her own little world doesn’t extend that far, can’t include those colors of aggression and cruelty.

His behavior toward June took an odd turn about five months ago. For no apparent reason he started acting differently—nice isn’t the right word, and he isn’t capable of being truly kind. In his own way he was more attentive and present. But what should have been a welcome change only struck June as an offense. It felt all wrong. He was anathema to her; his very presence made her skin crawl. Every look from Randy felt like an unyielding leer. Now she can’t stand to be in the same room with him. But her mother keeps acting like everything’s fine. June feels like she might be going crazy.

This can’t be normal. She has to talk to Bree about it, get her opinion. June breathes in and suddenly feels sick to her stomach; she knows if she doesn’t say something soon she might never build up the nerve again. Thankfully, Bree’s incessant monologue is coming to a close.

“ … so I said goodbye to Lance and his grabby hands and booked it to my car.” Bree puts her hand to her head in a histrionic gesture. “Seriously, ugh!”

This is it, June thinks. This is my in. “Hey, look, speaking of grabby hands—”

“I know, right?” Bree blurts out as she leans over and lightly pushes June on the shoulder. “Last week I had to bail when Mike Daten kept staring at me like I was a CPR dummy. So gross, he tries to make out with every girl with a pulse. He’s probably got like herpes of the mouth or something.”

June’s heart sinks. When she sighs audibly and Bree doesn’t even notice, she knows she needs a break. She gets to her feet and gestures toward the pool. “I’m going in. Coming?”

Bree adjusts her mirrored sunglasses. “No, maybe later.”

June stands on the diving board, feeling the searing heat of the sun on her shoulders. She closes her eyes and lets it burn, then leans forward and falls into the pool with a splash. The arctic water shakes her whole being; the familiar sensation awakening something within her.

She comes up and gasps for air. The chlorine smell reminds her of being a little girl at the county pool for her first swimming lessons; shy in her Disney Princess swimsuit, with the instructors trying to coax her to jump in by herself, but she was always too afraid to move, let alone jump into the scary, huge pool. She cried the first several times, but her father was always there to calm her down and make her feel safe.

Though she often felt like one, she wasn’t a little girl anymore; she wasn’t even the same person. The neon tankini she wears now hides most of the burn scars that run down the left side of her torso, leaving only her shoulder scars visible. The slight gash on her right cheek, well, there’s nothing she could do about that. Too self-conscious, she only wears a swimsuit in her own backyard, much to Bree’s dismay. Never so modest, Bree would walk around town in a bikini all day—hell, she would even wear one to church, if it wasn’t frowned upon.

June wipes the water from her eyes and looks over at her friend, who is spilling out of little green triangles that don’t cover nearly enough. It’s difficult to not resent her. Bree is young and blonde, with the special kind of charisma that broadcasts confidence and finesse; her parents are supportive to an almost servile degree; she has nothing but freedom—she does whatever she wants, whenever she wants to do it. Her parents probably don’t even know where she is right now.

June can’t help but think, What’s that like? Why am I stuck in this fucked up family? She wishes she could just be normal for once in her life. Bree is the only person June can trust, but the thought of explaining any of this to her makes June feel like she’s going to throw up. Bree just won’t get it. How can she?

June paddles to the shallow end and stands up, twirling her long hair to squeeze the water out. Dirty-blonde by nature, she dyed it red for the summer. Her mother frowned at the time, was so quick to intone her disappointment; but this was nothing new. It seemed every time June did anything to better herself, her mother was there poised and ready, with words that stung, the venom lingering long after the dust had settled on the latest fight between them. Add it to the list, June thinks. Just another thing you can hold against me.

Realizing she has to shake this cynicism, that she needs Bree on her side now more than ever, June switches gears. She lets her damp hair fall to her shoulders and gives her friend a faux, sexy look.

Bree laughs and calls out, “How is it, Buttercup?”

“It’s nice. Why don’t you cool off before you burn up.”

“Why don’t you come over here and tell me about your new little boyfriend.”

“You know I don’t have a boyfriend,” June says, reaching out for the ladder to pull herself up and out of the pool. “I’d be in a much better mood if I had a boyfriend.”

“For sure.” Bree smiles mischievously. “Girl, we need to get you laid. Oh, hey, let’s go to the movies Friday night. Bill & Ted is playing at the Dollar Theater. I’ll get Bobby to take me. We just need to get you a date.”

“Sounds like you’ve got it all worked out.”

Bree looks at June out of the corner of her eye and gives her a sly smile. “Make your own luck, that’s what I always say.”

“You’re a real piece of work, my friend.” June giggles. It is a welcome fantasy—but after the last fight with her mother, June can only hope she’ll let her out of the house for the Golden Week at all, let alone this Friday night. Of course—with Randy home, you never know—they might even forget June is there.

“We’ll see,” June says. “But you’ll have to drive, my car is still tits up. Randy said he could fix it, but it’s taking forever.”

“Is he really going to be home all month?” Bree asks.

“Looks like it. At least for a couple weeks. Creep. I better get my car back soon, and if he craps on our Golden Week, I’m going ballistic.”

Without thinking, Bree glances over at the large sliding glass doors on the back patio. The blinds are drawn, but they flutter when she turns her head to look over. Even in the hot sun, she feels a shiver run down her back. “Creep indeed. D-bag, if you ask me. Hey, why do you still have that piece of crap, anyway?” Bree never liked June’s car: a 1978 Volkswagen Bug, light blue, with a large scratch across the front door on the driver side and too many dents to count.

June’s pulse races as a wave of anger flashes over her. The car was a present from June’s late father; in fact, it was the last thing he gave her before he died. She closes her eyes and lets the feeling pass. She doesn’t want to fight with Bree, not when there is something so important to talk about. She breathes in and takes the high road.

“How dare you,” June says in a fake sarcastic tone. “You know I love that car. It’s my first, and you never forget your first.”

“Hmm,” Bree pretends to think, then adds suggestively, “and do you remember your first?”

“Ew, gross.” June lowers her sunglasses to her nose. “I don’t have a first like that, thank you very much.”

“I wish you did,” Bree says in a sing-song voice. “You’d have much more interesting stories to tell, thank you very little.”

Sadly, June only has horrible stories to tell, stories about her mother’s live-in boyfriend with wandering hands and no concept of boundaries. The thought of it all makes her lightheaded. The questions race through her mind: What if I’m wrong? What if it’s all me and I really am crazy? She was afraid of what Bree might say. What if Bree laughs, or thinks differently of me? What if she tells everybody at school?

But I can’t endure this forever, June thinks. I’ll explode. Unable to stand it anymore, she blurts it out.

“Randy’s really been freaking me out lately. No, for real. He won’t let me lock any doors in the house anymore—not in the bathroom, not even when I’m in the shower. Last week, I was taking a shower and he came in. He was going on about some stupid rule, like I have to do the dishes every night now or something. We have this footstool in the bathroom. He got on it, and looked down on me. I freaked, tried to cover myself; but he just kept talking, asking me if I understood.”

“Understood what?”

“Whatever stupid rule he was talking about. I muttered something and he finally went away. I just kept the water running and cried for about ten minutes. I mean, that can’t be normal.” She leans in closer to Bree. “That’s not OK, right?”

“I know,” Bree says, still lying on her back, looking up at the sky. “Rules are bullshit. My dad never lets me talk on the phone after nine at night. I swear, he is literally Hitler. Ugh!”

June wants to cry. It isn’t really Bree’s fault; her perfect little life doesn’t give her any context to understand any of this. And once again June finds herself alone. She feels like she is overboard and lost at sea, too tired to tread water anymore, just waiting for the current to pull her under.

Frustrated, she gets up, grabs her towel, and wraps it around her waist. “I’m going inside for a Coke. Want anything?”

Bree grunts in response and shuts her eyes. She’ll be asleep in a few minutes, better come back and check on her soon. Don’t want her to burn all to hell.

∞∞∞

[]

June opens the sliding glass door and walks into the family room, annoyed at having to brush through the curtain that is pulled closed. The shades are drawn on all of the windows, giving the room an odd yellowish cast from the residual light shining through. She scrunches up her face, her defenses go up. This is weird, mom always opens the blinds first thing in the morning. Randy is up to something. She can feel it. She can only hope he is out in town somewhere, buying car parts or beer or meeting with his friends that are even creepier than he is. Good, she thinks. She doesn’t want to get yelled at for dripping water on the floor.

She tightens her towel around her waist and tip-toes forward, but as she turns toward the kitchen, she immediately draws in a sharp breath.

Randy.

Leaning against the wall next to the fridge with his arms crossed over his sunken chest. The flow from the air-conditioning vent causes wisps of brown and gray hair to move about his balding head. He’s wearing a dirty wife-beater, smeared with either engine grease or barbecue sauce; whichever it might be only matters to June because if it’s barbecue sauce that would mean he hasn’t been working on her car in the garage. The bottom of his saggy jeans covers half of his bare feet.

June moves closer to get to the refrigerator. His stink washes over her, an offensive mix of beer and bad life decisions, barely covering the Drakkar he douses himself with on special occasions. She winces and braces herself for the tirade she knows is coming; but Randy just gives her an awkward smile, revealing his yellow teeth. Is he trying to be nice? Unlikely, plus he looks too much like a wild animal on a predatory hunt.

Great, he’s in some weird mood, June thinks. I’ll make it quick. She tries to ignore him as she pulls open the refrigerator door. Bending down to get a Coke from the bottom tray, she gets a bad feeling in her gut.

He blows air out through his front teeth and sighs.

Oh God no, she thinks, he’s looking at my ass. Not again. He’s always been a lecherous creep in general, but since his attention turned to her about five months ago, being around him is like walking through a minefield. For some reason her mother always seems to turn a  blind eye to his lascivious behavior. When he started getting grabby, June pulled her mother aside and delicately attempted to break through her disregard, but June’s feelings were summarily discounted. Now that she has to deal with him on her own, she feels like Bambi about to face Godzilla.

“Don’t you have something to do?” she asks, trying her best to hide her annoyance. She loudly pops open the Coke can.

“Oh,” Randy says with mock surprise. “Am I bothering you? In my own house? Looky looky, it’s summer and here she is, June in June.” He scratches his left underarm. “Oh, I’ve got something to do. But listen up, you’re still in trouble from last week, and I’ve been trying to think of a proper way to punish you. A way so you’ll remember next time, for once.”

June straightens her body and immediately tenses up. She doesn’t know what he’s talking about. What happened last week? They had a fight because she forgot to do the dishes and take out the garbage on Wednesday, but she didn’t think it was that big of a deal.

Randy leans in closer. She wonders how someone who never exercises can constantly have such bad body odor. The stench makes her cough; he stares as her stomach convulses.

After an eternity standing there slack jawed, he finally continues. “But then I thought maybe it’s time.” It’s subtle, but it’s there—his tell, slurring his words ever so slightly. He’s hammered. No, this isn’t going to end well.

“Time for what?” she says in a low voice, not wanting to know the answer.

Randy leans in and whispers in her ear, “For punishment cock.”

June’s eyes open wide, her heart thunders in her chest. It feels like she’s been kicked in the stomach. She turns her head to tell him to back off, but no words will come. Before she can take another breath, he reaches up and turns her chin with his hand and kisses her full on the mouth. She can feel the bile rise up and burn her throat. He backs his face away, but she can’t see; her vision clouds over in a red blur.

Every ounce of her being wants to scream out. But she freezes.

He puts his arm around her waist and leans in again. The Coke can drops from her hand; soda splashes on his saggy jeans and pools on the kitchen tile. He looks down at the mess and throws up his hands in disgust. “Goddamnit!”

With all her strength, June pushes him away before he can regain his composure. She spins around and runs outside into the glaring sunlight and pounding heat, slamming the sliding glass door behind her.

After stumbling to the grass near the pool, she falls down next to her sleeping friend, holds her knees with her arms and starts sobbing.

Bree wakes up and asks groggily, “June? Did something happen? What’s wrong?”

June just keeps rocking back and forth. Bree puts her arm around her and looks back at the house, confused, wondering—What is it this time? The sliding glass door answers with a simple reflection of the back yard. Tree branches sway in the slight breeze. After a few minutes, she hears the front door to the house bang shut, followed by the thump of a heavy car door. The muscle car in the driveway roars to life and its tires squeal off down the street.

June looks up or a moment, but puts her head down again and cries harder, barely able to keep from choking.

Bree just holds her friend tighter and whispers, “Oh, June.”

CHAPTER TWO

[
**]

THE PASSION

[]

June wakes up Monday morning with a sense of grit and certainty. There has to be an explanation. Sure, Randy was a douchebag, but this can’t be as bad as she thinks. Because that would be crazy, right?

He couldn’t have said that yesterday. And in any case, whatever happened, he was just loaded again. It’s not the first time his drunken antics have thrown her for a loop; she simply wasn’t ready for it this time. That has to be it. Maybe if she can talk to him, as much as she hates seeing his ugly face, he would admit it was all a mistake—or maybe he wouldn’t even remember doing it. She doesn’t know which would be worse. Regardless, this isn’t the kind of thing she can just sweep under the rug.

After brushing her hair in the mirror on her dresser, she opens her underwear drawer, reaches into the back and pulls out a large white tube sock stuffed with all kinds of bills. She holds it up and admires its heft, then puts it back and closes the drawer. It’s enough to know that it’s there.

The cache of money started after her father died when she was sixteen. He didn’t have much, but he left her $2,500 in his will. Her mother didn’t trust June, so she made her get a joint bank account with both their names on it. And June didn’t trust her mother, either; so over the months and years she would periodically take out small amounts of cash from the ATM near school and slip it into her sacred white sock in her underwear drawer when she got home. Since her mother never washed June’s laundry—or did anything for June, for that matter—the drawer in her dresser seemed as safe a place as any. She added to her cache when she started working at the restaurant.

It is her emergency fund, perhaps unnecessary, though it helps her anxiety level to know that she is prepared for anything.

June trudges downstairs and drops her backpack on the kitchen table, hears the soft hum of the pipes that snake upstairs from the hot water heater, telling her that her mother is still in the shower. Then there it is: a loud clank coming from the garage.

Randy.

June closes her eyes and tells herself: Just do this, let’s get this sorted out so we can all move on. The door to the garage creaks as she opens it and pokes her head in.

A two-car garage, just like in the American Dream. Her VW Bug is parked on blocks in front of her. The left side of the garage is empty except for an aluminum sheet on the ground covered with large streaks of oil. And there he is, in all his disgusting glory, getting some tools from the counter on the far right side. Tinkering with cars. That’s all he does when he isn’t on a business trip, when he isn’t drinking beer and watching his precious new television. He tinkers, but never seems to get anything done.

She steps in quietly, feeling like a rabbit sneaking into a deep cave where a hungry bear is hibernating. He turns and notices her, then goes back to cleaning his tools with a dark colored rag. “Hey, June, mornin’. Off to school?”

“In a minute, mom’s getting ready.” Weird, she thinks. He’s acting like nothing happened. Maybe he really can’t remember? She feels the hair stand up on the back of her neck, but forces herself to walk further into the garage, just up to the headlights of her car. Realizing the best she can hope for is that he’s just a bad drunk makes her start to shake. The impulse to just bolt right out of there shoots through her; but no, she has to press on, to be certain.

She asks casually about how it’s going with her car. When he just gives her some inane excuse like he always does, she asks why it’s taking so long.

“You got a one-track mind,” he says in a disgusted tone, throwing his rag on the counter. “Ungrateful kid.”

“Um,” she says, ignoring his comments, desperately trying to be firm. “We need to talk.”

“Oh, what about?”

“About what happened yesterday.” Unable to meet his glare, she glances at the aluminum sheet on the ground.

He wipes his brow with the back of his hand. “What happened yesterday?” He grabs a wrench from his toolbox on the counter, then nods his head in recognition. “Oh, that … Riiiiight.” He lets the wrench fall to the table with a loud clunk, picks up a towel and wipes his greasy hands slowly. A slight smile crosses his lips.

“I know, it was a mistake,” June says, leading him. Here’s where you apologize, she thinks. I’ll be good. I’ll try not to make this too awkward for you. I’ll be off to school in a minute, and maybe we can all get back to some normalcy around here.

“No, June, that was no mistake.” Randy waits for her to look up and stares her right in the eye, still wiping his hands slowly. It feels like her clothes have suddenly burst into flames. She crosses her arms over her chest and looks away, focusing on the little opaque windows in the closed garage door. If anyone were outside, they wouldn’t be able to see in; she wonders if they would hear her if she screamed.

He continues in a low, deliberate voice. “I’ve wanted you ever since me and your mom hooked up.” June’s heart stops. Her breath comes in short bursts—as if she was swimming and starting to go under; she tries to hide her duress as best as she can. Almost to herself, she says weakly, “Does mom know?”

Randy lets his hand towel drop to the floor and takes a step closer.

June is crawling out of her skin. No, don’t come near me. The room starts spinning.

Randy goes on, every sound of his voice clawing against her ears, deep enough to scar. “I’ve waited as long as I could. It’s about time now, babe.”

“Please stop talking,” June whispers.

He takes another step. “Oh, I’m not going to stop.” He leans in close, speaking low near her ear. “Make no mistake, this is going to happen.”

Her body goes numb as reality tears open. Reeling, she has to reach out and put her right hand against the hood of her car to keep from falling over. This can’t be happening. He can’t have just said that. A tear falls down her left cheek.

He’s still near her face, and though his voice is low, it sounds like the thunder that precedes a tornado. “And don’t even think about telling your mother. Or anyone. Don’t make this worse, girl. Besides, who do you think they would believe? I’ll try not to make it hurt, unless I have to.”

June closes her eyes as the panic sets in. She doesn’t know what to do. She mouths the words, It already hurts.

She bites her lip—deep, hard enough to bleed. Just to feel the pain, to keep from screaming.

The door to the kitchen creaks open; her mother pops her head into the garage and says, “June, where are—? Oh, there you are. It’s time to go. Got to get you to school if I’m going to make it to work on time. We’re already running late.”

June pushes past her and rushes down the hall. Her mother just stands there with her mouth agape. “June? What happened to your lip?”

“Nothing, I’m alright,” June calls back over her shoulder, trying to keep her voice from shaking. “Can we just go?”

Her mother gives Randy a distraught, questioning look.

He just shrugs his shoulders. “Kids these days. What you gonna do?”

∞∞∞

[]

The bell for the start of third period rang over twenty minutes ago, but you can’t tell by the way the kids are acting. Robert Sampson sighs to himself and makes a mental note to go over his career choices again tonight over a bottle of Pinot Noir. Every year he wishes the local community college would have an opening, but their history department is full of lifers who will never retire or move away. He will simply have to wait for one of them to die. Robert raises his voice a notch in a futile attempt to get control of the class.

“Once again, it’s the 12th and 13th century; we’re in the steppe plateau of Central Asia. The Mongol tribe really went off, caused a lot of death and destruction, as expected. All of it led by our good friend, Genghis Khan. Now, I’m sure you’ve heard of that old trope in fiction, the one that asks: What would’ve happened if someone went back in time and assassinated Hitler before World War II? Well, let’s apply that idea here. So my question to you is: How many folks might have survived if somebody offed Genghis Khan before he rose to his full power? Or what if he had never been born in the first place?”

No reaction, but the class is anything but silent; though at least they’re still in their seats. That’s Robert’s real objective, to keep their butts in their seats and survive the week. He always detested the last week of school with a passion reserved for the especially abhorrent—like drunk drivers, child molesters, or big, hairy spiders—and this year isn’t any different.

This is not the Honors U.S. History class—they meet down the hall with Mrs. Stein. Robert loathes her and her smug attitude, her spacious classroom, with the big windows along the whole left side of the room. No, this is just good old normal Core U.S. History, which just happens to take place in the last room on the right of building C; one of the smallest classrooms on campus. There are two tiny windows on the right wall, one of them covered in cardboard after the room was vandalized three months ago. At least this isn’t what they now call Credit Recovery U.S. History, where students who have previously failed the course go to try to recover the units they need to graduate. Robert always told himself if they assign him to that class, he will simply turn in his keys, drive away, and never look back.

He rolls up the sleeves of his white dress shirt and calls out, “Anyone?”

“Anyone?” comes a male voice from the back of the class. “Anyone … Bueller?” Laughter ripples through the room.

Robert’s glare shoots daggers at the back row.

Jack Meers.

Little shit. Robert smiles to himself, knowing that Mr. Meers will indeed be attending the Credit Recovery version of this class next year—or over the summer, if he wants to be football eligible in the fall. Robert knows he could rip into Jack right now, tear him a new one; but he lets it go. The time to assert his authority over these mouth breathers is long gone. He keeps reminding himself: Focus. Just get through this week.

He looks out over the faces of the forty-three kids in his least favorite class, most of them only half-awake, with dumb looks on their pale, fat faces. Jesus, is this the generation that will inherit the world someday? Lord help us all.

He obstinately keeps to his original lesson plan—to lecture all this week, really give the kids an experience to remember. The concept is simple: Do a separate major era and region each day as trailers for what they will all be facing next year in World History; well, all of them except for the not-so-wide receiver Jack Meers.

Too many teachers check out and give up along with the kids at the end of the year. They show movies or play stupid little games, like History Jeopardy. In his fourth year at this less-than-prestigious secondary institution in the middle of Cowtown, he wants to actually teach something this week. That’s what they pay him for; that’s what he’ll do.

Of course, he may have bitten off more than he could chew. It’s an effort just to keep the kids in the classroom. Usually during the last week of school, the kids will get up and mill around the door during the last fifteen minutes of class; some of them will inevitably spill out into the hall at some point and just wander away, which prompts Principal McCallister to call Robert into his office again for a good reaming. Last year, Robert—despite his verbal admonitions—had to physically stand in front of the door to keep the kids from leaving.

So this time he knows he’ll have to try something different, something that truly packs a punch. Because the kids’ collective attention spans are so limited, for the last week of school, he decided to approach more visceral material than the curriculum would normally allow. It’s risky, but so what? Got to do whatever it takes to keep the kids at bay for the fifty-five minutes he is stuck with them. If Principal McCallister gives him any trouble, Robert will simply remind him that with forty-three kids in this small room they are way beyond fire code violations, and how he should have notified the teacher’s union about that already.

He raises his voice another notch and doesn’t bother hiding his annoyance. “Seriously? People, I just told you. We just went over this a few minutes ago.” There has to be at least one of them who is paying attention. But even that four-eyed Todd Stanfield in the first row is looking away as he keeps touching that zit on his chin repeatedly.

Sarah Parsley raises her hand. Robert cocks an eyebrow. Well, this could go either way; Sarah is an average student, but a complete kiss-ass. She might just be trying to get attention.

“Sarah? How many?” he asks. “How many people of the steppe plateau of Central Asia might have survived if Genghis Khan was out of the picture?”

“100,000?” Sarah says, raising her voice at the end and hunching her shoulders.

“No, Sarah, but thanks for trying.” Giggles dribble out from the back of the class. Robert continues, “More like somewhere between 20 to 50 million people.”

Though there are still whispers in the back of the room, the first two rows are silent; a few of the kids are even sitting up straight. Wanting to continue with this new momentum, Robert presses on. “That’s right, under Genghis Khan, the Mongols ruled the land. Nobody was safe. Enemy tribes in the steppe had a simple choice: give in or die. And giving in was when the nightmare really started.”

The kids in the back jerk their heads up. This is the quietest the class has been all day.

“You won’t learn about this next year, but I’ll dial you in,” Robert says. “For now, think about it. What could that have been? What could the Mongols have done that would be so terrible, so heinous? What could be worse than death?”

He looks around the room. Some of the kids look confused, some have raised eyebrows, and one—in the second row—is just staring off into space.

June Addison.

She never fit in at all. Robert always wondered why she didn’t just take the GED and be done with this place. Her green eyes are a little too big for her face, which is washed out since she never wears any make-up to school. For some reason she dyed her hair red recently; nice addition, but it’s tied back in a pony-tail with little strands leaking out here and there. She’s wearing a black Bad Religion t-shirt and faded blue jeans, with black and white Chuck Taylors that might have been new several years ago. All the other girls in school cake on so much make-up, and they way they dress—you would think they were going to a dance club instead of going to class. To him, it’s like June isn’t even trying.

Robert railed against her being added to his class, though it was to no avail. The memory sticks in his mind like an old vinyl record left on in a backroom, just skipping over and over, never getting to the good part of the song.

It was a Wednesday afternoon in September, during Robert’s prep period; Principal McCallister had called him into his office for a special meeting. Robert sat in front of his boss in the spot usually reserved for the parents of problem kids, with Lucy Waller (the Assistant Principal) sitting next to him. His boss had a concerned look on his face, like he didn’t know where to start.

“Bob,” Principal McCallister began, “I know you’re wondering why we called you in here. This is about your third period U.S. History class.”

Robert was immediately annoyed; his boss insisted on calling him Bob—everyone else calls him by his preferred name, Robert. He thought, What could this possibly be about? They can’t be adding another kid to third period; the class limit is thirty-five and they already added four additional kids since school started two weeks ago. Some years, it seems like they keep adding kids all year long.

“We’re adding another student, she starts tomorrow. We just wanted to go over a few things with you first.”

Robert’s head started throbbing. This was highly unusual. They never had a sit-down meeting about adding kids to a class before. The new students always just show up out of the blue with add cards in their hand and you simply have to deal with it. A voice echoed through his head: This isn’t going to end well.

Robert tried not to raise his voice. “No way. I’m already at thirty-nine kids in that puny room.”

Principal McCallister folded his hands on the desk in front of him. “I know. But you know the rules. We have to give any transfer students the exact same class they had from wherever they came from, or a likewise equivalent. I’m sorry, Bob, our hands are tied.”

“Fine,” Robert said. He knew it was futile trying to fight the system. “But then why am I here?” It still didn’t make sense why they called him to this meeting.

His boss took a deep breath. “This one has a little history.”

“Excuse me?” Robert said, taken aback.

Lucy Waller turned to him. “Look, she’s had a hard time. She just needs a little help and understanding.”

Robert brushed his hand through his hair and didn’t say anything.

Lucy opened a folder on her lap and ran her index finger down a list on the top of the page. She went on in a voice too perky for the moment. “Her father died in ’85 when she was a sophomore. Car accident, terrible tragedy. She was in the car, too; survived with only some cuts and bruises, as far as we know. She took it so hard she dropped out of school, got into some trouble. The next year, she went to Country High—you know, where the delinquents go. But she’s a good kid, really; she didn’t last four months there. Frankly, I don’t blame her.”

“I still don’t know why she’s in my class now.” Robert said.

Lucy Waller continued. “Her mother was supposed to homeschool her, but you know how these things go. At least the kid was sharp enough to test out of her sophomore term. Now her mother wants her to do her junior year here. Of course, because of her age, we refused.”

Principal McCallister chimed in. “But they played hardball.”

“Wait, how old is she?” Robert asked. “She’s what, eighteen now?” Robert’s mind raced. Principal McCallister was an ex-Marine who ran a tight ship and was always in control. How did they strong-arm this guy? Then it came to him. Football. In a small town like this, it always comes back to the football team. “Man alive, is Bobby Thompson still going here?”

Bobby Thompson is what is commonly called a ringer. He is at least twenty years old, what they call a three-year senior. He never graduates, just keeps taking P.E. classes every year and continues to dominate at defensive tackle. And no one ever says anything about it. At least not until June Addison’s mother showed up.

“Aw, I see,” Robert said. “So her mother said something like, ‘If you want to make the State Championship this year, you’ll let my little girl come back like nothing happened?’ Is that it?”

Principal McCallister just opened his mouth in a knowing smile. “Like I said, Bob, our hands are tied.”

So here she is at the end of the year, nineteen years old, and sitting in his class against his better judgement. Robert was worried at first; he smelled trouble on her. No way a kid that old wouldn’t have an attitude problem a mile wide. But to her credit, she never stood out. She was almost invisible; just kept to herself and maintained her C average all year long.

Here is a kid the same age as the students he would be teaching if Robert ever got his coveted position at the Community College. Could she put forth more than a middling effort? It’s the last week of school, he muses; it’s your last chance. Hit me with your best shot.

Robert beams at the class and presses on. “After sacking a city, the Mongols always went around and interrogated all of the people of the tribe, asking them what they could do. If they had any useful skills, the Mongols would grab them and put them to work. That’s how people survived being conquered, by being useful. Anything that wasn’t useful was either killed or destroyed. Simple as that. But there was one other way to survive, if you could call it that. Does anyone know what that might have been?”

Nobody answers, but at least the class is quiet now.

“Wives,” Robert continues. “The Mongols were always on the lookout for women they could take as wives. But not in the way you might think. Forcing a woman into marriage, that doesn’t sound very consensual to me. That sounds a lot like rape. A lot like rape. I don’t know why, but history books often refer to women who are obviously rape victims as wives.

“This was really no different than most other conquerors through time. The Romans, the Visigoths, the Greeks. But the Mongols were—what is it you kids call it?—off the hook. Maybe you could say the Mongols raped so much simply because they were so successful in battle. Obviously, a tragic time for the people of the steppe plateau.”

He laughs to himself quietly. “I guess you could say there were a lot of steppe dads.”

Nobody gets the joke. The class sits in awkward silence. A car alarm squeaks off outside and a door slams, engine turns.

“So my question to you right now is: What was their real motivation for these heinous acts? Were they simply taking pleasure from their conquests? Pleasure from plunder, if you will. Or was it a way to take revenge against those tribes that dared stand against them?”

He raises his eyebrows and looks out at the class, but it’s all blank stares. He moves closer and stands in front of June’s desk. He looks down at her; she keeps looking straight ahead. Thousand-yard stare.

“June, what do you think? Did the Mongols get off on it, or was this some form of, well, punishment?”

She finally looks up, but the faraway look in her eyes doesn’t go away. She parts her lips, but no words come out. Then she looks away and stares off into space again, wiping her eyes quickly with her sleeve.

Robert has to admit it, he resents her. They made him take her into this class. In fact, he resents all these kids. All of them with their vapid, blank looks. And this one, this little spoiled girl, just waiting for school to end, not taking advantage of her position in life. Robert wishes he could be nineteen again. The things he would do.

“Were you even paying attention?” he asks, yelling now. “I know it’s the last week of school, but we’ve still got some time left. And it’s my time. You’re not free of me yet. All you special little snowflakes and your precious everybody-gets-a-medal moments. All just wasted. My time is valuable too, you know. You could show a little respect. A little common courtesy. You know, June, you’ll never amount to anything if you don’t apply yourself.”

He walks back to the front of the class and calls out, “People, can you simply apply yourselves? Take some initiative. Can you do that, for once in your life?”

June grabs her purse and backpack and runs out of the classroom. No one says a word.

Robert holds his hands out in front of him and says to the class, “What did I say?”

Screw it, he thinks, it’s not worth the effort. Tomorrow I’m showing a movie.

CHAPTER THREE

[
**]

MAD WORLD

[]

Though it is Vacaville’s only claim to fame, many of the locals consider the prison more of a curse than a blessing. This is for multiple reasons, not the least of which is the overpopulation problem caused by the boom of tough anti-crime legislation in California. The adding of double—and even triple—bunks in each cell makes denial of the issue difficult and problematic. (With the prison and medical facility combined, Vacaville houses the largest inmate population in the country, some say in the free world.) However, there is a reason why Vacaville residents are worried about a lot more than the effect additional prison construction might have on local real estate values. Of further concern is the fact that the compound is home to much more than just a prison. Everyone knows that the real action is at the adjacent medical facility.

Predating the prison itself—which was built in the early 1980s—is the largest prison hospital in the state. California Medical Facility (CMF) opened in 1955; ostensibly for the old, infirm and injured of the state’s male prison population. Considered the crown jewel of California’s prison healthcare system, it is perhaps better known for some of its more infamous guests.

Counter-culture icon and psychedelic drug enthusiast Timothy Leary was incarcerated at CMF during 1973-1974—for possession of marijuana, and for an escape from a minimum security prison at San Luis Obispo. Of all the notorious inmates of the day, Leary is perhaps one of the most benign; however, many of CMF’s residents are there for much more violent crimes.

Edmund “Big Ed” Kemper, a serial killer also known as “The Co-Ed Killer,” was sentenced to life at CMF starting in late 1973 for several brutal killings. At fifteen years old, he murdered his grandparents; nine years later he killed and dismembered six female hitchhikers in the Santa Cruz area. He subsequently murdered his mother and one of her friends before turning himself in to the authorities days later.

Another one of CMF’s more notorious inmates was Theodore “Ted” Streleski, a former graduate student in mathematics at Stanford University. He served seven years in Vacaville after murdering his former faculty advisor with a sledge hammer on August 18, 1978. At his trial, he refused to plead “not guilty by reason of insanity” as suggested by his attorney, and instead pled “not guilty,” holding to his claim that the murder was justified. Streleski was in his nineteenth year pursuing his doctorate in the mathematics department at the time of the murder, alternating between various low-paying jobs to support himself; and according to him, his faculty advisor had withheld departmental awards from him, demeaned him in front of his peers, and refused his request for financial support.

CMF also houses one of the Onion Field killers, Gregory Powell, who was convicted of killing a Los Angeles police officer during the infamous kidnapping that inspired the true crime book and movie. Powell and his partner, Jimmy Lee Smith, were convicted of abducting two police officers in Hollywood on March 6, 1963, after being pulled over for making an illegal U-turn. They took the police officers—who were in plain clothes at the time—to an onion field near Bakersfield, California, where Officer Ian James Campbell was murdered. The other police officer was able to escape. It was one of the most influential murder cases in U.S. History, as it forced the Los Angeles Police Department and other large municipalities to change some of their policies and tactics in the field.

Arguably the most famous guest at CMF was the one and only Charles Manson, who was incarcerated there on two occasions: once for several months in 1974, and again for nine years starting in May 1976. While there, Manson—whose speaking style is as bizarre as his ideas and beliefs—gave his first notable interview in 1981 to Tom Snyder for NBC’s late-night talk show Tomorrow Coast to Coast.

He was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder for several killings carried out by his cult group, called the Manson Family—a commune of sorts that arose in the California desert in the late 1960s. All of the murders were committed by members of the group at his instruction. He believed the murders would hasten an impending apocalyptic race war he call Helter Skelter.

Strangely enough, Manson was also a musician. During 1983-1984 he and fellow inmate Eddie Richard Ragsdale—AKA “Rags”—composed and recorded over ten cassette tapes of original music. The tapes mysteriously disappeared and were considered lost for many years; however, the tapes were later discovered and the music was released on a vinyl LP entitled, “The Lost Vacaville Tapes.”

∞∞∞

[]

Later that night, June walks around the house in a daze. She avoids interacting with anyone at home, but it’s not like they notice—her mother and Creepy Randy are too busy griping over credit card bills and whatever is next on the house fix-it list.

Dinner is torture. It takes all of her energy to make herself sit at the table when every part of her just wants to run upstairs and scream into her pillow. Being near Randy makes her skin crawl. Every time he speaks it feels like someone is hitting the side of her head with a hammer. She can’t look him in the face; whenever he addresses her, she stares blankly at her mother, who just rearranges the food on her plate without looking up. But later, after a lull in the conversation, her mother does look up.

“June, are you all right? You’ve barely touched your food.”

“I’m not five, mom.”

Her mother scrunches up her face. “You need to eat.”

“Actually, I feel sick. Can I be excused?”

“Fine, go to your room. I’ll do the dishes, again.”

June starts seeing spots on her way up and almost falls down the stairs. Once inside her room, she closes the door behind her and paces back and forth, mindfully keeping clear of the squeaky floorboard on the right side near the window. The time has come; it’s killing her, but she can’t put this off any longer. She has to talk to her mother and tell her what happened with Randy.

She always knew this would be a problem, but resisted dealing with it since there was no way to tell how her mother would react. It’s not subtle; Randy is disgusting. He constantly leers at every girl with two legs and a pulse, regardless of age. Yet somehow her mother remains oblivious. For her own sake, June tries to ignore him just to keep the peace. But ignoring a problem doesn’t make it go away, and some problems just get worse with time. June keeps pacing, trying to stave off the panic attack she knows is coming. Though she is strong in her resolve, that doesn’t make dealing with this mess any easier.

She stops and listens, the familiar cadence at the end of dinner causing a pain in her chest: dishes clinking together, water running in the sink. They’re done eating. Now Randy will do what he always does: just sit in front of his big TV and drink beer. Monday Night Football, or whatever is on this time of year.

Footsteps thunk up the stairs, the third step groans in defiance—her mother, no doubt. She’ll go into her room, do her nightly routine. Though her mood swings are a mystery, her behavior is always predictable.

June waits a few minutes, then quietly crosses the hall to her mother’s bedroom. She’s lying on her bed reading Cosmo with purple goop all over her face. June sits down on the bed near her mother’s feet and looks at the floor.

Her mother flips through the pages. “Hey, did you know there’s fifteen ways to make your breasts look bigger?”

“Mom, we need to talk.”

“OK, honey.” She puts the magazine down against her chest. “Are you sick? Should I take your temperature?”

“No.” June takes a deep breath.

“What is it this time?” Her mother gasps. “Are you pregnant?”

“What? Oh, god no.” June puts her hands to her face and starts crying. “I don’t know how to say this …”

∞∞∞

[]

It doesn’t take long for June to get a cold feeling in her gut. She didn’t know what she was expecting, but it isn’t this. Maybe it’s the way her mother stiffened up as soon as June started going over the events of the previous afternoon; maybe it’s the way her mother held her breath a little too long, took too long to comment, like she needed to think it all through. As if she had to consider all of her options about what to do next.

At least her mother is patient; she lets June finish her story. After a few moments of silence, she puts her hand on June’s knee.

“That doesn’t sound like Randy.”

“C’mon, mom. Wake up. Look who we’re talking about. It sounds a lot like Randy.” June fights to keep her voice down; she doesn’t want him overhearing them. She needs her mother on her side before this whole situation blows up, which it inevitably will. They are going to need to make a united front before he gets a chance to abuse them both when his rage boils over.

“If there’s anything I’ve learned,” her mother says, and something about the tone makes June’s heart sink into her knees, “there’s two sides to every story. It just wouldn’t be fair if I didn’t get his side to all of this.”

June is aghast. “God, mom. How can you take his side?”

“I’m not taking his side, honey. I just said I want to talk to him. Look around you, look at all this.” She waves her arm across the room. “He works so hard, he does well for himself. And he’s taken good care of us. I owe it to him to at least hear him out.”

No, June thinks, you owe it to me to take care of me and keep me safe.

June says under her breath, barely getting out the words, “He said he’s always wanted me. Ever since the beginning. He’s basically a child molester.”

Her mother gives her a blank look and says matter-of-factly, “You’re over eighteen.”

June knows the real saying: There are three sides to every story—you, me, and the truth. She also knows that even if she is only half-right, this whole situation is all kinds of wrong. But the truth remains: June isn’t safe here. It’s that simple. If her mother doesn’t come to her senses soon, June doesn’t know what she will do.

CHAPTER FOUR

[
**]

HELTER SKELTER

[]

As the flagship for the state’s prison healthcare system, California Medical Facility (CMF) is the breeding ground for many special programs aimed at meeting the physical and mental needs of inmates across the West Coast. One such program is The Blind Project, which began in the 1960s, and allows inmates to transcribe assorted books into Braille and record audiobooks. Also, the system’s first AIDS patient was treated at CMF, and the first specialized AIDS facilities were developed there as a result.

Regardless of these accomplishments, the medical facility is not without controversy. Many have questioned the quality of medical care. In 1987, the U.S. Justice Department sent a letter to Governor George Deukmejian stating concerns about the facility’s ability to treat inmates with serious medical needs. A 1988 lawsuit charged that CMF was “a filthy, vermin-infested overcrowded prison,” and that the medical care was grossly inadequate. Perhaps ironically, there have been allegations that the overcrowding has seriously affected the facility’s ability to treat AIDS patients.

But the real drama is in the rumors and conspiracy theories.

Throughout the mid-to-late twentieth century, the CIA maintained an illegal program called Project MKUltra (or MK-ULTRA). This program was aimed at developing various mind control techniques. All of the experiments were on human subjects, some of which, allegedly, were not willing participants. Many of the experiments involved dosing the subjects with hallucinogens. One of the goals was to gain strategies that would weaken individuals to force their confessions during interrogations.

The U.S. Senate began a hearing in 1977 to investigate MK-ULTRA when a Freedom of Information Act request uncovered a cache of 20,000 documents relating to the project. It remains to be seen if any surviving documents will be declassified.

Conspiracy theorists believe Vacaville to be one of the locations implicated in the MK-ULTRA documents. They allege horrendous experiments—such as anectine therapy—had been conducted on non-volunteer inmates under CIA covert guidance. When administered, anectine stops the subject from breathing. The subject feels like they are about to die. As the panic sets in, a technician warns them that this is what will happen to them if they do not cooperate. Then a respirator is turned on, and the subject is revived.

And then there is the story of Donald Cinque DeFreeze.

During the 1960s, DeFreeze was a petty criminal who worked as an informer for the Los Angeles Police Department. From 1969 to 1972, he was incarcerated at the state prison in Vacaville for armed robbery; which happens to be the same time the CIA was conducting mind control experiments in the adjacent medical facility.

DeFreeze went on to lead a domestic terrorist group called the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA). In 1974, the SLA kidnapped Patty Hearst when she was a college student in Berkeley, California. She was brainwashed into joining the group and taking part in their criminal activities. The kidnapping gripped the nation, and her subsequent trial made front page news.

Conspiracy theorists contend that this entire episode was part of a larger experiment run by the CIA, and that DeFreeze himself was brainwashed from his time in Vacaville. Perhaps this was a chance for The Powers That Be to see one of their exploits at work in a real-world setting.

One thing is certain: the CIA was indeed conducting mind control experiments at that time, specifically using Vacaville as one of their locations. The proof came in 1978 in a letter to Congressman Leo Ryan from the Deputy Director of the CIA, who confirmed for Ryan that experiments took place on volunteer inmates at the Vacaville facility, though the project was completed in 1968.

It has yet to be proven if any rogue CIA experiments leaked out into the civilian world, either by coincidence or design; though it is curious that at least two high profile names exist that both used similar mind control techniques to the CIA’s programs, and both stayed relatively significant time at the Vacaville facility. We have DeFreeze, who at least tortured Patty Hearst through various means, and possibly used other methods to control her; and Charles Manson, who programmed his own family of murderers using the exact same technique the CIA used in their experiments—a combination of LSD and hypnosis.

Perhaps the CIA admission of various mind control experiments in that letter from 1978 was just a smokescreen. Maybe they were trying to keep more important details secret.

California set up what is called a maximum diagnostic unit at CMF in 1972. This experimental psychological unit was set up to deal with selected inmates out of the 700 in solitary confinement in California prisons. Were the CIA’s experiments on human subjects simply continuing under another name?

∞∞∞

[]

June waited in her room until she heard her mother’s footsteps going downstairs, then snuck back to the staircase and sat on the top step. She couldn’t see anything, but wanted to overhear as much as she could.

Her mother started out in hushed tones. June couldn’t hear Randy’s answer, but it was short and her mother raised her voice in response. Here come the fireworks, June thought.

“But she’s my daughter!”

“God christ! What is it with you, Gail? You always have to push my buttons, maybe it’s time I pushed back.” Heavy footsteps reverberated across the living room tile floor. June could imagine Randy getting out of his chair; his beer belly sticking out comically as he tried to assert himself.

“You wouldn’t dare,” Gail said, backing away.

June whispered to herself, “You better not touch her.”

“Try me.” Randy threw the TV remote down; it bounced off the coffee table and hit the floor with a thud.

Gail folded her arms across her chest. “I think you should leave.”

“Oh, I’ll leave!”

A crash rang out as the house shook; he threw a beer bottle at the wall. Shattering glass, splashing liquid—just like on MTV. June was afraid one of the neighbors would call the police.

“See how you do without me!” The front door slammed behind him. Gail had her hands over her face as she sobbed. A car started up and roared down the street.

Of course none of that happened.

What do you want to be when you grow up? It’s a question June struggles with as much as anyone. How does one even make lasting change? Does the caterpillar molt into its shiny chrysalis with intent and determined purpose, or is it mindless, just nature’s random design? Even at nineteen, June still feels so young. She never had a chance to grow up. Awkward, stunted, forever destined to be the ugly duckling. Her days are things to be endured; it’s a struggle just to survive, let alone try to be like a normal person. She doesn’t blame herself, not for all of it; she can’t imagine that her home life is something that would ever be considered normal.

What’s really happening this night is not so exciting, so dramatic, so ready for prime time.

Randy is at the refrigerator, beer bottles clinking together as he grabs another one from the box on the bottom shelf. As with most nights when he is at home and on a tear, there will be a lot of clinking bottles tonight. His La-Z-Boy recliner squeaks as he plunks his fat ass back down.

“Hey, Gail. What’s up?”

“We need to talk.”

“Goddamnit, what now? Can’t this wait until after the game?”

Gail speaks too low for June to hear; she can only hear Randy’s voice. At first he feigns indignation—she should have known he would deny everything. June didn’t really expect any less. But her mother will have her back, put her foot down at long last. Maybe we can have some sense in this house for once, June thinks. She feels a surge of anticipation. It’s happening, it’s all finally happening. When everything is all out in the open—what then? Will her mother leave him? If there’s any sense in this universe, she will.

“It’s weird,” Randy says, sounding confused. “Don’t be mad at her. I think she’s always had eyes for me. It’s kind of sad, really.”

June can’t breathe. The thoughts machine-gun fire through her addled brain: What? Now he’s blaming me? You sad pathetic piece of shit, as if I would ever come on to you. I would rather stick my hand in a bag of tarantulas.

Randy takes a placating tone, and they both lower their voices even more. June strains, but can’t make any sense of the undertones. She cautiously moves down another step on the staircase. This is all wrong, this isn’t how any of this is supposed to be. Where are mom’s screams of righteous anger? Why isn’t Randy railing against her, threatening to kick us both out? Where is his I’ll Do What I Want, Don’t Tell Me What To Do speech? June puts her hand to her stomach, afraid she’ll lose what little dinner she ate all over the stairs. Once again, that little voice in the back of her mind echoes, This isn’t going to end well.

Bottles clink in the recycling bin in the pantry; footsteps trudge up the stairs.

June hastens back to her room and sits on her bed. Staring off into space, she picks at her fingers, making her right thumb bleed. She can’t believe it; this can’t be happening. Not mom. No, not her. June didn’t anticipate this because this wasn’t even in the realm of possibility; she hadn’t even considered it. Sure, her mother is a narcissistic bitch who sometimes forgets June exists—but nobody would let this happen to their own daughter. What kind of monster would do that?

A light knock on the bedroom door. Gail stands in the doorway.

“Can I come in?”

“Sure,” June chirps without looking up.

Gail sits down on the bed next to June and strokes her hair. An odd maternal gesture, given the context; however, June can’t feel it, her whole body is numb. She closes her eyes as Gail talks, explaining Randy’s denial, saying things that mean nothing to June—useless words that just make a bigger mess of things. June’s life is over. How do we go on from this?

Then Gail turns authoritative, the harsh words all grinding together in June’s mind. It feels like she is standing in the middle of a steel mill.

“I’ve really got a lot on my plate these days, June. You know that. I could use your help. And with all my hours at work now, you’re actually going to be spending a lot more time with Randy.” She puts her hand on June’s leg. June has the sudden urge to set her mom on fire.

Gail continues, “I need you to be a team player on this. I know it’s been tough with your father gone, but Randy, he’s a good guy … I think you just never gave him a chance. I wish you could see what I see.”

June scrunches up her face and tries as hard as she can not to scream out loud the questions that explode through her mind: Are you fucking blind? So what if he bought you a nice house? What is the color of the sky in your world?

To avoid a slap, June makes her face go blank, but the thoughts keep swirling. What power does he have over you? You’re willing to sell me out for mere convenience, what is wrong with you?

She holds the eruptive impulse at bay and instead whispers feebly, “But I’m your daughter. Why don’t I come first? Don’t I even register with you anymore?”

It wasn’t completely out of left field—they both fell apart after June’s father died. It was winter when June had just turned sixteen. Gail simply receded into a ball of nothingness. June had to learn to take care of herself, but all she wanted to do was die. It wasn’t long before she stopped going to school entirely. Gail didn’t even notice until truancy officers came to the door and gave them ultimatums they both ignored. School turned out to be the least of their worries—they lost the house and had to move into a cramped apartment on the south side of town, across the railroad tracks. Then Randy showed up and Gail completely changed overnight.

Though Gail seems unaware of Randy’s lecherous behavior, she doesn’t have a blind spot when it comes to his money; it’s the gleam in her eye. She’s been with me my whole life, June thinks, but I don’t know her at all. June always feared her mother’s relationship with Randy was really just about the convenience. Regardless, that was Gail’s choice; June doesn’t want to be the one to pay the price.

“Of course you register, honey,” Gail says. “Honestly, I don’t know where you get this stuff. I think you need some rest, you’ve got school tomorrow. And remember: team player, right?”

June nods and lets her hair fall, covering her face. She blinks and the tears run down her cheeks. Gail doesn’t notice; she is already leaving the room, closing the door behind her.

Oh my god, June thinks, my life is over. Why won’t she stand up to him? Doesn’t she see what’s going on? June falls face down on her bed and sobs into her pillow.

Do you really think he’s not going to try and touch me as soon as your back is turned?

No, this won’t end well. Something horrible is about to happen, and the way Randy has been leering at her lately, it won’t be long. He always was a bad drunk. And whenever he drinks, bad things happen—just because nobody else notices doesn’t make it right. And it’s not like they can simply talk it out; she already tried that, and he just turned it around on her. Her mother is perhaps the worst of all, willing to sell out her own daughter for the few luxuries of her stupid little life.

Too many things come easy for most people, like keeping the status quo and not rocking the boat. Well, this boat needs to be rocked. It needs to be blown right out of the water.

What do I want to be when I grow up? Not violated. Growing up means taking action, real action; not just doing things because you’re told to, or because of your default programming or muscle memory. It means doing the right thing, even if it goes against your own comfort.

Growing up means doing what you have to do, even if it terrifies you.

June sits up and leans forward, puts her arms around her knees and closes her eyes. If no one will take care of this, she’ll just have to do it herself.

I’ll do what I have to do, she thinks.

I’ll just have to kill him.

CHAPTER FIVE

[
**]

TRANSMISSION

[]

Sunlight filters through the blinds Tuesday morning with a new brilliance. The world is in deeper focus, its edges sharpened down to the atoms. Though she still needs to work out all the details, June now has a plan, and the plan gives her a purpose. Yes, when the time comes she will have to do the deed, something she never thought she would be capable of; but she blocks those worries from her mind. Right now she wants to lose herself in the pull she feels in the pit of her stomach—like she has just jumped off a tall building. She can either learn to fly on the way down or go splat, but for the moment she simply enjoys the wind rushing through her hair.

She hasn’t felt this free in a long time. And it changes everything.

I can do it, she thinks, I’ll kill the fucker. It will be easy enough to pull off. She can simply wait for him to get drunk one night and pass out in his stupid chair—La-Z-Boy, yeah that’s apropos—since he is home now for so long before the next business trip. Maybe even before the Golden Week. All he ever does after dinner is watch TV and drink. More often than not, he passes out in his chair until mom comes down and takes him upstairs. Mom will have to work late at some point, she always does. Then when he passes out, I can just hold a pillow over his fat face and finish this.

Getting away with it isn’t the point, but who knows? Maybe it will look like a heart attack. Natural causes. It’s possible—he isn’t healthy to begin with. Then she will be free from him forever, no matter what her stupid mom says. Sorry mom, you had your chance to fix this.

June has the radio on, set to the new wave station from Sacramento, KWOD 106. The drums and guitars of “Head On” by The Jesus and Mary Chain fill her room, with the lead singer calling out, “That second hand living just won’t do.” June feels as if she’s been held under water for an eternity, and is just now coming up for air. Yeah, I’m not powerless. Keep On Keeping On isn’t enough; sometimes you have to take control. She twirls and dances around her room.

Reaching out to turn up the volume, she sees sunlight twinkle off something silver laying on her nightstand. It’s her lucky bracelet—her father had it made for her when she turned fifteen. It’s a silver replica of the plastic bracelet her parents made her wear when she was a toddler. Around the inside is the inscription that always makes her cry: 

To June, you will always be my little girl. Love, Dad. 

Just like the plastic bracelet, it had her address imprinted on the inside, in case she ever got lost; it became a reminder of how she will indeed always be his little girl, and how she always has a safe place to come home to, if need be. She puts the silver bracelet away in her jewelry box. Wouldn’t want that to get lost.

A quick sniff of her armpit doesn’t reveal anything. Good, no need to shower today. School is only a means to an end; she doesn’t care what any of the kids in class think of her, though she does have to get dressed. While in her underwear drawer, she pushes around and finds the tube sock with her money cache. But something is off. Puzzled, she pulls it out.

Shit.

It’s way too light. She pulls at the end and dumps the cash on her bed. Hands feverishly divide the bills in stacks of varying denominations; it doesn’t take long to count it all. Her mouth hangs open in shock. Half of it is gone.

Half the money she’s been saving since she was sixteen is now gone forever. Evaporated. It doesn’t make any sense. Who could have done this? Nobody else goes in her room, and they barely ever have company over to the house. Sure, Bree comes over often enough; but she is like a sister to June, she almost doesn’t count. Plus, Bree’s family is loaded—she would never need to steal. Which leaves only three possible scenarios: it was either her mother, Randy, or both of them.

Her mother is a terrible liar, so that would be easy enough to figure out.

June finishes getting dressed and goes downstairs to the kitchen. Mommy dearest is in the middle of her morning routine, making her lunch for the day. She is cutting a sandwich at the counter; a ray of sunlight glints off the knife as she puts it down. She glances up as June walks in.

“You look different today, what is it? Your hair?” Gail looks over June with a mother’s discerning eye. “Wait, did you meet a boy? This is about a boy, isn’t it?”

“You could say that,” June says, as she gets a box of cereal out of the pantry.

“Oh hey, do you have a ride to school?”

“Yeah, Bree’s coming by in twenty minutes. But she’s going shopping with her mom after school, so I don’t know how I’m getting home yet.”

Gail’s face brightens. “I’ll have Randy pick you up. He needs to get out of the house anyway.”

Oh god no. June stiffens up. She opens her mouth to respond, but Gail already senses her protests.

“Remember, team player, right?” Gail stands arms akimbo.

June suddenly has the urge to slap her mother across the face. She winces and makes it sink down to the dark place inside her. Instead, she simply mumbles, “OK, whatever you say.” Her stomach is sick. The thought of being alone in a car with Randy makes her want to stab herself.

“See,” her mother says, in a condescending tone. She gathers up her keys and hooks her purse around her shoulder. “Everything is so dramatic with you kids. Things aren’t really so bad, huh?”

June reaches out and touches Gail on the arm. “Hey mom, I need to ask you about something.”

Gail glances at the microwave to check the time. “OK, I’ll give you two minutes.”

“Mom, it’s important.”

“What? I said two minutes.”

June blurts out about the money cache she keeps in her drawer. She knows it might be a surprise that she has been saving money and hiding it from her, but June needs to see how Gail reacts. It’s the only way to tell if she was in on it.

Gail wheezes for air. June doesn’t know what to expect, but this is anything but subtle. There are no weak denials, no shouts of righteous indignation; once she gets her wind, Gail’s reaction is pure shock and rage.

“How long?” Gail says through gritted teeth. June winces at the sudden viciousness directed at her. Gail goes on. “How long have you had that?”

June looks at the tile floor and says in a small voice, “Since dad died.”

“Before Randy, we were starving. And you had money this whole time?”

SLAP.

June’s right cheek feels like she’s being stabbed by a thousand hot needles. She puts her hand to it and thinks, Maybe I’ll kill you both.

Though her mother is glaring fireballs at her, June wills herself not to respond. She knows full well how these things escalate, so she just keeps staring straight ahead at a small crack in the wall behind her mother.

Gail’s slanted eyes flick to the time again. She sighs and turns to leave through the garage, saying under her breath, “Ungrateful child.”

June digs her nails into her hands as she waits to hear the car start. The garage door rolls up; her mother backs out and drives away. June feels like she is drowning. She pours her cereal down the drain and runs the garbage disposal extra long on purpose, hoping to annoy Randy as he sleeps off another hangover.

She grabs her backpack and goes outside to sit at the curb. Bree will be here soon, but not soon enough. June digs her nails into her hands again; it is all she can do to keep from crying. The slap was humiliating enough, but worse was how stupid it makes her feel. Who is she kidding? Her plan will never work.

Randy deserves to die; there is no doubt about that. But does she really have it in her to kill someone? To kill him? She has the desire, but it’s all too much. The world is cracking apart beneath her; she doesn’t know where her misery ends and the rest of the world begins anymore.

What if she got caught—could she spend the rest of her life in jail? Would it really be worth it? And even if she got parole someday, as a felon would she ever be able to get a job, have a normal life? But the alternative isn’t any less terrifying: Will she have a normal life anyway, if Randy gets his way? Her head is spinning and now both of her palms are bleeding.

As if things could ever be that easy. Like she could kill Randy and still have a summer with Bree, still finish school next year, still keep her own sad life in Cowtown intact. Her mother would probably just find another Randy. No, nothing here will ever change.

June tries to push these thoughts down, yet it is getting more difficult to keep her head straight, and she still has the whole rest of the day ahead of her.

School.

Good lord, she still has to get to school, and somehow try to fit in with all the normal kids. It’s all so exhausting; she hates putting on a mask every day for school and work. Sometimes she feels like her whole life is a lie.

So Gail didn’t take the money. She didn’t even know about it. That could mean only one thing—Randy took it. Had to be him. Then June’s pulse quickens as she realizes: How did he find it at all? Why would he even know where to look? June never told a soul, so he couldn’t have known about it or overheard anything. He must have happened upon it, because …

Because he was pawing around in my underwear drawer? He was fondling my panties when I was off at school?

She dry heaves over the pavement.

As the world spins out of focus, she can’t stop thinking: I’ve got to do something. I can’t stay here. Not now. Mom is useless. And Randy … oh god. Maybe I’ll just have to run away.

CHAPTER SIX

[
**]

THE MIGHTY QUINN

[]

Though the maximum diagnostic units were few in number, Vacaville was not the only  location in the United States for such an experimental endeavor. However, there were never as many of these as the conspiracy theorists contend. Some of the units are still in operation, hiding in plain sight, sprinkled into various facilities throughout the country: one in a major city hospital, one masquerading as a non-profit mental health group that does consulting for  several federal prisons, and two in psychiatric wards next to large military bases. But there is one whose location has always been kept a tightly held secret.

Almost twelve-hundred miles from Vacaville—near Santa Fe, New Mexico—stands the facade of a special facility, a towering monolith of chrome and glass that dominates a government compound on the south eastern outskirts of the city limits. Christened the Bell Building, often simply called the Bell, it was named after nineteenth century experimental psychologist Charles Bell. Sometimes, when the sun beats down on those merciless summer afternoons in the desert, workers at the compound will look up at the sun reflecting off the mirrored monstrosity and say, “God’s ringing the Bell.” Of course, that is simply tradition. Anyone who witnesses what goes on in that building (and in the catacombs underneath it) is not long for religion.

The Bell’s interior is filled with black marble floors and counters, techs in white lab coats rushing about the halls, and the low hum of constant—yet serious—activity. During the day, a woman sits behind the counter: young, pretty, vigilant in her duties as gatekeeper against all who enter the building. If you were to walk into the foyer, she would ask you for your name as she consults the oversized computer monitor that takes up most of the counter in front of her. If you are lucky, she would smile politely as she tells you that you do not have clearance. Guards would appear and escort you outside, from where you would simply go on about your life. The unlucky ones, to those she would give a knowing nod, then call a supervisor, who would come and take them inside the facility. No one, outside of staff, gains access without a floor supervisor to chaperone their visit.

Those with an elevated level of misfortune would be taken down in one of a long line of elevators, all the way down, to the deepest levels of the secret underground lab. A cart would take them many miles east to the heart of the operation, where all the real work gets done. The Powers That Be learned their lesson in Vacaville. Some things are better left unknown, to the public at least. Thus a new maximum diagnostic unit works in utmost privacy; it’s code name is MDU-OOS-7. The only eyes ever to see this work are the lab technicians, the floor supervisor, the guards, and the test subjects themselves.

It is in this place—at a desk ensconced in a poorly lit alcove, on the southernmost end near the server room—where MDU-OOS-7’s newest guard taps his foot absentmindedly one hot summer morning in the middle of June. A small tin-looking radio, designed to look like it was from the 60s, sits on the corner of his desk. The Rolling Stones rocking to “Jumping Jack Flash” can barely be heard above the hum of the servers and air conditioning.

A middle-aged African-American man approaches and sits down at an adjacent desk. He turns to the new guard and says, “Tom Quinn?”

“Yes, sir.”

The older man laughs. “No. There’s no sir here.” He holds out his hand. “Jack Dawkins. Welcome to the Bell.”

Tom Quinn shakes his hand. “Thank you, si—” He smiles as he stops himself.

His new partner gives him a look that denotes both recognition and respect. “I know where you come from, but you’re not in the military now. This here’s just a job. And if we do it right, nobody gets hurt. At least that’s what they tell me.”

“How long have you been here?”

“Long enough.” Jack Dawkins gestures to the little radio. “How’d you get that to work? There’s no reception down here.”

Tom lights up; he loves to talk about computers. “Oh, I’ve got it hooked up to my PC. It’s basically acting as a sound monitor now.” He beams and points to a flat, gray box next to his monitor. “It’s called a CD-ROM drive. I’m playing a CD in my computer.”

“Huh,” Jack—who has no mind for machines—is losing interest fast. “What will they think up next? Well, that’s probably why they hired you. We need somebody who can reboot the servers when they go down.”

“Do they go down a lot?”

“More than a cheerleader on prom night.”

Tom has the volume set low on his radio. Being his first day at his new position, he is not sure if music is allowed. He nods toward the radio and asks, “Do you think it’s OK?”

Jack chuckles again. “Man, ain’t nobody gonna bother you down here. Only faces you will ever see—besides the subs, that is—are my ugly mug, and Anders of course.” Carl Anders is the floor supervisor for MDU-OOS-7.

Tom’s cheeks flush red. He hates being the new guy, but he has to ask. “What are the subs?”

“Man, didn’t they tell you anything up there in orientation? The subjects. Or the patients, if you want to call them that. You stay here long enough, you’re gonna see some shit that will blow your mind. Curl your toes. Turn you all around, like learning there’s no Santa Claus. You know, it’s not too late, you can always jump ship. Just take the elevator on up, walk out the front door, and pretend you were never here. Shit, I would if I could. That’s what I say.”

“Can’t. Need the money.”

“Me too. Ain’t that a bitch.”

Tom has a hard time sizing up his new partner. Could be in his early 40s. He doesn’t look like former military, though many of the guards upstairs are. Maybe a cop in a former life? The hiring process for the Bell Building was brutal, with the most thorough background check Tom has ever seen. They don’t take just anybody, not even for a guard position.

Jack Dawkins grabs the phone off his desk and dials a number. “Hey, get Brad.” He waits a few moments. “Brad, gimme five on July 15th. Yeah, the new guy, Quinn. The Indian.” He hangs up.

Tom tries not to be insulted. He doesn’t want to start any trouble on his first day; like he said, he really needs the job. Maybe it’s something the old guards do—just ribbing the new guy. Still, Tom has to at least address it. “Uh, what’s that about, Jack?”

“Just me and some of the guys upstairs got a pool going.”

“For what?”

“For when you gonna bust your cherry. Everybody here tosses their cookies at some point. Everybody. Just a matter of time. Some even do it on their first day, usually right after lunch.”

“Whatever.” Tom waves it off, but then adds as an afterthought, “actually, I’m an Inuk.”

“I thought you said your name was Tom.”

“No, Inuk. The singular of Inuit. As in, native of Alaska.”

Jack starts stammering an apology.

Tom holds out his palm to stop him. “It’s fine.” He sighs. “Indian. I get that a lot. People assume things, but you know how it goes. Shit, most people just think I’m Mexican.”

Jack laughs. “Right, and some folks around here just think I’m a nigger from the streets. I went to Stanford, thank you very much.”

Tom smiles at his new partner. “Nice to meet you, Jack Dawkins from Stanford.”

“Nice to meet you too, Tom Quinn. Inuk or Into-It or whatever you said. It’s all good. We’re all red and gooey on the inside, that’s what I say.”

Tom still does not know what to make of this strange man. He doesn’t talk like he went to Stanford, but Tom is not in a position to judge—he knows he does not always act like a former Marine who did two tours in Afghanistan. To each their own. He is just here to do a job and stay out of trouble. If Jack has running jokes with his friends upstairs, he can have them—along with his street talk and vague innuendo about this place.

Jack is holding a clipboard, flipping pages over as he reads. “Our docket says today we gotta do inventory, for the whole south block. We better get going.”

“Inventory, OK. So what are we counting?”

Jack just looks down the hall with no expression on his face and says, “The subs, man. We’re counting people.”

CHAPTER SEVEN

[
**]

IS _][_FOR CHILDREN

[]

June sleepwalks through the day at school, shuffling her feet from class to class, mindlessly sitting through one useless lecture after another. None of this means anything to her now.

Third period history is a blur. That fucker Mr. Sampson seems to just glare at her during roll, as if he forgets her name all of a sudden. Then he wheels a metal stand with a television set and VCR to the front of the classroom, smiling the whole time, like he’s doing the whole class the biggest favor in the world.

“We’re having a movie today. Ghandi.” He gestures toward the back of the room. “And yes, this is going to be on the test.” Since there are only a handful of days of school left, everybody giggles. Everybody except June.

Mr. Sampson adds in a sing-song voice, “There shouldn’t be any objectionable content, not that I know of. I hope this doesn’t bother anyone. If any of you have a problem with this, you can go to Room 6 for study hall. Any takers?” His eyes roam over the class and settle on June; everyone looks at her with sideways glances.

She slumps down in her seat and looks straight ahead, focusing on the reflection of the bald spot on the back of Mr. Sampson’s head on the TV screen behind him. He sighs and mumbles something under his breath, then turns on the TV and pushes the VHS tape into the player. June closes her eyes and prays for everyone to just leave her alone. They do.

Between classes, walking through the halls is like a delirious pilgrimage through the desert, her feet getting buried deeper in the sand with every step. She doesn’t remember how she gets to her locker; she just looks up at one point and there she is, with everybody staring at her like she has three heads.

“Gee, what’s up with you?” Bree asks, brushing her hair in front of a little mirror on the inside of her locker door. She looks back at June through the mirror. “You look like a zombie.”

There it is again. The sudden urge to slap someone, anyone—this time Bree, who doesn’t even deserve it. Would hurting Bree make June feel better? Of course not. These intrusive thoughts are starting to scare her; she doesn’t know herself anymore. Maybe talking to a therapist or psychiatrist would help. She decides that she might look into that—as soon as she sorts out the 1,004 other things that are wrong in her life. As soon as she kills Randy. Or finds a way out.

“Nothing, I’m fine.” June intends to simply close her locker, but accidentally slams it shut. She hunches her shoulders. “Sorry.”

“No worries—oh shit, it’s C.S.”

A skinny girl with jet-black hair down to her shoulders saunters up between them. She wears a short-sleeved white dress shirt with too many buttons undone over a tight black pencil skirt. She isn’t carrying any books, just has a little black purse dangling from her right shoulder.

“Hi, Cassandra,” Bree says between her teeth.

June and Bree both bristle. Cassandra Stevens is the closest thing Vaca High has to a girl bully. Unless you are one of the most popular girls, you don’t want to cross paths with her. She is constantly followed around by a group of sycophants who coo at her every word, but luckily today she is sans the entourage.

“Wow, your hair looks so hot, June.” Cassandra runs her fingers through the bottom strands of June’s red hair.

“Yeah, that was almost sincere,” Bree says. “So close.”

“No, really. That color looks great on you.” Cassandra starts to saunter away, then calls back over her shoulder, in a voice that oozes with bitch, “Your mom is really going to have to get a big broom to beat off all the boys this summer.”

June watches with half-lidded eyes as Cassandra slinks off down the hall.

“Ugh. Hate her,” Bree says, slamming her locker shut.

June puts her hand to her mouth and giggles.

“What?” Bree asks.

“She said, ‘Beat off.’”

They both burst into laughter. For the first time since she woke up. June thinks she might make it through the day.

∞∞∞

[]

Good old Bree, always a shoulder to lean on; yet June’s second-wind is short lived. When the bell rings at the end of 6th period, June has to hold back the tears as anxiety washes over her. Here we go, time to be a team player.

Students file out of the building, the hum of their talk and laughter reverberating through the halls. June holds her breath as she walks past the office toward the main entrance of the school. Howard Zinn—a senior with short brown hair who always smiles at her whenever they pass each other in the halls between classes—is there walking out; he looks back and holds one of the doors open for her. She thanks him and smiles, making a mental note to see later if maybe he would want to go see Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure Friday night on her double date with Bree.

BANG.

She smacks into a brown trash bin that is sitting right outside the door. Something green leaves a smudge on the front of her jeans. Howard turns back at the sound; June shrugs and gives him a look that says, What-can-you-do, thankful that at least he doesn’t laugh in her face.

But someone is laughing. June looks past Howard; Cassandra Stevens is leaning against the rail along the walkway, holding her stomach and pointing at June. A group of girls who all look like models start giggling and whispering God knows what to each other.

June looks away and forces a smile across her face. She won’t let them get to her, though inside she doesn’t think this day could get any worse. But then she turns to the parking lot and her face falls.

It’s worse.

There it is—the douchemobile—and inside is Randy’s fat fucking face, beaming with a shit-eating grin, parked by the curb under a “No Parking” sign. He waves, then pushes his black Ray-Bans up the bridge of his nose with his middle finger. God, what an asshole. He sniffs the air like a starving coyote, ready to devour every girl in a five mile radius.

June gets in the passenger seat without looking at him and mumbles, “Thanks.” She doesn’t have anything else to say to him, except maybe, Die.

Randy starts the engine and looks over at her. “No problem, June-in-June. No problem at all.”

Don’t look at me, she thinks. But he is looking beyond her, at the school entrance. Cassandra is still there, talking with her friends who all look like they belong on a magazine cover. One of the girls is bending over at the waist to tie her shoe; her skirt riding up and revealing a milky white thigh.

“Mmmmm.” Randy squints his eyes. “I’m going to have to pick you up more often.”

June’s queasy stomach makes her glad she missed lunch.

He guns the engine thunderously before pulling out. After shifting gears, his hand grazes June’s leg. She closes her eyes and counts to ten—it’s all she can do to not scream out at the top of her lungs. Biting her lip, the coppery taste of blood penetrates her mouth as she reopens the wound from yesterday morning.

As much as she hates Randy, she can’t start a fight. Not now. She doesn’t need another talk about being a team player. Fuck this team. June knows by now that some things simply have to be endured, though she feels like she is about to explode. She doesn’t know how much more she can take.

∞∞∞

[]

As soon as they get home, June rushes to her room and shuts the door. She needs to be alone, has to calm the maelstrom of thoughts swarming inside her head.

A couple of hours later, a key scrapes the lock on the front door; it creaks open—her mother is home from work. Gail is the daytime supervisor at a clothing store in the outlet mall near the freeway. She usually makes it home for dinner, but her boss is famous for messing with her schedule at a moment’s notice.

June waits in her room until she is called down for dinner. She takes one look at the table and grimaces. Fish sticks and fries. Her mom is always beat after work—who wouldn’t be—but this is so white trash. Of course Randy can’t be bothered to help out with anything around the house, let alone dinner. Even though he’s been home all day this week, dear God, maybe this whole month.

Gail opens the door to the garage and calls out to him, “Honey, dinner.” The garage door squeaks to a close. Randy stomps in, reeking of engine oil and outright bitterness.

“Aw, geez!”

“What?” Gail asks, already getting defensive.

“Did you know you have a flat tire?”

“I didn’t see it,” she says in a small voice. “I just got home and made dinner.”

“It’s always something!” he yells. “Everything we buy turns to shit. I don’t have time for this. Goddamnit.” He looks up and sees the dirty look on her face.

“These days you’ve got nothing but time,” she says.

He holds up his palms in a placating gesture. “OK. OK. I’ll deal with it. Geez.” He washes his oily hands in the sink, shouting over the running water. “But it’ll have to wait until tomorrow. Too late to deal with it now. And there’s a Kings game tonight. C’mon, it’s the playoffs.”

“As long as I can make it to work in the morning. You’ll have to drop me off. It’s a big day tomorrow, we’ve got to count all the inventory for the summer. It’s going to take forever. One of those don’t-wait-up-for-me nights.”

June grimaces at the thought of being home alone with Creepy Randy.

“Hey, what about June’s car?” Gail asks.

“It’s not ready. Needs a new carburetor. I’ll have it up and running soon, real soon.”

June sits down at the table and holds her head in her hands.

Gail goes on. “Well, at any rate, can you pick her up from school again? And June, be a doll and do something about dinner tomorrow? It’ll just be you two.”

“Don’t worry,” Randy says, taking his seat at the front of the table. “I’ll take care of your little girl.” He looks away, but June can see a glimmer in his eye and a slight smile, a distinct upturn at the corners of his mouth. He is way too happy about this.

Then he does it, the thing that causes the whole world to unravel. He turns to her and winks. That can’t have just happened, she thinks. I’m seeing things. I must be going crazy. Unfortunately, Gail was looking at the TV; she couldn’t have seen it.

“I’ll take good care of her,” Randy says again. “Real good.”

June’s mind is in denial, but her body knows the truth; bile wells up in her throat and she breaks out in a cold sweat. She realizes with horror that he won’t be getting drunk and passing out on the couch this time. He’s got other plans.

June chokes.

“You OK, honey?” Gail says, patting her on the back.

“I’m fine. I just don’t feel good.”

“Why don’t you go lie down?” Gail turns to Randy. “She’s sick again. I think there’s something going around.”

“There always is,” Randy says, popping a fish stick in his mouth.

June trudges upstairs to her room as the panic sets in. Her pulse races and white spots dance before her eyes. It feels like a heart attack. She closes her eyes and tries to concentrate on just breathing. In time, the anxiety subsides enough; she knows she isn’t dying. Not yet.

I’ve got to do something, she thinks. Can’t wait until tomorrow. Got to get out of here before Randy forces himself on me. Who am I kidding? I couldn’t really kill anyone, not even a piece of shit like him. Need to get away, as far as I can. Can’t even let him pick me up from school tomorrow. That would be too late. Because once we get home and we’re alone …

Yeah, it’s got to be tonight. But how? My car is still up on blocks in the garage. I’ll take mom’s car then. She’ll understand. Someday.

No, Randy said her car has a flat tire.

Shit.

Fine. Make your own luck, as Bree always says. Got to do what you can with what you have. There’s only one other option. I’ll take Randy’s car. Fuck him. He deserves it. Maybe I’ll drive it right into a wall.

CHAPTER EIGHT

[
**]

TO TEARS

[]

Tom Quinn gets in the passenger seat of the cart and asks, “It’s too far to walk?”

“Too far for me,” Jack says, as he gets in and starts the engine with the push of a button on the black dashboard. It is two miles to the front of the South Block. Tom holds the clipboard on his lap, starts familiarizing himself with the various checklists attached. He wonders if he will ever get used to this. The cart’s whining engine echoes off the corridor’s smooth granite walls and high arched ceiling. They come upon a small parking area in front of a windowed room, which Tom figures must be the entrance to the South Block itself. Jack almost slams into a wall and brakes too fast.

Tom drops the clipboard as he is jerked forward. He gets out gingerly, rubbing his right thigh. “Nice parking,” he says, relishing the chance to needle his partner. It seems like such a long time since his tours of duty; civilian life is a whole confusing mess of a world where he never seems to fit in. He longs to just be one of the guys again. Regardless of what Jack said about not seeing many other faces on this job, Tom still hopes for a team atmosphere of some kind, one way or another.

Jack stands looking at the long windowed room with a faraway look in his eyes.

“Hey,” Tom says, “are you OK?”

Jack starts walking to the door. He calls over his shoulder, “Sorry, got something on my mind.”

Inside is a foyer with a long black granite counter in front of them, looks like a smaller version of the lobby at the entrance of the Bell Building. But unlike the busy entrance, there is nobody here. They walk to the far end, the silence broken only by the scrape of their boots across the tile floor.

They enter a smaller room—an antechamber—also empty, both of furniture and people. Tom hears a dull murmur, maybe from the air conditioning, and there are voices, though muffled. Tom’s blood runs cold as he realizes he is about to get his first view of the subs, as Jack calls the test subjects. Whatever experiments are going on under the Bell, Tom is about to get a good long look. He smiles and tries to make himself relax. He doesn’t know why he is so worked up, everything here should be perfectly above board. No need to worry. Just first day jitters, that’s all.

Jack shrugs and says, “Let’s get this over with.” He opens the door.

A blast of sound hits them. The throb of various machines mixed in with voices, like a crowd of people talking to themselves in the middle of a storm. A high pitched whisper rings through the air. Tom wants to ask what that is, but thinks better of it. Best to let Jack lead the way, at least this first time through.

The room is actually a long corridor, with walls made of glass on either side. As Tom walks on behind Jack, he sees that the walls are indeed windows, with small dorm-sized rooms behind, each housing a different test subject. The first four are animals—two dogs (look like German Shepherds), one black house cat, and a chimpanzee. None of the animals are making any noise. The dogs and cat are curled up and sleeping in their respective rooms, but the chimp is wide awake. It stands motionless with its arms at its sides and stares at them with mournful eyes.

Tom is unnerved, but makes himself walk on. Like Jack said, they have a job to do.

All of the remaining test subjects are human. Men and women of various ages, from college types on up to a few senior citizens. From a cursory glance they all look normal enough, though it seems like most of them are talking to themselves. Tom supposes that if their rooms are miked up, maybe they can hear each other; but none of the murmurings sound like actual conversations—just layers of overlapping incoherent ramblings. It doesn’t appear that any of the subjects can see him or Jack. Tom stares slack-jawed at the scene, trying to make sense of it.

“Hey!” Jack yells over the hum of the machines and babbling voices of the subs. “Let’s get a move on.”

Jack takes the clipboard from Tom and makes some checkmarks on the top list. He turns, but before he can move forward, the young male subject in the nearest room starts banging on the glass wall, leaving sweaty handprints, the smears obscuring his face. His brown hair is matted and unkempt; his shouts subdued from the apparent sound-resistance of the room’s insulation, but he is obviously not happy. Other subjects start to react, suddenly aware of the commotion. Many start shouting, adding a chorus of discontent. Tom cannot make out the words, but he gets the feeling the subjects are now aware of their presence and are yelling obscenities at them. God, this feels like a prison. Some kind of futuristic solitary confinement. An older, balding man in the last room on the right rears back and spits; his mucus slowly drips down the glass wall.

“Jesus,” Tom says, mostly to himself.

“Hey, this is all part of the program,” Jack says. “We don’t even know what the higher ups are working on down here, or what experiment or section thereof the doctors and technicians are doing to these people right now. But again, it’s all part of the program. This is what they signed up for. And we’re just here to do our job.”

Tom nods his head silently, his face devolving into an unfocused, dazed look.

“Are we going to be OK here?” Jack asks, looking Tom right in the eyes. “I need to hear you say it.”

“We’re OK,” Tom says, nodding, adding again in a smaller voice, “we’re OK.”

They enter a second antechamber, this one has a black and white checkerboard tile floor. A long black table sits against the left wall, covered with a row of large cathode ray tube monitors; a corresponding row of PC towers lays underneath. All of the monitors are off except for the last one, which looks like it’s running a series of diagnostic tests of some kind.

Tom walks over to the table and reaches out for the keyboard of the last computer.

“No,” Jack says. “Don’t touch that. We never touch that one.”

A water cooler stands next to a row of filing cabinets along the far wall. One of the drawers on the top row is hanging open. Jack walks over and shuts it quietly, leaving Tom to wonder if he was just being conscientious, or if there is something in that drawer that Jack does not want him to see. He breathes in to ask about it, but Jack has already moved on to the next room.

“C’mon,” Jack calls out.

After years in the Marines, Tom is used to following orders. Do your job, no questions asked was his life for longer than he can remember. He knows full well there is always a bigger picture at play, and the grunts are always on a need-to-know basis. Sometimes there are things you simply do not need to know.

He remembers what Jack had said before, “I know where you come from, but you’re not in the military now. This here’s just a job. And if we do it right, nobody gets hurt.”

He was taught to compartmentalize his approach to this kind of work; but still, he can’t help wondering what horrors they might be inflicting on the inmates here. No, not inmates—he catches himself—they’re patients, who for some reason do not seem free to go if the impulse takes hold. However, Tom, just started this job—to be fair, he has no idea what those people signed on for.

You stay here long enough, you’re gonna see some shit that will blow your mind.

You’re just here to do a job, he tells himself. Just follow orders, stay employed, and keep your health insurance. Soon enough he will be starting treatment himself, in a hospital not far from here. Maybe we can all get out of this alive, he thinks. 

“At least there aren’t any kids here,” he says.

Jack guffaws. “Yeah, I know, right? Can you imagine what would happen if one of the subs got pregnant? Holy shit! Would not want to be a part of that. I’m gonna spend enough time in purgatory as it is.”

Tom shakes his head. “I can’t hear you over how wrong that was.”

“You think I’m kidding?” Jack says. “You don’t even know, man. You don’t even know. But you will. Hey, I need you to do something.”

He leads Tom through a corridor, another wall of windows looking into rows of dorm-like rooms. Single occupant in each. Similar demographics to the first corridor, but this time all of the subs are laying down. 

“Naptime,” Jack says. Tom nods. He does not know how they could sleep—the drone of the nearby machines is intrusive, and the hissing is louder in this area. 

“What do you need me to do?” Tom asks.

“There, see that line?” A tube is dangling from the ceiling next to a panel sticking out of the far wall. “You hear that sound? I know you do. That’s the leak. Go over there, and hit the red button on that panel. Wait thirty seconds, then reattach the tube, and press that red button again. That should reboot the cycle. Go, do it now.”

Tom does as he is told. The system comes back online and the hissing fades away. It might have been his imagination, but the drone of the machines seems to lower as well.

Jack walks slowly down the corridor, looking into each room and making marks on his checklist.

“Looks like it worked,” Tom says. “What was that?”

“Oxygen reclamation system. Good thing we came down here today. Whoa. You know what would happen if we didn’t get that fixed? Shudder to think.” Jack’s chest is heaving, as if in silent laughter.

Tom’s mind reels: I am working with an insane person. 

They enter a third antechamber. The floor is all black tile again, and there are many tables covered with medical equipment: scalpels, syringes, and too many stainless steel items to count, all razor sharp. A long rectangular box sits against the near wall, emitting a dull hum. Tom thinks it must be a refrigerated unit of some kind.

Something nags at the back of his mind. He realizes what it is: the final three rooms from the previous corridor were empty. He wonders what that could mean. Were those rooms occupied recently? And if so, did those subs opt out and go home, or did they die here?

In the last long hallway, the sub in the first room on the left is sitting up in his bed. Apparently male because of his sturdy body type, but it’s hard to tell since he has no hair and his face is covered in burn scars. His eyes are scarred shut, his ears are misshapen holes, the skin curled up around them red and puffy. Tom is afraid to look into any of the other rooms; he has seen enough madness for one day.

A loud, high-pitched cry rings out, sounds like it’s coming from the end of the block. Once it starts, it never stops.

“This can’t be real,” Tom says. “None of this is real.”

Jack gives him a grave look. “Even if it was all in your mind, wouldn’t matter. The mind makes it real. C’mon, we’ve got to finish up.”

“You go on ahead,” Tom says. “I’ll catch up.”

“You take all the time you need, rookie.” Jack pats him on the shoulder, then makes his way down the corridor, scratching off the final marks on his checklist.

When he gets to the end of the block, he rests his clipboard on his right hip and hangs his head. “Shit.” He grabs his walkie talkie from his belt clip. “Yeah, hey, we’re doing a sweep of South Block. We got a bleeder here.” 

White noise, then the distorted voice on the other end says something Tom can not make out. “Yeah,” Jack continues, “D23, the last room in D section.” 

The distorted voice says, “What’s gone is gone—”

Jack chimes in, “But the work goes on.”

Tom stares at Jack’s profile thinking: What did I get myself into? He shuffles his feet, willing himself to make it to his partner at the end of the corridor.

Jack says over his shoulder, “She hasn’t been doing too well lately. I was afraid this would happen.”

Tom turns to the room, and faces the source of the screams. A heavy-set woman with stringy hair is sitting on the floor, rocking back and forth with her arms across her chest. Her mouth quivers as she wails. She looks up suddenly, making Tom jolt back. She is bleeding from her eyes and nose, and a dark mucus-colored liquid is flowing from her right ear; she begins picking at it, making the mucus-like liquid drip onto her shoulder.

Tom puts his hands to his knees and doubles over, breathing heavily.

Jack backs away from him instinctively, then says into his walkie talkie, “And bring a mop and a bucket. Before lunch? I think we got a new record.”

CHAPTER NINE

[
**]

S LEAVING HOME

[]

June stays in her room with the lights out until both Gail and Randy are asleep. As usual, Randy drank too much and passed out in his chair while her mother read a book in bed. After dozing off for a couple hours, Gail woke with a start and went down to shake Randy awake and bring him upstairs. June has to make sure the coast is clear; she waits for another hour, then tip-toes down the hall and listens at their door—her mother is breathing steadily and Randy is snoring loud enough to wake the neighbors.

She creeps back to her room to make her final preparations, though her bag is already packed with her toothbrush and as much clothes as it can hold. The one non-essential item she allows herself is her special bracelet; she needs a reminder of her father to give her the strength she needs to follow this through.

She thinks: I guess it’s time. 

Halfway down the stairs, she realizes with a panic she almost forgot the most important thing. She chastises herself internally as she carefully makes her way back to her room. 

The money cache is still in the top drawer of her dresser; well, what is left of it. Though she has no idea of where she’s going, she will desperately need the cash if she is ever going to make a new start on her own.

What am I doing? she thinks. This is crazy. A decision like this is forever. And I’ll never make it on my own. Maybe, somehow, I’m just overreacting. Maybe there is still some way to work this all out. 

But the thought of Randy licking his lips over the girls at school shakes her out of her brief disillusion. A cold chill sweeps over her. And her mother defended him; was there any way that Gail could be right?

Sure, Randy took care of them. They weren’t starving or homeless or cold in the winter. But does that redeem him? Doing one nice thing in your life doesn’t save you from being an asshole. You shouldn’t get a medal for simply doing the least amount. Just like after an all-night bender, one cup of coffee doesn’t instantly heal you and make you not tired, not numb to what’s going on around you. Absolution could never be so easy. 

Yes, Randy takes care of us, June thinks. But that doesn’t mean he’s entitled to anything. It doesn’t mean he’s entitled to me. 

Although the thought of never seeing her mother again is painful, she knows her mother has failed her. June doesn’t owe her anything. Bree always said June was too nice for her own good; and that went double where Gail was concerned. June was always worried about what her mother thought of her, was always trying to make Gail happy at the expense of her own comfort. No more. She’s decided to put herself first, for once. Since no one else will, it is time she looks out for herself. And right now, that can only mean one thing: escape.

She holds up the tube sock with what is left of her money cache and ruefully assesses its lack of heft. Half of it gone. Should she have been more careful? Maybe it’s her own fault, she could have hidden it better. But she rails against these doubts; she knows she didn’t do anything wrong. She worked hard, was disciplined, dutifully saved it all for so long. And they just took it. She seethes, resentful of how they can just reach in and take whatever they want from her.

No, I shouldn’t have to hide things in my own room, she thinks. What’s mine is mine.

She knows if she takes this final step there is no coming back. And she also knows the world outside is a hard and cold place, and it isn’t going to stop spinning just to give her a chance to get herself together. Nobody is going to give her a break. June just grits her teeth, strong in her resolve—she doesn’t need anyone to give her a chance; she will make her own luck. 

This ends tonight.

She quietly makes her way downstairs, careful to step over the third stair from the bottom that always creaks. Randy’s keys are where he always leaves them—on the rung under the kitchen cupboard. She lets herself out and closes the front door behind her as quietly as possible, leaving it unlocked, not wanting to risk even that little click. 

Randy’s car door feels like the entrance to a bank vault; it won’t close without a heavy thud. A dog barks from inside the house across the street. Why can’t Randy just drive an economy car or a minivan like a normal person? 

She puts the car in neutral and lets it roll back down the driveway under its own weight, turning slightly to get as far down the street as possible.

A deep breath. “Well, this is it,” she says out loud. She turns the key and the engine starts with a thunderous rip. She puts her foot down to get away fast; the force pushing her head back hard against the headrest. She can’t stop in time and runs the stop sign at the end of the street. Thankfully no other cars are out this late. 

She wants to think a light goes on in her mom’s bedroom, the curtain pulls back, her mom’s face looks sadly out onto the street. But in the rearview mirror all is dark.

It takes June a few moments to find the switch for the headlights. She flicks them on and drives off into the night. After a while it all starts to sink in—she just stole a car. She has no idea when her mom and Randy might call the police; but the thought of finally being free, of being on her own—sink or swim—makes her skin tingle with the possibilities. The rest of her life is a blank page; she can make it anything she wants. She punches on the radio and turns it up loud.

The smell won’t hit her until the next morning. Something in the car reeks to high heaven, though the backseat is empty. The nightmare won’t start until she sees what’s in the trunk.

CHAPTER TEN

[
**]

ON RUNNIN

[]

It starts off as a mad rush, her heart beating double time as she speeds off into the night. June blasts the radio and sings along—at first to celebrate her newfound freedom, but later mostly to keep from spontaneously combusting in her seat. It feels like a world of infinite possibilities is spread out before her. Though her cash is limited, she pushes that thought from her mind; she can worry about that later. Right now all she has to do is leap out into the great unknown.

However, in time the rush fades to a dull ache in her back and she is left with the cold stark reality of an uncertain world. Liberation alone will not keep you warm at night. In the end she has to face the fact that it is way past the witching hour, there is no one that can help her, and she has nowhere to go.

June decides to drive all the way to Sacramento just to kill time and keep moving. The concept of stopping makes her chest hurt; she is worried that if the police were indeed on the lookout, she might be noticed if she stopped somewhere long enough. Someone told her once that sharks always have to keep moving—even all night and never sleep—because if they stopped they would die. She doesn’t know if that is true, but she likes the idea. She knows if she is going to survive she has to become like a shark: stealthy, ruthless, brutal, and (most importantly) always moving. 

At Sacramento, she takes the ramp off of Highway 80 and crosses above the freeway to go back the other way, intending to drive all the way back to Fairfield. Until a better plan reveals itself, she is determined to repeat this pattern and just keep driving back and forth all night, or at least as long as there is gas in the car. 

A girl without a home, without a bed; she is too wired to sleep anyway. The car rattles underneath her, its headlights cutting through the dark night. As her mind races, assiduously trying to figure out the next step, she keeps telling herself to breathe. Keep breathing, keep moving. There is only one thing she is sure of: No way she is ever going back.

The night wears on and fatigue gets the better of her. It must be about three in the morning when she takes the offramp near UC Davis and parks on a backroad near the college campus. She sleeps fitfully in the backseat, dreaming of monsters and people running and yelling like it is the end of the world. 

“June, what are you doing?” It’s Mr. Sampson, he’s looking down at her like she has boogers all over her face.

Her head is down on her desk. Sore all over, she carefully lifts her neck and looks up apologetically for whatever it is she did wrong this time. The kids seated around her in history class start giggling uncontrollably. One boy is putting his fingers in a square in front of his face—like he’s holding a camera—making shutter noises with his mouth.

She looks down and freaks: Oh god! How did this happen? Bra and panties and burn scars all over. She must have forgotten her clothes at home—or gym class, but she isn’t even sure if she has gym this year. No wonder it’s so cold. Panic overtakes her as she realizes she can’t remember any of the combinations for any locker she’s had for at least the last three years. They are all laughing at her, the sound bursting through her fevered head. She breathes in to scream.

CHAPTER ELEVEN

[
**]

TO ME

[]

Gail Addison is putting on eye-liner in her bathroom when she gets the second biggest shock of her life. She sees it out of the corner of her eye—a gray hair. This day is already starting out bad. All she wants to do is curl up on the couch with a hot cup of coffee; it’s much too early for make up and gray hairs. But work beckons, and like always, she is in a hurry. There are still lunches to pack and a daughter who needs to be reminded she has to get ready for school.

Gail hears it in the silence. The house is way too quiet—June must be sleeping in again. That girl will be the death of me.

“Ow,” she says, plucking out the gray strand with a pair of tweezers.

Randy, still in bed, lifts his head up. “You OK?”

“Oh, I just found a gray hair.”

“Just one?”

She turns and glares at him. “You need to get dressed. I need to leave soon, and you’re my ride.”

“Hold your horses, Gail. I just need to put some pants on. You’re in the way anyhow.” He rolls over away from her and starts picking his ear, then calls out over his shoulder, “And I still don’t know why you have to go in so early today.”

Gail sighs. “I already told you. It’s a split shift. They need me to open the store this morning, then come back in the evening to get ready for inventory tonight. You never listen.” She leans her head out of the bathroom and calls out, “June. School.”

No reaction. Fine, we can do this the hard way. She marches over to her daughter’s room, muttering under her breath, “If she’s not ready in ten minutes, I’m gonna—”

Gail throws open the door and shouts, “C’mon!” But the room is empty. June must be downstairs already. At least she made the bed for once, though a little too well—it looks like it wasn’t slept in at all.  Gail tightens her lips as she notices the top drawer of the dresser was left hanging open. “Somebody could walk into this,” she huffs. A curious thought occurs to her: Doesn’t June have some money stashed in here somewhere? But there is no time, not this morning. She closes the drawer and puts her earrings on as she makes her way downstairs.

“June?”

The living room is still, devoid of life, and the lights are off in the kitchen. What is going on? she thinks. Where can that girl be? Maybe she’s already outside waiting for Bree. Unlikely, but possible. She must have already found something out there to be pouting about.

Gail opens the front door and walks out into the yard. The curb is bare, though a gray minivan is parked across the street two houses down. The paperboy whizzes by on his mountain bike and tosses the morning edition, landing it near her tattered slippers. She ignores the paper and walks out to the driveway.

Turning back toward the house, it hits her—the inescapable feeling, a darkness overflowing with a sense that something is wrong. Very, very wrong. Why was the front door unlocked? She quickly goes over a mental checklist: Her car is parked in the garage with a flat tire, and June’s car is still up on blocks right next to it. Randy is upstairs lounging in bed, like every morning when he’s home.

And yet the driveway is empty.

She looks back to make sure she isn’t losing her mind. His car isn’t there.

All the air rushes from her lungs. With her legs about to give out, she plops down on the front step. For about two minutes, she suppresses the urge to rush about in protest, knock down doors and shout at the neighbors, the paperboy, anybody who would listen. But deep down she knows the truth. It hit her the moment she walked outside. 

June is gone.

Gail lost her husband four years ago, she can’t stand the thought of losing her one and only child.

It was a Saturday night in December, a time from another life. The phone rang—a male voice, way too formal for the middle of the night. “Ma’am.” And just like that she knew. Her whole life changed in the snap of a finger. 

June was so excited to take her new car out for a spin, went out all over town but ended up at a house party thrown by some senior boys she shouldn’t have even known. Though quite the teetotaler now, she drank in those days, and that night was no exception. At least she had the sense to not get behind the wheel once she started; she called her father to come get her. Henry—God rest his soul—always told her to call anytime of the night if she ever got into trouble and needed a ride home, no questions asked. And he always meant what he said. 

But they didn’t make it home. They were t-boned by a drunk driver with no headlights on as they were going through an intersection. June was hurt, cut by some glass from the broken windshield. Then the car caught fire. They always tell you that only happens in the movies, but somehow it happened that night. Gail tears up again just thinking about the horribleness of it. They must have been trapped before help came. Henry was gone, was pronounced dead before the ambulance could make it to the hospital. Gail refused to bear the details, she just couldn’t imagine such a thing. She almost lost June then; now maybe she has lost her for good. 

That girl. She’s never been on her own. Will she be alright? Will this cruel world blacken her soul like it’s done to every unsuspecting teenager who bit off more than they could chew? 

Gail grinds her teeth as her despair turns to a dull bitterness. It’s her own fault, she thinks. That girl did this to herself. All of it. If June had driven herself home that night, none of this would have happened. Henry was a good man. The best. He didn’t deserve that. Lured to his death by his always irresponsible daughter. Ungrateful child. She never thinks of anybody but herself. The wrong person died that night.

Gail longs for a valium, for the numbness to take her mind away. There might still be some left in the medicine cabinet. She doesn’t want anything bad to happen to June, not really; if the girl would just mind her mother—but no, kids these days think they have all the answers. Maybe it’s for the best if the girl finally learns a lesson or two about how this world really works. Gail’s main regret is not taking her hand to that girl a long time ago. But there’s nothing she can do about that now; there’s nothing she can do about anything, really. Gail knows she is not in control of her own house, constantly walking on eggshells around Randy—who can blow up for the smallest reasons at a moment’s notice.

The neighbor’s rather large tabby cat—Chutney—appears and promptly rubs against Gail’s legs. When he looks like he is about to run inside the house, she gets up and goes in, closing the door in his face. The cat simply transfers to rubbing against a fencepost, purring incessantly.

∞∞∞

[]

In a daze, Gail trudges upstairs to find Randy has fallen back asleep. Dust dances in stripes as the sunrise burns through the blinds. In a weak voice, she calls out to him. 

“Aw, geez, what is it now?” he says, rubbing his face like a petulant baby who has not yet been fed. “Did that girl get up yet?”

“She’s not here.”

He looks at Gail with bloodshot eyes. “Oh, Bree picked her up already?”

“No. She’s not here.”

“What do you mean?”

“She’s gone.”

“Aw, it’s probably some school bullshit.” He waves his hand at her in a dismissive gesture. “I’m going back to sleep.”

“Not like this,” Gail says, raising her voice now. She can’t pretend any longer. Saying it makes it real. It looks like June has finally had enough. Gail is almost pleading with him. “Something happened. I’m worried.” 

Randy starts a faux snore to mess with her.

“How can you be joking at a time like this?” Gail yells, then after a breath, tries a different tack. “She took your car.”

He bolts upright, eyes wide open; a sneer forms on his lips. He chews his words. “What did you just say?”

“Your car. It’s gone, too. Randy … oh God. My little girl is missing.” Through all the resentments and blame, June is still her baby. Gail sits down on the bed, pushes her hair back and starts crying. 

“Hey babe,” Randy says, his voice turning soft. “Let’s give her some time. Maybe she just needs to cool off. Kids do shit like this all the time. I’m sure she’ll come back real soon, and we can get this all squared away.”

“You really think so?” Gail starts biting her nails.

“Yeah. You’ll see.” He gets up and puts his pants on.

“Where are you going?”

“I just have to do something. Now you lay down for a spell and I’ll be right back. We’ll call your boss, he can get someone else to open the store today. I’m sure he’ll understand.”

Randy pads downstairs, listening to make sure she was not following him. He goes into the kitchen and grabs the phone receiver off its wall mount.

“Hey, get the fuck up. Yeah, I’m whispering, never mind why. I’ve got a job for you. And no, you don’t have a choice.” He puts his hand over the receiver and listens again to make sure the hallway is quiet. “My car was stolen last night, and I need it back. Right. Fucking. Now.”

The man on the other line responds, but Randy cuts him off.  

“No, the cops might be looking for it soon, and they can’t get to it first. Look, if you fuck this up, I’ll put my foot so far up your ass my toes could brush your teeth.” He pauses while the other man responds again. “No, I know who stole it. Girl, nineteen, red hair, skinny little thing. She won’t be much trouble.” 

The man on the other line says, “When I find the car, what should I do with the girl?”

Randy sneers. “Kill her.”

CHAPTER TWELVE

[
**]

A DAY WITHOUT ME

[]

June’s wordless shout slaps back at her from the windshield and dusty upholstery of the car. Birds launch up suddenly from a nearby tree. Disoriented, her heart beating fast, June can’t figure out where she is.

The late morning sun peaks over the mountains in the distance, blinding her as it heats the dash. She had a friend once who cooked pizza by leaving it on the dashboard of his car during the hot California summers. June has no food now, but regardless, there’s no way she would ever eat anything in here. It looks clean enough, but who knows where this car has been, or what Randy has been doing in it. A truck door slams outside. She peaks over the window and sees two boys—awkward, lanky, must be high school kids—walking to campus, pulling backpacks over their shoulders as they talk and laugh about a movie one of them saw last night.

“Told you, dude. Evil Dead 2 is the best movie ever! Should have been there last night. Where were you?”

“With your mom.”

“Shut up, man. Whoa, something stinks. Did you shit your pants?”

“No. Must be a skunk or something. I hate having to park here …”

Where is she, and what month is this? Who are these kids that still live normal lives? She knows something is wrong; deep down she knows her life is over. The world is still the same for you boys, she thinks, but you’ll see. Life is a series of random cruel events—sometimes Schrodinger’s cat lives, sometimes it dies. Nothing you can do about it. And if you’re the cat, you need to somehow find a way out of that godforsaken cage and claw everybody’s eyes out. 

Then as she rubs the haze from her eyes, it all comes flooding back. 

She realizes with a mounting fear that she stole a car last night. Did that really happen? She has become a statistic, another runaway on the streets. The tears come and she thinks, Oh God, what am I going to do? I don’t even know where to go. Mom. Yeah, mom would know what to do. June thinks about simply going back. But then she remembers her mother’s stammering defenses of that bastard, and the door slams shut in her mind: No, never going back. Always move forward, it’s the only way now.

June curls her nose; something reeks to high heaven. Must have parked right next to a dumpster. Her expression turns to bewilderment as she looks around, unable to find anything that might be causing the terrible stench. 

Another group of kids walks by—three girls this time; they look right at her and whisper to each other with furrowed brows. Time to move on. June pulls herself over into the front seat and fumbles for the keys. She drives straight for the freeway onramp north to Sacramento.

Though it is still early morning, the West Coast heat is already working itself up into a fury. The freeway is one hot flat plane all the way up to the state capital. And the smell continues to get worse. It’s futile to try to get away, or outrun it; whatever it is, it must be in the car somewhere. As it turns out she has a more immediate problem—the gas gauge is hovering threateningly close to empty. Old June would have cried and pulled over; but New June is more ready to take risks, gamble even when the odds are against her and the stakes are high. She creases her brow and decides to go all in and not stop until she either makes it to Sacramento or runs out of gas on the way.

She barely putts her way into the city limits. Fortunately, it only takes her a few minutes to find what she needs—a gas station, there’s seemingly one on every street corner. The one she picks has a little convenience store attached and a payphone mounted on the wall near the entrance. When she sees the phone, a voice speaks clearly in her mind: Mom. Yes, things would be so much simpler if she could just go home, or at least easier if she had her mother on her side. But no, that’s not her life anymore. 

A swarthy, middle-aged man is behind the register. June pulls out a twenty dollar bill and asks for $10 on pump number six. 

“No, that can’t be it!” he shouts, and gestures toward a little black-and-white television set he has behind the counter. An obese woman with huge glasses is trying to solve the puzzle on Wheel of Fortune; apparently she guessed wrong. “Sorry,” he says to June, and hands her the change. 

She starts to leave, hesitates, then turns back and puts a dollar bill on the counter. “Can I get some quarters?”

The thought of her mother sitting at home not knowing—it’s too much. The least June could do is call and tell her she is never coming back. Regardless of her crimes, Gail deserves at least that much.

June walks outside and picks up the receiver of the payphone; it’s cold and crusted with dirt. She tries wiping it off on her jeans and tells herself this won’t take long.

She closes her eyes to steel her nerves; when she opens them a boy is walking by her toward the entrance, must be a college kid, wearing a rugby shirt and faded jeans. The high school boys from before were losers—but this is more like it. He looks right at her and gives her a toothy smile and a nod of the head. An athlete, maybe a football player, he has that kind of swagger. June smiles back, and for a moment forgets what she is doing. He goes inside and the door closes behind him.

June’s heart sinks. College boys. Something she will never have. Is any kind of normal life out of the question? Forever? And who’s fault is that? June knows the answer to at least one of those questions.

Well, let’s get this over with. For a moment, she thinks ruefully about that boy’s smile, then puts a quarter in the slot and dials.

∞∞∞

[]

The laundry room is covered in soft golden tones from the morning light coming through the half-open blinds. Gail fills the washing machine with all the towels she could find around the house. June is gone; there is nothing she can do about that, but it is still a shock. Initial anger turned to confusion, then sorrow, and the ensuing immobility only made her feel even worse. She decided that if she couldn’t stop the rush of anxious thoughts in her head, at least she could keep her body moving and get some chores done. She closes the lid and the pipes in the wall give out a high-pitched hum as the machine starts filling with water.

“Jesus Christ, do you have to do that now?” Randy shouts from the kitchen. He is looking for God knows what in the utility drawer. The coffee machine picked this morning to stop working—maybe he’s going to try to fix something besides the cars in the garage for once.

Gail doesn’t respond. She leans her back against the wall, slides to the floor and starts crying silently. It’s time to face facts: she is not in control of what goes on in this house, and to tell the truth, she never was. Contrary to whatever her daughter thinks of her, Gail has not had such an easy life. She has been to the dark places in her mind, often enough; but this time is different—infinitely worse. She feels like she is losing her mind. And maybe now she deserves it; she has finally driven her only daughter away. Her baby, who couldn’t take care of herself if her life depended on it. And now, apparently, it does. 

Randy made her call in sick to work; she decided to simply be honest and told her manager that her daughter went missing last night. He was less than sympathetic, didn’t respond with any emotion at all. But he did grudgingly cite something called FMLA and mentioned offhand that the company couldn’t afford to get sued again. So he gave her one day off to get it together. When Gail hung up the phone and immediately picked it back up, Randy stopped her.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

“Calling the police.”

“Don’t do that,” he snapped. She gave him a look that could cut steel. Randy put up his hands in a placating gesture, “Now wait just a minute.” He lowered his voice. “Sorry for getting short with you. I’m just saying we should think about this for a minute.” 

Gail put the phone down and bit her lip.

Randy continued, “Don’t they have to wait twenty-four hours to get involved?”

“I guess so,” Gail said without looking at him. 

“I’m sure she’ll turn up,” he said, then under his breath, “one way or another.” He put his arms around her and spoke up again. “These kids, they’re always trying to blow off steam. Maybe she just needs a little time.”

Gail reluctantly agreed. So Randy started working on the coffee machine and she used her anxious energy to start cleaning the house and wash as many loads of laundry as she could. What am I going to do, she thinks. Going through the motions seems like such a waste of time—not just the laundry, she’s beginning to feel that way about her entire life. She wipes the hair out of her face and sighs. The laundry machine pauses between cycles and the ensuing silence makes Gail hold her breath.

The phone rings. It’s like a giant lion’s roar tearing the house apart. 

Gail leaps to her feet and runs to the kitchen. Randy holds the screwdriver in mid-air and just stares at her; he has never seen her move this fast.

“Hello,” Gail shouts into the receiver, then gathers herself and tries again at normal volume, “hello?” Inside her mind, she’s screaming, Please be her, oh God please be her.

“Hello, ma’am,” says an older male voice, deep and officious. Gail’s heart sinks. Her eyes well up with tears. He sounds like a policeman. Not again. What happened to my baby girl?

“No!” she yells.

“Well, ma’am, most folks at least hear what I’ve got to say before they answer. Can I trouble you for just a few moments of your time?”

Gail doesn’t react, just breathes into the phone and stares off into space.

“I am a representative of the NorCal chapter of Blue Sky, a non-profit organization that helps the families of local police officers who have been injured in the line of duty. All donations are tax-deductible per article 501©(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Would you consider—”

Gail quietly puts the phone back onto its cradle and looks awkwardly at Randy. He shrugs and turns back to screwing in a plate on the bottom of the coffee machine.

She sits down, puts her hands to her head, and tries to make sense of her new broken world. Her home life has been balancing on a knife edge for a long time. Deep down she knew something was going to happen—sooner or later—but she never thought it would be June to slip first. As you get older, things break and crack, your life becomes a patched up world; all you can do is duct-tape it together as best you can. But some things simply can’t be fixed. Some things break apart and are gone forever. Tears roll down her cheeks and she lets out a low sob.

She can tell Randy is watching her. He had stopped whatever he was doing and is now giving her the eye. Oh my god, what is he going to say now? Why couldn’t he have been the one to leave?

“Gail, I know this is hard,” he starts, in a low, soothing voice she has never heard him use before.

Though she is caught off guard, she can’t help but think: No shit.

He sighs and continues, “Think of it like this. It’s like a game, like a football game.”

She gives him a hateful look, as if saying, How could you talk about sports at a time like this?

“Now, hear me out,” he goes on. “Sometimes it comes down to the last second. And if the team goes for a field goal and the kicker misses, people always blame that kicker. As if he lost the game for them. But they’ve got it wrong. It’s not about that last second. The final score is about the whole game, including everything that came before. The whole team lost because it’s about all of it, everything that had happened since the beginning.”

Gail looks up wearily. “What are you talking about?”

He puts his hand on her shoulder. “This isn’t about this morning. Or last night. It’s about all of it. And at a time like this, you have to trust yourself. All of the time you spent with her. How you raised her. This’ll work out. She’s a part of you. If you truly believe you done right by her all along, she’ll come back.”

“You really think so?”

“You’ll see.”

Gail doesn’t know which is more surprising: that she is falling apart or that Randy is actually making her feel better. When they got together a couple of years ago, he was so nice at first, seemed like a good man. It’s unclear whether he really changed—an insidious metamorphosis into this cold and selfish creature, maybe it started when they moved in together last year—or if he was really like this from the start and it just took her this long to see it. She’s on to him, his terrible attitude and mind games. But now, this is weird; he is being so nice all of a sudden. Could it be that he is genuinely coming around?

“You’re a great mom,” he says. “And you have strength. Now all you need is hope.”

Gail clenches her jaw and lets the tears flow. He’s really being here for me, she thinks. He does care. Maybe she’s been wrong about everything. 

The phone rings again, its angry peel sounding like a fire alarm. Randy holds her at arms length and gives her a look that says, Hey, let’s be cool; that could be anyone.

Gail picks up the phone with a tentative hand. She listens for a second, then her face explodes in emotion. Randy doesn’t have to ask who it is.

“Where are you?” Gail blurts out, her voice raspy from crying.

∞∞∞

[]

Randy starts pacing around the kitchen. He doesn’t like being able to hear only half of the conversation. He doesn’t like it one bit. He needs to know what the hell is going on. Where is that girl? And how soon can she be back with my car?

Gail sobs and mumbles things into the phone intermittently. Randy can’t make heads or tails of any of it. Two stupid women and their emotional bullshit. Take care of this Gail, or I’ll take care of it for you.

“I just want to know that you’re OK,” Gail says, lowering her tone, finally taking some control of herself. “Honey, if you need some time, I understand.”

No, no, no. This won’t work at all, Randy thinks. I need that bitch home now.

“Just come home when you’re ready.” 

Randy walks over and presses his body right next to Gail and gives her a hard look.

Confused, she puts her hand over the receiver and says to him, “What?”

Randy whispers, “Let’s get her home.”

Gail is exasperated. “But you said—?” She looks like a puppy who has been left in the woods by an owner who doesn’t want it anymore. Randy’s two-faced behavior is more than she can take. Her pulse is hammering in her chest. What happened to maybe she’s just blowing off steam and needs a little time? He’s the one who made it seem like this was no big deal. Why the sudden urgency?

She says, “I think we should just let her be.”

Randy rests his face close to hers, but this is anything but intimate—the look on his face is angry, determined. He speaks in an unusually clear and articulate voice, “No, get her back. You get her home.” He searches Gail’s eyes for a response, but she is vacant, unable to reconcile this man with the image of her lethargic and apathetic partner. 

He adds, “She needs to be here. I need her here.” He looks right in Gail’s eyes. “Get. Her. Back.”

The words echo in Gail’s mind: I need her here. Why would he say that? What could Randy possibly need from her, other than his precious car? A cold fear shoots through her body.

“June, honey?” Gail says into the phone. “On second thought, you should just come home. It’s time. You n-n-need to come home, sugar bear.” She pauses while June responds. “No, no. Come home. It’s for the best, you’ll see. Come on, we need our little sugar bear home.”

Randy gives her a watchful eye. When Gail’s shoulders slump forward, he can tell he is not going to like where this is going. Time to take control. 

“Give me the phone,” he says. 

Gail recoils. 

He raises his voice. “Give me the fucking phone. Now!”

“Randy, please,” Gail says, her face in anguish. “I just want to talk to my daughter.”

“Give me the—” 

Gail flinches, and he finishes his statement with the back of his hand. The receiver clatters to the floor. He scrambles to pick it up, straightens himself, and puts the phone to his ear. 

The line is dead.

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

[
**]

TIME STAND STILL

[]

The mountains in the distance are no match for the rising sun, its full radiance now shining down on the Stop & Go just outside of downtown Sacramento. Any potential shade is reduced to a thin strip against the wall adjacent to the entrance, where June tugs repeatedly at the collar of her long-sleeved sweatshirt in a feeble attempt to cool herself off. She knows she will have to change as soon as she can, however, for the moment she feels like she was just pushed over a cliff.

She didn’t know what to expect when she called home, but regardless, the conversation went south faster than she thought possible. Gail sounded weird—distant, like there was a huge barrel of water between her and the phone. She was always guarded, but this was unnerving. And what was all that about sugar bear? June can’t make any sense of it. Her mother has never called her that before. Maybe it’s some kind of sign, but of what?

When Randy swore and started to hulk out (like he always does), June knew she had to pull the plug. She said, “I’m sorry, mom, it has to be this way,” and hung up.

June turns around and stares off into the mountains, raising her hand to shield her eyes from the glaring sunlight. Randy sounded wild, insane—would he hurt Gail? Has he already? This whole situation is way out of control. “No, no, no,” June mumbles out loud. 

She picks up the receiver again, looks at it. Her hand fumbles in her pocket and compulsively counts the quarters she has left. But there is no one else to call. 

Home was hell; she always felt trapped there, even before this current disaster. And here she is, ostensibly free—but with nowhere to go, she feels more pinned down than ever. Frustrated, she slams the receiver down against its base mounted on the wall, then lifts it up again and slams it over and over, cracking its outer plastic shell. 

Her eyes well up with tears but she holds them back. She is determined to keep it together. She can still hear Randy’s voice in the background; his uncontrolled rage fills her with terror. She knew the truth, it was in her head, though she wouldn’t let herself feel it, but then it races down like a runaway train and crashes right into her gut: She can never go home again. Not even if she wanted to. 

June doesn’t know what to do. She looks around, trying to find something to go on, anything to hang on to. But there is nothing here, just the detritus of lower suburban life: candy wrappers on the ground, an empty dented soda can, chips of broken plastic from the payphone, and a used condom she didn’t notice before sitting right against the wall near her foot. She starts to retch, but is too dehydrated to do anything but dry heave.

Biting her lip to keep from crying, June rushes back to the car. She tells herself she is not going to cry anymore. Not in this lifetime. She holds the wheel tight, lets her sweat mingle with the pores in its leather cover. It’s time to take charge, but truth be told, she has no idea how to do that; so she sits in silence, gripping the wheel as her knuckles turn white.

Then there it is again. That smell. It’s like road kill and bad eggs mixed in with regurgitated feces. Something is rotting somewhere in the back of the car. It came to her in waves during the night; she thought she must have passed a dead skunk on the highway. But here it is again, and it’s getting worse. 

She glances around the front seats and back, looking to see if Randy left any food or anything gross somewhere. God knows what has gone down in this car. But the inside is spotless other than dust on the dashboard and some dirt and blades of grass on the floor matts. This car is Randy’s baby; he keeps it cleaner than the house.

She realizes with a start that she forgot to do what she came here to do. Needing to clear her mind—and her nose—she gets out and begins filling the tank with the gas she already paid for. The awning above the pumps provides a meager amount of shade, but she can still feel the California summer heat defiantly working up to its full force. A slight breeze shakes the leaves on a row of trees across the street. The fresh air helps her aching head, but after a few moments she scrunches her nose in disappointment—under the smell of gasoline it’s still there. The odor simply will not go away. She wants to think it’s not a big deal, but it’s slapping her in the face; it smells like something crawled out of the sewer and died in the car. 

The numbers on the pump slowly tick up to her allotted ten dollars. When the handle clicks off, she puts it back, and reflexively looks over the car. The trunk. Never looked in the trunk, maybe there’s something in there? 

With no one behind her waiting for the pump, she has some time. She hovers with the key in her hand for a moment; anxiety flows through her. Who knows what Randy has been up to? Maybe some doors should not be opened. But no, she has to take care of this. If she’s going to get anywhere in this car today she has to know.

She pops the trunk, and immediately puts a hand to her mouth to stifle a scream. She quickly glances around—no one in the vicinity, no one to see this horror. She slams the trunk down and awkwardly gets back in the car.

“Oh shit oh shit oh shit.”

Despite the torrid weather, a layer of cold sweat covers her skin. This can’t be happening. She tries to convince herself she had not just seen that; it was just some kind of mistake, her mind playing tricks on her. But no, the smell is real, and so is the sight she can never unsee. It was only a few seconds before she slammed the trunk down, but the image will be forever etched in her memory.

A dead body, all mashed up. 

A middle-aged man, apparently; his limbs were broken and curled back upon his body. His skin was pale, bloated, like in the movies when somebody had drowned, but his clothes were dry. He was wearing a dark suit with the top buttons undone on his dress shirt, and his tie was loosened. His face—what she could see of it—was contorted in a horrible death scream. Reminiscent of little kid games, when you make a funny face and your mother says, “Watch out, if someone slaps you on the back, you’ll be stuck like that forever.” Behind the body lay a duffel bag, military green, stuffed with God knows what; underneath it, the floor of the trunk was a mushy pool of drying blood. 

Dark marks around his neck threaten an abyss of questions: Was he strangled? Or hanged somehow? How long has he been dead? How long has he been there in the trunk? And this car was parked in front of our house?

What the hell is Randy involved in? 

Despair gets the better of her, and June puts her forehead down against the wheel and cries. She fears the worst—what if the police are looking for a stolen car, and they find that body in the trunk? Would they think she had something to do with this?

She is drowning; her vision doubles up and all of the sounds around her are suddenly out of phase—slightly delayed, out of time. Cars rushing by on the adjacent street, birds chirping in the trees outside, a dog barking in an apartment somewhere nearby. It feels like the one time she tried smoking pot with Bree—wildly disorienting—except now it’s all wrong and filled with an impending doom and claustrophobic panic. She tries to concentrate on just breathing.

She glances into the Stop & Go and sees the college boy—the one with the smile—talking to the swarthy man behind the counter. He’s not smiling now. The clerk leans forward, as if to hear better. She wonders what they could be talking about. Then the college boy points outside, looks like he’s pointing right at her. They both turn their heads toward her, synchronized, like in a bad MTV music video. Her heart skips a beat and her breath catches in her chest.

The swarthy clerk grabs the phone and starts dialing. June hears a little voice in her head: Better get out of here. But she freezes with her fingers on the ignition. The voice again, more insistent: Get out of here, NOW. She starts the car and pulls out, almost hitting a white van coming down the street.

∞∞∞

[]

“I knew it,” she says out loud, hitting the dashboard with her right fist, “I knew Randy was up to something.” He could never have made all of his money in sales alone. It’s absurd. Randy is terrible with people. Did Randy kill that man? She always knew Randy must be involved in something bad, but what could he be mixed up in? Drugs? The mob? There was no mob in Northern California, not that she had ever heard of, though there is some gang activity. Jesus, does mom know? Was she just protecting him all along? Mom always seemed like an enabler, but this—

This is insanity.

Definitely can’t go back to mom now. No, just need to get out of town fast, get as much distance from this car as possible. Even if Gail reports her missing, and the cops track her down later, June can just deny ever taking the car. There is no real proof. It could easily have been stolen by some random person. It happens all the time. So what if she ran away from home, she has been of legal age for over a year now. But it’s much more likely nobody will call the cops at all. Randy won’t let Gail do it, considering what he has in the trunk. Nobody at home wants June talking to the authorities, not now. Not ever. It occurs to her to call the police herself (about the body), but they would want to know why and how she turned up in Sacramento with this car, and turning herself in for grand theft auto sounds like a bad idea. She’s seen enough cop shows to know that they would get the truth out of her eventually; and even if she stayed out of jail, that road would end up with her being sent back home, in a bad way. No, she simply needs to skip this town and never look back.

First order of business: Ditch the Deathmobile. But she has to be careful, has to do this the right way. The smell is only going to get worse. The local cops will be on this car like white on rice soon enough, and she has to make sure there is no evidence that could tie her to the scene. With any luck, she will be long gone by then, and will have enough plausible deniability to confidently say she never came to Sacramento at all after leaving home.

She finds a self-service car wash several blocks down, across the street from a Taco Bell. After taking a black t-shirt out of her bag, she reaches in again and grabs her special bracelet. Around the inside is the inscription that always makes her cry: To June, you will always be my little girl. Love, Dad. She never wears it anymore; after her father died, she stopped eating and lost so much weight none of her jewelry fit properly. But today she needs her dad with her; he was the only one who ever made her feel safe, like she could do anything. It will take a special strength to help her get through this day. Though it dangles loose on her right wrist, she tells herself she won’t lose it. There’s got to be at least one thing in this world that won’t fail her.

She gets out of the car and thanks the lord she has enough change on hand for the power vacuum and hand washer.

Detailing the car does not take long. Randy has taken good care of it and kept it mostly clean; she just needs to make sure there aren’t any stray hairs or fibers from her clothes on the upholstery or under the seats. Besides, it’s nice to get outside, get some fresh air after driving all night.

An older redheaded woman in overalls and a long ponytail approaches, asks June if she needs anything. June bristles, but calms down when she realizes the woman was the attendant on duty and not some stranger accosting her for change.

“Hey, where’s the nearest bus station?” June says.

The woman scratches her head, revealing a line of pale scalp beneath her poorly brushed hair. “You know, I think it’s down on L Street, that way.” She points east across the intersection out front. “Near the mall.”

“Thanks.”

June finishes rinsing the soap off the car with a high-powered hose. Using the black t-shirt she got out earlier, she raises the door handle to get back in. She doesn’t want to leave any fingerprints. She holds the t-shirt over the steering wheel and pulls out into traffic.

The red-headed lady was right; the Greyhound bus station is several miles down L Street. June drives past and keeps going east, until she spies a shopping center with a giant sign announcing Downtown Plaza. A multi-level parking structure stands at the end of the street. June pulls in and parks on the third floor.

Something has been scratching at the back of her mind: the duffle bag in the trunk. What’s in it? Could be anything. Weapons, drugs … or it could be full of money. If there’s cash in that bag—well, that would make her next steps a whole lot easier.

June closes her eyes. She doesn’t know what to do. Going into the trunk again is the last thing she wants, but she knows she doesn’t have enough cash on hand to get very far. What if it’s like in the movies? What if that bag is stuffed with bills? She has to make herself do this. The possible rewards outweigh the disgusting smell, and the risk.

She looks behind her, to each side, all around the parking lot. Nobody here, not on this level at least, and it doesn’t sound like any cars are pulling in. She gets out and paces back and forth along the length of the car.

“Gotta do it, gotta do it,” she repeats to herself. She waves her arms around, as if about to jump off a high dive, warming herself up for this despicable act. “Just don’t look at the guy, he’s already dead anyway, he won’t mind. You can do this.” She puts her backpack down on the ground near the left rear wheel.

She looks around again. All is still. A deep breath; she holds it, lowers her head and pops the trunk. Her eyes get wide as she realizes her big mistake—the duffle bag is behind the body. She will have to reach over the mashed-up dead guy, maybe even touch it/him, to get to the bag. She reaches for the trunk lid, about to give up, but the thought of mad stacks of cash makes her press on. 

She is just able to reach over the dead guy’s curled-up broken arm to get a grip on the bag’s drawstring; immediately she pulls back as hard as she can. The bag raises up slightly, but falls back. 

“Shit.” 

She puts her hands on her knees and breathes for a moment. “Goddamnit.” She is getting pissed off now. “I don’t have time for this shit. I deserve this money.” She reaches in and yanks back like she was starting the worlds biggest lawnmower. The bag scratches against the dead guy’s shoulder and comes bursting out of the trunk. Small flecks of dust and dead skin flutter in the dank air.

A bizarre feeling, a combination of desires to both celebrate and throw up washes over her. About to wipe her mouth, she stops herself. I just touched that bag. The stench makes her wretch as she pulls the bag open. It’s filled with little plastic baggies, some with white powder and some with what must be weed. But this isn’t like the weed Bree had before, this stuff is more thick and oily and green. She can already start to smell it through the plastic bags.

But no money. Shit. 

She doesn’t want any drugs; even though she might be able to sell these bags, that’s not something she knows anything about. She has no idea how to even start going about something like that, and she’s in enough trouble already. Tires squeak on the asphalt and echo through the parking structure. June looks back impulsively. The headlights are far off, but coming this way. She reaches down into the bag and quickly ruts around to see if anything might be under all the drugs. You never know. 

There, she can feel them. Shit yes. Stacks of bills. She grabs a handful and throws them into her backpack. Hurriedly, she makes three more grabs for cash before thinking the approaching car is getting too close. She throws the bag back into the trunk and slams the lid down just before a beat-up orange Yugo passes by. 

June holds her stomach for a few seconds, smiling innocuously at the anonymous driver. When they are out of sight, she runs to the space in front of Randy’s car and throws up. A lot, seemingly everything she has ever eaten in her life. Amazing, when you consider she is dehydrated and starving, but you’d be surprised what almost touching a dead body can do to you. After wiping her mouth with the cuff of her sleeve, she straightens up and tries to get it together.

“Got to get a move on,” she says softly to herself, “I’ve got work to do.”

She uses her trusty black t-shirt to wipe down the front seat one more time, then slams the door shut with her hip. “Hill Street Blues got nothing on me.”

She walks to the elevator at the far end of the structure, but catches herself before she presses the button. You never know, that could leave a fingerprint. You can never be too careful. She takes the stairs down and walks back along L Street.

Goodbye, Deathmobile.

∞∞∞

[]

The bus station isn’t busy this early in the morning, which helps to calm June’s nerves. It feels like a good morning to make a clean getaway. She buys a Greyhound ticket to San Francisco. Seems as good a place as any, with lots of people—a place where she can disappear into the crowds. A place to buy her some time to figure out how to survive. Plus, she’s always wanted to see the ocean, and it’s as long a trip as she can stand right now. Though she won’t count the newfound stacks of cash until later when she’s settled, it must be enough to help her start her new life. It’s got to be.

She is not kidding herself; she’s scared shitless. She has no idea how she will be able to sustain herself over the long haul, and there is no one that can help her. For the first time in her life, she is truly on her own. But she holds strong to her resolve. And it’s true what they say—nobody on Earth really knows what they are doing. Everybody is figuring out this thing called life one day at a time. Nobody has it all together. So she gets on that bus and gives herself permission to start over, to make as many mistakes as it takes to get it right.

She only has her bag with the clothes and few items that she packed. She doesn’t have a book or a magazine, not even a Walkman to pass the time; but none of that concerns her now. She has enough to think about, and after the night she had (and her morning of horrors), she could use the sleep.

The bus pulls out and rumbles its way onto the freeway. June curls up her jacket and puts it behind her head and closes her eyes. She doesn’t need to look out the window, she has already seen enough of Northern California for one life. 

It isn’t until much later when she realizes her special bracelet is gone.

June Addison’s journey continues.

[*  Hear Me Baby, *]

Hold Together

[*  *]

[*    Part II*]

[]

Available late 2016.

[]

Acknowledgements

Thanks first and foremost to my wife, for assisting with editing and being a sounding board for these twisted ideas. Also, you have my unending gratitude for helping me figure out this thing called life. 

Thanks to my daughter, for being the thing that makes everything all right.

The high school in this story is named Vacaville High School, the same name as one of the real high schools from Vacaville. (A one high school town in the 1980s, Vacaville has since grown and now has three.) The school is described in this story as a “less-than-prestigious secondary institution in the middle of Cowtown.” That description is from the character’s perspective. Other than the name itself, the high school in this story is completely fictional, and any commentary here does not reflect any opinion of the author or publisher on the quality of education of that school. All teachers and administrators herein are completely fictional. They do not represent any person working or who has ever worked at that school. It is not the intention of the author that any of the students described represent anyone who attends or has ever attended that school. 

The historical references in the chapter about Robert Sampson’s third period history class were inspired by the Hardcore History Podcast by Dan Carlin. A great resource on world history, this podcast is highly recommended.

The chapters about California State Prison, Solano and California Medical Facility contained information summarized from various Wikipedia articles.

[]

About the Author

Jeff Silvey is the author of the ongoing serial The Litany of Bad Things. He is a musician, former schoolteacher and blogger.

To learn more about upcoming books and projects, visit his website at JeffSilveyWriting.com, or follow @j_silvey on Twitter.  


Hear Me Baby, Hold Together: Part 1

It's 1989, in what should be a typical small town in Northern California. But unlike the rest of small town America, this one is right next to a major state prison. And this prison is unlike any other. June Addison has lived in this small town all of her life. However, she is not your average nineteen-year-old Californian. She has burn scars all over the left side of her body, a gash in her right cheek, and an undeniable drive to persevere. One summer night will push her to the edge. What happens next will change her life forever. Tom Quinn is a security guard starting his first day at a bizarre experimental facility. He is just trying to do his job and fit in, but soon he will get much more than he bargained for. Can he endure the horrors he finds there? This novella is the beginning of Hear Me Baby, Hold Together, a mystery and suspense serial that is filled with dark and twisted turns. Buckle up if you dare, and come along for this wild ride.

  • Author: Jeff Silvey
  • Published: 2016-10-22 17:35:14
  • Words: 33775
Hear Me Baby, Hold Together: Part 1 Hear Me Baby, Hold Together: Part 1