Authors: Missy LaRae
I watched in silence as the scenery passed me by, but I didn’t really see it. I thought about how our lives was gonna change, and how Tyler and I would have to adapt to a new person. I knew we couldn’t stay on our own. I wished that we could. How I wished that we could. I’d like to have a little place of my own where we’d be safe. I’d be able to read what I wanted to read, and eat when I wanted to eat. I’d be able to get up at night and go to the bathroom without fearin’ I’d wake Mama up, and she’d take the belt to me. I didn’t know that life could change this much in one morning, or I’d a tried to get Tyler to leave months before. I knew we were young, but with the weird way Tyler talked to people maybe we would have been able to get away earlier.
“Tyler, tell me what happened with that policeman. I need to know what happened. I don’t understand what you did.” I kept going over it again and again in my head, and I just couldn’t understand it.
“Well, like I said, when I was talkin’ to the lady with her kids, and with the man sellin’ the tickets I just felt bigger. It was like my body expanded like a balloon. I felt swollen. I got hotter, like temperature hotter. Not like with the policeman. With him I was so scared, and I knew if he took us back to Mama somethin’ bad was gonna happen. I looked at him and I thought so hard for him to turn around. It was different. It felt like it came out of my body and went right at him. It felt like I was aimin’ at him with all this heat just tellin’ him to turn around, and he did.” He closed his mouth and looked at me. He looked worried. He probably thought I was gonna tell him he was full of crap, but I didn’t think that at all.
“Sometimes,” I started, “sometimes when we would be at the library or the museum I’d look at people like that too. I’d stare at them so hard and just tell ‘em to come over here. Just come over here and get me. Just as soon as someone would start that way Mama would come and look at them. She’d give ‘em that stare. You know, the one where it looked like she was lookin’ right through ya. They’d freeze right there when she did that.” I felt weird as I confessed this to him. Tyler’s eyes searched mine, and he brought his forehead to mine.
“So if we’re both weird like that what are we gonna do when we get to Evelyne’s house?” I knew he wanted me to tell him which way we should go, or what we should do, but I just didn’t know. I’d been the one followin’ his lead my whole life, and it looked like Tyler was just as confused as I was about what we were supposed to do now.
“I don’t know what we’re supposed to do.” I sat back in my seat and looked outside again. Tyler took my hand in his. His presence alone comforted me more than anything else in the world could. I was more thankful than ever that I had my brother with me to help me decide what to do next. We each sat in silence, the weariness of our journey so far catchin’ up with us. I knew that it wouldn’t be long before I fell asleep again, and I wanted Tyler to know somethin’.
“Thank you for always bein’ here for me,” I told him. I felt his heartbeat like it was my own. I knew when he was in pain, and I knew when he was happy. Right now he was a little bit a both.
We made it to Jacksonville, but didn’t have a chance to get off the train. We needed food so we took our backpacks with us and made our way to the dining car. There was so much there to eat that we’d never had before. Mama never let us eat packaged food. She said that it was bad for our bodies and would make us tired and lazy. I never argued with her about it because I really didn’t know what I was missin’. We ordered some cokes and sandwiches and took them back to our seats to eat. The first taste of the bubbles runnin’ down my throat made me choke, but I soon slurped down the entire can. It tasted like liquid candy. I looked over at Tyler, and saw that he was doin’ the same thing.
“You kids look like you’ve never drank a coke before today.” I looked over to the other side of the aisle to see a lady about Mama’s age watchin’ us close. “I noticed y’all earlier. Aren’t y’all a bit young to be riding the train alone?” She looked at us suspiciously.
I shook my head at her and swallowed the bite of sandwich I had in my mouth. “No, ma’am. We’re travelin’ to see our Aunt in Charleston. She knows we’re comin’. With the two of us together it’s pretty safe to travel alone.” She nodded at us, and went back to readin’ her magazine.
The ride from Jacksonville to Charleston seemed like it took forever. I saw the trees passing by, and knew that every mile the train chugged along was another mile away from Mama. I didn’t want to dwell too much on why we’d been hurt so much in our lives, but livin’ through it was a testament to how strong Tyler and I were. I day dreamed about what our Aunt would look like. I wondered if she looked like my Daddy. I reached down and took a photo of him out of my backpack and I held it in my hands. I traced the hollows of his cheeks and his lips with my fingertips. I don’t remember what Daddy looked like but I imagined him throwing me in the air, and calling me his princess. I thought about the way his arms would have felt, cradling me tight and tellin’ me stories. I leaned to the left and laid my head on Tyler’s arm. He was sittin’ back with his feet propped up on the foot rest in front of him, and his hands were folded in his lap. He looked so happy.
I cradled the picture of Daddy in my lap, and closed my eyes. I’d cried so many tears when I was growin’ up that I just couldn’t muster any now. I didn’t want to think about how different my life could have been if Daddy hadn’t died, but it was hard to do. I wanted to feel safe again. I hoped that Aunt Evelyne was a good person, and I hoped that she wouldn’t turn us out.
arrived in Charleston. The trip had taken almost eight hours, but since we’d left at the crack a dawn it felt like we was just wakin’ up for the day when the train pulled in. Tyler had slept most of the way from Jacksonville to
Charleston, and I had to shake him to wake him up.
I picked up my bag and threw it over my shoulders, and waited for Tyler to unfold his long bones from the seat. I smiled as he stood up and stretched. I hoped that Aunt Evelyne was a good cook because it was time for Tyler to add some weight to his frame. We walked off the platform feelin’ happy, and optimistic. I knew that today was gonna be the first day of the rest of our lives.
Finding a cab at the train station wasn’t hard. Tyler had looked in the tin when he took a trip to the bathroom, and there was almost two hundred dollars in it. Can’t understand why Mama left that kind a money in a tin inside Daddy’s old boxes, but I wasn’t gonna complain about havin’ more money than we knew what to do with. We gave the driver the address that was on the letters, and he drove us out a the train station like a crazed lunatic. Mama never drove fast anywhere that we went, and it was scary ridin’ with someone like this. I squeezed my eyes shut as he swerved around a car, and only let my breath out when I realized that we was still alive. I felt my stomach drop and got real queasy, but I took a couple of deep breaths and it seemed to settle down some. I really didn’t wanna throw up on myself in the back seat of the cab.
It was a harrowing ride, but I enjoyed the scenery. I could sense that we were headed towards the water. We got off of the expressway onto Meeting Street, and kept going towards the water. The roads became more narrow, and the cab driver began to slow. I knew that where ever we were goin’ had to be somewhere expensive as all of the houses we were passing were large mansions.
The driver turned right onto South Battery, and slowed in front of a gorgeous four story mansion with a wrought iron gate, and a white wooden verandah on the first three levels. I had never seen a home that beautiful, except in magazines. The cab driver took the fare from Tyler and we stepped out onto the pavement. We opened the wrought iron gate, and walked through. I led the way up the seven steps onto the front porch. The steps were lined with trees, and potted plants. It looked lived in, and loved. I was nervous, my palms were sweatin’. I was eager to knock on the door, but expectin’ it to be slammed in our faces.
The door was white, with potted trees standing sentinel on either side of it, and I raised my hand and knocked softly. Feelin’ foolish I raised my hand to knock louder when the door was opened in front of me.
“Can I help you?” Her hair was light as an explodin’ star, and her eyes were the purest blue that I’d ever seen before. I looked at her and my chest expanded. I wondered if she was my Aunt Evelyne. Her breathy southern accent wasn’t as harsh as mine seemed to be all the time. She sounded like a lady.
“I’m Lily, this is my brother Tyler, and we’re lookin’ for our Aunt Evelyne Richards. Are you her?” I leaned back into Tyler. He had come up behind me while I knocked on the door, and put his hands on my shoulders. We waited nervously as the woman looked at us. Her hand came over her mouth, and she looked like she was fightin’ back tears.
“Oh my god! You’re Daniel’s children. Oh, you’ve both come so far! Come in, come in!” She ushered us into the house, and closed the door behind us. I looked around and couldn’t help swallowin’ hard as I looked at all the fancy things in her house. She had to have a lot a money to afford this kind of place.
“We’re sorry to just show up like this, but we didn’t know where else to go. We didn’t have a number for anyone, and we’re just tryin’ to find our Aunt.” Tyler tried to explain.
“I’m sorry, honey, I should have told you before you came through the door that I’m Evelyne. I’m just surprised to see you. Come on back to the kitchen, I’m fixin’ supper, and I’m sure y’all are wore out and hungry. How in the world did y’all get here? Where’s your mother?” She talked about a mile a minute as she led the way, and Tyler brought up the rear as we tracked through the house. The floors gleamed as though they’d just been waxed by a team of professional housekeepers that day. The warm honey tone added to the serenity of the house, and I tried imaginin’ myself waking up here every day.
We got to the kitchen, and my stomach grumbled in excitement at the prospect of food. We hadn’t wanted to spend a lot of our money on food, since we didn’t know what was goin’ to greet us when we arrived, so neither of us had eaten again on the train.
My eyes went all bug eyed as we walked through the double doors of the kitchen. The room itself was immaculate. Gleaming white counter tops, and steel appliances gave off the feelin’ of being chilled, but the room was painted a vibrant red, and the small appliances were all red too. Mama would call it cozy. I smelled somethin’ that I thought could have been chicken, and my eyes darted around the room, tryin’ to take everything in.
“Why don’t you two drop your bags, and wash your hands. I’ve got some stuff already made up we can snack on, and then you two can tell me what’s going on.”
I was more than happy to oblige her so I dropped my bag by the door, and Tyler did the same. We both shrugged out of our sweatshirts, and laid them across our bags. I washed quickly, wantin’ to sit down and talk to Evelyne about everything.
I crossed over to the table where Evelyne was settin’ out some fruit and a bowl of chips and salsa. She took a pitcher out of the refrigerator and topped off two tall glasses with a honey brown liquid that looked like sweet tea. I sat down hungrily and waited for Tyler to do the same. When he finally sat we looked at each other, and then up at Evelyne. Neither of us touched the food. We waited while she paced around the kitchen, and finally came to sit at the table with us.
She asked. I shook my head at her.
“No, ma’am. That’s not it, but we don’t
want to be rude and eat without your
permission.” Mama told us we were never to eat
unless given permission, and I wasn’t sure if
that was a rule in every house, or just in Mama’s
“Well, that’s certainly not going to be
considered rude. You go right ahead and eat. Eat
as much as you want until you’re full and can’t
eat any more. Then you gotta save room for
supper.” She smiled at us as we both reached for
“I’m sorry I’ve never come down to visit
you. Allison always wrote such glowing things
about you, and I wanted to visit, but with my
responsibilities here it just wasn’t possible.” I don’t know if she was tryin’ to
apologize or somethin’ but I really wasn’t mad
at her. She didn’t know what was happenin’ to
us. Tyler laid his hand on my arm as I started to
speak, and he shook his head. I reached over
and grabbed the glass of tea, and took a long
swallow. It felt just like heaven slidin’ down my
parched throat. I was feelin’ almost light headed
with relief that we’d finally made it and she
wasn’t some kind a monster like Mama was. Tyler looked at Evelyne, and takin’ a
deep breath started to speak. His voice had
changed this year, gotten deeper than even I
thought it would. I loved listenin’ to him talk.
He could sometimes mesmerize me with the
sound of his voice. “We’re sorry for showing up
like this when we weren’t invited, but we didn’t
have anywhere else to go.” He looked at me
before continuing. “We read the letters that you
sent to our Mother, and you sounded very nice.
We took a chance coming up here that you
would listen to us, and not turn us away.” I
looked at Evelyne, and thought to myself, please
don’t throw us out a your house.
“I’m glad you two are here,” she said,
“but that still doesn’t explain where your mother
is.” She looked at Tyler and worried her bottom
lip with her teeth. Her nervousness seemed out of place, but maybe she just wasn’t used to
having kids our age in her kitchen.
“Mama wasn’t a very good person,” he
began. “The truth of it is, she was horrible to us.
Mama was very abusive, and Lily and I have
been trying to escape for the past five years.” “What do you mean she was abusive?
Did she hit you?” Evelyne’s voice was laced
with concern, and I hoped that it was real, and
not some sort of trick she was playin’.
“Yes, she hit us. I don’t really feel
comfortable talking about all this, but she just
wasn’t a good person.” Tyler hung his head.
“It’s hard to talk about this, but Mama wasn’t
who you thought she was.” With his hat off of
his head, his hair stuck up in wild tufts untamed.
I hurt for him, but I hurt for myself too. I looked
over at Evelyne, and saw her eyes glitterin’ up
“I’m sorry. I had no idea things were like
that. I would have come and gotten you if I’d
known. Why didn’t you tell anyone, a teacher or
something?” Her slender hands folded and
twisted the dish towel in her hand. I wanted to
snatch it away from her and tell her to be still. “Mama home schooled us. We didn’t go
out except to get groceries, or to run short
errands. We went to the library, and to the museum from time to time, but for the most part Mama kept us locked in the house all day, every day.” I watched as her mouth opened and shut,
and just wished that she would tell us to stay. “I don’t know what to say. You both are
welcome to stay here, for as long as you need,
but it will be much different than what you’re
used to. Let’s discuss this after Michael gets
home, and we all have dinner.” Evelyne got up
out of her seat then, and bustled around the
kitchen. She wiped the counter where there were
no spills, and checked the pot that was
simmerin’ on the stove. Her nervousness was
like a livin’, breathin’ thing in the kitchen. Tyler
and I finished the snack that she’d set out, and I
stood up and took the plates to the sink. I
washed and dried them, and set them next to the
sink to be put away. I didn’t feel right goin’
through someone else’s home, even if she was
related to me.
“Why don’t you both go up and take a
shower. I’ll show you each to a room, and you
can lay down and nap, or shower before dinner.
It’s gonna be about an hour before Michael is
home.” Her voice sounded thick, almost like she
was about to cry. I certainly didn’t know what to
do with a grown adult woman cryin’ so I just nodded to her and followed her out of the
Evelyne led us back towards the front of
the house to a spiral staircase that wound up all
four stories. I nearly gasped at the beauty of the
wood climbin’ its way through the house. I ran
my hand along the banister, and the smooth
polished grain of the wood felt like silk beneath
my fingertips. The light from the early evening
sky filtered down and left shafts of rainbows all
along the length of the stairs. It was so beautiful
it just about took my breath away.
Evelyn led us to the third floor where
she stepped into the hallway and showed us to
rooms directly across from one another. “Each
bedroom has its own bathroom, and there’s a
half bath downstairs off the main living room.
There’s one on the fourth floor off of the sun
deck too. You’re welcome to go up there and
look around if you’d like. There are towels in all
of the bathrooms, so you needn’t worry about
looking for any if you’d like to shower. If you’d
like to have your clothes washed just bring them
down with you when you come down for dinner
and we’ll put them in tonight so you’ll have
them in the morning.”
I was overwhelmed by the size of the
room. It was so pretty. I felt unworthy of walkin’ into the space, let alone actually lyin’ down and going to sleep there. Mama’d probably kill us if she saw us here, pretending to
I smiled at Evelyne as she closed the
door behind me. I couldn’t help myself and
waited a moment before walkin’ back over to
open it up again. I’d been locked in my room so
many times that I never wanted to lock my
bedroom door again. I cracked it open, and then
smiled as I heard Tyler doin’ the same thing
from across the hall. It was gonna take time for
us to get used to not bein’ with Mama.
I walked around the room and kicked my
shoes off. I sat on the floor and took off my
socks, and rubbed my feet like I was a little old
woman. They still hurt from our long walk from
the house to the train station this mornin’. I
folded my socks and laid them on the floor at
the foot of the bed, and did the same with my
sweatshirt. I pulled my backpack over to the
bed, and opened it up. I took out the things that
I’d need to shower with and contemplated what
it was gonna feel like to take a bath
uninterrupted. I’d been so nervous and worked
up all day I’d sweat through the shirt that I’d
been wearin’ since that mornin’ when we’d
crawled into Mama’s room and stolen the key. I was ready to relax, and hoped that Aunt Evelyne wouldn’t mind if I soaked for a while in the
I took off my clothes, and folded them
one by one and laid them on the floor with my
socks. Mama said that just because your clothes
were dirty didn’t mean you had to treat them
like they were. She said she paid good money
for the things that we had and we would treat
everything that we owned like it was brand new.
I was never allowed to take off anything and put
it down without foldin’ it; whether it was dirty
When I had nothin’ on but the skin I was
born in I walked over to the bathroom and
opened the door. The feel of the cool wood on
my feet was refreshing, and I sat on the rim of
the bathtub and I turned on the faucets. I waited
until the water was the perfect temperature
before climbin’ in.
Once I started lowerin’ myself into the
bathtub I realized how tired I truly was. I needed
this time to just relax for a few moments before
I had to deal with someone else listenin’ to us
talk about how much our Mama abused us. I
didn’t want to have to face Evelyne’s husband
Michael. I sighed as the water pooled over me.
It made me feel rich, lyin’ in the tub in the middle a the day not doin’ anything. I’d never
been so idle at Mama’s house.
I turned off the water and leaned back,
my head felt heavy, and I needed to close my
eyes. I let the water creep up to the bottom of
my chin, and I stayed there. I closed my eyes
and let myself completely absorb the heat from
I floated in an ocean of bliss. I moved as
the water moved. I swayed, and I tumbled. I
sighed in deep contentment. My eyes flickered
back and forth beneath my closed lids, and I
began to fall, deeply, sweetly, into sleep. It was the scent of honeysuckle. The
soft, unmistakable scent wrapped around me,
and I breathed it in with every breath. It was hot.
Hot and cold all at the same time. I felt myself
being lifted, and cradled in someone’s arms. I
turned towards the warmth of the person
holdin’ me, and I felt safe. I snuggled in, and the
scent of honeysuckle wrapped around me like a
sweet caress. I laughed as I was tossed in the air,
and cradled again. The scene was comforting. I
felt like I was really there. I pushed against the
fog that was over my mind, and I slowly lost the
scent of the honeysuckle. The heat receded, and
in its place was the lukewarm water that I was
layin’ in. I let the plug out, and turned on the shower. Once the water was hot again I stood under the spray and let it wash over me. I didn’t know what I had dreamed about. I didn’t know if it was a vision, or just me bein’ happy because I finally felt safe. What ever it was, I wanted
that feelin’ again.
I turned the shower off, and I stepped
out onto the rug that had been left at the base of
the tub. I took a towel and dried off, and then I
wiped the tub down. I dried the shower curtain,
and the walls, and then finally the tub. The best
way to prevent mold was for us to make sure
things were never left wet. At least that’s what
I stopped the motion of my hand as I
dried the tub, and realized what I was doin’. I
wasn’t even at Mama’s house, but it still felt like
she was tellin’ me what to do. I knelt at the side
of the tub, and I let the tears escape. I let them
fall like moist twins of the water that I’d just
used to bathe in. I let them slide down the side
of the tub in a frantic race to the drain. I let them
fall and I didn’t try once to stop them. I let the
pain leave my body one salty hot tear at a time. I stood up, and wiped my eyes after a
while. I knew it had to be gettin’ late and I was
still hungry. I rifled around in my backpack and
found another pair of jeans to wear, and another top. I wasn’t gonna look the most dignified or lady like at dinner tonight, but at least I’d smell good. I brushed out my long blonde hair, and wished again that Mama had let me cut it. She’d told me never to cut my hair, and that it was a gift. One a the only things she’d ever done nice to me in my whole life was brush my hair. She’d sit there and hold it in her hands and play with it like she was wishin’ it was her own. I threw on a clean pair a socks and my sneakers again, and
let a deep sigh of relief leave my lungs. I gathered my dirty laundry in my arms,
and stepped out the door. Tyler was waiting for
me, leaning against his door frame. He held out
his arms and I leaned in for a hug. We were