Home > Very Wicked Things (Briarcrest Academy #2)(2)

Very Wicked Things (Briarcrest Academy #2)(2)
Author: Ilsa Madden-Mills

“I’m alone,” I announced to the dingy apartment, after checking all the rooms and not finding her. I sat down at the kitchen table, wrapped up in my quilt, bouncing my legs to stay warm. I told myself she’d probably be home soon enough, and if she had money maybe we’d go down to Lulu’s Diner and get a hamburger. Lulu’s boasted they had the biggest burger in Dallas, and I thought about that burger a lot, about how juicy it would be, how the tomato would be fresh and the pickle tart. My mouth watered.

I prayed mama came home soon because if she didn’t, then my father would show up. He always did when she’d been gone for too long. He rarely saw me otherwise. A handsome man with black hair and blue eyes, something about him made me edgy. He smiled easily enough, probably because he’d had dental work done—veneers Mama called them. But, no matter how wide he smiled, his face remained hard, like granite. Nightmares about him were common, where he hid under my bed, lying on the hard floor underneath. He’d wait for me to fall asleep and then he’d jump out, wrap his hands around my neck and drag me under.

He’d do to me what he did to Mama.

Mama hated most things, but she loved to fight with him. Or perhaps she just liked his attention, no matter what form it came in. He doesn’t love us were her words when I asked why he didn’t live with us. When he did come to the apartment, they’d go in the bedroom and not come out for a long time. I’d watch television while her bed banged the wall to a rhythm I hated. Later they’d come out, gentler versions of themselves. But it never lasted. Mama would pull out the vodka and start drinking, and he’d slap her around. He’d curse and rail, calling her a lazy, no-good chuchka derganaya who deserved nothing. Never one to be defenseless, she’d scream and fight back, her fists beating at his barrel chest in vain. Most times, a black eye decorated her face after one of his visits, but he wouldn’t leave unmarked. Angry claw marks were his usual battle scars although once she’d hit him with a kitchen chair and broken one of his ribs.

I’d hide in the closet and listen to the sounds of fists meeting skin. It doesn’t make a lot of noise like you’d think it would. He’d hit and she’d grunt; she’d hit and he’d laugh. Through the slats of the door, I’d watch them hurt each other over and over. Sometimes it turned into sex, and I’d want to scream because it was sick. I should have covered my eyes, but I couldn’t, just as I never turned off the horror movies I watched late at night.

I called myself a coward for not helping her.

Why couldn’t I be more like Joan of Arc?

I’m no good for anything.

One particularly bad day last year—because mama had been gone for three days straight—my father had walked in the apartment with his key, his hands full of market bags. His keen eyes had watched me as I stared at the sack, the possibility of nourishment keeping me in the room with him, fear not allowing me to get too close. He’d never hurt me with his meaty hands like he did mama, but there’s always a first time. I had visions of him whipping off his jacket and cracking his knuckles before he went to work on my face.

On this day, he’d scooted my chess set to the side of the kitchen table, put down the bags and straightened to face me. He talked to Sarah sometimes, so maybe she’d told him mama was gone. Maybe he knew where mama was. I don’t know. Yet, he always knew when I was at a breaking point although I’m not sure why he cared. Perhaps it was guilt because I was a mistake, an unplanned pregnancy like they taught us in fifth grade health class.

We’d faced-off like gunslingers that day, our identical blue eyes never wavering from the other. He’d studied me like I was an odd insect, and I returned the favor, my heart flying in my chest. We stood there nearly five minutes, assessing each other. I know because the clock hung on the wall right behind him. He ran his eyes over my faded jeans and T-shirt. I shot daggers at his finely-creased pants and silk shirt.

Worlds apart yet connected by blood.

Stuck in our frozen tableau, I recognized we were a lot alike and not just in looks. Both of us were survivors. He’d crawled out of the mud and made something of himself. I was hanging on by the skin of my teeth, but someday I would leave this awful place.

But what if I didn’t?

“She’s not here,” I’d said, trying to make my voice big.

He pushed one of the sacks toward me.

I shook my head and backed away.

“Don’t be stupid like your matshuka. Eat,” he demanded, his ringed fingers pointing at the table with emphasis. A man used to having his orders followed immediately.

My body roared with need, but I shook my head again, this time harder, the oily strands slapping me in the face.

Like a junkyard dog, I trusted no one.

He chuckled, making me shiver. “Ah, a girl with backbone. I like it,” he said in his lilting accent.

Just leave. Let me eat.

Finally, he turned to go but spun back around, making me jump. His eyebrow lifted. “You can come with me if you want?”

Chills raced down my spine. He’d never once offered to take me with him. Not one time. I swallowed, sensing danger.

“No,” I said. “She’ll come back.” My hands clenched. “I can take care of myself anyway.” Hadn’t I been doing so?

He leveled his eyes at me, and they gleamed. Was it with pride? Or anticipation? Whatever.

“Your mama? She’s a junkie and a drunk. She will die in the gutter.” His body shifted closer to me, and I eyed the kitchen utensil drawer, calculating how fast I could get there and wrench it open. My hands twitched, and I prepared myself to run for it. We had exactly three knives, two were crappy, but the steak knife…

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