Sometimes family isn’t about blood. And sometimes it is.
She was eleven when she first knew he was not trustworthy. Her mother had married him and was expecting the second brother.
Sitting on the couch, she read a Baby-Sitters Club book. The house was quiet. She still felt jittery in this unfamiliar place. She wished they would spend 100% of the time at the house on the corner lot, instead of a mere 40-50% (at best).
She flinched at the door slamming and glanced up. Her stepfather loomed near the front door, staring down at the floor. He quickly looked up at her and snarled, “Did you track dirt into my house? You know to wipe your feet!”
She looked down at her bare feet, clean of any dirt or debris. She tried to remember if she’d been outside recently. Logic said no. She was a good ways into her book and she was pretty sure she’d read it in only one sitting so far. The tracks on the carpet were outlined in shoe treads. Her shoes were neatly placed on the mat next to the front door. She looked back up with a pleasant expression, preparing to relay all these steps that had given her the logical conclusion that she had not tracked dirt into his house.
Her stepfather was now closer, stomping his ways towards her. His expression ferocious. She dropped her book.
“I didn’t.” She whispered, “I take them off when I come in. I don’t wear them on the carpet.” Her voice seemed to be swallowed by the shadows of the room. He stopped just above her and leaned down. She made herself very still and her eyes did not meet his. She would be a good girl. Good girls do not cry or plead. Good girls merely listen.
“You will treat this house with respect. You will not dirty it. Do you understand me??” He hissed. She quickly nodded. Good girls respond to questions without complaint.
The stepfather did not agree with these rules apparently. His hand was suddenly clamped around her wrists. Her breath froze deep in her chest. She was a statue. She was ice. She was far away. Someone listened though.
“Did you get dirt on your hands too??” His hand tightened as he examined her palms. She made no sound. She was above pain. Good girls do not feel pain. “Wash your hands this instant.” The command registered with who listened and the moment the wrists were released, the girl was upstairs and in the bathroom.
She does not remember who locked the bathroom door. She does remember that she is supposed to wash her hands. It is done quickly, barely noting the fact that her hands are already clear of dirt. An angry part of her catalogues that fact away though.
Asshole it murmurs. It can say that word silently, deep in the recesses of the girl’s brain. Things are safe there.
She finishes and carefully opens the door and peeks out. Coast is clear. She darts quickly to her room and closes the door.
Again, there is no memory of locking the door. But it is locked. That is certain.
It is especially certain when the knob is tried mere minutes later and the door does not give way.
“What the hell?!” yells the stepfather from outside. The girl curls up into a small ball on her bed. Perhaps she can stop resembling a person. That might help. “Did you lock my fucking door? This is not your house!” The door is rattled. Girl is a tiny stone. She is a pebble. She is not a person.
The door is rattled again.
Then suddenly it splinters open.
Her breath freezes deep inside again. She unravels herself and lets the bits float up and away. It is a tactic she is good at. She can be seeds on the wind.
He is above her on the bed.
She is dandelion fuzz, granting wishes to all the little children of summer.
Her wrists are clamped again. He thrusts a small rectangular object in her face. Only part of the title registers in her fractured brain. B-A-B-Y-S-I-
“Don’t leave your shit downstairs.”
She is the fizz in a root beer float. The bubbles in a bath. She bobs on the surface with the rubber dolphin and Mermaid Barbie.
“Do you understand me?”
She is the spray of a sprinkler in summer. The droplets making tiny rainbows in the air.
“Hey. Do you understand me?!” The grip on her wrists tightens again. The pain crackles her brain and gives rise to someone. The eyes undeaden and she is no longer a pebble. She stares up at the stepfather.
“Yes.” Her voice is barely a murmur, but it is enough. The wrists are released and he leaves as suddenly as he came in.
The fractured doorframe and her splintered brain the only looming reminder.
And she had been doing so well.