Brief TW: Abuse
Sierra is shuffling out of the bathroom with a yawn when the front door opens. She pauses, her brow furrowing, and she turns her head towards the top of the stairwell. For a moment, the house is still, the clinking of the plates her father is putting away slicing off into a void of silence. The analog clock at the end of the hallway says it’s 10:54 at night. She hears the door shut.
“I thought I took your keys away,” her father says.
“I want to see my kid,” a low female voice slurs, and Sierra rushes to cover her mouth so they don’t hear her gasp.
“Are you drunk?” her father asks.
“I wanna see Sierra.” Her mother’s heels click twice against the hardwood floor.
“Well, you don’t get to. You don’t live here anymore, and our daughter is seventeen. She can decide for herself whether she wants to see you or not.”
“She’s not your daughter.”
“Mine. She’s mine. I gave birth to her and you didn’t.”
“You are so drunk.”
“I wanna see her.”
Sierra holds her breath as she tiptoes across the carpet, hiding behind the wall as she peeks down the stairs. Her father is standing at the dishwasher in the kitchen, a plate still in his hand as he grits his teeth, glaring at the woman who must be standing in the entryway.
“Get out of my house,” he intones, but her mother’s shrill voice overlaps him.
“Sierra!” she calls, her heels clacking as she stumbles into view, her red dress and frizzy hair all Sierra sees before she darts back around the corner, hissing in a breath. She presses her back against the wall as her eyes flit to her bedroom door. She’d have to cross in front of the stairwell to get there, an action that would most certainly get her caught.
“Don’t you dare go up there!” her father yells and she flinches, listening as pounding footsteps race to the bottom of the stairs, the banister creaking as something presses against it. He must be blocking her from coming up, she concludes.
“Sierra! Si—Robert, move. Sierra, baby, it’s your mom!”
“Chelsea, you need to leave, you—”
“—had sixteen years to see her and you know what?”
Her mother shrieks and her heart flattens against her ribcage, her breaths erratic as she glances around the corner to see that her father has taken hold of her mother’s wrists, towering over her and doing his best to back her away from the stairs.
“You know what, Chels?” he continues as she struggles against his hold.
“Let me go!”
“You hurt her. You hurt her, and you hurt me, and you hurt this family, and—”
“I love her, Robert!”
“You don’t hurt the things you love on purpose!” He’s almost got her to the entryway now, and if they go any further, she’ll lose sight of them—or, rather, they would lose sight of her. She angles her body towards her room, fervently glancing between them and the open doorway.
“‘s not my fault she’s crazy!” her mother screams and Sierra squeezes her eyes shut.
“Seeing things in the night does not make her crazy!” her father roars and despite the shame stabbing her heart, a hint of a smile graces her lips at his defense of her. Her eyes dart around the corner to check if she’s clear yet, only to watch as her mother lifts her foot to kick her father in the thigh with her stiletto. He cries out as the heel pierces his skin, his hold loosening, and her mother manages to stagger around him.
Her father grunts, grabbing her wrist to pull her back and that’s when Sierra runs, taking four steps across the hallway into her room and closing the door as quietly as she can. The sounds of the scuffle downstairs are muffled as she pants, glancing wildly around her room for something to bolt her door shut with.
Her phone buzzes on the dresser, the screen glowing in the darkness and she cranes her neck to peer over at it.
‘Run’ it reads. It’s from her father.
In the next beat, a thwack comes from downstairs, and it’s her father’s shout of pain that shoves her into yanking her phone from its charging cable, stuffing her feet in her tennis shoes, and throwing on her jacket.
She can hear the thunking of stiletto heels against their wooden stairs, and she hesitates for half a moment before she sets her jaw and jerks her door open.
“Sierra, baby!” Her mother stands on the fifth step, wobbling as she reaches out for her. Sierra rushes past, using the woman’s instability to shove her against the railing as she takes the steps two at a time. She glimpses her father in her peripheral vision—he’s collapsed against the kitchen island, a hand clutching at the right side of his face with a stream of blood dripping from his nose, and she rushes past him into the entryway as her mother resumes screaming her name. Yanking the door open, she darts outside, slams the door closed, and begins to sprint as fast as she can away from her home.
She runs, the wind whipping tears from her eyes, until she can’t anymore, her side pinching, then cramping, and she grunts, slowing her pace. She hunches over, her hands on her knees and she fights to gulp air into her lungs. Her chest aches, her legs wobble, but once her heartbeat quiets from the thunder it had been booming out, she looks up.
She’s still in a neighborhood, though this one is only half-familiar like she’d driven through it once or twice. Pulling out her phone, she unlocks it and opens a map, concentrating on shallowing out her breaths. She begins to walk as she traces the route she’d taken from her house, frowning when she sees she’d darted down a side street she’d never been on before, leading her to ‘Pine Ridge Estates’ as the screen says. She gnaws on her lip before she begins to scroll around her location on the map, looking for a place she could go for the night.
She can’t go back home until her father says it’s safe, not when her mother’s drunk. Her mother shouldn’t even be there—her place was in the next city, a small, dingy apartment she’d gotten the same day as the divorce. There wasn’t a car parked in the front when she’d ran out, so she must’ve called an Uber from wherever she had gotten wasted.
And for what? So she could cut Sierra’s hard-earned self-respect back down to where it was? So she could topple the delicate family structure she and her father had rebuilt? Was she there just to hurt them? Her body shivers as an image of her mother punching her father floats through her thoughts, her stomach squirming in revulsion.
She’d only ever been hit a few times, all within about ten seconds one horrible night.
It was six months ago, and she was asleep—that is until her mother snuck outside for a smoke. She flicked on the back porch light, the one right under Sierra’s window, and Sierra awoke to (bomb bomb explosion bomb under the house detonated run run run) her feet carrying her out of bed, flying out of her room (bomb five seconds you’re going to die run get out go), down the stairs, across the floor (death explosion death scared run far go get out) to the door. She was screaming like she was being murdered (she was) as she threw open the front door, intent on running out into the night when a pair of hands grabbed onto her (to keep you in the house they want you to die with the house they want you to die let go let go) and she’d kicked, screamed, writhed until the hands of her mother spun her around (not safe not safe not safe). A palm smacked across her cheek, and she cried out, stumbling away from the figure towards the door (they want you hurt and dead dead dead), only for the palm to hit her again on the other cheek, then again, again and again until she was sobbing on the floor, and there wasn’t a bomb as her conscious realigned with reality.
“Stupid,” her mother muttered, flicking her forehead. “Stupid girl, go back to bed.”
She learned two things that night. One, she hated her mother. Two, touch kept her in the episodes longer.
Night terrors, she called them. It was the closest label the Internet could provide her and while not all her symptoms matched up with the textbook definition, she needed a name, an excuse against insanity. Night terror victims would wake up afraid, disoriented, and screaming at nothing, although Sierra knew what she screamed at.
She screamed at the things that appeared in her room—the knives, the animal skulls, the dead corpses. She screamed at the doomsday situations she would wake up to—the collapse of reality, the extinction of mankind, the bombs. All of it intended to hurt her, murder her in the night until the logical part of her brain woke up and wiped it out of her vision. She’d be left staring at a room that looked the same as it had when she fell asleep and confronted with a mother in the morning who called her ‘broken’ under her breath.
Her mother called her a lot of things, but that may have been the worst of all.
She had never liked “baby” either—it was used when her mother needed something from her. “Sierra, baby,” she’d coo when she meant, “Please don’t tell your father I called you useless.” “Please don’t let anyone know how much I drank last night.” “Please don’t tell your teacher I threaten to smack you every time you fail a test.”
She blinks as a strong gust of wind whips around her and she groans when she realizes she’s been walking without thought. She unlocks her phone, her fingers darting around the map, scrolling and resizing until a name catches her eye.
‘Coralstone Dr.’ it reads. She scrunches her brow, trying to remember why that name sounds familiar, and she navigates to her contacts, typing the street into the search bar. There’s one result.
Connor Forrester lives at 3071 Coralstone Dr., and she smiles when she sees his contact still has a blushing face next to his name. Copying his address into the map, the red pin shows her his house is only three streets over. She hasn’t talked to him in two years, but it’ll have to work. Her heart starts to pound at the thought of seeing his face again, and she rolls her eyes as she starts walking. Schoolyard crushes would have to wait until she was safe and Connor had never been anything but.
Their television is on when she arrives, the glow of a sports game lighting up their front window. Two figures sit in the living room, and she blows out a breath before she tiptoes up their driveway. Steeling herself, she knocks four times against the door and when she lowers her hand, she realizes she has no plans for what she’s going to say. She has two seconds to panic before there’s movement in the living room, and the door is pulled open by Connor’s older brother.
They stare at each other for a beat, her hands stuffing themselves into her jacket pockets before she whispers a quiet “Hi Jordan.”
“Uh…hi. Are you—are you looking for Connor?”
She shuffles her feet. “Is he awake?”
“I guess I could go check. Um…do you want to come in?”
“Yes, please,” she responds, and he moves back so she can step into the house. When he closes the door behind her, the tension begins to seep out of her shoulders as she discovers the Forrester house still smells like cinnamon apples.
“I’ll go get him,” Jordan mumbles, before he dashes up the stairs, leaving her in the entryway.
Not much has changed, she muses as she looks around. They’ve gotten a little older in their family pictures, but they still have the grand piano in the living room, the unfinished puzzle on the kitchen table, the painting of the Last Supper on their wall. She has to smother her chuckle when she sees Connor’s dad asleep in the recliner, the crowd of the football game quietly cheering in the background.
Footsteps draw her attention to the stairs, and she feels her breath catch as her eyes meet Connor’s. She swallows hard as he pauses, his brow furrowed, his hands resting on the banister.
“Hi, Sierra,” he whispers, his head tilting in confusion. He pads down the rest of the stairs in socked feet and approaches her with a small smile. “What are you doing here?”
“I—hi. I have a favor to ask.”
“Yeah, sure, anything. What’s up?”
“Um, can I sleep here tonight?”
He opens and closes his mouth before he frowns.
“Why? Are you okay?”
She hesitates, then shrugs, her glance dropping down to her feet. “Family problems,” she mumbles.
He’s silent for a moment before he steps closer and suddenly, he’s wrapping her in his arms, and she’s crying. Her body trembles as she lets the adrenaline from the night bleed out with her tears and dear Lord, she hasn’t been this close to him since sophomore year, but he feels like home.
After what feels like hours, she lets out a rattling breath, and she untangles herself from him, wiping at her eyes and missing his warmth.
“You can stay here tonight,” he murmurs. “My parents won’t mind, I promise.”
“Yeah. Let me go grab you some sheets from the linen closet, alright? I’ll be right—” He pauses midsentence, the crease in his brow returning. “I don’t know where you can be, though. Morgan’s moved back into our guest room, and I’d offer you the living room, but…” He gestures to his dad, who is now drooling against the headrest.
“Oh,” she replies, her fingers beginning to fidget with one another. “Then I can go, that’s alright.”
His face lights up. “What about the treehouse?”
She blinks twice. “It’s still up?”
He grins. “Yeah, of course, why wouldn’t it be?”
A smile begins to curl up her lips, remembering flashes of their time spent reading stories sprawled on that treehouse floor, watching the sunset through the cracks in the wood, trading secrets and, when they got older, letting their fingers brush against the other’s as they whispered about the future.
“I’d love that,” she murmurs.
It doesn’t take them very long to gather enough blankets and pillows for both of them after Connor bashfully asks if he can join her, and she tells him she wouldn’t want it any other way. They tiptoe into his backyard, closing the back door with care so it doesn’t squeak, before making their way across the grass to the wooden treehouse perched among the branches of the corner oak tree. Connor throws their bedding upwards, landing them on the balcony of the structure on his first try and she grins as she scurries up the ladder with him close behind. There’s a comfortable silence as they duck inside the house and begin setting up their makeshift beds.
The blankets are warm and cozy when she finally climbs under them, pulling the fabric up to her chin as she watches him do the same. For a few moments, they just breathe, listening to the crickets chirp and the breeze rustle the leaves quietly.
“How are you?” she hears him ask and she looks over to see him curled on his side facing her. She mimics his position before she responds.
“What do you mean?”
He chuckles. “I mean, how are you really? How have you been? How are you now? How’s your family? How are you?”
She shrugs. “I’m fine.”
One of his eyebrows quirks up, and she almost laughs at how unconvinced he looks.
“Okay, how about this—what happened tonight?”
Her mirth dies away and she answers when she’s ready, telling him all that he’s missed. She starts at the divorce, explaining how her mother had fallen away from her responsibilities as a mom and a wife and how her father had gotten fed up with her. She lays out how her relationship with her father had crumbled under the stress of picking up the emotional and financial slack her mother left behind, and when Connor looks near tears, she rushes to assure him that things had gotten better. He looks relieved until her story takes her to the retelling of the night’s events, and he reaches out to squeeze her hand as she mumbles her way through her mother’s drunkenness, the red flags of violence she was showing and the overwhelming urge she felt to escape the woman in any way she could.
Through it all, he listens and he listens and he listens. Once everything is off her chest, he offers every ounce of his sympathy, telling her how strong she is, how he’s glad she told him, and that she’s always welcome in their house if she needs to get away. She squeezes his hand tightly in thanks as her eyelids begin to droop.
“You getting tired?” he whispers, and she nods before she forces her eyes open to frown at him.
“I want to hear about how you are, though,” she says, and he shakes his head.
“We can always talk more in the morning.”
She hums her agreement, withdrawing her hand, and snuggling into the covers.
“M’kay,” she murmurs as she lets her eyes close shut. “Thank you for letting me stay.”
“Of course,” he replies before he goes quiet, and the sound of his breaths lulls her close to sleep. She’s about to slip under when she hears him shifting, and he presses his lips to her temple.
“You’re safe,” he whispers. “You’re safe.”
. . .
(The world is deconstructing)
Her heart is pumping adrenaline before she opens her eyes, and when she does, the world is shadows (swirling shadows deteriorating into oblivion they left you behind), and she’s on her feet in the next moment (you’re next the earth will swallow you next), staggering as she struggles to find her balance (the ground is tilting sideways you are the last survivor), and she stumbles to the entrance (there’s no life left this is the end the end the end), suffocating, pleading, helpless (you don’t want to die please God no you want to live). A voice calls her name, and she whirls around, her footsteps sporadic (you’re not the only one), and there’s movement, and she can’t stop her staggering feet as the figure comes closer, and a pair of hands latches onto her shoulders (Mom Mom Mom it’s Mom she found you she’s here she found you), and she screams. (Her mother) calls her name, and her voice is all wrong, and (she found you let go let go she will always find you) she pushes at the hands, shoving the figure hard, (you will never be safe) and they give a cry of surprise, and she turns to run. Her foot catches something solid
and suddenly, the world is tilting for real. She shrieks as she plummets, her stomach swooping the ground rushes closer, closer, closer.
When she hits, there’s a crunch—a cry of her name and then nothing at all.