I sat in our living room chair with Eliza in my lap.
“Okay. Now that you have the three sections, take the one to the far right and place it between the two strands on the far left and middle.” I struggled to control my fingers as I attempted to do as Katrina had instructed. I sighed in frustration as Eliza’s hair fell together, merging the middle and right strands. Katrina laughed.
“You’re supposed to take the right in your left hand!”
“What?” I sighed, “I think I give up. Eliza? Will you let your mother do it instead?”
“But Buck will be back soon with the food, then the guests will be here in an hour.”
“Won’t you let me do it, Lizzie?”
Eliza looked at Katrina with big brown eyes tinted with fear.
With red eyes, she slipped off my lap and ran upstairs to her room. I turned to Katrina who took in a shaking breath. As she let it out a tear slipped from her eye. She quickly brushed it away as I stood up and embraced her.
“Hey. You’re tired, yeah?”
“Yeah. Yeah, I want to lie down for a little. I’m- feeling a little overwhelmed.”
“Alright,” I said kissing her forehead. As she walked towards our bedroom she called back briefly,
“Make sure Buck puts the soda in the fridge this time!”
I chuckled to myself remembering our Easter party when a pack of soda cans was put in the freezer by mistake. An error which resulted in a fountain-like spray to burst from the first can opened and the still visible root beer stain on the living room rug. With a click of the garage door, Buck stumbled in, holding plastic bags marked with the Jenkins Market logo.
“Help,” he ordered through a lowered brow, seeing my blank expression and standing-still position. Laughing at his serious expression, I quickly took some of the bags from him and set them down on the kitchen counter. Beginning to unpack the chips, Buck paused a moment.
“Buck, won’t you start calling me Dad?” I answered, getting out serving bowls and spoons.
“Fine, Dad. Um, where’s Mom and Liz?”
“In their separate rooms.”
“Is everything okay?”
“I believe so… hm… perhaps we should check on them. The issue began when Elizabeth refused Katrina’s help on her hair.”
“She still doesn’t trust her then. That’s not unusual. It took me awhile to trust you.”
“Well, that’s true. She’s upset though. I think she feels she’s disappointed us.”
“Why’s Mom upset?”
“She’s tired. She’s also afraid. There’s a certain amount of pressure that comes with being a mother. She doesn’t want to disappoint you two.”
“So, should I go check on Eliza?”
“If it’s not too much trouble. And be sure to wish her happy birthday. Remember, this is the first birthday she’s been able to celebrate.”
“Yes. I remember,” he walked off smiling and rolling his eyes.
I smiled slightly, then walked off to the bedroom. Silently opening the door, I tapped on it gently. Katrina sat up and wiped her eyes.
“I know. I’m overreacting.”
“No,” I said, lying down on the bed next to her. She lied back down and rested her head against my chest.
“It’s harder than I thought it’d be,” she sniffed.
“Yeah. She wants to trust you.”
“I love her, and I don’t know how to show it.”
“Mhm. I understand.”
“I have to prove I don’t want to hurt her. How’d you get Buck to trust you?”
“I’m not sure… we found something in common?”
“Hm.” She sighed and sat up. “Alright. We can do this.”
“Get through the birthday party. Come on,” she smiled slightly, taking my hand.
Later, Eliza was on my lap again, chatting like nothing was wrong.
“And so- so now I can basically be a princess all the time,” she said, commenting on the new plastic tiara that rested on her head.
“Indeed,” I laughed. Jules came into the living room and sat down next to us.
“Hey Liz, your grandpa, and uncle just got here. You wanna go say hi?” A broad smile smoothed over Elizabeth’s face as she giggled with excitement and got up to run to the door. As her excited giggles mixed with my father’s soft excitement, Jules turned to me.
“You’re a strong Christian. What do you think of the shooting? Connie won’t talk about it.”
“What do I think of it? I believe it’s sad, obviously. What those people did was very wrong.”
“But people are angry. I mean, angry at Christians.”
“So? That’s nothing new, Jules.”
“Yeah but people think all Christians are responsible. They think it’s a part of Christian beliefs.”
“Then those people need to read the Bible more.”
“But shouldn’t we correct them?”
“Should we? Our call is love, not to reprimand or defend our beliefs for the sake of our own pride.”
“Hm. Are we in danger?”
“What sort of danger?”
“I don’t know. People are angry. It-”
“Well, yeah. It scares me a lot.”
I stared at her a moment, her green eyes sparking something. What was it? Something odd. A sort of prophetic shock. Why did I feel a connection with her? We’d hardly spoken before this- yet something somewhere in the future- there was… perhaps it was just a strange feeling.
“Have you prayed about your fear?”
“Will I be in trouble if I say no?”
“Well, I haven’t. Sorry, I’m just new at this.”
“It’s quite alright. I too sometimes forget to go to God with my fears. It’s an area in which we must discipline ourselves.”
As I spoke, Eliza skipped over with Everett.
“Hey, Eugene, do you still have that record player?”
“Oh. Indeed! It’s um- in the basement. Jules, would you excuse me?”
“Yeah, sure, I need to find Buck.”
“He might be in his room.”
I stared out my window, heart pounding, knowing Mr. Whittaker was downstairs even as I sat fiddling with the pencil between my fingers. A soft rap came from my door. I prayed it wasn’t Katrina. I didn’t want to talk about it, and I was afraid she’d make me talk about it. I was fine anyway. It wasn’t a big deal. My fear was just worse sometimes. That was it. What good would talking do anyway? It wouldn’t change what happened. My eyes plunged into a deeper daze as I remembered what’d happened a couple weeks ago. When Mr. Whittaker had-
“Buck?” I broke my stare as I realized someone was at the door. It didn’t take a long for me to realize it was Jules.
“Sorry, you can come in,” I answered. She entered, wearing a white, vintage-inspired sundress, an outfit that reminded me of something Clara Oswald from Doctor Who would wear. It’s crazy to think about it now. How important that dress turned out to be.
“You coming downstairs?” I shook my head, giving a non-specific answer.
“N-no… I-” why did she make me stumble over my words so much? I was sixteen- to mature for crushes. “I don’t like people.”
“I didn’t think I did either until I met Eliza.” I smiled despite my fear.
“Heh. She’s got a big personality.”
“She makes me wish I was an extrovert.”
“Hang around her for more than a day, and you’ll be glad you’re not. She’s actually super annoying sometimes.”
“So, what’re you afraid of?” She asked, sitting on my bed. She wasn’t leaving without an answer. I sighed. Might as well get it over with.
“Mr. Whittaker,” I said quietly. A confused expression rippled across her brow.
“Mr. Whittaker,” she repeated.
“Yeah,” I said, a lump in my throat. “I hate this,” I sniffed, surprised by how emotional I’d become about it. I dropped my pen and rested my head in my hand.
“Why are you scared of Whit?”
“I don’t know,” I lied, “He’s just- I’m afraid he’s going to hurt me,” I forced out, feeling childish.
“Like- Mr. Skint hurt you?”
I flinched. “How’d you know?” I’d never told her about the abuse- it’d never came up.
“Just a guess. Hey, I get it. My dad wasn’t physically abusive but-”
“Then you don’t get it,” I snapped, feeling suddenly angry. ‘She doesn’t understand. Why does no one understand?!’
“I was just going to say that-”
“You were just going to say that he hurt you verbally. And I’m sorry but it’s just not the same,” I stared at her in the eyes. I was emotional- it was all caving. With the shooting and Whit and everything. I bit back a curse meant for myself.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered.
“What can I do for you?” I didn’t expect that question. It took me awhile to answer.
“…I need help,” I finally said. “I was going to counseling- I thought it helped- but there’s more fear. Does it ever end?”
“I don’t know.”
That conversation was probably a little dumb. I mean. The way we were talking about suffering. Not that abuse wasn’t serious- but we didn’t know- how could we know?