She listened for a minute and pressed her lips together.
“Evan, I’m still not sure that’s the best idea.” She listened again. “Okay, we’ll meet you there in an hour.”
“What did he say?” I asked when she hung up.
“We’re going to meet him at his house in an hour. Em, I’m not sure that you taking off to who knows where is the best answer. I still think there’s a way out of this without you having to leave.”
“I know,” I agreed lowly. “But let’s at least hear him out.”
“Do you want me to come in with you?” Sara asked, glancing at the empty house.
“No, I won’t be long.”
“Emily?” George’s voice hollered after I heard the click of the back door.
I continued throwing things in my bags, ignoring him when he walked into my room. He took in the bags on my bed with confusion.
“What do you think you’re doing?! I received a call from the school saying you left upset and that they wanted us to come in to talk with them. What did you say?!”
“Don’t worry, George,” I turned to face him, raising my voice, “I didn’t say anything to them! But I can’t stay here and live like this anymore! I can’t live with her!”
He flinched at the anger in my voice. The alien tone was as difficult for him to hear as it was for me to project.
“You’re not leaving here,” he stated sternly, between clenched teeth. “Listen, we will straighten this whole thing out, but you are not leaving this house. Do you understand me?”
The underlying threat in his voice knocked me back. Could I walk past him? Would he let me? Should I sneak out the window after he leaves me alone?
I watched his posture soften and sadness wash over his face. I silently took notice of the resigned transformation.
“I understand you’re upset. And I promise you, we’ll figure out a way to work this out. None of us can live like this anymore. But leaving right now is not going to help anything. Carol’s staying with her mother tonight.
“We’ll go to the school together tomorrow and straighten everything out. There’s no need for anyone to get hurt by this. Just stay until tomorrow, and if you still want to leave after the meeting, we’ll make arrangements. Okay?”
My mind raced. Did he mean it? Would he let me leave tomorrow? I wouldn’t have to fly off to wherever Evan had planned to take me – I could stay here? Just one more night.
“Okay,” I whispered.
“Why don’t you go tell Sara that you’ll see her tomorrow.”
I slowly walked to Sara’s car, still trying to decide if I was making the right decision. Something in the depths of my stomach was begging for me to leave.
“I’m going to stay,” I told Sara quietly.
“What do you mean?” Sara questioned in a panic.
“She’s not staying here tonight. We’re going in to the school tomorrow morning to clear everything up, and he said that I could leave if I still wanted to after the meeting.”
“You believe him?” she asked, still uneasy.
“I have to,” I whispered, my eyes filling with tears. “He’s giving me an out without having to hurt anyone or run away.”
Sara got out of her car and hugged me. We wiped the tears from our eyes when we finally let go.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?” my voice rasped.
“Okay,” she whispered, sniffling. “What do I tell Evan? He’s not going to be happy when I show up without you. He’s probably going to want to come here to get you.”
“Sara, he can’t,” I pleaded. “Convince him that everything will be okay and I’ll see him tomorrow. Please, can you do that?”
“Make him listen. I promise everything will be okay.”
I tried to move, but there was resistance. Confused, I tugged at my arms – they wouldn’t follow. I started to breathe quickly, through my nose – my mouth wouldn’t open. I frantically looked around in the dark. Where was I?
Then I couldn’t see at all. There was something over my face. My heart beat hysterically, like it was going to explode in my chest. I pulled harder at my arms which were strung above my head. I heard the jangling of metal as the sharp edges of the restraints dug into my wrists.
“I am not losing my family because of you,” she seethed.
Panic consumed me. I started squirming, screaming as loud as the restricted covering would allow. The pillow pressed against my face. I shook my head back and forth vigorously, trying to remove it. It wouldn’t shift enough to provide me air.
There was pressure on my chest. I tried to twist to get her off. That’s when her cold hands gripped around my neck. I screamed louder, but my frantic pleas were muffled by the tape. I flipped my body back and forth – the restraints on my wrists and the weight on my chest wouldn’t allow me to escape her strangling grasp.
This couldn’t be happening. Please someone hear me.
I pulled at the restraints – the edges scraped away my flesh. I strained to pull harder, needing to be free of their hold. I couldn’t find my breath as her grip tightened. I needed to cough, but the air wouldn’t escape.
I pushed against the bed with my feet, arching my back. The strain of our weight pulled at my shoulders, and heard something pop; then a searing pain catapulted through my shoulder.
One of her hands released its hold. I sucked in a breath full of air, the effort burning my throat. I shrieked in agony when the bones of my ankle crunched with the impact of something she swung into it. I collapsed onto my back, my breath faltering. The darkness swirled as the torturous pain overtook me. I fought the pull taking me under.
The cold clutches returned to my throat, squeezing harder. I choked, trying desperately to breathe in. The air didn’t come.
I needed someone to hear me. I swung my left leg toward the wall with all my force, pounding against it. The adrenaline and panic shrouded the pain.
The pressure in my head continued to build. My lungs burned. The claws around my neck crushed in deeper.
I pounded on the wall one more time. Please someone hear me.
I could feel it pulling me under. I couldn’t struggle anymore. The burning was too much. I gave in, collapsing beneath the hands, and succumbing to the darkness.
In the uneven balance of my life, I experienced love and loss, more loss than I thought I could handle. But the love was unexpected. I almost missed out on it, too afraid and uncertain to give it a chance.
Love helped me live life instead of just survive it. It challenged my resolve, proving I was stronger than I ever thought possible. The comfort of it healed my wounds and caressed my scars. It gave me the confidence to stand taller than the inches within my body. In the dark, I searched for it, yearning for its reprieve, only finding that I was alone.
I couldn’t feel the pain of my broken body. I couldn’t hear the beats of my heart fading within my chest. I couldn’t listen to the agonizing pleas as he clutched me against him. It was silent. All that was left was… me.
In the silence, there was peace. A peace that came too soon, but I sought refuge in its release. Release from the pain, the chaos and the fear. Being comforted by the unfamiliar calm would require a sacrifice I didn’t want to make; but I didn’t know if I had the strength to fight.
I knew time was slipping. I could no longer ignore the dwindling pulse. The thumping struggled to keep pace. The darkness pushed in around me. There was an ease to slipping away – giving in to the quiet and finding the resolution of nothingness. I was drawn to the resignation. I tried to hold on to the memories of my sacrifice – the warmth, the flutters, the truth in his eyes. Was life a choice?
In the balance of love and loss, it was love that made me struggle to… Breathe.