The sound of his chewing made her palms sweat. It echoed in her brain. It filled every empty chair around the table, every empty room in their house. He wanted to make her wait, to intimidate her, to show her he had control. It worked. Her stomach growled, and she didn’t know whether to blame the untouched plate sitting in front of her or the impatience he constantly berated her for having.
Jessica hadn’t planned on telling him. She knew she couldn’t hide it forever, but she thought she’d have more time. And she would have, if her body didn’t betray her, didn’t take her running out of the kitchen to empty the contents of her stomach. Stupid, she was so stupid. She should have just lied when he started asking questions, but what could she say? That she was drunk at 9:00 in the morning? That she had eaten something funny, before breakfast? She’d never risk getting trapped in that house for a full day by claiming she felt sick. She had left herself nothing but the truth.
Her father swallowed and placed his knife and fork down next to his plate. She didn’t want to meet his gaze but found she couldn’t look away. Her curiosity turned into self-preservation; she needed to know how he’d react, needed to be ready.
“So,” he said, “when are you getting rid of it?”
She flinched. “What?”
“When,” he said slowly, enunciating each word as if she were seven instead of seventeen, “are you getting rid of it? You know I can’t skip work to drive you.”
“I—” she started, before her courage evaporated. She looked down. “I know. I don’t need you to drive me.”
He took another bite. “Good. I guess that brain of yours works after all.”
She left the table before she could convince herself not to. She knew, she knew that she was making it worse, but every bone in her body was urging her to run and she had to listen.
As she fled, she wished for once that their absurdly enormous house left less distance between her bedroom and her father. She could hear his footsteps echo throughout the house. He walked slowly, casually, a predator sure he’d catch his prey. She had learned to listen to that sound years ago, learned to translate the silence between each step. It told her she would have to face him again, that she wouldn’t make it to her room before he made it to her.
It didn’t stop her from running.
He was angry now, and she couldn’t breathe. Jessica: rich, wealthy, she thought. She had started looking up names, what they meant. She wanted to be ready, just in case she needed one. She ran through as many as she could, the definitions becoming her mantra.
Richard: powerful. She had almost laughed when she read that one. Her father’s name fit him like a glove. He got whatever he wanted, and he wanted everything.
She had just climbed the staircase when she heard him.
“Did you run like that from the boy when you told him?”
Damien: sweet, harmless.
She stiffened, his gaze holding her in place at the top of the stairs. From the ground below, he smirked. “I see. He doesn’t know.”
Valeria: strength; Erin: peace. She took her arsenal of names and built a shield around herself. He had nothing but words. If they could hurt her, maybe they could save her too.
“If he’s got any sense, he’ll drive you to that appointment.”
Her defenses crumbled, a jumble of letters without any order. Her names couldn’t save her. He was going to take away each and every one of them.
She didn’t want to let go.
He had started to walk away when she called out, “He might want to keep it.”
He froze. Turning back toward her, he slowly made his way up the spiral staircase. Each step echoed throughout the foyer. Jessica didn’t dare move, not until he reached the top of the stairs. He stopped just inches away from where she stood, towering over her. “Now why,” he said, his voice barely above a whisper, “would he want that?”
He wanted her to sit in his silence. Fine. She built a pedestal out of broken names, let it carry her up to his level as she waited.
“You don’t get to know.”
He struck her across the face, sending her staggering backwards until she slammed into her bedroom door. “I don’t need you to tell me a damn thing about that boy. Look at the situation he got himself into,” he said, not hiding his disdain as he glanced her over. “I know enough.”
He took the last word with him as he left. Jessica watched his descent down the stairs, never once looking back at her. Once she knew he wasn’t coming back, she stormed into her room, digging out the empty duffel bag she’d hidden in her closet just a few weeks ago. Turning to place it on her bed, Jessica noticed a broken frame lying in her doorway, a casualty of her father’s wrath. She grabbed it from the floor and turned it over; Nadya, her mother, looked back at her, holding a year-old Jessica in her arms. Stealing the picture had been her first act of defiance; remembering her mother had been her second.
She placed the picture in her bag. Nadya, she thought. That’ll do.
Deanna Krikorian lives in Illinois. She is currently an undergraduate student studying English and Rhetoric at Drake University.
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