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Safe and Sound

By:Lindy Zart

 For Jamie and Joshua

1



No one wanted to know about her problems. They acted concerned, but as soon as she began to talk, they changed the subject. Their eyes glazed over. They turned away.

Lately whenever anyone asked how she was doing, Lola smiled and said everything was okay. Even if it wasn't. And it never was.

She blinked her burning eyes and slammed the locker door shut. Kids hurried up and down the hall, eager to get out of the stuffy brick building. Voices overlapped until it was one loud buzzing noise in her ears. Cologne and perfume and body odor polluted the air. Lola hunched her shoulders and lowered her head, trying not to draw attention to herself as she walked down the corridor.

It was a small school, as Morgan Creek, Wisconsin was a small town with a population under two thousand. There were less than one hundred kids in each grade. Still enough to make the hallway crowded as she maneuvered her way outside.

The thought of going home made her stomach queasy. Lola sucked in a ragged breath of the cool spring air and squinted her eyes against the bright day her pale blue eyes were forever sensitive to. She should have learned by now to carry sunglasses with her. One more thing she couldn't seem to do right.

She was jostled from behind. Lola tightened her grip on the backpack strap and kept walking. Tree limbs swayed in the breeze, showing off their new green leaves. She turned down the sidewalk. Footsteps echoed her own. Lola glanced behind her, her pace slowing.

Sebastian averted his eyes and rushed past when she paused. He didn't say anything, didn't acknowledge her in any way. Lola stared after his tall, lanky frame, wondering why it still hurt so much. They hadn't spoken in close to a year, not since before her seventeenth birthday.

One year was enough time to move on, to forget the pain, to get over a lost friendship. Why did her chest and throat still tighten every time he brushed by her? Every time their eyes met and his slid away?

Lola swallowed. The house before her blurred and she blinked until it came into focus. It was a tan ranch-style with brown trim. The grass was overgrown and ready for its first cut of the year. A fold-up chair lay on its side near a towering pine tree.

She slowly made her way to the door, her racing pulse at odds with her movements. Lola went through a mental list in her head, trying to think of what she may or may not have done to cause his anger.

Hand on the cool door handle; she looked over her shoulder to the house across the street. Sebastian stood there, hands in his jeans pockets. He watched her, his expression blank.

The wind ran invisible fingers through his light brown hair, tousling it. When their gazes locked Sebastian turned away and went inside. Lola had no choice but to do so as well.



Lola took a deep breath and quietly opened the door. She wrinkled her nose. It smelled like unwashed bodies and fried food. The living room was dark. The television was on, the volume low. Lola found the remote under an old newspaper and turned the TV off.

The house had once been spotless and smelled of whatever cake or cookies her mother was baking when she got home from school. Now it was dirty except for when Lola cleaned, and there was no baking. Other than glimpses of and shortly held conversations, there was no mother either.

Lola took a deep breath against the sharp pain in her chest.

She righted a pillow, straightened magazines on the coffee table. Lola folded a blanket and put it on the arm of the tan recliner. Lola opened the windows to allow fresh air in. She sprayed fabric freshener on the furniture and started to vacuum.

"What the hell are you doing?" a low voice growled in her ear.

Lola jumped and fumbled with the off switch on the vacuum cleaner. She backpedaled away from Bob until her back hit the wall.

"Nothing," she was quick to answer.

Bob was over six feet tall and burly. He had a gut that hung over his pants from all the beer he drank. His black hair was thinning and he had oily skin. His features were plain, but the ever-present sneer on his lips and unkind gleam in his small brown eyes showed his true nature. He had on a stained white tee shirt and his pale, hairy legs could be seen below his red boxers.

He punched the vacuum cleaner to the floor with a beefy fist. "It doesn't look like nothing." Bob advanced on her, the smell of unwashed skin amplifying. "Are you lying to me, girl?"

Lola shook her head, strands of auburn hair sticking to her flushed cheeks. "No! I was just … just cleaning." She pressed her back flat to the wall, wanting to sink into it and away from him.

Bob put his face close to hers, his breath hot and putrid. Lola turned her head to the side and squeezed her eyes shut. "So you were lying. You said you were doing nothing and you were doing something."   





 

Her stomach turned as his breath hit her. "Please," she whispered.

Bob shoved away from the wall. "Your mother is trying to sleep. In case you forgot, she works third shift. Keep it down." He shook a finger at her. "No vacuuming."

"No vacuuming. Sorry. I should have known that."

His lips twisted. Bob ambled from the room, kicking over a soda can as he went. Fizzy brown liquid soaked through the carpet in an uneven circle.

She went to her knees, anger and fear and relief warring inside her. She hated Bob; she was also terribly scared of him. Lola's body trembled and tears seeped from the corners of her eyes, dropping to her lap.

At times like this, she almost hated her mother as much as him. How could she allow this to happen?

A sob escaped her. Lola put a hand to her mouth and slowly got to her feet. She took a deep, calming breath. And another. This time wasn't so bad. It could have been worse. With that thought in her mind, Lola cleaned up the spilled soda.



Lola's bedroom was her safe haven, the one place in the whole house where she wasn't afraid. The room she spent as much time in as she could when she had to be at 310 Sycamore Drive.

She sat on her bed with the pink and white polka dot bedspread. Lola and her mother had picked it out together. Before. She ran a hand across the soft material, sadness washing over her.

The bedroom was big enough for the daybed, dresser, and computer desk, but not much more. A full-length mirror hung on the back of the door. She and her mother had painted the walls lavender. The lone window in the room had iridescent curtains that shimmered in rainbow colors when the sun shone.

Everything in the room had been done pre Bob Holden. It had been so long ago some days all those happy memories seemed like they had all been nothing but a dream. All the laughter and smiles shared with her mom. Maybe none of it had ever happened. Maybe it was all in her head and now was the reality and always had been.

Her mother had met Bob when he'd started working third shift at Ray-O-Vac, the factory outside of town that made batteries. At first he hadn't seemed so bad. At first Lola had thought everything might be okay. As soon as he'd moved in, he'd gotten mean. And once he and her mother married, he'd gotten even meaner.

It had started out with a teasing comment that wasn't exactly teasing, ridicule, a criticism, and escalated into physical and mental abuse. A pinch here, a shove there, a slap across the face, name calling. And what had her mother done about it? Nothing. She had done nothing and she continued to do nothing.

A knock sounded at the door and Lola scrambled to her feet, her pulse immediately racing.

Please don't be him.

"Lola?"

The door opened and there stood a washed-out version of Lana Murphy; now Lana Holden. She wore a red shirt that went to her knees and black pajama pants. Her auburn hair was dull and showed gray.

Lana's pale blue eyes were tired and shadows had found a home beneath them. Her stooped shoulders made her seem shorter than her five feet six inches; her body was thin to the point of unhealthy.

Lola stood by her bed, keeping her distance. "Hi, Mom."

It physically hurt Lola to look at her mother. It was her mom, but it wasn't. The changes had been so gradual Lola hadn't noticed them until one day she'd looked at her sad, worn-out mother and hadn't recognized her.

Lana's lips turned up in a fleeting smile. "Hi, honey. Did you start supper?"

Her skin flushed and she looked at the glowing red numbers of the alarm clock on the stand beside her bed. "Of course I did. I do every night, don't I?"

Her mother's face fell and Lola's chest constricted. She looked down so she didn't have to see the pain in her mother's eyes. "Thank you for that. I'm just so tired all the time." Lana lifted a hand to her limp hair and let it fall to her side. "I don't know what's wrong with me," she mumbled, turning away.

Lola wanted to scream at her, to shake her. She wanted to throw something, to hit the wall. Anything to get her attention, to force her to wake up.

You know what's wrong and you do nothing about it!

Her hands fisted and she clenched her teeth. The words she so desperately wanted to shout would have no effect on her mother except to make her sad. And then Bob would get involved. She knew from experience.



Lola worked most nights at Granger's, the local grocery store in Morgan Creek. Three to four hours at the cash register on weeknights and usually six hours either Saturday or Sunday, but sometimes both days. It was how she paid for her clothes and whatever else she wanted that Bob didn't consider a necessity.   





 

She'd been saving up for a car and had close to one thousand dollars in her savings account. Another thousand and Lola would have enough to get a somewhat decent car.

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