Ms. Martinez shoves a black garbage bag into my hands and whispers, “Hurry up, you have five minutes while I try and do some damage control,” before pushing me toward the hallway as Mrs. Bell approaches, fury in every taut line of her petite form.
Their loud argument follows me into the picturesque home, past pastel walls and perfectly level picture frames.
“Why the hell,” Mrs. Bell’s voice, normally so sweet and kind, is now hissed and venomous, “did you bring such a horrible liar into my home?”
“I’m so sorry, Mary.” Ms. Martinez’s voice is placating, but with a weary undercurrent. I duck my head in shame. “This isn’t the first time. She’s just acting out, trying to get attention.”
“Attenti–? The fucking police were here, what kind of excuse is–”
I wrench open the basement door and slam it behind me, cutting off the voices. I swallow my tears – I won’t cry, not again. Not for them.
I turn to go down the steps and jerk to a stop, the sight of his form at the bottom of the steps punching a high, terrified noise from my chest.
As he ascends, I press myself tight against the wall, garbage bag clutched to my chest. I turn my head to the side as he passes, his heat a hairsbreadth from my clammy, shaking hands. He opens the door, and I peek at his retreating form.
He’s looking right at me, smiling his monster’s smile, and the bruises on my thighs throb with the frantic pounding in my chest.
I turn and flee, stumbling, down the steps, his good-natured laughter chasing me.
I slam the bedroom door behind me and lean back against it, smiling shakily at the two other occupants.
“So… it’s true?” Thea says as she motions at the bag in my hand.
I nod and open it, shoving my clothes in. This has always been the worst part – like they’re saying that everything I own, everything I am, is nothing but trash.
“Why did you tell?” little Beau asks, curled on her bed. Thea and I had put her furthest from the door to protect her as much as we could.
“’Cause she thought the police would believe her. You idiot.” Thea’s voice is harsh and accusatory, her hurt both a weapon and a shield. She adjusts the glasses the Bells were kind enough to buy her. “You know the next place might be worse.”
I try to explain around the lump in my throat. “I had to try –”
“But why?” Beau interrupts, voice small and betrayed. “At least we were together.”
“After Friday night… I just had to.” Beau shudders and Thea looks away, lips pursed and eyes wet.
“So it’s my fault you’re leaving?” Beau whispers.
“No.” I sit next to Beau and pull her into my arms. Her tears soak the shoulder of my sweater. “None of this is your fault. I made a mistake and now I have to leave, that’s all. But I’ll see you again, I promise.”
Beau gives me a watery smile before burrowing into my arms, her hug tightening the band of guilt that suffocates my chest. I meet Thea’s eyes over Beau’s flyaway hair, and she covers her mouth and looks away.
We both know I won’t be able to keep that promise.
The basement door opens and Ms. Martinez’s voice carries down the steps. “Hurry up, it’s time to leave.”
I extricate myself from Beau’s grip and Thea takes my place. She holds the sobbing girl to her chest, and the inside of her glasses are wet with tears. “Goodbye.”
I nod and leave, garbage bag in hand as I walk up the steps and follow Ms. Martinez down the hallway.
Mr. Bell waits with his wife at the door.
He smiles at me, and I shudder. “I’ll really miss you, darling.”
“Well, I won’t.” Mrs. Bell opens the door. “You better get a handle on that lying tongue of yours, missy, or nobody will ever want you.”
The words are out before I can stop them. “Fuck you.”
Mrs. Bell gasps, and Ms. Martinez pushes me out the door. “Goodbye, so sorry, Mary.” She shoves me into her car and slams the door.
As we drive away Ms. Martinez sighs. “What am I supposed to do with you?”
“It doesn’t matter.” I clutch my garbage bag to my chest. “I’m just a liar.”