I couldn’t bear to watch.
Blood had started pulsing in my ears, drumming with a roar that drowned out all other noise. Not that there was any. That much I could work out for myself as Luke lay motionless on the floor. Above him, his father was heaving huge breaths, towering over his son’s crumpled form.
Despite myself, I couldn’t help wondering if he felt any sort of remorse after he’d done it – anything like this. Surely you couldn’t walk away unaffected after inflicting such violence on your own son? It just wasn’t human. And yet the more I found out of Mr. Everett, the more cruel facts I uncovered about the home life Luke had been suffering over the last four years, the more difficult it became to convince myself he was even human in the first place.
Maybe I should’ve rushed in, thrown myself into the middle of it all – whatever it took to make sure Luke was okay. That was what a decent person would’ve done, I was sure. But in the heat of the moment, my muscles had locked into place, leaving me hovering behind the crack in the door and feeling far too exposed.
Eventually, I forced myself to get over it. Something was rising in my throat, and I was sure I was risking vomiting all over the Everetts’ hallway floor if I didn’t get out of there soon. With great effort, my muscles managed to un-stick themselves, and I turned to flee the house with a speed I’d later be ashamed of.
I hadn’t got what I came for. My schoolbag was still in the living room, balanced on one of the couch cushions, suddenly irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. I spared a brief thought for Monday’s math test, but there was no way I could pass with this type of weight on my mind, even if I spent the next forty-eight hours poring over my textbook. There was nothing I could do.
I considered going back. Really, I did. The image of Luke, lying sprawled on the ground as several books narrowly missed his head, had been burned permanently into my mind. He’d lifted his head – thank God he hadn’t been knocked unconscious, or I really didn’t know what I would’ve done – but the impact of the fall must’ve hurt.
And yet once I was out in the fresh air, gulping down breaths like the house had been lacking oxygen, the thought of slipping back through the front door was too much to handle.
I’d surely be in trouble if Mr. Everett caught me lingering. The decision was dead-end either way; stay or leave, there wouldn’t be a good outcome. So I forced myself to turn away from the house, trying to repeat the mantra that it wasn’t my place to get involved, ignoring the urge to run back and act like some sort of hero.
Of course I wanted that. To be able to get Luke away from the relentless suffering he was going through by living under the same roof as his father? I’d do it in a heartbeat. But the fact of the matter stood that it was much more complicated; there was no quick-fix solution for all this, no magic potion that could make it all disappear. It certainly wasn’t within my power to stop Mr. Everett, even if I did throw myself right in the midst of it. And I definitely didn’t want to go making anything worse.
This fact, along with the feeling of crushing helplessness that came with it, turned out to be the worst of it all.
The walk home was long, but I didn’t seem to realize it. My feet kept on moving, one step after another, a constant repetition when everything else was morphing around me. As I walked, I felt like I was breaking into fragments, shards splintering right off me, and by the time I reached my mother’s I was sure there should’ve been nothing left. The effort of holding myself together, clinging to those final pieces that stopped everything coming apart, was excruciating. I felt exhausted, like I’d been on the treadmill for ten hours straight, or hanging off the trapeze all night. Either one of those would’ve been more appealing than trailing up the inclined driveway to the house of number forty-two and letting myself in the front door.
YOU ARE READING
For seventeen-year-old Corey Ryder, life on the road is all she’s ever known. A trainee trapeze artist in her aunt’s circus, she’s never found herself in one place for more than a few weeks at a time. For her, it’s a way of life. But when a tragic a...