17 Stubborn Sister

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The sobs wreck me. Rip through my chest and clench my stomach. Tears and snot stream into my open mouth.

Mr. Thatcher sits beside me, twiddling his fingers. He politely averts his gaze while I cry. "This is a lot to take in, I know."

I glare at him through blurred eyes. "What the hell do you know?" My eyes fly to where Alex sits with an annoyingly cocked eyebrow. "You don't know anything about me."

Mr. Thatcher sucks in his breath. "Just calm down..."

Suddenly it's too hot and Aunt Shannon's book is too heavy on my lap. Heavy like the weight of the world. Stale air and Mr. Thatcher's sweet-sick body odor turn the burger in my stomach.

"You people knew about me. She knew about me. And she didn't do one thing to protect me or my sister."

"Now, that's not fair." Mr. Thatcher stands.

"Where was she when Ethan Morales ruined my life? She was so busy protecting these redneck girls, she forgot she had a family that could've used some of her voodoo."

"Didn't you read a damn word she wrote? By keeping you away from here, she was protecting you." Mr. Thatcher waves a bony finger in my face. "Once she heard what that Ethan fellow did to y'all, she did her best conjuring. Destroyed him. She deserves your thanks, not your complainin'."

Mom had a cellphone back in LA. She kept it on silent. One night, a year-and-half ago, as she snored on the couch from too much Hennessy, her phone buzzed like a bee on the kitchen counter.

The caller ID flashed: Los Angeles County.

I picked it up with shaking hands and answered in my best grown-up voice. My heart flipped and kicked as Detective Ramirez told me that Ethan Morales had died. A fiery transport accident as he was moved from the County Jail did the trick. He obviously wouldn't stand trial.

"This is bittersweet news," Detective Ramirez said in her accented English. "The murderer of your daughter has been brought to justice. Maybe not in the way you hoped for, but who are we to argue with God's judgement?"

The detective was right about Ethan meeting swift justice. It just happened to be at my great-aunt's hands, not God's.

But if Aunt Shannon was so damn friendly with these ghosts, why didn't she intervene before Mercy was killed?

Fighting a wave of nausea, I bolt to my feet, dropping the leather-bound journal on the sagging, thread-bare couch.

His nose misshapen and purple, Alex eyes me. I pace the living room, avoiding thick, orange cords and loose sheets of paper.

Could this all have been avoided, Mercy?

Could she have saved you? Saved us?

I rake shaking fingers through my unruly curls. Thoughts ram into each other. My head feels like it'll explode and leak out through my ears.

"I need air," I say.

Tripping over trash bags, I pour out onto Mr. Thatcher's porch and gulp in large amounts of wet air. Unlike Aunt Shannon's, his porch isn't covered.

The rain and hail pelt me. I'm glad it hurts. Anything to take my mind off of the magnitude of information that's been hurled at me.

I fling my head back and yell at the night sky.

"Mercy!"

My dream was right. You're not mad at me. Are you up there with Aunt Shannon now? What do you want me to do?

Help me get out of Pachuck. Please.

"You're probably freaked out." Alex's curt, accented voice hollers from behind me. The broken nose makes him sound congested. "But if Sheriff Colby drives by and sees you on this porch, he's gonna shower this place with a hail of bullets. Come back inside."

A wrought-iron rocking bench on the porch teeters back and forth. Rotting wood groans behind me as he moves closer.

I whirl to face him. "I'm not going back in that crazy hoarder's house! I'm waking my mom up and getting the hell out of this town tonight. Fuck these Colbys and their monster and these girls dumb enough to get themselves kidnapped."

The porch is shrouded in blackness. Alex takes a step. Even in the dark, I can see his jaw tighten.

"You're not the only one who's lost someone," he says. "My little sister was taken and sacrificed." Wrapping his arms around his body, he fights a shiver. His white t-shirt sticks like glue to his chest; the rain is slick on his biceps.

"Almost a year ago. I did yard work for your aunt, and though she tried to warn us, Laury wouldn't listen. My sister was really stubborn. I was really stubborn. She really wanted to be accepted by those fucking kids at Pachuck High. It was her first year going to school off of the Reservation so she really wanted them to like her."

The sky lets out a thunderous rip. Lighting tears through black velvet.

"When Thatcher approached me in the parking lot of the Buy For Less, telling me my sister was in danger, I socked him right in the mouth." Alex gives a rueful smile. "We've all grown up hearing awful things about The Dust. But I had my doubts. I thought Thatcher was as crazy as everyone thought. I didn't know that Thatcher's daughter didn't run away. Ms, Shannon helped her get away."

I grip the wooden railing. It wobbles at my touch. All of this information thrown at me makes me feel just as shaky.

"Since me and my sister lived on the Reservation, we were dumb enough to think The Dust couldn't get her. My grandma told us all of this shit about Cherokee fighting The Dust for hundreds of years. We didn't need The Shields. I actually insisted Laury stay away from Thatcher and your aunt."

Alex allows a shiver. It tears through his muscular frame. "A week later they took her."

A wet splinter in the wood cuts into my palm. I tear my hand away from the porch's rail.

"See?" Alex says, quietly. "I'm responsible for my sister's death, too."

"

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