Chapter 48

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I find myself at a tree. The tree is old with hardly any leaves left on it, its branches like disfigured bones. The tree is in front of a house, a house that has three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a living area, dining area, spacious kitchen and lots of memories.

It's my house.

It's the one I was born in, eighteen years ago. It's the one I grew up in, waiting for my father to come home from work, terrorizing my mother by walking down the road as a toddler. Forever desperate to be free.

I dismount Todd's bike and kick the stand down. I don't know why I'm here. I wasn't even thinking about home. I guess I just want to see my house one more time. Especially that tree. It was the tree I fell out of when I was nine years old. My mother rushed me to the hospital. She spent the night with me while I was under observation for a concussion. And while I was sleeping, she told me she loved me. I never heard those words from her again.

I walk up to the front door as if in a daze. The doorbell isn't working; it never did.

I rap three times on the fly-screen door.

"Who is it?" comes a young, male voice. I know it's my brother Joel.

"It's ... Jess," I say. The voice doesn't sound like mine.

"Jess?"

A moment later I see a rough outline through the fly-screen. Joel is really tall now with a full figure and shaggy, black hair. He looks like Dad. He opens the door slowly, unsure why I'm here.

"Hi," I say and smile slightly. "Wow, you got old."

He doesn't laugh. "What are you ..."

"Is uh ... is Mom and Dad home?"

Joel rubs his right arm and nods. "Yeah, they're ... they're in the kitchen making dinner. Hey–" His eyes travel down my body and they widen. "Jess is that your blood?"

I look down. I'd forgotten Mercy's blood stains are all over my arms and my already tattered flannelette shirt. I roll down my sleeves and shake my head.

"No it's not. It's a long story. I just came to ... say a few things. Is that okay?"

Joel's face is white but he lets me in anyway. I walk into the house and feel an overwhelming sadness take over me. There are no photos of me on the wall. There's Joel on the rugby field and Christian shaking hands with someone in a suit. He must be seventeen now. I feel tears well in my eyes. I never really missed my family until now, and suddenly I'm regretting not being a part of their lives. Do they miss me? Or did they move on as if I never existed?

I look back at Joel. "How's college?"

He shrugs. "It's fine. My football scholarship saved my ass – all I have to do is win two more games and I'm set for next season."

"Good for you," I say earnestly.

He frowns. It looks like he wants to ask me something.

Before he can, my mother comes out of the kitchen. She screams. It's a suitable reaction. While she stands frozen in shock, my dad comes up behind her and my other brother pokes his head out of his bedroom at the end of the corridor.

"Jessie?" he calls.

"Jess ..." my mother breathes. "What–"

"You're in trouble, aren't you?"

I stare at my father, waiting for Mom to defend me but she doesn't. I feel the tears spill over. He knows I'm in trouble – when am I not? But he doesn't know exactly how terrible my circumstances are, and he won't until it's too late.

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