Until You

By: Penelope Douglas


I knew I sounded stupid. I didn’t want to make it seem like she had it better than me. I just felt like I should tell her anything to make her feel good.

Even hug her, which is what I really wanted to do right now.

But I didn’t. I changed the subject.

“I saw that your dad has an old car.”

She didn’t look at me, but she rolled her eyes. “It’s a Chevy Nova. Not just an old car.”

I knew what it was. I wanted to see if she did.

“I like cars.” I kicked off my DC shoes, letting them fall to the ground, and she did the same with her red Chucks. Our bare feet swung back and forth in the air. “I’m going to race at the Loop someday,” I told her.

Her eyes perked up, and she turned to me. “The Loop? What’s that?”

“It’s a race track where the big kids go. We can go there when we’re in high school, but we have to have a car. You can come and cheer for me.”

“Why can’t I race?” She looked mad.

Was she serious?

“I don’t think they let girls race,” I said, trying not to laugh in her face.

She narrowed her eyes and looked back to the street. “You’ll make them let me.”

The corners of my mouth turned up, but I held back my laugh. “Maybe.”

Totally.

She held out her hand for me to shake. “I’m Tatum, but everyone calls me Tate. I don’t like Tatum. Got it?”

I nodded, taking her hand in mine and feeling a rush of heat spread up my arm again. “I’m Jared.”





6 Years Later …



The blood spills over my bottom lip and onto the floor like a long strip of red paint. I let it pool in my mouth until it dribbles out, since everything hurts too damn much to spit.

“Dad, please,” I beg, my voice shaking as my body shivers from the fear.

My mom was right. He’s a bad man, and I wish I’d never talked her into letting me spend the summer with him.

I kneel on his kitchen floor, shaking, with my hands tied behind my back. The itchy rope bites into my skin.

“Are you begging, you little pussy?” he snarls, and the strap whips my back again.

I squeeze my eyes shut, wincing, as fire spreads across my shoulder blades. Closing my mouth, I try not to make any noise as I breathe through my nose until the burning fades away. The skin on my lips feels stretched and swollen, and the slippery metallic taste of blood fills my mouth.

Tate.

Her face flashes in my mind, and I crawl back into my head where she is. Where we are together. Her sunshine hair floats on the wind as we climb the rocks around the fish pond. I always climb behind her in case she stumbles. Her stormy blue eyes smile down at me.

But my father breaks through. “You don’t beg! You don’t apologize! That’s what I get for letting that cunt raise you all these years. Nothing but a coward now. That’s what you are.”

My head jerks back and my scalp stings as he yanks me by my hair to meet his eyes. My stomach rolls when I smell the beer and cigarettes on his breath.

“At least Jax listens,” he grits out, and my stomach shakes from the nausea. “Isn’t that right, Jax?” he yells over his shoulder.

My father releases me and walks over to the deep freezer in the corner of the kitchen and pounds twice on the lid. “You still alive in there?”


Every nerve in my face fires with pain as I try to hold back tears. I don’t want to cry or scream, but Jax, my father’s other son, has been in the freezer for almost ten minutes. Ten whole minutes and not making a sound!

Why is my father doing this? Why is he punishing Jax when he’s mad at me?

But I stay quiet, because that’s how he likes his kids. If he gets what he wants, maybe he’ll let my brother out. He has to be freezing in there, and I don’t know if he has enough air. How long can someone survive in a freezer? Maybe he’s already dead.

God, he’s just a little kid! I blink back the tears. Please, please, please…

“So…” My father walks over to his girlfriend Sherilynn, a crazy-haired crack head, and his friend Gordon, a fucking creepy ass lowlife who looks at me weird.

Both sit at the kitchen table enjoying whatever drug is on the menu today, not paying any attention to what is going on with the two helpless kids in the room.

“What do y’all think?” My father puts a hand on each of their shoulders. “How are we gonna teach my boy to be a man?”



I jerked awake, my pulse pounding in my neck and head. A drop of sweat glided over my shoulder, and I blinked, seeing my own room and walls come into view.

It’s okay. I breathed hard. They’re not here. It was just a dream.

I was in my own house. My father wasn’t here. Gordon and Sherilynn were long gone.

Everything’s okay.

But I always had to make sure.

My eyelids were heavy as fuck, but I sat up and hurriedly scanned the room. The morning light blared through my window like an air horn, and I brought my hand up to shield my eyes from the painful rays.

The shit on my dresser had been shoved to the floor, but it wasn’t unusual for me to make a mess when I was wasted. Other than some disarray, the room was quiet and safe.

I let out a long breath and inhaled again, trying to slow down my heart as I continued looking left to right. It wasn’t until I’d made a full circle that my eyes finally rested on the lump next to me under the covers. Ignoring the ache between my eyes from the alcohol the night before, I peeled the blanket back to see who I was dumb enough—or drunk enough—to let spend the whole night at my house.