Elaine leaned farther out the window, stretching the muscles in her arms to their limits. She closed her eyes and smiled at the breeze that caressed her cheeks, cooling the fever that raged inside her.
Her mother interrupted the bonding session Elaine was enjoying with Mother Nature.
“Get back in your bed, girl! Aren’t you afraid of catching your death of cold?”
“I’m not afraid of anything,” answered Elaine.
“You’ll be afraid of your father’s belt if you don’t listen to me, now get!”
“I’m not afraid of anything,” Elaine insisted. “But I’ll get in bed to make you feel better.” Slowly, she reversed herself from the window and returned to her bed, where she snuggled deeply into the covers and winked at her long-suffering mother.
“Sassy,” Susan muttered to herself as she turned and left the room, firmly shutting the door behind her. “I need a drink.”
Elaine cracked her door open to listen to the voices raise in disharmony, as they did nearly every night at this time.
“That child is going to be the death of me, Scott. She’s so willful every single day, and she just says that she isn’t afraid of anything. You know she says it, she tells you, too.”
“It’s true, though, Susan. She really isn’t afraid of anything. She never cried when she was a baby; she never asked us to check anywhere for monsters. For crying out loud, think of Halloween! She laughs every year, no matter what I do to scare her. None of it works. I don’t know why you think you have to punish her for being herself.”
“I punish her for being disobedient! I’m her mother, she has to listen to me. She has to do as I say, or there will be consequences.”
“Elaine doesn’t care about consequences. She only wants to live each day with her eyes wide open. If the world is anyone’s oyster, Susan, it’s Elaine’s.”
“You are absolutely no help at all, Scott. You’re practically as bad as she is!”
Elaine ducked back into her room as her mother stormed by and slammed the bedroom door shut behind her anger. It wouldn’t do to let Susan find out that she’d been listening; Elaine had a much larger plan.
Elaine knew it was time to make her move when she saw the clock ticking out nine thirty in the morning, and her mother was already mixing vodka into her orange juice. Day by day, the hour crept up and up until Susan was drinking well before noon. At this rate, she would be sloshed by eleven.
“I’m going to the park, Mother dear,” Elaine called around the corner to Susan, who huddled at the kitchen table around her cocktail.
“You’re no such anything, fraidy-cat. Siddown and shuddup,” came the mushy answer.
Elaine smiled at her mother. “I’m not afraid of anything.” With that, she danced and skipped around the kitchen, a careful eye on her mother to check her fury level. When it reached critical mass, once more: “I’m not afraid of anything.”
And she kicked Susan’s chair out from beneath her.
As Susan stumbled around the room, desperate to regain her bearings, Elaine darted out the door and across the street, unaware of the high pitched screech of tires, the cacophony of angry horns, and the horrifying sound of warping metal against shattering glass.
When Susan finally reached the front door, she looked out on a veritable horrorshow. The Williams family had been returning from their annual summer trip to Disneyland, and when Elaine had skipped across the street, Mr Williams had overcompensated and rolled the blue SUV.
The baby was dead in Susan’s yard, and Elaine screamed from the sidewalk across the street.
“I’m not afraid of anything!”
Staring out the car window, Olivia continued humming along, her head pulsing to the rhythm. She and her father had cleared the city about 20 minutes before; the seemingly endless sight of buildings, row houses, strip malls, concrete and asphalt finally giving way to nothing but empty rolling hills of grass and the straight line of highway stretching out in front of them. It felt like all that crap was actually going to be left far behind.
“Where are we headed, baby girl?” her dad asked. Olivia was the navigator for this escape. She pulled her gaze from the window and focused on the maps app on her phone.
“Um, State Highway 106 north to Wallisburg Falls, and then on to Sioux Falls, Dad.”
“Lots of falls on this trip. Are we on the lam because you have problems with your balance, Liv?” he laughed.
“Very funny, Pops.” Olivia sighed and turned her attention back to the window and the empty grasslands rolling by. Not even a stray dog to capture her attention. Her father was still chuckling to himself as she closed her eyes and leaned her head back to lose herself in her thoughts.
Olivia listened to the tempo the pouring rain beat on the roof above her head, her boyfriend Hector’s bluegrass record playing softly from the living room. What a poser, she thought to herself as he flipped the record to listen to the other side. He’d only taken up bluegrass nine days ago. Before that, it was ska. Before ska, a blessedly short stint of folk punk. She blew him off when he tried to explain that he was finding himself through exploring lesser known musical genres.
The record started to skip, playing the same two notes over and over. Olivia put up with it until she couldn’t take it anymore, and screamed at Hector to turn that off before she stabbed him in the eye. He paid her no mind. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath before getting up from the bed. A short sharp scream distracted her, and she took a step to the window to look out and see what she could see. She gasped. Peeking through the window, her surprise turned to horror as she realized what she was actually seeing.
Hector was lying on the ground with a knife sticking out of his eye socket.
The car hit a bump in the road, making the CD skip and forcing Olivia to come shuddering back to the present. She slapped the radio, turning it off. That song sounded too much like Hector’s stupid bluegrass. Too close for comfort.
“Good morning, sleepyhead,” her dad smiled at her.
Olivia grunted in response. “Where are we? And why were you listening to a CD anyway instead of the radio? You can’t get news reports from prerecorded music, Dad.”
“I haven’t heard a thing all night, Liv. Got sick of waiting, so I put the Bee Gees in. Because we’re staying alive,” he winked at her. “Not like poor old Hector.”
“Stop the car. Now!” she screamed.
Olivia threw the door open before the car was stopped and vomited on the shoulder. She hung on the door, breathing heavily, hair swinging in her face. Finally, she sat up and glared at her father.
“Don’t ever say his name. Not ever.” The fire in her eyes spoke volumes more than her words.
“Lighten up, Liv. You know it’s not the first time we’ve had to move quick. Remember Marcus?” He gave her a pointed look.
“Marcus got what was coming to him, Dad. It’s not the same thing at all, and you know it. How long until we get to South Dakota?” she asked.
“Another hour or so. Maybe less if I could get back on the road. You done puking?”
Olivia slammed the door and threw her head back against the headrest. “Lay on, MacDuff.”
Her father handed her a napkin to wipe her face as he pulled back onto the road and floored it.