You cower in the corner of the closet, fingers pressed into your ears and your body curled into a position that reeks of fear.
Quiet, Rory. They'll never know you're in the closet. They think you're in bed like a good child.
A cry. A woman's cry, a high pitched shriek and the sound of feet scuttling across the floor just outside the closet where you hide. Your mother's cry, one you've heard too many times recently. You push yourself into a sitting position. Your fingertips touch the door.
"Where is the money? Where is it?" A gruff, familiar voice says.
"I gave it to you. It was in your wallet." the voice is heavy, like a thick layer of sooty snow has pressed against it, muffling the words so they come out tired and worn.
A ripping sound and your mother pleads in that same muffled voice. "Let me go Tom. Just let me wake Rory. We'll get out, leave you alone." The noise of their argument gets closer. Pressing your eyes against the crack in the door, you can see a tiny portion of your mother. Her arms. Bruised. You crane your neck a little and see a tear on her face. The look on her face is the look of a bird that's about to be caught by a mangy cat.
Your heart is tight and you feel your breath, sticky and laboured as you press tingling hands against the door. If Mum goes to wake you up, she'll find out that you know.
What else will you have to tell her that you know if she finds that you've been hiding in the closet? Will she find out that you've hid here before, nearly every night for the last two months? Will she see the dark hole of fear sucking you in with every slap and every loud noise?
The man- you refuse to call him your father - bangs on the closet door. You jump backwards, whacking your head against a row of coat hangers. He keeps banging and you cover your ears. Cries, more yelling. Your mother is gasping, the man is banging on the closet and yelling and hurting her. You are too afraid to look out the hole anymore, so you curl against the back of the closet. You squeeze dry eyes shut but your heart is flooded with the tears you haven't been able to cry for a very long time. Pulling a pile of coats over you, you block out the sounds of war outside your door.
The coats form a cocoon. Pressed inside them you sweat and huddle.
The sounds have stopped. Cracking open your eyes, you realize you don't know how long you have been in your cave. And with that realization comes a terrible fact. She must have left. Maybe he threw her out like he's done before. Will she come back? Is he still here? How long has it been- minutes, hours? There isn't a sound outside. Pressing your head through the mess of coats you suck in stale air.
You can't stay in the closet forever.
You press against the door and it slides open. The house is quiet. You walk through it and find broken glass strewn across the kitchen and clothes across the bedroom. Your room alone has been left untouched. And still it is silent. They're both gone, apparently. And you, still shocked at being left alone, sit on the front stairs clutching Mum's red coat in your hands.
Mum, I need you to come back for me. I need you to wait for me.
Now you feel drippings of tears on your cheeks and rub them away into the red velvet coat.
Thump. Someone is knocking on the door. Thump. Your first instinct is to run back to the closet. Then a face appears at the window. The girl from next door. Your best friend. The one you have adventures with and go to school with. She's shaking her red braids and rolling her eyes at you. You can see the words she's mouthing.
"Open the door stupid face! It's cold!"
You open the door. She takes in your runny nose and wet face. In a moment you feel her in your arms. Did you hug her or did she hug you? You don't suppose it matters and wipe away more wet streaks on your cheeks.
Did she know how much you needed her right at this moment?
She pulls away and looks at you. You rub the red coat on your cheeks again and try to sniffle without her noticing. She raises her eyebrows.
"Rory, whose coat is that?"
She snatches it out of your hand and puts it on. You protest but in a moment she is wearing it. It matches her hair and she smiles. You hug her again.
You've always known you loved her. But hadn't your parents loved each other too, once? Their love had crashed and burned. Your chest contracts and you feel a rough lump in your throat.
You can't stop the tears now and you hold her tightly in the hug. She stops talking and watches your face. She knows more than she's letting on. You don't offer any explanations. All you do is hold the girl in the red coat tighter.
If she ever loves you, you'll never make her hurt like you're hurting. You'll never leave her alone. You make that a silent promise.
She pulls away from you. Sliding out of the coat, she places it in your arms and walks out of the door. You watch her leave and sit back down on the steps.
On the stairs you trace the words "I will wait for you."