Since edits are going pretty good, I thought I’d share with you one of my favorite parts from Forever and Farewell. There’s a bit of abusive behavior in this and some strong language, so be forewarned. Otherwise, enjoy!
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The Real Bad Day, as Lauren thought of it later, came in early October.
Once upon a time, she loved the fall. Loved the leaves as they slipped into their golden moments, then falling like soft rain, caressing and tickling her skin under the arms of old and wise silent things.
She loved Halloween as a teenager and the joy of giving treats to wildly exuberant kids, She loved dressing up, loved costumes and being someone other than her own awkward self for a day. She loved that no one could see her face, even if they still knew who she was.
She loved the promise of winter in the air, the crisp stillness that could come with a windless morning, that first chill bite before the ice and snow made winter a miserable pain, the wood smoke from chimneys sprawling out upon the breeze.
She loved curling up with a cup of apple cider and a throw on her parents’ patio, listening to the rain. She loved pumpkin spice, the scent of raw pumpkin when it was carved, pumpkin bread, pumpkin seeds, salting them so much her mouth hurt. She loved rolling in the leaves with Hot Sauce, their Labrador, now long gone. She loved knowing Thanksgiving and Christmas were just around the corner, seeing the Halloween decorations slowly come out.
Now her love for the fall came with a bitter remembrance of all the things she enjoyed, just out of her reach. True, her experience hanging out at Delaney and Adrian’s during Halloween the year before had been a big step forward, but it was just a taste of a life and love gone by.
The morning of the Really Bad Day, she headed for the gas station to fill up. Lauren was determined to try and get to Polson to shop for Halloween candy. She was going to… well, maybe not give it out herself, but she could set it out in a little bowl, perhaps, or give it to Adrian and Delaney to add to their supply. Shopping in Polson wasn’t so bad for her, for some reason. Delaney mused sometimes that it was because when Lauren was completely surrounded by strangers, everybody looked, as opposed to just furtive glances and whispers from the people she knew. “Maybe,” she’d say, “it’s easier because you know you’re never going to see those people again. Besides, at the big box stores, there are a lot weirder people to stare at than you, sweetheart.” That hadn’t really been a comfort, but it made Lauren giggle to think about it.
At the pump, she thought about maybe getting some decorations in Polson too. Just a few small things for the windows. Maybe a little ceramic pumpkin and some clings. Buoyed, she smiled happily and decided after the gas was done pumping, she’d run inside and treat herself to a pumpkin spice cappuccino. She hadn’t drank one of those in years and years.
But the little SUV pulling up to the pump next to her changed that. Three kids were inside, monkeying around as their mom first stopped, then pulled down her visor to check her makeup in its mirror. Before she got out, she rolled down her kids’ windows and pulled the keys, just being a good mom, especially given the unusually warm fall weather.
The boy closest to Lauren shushed his brother and his sister, and whispered something quietly enough that she couldn’t hear. Lauren knew, just knew, the kids were talking about her, and her good mood crumbled. Just a little bit, but the edges were coming down. Then the kid, a spiky-haired boy with thick glasses, leaned out the window and asked, “What’s the matter with your neck?”
“Damian!” his mom scolded, but from inside the car came the tittering of the other children.
Lauren willed the gas to pump quicker. “It’s okay,” she whispered, more to herself than the mom.
“It looks like someone ran over your back,” the boy added.
Lauren gave up on the gas, stopped the nozzle, and replaced it. She hurried around to her side of the car as the mom called out an apology, but Lauren was already getting in.
That would have been bad enough to send her into a funk, but maybe not bad enough that she couldn’t get to Polson and redeem the day. But her passenger side window was cracked just a hair, and as she dug out her keys from her pocket, the mom snickered too. Just ever so faintly, and she tried to cover it up with a cough, but there it was.
One of the great horrible truths of the universe was that adults wanted to laugh just as much as children. They were only held back by the thinnest veneer of fear that they’d be laughed at too, and when that was scraped away, all that was left was the raw dark amusement of pissing in someone’s face when they could get away with it. Lauren lived with that cold realization every waking moment of her life.
Tears burned a hot path down her cheeks, and she jerked out of the parking lot, almost nicking a Bronco as it reversed at the same time. The guy hammered on his horn and that made her feel even shittier. Still the day wasn’t done being awful.
When she should have stopped at the town’s lone traffic light, she rolled through, and like the universe wanted to just slap her silly, one of the Sheriff’s Department’s cruisers eased around the corner, settling in behind her gamely and following her home.
Still crying, she swung her legs out of the car in time for JB, the town’s overweight, blustering sheriff, to lean out. “Y’all blasted right through that red, Ms. Olmstead.”
Her mouth worked, but all she could do was whisper a muffled apology.
JB gave her a long once over, sucked on his teeth, and said, “Need me to call someone?”
No, she wanted to shout. Adrian and Delaney were working a project in Twin Bear, one of their first in a week or two. Don’t bother them, please don’t bother them.
“Well,” JB said lamely, “if you’re getting’ the weepies, just pull it on over next time, okay?”
She nodded, got out, and jogged for home, hoping she didn’t slam the door too hard when she came in. She did, though, and JB stayed another minute, watching after her, still making that teeth-sucking sound now and then. After a minute, he got out, walked over to her Buick, checked to see if the keys were still in the ignition, and locked her door before shutting it. In her haste, she’d left it open.
Half an hour later, Lauren lay on the floor, looking up at the ceiling and sobbing silently so hard her whole body was shaking-
Just a party.
You’ll love it.
Would you do one thing for me?
Make that sound again.
It turns me on.
Look at her, she loves it.
Don’t you know how much I care about you?
Don’t you love me?
-but she didn’t whimper, wouldn’t whimper like those earliest days, wouldn’t let herself go all the way back down the hill. But she couldn’t move either, and just willed herself to breathe, to push away the pain little by little until she could think straight again.
A car door thumped outside, and she heard Aubrey thank someone before the engine revved back up and slowly faded. Home from work, she thought, then Dudley flooded her mind again, laughing, laughing, laughing.
A knock, first soft, then harder. “Lauren?” Aubrey asked, then louder, again. “Lauren, hey, it’s me, Delaney called me because I guess the sheriff called her. Are you okay?”
Her eyes were volcanic. Her throat was raw but she didn’t remember screaming. In her mind was a wisp of a man a world away, someone she would never see again in her lifetime, never speak to, never hear from, but who tormented her every single minute of every single day if she wasn’t careful, and today she hadn’t been.
No, she was not okay.
Aubrey pounded on the door again, calling her name. She tried to whisper to him, tried to respond. There was silence, and then a muffled, “Delaney. She’s not answering. Is there a spare key…? Okay, got it.”
She couldn’t let him see her like this. Couldn’t trust him. Oh God, no, no no no.
“Please,” Lauren murmured. “Don’t come in.”
From the side of the building, she heard him tossing rocks, frantically trying to find the fake one she kept there with her spare key. He was talking to Delaney, keeping her on the line. His words were unrecognizable, but terse, scared. Then a shouted, “Got it,” and he was coming back to the front door.
Lauren scrabbled at the hardwood floor. Her bladder was full and tight and she was terrified she’d pee herself but she couldn’t move-
“Would you be my first, Dudley?”
Slick smile, his fingers in her. “Sure, roll over.”
“I don’t want it like-”
“Don’t you want to make me happy?”
“Yeah, I guess, but-”
“It’s okay. It’ll all be fine.”
Pain, ripping pain, she wasn’t ready and he was so rough.
-and the key was in the lock and she could finally make a sound, a wailed “Nuuuuhhhhh,” and Aubrey was inside, crossing the room, sweat dripping off his forehead as he knelt, and she was terrified, so terrified, her eyes wide open and she waited for him to feel her up, paw at her breasts, maybe jerk her pants down-
“Your tits are so weird.”
-but Aubrey was taking her hands and he was seeing her without a mask and she tried to cover her face. His eyes opened wide, he was saying something, and then he was shooting towards her closet and ripping it open, grabbing at something on a shelf. Her box of medical masks.
In just a few strides he was beside her again. “Lauren, I’m going to lift your head.”
She didn’t understand why, but then he was slipping the mask on before his hand trailed down, and she waited for him to touch her like Dudley had, like they all had.
But his fingers just touched hers, soft, tentative, and he squeezed her hand.
She waited for more, drawing sharp, fast gasps for air, crying, fighting to cling to the floor, but he wouldn’t leave her side. He just held her hand and stroked her hair, his phone somewhere on the floor, Delaney’s voice forgotten on the other end.
Lauren’s gasps settled into soft hiccups. The spasms wracking her body lessened, and she closed her eyes against the sunlight trickling through the picture window. Her mind settled as much as it could, but she was still terrified, still shocked beyond all measure there was a man in her house that wasn’t Adrian or her dad. He was dripping sweat on her, and he stank of body odor permeating through his deodorant, and he was beautiful and terrifying.
Aubrey helped her sit up, her eyes still focused on him, and she whispered, “Don’t hurt me.”
“I won’t.” He brushed hair from her eyes and tried to smile for her.
“Not like the rest of them,” she murmured. Sleepy. So sleepy. She sat up harder. “Bathroom.”
He helped her to her feet, her hobble even more defined after the hours she spent on the floor. As Lauren closed the bathroom door behind her, she muttered, “I’m okay now, you can go.”
“You can go!” she shouted as she fumbled her pants down, barely making it in time.
He did step away from the door, but spoke loud enough that she could hear. “Lauren, I know that’s what you want, but until Delaney gets here, I don’t think I should leave. If you hate me tomorrow, that’s fine, but I think someone needs to stay here for you. I’m… I’m sorry.”
Her tears ran out. She stayed there for another half an hour, shifting from hip to hip so her legs didn’t go numb. Aubrey was still out there somewhere, and she was ashamed, but the terror had abated and the voices were subsiding. He didn’t say anything, but she heard him cleaning up after her – picking up the spilled contents of her purse, sweeping up a glass cup she’d knocked over when she crashed to her knees and then the floor, and running a couple of dishes under tap water and scrubbing them. Twice more, he spoke to Delaney, quiet, hushed conversations that sounded reassuring. Every five minutes or so, he knocked on the wall next to the bathroom, making sure Lauren was okay. She answered him with morosely positive grunts, placating him just enough to leave her alone again.
And then finally, thankfully, Delaney was there and rushing into the house. All Aubrey said was, “In there.” Delaney popped open the bathroom door and slipped inside.
Miserable, red-eyed, and weary, Lauren barely glanced up. “I… had a bad one.”