A coming of age novel about hardships, drugs, drama, and suspense.
| Echo, honey, slow down on this road. There's ice on the pavement.
Karen, stop being a backseat driver. She's doing fine.
The sound of shattering glass had never been so distinct. It reached her ears just a moment too late, sending a grating chill down her spine. Screaming, yelling...crying.
Echo was lying in the car, still strapped to the front seat. Her seat-belt was on her, cutting into her stomach. She thought her ribs were cracked and broken, but all she could focus on was the fact that she was hanging upside down.
Echo? Baby? Can you hear me?
Her mom's voice, so weak and full of anguish. She was in pain, Echo knew, but she couldn't keep her eyes open long enough to make sense of anything, so she closed them. Somewhere in the distance, an ambulance siren wailed, splitting through the air, ricocheting off the buildings around them. The sound was terrible, but it covered up the sounds of her mother sobbing. Echo wanted to tell her that it would be okay, not to panic, but when she opened her mouth, nothing came out.
She could hear voices now; frantic, terrified voices. They told her to stay calm. She wanted to argue that she was calm…that maybe they should try to stay calm, too. Of course, she couldn't say anything, but she could smell something. It smelled peculiar, like sticking your nose in a penny jar and inhaling. It was coppery, salty.
“Are they carrying ID?” someone said in her ear. She tried to nod, but her head wouldn't move. She was paralyzed.
“I found it,” a male voice said. “Her name is Echo. Echo Davis.”
“Someone please try to ID the other passengers.”
“Echo?” someone else said to her. His or her hand intertwined with Echo's. “We’re here to help you.”
Echo could see a female paramedic on her hands and knees trying to reach inside the passenger's side door. She saw her mother turn her head and look at Echo, tears streaming down her face. There was blood, blood everywhere.
I love you, baby, don't cry. We're going to be alright.
In her ear, only feet away from the driver's side door, she heard them speak. They had no emotion; no sadness or regret in their voice as they spoke.
“He didn't make it...dead on impact...they already found the body on the road...”
Echo tried to scream. That’s all she wanted to do was scream, but she couldn't even cry. Terror gripped her chest, and she felt like she was having a heart attack. Her mouth was open wide, but not a sound came out, not even a peep. All those silly medical people around her, and she was still going to die.
“Mommy…” she whispered. “Mommy, I’m so sorry.”
Her heart jumped, and then began to race. Sweat trickled down her neck and her palms went clammy and cold. She tried again.
“Don’t leave me, mommy. Please don’t leave me. I’m so sorry. I love you…” she tried to struggle out of her seat belt, to crawl to her mother's side, but she couldn't. An invisible force pushed against her, smothering her. The coppery smell of blood assaulted her nostrils, tickling her throat, but she kept on sobbing.
“Echo!” the voice was stronger now. Something seized her body, shaking her. It was tight and unpleasant. She kept on crying, unable to breathe, unable to think.
A violent jerk jolted her body. Her eyes fluttered open. Standing over her, peering down anxiously, was Michael. His large, rough hands had a hold of her shoulders. His fingers were digging into her skin so tightly that she flinched, wondering if they would leave a bruise. She sat up, drenched with sweat, letting his arms embrace her. Then she began to cry, hysterical whimpers that rocked the bed. Through her tears, she could see the clock next to her bed. It was three fifty four a.m. She knew she wouldn't fall back asleep.
It was five thirty in the morning. Outside the kitchen window, the sun was just coming up over the horizon, a beautiful sunrise that painted the sky with pastels of pink, purple, and blue. There was frost on the lawn, the aftermath of a chilly night. Although it was still early, Detective Michael Davis hadn't gone back to bed since Echo’s petrified screams had pulled him out of an already restless sleep. Another nightmare, the same one she had been having almost every night for six month. Neither of them slept much anymore; not since the accident.
Michael sighed and rubbed his face briskly, trying to tune out his niece’s cry of terror. Despite how much he tried to block it out, it was nearly impossible. It was locked in his mind tight, like an engraving in a stonewall: her heartrending cries, the fear in her eyes when she woke up, confused and afraid, sweat soaking her back, trembling like a frightened puppy.
Fingers shaking, Michael reached into the kitchen drawer to dig for his emergency pack of cigarettes. He opened the window over the sink, lit one up, and inhaled deeply, blowing the smoke out the window. Almost immediately he could feel his tense muscles relax, but despite feeling better, guilt tugged at him. Echo thought he had quit. In some ways, he had. He didn’t light up around her anymore. However, on extra stressful nights like last night, he owed it to himself. Sometimes he wondered that if it weren’t for the cigarettes, insanity would have already taken him.
He took another drag and then smashed the butt out in the sink, letting the room air out for a moment before closing the window and depositing the half smoked cigarette back into its drawer. He glanced at his watch. A quarter to six. He could call into the station now and request a personal day…another one. He couldn’t focus enough this morning to pull himself together for work. He had to be there for Echo.
Smile, Mike, and put on your happy face.
~ ~ ~
“Can I come in?”
Echo glanced up from her book but said nothing. She knew that Michael would come in, anyway. Sure enough, her bedroom door opened a crack. There was a pause and then it opened the rest of the way.
“Hi,” she said.
“How are you feeling?”
The conversations ceased for a moment. Typical, she thought, eying her uncle. Michael’s eyes were scanning the bedroom, avoiding eye contact. She knew he wanted to say something, but there was nothing left to say. He ran a calloused hand through his shaggy blond hair and then looked at her, forcing a smile.
“Are you hungry?” he asked. Echo started to shake her head no, but then stopped. Cooking soothed Michael. Turning down the offer might build his stress. The last thing either of them needed was more stress.
“What are you offering?” she said instead.
Echo smile. She knew he was pulling her leg. He didn’t even keep cold cereal in the house.
“Whatever you want,” he said after a moment.
“Eggs, bacon, and toast?” she suggested.
“And hash browns?” added Michael hopefully.
“And hash browns.”
Although she didn’t feel the least bit hungry, Echo knew the least she could do was humor him. If it set the man in a better mood, she’d bend over backwards to make it happen.
“You look tired,” Michael noted, his eyebrows shooting together in worry. She forced a smile and gave him a one-shoulder shrug. Didn’t she always look tired?
“Do you need anything?”
“No.” She said. Michael didn’t argue as he left to prepare breakfast. She picked up her novel, and then put it down again, no longer in the mood to read. She could hear Michael in the kitchen starting the food. In a moment the sizzling of bacon started up. The odor soon followed. Echo wrinkled her nose but forced herself to stand up and get dressed. It was almost nine. A small part of her wished she could crawl back under the covers for sleep, but she never did.
Echo pulled on a pair of faded Levis and a sweatshirt. Although spring was upon them, New York’s harsh winter was barely over on that chilly April day. The frost on the ground from earlier had seemingly melted away as she peered out the bedroom window. She shivered, letting her breath fog up the glass. She traced her fingers along the windowpane, making a lopsided heart in the vapor. In only a moment, it faded, and she backed away.
Echo pulled her hair back before heading down to see Michael who was hovering over the oven. He had his cooking apron on, the purple one that made him look feminine. She had never told him that because it was his favorite, but seeing him in it made her smile.
“There she is,” said Michael, grinning at Echo as he flipped an egg. He looked more relaxed, his smile melting into one of genuine contentment. She’d known that being in the kitchen would soothe him. “Over easy?”
“Milk or juice?”
Michael set down the spatula and retrieved two cups from the cupboard, setting them on the tabletop. He retrieved a jug of milk from the fridge, pouring them tall glasses. She sat down at the table and sipped her milk. In a moment there was a full plate of food in front of her, and Michael joined her at the table.
“What time are you working this morning?” Echo asked him. She poked at her hash browns, willing her appetite to appear. Michael was quiet as he chewed his toast. He didn’t look right at her. He rarely did. He was gazing out the kitchen window instead, his disheveled blond hair almost falling into his eyes. He needed a haircut, but she knew he wouldn’t get one until she dragged him into the barber’s shop.
“I called in to take the day off,” he said finally. “I didn’t feel like going in.”
Echo said nothing to that. Michael hated to leave her alone when she’s had one of her nightmares. Instead of admitting that aloud, though, he simply stayed home from work, pretending to be ill or too tired.
“All those criminals are going to be happy today,” Echo murmured. Michael, whose gaze was still elsewhere, smiled just a little. Michael was Detective at the local Police Department. He was known on the streets for being one of the finest detectives there had been in New York City.
Echo looked down at her plate, poking her egg with her fork until the yellow yolk drizzled out and onto her bacon. She picked up the bacon and nibbled on it mindlessly, not really tasting the salty meat on her tongue. Michael was a good detective…almost as good as her father had been.
“Do you have any plans for today?” Michael asked. He stood up with his empty plate and rinsed it off in the sink. She set down the slice of bacon and shrugged.
Before Michael could reply, the front door swung open and someone barreled in.
“Echooooo!” wailed Theresa Paulson. “I neeeeeeed you!”
Echo took the distraction to her advantage and dumped the plate of food into the garbage pail before Michael could take notice. She gulped down the rest of her milk and set the empty cup in the sink as Theresa glided into the kitchen, looking like she always did: striking and dramatic, as though she’d just waltzed off the stage of a Broadway production.
“Theresa,” nodded Michael. Echo held back a smirk when she saw the flush rise to her friend’s face. Michael’s charm and good looks were evident to anyone, most of all Theresa.
“Hey, I have to talk to you,” Theresa said through clenched teeth, her eyes darting toward Michael who was clearly not interested in her latest production. Theresa’s usual pale cheeks were pink from the bitter cold outside, but her hazel eyes were large and glistening with excitement.
“Of course you do,” said Echo.
Theresa ignored her deadpan tone and dragged Echo up to the bedroom, slamming the door shut behind them.
“Guess what?” Theresa said.
Theresa glared at her for a second and then turned and picked up Echo’s hairbrush, running it promptly through her coppery curls. She admired herself in the vanity mirror, leaning forward to apply a shimmery pink lip-gloss before turning back around to face Echo.
“Jake called me last night,” she said, a mysterious smile on her lips.
“Congratulations,” said Echo. She massaged her temples with two fingers, dreading the pounding headache that was rising to her skull.
“You’re my best friend, Echo. You’re supposed to care about things like this.” Theresa said, puffing out her bottom lip in a pout.
Echo sat up, leaning back to rest on her elbows, her eyebrows raised at Theresa.
“You know I don’t like Jake.”
“I know,” Theresa muttered. “But I do. So could you show some support?”
Theresa paused for a moment, letting the smile come back as she stared at Echo. Echo stared back silently, knowing that something was up her sleeve; something she probably would not agree with.
“He invited me to a party downtown tonight.”
“Theresa---” warned Echo. She knew what was coming next.
“Come with me.”
Echo narrowed her eyes at her best friend. Theresa’s eyes turned pleading as they stared each other down. It was such a pathetic look, a look that over the years she had perfected. She stuck out her bottom lip in a pout once again, but Echo wouldn’t fall for it.
“No,” she said sternly. “I don’t think it’s a good idea.”
“Yes. Come with me. It’ll be fun.”
“Getting wasted and stripping isn’t constituted as fun.” Echo mumbled. Theresa scoffed at the reminder, refusing to look at her friend as she applied another coat of mascara onto her eyelashes. She screwed the cap on and dropped the wand back into her bag.
“That was once, and I’d had way too much tequila. It won’t happen again.” She turned to Echo, sticking out both of her pinkies, a childhood ritual. “Please?”
“You know Michael won’t approve.” Echo said.
“You’re twenty one years old. He doesn’t have to.”
“Theresa, I’m living in his house. Trust me, it isn’t worth the fight.”
“Then we’ll sneak out.”
Echo stared at Theresa’s extended hands for a moment, admiring her pretty pink fingernails, knowing that she’d probably win in the end. Arguing with Theresa was like beating a dead horse…not only was it pointless, but it was also exhausting and bound to get you nowhere. So with a sigh, Echo linked each of her pinky fingers with Theresa’s.
“How is Echo doing?”
Kate Dawson grabbed a wet plate from the sink and ran the damp dish towel over it, rubbing it dry almost mindlessly, like second nature, before turning and putting back in the cupboard where Michael kept his dinner plates. She dried her hands on her apron and removed it, folding it and setting it down gently in the top drawer. Michael watched as she did this. He stayed silent, observing her, wishing he had a cigarette. Kate wasn’t the worst company someone could ask for, but she didn’t make his list of his top five favorite people, either.
Kate Dawson was nothing more to him than his brother’s wife’s sister, which is exactly what she was. They had never been close; there had never been a reason to be when Daniel and Karen were alive. Sure, they’d exchanged a few friendly words at family gatherings, made small talk at reunions and holiday dinners. Regardless, Kate was happily married (or so she said) with four children all under the age of thirteen and a fifth on the way. Michael had never had a reason to become close with Kate. That is, not until the accident. Now they both had a reason to not only know each other, but actually have to communicate as well. That reason was their niece.
“Michael?” Kate prodded, her husky blue eyes poking into his. “Echo. How is she?”
“Good. I guess.”
“Good you guess?”
Michael flinched inwardly, standing up from the dinner table to reach past Kate for his emergency pack of cigarettes. He hated that tone she often times used on him; speaking to him as if scolding one of her own children. He was a grown man, a New York City Detective at that. She had no right to speak to him like a kid. Regardless, she did anyway, and he let her do it. Frankly, Kate Dawson scared the hell out of him.
He ignored Kate’s disapproving glance as he lit the cigarette and opened the kitchen window a crack, blowing the billow of smoke out into the cool air. Kate was still staring at him, her arms folded, waiting expectantly for a reply.
“I really don’t know,” Michael said finally. He smashed the butt out and tossed the remainder of the stick back into its drawer. “How well can a kid who has repetitive nightmares about her parents death really feel?”
“I told Doctor Barker to prescribe Echo a dose of anti anxiety medicine,” Kate said, rolling her eyes as if the fault were Michael’s.
“Drugging the kid up until she can’t function? What is that, ‘Parenting 101’?”
Kate’s lip curled up in a snarl. Michael wished she knew how ugly she was when she did that, but informing her of that fact would only cause a fight, so he let it go. He hadn’t exactly invited Kate over for dinner. In fact, he never did. She generally chose to show up on a whim, whenever her bitchiness decided to strike. He figured it was so she could capture him during a not so mature parenting moment so she could call him out on it and insist Echo move in with her. He couldn’t very well turn her way. After all, she was Echo’s family just as much as he was. But damn the woman had some nerve marching in here each and every time and talking down to him like some mongrel mutt. It drove him up the wall.
“She left dinner early,” Kate observed, helping herself to the container of juice in the fridge. “Do you think she’s feeling okay?”
“She didn’t sleep well last night. Neither of us did.”
Kate sighed and leaned her elbows on the counter, looking distraught. Michael had to hand it to her: despite the nuisance she was, Kate Dawson cared about Echo’s well-being as much as he did. She only wanted what was best for her niece, and he knew that.
“Michael,” Kate straightened up and cleared her throat, suddenly looking serious.
Michael tensed. Here we go.
“I wish you would consider letting Echo stay with me for a bit. I think it would help soothe her to be in a family-oriented environment.”
“She’s twenty-one years old,” Michael reminded her. “She can make her own decisions.” He fought to keep his patience. This conversation was inevitable. She always brought it up just as she was about to leave. It was the same thing every time…Kate wanted Echo. She didn’t think Michael was fit to stabilize a traumatized girl. Frankly, he didn’t think he was either. However, the choice had been Echo’s, and she had chosen him. Hell if he knew why. He had nothing to offer a kid but a guest bedroom and some good cooking. Then again, he wasn’t sure he would want to live in a house with a controlling mother and four screaming children, either.
“Maybe if you talked to her, tried to change her mind---”
“No.” Michael cut her off, feeling his temper rage. Despite not being fit company for a young woman, he wasn’t opposed to having her there. In fact, he had grown rather fond of his niece in the two months she had been under his roof. He’d always loved her, of course, but now was his chance to make up for all the birthdays, holidays, the high school graduation he had missed while she was growing up. Echo was his, at least for the time being.
“I’ll see myself out,” sniffed Kate, and he could detect the tone in her voice that she always carried after that particular conversation; a mixture of betrayal and pity. He refused to sympathize with her this time.
“Same time next week?” Michael asked cheerily, handing Kate her coat. Her lips curled up again as she grabbed it from him. He smiled. “You know we always look forward to it.”
~ ~ ~
Echo slid into the passenger’s seat of Theresa’s little red car and clicked her seat belt in. It hadn’t been difficult sneaking out of the house while her Aunt Kate and Michael had been bickering downstairs. A simple excuse that she was worn out and tired was all they needed, and she knew for a fact that Michael wouldn’t be up to check on her. He was never in a talkative mood after Kate left. Echo knew that was his excuse to break out a beer, have another drag on his cigarette, and plant himself in front of the TV to distress until he fell asleep. If luck was on her side tonight, he’d be there until she got home and went to bed herself.
Theresa turned on the car and blasted the heat. It was getting cold outside. There was already frost on the ground. Whether it was from anticipation or fear, Echo couldn’t stop shivering the whole ride there.
~ ~ ~
He watched her from across the room, keeping a distance so he didn’t look suspicious. She was cute, this girl. Not as cute as her friend with the copper curls and nice body, but cute enough. He liked the way innocence radiated off of her. She was not a confident person; he could see that just by looking at her. The quiet ones rarely were. She was standing on her own in the middle of the crowded living room, cradling a nearly empty bottle of beer, looking around uncertainly. Although she was dressed provocatively in a beaded blue tank top and a short denim skirt, she looked out of place. Only self-assured girls could pull off something like that, and this girl was definitely not what she was trying to appear to be. Sometime during the night, her sidekick, the bubbly girl with the curls, had abandoned her for some guy. That didn’t surprise him. Girls were easy to lure. Too easy. Flash them a smile and some cheesy old-school charm and you had them wrapped around your finger like thread on a spool.
Nice to meet you, baby girl.
He smiled and went to the kitchen to retrieve another drink. She wouldn’t be difficult. Not this one.
~ ~ ~
It was quarter past Midnight. Echo glanced at her watch for the hundredth time and glanced around the room again for Theresa. She has disappeared with Jake, as Echo had assumed she would. That had been at ten thirty. She hadn’t seen her since.
“For you,” a voice said behind her. Echo jumped, startled, and spun around. A boy about her age was standing behind her, holding out a drink. Echo realized the beer in her hand was nearly empty, though the past few drinks had nearly done her in.
“No, thank you,” she said politely. The boy just smiled.
“It’s a party,” he said, leaning in towards her. She could smell the beer on his breath. It was mixed with cheap cologne, the stuff you would find on a dollar store shelf. He was so close to her that his blond hair was tickling her forehead. There was a glaze in his eyes only present in an intoxicated person. “Enjoy yourself.”
Echo took the drink from him, hoping he’d take it as a job well done and leave. He didn’t. Instead, he stuck out his hand and took hers in his grasp. It was clammy and hot, gross against her skin. Echo suffered the urge to pull away, but she resisted, trying to be polite as he released her. Unconsciously she wiped her palm on the hem of her skirt and cleared her throat as the kid leaned in towards her to speak.
“My name is---”
Across the room, a preppy girl Echo recognized from high school shrieked with laughter as her boyfriend picked her up and hitched her over his shoulder. The girl’s flirty cries filled her head for a moment. Echo nodded briefly and smiled at the guy. She hadn’t heard him.
“I’m Echo,” she said back, not caring enough to have him repeat himself. He simply became ‘The Boy.’
“Who did you come with?” asked The Boy.
“My friend,” said Echo. The Boy nodded and took a swig of his beer.
“I see. Would this friend be a boyfriend?”
Echo looked away from him and took a sip of her drink. She could no longer taste the alcohol, a sure sign it was getting to her head. She could feel her cheeks burning, flushed, the way they did when she drank too much. Her skin was tingly and numb. She knew she should stop while she was ahead, but there was no reason to. The Boy was right. She should enjoy herself.
“No,” she answered. “A female friend.”
“You’re very pretty,” said The Boy abruptly, leaning into her once more. She was so startled at his bluntness that she laughed, spraying alcohol all over the floor in front of them. The Boy took a step back, looking momentarily appalled, but then he gathered himself quickly. She wiped her lips and smile at him.
The Boy smiled, proceeding to shower her with compliments. Since she had nothing better to do, she listened to him ramble, smiling when necessary. The minutes ticked by, her drink disappearing with each moment passed. When it was finally gone, he fetched her another one without a word, which she promptly chugged.
“You can hold your liquor,” The Boy noted after Echo had downed the third drink he’d supplied her with. She’d lost track of the total amount since she’d been there, but by now she was too drunk to care.
“I don’t know about that.” Echo paused in mid-drink, feeling her stomach churn. She set her cup down. “I have to use the restroom.”
“I’ll show you where it is.”
She didn’t want his help; she wanted to get rid of him. With a sinking feeling she realized that she had no idea where she was going, and the house was huge. If he didn’t show her where it was, she feared she may vomit all over the untainted carpet. So she simply shrugged and smiled, letting The Boy take her hand in his as he pulled her gently towards the stairwell. She stumbled after him, doing her best impression of a sober person. She knew she wasn’t fooling anybody when she tripped and nearly biffed it on the fourth step. Luckily, everyone was just as hammered as she was, and no one noticed.
“You okay there?” The Boy asked as they reached the top of the stairs. He squeezed her hand and Echo closed her eyes, taking a deep breath as a wave of nausea hit her. She doubled over but didn’t vomit. “Easy,” The Boy said, sounding nonchalant. She felt him grab her under the arms and haul her to her feet. “Let’s get you to the bathroom.”
All she could do was nod as he half dragged her down the hallway. They stopped at a closed door, and The Boy knocked. When no one answered, he pushed it open and hauled her in, shutting the door behind them. She heard a small, pin like click as he locked it. She forced herself to open her eyes, confused. Her vision was blurred, and the room was spinning around her. She knew she was drunk, but there was no fooling that this was not the bathroom. Before she could say a word, The Boy hauled Echo to her feet. She opened her mouth to say something, but suddenly his lips were on hers, engulfing her mouth. Shocked, she tried to push him away.
“What are you doing?” she gasped. “Don’t.”
“Just relax,” said The Boy. She automatically tensed up as he smashed his lips to hers again, this time pushing her backwards toward the bed. She dropped the drink in her hand to fight him off. It fell to the floor with a dull thud and rolled a few feet before stopping, spilling all over the nice beige carpet. Echo shrieked as she stumbled backwards over something, landing hard on the bed. Frantically she tried to sit up, but The Boy took his chance and pushed her down hard.
“Let go of me.” She tried to kick him away, to struggle free, but The Boy held her down. He was fierce and determined…suddenly dangerous. Once again she could smell the cologne and alcohol on him, and she wanted to gag. She tried to scream but The Boy covered her mouth with his hand. It was even more clammy, disgusting, and gross. She felt like she would never escape his hold.
“Please…” she begged. Somewhere inside of her, terror was pulling at her chest. She couldn’t think; couldn’t breathe. She was helpless now, a victim. Tears rolled down her face. They were warm, salty tears, all too familiar. The Boy didn’t notice that she had now stopped struggling as he reached for her pant zipper. His grasp hadn’t loosened, his rough hands digging into the sensitive curves of her neck and shoulders. She had a fleeting thought that his rough handling would probably leave bruises up and down her skin.
What will Uncle Michael think?
He was heavy upon her, his body is pressing into Echo’s like chiseled stone, crushing down on her groin and abdomen. She couldn’t breathe, and she was certain that no amount of struggling would free her. She closed her eyes and laid there, turning her head away, anguish and torment pulling at her heart and her innocence. She might as well be dead.
She wished she was.
~ ~ ~
Theresa Paulson glanced at her phone. It was two in the morning. Time had really flown. It seemed like minutes ago that she and Echo had arrived at the party. The night had been young, but now, Theresa was tired. Yes, the party girl of the century was ready to go home.
Theresa tossed back the remainder of her vodka and juice concoction and tossed the empty cup towards the overflowing trashcan. It hit the top of the pile, bounced off, and rolled to the floor. She didn’t bother picking it up. By now, the party was winding down. Around her, bodies were strewn around the living room, some passed out on the couch, others on the stairwell, and even a couple on the floor. Although she wasn’t that far gone, she knew was in no shape to drive. Maybe Echo had sobered up since she’d last seen her.
“Leaving already, baby?” Jake asked, appearing in front of her with another full beer in his hand.
Call me baby one more time, Jake, and I will smack you upside the head.
“Yeah, I better get home,” Theresa said, scanning the floor for Echo. She couldn’t imagine that her best friend had drunk enough to pass out. Out of the two, Echo was the responsible one. That was why they were friends. Something about opposites attracting. She and Echo were as opposite as it got.
“You can’t drive, baby,” Jake slurred, and Theresa’s smile tightened. She wouldn’t sock him, not this time.
“Have you seen Echo?” she said instead. Jake squinted at her, as if racking his memory. She thought he looked so stupid when he did that, like every ounce of common sense was trickling from his ear canals.
“About my height, brown hair, gray eyes. Um. My best friend?” She liked Jake. She liked him a lot. However, he was a guy. Sometimes, guys were so fucking dumb.
“Oh. Yeah. No.” Jake looked around, as if hoping she would appear from thin air. “I saw her earlier talking to some guy, but then lost track of her. She must have gone home.”
Way to go, sister, Theresa thought with a smile. Her Echo, her withdrawn, shy best friend had been talking to a guy. She was so proud.
“Don’t worry about it, sweet-cake. I’m sure she’s fine. Now how about you and I head upstairs for a little make out session?”
“Christ,” said Theresa. “You’re such a guy.”
“And you love it, baby.”
Pushing her concern for Echo aside, she let Jake take her hand and lead her upstairs, making a mental note to call Echo first thing in the morning to get all the spicy details. Her friend was a big girl. No doubt, she could take care of herself.
~ ~ ~
It was cold outside. Freezing, actually. It didn’t feel like early spring; it felt like dead winter. She’d lost her jacket somewhere behind her, though she had no idea where. The thoughts in Echo’s mind were jumbled and senseless. Part of her felt like laying down on the sidewalk. She wanted to curl up in a ball and cry. She wanted to cry and scream and wail. But the other part of her, the strong part, drove her forward, desperate to get home. The mini skirt and blue tank top held no warmth against the biting wind and sprinkling rain. She was walking alone down a deserted road. Jake’s house had already vanished behind her. How far? She didn’t know. It could have been yards…it could have been miles. She didn’t know. She didn’t care. Her face was taut from the dried tears. Her whole body ached from where The Boy had grabbed her and held her…he had violated her.
The heels on Echo’s shoes click click clicked against the damp pavement. She was tempted to remove them from her aching feet, but she couldn’t bring herself to stop. If she stopped, she knew she wouldn’t be able to start again. A car passed her on the road, splashing a puddle up and soaking her skirt. A drunk girl leaned out the window and yelled something, laughing like a hyena. They didn’t even slow down, but Echo didn’t care. She was almost home.
The porch light was still on as she dragged herself into the front yard of her uncle’s home. Michael must have still been awake, waiting for her, possibly worried sick but unable to do anything about it. She could see him in her mind now, pacing the kitchen, his hands trembling as he lit a cigarette. He’d probably want to call Kate, but he’d resist. He’d simply give it time and pray she’d come home on her own. After all, he had to stay calm, had to be rational.
Her chest was heavy as she dragged herself up the steps and reached for the doorknob. Hands numb from the biting cold, they stung and trembled as she pulled open the door and stepped inside.
“Echo? Is that you?”
She walked blindly through the front door and into the living room, letting the door hang open behind her. The wind caught it fiercely and swung it back, slamming it hard against the wall. She didn’t flinch. Michael set his book down and stood up to get a better view. She stood silently in front of him, feeling weak, tired and broken down. Her purse was hanging from her hand, dangling, dead weight, bumping against her outer thigh. She could hardly keep her head up as she met Michael’s eyes. He was nothing but a blur in front of her, a figure that she couldn’t quite place in her head.
“Are you drunk?” asked Michael.
Echo’s chest tightened with fatigue and she suddenly felt very numb and tingly. Her stomach churned, and she swayed. The room began to spin, and her ears were ringing.
“Echo?” said Michael in alarm.
She felt her knees buckle beneath her, and she fell forward, dropping the purse to the floor. Michael lunged out to catch her. She felt his arms grab onto hers, and then the world went deathly black.
It was morning. Sunlight poured through her bedroom window, assaulting Echo’s eyes. She covered them with one arm, burying her head into her pillow, afraid to look up. Her head was pounding, her stomach was queasy, and she felt weak and shaky. As soon as her eyes adjusted to the light, she forced herself to turn her head. Sitting on the nightstand next to her bed was a glass of water, two aspirin, and a hand-written note. She sat up and realize that she wasn’t in her pajamas, but still in the mini-skirt and tank top from last night.
The memory hit Echo like bag of bricks, and her hand automatically fluttered up to cover her mouth. Feeling ill, she rolled out of bed and rushed to the bathroom just in time to bend over the toilet and vomit. She felt dirty and violated as she shimmied out of her outfit as quickly as she could. She could still smell the alcohol on her shirt where she had spilled, but there was another smell, an odor she couldn’t place. She lifted the fabric to her nose and took a deep whiff of it. Cologne. The Boy’s cologne.
This time, when she fell to her knees in front of the toilet, she could only dry heave. Tears were running down her cheeks, re-staining her already mascara smeared face. She began to sob, body-rattling sobs that refused to let her breathe. She gasped for air, feeling anxiety press at her lungs. She didn’t know what to do, whom to call, whom to turn to. She knew Michael was gone at work. She was alone. So, so alone.
Frantically Echo got to her feet, gathered up the soiled clothes, and stuffed them into a plastic bag. She didn’t want the reminder near her. She wanted everything out of her sight.
As soon as she had properly disposed of the clothing, she headed to her bathroom, turned the water scolding hot, and scrubbed herself raw. It hurt, but the pain was good, like scrubbing away all the evils she had endured the night before. Yet, as she finally stepped into her towel to dry off, observing the redness of her skin from where she had scrubbed, she realized that what had happened may never be washed away.