Katie seeks her way ... again. This time she crosses a line.
|Word count 1989
Clinging to the banister with her left hand, Katie extended her right foot beyond the creaky step. Her right hand gripped her gym bag containing her pajamas. Almost there, she thought and stretched a bit more. Her pink nylon Little Princess sleeping bag slipped out from under her right arm, bounced down the stairs, rolled across the living room, and bumped against the front door. Katie froze listening.
The sounds of Eric, her step-father, cooking supper in the kitchen continued undisturbed. Katie carefully finished her giant step down. Movement from the recliner caught her eye. Molly, her step-sister's cat, jumped down and strolled over to sniff her sleeping bag. Looking up at Katie, Molly meowed.
"Katie is that you?" Eric called out.
Katie said nothing.
The cat meowed again.
Shut up you stupid cat, she thought.
Eric said, "Come set the table, please."
If her step-dad saw her bags, she'd never get away. I've got to keep him in the kitchen, she thought. "I need to get my book bag from the car. I'll be right back."
"Okay," he said. "Supper's almost ready."
Speed was needed now, not stealth. Pulling on pink boots and coat, she opened the front door. Molly made her usual dash for the outdoors. Frustrated, Katie kicked out with force. "Stay back!" she whispered fiercely. After several, one kick finally connected, and the cat yelped in pain. Regret joined her internal maelstrom of unhappy feelings. It's your own fault, you stupid cat, she thought. It remained coiled to escape, but stayed out of kick range. Katie picked up her bags and opened the storm door only wide enough for her to slip through. Or so she thought. One small gap, one quick leap, and Molly was away.
Katie dropped her bundles on the outdoor landing of their brownstone home. A track of paw prints led through an inch of fluffy snow directly to their car parked by the curb. Katie dropped onto her hands and knees and peered under the car. Back by the street-side rear tire Molly huddled.
"Molly, I don't have time for this!"
Molly blinked at her.
"You stupid cat, come here right now!"
Molly shrank back.
Okay, so scaring it will not work.
Pretending to have a treat in her hand Katie reached under the car. "Here, kitty, kitty."
Molly approached warily sniffing Katie's finger tips suspiciously. Katie lunged. Molly evaded.
Standing up she looked around for something to poke at the cat. A few twigs and small tree limbs lay under the snow. Katie grabbed one and swept it under the car. Molly dashed out into the street. Katie raced around the car. Molly's tracks ran down the road a ways and under another parked car on the opposite side of the street.
Fine, she thought, suit yourself.
Retrieving her bags from the front landing, Katie shuffled through the snow toward her best friend’s house. At first she focused on the sidewalk just in front of her short shuffle steps. Glancing up she became alarmed by the glittering blanket of white snow clinging to cars, trees, and street lamps. Would her parents easily spot her fleeing form?
Katie sped up, each step slipping more than the last, until she fell. Rolling onto her back, she lay still, gazing up at the gray sky. Snowflakes gently descended swirling and dancing directly toward her. A few landed on her face. Katie thought, why am I hurrying? They’re not coming after me. They might miss precious Sarah's stupid Nutcracker show.
She heard a car approaching. A thrill of fear made her sit up. She could barely see it threading its way through the parked cars lining both sides of the street. It was coming from the direction of her home. Were her parents coming? A red car passed. No, it wasn’t their car.
Scrambling up Katie hurried between parked cars. Had that stupid cat run out in front of the car? Molly’s hiding place was too far away to see any bloody patch of fur. She could lay injured or even dead. Stupid cat! It'd be your own fault if you are. Katie turned her thoughts toward her friend's house. Stephanie's slumber party would be a blast! Certainly a whole lot better than watching a step sister’s ridiculous leaping and gyrating to boring music.
Eric put the food bowls on the table. "Dinner's ready!" he called out.
A distant voice responded, "Coming."
Noticing the lack of plates on the table, Eric frowned. Going to the staircase he called up, "Katie, get down here and set the table."
Their staircase ended near the front door. He could hear faint meowing. Was it coming from outside? Pulling open the door, he saw an agitated cat pacing and meowing up at him through the storm door. "What are you doing out there?" Letting Molly come inside, he wondered how she had gotten out. Had Katie done it when she went out to the car? Would Katie have intentionally left his daughter's cat outside to spite Sarah? That was cruel. Had Katie’s hostility toward him and Sarah crossed a line? If so it was time for him to convince his wife, Karen, that more discipline was needed regarding her daughter. That could get really ugly.
Sarah bounded loudly down the stairs and slid into her chair at the table. Looking at the kitchen clock, she said, “We’re going to be late!"
Karen descended from upstairs carrying Sarah's packed bag of Nutcracker costumes. "We have plenty of time if we don't dawdle.” Not seeing Katie, she shouted in the direction of the stairs, “Katie, time to eat.”
After a moment, she said, “Oh, for Pete's sake. I suppose she's still pouting. I'll get her."
Karen returned looking puzzled. "She’s not in her room."
Eric said, "She went to get her book bag from the car."
Karen turned toward the little table by the door. "The keys are here. She must have come back in." After a moment, Karen frowned and said, "I'll bet she went to Stephanie's party despite our saying she couldn't go."
Karen pulled out her phone and called Stephanie's mom. “Is Katie there?” After a brief silence, Karen added, “Ok, let me know when she gets there. Thanks, talk to you soon.”
Karen looked frightened. "She’s not there. Eric, something must have happened to her."
"You don't know that. It's only been 15 minutes or so since she went to get her book bag."
Sarah groaned, "I hate Katie! She did this on purpose!"
Karen's demeanor switched from worry to anger. "Don't say that."
"She says she hates me all the time! How come you don't get mad at ΗΕR?"
Eric opened the front closet. "You two eat. I'll go get Katie. If I'm not back when it's time to go, go without me. Katie and I will come in the other car." Zipping his coat, he left.
Two blocks to go, thought Katie. Her feet were freezing in her pink Little Princess boots. They were really rain boots. She sort of regretted the temper tantrum she’d thrown when her mother insisted she get insulated boots.
Her stupid sleeping bag was slipping again. As she adjusted her grip, she hated how heavy it had gotten. Her arms ached from carrying it.
Up ahead a street lamp blinked on. It would be dark before she got to Stephanie's. The dark frightened her.
"Hello, Sweetheart. Where’re you going?" a man said as he stepped in front of her.
Katie stopped. She thought she knew the man, but his baseball cap shadowed his face. “Are you Stephanie’s daddy?”
“Why, yes I am. Stephanie sent me to get you."
Katie didn’t think Stephanie would do that. She took a step backwards.
"You look cold, Honey. I have a nice warm van just there." He pointed down the alley. "I'll give you a nice warm ride to see Stephanie. What do you say?"
Katie turned to run. Big arms wrapped around her and lifted her off her feet. "Let me go." She tried kicking him and one of her pink boots fell off. A rough hand covered her lower face. Her scream was muffled. He pressed down harder and cut off her air. She struggled and twisted her head. Maybe it was his finger, maybe his palm, but some part of his hand entered her mouth. She bit it like corn on the cob.
Erick looked at his step-daughter's footprints in the snow. They went directly to their car. So it was true, she’d gone out to get her book bag. He could see she had lain in the snow beside the car. It meant Katie had tried to get Molly back inside.
More of Katie’s tracks went off down the sidewalk. Eric started out jogging along them, and belly flopped into a slide. Ok, a fast walk will have to do, he thought. Tracking her wasn’t necessary. He knew her usual route to Stephanie's house. But following her tracks was comforting.
Hurrying along, he thought about Katie. She had been peevish ever since Karen and he had started dating. She was jealous of her mother's split attention. He’d expected a period of "forming, storming, and norming" but her sullen manner had gone on for two years now.
This section of sidewalk seemed to have better traction, so he tried jogging again. No slippage. Time to push it, he thought, and broke into a run. Delighted with the amount of ground he was covering, he accelerated into a hard run.
He thought more about tonight's conflict. Although he felt reassured about her basic goodness after seeing her tracks around the car, she had still crossed a new line. In the past, after a cool down period, Katie could be reasoned with. Some sort of agreement could be reached. But tonight she had deceived them. How could they trust her anymore? If they let her get away with deceit, or if they cracked down, she might, and probably would, continue to be deceitful. The loving home he'd tried to create was destined to become a living hell.
What was that on the sidewalk under the street lamp? Arriving, he saw several items covered in snow: a pink sleeping bag, a gym bag, and a single pink Little Princess boot. Large tracks went into the alley.
Running down the alley, Eric yelled, "Katie!" He heard nothing.
Running hard, he saw a man's silhouette ahead. The man screamed and dropped something. In eight strides Eric tackled the guy. Both of them slid and rolled in the snow and gravel of the alley. Eric climbed on top of the guy and punched him. He kept punching until all of his fear for Katie, anger toward predators, and dread for their family’s future was exhausted.
Getting off the creep, Eric saw Katie standing nearby. Holding out his arms, she ran into them. He could feel her shivering.
"Come on; let's get your stuff."
Once her boot was back on, Eric unzipped and wrapped the sleeping bag around Katie. That would have to do until the police were finished with them.
He called Karen to let her know Katie was safe.
Eventually the police were satisfied, and hauled the battered pedophile away.
An officer said, "I can give you a ride home."
Eric asked Katie, "Do you want to go to Stephanie's house?"
Katie began weeping. "No, we have to find Molly. She's outside. She's probably dead. It's all my fault."
Her concern for Molly encouraged Eric's heart.
"Molly is home. You know, she probably thinks we are mean to keep her inside. Kind of like you and Stephanie's party. But Molly also knows where to go to find people who love her. Are you as smart as Molly?"
Katie didn't respond at first. Then she took Eric's hand. "Can we go to Sarah's dancing place?"
"Yes." Eric hugged Katie. “Yes, we can.”