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Safe and Sound

By´╝ÜLindy Zart

Safe and Sound

Lindy Zart





For Jamie and Joshua





1



No one wanted to know about her problems. They acted concerned, but as soon as she began to talk, they changed the subject. Their eyes glazed over. They turned away.

Lately whenever anyone asked how she was doing, Lola smiled and said everything was okay. Even if it wasn’t. And it never was.

She blinked her burning eyes and slammed the locker door shut. Kids hurried up and down the hall, eager to get out of the stuffy brick building. Voices overlapped until it was one loud buzzing noise in her ears. Cologne and perfume and body odor polluted the air. Lola hunched her shoulders and lowered her head, trying not to draw attention to herself as she walked down the corridor.

It was a small school, as Morgan Creek, Wisconsin was a small town with a population under two thousand. There were less than one hundred kids in each grade. Still enough to make the hallway crowded as she maneuvered her way outside.

The thought of going home made her stomach queasy. Lola sucked in a ragged breath of the cool spring air and squinted her eyes against the bright day her pale blue eyes were forever sensitive to. She should have learned by now to carry sunglasses with her. One more thing she couldn’t seem to do right.

She was jostled from behind. Lola tightened her grip on the backpack strap and kept walking. Tree limbs swayed in the breeze, showing off their new green leaves. She turned down the sidewalk. Footsteps echoed her own. Lola glanced behind her, her pace slowing.

Sebastian averted his eyes and rushed past when she paused. He didn’t say anything, didn’t acknowledge her in any way. Lola stared after his tall, lanky frame, wondering why it still hurt so much. They hadn’t spoken in close to a year, not since before her seventeenth birthday.

One year was enough time to move on, to forget the pain, to get over a lost friendship. Why did her chest and throat still tighten every time he brushed by her? Every time their eyes met and his slid away?

Lola swallowed. The house before her blurred and she blinked until it came into focus. It was a tan ranch-style with brown trim. The grass was overgrown and ready for its first cut of the year. A fold-up chair lay on its side near a towering pine tree.

She slowly made her way to the door, her racing pulse at odds with her movements. Lola went through a mental list in her head, trying to think of what she may or may not have done to cause his anger.

Hand on the cool door handle; she looked over her shoulder to the house across the street. Sebastian stood there, hands in his jeans pockets. He watched her, his expression blank.

The wind ran invisible fingers through his light brown hair, tousling it. When their gazes locked Sebastian turned away and went inside. Lola had no choice but to do so as well.

***

Lola took a deep breath and quietly opened the door. She wrinkled her nose. It smelled like unwashed bodies and fried food. The living room was dark. The television was on, the volume low. Lola found the remote under an old newspaper and turned the TV off.

The house had once been spotless and smelled of whatever cake or cookies her mother was baking when she got home from school. Now it was dirty except for when Lola cleaned, and there was no baking. Other than glimpses of and shortly held conversations, there was no mother either.

Lola took a deep breath against the sharp pain in her chest.

She righted a pillow, straightened magazines on the coffee table. Lola folded a blanket and put it on the arm of the tan recliner. Lola opened the windows to allow fresh air in. She sprayed fabric freshener on the furniture and started to vacuum.

“What the hell are you doing?” a low voice growled in her ear.

Lola jumped and fumbled with the off switch on the vacuum cleaner. She backpedaled away from Bob until her back hit the wall.

“Nothing,” she was quick to answer.

Bob was over six feet tall and burly. He had a gut that hung over his pants from all the beer he drank. His black hair was thinning and he had oily skin. His features were plain, but the ever-present sneer on his lips and unkind gleam in his small brown eyes showed his true nature. He had on a stained white tee shirt and his pale, hairy legs could be seen below his red boxers.

He punched the vacuum cleaner to the floor with a beefy fist. “It doesn’t look like nothing.” Bob advanced on her, the smell of unwashed skin amplifying. “Are you lying to me, girl?”

Lola shook her head, strands of auburn hair sticking to her flushed cheeks. “No! I was just…just cleaning.” She pressed her back flat to the wall, wanting to sink into it and away from him.

Bob put his face close to hers, his breath hot and putrid. Lola turned her head to the side and squeezed her eyes shut. “So you were lying. You said you were doing nothing and you were doing something.”

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