Chapter 17: Happy Birthday
" – well, how the hell are we supposed to talk to him when she lives – "
"Cameron!" Joey exclaimed loudly, elbowing Rob in the ribs.
I plopped down on the cafeteria bench, too tired to care that they were probably just talking about me. I yawned and laid my head on the table without a word to anyone. I was exhausted, and there was no way I could hide it anymore. "Just wake me up when lunch is over." I grumbled, closing my eyes.
Silence was my answer, and I could feel everyone's eyes on me. I didn't care. I was just too tired and too hungry to do more than what was absolutely necessary. I buried my face further into my arms and sighed softly. I could feel the lull of sleep calling my name, and just as I was starting to drift –
Travis poked me in the side. "Cam, what are you doing for your birthday?"
I jerk away from his finger and sat up. "What?" I asked moodily.
"Your birthday. It's this weekend."
"No, it's not."
Travis raised an eyebrow. "Yes, it is."
I stared. "No, it can't be… it's still weeks away."
Joey shook her head. "You've been so out of it lately. Your birthday is on Saturday."
I closed my eyes and reviewed dates in my head. I even had a difficult time remembering what month I was in, much less what the exact day was. Sighing, I realized it was my birthday. Had that much time really passed without my knowing? "Wow." I murmured.
"What are you doing for your birthday this weekend?"
I opened my eyes and stared around at the rest of my table's occupants. "I don't know. Probably nothing."
Travis smiled. "Awesome, because I was thinking we could – "
Then I remembered. I was doing something this weekend. I had to pay a visit to Dad's business. On my birthday. I felt my heart sink into my stomach, and my eyes well up with tears. On my birthday? Dad had to have noticed that he was scheduling things on that day. Even if he didn't care about me, he still had to pretend to care, and therefore he needed to know all of his children's birthdays.
"I can't." I interrupted Travis' speech.
"I can't do anything. I – uh – just remembered that I have a thing with my family."
"A thing?" Travis asked skeptically.
I nodded vigorously. "Yes, a thing. I'm sure we can do something later next week, though."
"Come on, Cam, you can't seriously expect us to put off your birthday." Joey rolled her eyes.
I felt myself become uncontrollably frustrated with their ignorance. I know they had no way of knowing what I was really doing, and what I was really dealing with, but it was beginning to make me furious. I wish they could understand without having me vocalize all my problems. I wanted to scream and cry and tell them all to leave me alone. It was hard for me to feel close to them when my whole life was beginning to resemble a giant black hole. My life was slowly collapsing in on itself, and I couldn't stop it.
I stood up abruptly. "Just forget it, all right. I've got to talk to my teacher." I walked swiftly from the cafeteria and ignoring their calls.
When I dragged myself through the front door, I could hear Tessa and Kylie running down the stairs. Well, they weren't running so much as taking one step at a time fairly rapidly. I hurried over to them and pulled Kylie off of the stairs. The last thing I needed was her falling and hurting herself.
"Be careful." I scolded.
"Camwin, can we have a snack?" Tessa asked, jumping off the last step.
"You can have lunch." I responded, grabbing Tessa's hand and leading her into the kitchen. Simply stepping foot on the kitchen's white floors made my stomach growl. I had barely eaten anything the day before, and I had a feeling today was going to be the same. After I set Kylie down at the table and had started removing contents of the refrigerator, I got a sudden urge to eat. A lot. After all, who was going to stop me? Glancing over my shoulder, I realized I hadn't seen Dad's car in the garage. I was home alone… perfect. My mind started spinning at the mere thought of consuming a large amount of food. I stared down at the loaf of bread in my hands and felt incredibly rebellious. I could get away with eating… just this once.
I hurriedly made Tessa and Kylie their lunches before make two large sandwiches for myself. I sat myself across the table from my siblings and shoveled the two sandwiches into my mouth and savoring the taste of real food. It had been a month since I had really eaten, and it felt amazing. I sat back in my chair and grinned at Tessa and Kylie. They grinned back at me and bounced in their seats.
I opened my mouth to speak when my stomached lurched. I slapped a hand over my mouth and felt my stomach lurch again. I was going to be sick.
I tore down the hallway to the bathroom, where I promptly emptied the contents of my stomach. Gasping for breath, I sat back against the wall and groaned. All that eating for nothing. I had just wasted ten minutes of my life. My body had just punished me for disobeying Dad. Go figure. I try to do something to help it survive and it betrays me.
Feeling like I'd never be able to beat Dad's hold on my life, I felt my chest tighten and tears well up in my eyes. I groaned loudly in frustration and slapped myself in the face. Who was I kidding? Why did I even consider that I would be able to gain some independence from eating a couple of sandwiches? Was I stupid? Well, the obvious answer to that would be yes, I was.
I let my arms fall limply to the ground, and I stared blankly at the toilet. I guess it was time I admitted defeat and started accepting my fate. At least if Dad focused his twisted ways on me, he'd leave Berk, Tessa, and Kylie alone. That's all I was really worried about. I don't know what I'd do if I found out he was doing something like this to them. I'd kill myself. Or Dad.
I heard the front door slam, so I dove forward and flushed the toilet. Just as I set the seat down and crawled off the floor, the door opened and Dad glared suspiciously down at me.
"What were you doing?"
"Going to the bathroom."
He eyed me for several seconds before turning and walking out of the bathroom. I sighed in relief and followed Dad into the kitchen. He ignored Tessa when she waved and said hello to him, and made himself a cup of coffee. I seated myself at the kitchen table and waited for him to finish. Once he did, I was sure he had a list of chores for me to complete.
"Where's your brother?" He asked.
I felt slightly taken aback. "What?"
"Where is Berk?"
I frowned. "I have no idea." It wasn't until then that I realized that he was over a half hour late from returning home. I had been so wrapped up in my eating adventure that I had forgotten Berk would be coming home at all.
"I need to know where he is." Dad said.
I didn't move. "I – I don't know how to find out."
Dad sighed loudly and turned slowly towards me. "Then you best figure out a way. Or else." He left the kitchen and slammed the door to his study.
I sat stiffly for several seconds trying to figure out a way that I could find Berk. He didn't have a cell phone, so I couldn't call it. The best that I could do would be to go to his school and see if he was still there. Dad probably wouldn't let me leave, though, because then he might have to deal with Tessa and Kylie. What the hell was I supposed to do? And, what's more, what the hell did "or else" mean?
Tessa poked my arm and wiggled her fingers in my face. "My hands are sticky." She said, making an unpleasant face.
Dad shook my shoulder roughly at five-thirty Saturday morning. I groaned and rolled away from him. I didn't want to get up yet. I had trouble falling asleep last night knowing what was going to happen today. My heart felt like it had been racing constantly for the past twenty-four hours.
Dad grabbed my arm and tugged me impatiently out of bed. I stumbled a bit before I managed to regain my footing. I hunched slightly from fatigue (lack of sleep) and weakness (lack of food). I couldn't believe it was my birthday. I certainly wasn't getting birthday treatment.
Still without saying a word to me, Dad grabbed my wrist and dragged me into the bathroom. He shut the door between us and yelled something about showering quickly. He was still in a bad mood. Ever since Berk finally showed up two hours late and refused to say where he had been, Dad had been so annoyed he would barely talk to anyone. While that was definitely an improvement, it was slightly unnerving, because I wasn't sure what he was thinking. The most talking Dad had done was to tell Berk we would be gone most of the day today, but we'd be home around seven.
I showered and quickly as I could and hustled downstairs into the kitchen while still pulling my socks on. Dad had set a piece of toast on the kitchen table.
"Eat." He commanded. "You need strength."
I wanted to argue and say that a piece of toast really wouldn't do that for me, but I decided against arguing. Fighting with Dad had never gotten my anywhere, and I certainly wasn't going to get smacked across the face over a piece of toast, so I sat at the table and bit into the toast.
"You'll be dealing with someone new today, so remember that you need to make a good impression." I didn't respond, but he knew I understood. "He's actually a very promising customer – someone who might become a regular – so I expect you to treat him well." Again, I didn't respond. I just continued to chew on the dry toast. I really didn't feel like dignifying his monologue with a response. "Well, come on, hurry up. We have to leave."
I shoveled the last of the boast in my mouth and ignored my stomach as it growled for more. I'd be lucky if I was able to eat again today. Maybe if I did well today, he'd allow me to eat something else.
I pulled my jacket around my body and followed Dad out to the car. Neither of us spoke the whole car ride. In a demented way, it was comfortable; or, at least as comfortable as I'll probably ever be around him. Dad certainly didn't seem to mind the silence. He didn't even turn on the radio during the twenty minute drive.
It was hard to describe the way I was feeling. There was a sense of terror that was building with ever mile we traveled, what with my heart thumping and my chest tightening, but at the same time, I felt a sense of acceptance about what was going to happen. After all, there really wasn't much I could do to avoid it at this point. I just had to suffer through the few hours of torture, and I'd be set free to enjoy the rest of my birthday. I sang Happy Birthday in my head most of the way there, trying to block out any other thoughts that might try to invade. It worked surprisingly well, so when we finally arrived, I felt relatively calm.
We walked into the townhouse and I seated myself on one of the chairs in the main room. All I could do was wait for Dad's instructions. I watched him as he seated himself behind a desk started fiddling with a bunch of papers. I couldn't imagine he would have a lot of paperwork for this kind of business, but what the hell did I know? I wasn't the lawyer in the room.
After close to an hour, Dad finally set down his pen and stared at me. Not knowing what else to do, I stared back. "So." He said.
"Are you prepared?"
"As far as I know." I said uncertainly.
"They'll be arriving around two or three." He said, still not taking his eyes off of me.
"Oh. Ok." I shifted uncomfortably. Why was he staring? The next few hours passed agonizingly slowly. I had absolutely nothing to do but sit and stare at the wall, and apparently Dad had nothing better to do than sit and stare at me. I felt like the silence in the room was going to kill me. It was absolutely, horrifyingly silent. It was unnerving.
Eventually time did pass, and it was five after two. Dad sat back in his chair and folded his hands across his stomach. "I've considered waiting a few years and seeing whether or not I think Tessa or Berk might work well in this business." He said bluntly.
I felt my entire body stiffen and my eyes widen. "What?" I said in a low voice.
"I think if this goes well with just you, I can't imagine how much money I could bring in if I managed to have three of you." He grinned. "I'd never have to work a day in my life."
"Y – you can't be serious." I said louder than I meant. "Tessa is only four. Berk is only thirteen."
He rolled his eyes. "That's why I said I would wait a few years." He shrugged. "There is a growing market for younger children anyway. Eventually you'll be no good to me. I imagine once you're over eighteen you'll lose a bit of the appeal most men see in you."
"You're – you're evil." I spat. Nothing could describe the anger I felt. Nothing. I had always thought that if I played along with his game, that he would leave it to just me. There was absolutely no way that I was going to let him get away with exposing a child under the age of five to something like this. What the hell was he thinking?
"I'm not evil. I'm resourceful. I'm using what was given to me." He snapped.
"We weren't given to you!" I exclaimed. "We're not objects." I threw my hands into the air. "Christ, Dad, what is missing in your brain that makes you think this type of stuff is ok? Are you really that fucked up?"
Before I could move, Dad had leaped from his chair and smacked me hard across the face. "Shut your trap, bitch." He threw lingerie at me. "Go put this on and if you know what's good for you, you won't speak."
I stood up and, ignoring my stinging cheek, I threw the underwear in his face. "Fuck you if you think I'm going to do this only to have you do the same thing to Tessa and Berk. You knew I was only going along with this because I thought you'd leave them alone."
Dad's eyes were blazing, but I was so furious myself, I didn't care. "You'll regret that." Dad spat, grabbing my by the hair and dragging me into the bedroom. He held me down on the bed and started ripping my clothes off and trying to force on the lingerie. I put up the best fight I could underneath his large body, but it wasn't much use. He managed to get the panties on me before I wiggled out from under him and ran towards the door. From the point of view of a third person, I probably looked ridiculous running around in just a pair of pink, lacy panties.
That third person did eventually show up while Dad had me cornered behind his desk. It was the guy I was supposed to be servicing that day. He opened the door and froze when he saw me crouching in the corner in a pair of panties and Dad panting angrily, slowly creeping towards me.
When I saw the guy walk through the front door, I jumped to my feet and started yelling, "help!"
Dad roared in anger and knocked me so hard across the face that I fell to the ground and couldn't get back up. I heard him yell at the man that walked in to leave. Once I heard the door shut, Dad walked threw a jacket at me. "Put this on. We're leaving." He was seething in anger, but I couldn't say that I was any less angry. I was just too weak to hurt him in the way that I wanted to. Dad averaged a speed of 75 MPH the whole way home. He kept mumbling, "you're going to get it, you're going to get," under his breath while he cut people off and drove on the wrong side of the road. I had glanced in the mirror of the car and noticed I already had two black eyes and purple cheek. How was I ever going to hide that?
He screeched to a halt in our driveway and turned slowly towards me. "You have a three second head start to get in that house and hide. When I get a hold of you, I promise you will not be able to walk for a month."
Terror slowly took over my anger and I jumped from the car, clad only in the jacket he had thrown at me and a pair of panties. I ran quickly through the cold and burst through the front door. I could hear Dad run in behind me. He slammed the door, and I knew I'd be lucky if I managed to survive what he had planned for me. My eyes darted around and I tore down the hallway.
"I'm going to kill you, you little slut." He bellowed, stomping after me. "I'll beat you until you can't move before I let you pull that shit again."
I felt tears well up in my eyes. I was so angry that he was planning to do things to Tessa and Berk, and I felt even angrier that I couldn't do anything, so I had to resort to running from him. I was so pathetic. How was I ever going to protect Tessa and Berk from him if I couldn't even protect myself?
I continued to run down the hallway. I stumbled into the kitchen and almost screamed. Dad was still yelling obscenities behind me, but that was no longer my focus. I was staring into the eyes of over ten people. Strung up all around them were balloons and streamers and banners reading "Happy Birthday Cameron!" They all stared at me, open-mouthed. I stared back at them, completely horrified. This couldn't be happening…
" – I hope you're ready to – " Dad cut off when he saw all the eyes shift to him. The color drained from his face, and he swayed on spot. "What the – " He cut off again and turned and ran from the house, slamming the door behind himself.
He left me alone. Of course he did.
I stood in the doorway of the kitchen unable to move or talk. I was too shocked to even cover my body when the jacket opened to reveal my scantily clad body. Everyone was there… Rob, Joey, Seth, Travis and Berk. They were standing in front of everyone else… just gaping at me. What else could they do?
Feeling completely exposed, I started to shiver. I couldn't believe it was finally out in the open. People were finally going to know what kind of person I was. I wasn't sure I could handle it. I felt myself start to shake more, and tears started pouring down my cheeks. My body started to sway, but before I fell, Travis moved forward, grabbed me around the waist and steered me out of the room. He didn't say a word to me until he had shut and locked my bedroom door. He gently set me on my bed and held me. I burst into tears and pressed my face into his chest. I had never meant for him or anyone to find out… not this way.
"Oh, Cam." He grumbled into my hair.
"T – Travis…" I bawled, soaking his dark shirt. I gripped his sleeves in my fists and tried to melt into him. I felt an overwhelming sense of relief, because I knew just as well as anyone that this meant everything Dad had ever done would be over. I'd never have to worry about it again.
And yet… I also knew this meant that Tessa, Kylie, Berk and I were going to be split up. I had let them down. I had let Mom down. She would have wanted us to always stay together. I hadn't stayed strong like I always promised myself I would. I allowed myself to crack, and therefore I had destroyed the one thing I always fought to protect. I was useless.
A/N: Finally the secret is out. What does that mean for Cameron and her family? How will Cameron cope? How will her friends respond? How does Travis feel?
So yeah. Review : ) Thanks for all those who left reviews for last chapter.