Chapter 2…

Joshua, Janet, Natalie and Aidan lived in a cozy house, but it was a little too small. Aidan and Natalie had no choice but to share a bedroom, which Natalie didn't mind; he was born after she came into the house and he was innocent and young. But she was afraid of one thing more than anything. She once read a statistic that one who was treated badly as a child would grow up and turn around and do it to their children or to other's children. She loved Aidan, and she knew Aidan was fond of her, but the thought of hurting him was just one of the things that kept her up at night.

The biggest thing that kept her up was the nightmares, or to be more accurate, her memories. When she slept she would re-live them again and again, and when she woke up she could barely think or get out of bed. So she would stay awake for as long as she could until she fell asleep despite her efforts.

She was lying in her bed one night, the entire house eerily silent. She held the covers up to her chin hoping she would be alone for the entire night. She wished that she could sleep. She wished she could look at her mother's face without thinking about him, thinking about the bruises he caused. Why couldn't they leave? Why? Why?

She'd run away once. She ran as far as she could, but it was winter and she didn't get as far as she wanted. She finally went inside a coffee shop and stayed there until closing when the owner convinced her to let him call her parents. Her father came and picked her up. He was silent all through the car ride, but when they got home, he shut her in the closet and didn't let her out for a week. Her mother snuck some food to her. And when he let her out, he hit her and kicked her and…and…

The door opened slowly. Her mother came in and shut the door behind her. The girl knew her mother must be desperate to get away if she was coming to her room. But that wouldn't keep him out. Nothing could keep him away if he wanted, he was too strong. The doorknob wiggled a little and her mother put all her weight against the door.

"Natalie, get up and get ready to run, ok?" She said. The girl got out of bed and stood against the wall. She knew that they couldn't get away, it was impossible. The door burst open and her mother fell to the floor.

"Natalie!" She cried, "Stay away from Natalie!" The girl pressed herself up against the wall. The man laughed and the girl watched in horror as he hit her mother again and again until she was lying on the floor, unmoving. He walked up to her and whispered close to her ear.

"Don't say a word."

Aidan woke up one night to the sound of Natalie's sobbing and tossing and turning. He immediately got up and walked to the door to get his parents, when he heard something that startled him.

"Don't say a word…" She said. So she was awake after all, he thought. 'She doesn't want me to tell them that she was crying.' He then got back into bed and tried to ignore the sound of her sobbing.

Natalie woke up crying that morning. She was shaking and she felt nauseous. She rolled over on her side and curled up in a ball, hugging her knees to her chest as tightly as she could. She hated remembering and thinking; it hurt so much, but what could she do? She felt tired, but she forced herself to stay awake.

She heard some rustling about the room and assumed Aidan must be awake. That poor little boy; he was so protective of her. How much did he know? How much did he guess? She loved him so much, more than anyone in her world, because he loved her without looking upon her with pity. It was an unconditional love.

She pulled the covers further over her head; the light coming in from the window pierced her eyes and gave her a headache.

"Natalie," She heard Janet say softly, "You need to get up for school." She pulled the covers over her some more. She tried to get her body to stop shaking, but she couldn't control it. "Natalie, are you okay?" She felt so tired. She didn't know what she would say, even if she could speak. She didn't share her nightmares with anyone. Nobody really knew what happened to her except the doctors, her mother and her father, beside herself. And she planned to keep it that way. There was only one thing she worried about. The notebooks she kept under her bed hid all the details of her encounters with her father. She had a photographic memory and could remember the dates and what had happened on each day. She was afraid of someone finding them and reading them and knowing what she had endured. No one should know. It was no one's business.

"Natalie?" Joshua was now there as well, sounding as worried as Janet and she could feel Aidan standing there as well. Slowly, she pushed the covers off her head, wincing in the sunlight. She looked up at her uncle and aunt. Joshua was standing over her while Janet knelt by her bed. Aidan stood by the window and was pulling down the shades. Janet stood.

"I'll call the school." She said and quietly left the room. Natalie pulled the covers back over her head and folded her legs back to her chest. Joshua let out a sigh and left. Aidan followed and closed the door behind him, leaving her in the dark room alone.

"Dad," Aidan asked in the kitchen as Joshua poured himself a glass of orange juice.

"What is it, Aidan?" He asked.

"Is Natalie always going to be broken?"

Joshua looked at his son in surprise. How much did he know or suspect? He hugged his son closely.

"I don't know, Aidan." He remembered how afraid he was when Janet was pregnant that Natalie would feel left out and even more alone. The girl would hole up in her room for hours and sometimes even days, which back then, they thought was unnatural. But when Janet gave birth to Aidan, Natalie looked at the boy with such love. She reached out to touch the newborn, before quickly withdrawing her hand. Janet had reassured her that it was okay, but Natalie wouldn't touch him, despite how much she wanted to. Joshua suspected it was that she was afraid to spread her sadness, her "brokenness" onto him; he was pure and she loved and envied that in him. Because of the small house, they had to put Aidan in the same room as Natalie, and that was lucky for Janet. When Aidan cried at night, Natalie would comfort him; change him or rock him as needed. When Joshua found out that she loved Aidan so much, he was relieved. He wasn't sure why she was so afraid to be near him initially, but he was the only person on the planet who didn't scare her or make her uncomfortable; he understood what she wanted and was trying to say without the need for words. Joshua was envious, he wanted to help Natalie, but how can one help when one doesn't know how?

Natalie sat next to Amy in the hall as usual, instant messaging each other unbeknown to the teachers walking by them.

A: How have you been sleeping?

N: I haven't much, really. Sometimes I fall asleep in class or by accident, but other than that, I'd rather stay awake.

A: I see.

N: Yeah. So…how's home life?

A: It's either silent or its too loud.

N: I know what you mean.

The history teacher walked by, reading the day's paper. She glanced at the girls and paused.

"Do either of you live in the East area?" She asked. Natalie slowly raised a hand.

"Why?" Amy asked quietly.

"A couple people escaped prison last night in that area." She replied showing the girls the paper. Natalie reached a hand up and took it from her history teacher. She read the headline and the article carefully; her chest began to feel tight. Her breathing quickened and she quickly got to her feet and haphazardly got her things together.

"Natalie?" Amy questioned. Natalie shook her head, grabbed her things and ran downstairs to the office. The secretary looked up at her and she held a finger up. Quickly she took out her pad and pen.

Please call my guardian, Janet. 253-985-4493. Ask her to read the headlines of today's Tribune and then to come get me.

She held the message out the woman and she looked at the paper and back up at Natalie's pleading face before picking up the phone and dialing. As the woman spoke to Janet and explained what Natalie had written in her note.

Within thirty minutes, Janet was there to get her, handing her a change of clothing and a baseball cap. Natalie quickly changed out of her uniform and put her hair up in the baseball cap. She walked slowly out of the bathroom and handed her uniform to Janet and they walked out to the car.

The car ride home felt long. Natalie sat frozen in her seat, her hands gripping the edge, pushing her back as hard as she could. She tried not to close her eyes, for fear of seeing something she didn't want to see. She didn't want to think or feel anything; she just wanted to be far away from the city and everyone she knew. She wanted to be in the middle of nowhere; a place no one would find her.

"Natalie?" Janet startled her out of her not thinking. Natalie jumped a little and looked around; they'd arrived home and she hadn't noticed out of fear. "Natalie, it'll be ok, alright? Nothing's going to happen to you, I promise. I need to go back to work, will you be okay?" Natalie unbuckled her seat belt and with a small nod retrieved her school bag and uniform out of the back seat before walking to the house, unlocking the front door and stepping inside.

Once out of sight, Natalie frantically locked both the locks for the door before turning and sliding down the surface to the floor. The wood was cool against her sweaty face and she tried to take deep breaths to calm her heart down. She could still see his face on the cover of the newspaper. Her hands trembled as she raked her bangs away from her forehead. How did he get out? Would he look for her? Of course he would. Maybe not. Of course. No. Of course. No!

She got up and went to the kitchen to get herself a glass of water and instead just dunked her head underneath the faucet. The cool water rushed over her face and scalp, calming her nerves and dulling her anxiety a little. Keeping her head under, she felt for the bottle of pills in her pocket, prescribed for her anxiety attacks. She angled her head a little and got some water in her mouth before coming up and popping two of the pills in and swallowing. She turned off the water, dried off her hair and went up to her room and laid down her bed.

Joshua was surprised to find the front door's chain locked. He closed the door and looked down at his son, who wore a similar concerned expression.

"Guess we'll have to go to the back door." He said with a shrug, getting a better grip on the groceries before walking around the house to the back door, Aidan trailing slowly behind him, stopping to pull at the tops of the bushes.

"Natalie, we're home!" Joshua yelled when he entered the kitchen. For some reason, the man always expected a response when he knew he wasn't going to get one from the girl. Perhaps it was just blind hope. He began to put the groceries away according to Natalie's system. The girl had a strange alphabetical, ordered way of sorting the perishables. It was one of the few things she was particular about, but nobody questioned it. Aidan went behind his father straightening things that Natalie would come down later and straighten again anyway, when the girl came down, a stricken look on her face.

"Natalie? 'You okay?" Janet had called him earlier to explain the situation and to tell him that he wouldn't need to pick Natalie up from school, but the look on her face worried him. She looked around the room blindly for a moment before actually seeing her uncle. The girl walked to him in a few quick steps, her shaky hands reached out to grip the sleeves of his shirt. "Natalie?" She looked up at him and in her eyes he saw things he'd never before seen in her, but Joshua didn't know what to call them. Then she suddenly flung herself into him, burying her damp head into his chest and she began to cry.

Joshua knew something was wrong now. It wasn't very often that Natalie sought arms of comfort from anyone and when she did, she went to Janet. If she was nervous enough to cry to the first person she found, something was wrong. He felt so angry inside. He hated that man who called himself her father. How could he have done this to anyone, let alone a little girl? Was his purpose to break her? Or did he just want a toy until it wasn't of use to him anymore? Had he planned on hurting her when he knew he was having a child? Or did he get corrupted later on? No. No one could turn that evil, they were born that way. How did Sara get involved with that man?

Gently, he put his arms around his niece and held her against him, whispering comforting words in her ear, unsure if she could even hear him over what was going on in her mind. "It's okay. It's okay. I'm here, its okay." Aidan looked on, unsure what to do and disturbed that she was crying so openly; it was more like Natalie to go to bed and pull the covers over her face. And then he remembered her words, the only words he'd ever heard her speak, "Don't say a word." He tried to push his worry aside and clamped his mouth tightly shut.

Joshua looked at his son and nodded toward the living room, "Aidan, why don't you go upstairs and change out of your uniform." He said quietly. Aidan nodded, picked up his school bag and began to walk to the stairs.

"Natalie!" When Aidan looked back to see why his father sounded so surprised, he found his aunt right behind him. She quickly took his arm as he began to walk up the stairs. They looked at each other and the girl shook her head. Confused, Aidan pried his arm free and began up the stairs again, but Natalie grabbed his arm again, a little harder than she needed to and slammed her other hand down on the banister as hard as she could. Her face showed a little pain and slowly she let go of his arm. She shook her head again and pulled Aidan close to her.

"Natalie," Joshua came into her line of sight before touching her shoulder. "You don't want Aidan to go upstairs?" She shook her head. "Can I go upstairs?" He asked. The girl looked up at him, unsure and Joshua held out a hand to her. Slowly, she rose up off the floor and moved Aidan beside the banister, put her hands on his shoulders and he understood that she wanted him to stay there. Then passed by her uncle's hand and walked slowly up the stairs.

AN: Well that's chapter two. I'm hoping that you liked it, or at least the two of you that reviewed the first chapter. I'm trying to update this regularly and being as I pretty much know everything that's going to happen, as long as I don't get bogged down with school work. Read and review please. I'll certainly return the favor if that's what you'd like.

Elizabeth Arlen