Bus rides in New York were depressing and long and smelly and all around unpleasant but it was a must when you owned no car and were too afraid to drive anyway.
Besides the crowded subways they were Grace's only form of transportation. But the subway didn't go all the way to her house and she still would have to rely on the bus ride to scrape off the last few blocks.
The number 26 Bus would always get her on her street.
Her last ride home.
How she despaired the number 26 bus.
After her hasty exit from the café Grace climbed aboard the bus paid out her fare and moved to find an empty seat all to herself.
Avoiding bumping into anyone and ignoring gazes as everyone else did Grace found her empty seat.
She made sure to sit on the aisle seat, as past experiences had taught her to, placing her backpack in the window seat.
After the last customer paid their fare the bus doors closed with a screech and with a bumpy start the bus was underway.
For one quick moment Grace allowed her dark gaze to sweep uneasily about the bus…and then with a start her gaze quickly snapped to look back to the window next to her.
She sat rigid her heart slamming in her chest, hoping that he wouldn't notice her…not today.
Her tense expression reflected on the buses window.
Grace furrowed her brows before blinking rapidly.
'He's here…not too far behind you.' A grin. 'What you think he won't notice?'
Grace raised her hand up to rub fervently at her eyes. She felt a headache coming on.
'You're gonna pretend you don't notice him noticing you?' dark brown eyes that were her own narrowed and the grin pulls higher, 'Like you pretend not to notice me?'
Grace pressed her fingers tightly against her eyes, "Shut up, shut up, shut up." She hissed under her breath.
Grace's breath hitched in her throat and she quickly lifted her head up.
Her fearful and powerless expression was somehow so very different from her grinning and conniving reflection in the bus window.
But past her own reflection she saw him, indeed making his way toward her.
And they were nowhere near her street!
He was then standing just before her in the aisle with a wicked grin upon his face.
"Hey there beautiful."
Grace said nothing but continued staring out the window.
She'd hoped that if she ignored him he would leave her alone…but of course this was never the case.
The old black man gave an amused chuckle, "Ignoring me again huh? I swear babydoll you're the only one that makes me gotta work for it."
Grace said nothing but continued to stare.
"Can I take a seat babydoll?"
'Cuss the old fart out!'
Grace shifted uncomfortably, "There are other seats…" She spoke quietly.
The old man smirked, "My baby speaks." He said lowly before leaning in and placing a dark hand against her shoulder causing Grace to tense considerably as a feeling of dread filled within her.
'Slap his hand away!' Screamed the angry Grace reflection in the bus window.
The old man continued to speak lowly, "Say something else for me beautiful."
'Push him away!'
"You should really allow me to take you out sometime. I know a lot of great spots in this city." His hand began to message her shoulders slowly.
'Scream at him!'
His face was close to hers and Grace heard the sickening whiff and the light pull of her hair as he breathed in deep. He smelled of whisky and musk. Grace flinched away.
"I could take you to dinner, a movie; we could go to a club…"
'Hurt him you dope!'
The old man's hand traveled from her shoulder lower over her chest. Grace began to panic as her fear escalated into a sharp gasp which was the closest she would get to a scream.
"Come on baby…It'll be fun…I could treat you right…"
His hand groped gently against her breast, "Ohh girl I could take you home and-"
"Leave her alone!" Snapped a chubby construction worker standing just a few steps away holding onto the bus railing, "What the hell are you doing!"
The old man's hand snapped away from her chest and he straightened into a standing position.
"Mind your business man!" he snapped.
"He was touching on her…" Replied an older woman whose gaze was locked on the window in a way that seemed she didn't really want to get involved one way or the other.
Everyone on the bus was watching Grace and the old man with hidden curiosity. Pretending they weren't watching but the obvious feel of their eyes on her was unmistakable.
Grace shrunk in her chair wishing for her invisibility.
"I wasn't doing nothing!" Yelled the old man outraged.
"Get away from her!" Yelled the construction worker making his way toward him.
The old man was quick to stumble away from Grace.
He and the construction continued to exchange angry words to one another but the old man moved to a further part of the bus and the construction worker moved to then stand beside where Grace sat in the aisle where the old man had stood.
The bus driver called out to them, "Ay! The two of you better settle down or I'ma have both of you thrown off this bus!"
The old man now at the front of the bus was yelling and swearing angrily with the bus driver as the construction worker took hold of one of the standing bars.
"Are you alright?" He asked her in a gentle tone.
Grace said nothing but continued to stare out the window with an unreadable gaze.
Construction worker guy continued to talk to her but his words were a hazy and muffled sound in the background.
Even the fast moving scenery was beginning to blur into a strange sense of none reality.
But she snapped to at the sudden light touch to the shoulder instantly looking to the culprit to find the construction worker quickly retracting his hand.
"I'm sorry…" He replied with a truly sincere look, "But I…you were shaking…a lot."
Grace blinked. Had she been…? She hadn't noticed.
She lowered her gaze to the ground then back out the window before giving a light sniff.
She never said a word, and the construction worker soon lapsed into silence as well.
Though he made sure to stand near her the entire bus ride to her stop.
Distinguished dark brown eyes continued to look to the window…to her reflection.
Her reflection grew a mean grin and whispered,
Grace wasn't sure if the construction worker rode the bus past his stop just to stay on to ensure her safety but he kept next to her till it was time for her to depart.
The old man watched her with dark eyes but made no move to follow. He never excited the bus with her.
Just watched her leave.
Sometimes just to be on the safe side Grace would disembark a few stops before and after her house. This was one of the rare times she got off on her correct stop.
Dusk took it's time rolling in slowly creating a slightly darker blue to the city sky.
By the time Grace climbed the front steps to the stoop of their home the first street light was flickering on.
Once inside she pulled on a conveniently 'ok' mask and called out, "Granddad, I'm home!"
The TV sounded throughout the relatively darkened house from the den. Granddad was retired so all he basically did was sit at home and watch TV. But when he called back his voice sounded from the kitchen.
"Alright baby. Come in here for a second, and talk to your mama!"
Allowing her book bag to fall to the floor with an uncaring thud Grace paused with a start.
An unsettling feeling began to expand in her gut.
"What?" She called back uncertainty evident in her voice.
"Your mama! She's on the phone! Get in here so you can talk to her!"
Grace closed her eyes taking in a deep breath.
Not now…she didn't want to talk to her now. Well…it was rare that Grace ever wanted to talk to her mother but today of all days after the whole deal on the bus…
Her mother was best when it came to noticing that something was wrong. She'd pick up on it in a second.
Even given her current condition.
"Um…" Grace walked through the darkened hall before turning into the kitchen door where she stood unsurely. Looking into the kitchen her granddad stood at the counter with the cordless phone in his hand but upon her presence he turned toward her.
A large balding man with a light skin complexion. He stood with slacks and a simple white T-shirt and worn out house shoes. Wrinkled and thin Grace's granddad had the expression of a permanent scowl on his features.
He gave her a pointed look, and Grace timidly spoke lowly so as not to be heard over the phone, "Tell her…tell her I've got a lot of homework right now so…I can't-"
"Hold on Cherice…Yeah-I said hold on!" He barked into the phone before lowering the device and placing his hand over the speaker.
His pointed look became more pronounced, "Girl, get in here and talk to your mama!" He demanded in a way not meant for argue.
Grace frowned, "Not now…I'm not feeling to good and-"
"Did I ask you all that!" He hissed, "Get your ass in here!"
Grace fumed momentarily before grudgingly making her way into the kitchen.
"You know she only gets to talk to you kids but once a while!" the older man continued angrily as Grace moved to lean against the counter next to her granddad.
He returned the phone properly to his ear, "Alright Cherice she's here…yeah…yeah she just got home. From school, I guess! I don't know ask her yourself!" He remained silent on the phone for a while before finally replying, "Um hm…yeah…I love you too."
Then he pushed himself from the counter and held the phone out for Grace to take.
Grace sent him an un-happy look before taking the phone to her ear.
Granddad shuffled his way to the den muttering the whole time under his breath, "Better be careful who you looking at like that. Gone get slapped around here…"
"Hey baby!" Cried her mother cheerfully from the other line, "Girl it's been such a long time since I've heard from you! How you doin?"
Grace watched till her granddad was safely out of the kitchen, "Okay I guess…How bout you?"
Her mother gave a soft chuckle, "You know…as good as I'm gonna get…but you know I'm hanging in there."
"That's good." Grace mumbled with a plan, "Are they treating you right?"
Maybe if she kept the conversation on her mother she wouldn't notice anything amiss.
There was silence before, "Uhm…well yeah for the most part…they hired this new girl here the other day…to help and try and take care of me. Dumb as bricks. I don't know what the hell they were thinking…And Doctor Jones tells me that I've been doing really well in recent sessions. That's why they gave me permission to call today…" She trailed off grudgingly at that last part. She sounded unsettled with the fact that she had to have permission to call anybody.
It almost made Grace smile. Her mother had always been strong willed.
"And…the night terrors stopped…so that's also a good thing."
Grace took in a deep breath and forced a smile, "Yeah…that's real good mom."
There was silence for a moment before, "Why haven't I heard from you and your brother in so long? You know how I worry."
"Busy mom…school. Work. Stuff."
"Mmm, well you two need to take some time out and come down here. I haven't heard from you two in a long time and I haven't seen you in even longer."
"We were there last month." Grace said.
When there was long round of silence on the other end Grace added, "Nothing's changed all that much since we last seen you…"
Again silence and then, "Are you all right honey…? You don't sound too good."
Grace frowned. Shoot.
"I'm fine mom. What have you and Doctor Jones been talking about lately? Must be good if he's saying you're getting better."
"No…no forget all that. What's wrong with you?"
Grace lowered her gaze to the ground, "Nothing, mom. I said I'm fine."
"You don't sound fine." She spoke softly, "Tell me what's wrong…"
Grace pursed her lips her gaze turning intent on the ground. Though truth be told…this almost was refreshing.
Her questioning was that of a normal worried mother.
Scared for her teenage daughter.
Grace missed moments like these.
When her mother was normal.
It had been a long time.
Her mother hadn't been right ever since that night.
The night daddy was arrested.
Cherice had always had some mental issues. Nothing to serious and as long as she took the right medications it was entirely under control.
But that night…the night she found out about the cellar under the shed.
The night she found daddy down there…
She had a break. A psychotic breakdown. She ran screaming and ranting till the neighbors had come out…and just a few hours later daddy had been arrested.
Grace loved her mother. She had always been strong willed…just not strong minded.
When the silence dragged Grace's mother quietly spoke, "Is it your father…?" In a hushed whisper like it was secret between the two.
Grace raised her gaze up slightly.
There was silence before, "I saw the…I saw the news special today…" She spoke slowly her voice just slightly shaky, "They were talking about postponing his death sentence."
Grace was silent. She wondered what her mother felt about that. She didn't dare ask.
"Doctor Jones…he was impressed…he was very happy to hear that I…that I didn't have a mental break while watching it…I-I wasn't supposed to have been watching it but I…when they saw that I had seen it…the news…" She gave a shaky laugh, "They were sooo surprised and happy for your mama…" Then she gave a mock scoff, "Like I had done some big deed or something…"
But it was big…it was big to Grace anyway…for the longest time her mother couldn't listen to daddy's voice, or see his picture without going into one of her breaks.
Grace didn't want to talk about daddy though…not now…and not to her mother.
So slowly she spoke asking something she had been dreading to hear from her mother for years.
"Mom…before you found daddy in the cellar-"
"How many times do I have to tell you it wasn't a cellar!" She hissed suddenly vicious, "It was a torture chamber!"
Grace took her time before slowly starting again, "Before that night…whenever you weren't medicated…you said you…heard voices…in your head?"
There was silence at the other end, Grace took a quick glance toward the kitchen entrance before pressing the phone closer to her ear, "How old were you when that started…?" she swallowed thickly her hold tightening on the phone, "How old were you…when you started seeing things that weren't there…?"
There was long bout of silence then an almost bitter chuckle, "Why…? Are you seeing things…?"
Grace opened her mouth to speak but no sound came out. She slowly closed her mouth shut.
"You seeing things baby…?" This time there was almost a hint of urgency in her tone, "Are you hearing voices in your head?"
Again Grace tried to speak, again no words formed.
It took her a while before she was finally able to force out, "No…"
Again another round of loud silence.
It was obvious to both she was lying.
"Don't worry baby…" Cherice spoke gently in that conspirator whisper, "It'll be okay…"
Grace had such strong doubts.
In a normal tone of voice her mother asked, "Where's your brother?"
"Mm…I know there aint nothing you told me that you aint told you're brother. If there's anything wrong he'll know what to do."
Grace chewed on her lip before giving a light nod that her mother couldn't see.
And she couldn't see her mother's smile but when she again spoke the words,
"It'll be alright."
Grace knew it was there.
An old and weary novel in hand Grace laid upon her bed holding the open book up before her face reading over the same pages she'd read time and time again.
'The Cather in the Rye'
She had completed her homework, eaten dinner (granddad was big on the takeout) and showered and yet there was still no sign of Rodney.
Granddad had disturbed her solitary more than once asking if she knew where her brother was off to, it was nearly twelve o'clock.
But Grace had answered him the same each time, 'He's not answering my calls or texting me back.'
The old man would only give an annoyed scoff and a roll of his eyes before going back to his business.
Grace would only uncaringly drift back to the pages of her book.
It wasn't unusual for Rodney to stay out late without contact. After work he usually went out with friends for he had a lot of them, or he might end up with his new fling of the month. If the case were a girl he might not return home at all that night.
Which greatly irked Grace, she really needed to talk to him.
Granddad usually gave him till two in the morning, if he wasn't home by then he'd text him himself saying, 'Don't come home tonight.'
And then he and Grace would retire for the night, for what purpose was there for her to stay up if her brother was not coming home?
Thirty minutes later into her book Grace heard the all familiar sign of the front door lock and the open and close of the door as well.
Granddad as always didn't miss a beat he was at the door and yelling in seconds and as always Rodney argued back only half heartedly for he found granddad more of an amusement than authority.
"Boy you'd better have a damn good reason for being out this late!"
"What…late?" She heard the grin in his tone, "Well how….? What time is it? I didn't know-"
"You're supposed to call if you're gonna be out late! How many times I gotta tell you that! And how come you didn't answer my calls or Grace's calls?"
"Did ya'll call? I must have…I wasn't paying attention to my phone."
"Yeah," Granddad replied darkly and unconvinced, "Wipe that smile off your face boy! It ain't funny! Where the hell you been?"
"I was…at a friend's house."
"You don't know him."
"It'd better not have been a girl! The last thing I need from you is getting some bitch knocked up somewhere!"
This time Rodney couldn't stop from laughing, "Granddad it's not a girl!"
"You'll be paying for that child support yourself! You hear me! You aint better never bring no girl around here and she got your child! It aint funny boy!"
Rodney's laughter had grown increasingly and Grace could hear how angry this was making granddad.
She placed a bookmark upon her page and laid the book to rest before reaching over to grab a pillow and place it tightly over her head.
The only half serious argument was going to be a while.
For a moment longer the back and forth continued between the two and Grace released a heavy groan into her pillow,
"Hurry up with this stupid fight already…" She mumbled to no one in particular through her pillow, "I need to talk to you Rodneyyyyy…"
And because the comment had been spoken to herself there was not supposed to have been a reply, yet that didn't stop one from coming.
'What will you say to him?'
Grace thought about the question.
'Will you tell him what happened on the bus today with that….creep?'
Underneath the pillow she pursed her lips, "No…well I don't know…maybe."
'You know how he get's.'
And Grace felt a shift of movement…at least she was pretty sure she did.
She lowered the pillow down from her face so that her nose up was visible.
She allowed her gaze up to find herself sitting down cross-legged wearing one of her many dark dresses that made her look like a giant gothic doll.
The shift of movement she had felt had been due to the slight dip in the mattress from where the other-Grace had sat down.
For one splitting second Grace ran with the idea of running her hand over the dip to see if she could actually feel it. But the idea was gone just as quickly as it had come.
Because if she could feel it…if she could touch the dip in the mattress…it would suddenly be too real for her.
Grace thought about the other-Grace's words.
She had told Rodney about the old man on the bus before. His reaction had been rage and an overprotective tendency to ride with her everywhere she went on the bus for weeks.
The old man had kept his distance but Grace never pointed him out to Rodney. He had been so livid looking out for her that she had been afraid of what he'd do.
Soon she had told him that it had been enough, the old man would surely leave her alone now and that if he ever bothered her again she would tell him. Rodney made her swear the last part.
And even so he still insisted he pick her up whenever possible.
But Grace found it irrelevant; she didn't want to be a burden.
She spoke, "No, I think I'll just tell him about you…and everything else."
Other-Grace looked to her with wide eyes, 'About me? What for?'
Grace stared at other-Grace's astonished expression, "It's getting worse that's why."
Other-Grace simply furrowed her brows with a half shrug, 'I'm like a conscience. Everyone has them. It's not a big deal.'
Grace moved to sit up before moving to sit on the edge of her bed properly her head lowered to the ground as she softly spoke, "It's not just you. It's shadows from the corner of my eye…moving in ways their not supposed to. Things speak. Pictures move. I don't…" Grace looked to other-Grace, "Am I really just making a big deal out of nothing here…? I mean I didn't think it was important a few years back but lately…lately I just don't know."
Other-Grace smiled at her, 'You're fine. You just had a rough day is all. You're perfectly fine. You're normal.'
Grace stared, "…Normal…?"
Then her white stuffed rabbit by the name of puppy turned his head to look to her with button eyes, her childhood photos of herself and her mother and father and Rodney all turned their attention to her, the covers of her books with faces on the front turned to look to her, an old china doll that sat prettily on her dresser turned to look to her, her small collection of tiny ceramic elephants turned their heads to look to her, her small jewelry box with painted teddy bears on the sides turned their gazes to look to her, her plastic piggy bank shifted its eyes to look to her, anything with a face to express, with eyes to judge, with a mouth to speak, all within Graces room looked to the girl and in a single voice everything and nothing spoke as one,
Then other-Grace began to laugh.
Later that night Grace knocked gently against Rodney's door. For a moment there was silence, Grace knocked again then a low grumbled silence called,
She took that as an invitation. Opening the door Grace found Rodney laid back comfortably against his bed his dark and messy room was highlighted only by the blaring TV light that played an old re-run of 'Ren and Stimpy'
Grace looked down to Rodney to find him looking to her questioningly.
"Hey." She started.
The only answer to this was a low, "Hm." As Rodney returned his gaze back to the TV.
Grace moved climbing onto the bed next to him she sat up with her back resting against the headboard.
"I needed to ask you something…"
Rodney gave a low groan before turning away from her bending his pillow to shield his face from her,
"Nooooo….I can't think this late…" he grumbled.
Grace gave a soft nod, "Cartoons that make you stupider will do that to you."
Rodney's body shook lightly causing the bed to do the same and Grace soon realized he was silently laughing.
"You used to like 'Ren and Stimpy'."
"I used to be a kid."
Rodney turned his body to face her then, he grinned, "You still are a kid."
Grace brought a hand up to tuck some dark hair behind her ear, "Where'd you go after work today?"
The older boy huffed lazily turning his attention back to the TV screen, "Out and about."
She had no idea why she asked, where Rodney went was only Rodney's business. He made sure of that. It was one of the few things he never talked about with her.
Grace looked to the TV as well.
"Mom called today."
For a moment neither said anything as they continued to watch the cartoon.
"What she say?"
"She saw the news headline about the protesters trying to postpone the execution."
"Really how'd she see that?"
She gave a half shrug, "I don't know…but she didn't have an episode about it. She talked to her doctor today…he thought it was a good sign."
He gave an agreeable nod, "Yeah it is. Go mom."
"She wanted to talk to you…she wanted to know when we're gonna go visit."
Again Rodney groaned, "I don't feel like driving down to the nutty house! Crazy people make me uncomfortable."
Grace sighed before pointing out, "We haven't been in a while. She misses us."
"I miss her to. Which is why she should try harder to be getting out of there instead of trying so hard to get us to come in there!"
"Well she made progress today. That's good right? She saw dad's face and everything and didn't flip out."
"Yeah it's good." Rodney returned breezily returning his full attention to the cartoon.
Grace followed his attention, she took her time before speaking again, "Rodney can I ask you a question…?"
The corners of Grace's lips pulled down as she continued watching the cartoon.
From a half hooded gaze Rodney raised his gaze up to see his younger sister's displeased frown and something instantly struck him as unpleasant.
"Why what's wrong?"
Grace was quick to pick up on his worry.
She fidgeted slightly and tried hard not to think about the bus ride home, "Nothing…It's just…you know talking to mom today and…do you think that I'm…?"
Rodney stared waiting for her to continue, "Do I think you're what?"
"…Weird…?" Grace silently concluded.
Rodney continued to stare, "Weird? Do I think you're weird?"
Rodney looked back to the TV with disbelieving scoff, "Yeah, I do actually. For asking a question like that out of the blue."
Grace huffed, "I haven't been feeling…well…"
Rodney looked back to her, "What you got a fever or something? Is that the reason for questioning your normality?"
Grace fumed, "No it's like…mom-sick…" And then she looked to Rodney hoping he understood.
"Mom's not sick." He moved to sit up slightly so that they met shoulder to shoulder. He grinned at her, "She just went a little loopy is all."
Grace gave an expression that begged for him to understand, "I think I may be a little loopy as well…"
Slowly but surely Rodney's playful grin eased away and his dark gaze became searching.
He then lowly asked, "What like…are you…?"
"For a long time now I…I've been seeing things and hearing things that aren't really there." Her expression became slightly desperate, "I never told anyone cause I didn't…because mom had to leave and…but I think it's getting worse."
Rodney shifted sitting up straighter so that now he towered over her slightly, "…Are you sure…?"
"Well…how long have you been…?"
"Two years now."
Rodney stared, "And you never told me?"
Grace lowered her gaze in slight guilt.
Rodney huffed looking back to 'Ren and Stimpy' it was on the second episode now.
"You know," He said after a moment's silence, "Mom's psychosis was trigged after she…found out about dad. Maybe you…?"
Grace gave a half shrug, "But she was still always sick you know…even before dad was arrested…and lately it's been getting worse…louder…you know."
For a moment they were met with silence until suddenly Rodney gave a huff of laughter, "No, I don't actually." He looked to his sister with a playful grin hoping to lighten the mood, "It's crazy aint it? I got a serial killer dad, a psycho mom and now a psycho sister. I guess I'm the only sane one in this family."
Grace's expression quickly turned unpleasant.
His grin grew, "Calm down. I'm only playing."
Grace quickly moved off the bed and then made her way toward Rodney's closet. Already understanding what she was doing Rodney quickly moved to sit upon the edge of his bed.
"Grace I said I was playing."
She reached into the closet moving boxes and multiple items out of the way. Reaching all the way in the darkened corner of the closet she pulled out a glass jar.
Rodney tensed, "Grace, come on now..."
Turning back to him Grace wiggled the jar accusingly in Rodney's face, "You call this sane?"
Inside the jar a single woman's finger jingled back and forth a soft clacking noise created by a lovely silver ring fitted upon the digit.
Months after Jermaine's arrest after the police had ram sacked their house and they had moved in with Granddad Rodney had showed it to her. He said he had saved it from the cellar before the police got a hold of it for evidence. Grace had been shocked. When she demanded 'Why' Rodney had simply shrugged and replied, 'I don't know…cause it's dad's work.'
He had stared transfixed and foreign at the finger in the jar when he said that.
He had made her swear not to tell anyone about it and Grace had relented.
Rodney had named it Margret Simmers. He laughed and said, 'Sounds like a rich white lady's name don't it?'
Grace had asked, 'How do you know she was rich?'
'Look at that ring on her finger! She didn't get that from no flea market!'
Grace had simply rolled her eyes.
Rodney frowned, "Give it back." He replied stoically.
If there was one thing he got serious about it was Margret.
Grace narrowed her eyes, "Yeah somebody needs to give you the finger. Might as well be me."
She then tossed the jar haphazardly toward Rodney who scrambled to catch it in an awkward grasp against his chest.
He shot her a glare, "Oh that's funny. I haven't heard that one since…the last time you said it."
Grace was already making her way out the room, "Whatever. You're not as perfect as you like to think." She paused at the door shooting Rodney one last glare, "You're the same as all the rest of us."
"I said I was just playing about all that!" Snapped Rodney, "I know I'm not normal, I'm the furthest thing from it. We both are! But I will tell you this, out of the two of us I'm the most seemingly normal one. And that's all that really matters."
"That's all that matters?" she questioned mockingly.
Rodney stared before looking down to the jar that he held against leg. He slowly trailed a finger around the lid before tapping it gently.
"Grace you don't need to be normal to fit in. You just need to act normal. It's the universal secret behind society."
Rodney raised his gaze back to her and gave a sharp grin,
"I mean, just look at dad…for the longest time he had us all fooled."