"Crystal! Crystal!" I could hear Kenzie's enthusiastic calls, her small feet pounding on the hardwood floors. My heart skips a bear before I glanced at Arielle, quickly handing her Rory and seeking out Kenzie. I entered the hall only to collide painfully into her, which causes her to screech, "Crystal!"
She was too loud, much too loud. The fear of the realization made me fall face first into hysterics. "Hush, Kenzie, or else you'll wake Rory and Mama wouldn't be too happy." It was a lie by all extremes, because it was Daddy that I was scared of, but I didn't want Kenzie to be as scared of him as I was. Even still, I saw Kenzie's face drop slightly, but then beam again. "Crystal!" She whispered enthusiastically. I wanted to roll my eyes, but knew it would only upset her. "Will you read my story? Pretty, pretty please?"
I frown, not having any idea what she means. "Your story?"
Kenzie bounced, joy pumping through every little pore of her body. "Yeah! We're writing stories about home and I want to make sure it sounds good."
I could feel my breath catch in my chest as I wondered just how oblivious Kenzie was to what our home was to others. This was a time bomb likely to explode if I didn't intervene. I mean, for a seven year old, would she even notice? Would a ten year old? Because I certainly knew that this wasn't really home. We were not one unit. We were all struggling to save ourselves, whether the younger kids knew this or not. But I nod, knowing I could be the one to censor it. It was officially my moral obligation to make sure the whole truth wasn't in the story. This could not slip by because our very existence depended on it.
As I let Kenzie lead me away, I was as amused as I was scared. In the amused sense, I am not the oldest. I'm the second oldest. Arielle is five years older than me and yet, all the little kids come to me for everything. When Ben or Cadence have nightmares or are scared, they run to me. That was just how it was. Arielle mainly did the cooking, the cleaning, the bathing, the laundry. Things like that. I did everything personal and emotional, but I wasn't really sure why. Somehow I knew it wasn't really my job.
Kenzie grabbed my hand and pulled me onward. By not resisting, I had accepted the offer of reading her story, which made her very excited. "Do you want me to read it to you?"
"Sure." I said this because she needed to practice reading, and if she had included anything too personal, I knew that would seep into the way I spoke. I gently guided her to the kitchen where Ben and Cadence are playing so that baby Rory wouldn't wake. The two little ones hardly noticed my entrance, so I settled with Kenzie at the table quickly.
Kenzie gave me a swift smile before turning to her paper. "Home by Kenzie Janae Bryan," she started, trying to sound very serious. "Once upon a time, there lived a man and a woman who were neighbors." I immediately recognize the story of how my parents met and how my mother fell desperately in love with my father. Well, the man that existed before becoming the manipulator. "It was like love at first sight. They got married and had some kids and moved into a big house.
"This man and woman are my parents." I half tuned out of what Kenzie was saying because it wasn't anything new to me. Nothing caught my attention, so wasn't bothered. I watched Cadence toddle out towards the front living room where Arielle was cradling Rory. I thought vaguely about going to get her but decided against it. Instead, I focused on Ben sprawled out on the floor, coloring in a book of Spider Man. Ben made special care not to color outside the lines, which somewhat impressed me. He's always been careful about meticulous things like that. He is such a perfectionist, I could just tell. Then again, perfection is what is expected from Daddy…
Kenzie's story comes to a close and I smile. "Nice, Kenz. Your teacher will love it."
Kenzie beamed at me, definitely pleased by my response. "You really think so?"
I nod. "Oh yeah." Especially because it had nothing to do with what home was really like, which became a situation no sooner than a second after these very words fly through my mind.
I heard Cadence screaming, but not just any screaming. It's the kind that makes you nauseous to have to hear it, especially from a toddler. Arielle calls it blood curdling which paints a horribly vivid picture in my mind. My heart skips again and I instinctively started crying out of old habit. Despite my learned reaction, I get up and push Kenzie towards the second living room, the one that connects to the kitchen. I pull Ben up with us as I hurried to the living room. He gives a whine of protest at first, but then a whimper of fear when it sinks in that he is in danger. "Behind the couch," I say as calmly as I could despite the tears already falling from my eyes. Kenzie and Ben look at me, scared like always. It broke my heart because they didn't know this was something bad or something bad that someone could get in trouble for. This was just another ordinary day for them. For all of us.
They believed that when Daddy did this, they really deserved it.
I wanted to hide behind the couch, too, but I was scared for Rory and Cadence. Both were so little, so tiny and fragile. Rory could be killed in a heartbeat. I had to try and save him, so I headed off towards the front living room, where Arielle almost collides with me. "Crystal, give Rory to Kenz. Get him out of here, then go back to get Cadence. I'm going to try and distract him before he can hurt her more." I am relieved to see Rory safe and sound, though awake, his big eyes staring up at me in curiosity. I want to just hold him, protect him from Daddy, but then I hear Cadence give another blood curdling cry, one worse than her usual screaming cries of fear and pain. I quickly cuddle Rory deep into my arms and gently kiss his forehead. I could see him react, but the curiosity won him over. There was distress seeping into those innocent little eyes, and it just about killed me. I wanted to linger with Rory, Ben, and Kenzie, to tell them it would be okay, but then I heard Arielle screaming something, so I rushed towards the couch and crouched low by Kenzie.
"Take him, and make sure Daddy doesn't touch him. Promise me you won't let Daddy hurt him, okay?" Kenzie nodded as I placed Rory into her tiny arms. She tried to hold him safely so he wouldn't cry and grab Daddy's attention. Ben looks up at me with the same colored hazel eyes as our daddy's, but his are scared. Daddy's are mean. Daddy's are all hate. "Don't worry, Benny, I'm just going to get Cadence."
I didn't wait around to reassure him more even though I know they needed it. I had to hustle towards the other living room to get Cadence. I walked in just as Daddy's fist collided with Arielle's stomach. I could see Cadence curled up on the ground, but she wasn't moving, even though I could swear I was hearing her screams. The sounds were all going blurry and muddled, but I knew she was screaming. She had to be. Panic takes me towards her, desperate to protect her from anymore harm. She must see me as I run towards her because she reached for me, her face red, quickly going maroon from the horrid cries. She was not able to breathe because of her tears. I tried soothing her, but nothing seemed to help. The pain was too intense for such a small body and she was too hysterical. Her face was already bruising from at least one of the blows. "Cada, don't cry, baby girl. It's alright." I repeated this over and over again until Cadence's cries turn to mere whimpers. Somehow the scene around us has frozen in time, by some crazy miracle, but I knew I only had a few more seconds before Daddy's rage pressed forward, so I swiftly took Cadence to the couch. I went to the other side and told her to crawl next to Ben, which she did. Ben put his arms around her, hugging her like he always did. Like I always did when I tried to protect him.
The thoughts of crawling in too trickled away when I heard Daddy scream. "Crystal!"
My heart stopped, but I just bit my lip and headed off to the direction of my father's voice. I knew what was coming, and it was the only thing to keep the little ones safe. It was all I could do to keep their screaming away. I left them there behind that couch, knowing what would happen. Knowing every moment would be hell, but I pressed on, only stopping when his eyes met mine. When I looked at my father, I saw nothing of me in him. Not his eyes, his hair, his face, his heart. Nothing. And that is what he spat at me. "You little freak, I can't even stand to look at you sometimes. You're the freak and I am sick of you messing things up."
I knew that by this, he meant that I looked like my mother. And for whatever reason, he hated her now and to him, she was just his property. But Mommy loved me a lot. She always called me her clone, and I loved that because she was the most beautiful person in the world, and I wanted to be like her someday. But Mommy had been sick all the time. Daddy had money and kept her alive, but he didn't care if she died. She cried every night for her children because of the lives they had to live at the hands of our father. She was too sick to protect us, to weak to try and help us escape. How my mother and my father married, I will never know. If he hated her, how was it that Mommy ever fell in love with Daddy?
I had everything of my mother. I had her beautiful dark brown, wavy hair. Her deep blue eyes that are always huge and breathtaking. Her flowing voice. Her kind and loving heart and spirit. Mommy was my world and because I was all her, and almost no Daddy, Daddy hated me. All I had of his were some of the facial features. My eyes were shaped like his and my nose was much like his. But these features were minute in the scheme of things that Daddy ignored them. Everyone else has at least some of Daddy, so he didn't hate them. Arielle and Cadence had Daddy's dirty blonde hair. Kenzie, Ben, and Cadence had his eyes. Arielle's was closer to Daddy's than Mommy's. The only reason he hurt the others was if they acted like Mommy, which was almost always. He wanted us all just like him.
Daddy came at me suddenly and beat me to the ground. As I felt his foot make contact with my ribs, I couldn't help but feel both relieved and disturbed. Not because Daddy hurt us. No. Because Kenzie not ever made mention of the fact that Daddy liked to hurt us for fun.