Creepy Hollow 7, Page 2Rachel Morgan
“Don’t you dare pin this on Georgia. She would never steal from me.”
“Well it isn’t me, so that doesn’t leave anyone else, does it.”
Chelsea lets out an incredulous laugh. “I cannot believe you, Emerson. After everything I’ve done for you. I work so hard to take care of both of you, and this is how you repay me? You steal from me and then you run all over town doing that useless parkour nonsense.”
“Everything?” I repeat. “Did you say after everything you’ve done for me?” Normally I’d keep my mouth shut. I’d bite down my anger and let her try to convince herself how amazingly charitable she is. But not this time. Not when she’s taken my one chance at visiting Mom. “You mean giving me Georgia’s second-hand clothing, making me sleep in what is essentially your storeroom for five years, and using me as your live-in maid?”
“I gave you a home,” she shouts. “You should be grateful for the roof over your head. What would have happened to you if there’d been no one to take you in after they locked your mother up? Your father sure as hell didn’t want you. He seems to be covering all your mother’s medical bills in that fancy faraway hospital, but is he interested in supporting you? Nope. I’ve never even met the man.”
Chelsea’s used this tack before to try to hurt me, but it never works. I couldn’t care less about my father or the fact that he has no interest in me. I don’t even know what he looks like. “Please,” I say between clenched teeth. “Just give me back my money.”
“You’re not getting this money back, Emerson. End of story.” Chelsea tucks the plastic bag back into her pocket and turns to her shelves of herbal garbage. Georgia pushes herself out of her chair and leaves the room. I stand there feeling sick, my body shaking, finally realizing that the hope I’ve been holding onto for months—the hope of finally visiting Mom again—is gone. And I can’t even blame Chelsea for it. Not entirely. Not when someone else is responsible for this mess.
I stride out of the salon and head for Georgia’s room. She’s sitting on her bed with a magazine, smiling sweetly, knowingly.
“It was you,” I say, taking a few steps into her room. “You told her where my money was.”
She lowers the magazine. “What could you possibly need all that money for, Em? You know we need it to keep the household running. How could you be so selfish?”
“How could you be so selfish stealing from your own mother?”
“I need things,” she says. “Things you don’t need. Things you wouldn’t understand, and Mom doesn’t seem to understand either.”
I glare at her for another few moments, my anger so intense I could scream. But it would do no good. I still have to get through another few months here, and so I clamp my mouth shut, turn around, and aim for the door.
But that’s when I see it: Hanging from a knob on the wardrobe, the tag still attached to the hem, is a brand new dress. “This is the stuff you need?” I demand, grabbing the hanger, spinning around, and shaking the dress at her.
“Yes.” She sits a little straighter, as if I’ve finally got her attention now that I’m threatening her clothing. “I have a boyfriend and a social life and a future. That kind of stuff doesn’t come for free. You have to look good if you want to—”
I fling the dress at her, and she yelps as it hits the side of her head. “You bought a dress?” I yell. “I’ve been saving for almost a year so I could visit my mother, and you took that away from me for a DRESS?”
Something flashes across the room. Light and heat and the sound of a sizzle. It vanishes as Georgia falls back against the pillows with a scream.
Fear cracks through my anger, drenching me in goosebumps. I rush over to Georgia. “What’s wrong? What happened?”
She shoves me away with one hand, the other covering her cheek. “What the hell did you do to me?” she gasps, her eyes wider than I’ve ever seen them.
“I didn’t do—”
“You threw something at me! Like a firecracker or something. You freak, what is wrong with—”
“I didn’t throw anything!”
“Get off her!” Chelsea’s hands wrap around my shoulders and tug me backward.
In the quiet that follows, all I hear is my heavy breathing and Georgia’s whimpering. She lowers her hand, revealing blood seeping from a shallow gash across her cheek. She glares at me with renewed hatred. “Oh, my poor baby,” Chelsea gasps, grabbing a tissue from the box on the nightstand. She drops onto the bed beside Georgia and presses the tissue against her cheek before turning her scowl toward me. “I can’t do this anymore, Em. You have never shown any gratitude for the sacrifices I’ve had to make for you. You’ve stolen from me, and now you’ve physically assaulted Georgia. The police can deal with you.”
She stands and brushes past me. “You’re not my problem anymore.” I follow her into the kitchen where she picks up her phone from the table. When she taps a few numbers and brings the phone to her ear, I realize she isn’t joking.
Fear dissolves my anger. “Chelsea, wait. I’m sorry. Georgia provoked me, but I shouldn’t have lost my temper like that. It won’t happen again. You don’t have to bring the cops into this. Please.” I feel sick having to beg her, having to plead with this woman who’s made me scrub toilets, do Georgia’s laundry, lie to the various men she’s always stringing along, and then demand my gratitude for the privilege of doing all these things for her. But it’s only for a few more months. Then I’ll be eighteen, school will be done, and I can make a plan to get out of here. But if the police get involved, who knows where I’ll end up.
“No,” Chelsea says. “I can’t believe you’re making me do this, but I have no choice now. I have to protect my daughter.”
“Chelsea, please. Protect her from what?” I step closer, clasping my hands together beneath my chin. “I swear I’ll never—”
“You’re going to end up as crazy as your mother,” she snaps, “and I don’t want you in this house when that happens.”
I reel back as if she slapped me.
“Hello?” she says into the phone, turning away from me. “Yes, um, please can you send someone to—”
I bolt past her toward the back door.
“Hey, get back here!” she yells as I tug the door open and run.
But I don’t go back. And I don’t stop running.
I race across the backyard, scale the neighbor’s fence, and easily vault the low wall on the other side of their garden. I have no plan other than to get as far away from home as possible before the cops show up. My sneakers slam pavements and my body launches across several more obstacles before I realize I’m heading for Val’s house. I get about halfway there when I remember she won’t be home. I’m not sure what time that party was supposed to start, but things generally get going pretty early around here. It’s not like there’s much else to do. Besides, Val’s house is probably the first place Chelsea will send the cops.
I slow my steps and place my hands on my hips as I catch my breath. My heart is thrumming, my body almost vibrating. I force myself to take a long, slow breath. “What the hell are you doing?” I mutter to myself. Maybe I shouldn’t have run. Maybe I should have stayed and explained myself. What’s the worst that could have happened?
You’re going to end up as crazy as your mother.
If the cops believe Chelsea—if someone performs some kind of medical test on me and her words turn out to be true—then the worst that could happen isn’t a physical assault charge. It isn’t juvy or community service or whatever the local law enforcement decides is a suitable punishment for me. No, the worst thing would be ending up in a facility just like my mother’s. Locked away to keep me from hurting others. Drugged to keep me from seeing things that aren’t there.
Basically, my worst nightmare would come true.
I find myself running again, this time toward Jade Mason’s place on the outskirts of town. It’s further away than I remember, and I’m breathles
s by the time I get there. I slow down near the bottom of the long driveway so I’m not a sweaty, panting mess when I reach the party.
Outside the Masons’ house, I find people milling around beside a bonfire and others sitting on the porch. Music reaches my ears. Not seeing Val anywhere outside, I run up the porch steps and into the house.
“Yo, Em, you made it this time.” Eric, the idiot who sits next to me in English class, nods at me from where he’s leaning against the hallway wall with some of his friends. “Hey, did you bring any of that herbal stuff your aunt sells?” He makes a few thrusting motions with his pelvis while his friends laugh. “You know how it gets me—”
“Is Val here?” I ask.
“Yeah, that way.” He jerks his head toward the living room at the other end of the hallway. “Want a drink first?”
I walk past him without answering, letting the howls and boos from his friends mingle with the thumping background music. In the dim, smoky living room, Dash is standing just inside the doorway, commanding an audience of several girls. His eyebrows twitch momentarily into a frown when he sees me, but it only lasts a moment. Then he shakes his head and smirks.
Ignoring him, I walk into the room and spot Val on a couch with a bunch of our classmates. She has a cup in each hand. “Val!” I hurry over to her.
“Hey, you came.” She beams at me as she shuffles over and nods her head toward the open spot on the couch. “Come sit here.”
“No, I’m—can I talk to you?”
She must hear the urgency in my voice—or perhaps see it on my face—because she pushes herself to her feet immediately. “Something wrong?” she asks, walking with me to the edge of the room. We stop beside a window. My body still feels like it’s humming, so I shake my hands, roll my shoulders, and force myself to breathe out slowly. Val frowns. “Em, what is it?”
“Chelsea found my stash of money. She freaked out and accused me of stealing from her.”
“What? No way. You would never steal from her.”
“Of course I wouldn’t. It was obviously Georgia, but there’s no point in telling Chelsea that. She would never believe her little angel capable of stealing. And then … I—I lost my temper, and Georgia and I were fighting, and I scratched her face.” I can’t tell Val it wasn’t me. I can’t tell her that something strange and inexplicable happened in that room. She’d probably look at me the same way Chelsea did in the kitchen. You’re going to end up as crazy as your mother. “And then she said she can’t deal with me anymore and called the cops.”
“Seriously?” Val looks at me as if she may not have heard correctly. “Chelsea called the cops because you scratched Georgia? That’s ridiculous.”
“I know. But …” I look around. “Is your cousin here? Lexi? If I can talk to her, then she can explain to her dad what actually happened, and he can tell the other cops, and then they won’t take me away.”
“Take you away?” Val starts laughing. “Em, you need to chill. Uncle Pete isn’t going to take this seriously. He knows you’re not, like, an actual criminal. Maybe he’ll make you pick up litter in the park or something, just to keep Chelsea happy, but he isn’t going to take you away.”
Suddenly I wonder if I’m being as silly as Val seems to think. It was just a scratch, after all. Well, a bit more than a scratch, but hardly life-threatening. “You think?” I run a hand through my hair, not willing to relax just yet.
“Yeah, come on. This is a small town. We all know each other. People don’t get locked up for something this stupid.”
“What do you mean you guess?” She smiles and nudges me with one hand still grasping a cup. Cold liquid sloshes over the edge and splashes my arm. “Obviously I’m right about this. So just relax. Have fun. Get a drink.”
I sigh, trying to breathe out my panic and not fully succeeding. “You remember that this kind of setting isn’t exactly my idea of fun, right?”
“I know. But Jade’s brother’s friend Marcus is gonna be here soon, and I need backup. You know I get weird when I’m left alone with a hot guy. Please stay.”
I don’t exactly want to stay, but it’s probably the best option. Chelsea wasn’t joking about pressing charges—or attempting to, at least—but she’ll probably calm down if I give her a bit of space for the night. “Yeah, okay.”
“Yay.” Val grins. “Here, have a drink.” She holds one of her cups out toward me, then rolls her eyes at my raised eyebrow. “It’s non-alcoholic, I promise. Gotta stay hydrated, remember? Alcoholic—” she lifts the other cup “—and non-alcoholic.”
I hesitate, but I’m thirsty after working in the diner’s kitchen all afternoon, taking the extra-long route home, and then running across town to get here. I realize it’s been hours since I drank anything. “Thanks.” I survey the room over the top of the cup as I take a gulp, expecting something sweet and fizzy. But the drink burns like fire all the way down my throat. I cough and splutter and shove the cup back toward Val.
“Val, this is awful,” I manage to say. “What’s in it?”
With a confused expression, she takes the cup from me and sips. Then she raises the other cup, sniffs, and tastes it. “Hmm.” Her frown deepens. “I guess they both have alcohol. I must have finished the soda already.” She shrugs. “Oh well. At least you only had a little.”
“What? I’m sorry. I didn’t do it on purpose. And one sip isn’t going to kill you.”
I cough again, trying to rid my throat of the burning sensation. “It was a bit more than a sip,” I mutter.
Val downs the remainder of one cup, then leaves it on the windowsill and grasps my hand. As she tugs me behind her, I hope we’re headed back to the couch I found her on. Instead, she pulls me into the next room where too many people are squished together, nodding their heads in time to the beat and yelling to each other over the music.
Val leans into me and says, “Ooh, Marcus is here already. See him over there in the corner? And you can snuggle up to that guy he’s with. Maybe we’ll both end up with someone by the end of the night, and then we’ll go double-dating and get married and live happily ever after.”
I shake my head at Val’s ridiculous daydreams. “Right, and then they’ll cheat on us, and we’ll both end up alone like our moms.”
“Hey!” Val smacks my arm, but her smile jumps back into place as she pulls me across the room toward Marcus and his friend. The friend’s name is Trent, and sure, he’s not bad to look at, but I’m way too distracted to enjoy his company. I lean against the wall, playing with the hairband around my wrist and occasionally nodding so the three of them think I’m paying attention to their conversation. Instead, my thoughts are far away, flitting continuously between Chelsea’s words—you’re going to end up as crazy as your mother—the cloaked person I imagined on the street, and the unexplained gash across Georgia’s cheek. Around and around my thoughts go, until nothing seems to make sense anymore.
I become aware that my body is still humming. Probably Val’s awful drink. That doesn’t make sense, my thoughts whisper at the back of my mind, but I’ve never drunk alcohol before, so how would I know? Maybe everyone starts to feel strange after one giant sip.
Val is looking at me, smiling and speaking, and I try to follow what she’s saying, but I can’t seem to focus anymore. Her words slip in one side of my head and out the other, and the room is somehow … tilting just the slightest. I look at the floor, but it seems normal. This feeling in my head isn’t normal, though. This hazy semi-awareness. The sensation that I’m cocooned in something soft that dampens the thump, thump, thump of the music and the sound of Val’s voice. Perhaps I should be concerned, but I can’t find the part of me that cares. The part of me that wants to fall into this soft cocoon and sleep is taking over.
I remember the couch in the next room. “I’m just … gonna …” I point to the door and start moving toward it. I’ve never had to concentrate on wa
lking upright, but it’s strangely difficult right now. The floor keeps wanting to move up toward me.
The couch is packed with people. They wouldn’t like it if I lay down on them, so I manage to maneuver my way out of the room and into the hallway. I drag my hand along the wall, keeping myself upright as I make my way to the front door. The air outside is cooler, fresher. I stand on the porch for a while, leaning against the railing and breathing in deeply until I notice the air isn’t that fresh after all. It smells like smoke.
I need to get home. I need to walk and breathe and leave this weird haziness behind. I need to sleep. Everything will be clearer when I wake up in the morning.
The porch stairs are a challenge, but I manage to navigate them. I’m relieved to be on the grass and moving away from the house and the people, but the cotton-wool stuffiness in my brain seems to follow me.
“Hey, there you are.” Val appears at my side. “Are you leaving already?”
“Whatareyou … doingoutside?” I pause, open my mouth wider, and focus intently on not slurring my next words. “You should be in there with your hot guy.”
“Ugh, no, I just said the dumbest thing ever. Marcus looked at me like I was a kid. So embarrassing. I swear, I wish the earth had just split open and swallowed me whole.”
“So what?” I mumble, my voice resonating oddly in my ears as I sway on the spot. “Then let the earth split open and swallow you whole.”
A tremor rumbles beneath our feet. “What was that?” Val asks.
With a grinding screech, a jagged tear zigzags across the garden, tearing the earth open. Terror shreds through some of the cotton wool in my head, making everything a little clearer. I smother a scream and stumble backward.
But Val slips at the edge of the crack and slides into it.
“Val!” I fall onto my knees and scramble closer. She’s clinging to the edge, screaming. I can’t see how deep the crack is, but suddenly it begins narrowing. As I grab onto Val’s arms, dark earth closes in around her body. “Stop!” I gasp. “Stop, please stop! Help!” I give her arms a desperate tug, lose my grip on her, and fall backwards.