Stephanie fights reality every day. The voices inside, the ones declaring her worth, deem her broken, used and dirty. She is an object. A toy. Something to be tossed aside when bored. Who will believe her if she whispers the truth about her wrecking ball of a family? Eventually, her secret explodes and the person who means the most to her knows just how shattered she is and why she’s so afraid. But rescue is closer than she realizes. Hidden in plain sight, her horror hasn’t been ignored by everyone. Racing against the truth of what she faces, forces are joining together and developing a plan to free her from the hell in her own backyard. And while she’s at her lowest point, she’s hit with the beauty of love at any cost – redemption in the face of ruin. Will it be enough?
*Warning: Contains mature content that may not be suitable for younger audiences*
She was crying. I remember the dread. Her sniffs to keep her tears at bay interrupted her coughs to cover her muffled sobs; I was stuck. I furrowed my eyebrows in exasperation. I hated coming into contact with people who cried, especially those who made a habit of it. I always felt obligated to do something—and there was nothing more awkward than wondering how to comfort a stranger. I struggled with comforting myself, so how could I find the words to make it better for someone else? Maybe it was selfish, but I chose to ignore the tears. I tucked my hair behind my ear and pretended to be focused on the light blue taking over the deep violet of the sky.
“I never should have gone home yesterday.”
Was this girl seriously trying to make conversation? I studied my fingers as if suddenly my nail beds were absolutely fascinating…hoping her monologue would end there. I didn’t need any more drama in my life. I wrinkled my nose at the discovered dirt underneath my fingernails and made a mental note to clean them when I got home.
“I never should have believed him when he said he’d change.”
Her words were stilted, interrupted by hiccuped sobs.
She wasn’t going to stop talking. I could feel the words brushing up against my ribs—the I’m really not who you should be talking to about this and this is making me uncomfortable—but the phrases stopped in my throat, where they usually landed. Right up there with all of the other no and please don’t and not this time, I mean it that always fell on deaf ears.
I sighed and glanced at my forgotten journal—the empty pages aching to be filled with thoughts and questions and descriptions—but there wasn’t anything I could do but listen, so I did. I turned my face halfway toward hers.
Apparently, that’s all she needed. I never even had to say a word.
“I mean, it’s not like he’s my dad or anything, but he’s sleeping…” Her words halted as she lifted her eyes toward mine. “He’s married to my mom. You think he’d try something else other than crawling in the same bed as me.”
She had my attention then. Was she…was she serious? Somewhere in the recesses of my social understanding I found my voice as I tried to ignore the funny feeling creeping inside my stomach.
“Is this some kind of sick joke?”
“I had to wait a little longer than normal to get out of the house this time,” she shuddered. “He, uh…he fell asleep…” She couldn’t finish—the tears continued, streaming down her face.
“Listen, you don’t have to tell me this.”
She shrugged and looked at toward the sky. “Do you ever look at the sunrise and feel hope? It’s a new day. What’s left behind in yesterday has passed and there is nothing you can do to bring it back. It’s reliable. The promise of a morning sky supersedes anything I’ve ever known. It’s beautiful. All of the colors, mixing together to create a new shade…”
Her voice dropped to just above a whisper. “Without the sunrise I wouldn’t feel alive. The sunrise reminds me there’s always another day coming.”
I was speechless. Who was this girl? I didn’t recognize her. I noted the oversized hoodie, sock sleeves and greasy hair but nothing came to me other than the fact that she knew the words for what I struggled to convey.
Somewhere in the distance, birds began to sing, a three note song of hope and promise; glancing at the sky I gasped, the light blue began to mix with the red to create a rainbow of radiating light standing in stark contrast to the few stars remaining behind.
I turned to hear more of her story; despite my best introversion, I was held captive by the intricate connection I felt in such a short amount of time. Forgotten were the feelings of disdain at the beginning of our meeting; I wanted to know more. I wanted a chance to ask questions. I needed to know I really wasn’t alone. But I was keenly disappointed to see that she was gone.
Her words echoed in my brain. How had she known to say what she did? How could someone have the same story? I looked around one more time, to make sure I hadn’t missed her hiding in a corner of bushes or shrinking back undetected, but she was no where to be found. Gathering my bags, I made my way to the front door—glancing the entire time at the faces around me. Where did she go? I wondered, How could she have just…disappeared?
The first bell sounded, signaling the custodians to unlock the doors so we wouldn’t have to wait in the cold anymore. The crowd forming outside dissipated as students rushed in the doors to get away from the brisk morning air. I sat for a while, dumbfounded. Should I wait? Should I let someone know what I heard? I thought of my own story, of the nights I would rather forget and the memories left behind the caged doors of my mind, and knew I’d never tell a soul. Turning around, I walked through the doors of my school, my thoughts on everything but the homework I still had to complete for my first period class.
That was when I met her, though. That was when I met the girl who changed my life with a single conversation. I never saw her again, even though I constantly look for her in the crowded hallways of the school. Every once in a while, I hear the conversation with stunning clarity in my memory. This stranger, in one simple phrase, threw my world incredibly off-kilter. And regardless of whether I ever see her again or whether she was a figment of my often times active imagination, I don’t care. Her words give me a reason to believe. Her words help me realize the power of hope.
About the Author
Elora Ramirez lives in Austin, Texas with her chef-husband. At the age of four, she taught herself how to read and write, cutting her teeth on books like Dr. Suess and writing anywhere she could find the space—including her Fisher Price kitchen set, the pages of picture books and Highlights Magazine. Since then, she’s grown to love the way words feel as they swell within her bones. Writing holy and broken is her calling, and pushing back the darkness and pursuing beauty through story is her purpose. She loves hip-hop, wishes she lived by the beach and cannot write without copious amounts of coffee, chocolate, and her husband’s lavender liqueur.
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