Mrs. Stilinski stationed herself near the open front door as Kate stepped into the house, letting the screen door bang closed behind her. The hinges still screamed when the door moved, making her grit her teeth at the sound. She heard shuffling in the living room, footsteps, and then her father appeared in the hallway, Coors Light in hand.
“Well, so they sent you.” Eric Reed said, taking a swallow from the beer almost as soon as he finished speaking.
“I’m here to get just one thing. It was mom’s, anyway.” Kate replied. She kept her voice even, careful to school her expression from the paroxysm of hate it wanted to morph into.
The young girl behind her trembled, her eyes glued to the beer can.
“I don’t give a shit.” Eric said.
Kate traded stares with her father. He stood unmoving by the door to the living room. Kate stood near the door to the house, her body turned slightly toward the opening. Mrs. Stilinski leaned forward and peered in, glaring at Eric.
“Well, go on.” She said to Kate.
Kate nodded, and motioned to the stairs. “I’ll be in the attic. Just give me a sec.”
She moved toward the stairs carefully, keeping an eye on her father, though she tried not to make it obvious. As she put her foot on the front step, Eric opened his mouth.
“What, no hug for your father?”
Kate stilled, her eyes wide. The young girl blinked and took an automatic step forward, her arms halfway up, her expression resigned and fearful at the same time.
“Is that a joke?” Kate said.
The young girl stopped, her gaze turning towards Kate, her arms falling to her sides. Eric just sneered, shrugging, and took another swallow from the Coors.
Kate continued up the stairs, swiftly this time. She made short work of the pull down ladder in the hall ceiling and scrambled up the rungs. The boxes were near the front of the attic, just like her mom had said, clearly labeled with black Sharpie as “Ainsley’s Photo Albums”.
Oddly, it was Eric’s handwriting on the boxes.
Though big, the boxes weren’t that heavy to carry, and after a quick moment of indecision Kate bent her knees and dragged the boxes to the edge near the ladder. It didn’t take her long to wrangle each box down to the floor, and after lifting the ladder back into place and closing the door, Kate bent her knees again and lifted both boxes and hurried down the stairs.
“So, I’ll be going.” Kate said.
She avoided her father’s gaze as she reached the bottom of the stairs, the boxes nearly reaching her nose. The young girl had stayed downstairs and stood back against the far wall as far as possible from Eric, watching his every move.
“So that’s it?”
Kate paused on the way to the door, breath catching in her throat. “That’s what I said.”
“So that’s it,” Eric repeated, throwing his now empty can of beer to the floor. The metallic clang of the aluminum resounded on the wood floors, only matched by the screeching of the screen door hinges as Mrs. Stilinski yanked it open. “This is all I get? No thank you, no “Hi, Dad”, no “How are you?” You just walk in here and take your stuff and leave?”
Eric was red in the face already, spittle flying from his mouth. Kate just watched him, the sight so familiar to her, the level of anger a quantity she could gauge. It wasn’t dangerous yet.
The young girl went from trembling to shaking uncontrollably, small noises escaping her mouth, her breathing fast.
“I’m going to leave now.”
“Like you and your bitch of a mother left before. It was your fault anyway! You’ll leave when I let you, you worthless piece of shit!” Eric screamed the last word, hurling the insult like a weapon.
The young girl began to cry, but Kate’s eyes remained dry as she stared at her father, watching him as if he was a creature she’d never seen before.
“Is that what your father used to call you?”
Behind her, Kate heard Mrs. Stilinski gasp. Her father’s face lost color, the red disappearing into a mottled white.
It was dangerous now.
He lunged at her, arms outstretched, his body overtaken by his rage until there was nothing left of the man.
The young girl screamed, shielding her face with her arms.
Bending, Kate plopped the boxes gently on the ground as her father came closer, straightening and sidestepping around her father as he reached her, until she was behind him, grabbing his arm as she passed, and bending it behind his back. With a swift kick to the back of his knee, she drove him down to the floor, yanking his bent arm further up his back. She gripped the back of his neck with her other hand, forcing his face to the floor.
He bucked up against her, but she was no longer twelve years old, and held him steady. “Don’t make me shove your face into the floor.”
The young girl stood next to them, hugging herself and sobbing, but her gaze was on Kate.
“You bitch,” Eric hissed, his breath coming in gasps, sharp little sounds that told Kate how much pain he was in. She shifted his bent arm just a little more. Eric yelped.
The screen door screeched again as Mrs. Stilinski stepped fully into the house. Kate glanced at her quickly, shaking her head. Mrs. Stilinski gripped her shovel.
“You have a lot a nerve— “Eric said.
“You have a lot of nerve. Blaming my mom and me for everything you’ve done. You beat us. You terrorized us. I’m not taking the blame for that. Not anymore!”
“I wouldn’t have beat you if you had behaved—“
“Shut up! You haven’t the faintest idea what you’re talking about. I’m not taking the blame, and neither is my mom.”
Eric tried to struggle again, and Kate bent his arm further. He groaned, subsiding. She stared down at the back of his neck, covered in sweat, reeking of alcohol, and knew if she wanted to, she could bend his arm to the breaking point. Listen to him scream for once.
“I’m not like you,” She whispered. She didn’t know if Eric heard her, but she didn’t care. She glanced up, movement in the corner of her eye catching her attention, and she stared directly at the young girl, eyes slightly glazed. “It’s not our fault.”
The young girl’s breathing changed as Kate looked into her eyes. Eric was just at her feet but she didn’t even look at him. Her tears were still flowing, but softer now, and her eyes were clear as she looked at her grown self. She faded, calm, and Kate blinked rapidly as if just waking from a dream.
She looked back down at her father. “I’m not like you. I’m leaving, and when I get up you will not move. Do hear me?” She yanked his arm for emphasis.
Eric grunted in pain. “Yeah. Yeah, okay! Just get out of here!”
“Okay.” Kate said.
She stood up, releasing him. She picked up the boxes and carried them through the front door as Mrs. Stilinski held it. They walked down the porch steps together, neither looking back, while Mrs. Stilinski gripped her shovel, and Kate stared straight ahead, gripping her mother’s memories in her arms.
“Well,” Mrs. Stilinski began, as they reached the Mustang. “That went well.”
“Yeah,” Kate said. “I think so too.”