I SMUDGE A PENCIL LINE with my finger, creating a shadow under the horse’s mane. He’s white. Pure. Exactly the kind of horse—
Mom. I sigh.
I roll onto my back and hug the sketchbook to my chest. I study the stippled ceiling for the pictures I found in it yesterday: the Man in the Moon, a brave knight’s sword. My bedroom isn’t anything exciting with its yellow, wood-panelled walls and shabby decor, but when I close the door, I leave the rest of the world behind. This is the one place where I can just breathe.
My stomach growls.
When I finally set down my drawing pad, the pencil rolls off my bed and bumps across the cold tile floor. I pick it up and inspect the lead, hoping it isn’t broken.
Mom and Trevor are already at the table when I sit down to a plate with four fish sticks and a lump of mushy fries. Mom’s eyes don’t leave her food. She uses the side of her fork to cut a piece of fish. Then she shoves it into her mouth, clenching her jaw as she chews.
Trevor sits right across from me, watching. I look back at the food and poke at the fries with my fork.
“Don’t be so picky. Show some appreciation,” Mom says.
I swallow a tough, overcooked mouthful of fish, while Mom scrapes her plate with her fork and Trevor chomps. I gingerly cut my fish and chew slowly, trying to be silent. Unseen.
My runners are on the floor beside me, next to the front door. I’d like to charge through that door and disappear from this place forever.
Trevor’s food mashing gets on my nerves. I glance up. His eyes are still boring into me. I drop my head and steal a glance at Mom out of the corner of my eye. She’s glaring at Trevor. Then me. I pretend not to notice as her lips tighten into a thin line.
She drops her fork on her plate with a loud clatter and pushes her unfinished food towards me. “Make yourself useful, Raven. Clear the dishes.”
I put my fork down and stand.
“Be nice, Heather,” Trevor says. “It’s her birthday.” Then he looks back at me. “Sit. Finish eating,” he says softly.
I sit down.
Trevor picks up his own plate and holds his hand out for Mom’s.
Mom hesitates for a moment and then snatches the plate from Trevor’s hands. She picks up her own plate and marches around him to drop the dishes into the sink with a loud clatter. Her shoulders stiffen.
Trevor wheels around in his chair. “Heather, what’s the problem?”
Mom’s elbow pumps back and forth as she scrubs the dishes. With all the clanking and water-sloshing, she must want to throw them.
I shovel in another fish stick to satisfy the rumbling in my stomach and ignore Trevor. He’s staring at me again. While I focus on the brown bouquet of flowers stamped in the middle of my plate, wondering what seventies store Mom got them from, Trevor pushes his chair away from the table. I push mine away too, ready to escape, but he’s too fast. He’s behind my chair, pressing me against the table. I’m stuck.
“You finished?” he asks, stroking my hair with his spidery fingers.
“Yeah.” I cringe.
He leans in to pick up my plate and whispers in my ear. “Happy Birthday.”
Then he kisses my cheek and rubs my shoulders. I push down a wave of nausea and sit very still, willing myself to be invisible. Like I did last week when he touched my knee as he reached for the TV remote. Or when he pressed me up against the wall in the hallway yesterday as he passed by with his arms full of laundry. He’ll be gone in a second.
But he doesn’t leave. I try to push my chair backwards, but I’m wedged in place. Why won’t he let me up?
I glance over my shoulder at him. He just stands there, staring at me.
“Excuse me,” I say quietly.
He doesn’t move. Just stares. I look back at my mushed up fries. Panic swells in my chest. I take a deep breath for courage and as I puff it out, I slam my hands down on the kitchen table. It squeals resistance. I stand and snap my knees back, ramming the chair into his hip.
“Hey! Watch it.” Trevor jumps back.
Mom slams a cupboard door, and the dishes rattle behind it. She turns, her face flaming. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” she hisses, glaring at me.
Trevor digs his fingers into my elbow and spins me towards him. “You’re a little wild cat, aren’t you?” He laughs, but his nostrils flare and his eyes narrow. I yank away from his grip and bolt down the hall to my bedroom, closing the door behind me.
I flop on my bed, a futon mattress that Mom pulled out of a dumpster five years ago. One corner is chard to a crispy molten black. I keep that corner by my feet and pressed towards the wall to forget that it’s there. But it doesn’t work. That’s all I’m worth to Mom, scraps and castaways. So why does Trevor pay so much attention to me ? And why does she think it’s my fault?
I lose myself in the stippled ceiling again. There’s the sheep from yesterday, the daisy from last week and a strawberry. A few tired flecks of silver try to sparkle. Ah, there, a caterpillar.
“Happy Birthday, Raven,” I say. My voice bounces off stark walls and a tile floor.
I grab my sketchpad and pencil and lay on my side, facing the door. Propping my head up on my hand, I flick my pencil over the page and add a few more strands to the horse’s mane. I flip it around, using the eraser to lighten the shading on the knight’s shoulder and create highlights. Then I draw a line down the left side of the page to form the edge of his shield.
Two raps on the door, and Trevor pokes his head in.
My pencil freezes mid-stroke.
Trevor steps inside my bedroom. The stench of cigarette smoke clouds the air. He closes the door behind him, slowly muffling the light from the hallway and the sound of Mom smacking dishes together.
The latch clicks.
My heart hammers in my chest. “What are you doing in my room?” I say. “Get out of here.”
He grins and leans against the door, eyeing me up and down. “I’m sorry your mom was so mean to you, especially on your birthday.” He walks over to my bed. His knees crackle as sits next to me. “Come on, kiddo.” He pats my shoulder. “I know you didn’t mean to hit me with your chair.”
“I did, actually.” I force the words out of a dry mouth.
“I see,” he says. A smile plays on his lips.
I roll over to face the wall. With my back to him, I curl in, hugging my knees to my chest.
Trevor chuckles and a streak of goose bumps erupt along my arms. I focus on the dingy yellow wall. If I yell, Mom will blame me for letting him in.
If I don’t and she finds him here, she’ll think I like him.
Either way, I lose.
Trevor reaches over and tucks a strand of hair behind my ear. Then he picks up my sketchpad. “Nice drawing. You think some knight’s going to save you, Pretty One? I could save you.”
My cheeks burn. I glare at him. Maybe he’ll leave if I ask nicely. “Please leave.”
“I’m not going to hurt you. I’m your friend, Raven. Don’t be afraid.”
I hug my legs tighter. “I’ve got friends. Go hangout with Mom.” My voice is shaky but I meant to sound strong.
He laughs again.
I don’t see what’s so funny.
And then the bedroom doorknob clicks. “Raven, I thought I asked you to pick up the laundry from—”
The door opens and Mom steps into the room. She blinks, looking from Trevor to me. Her jaw clenches once…twice…and then she speaks in a low simmer. It’s the voice the comes just before she boils over. “What the hell is going on in here?”
I sit up, every muscle rigid.
“Aw. Heather. Nothing’s going on. Seriously. We’re just talking.” Trevor hustles to his feet and holds his hands up by his head as if he’s under arrest.
Mom ignores him and lunges at me. “You stay away from him.” She grabs my shirt, hauls me off the bed and smacks my right cheek, sending an explosion of pain to my eye. She lets go and I fall back onto the bed. “You take everything that’s mine!” she screams, grabbing Trevor by the arm and dragging him from my room.
The door slams closed behind them, but their voices echo in the hall.
“Heather,” Trevor says. “Raven was upset and I just wanted to make sure she was okay. She asked me to sit with her for a minute. Seriously, it’s nothing.”
“I don’t believe you.”
Silence. One…two…three—Are they kissing?
“See?” Trevor says. “You’re the one I want.”
“Yeah. For real, Babe.”
More silence. My stomach turns.
“Okay, come on, let’s have some us time before I go to work,” Mom says, and her bedroom door clicks closed across the hall from mine.
My hands shake.
Trevor came into my bedroom.
I pick up my drawing and stroke the horse’s mane. He’s proud. Fierce. And so’s his rider. Not like me. I haul myself off the bed and stare out the window, clutching my sketchpad to my chest. I try to imagine my knight coming to life, charging down the street to rescue me. But the street is empty. No white knight. Just streetlight-illuminated snow and black shadows.
Unfortunately, the publisher is closed and Empty Cup is no longer in print. A few print copies remain with the author. If you’d like one please contact Suzanne directly.