Dad stood behind him, his voice was sharp enough to cut glass. “You think you’re too good for us. That’s what’s wrong with you, you know. Always walking around like you own the place.” Dad slurred his words slightly, telling Trystan that tonight was going to suck.
Standing with the fridge door open, Trystan froze. It took a moment to recognize that the scrap of paper in his father’s fingers was a picture. When Trystan did, his heart dropped into his shoes. Trystan grabbed whatever food was left, which wasn’t much. He took a few slices of bread and the peanut butter he’d gotten from Sam’s deli and made a sandwich as fast as he could.
His father droned on and no matter how hard Trystan tried, he couldn’t drown out the words. “You’re the reason she left. This,” he said, pointing to everything, “is your fault. Me and my whole f**king life got reduced to this because of you, and you stand there like you’re so damn proud.”
Trystan couldn’t help it. He knew that he shouldn’t speak, but he did. His jaw was tense, the words fell out of his mouth before he could stop. “Maybe she left because of me, but you did this to yourself. Things didn’t have to go this way, Dad. You did this. Not me.”
Before Trystan could blink his father was across the room and screaming in his face. “You think I didn’t try! You think I f**king chose this?” Dad bellowed and spit went flying, sticking to Trystan’s cheek. His father laughed with such rage that Trystan stepped away. When Dad spoke again, his voice was low and menacing, “That’s right, boy. Blame me. You did nothing.” The old man’s rank breath lingered in Trystan’s nostrils, but his dad finally stepped away.
Trystan went to pass by his father, but was clotheslined. His father raised his arm at the last second, trapping Trystan, before grabbing Trystan’s hair with his other hand, and yanking his son back to his chest. The picture of Trystan’s mother was clutched under his father’s thumb. Thrusting it in Trystan’s face, Dad made him look. When Trystan tried to wiggle free or look away, his father only tightened his grip and forced him harder. “Look! Look at her! Look at those eyes, and how they seem so steadfast, like they’d never leave. You destroyed everything!” He shoved Trystan toward the hall that lead back to Trystan’s room. “Get out of my face. I can’t stand to look at you!”
Trystan’s chest felt like it was ripped open with a rusty nail. Every muscle in his body was tense, ready to fight, trying so hard to hold back. Trystan’s jaw locked tight to keep from speaking, but the one thing he wanted to avoid the most was that picture and he’d already seen it. Stumbling back to his room, Trystan pushed through the door. His mind screamed, protesting that he should fight back, but something held his rage in check. Taking purposeful breaths, Trystan walked down the short hall, trying to steel himself, trying to make his heart go numb before it shattered into a million pieces.
When Trystan swung his door open, he meant to lock it and throw himself on his bed, but there was no lock, no bed. The walls were barren. The nightstand was gone. His closet door was open and the only thing inside were shadows. Trystan stood there, his hands shaking slightly, as he realized that his father threw out all of his stuff. Trystan felt his dad behind him but he didn’t turn around. Rage flooded Trystan’s body, making him want to act out, but he refused.
A hand shoved hard between Trystan’s shoulder blades. Trystan didn’t expect it and fell into the room. “Maybe this will teach you that you’re no better than the rest of us.” Before Trystan could turn around his father yanked the door shut. It wasn’t until then that Trystan realized that the doorknob was turned around. The sound of metal sliding against metal alerted him to the lock closing.
“No!” Trystan screamed and threw himself at the door, but it was too late. His fists beat the door, but it was solid, the kind of door that was used at the entry of a house. Trystan knew, because he put it there when he traded it out for the thin particleboard version that had originally been there, in order to keep his father out.
“You never learned your place, Trystan. I swear to God, I’m going to teach it to you.” The hallway fell silent.
Trystan felt the panic slide up his throat. The room was dark. The lights were gone and the fixture that hung from the ceiling had no bulb. Racing to the window, Trystan pushed it open, but the bars kept him from getting out. The cold air rushed in over his face. Trystan turned around and leaned his back against the wall, clutching his face in his hands. He slid down until his back was under the window, hoping that his father would see reason in the light of day, but there was no way to know. Dad had done stuff like this before, when Trystan was little and couldn’t fight back. He’d lock Trystan away for hours, sometimes days. When it seemed like Trystan would die of thirst, the man finally showed his face and let him out. Trystan tried to be good after that, but it didn’t seem to matter what he did or didn’t do—he was never good enough.
Tucker’s words rang through Trystan’s ears like a gong, ebbing and pulsing. Someone told you wrong. You’re worth something.
Lowering his head to his knees, Trystan fixated on the words, but they couldn’t penetrate his heart. Tucker’s words couldn’t strip away years of being told he was the reason for his father’s grief. Trystan’s chest felt hollow and he let the numbness overtake him.
“Have you lost your mind?” Daddy screamed. He’d been pacing in my room since he got that phone call from Brie’s father.
There was nothing I could say that would calm him down, but that didn’t mean I wouldn’t try. “What was I supposed to do? She threatened me!” Tears streaked my face. I couldn’t help it. I cried when I was angry.
Daddy turned on me, roaring, “What were you supposed to do? Get the teacher! Not punch the girl in the face. Her father is threatening to press charges. Do you know what that means? Do you have any idea? We could lose everything because of you!”
Sucking a ragged breath, I screamed, “There was no teacher, there was no help! Maybe I shouldn’t have hit her, but why can’t you even act like you care about me? You didn’t even ask me what she did! You just assumed that everything was my fault!” I trembled with my hands balled into fists at my sides.
If there was ever a wrong thing to say, that was it. Daddy blew up. His eyes widened, before he started screaming in a blind rage. The verbal assault went on, but I couldn’t process what he was saying, not when he looked so livid. I backed away from him, but he kept coming at me like he’d hit me. My heart pounded in my chest like I was running away from an axe murderer.
Things weren’t supposed to be like this. Daddy was supposed to defend me. He was supposed to protect me, but instead, he looked like he was going to kill me. After what seemed like forever, my Mom came in. It seemed to calm Daddy down enough to realize that his hands were shaking, lifting toward me like he was going to do something. Dropping his hands, Daddy shook his head fiercely and walked away from me. He shoved past my mother and left the room, leaving a wake of anguish behind.
All the fright that had built up in my body exited my mouth in loud sob that sounded more like a scream. My mother stood there, staring at me with disgust. “You brought this on yourself, Mari. Clean up and go to bed.” She turned away and left without another word.
After they left, I heard them arguing in the kitchen. The conversation was about lawyers and settlements. They seem to think that Brie’s father had his sights set on their money. I wanted to scream and jump up and down in front of them. Since when does money matter more than people? I didn’t realize I was so disposable. My entire life, I thought they’d stand up for me, but they didn’t. The only thing they cared about was protecting their money and their precious careers.
I plucked my phone from my backpack, knowing it was insane to try and use it, but I wanted to talk to Trystan. I needed him. He’d understand, but I didn’t have any way to contact him. I sat on my bed sniffling as I stared at the phone. I didn’t want to talk to Katie. She’d tell me to suck it up, that this was part of having the perfect family—so what if they flipped out once every sixteen years? She didn’t understand. Her family fought all the time, but this wasn’t a fight. This was something else. It showed me where my place was in this family, and I didn’t like it.
The next morning my eyes were puffy. When I sat at the table my mother said nothing, handing me my breakfast like everything was normal. “Your father and I are on for the next four days. I made your dinners for each night. Come straight home after practice and eat. I’ll check on you when I get home.” She poured a glass of orange juice, smiling like a saint.
I nodded, not wanting to talk about it. It was fine by me if they worked seven days a week. I did my best to eat my breakfast, but I wasn’t hungry. I just wanted to get out of there and go to school. When I cleared my half-eaten plate, my mother said, “You don’t have to be so dramatic, Mari. I know you’re upset, but you still have to eat.”
I just looked at her. I couldn’t think of what to say to make her fathom how betrayed I felt. She dropped me off at school without another word. As soon as she pulled away, I felt better. Four days on my own would help. They’d come home from work in time to drop me off at school. We’d barely see each other.
After going to my locker, I looked around for Trystan. He usually haunted this hallway before first period, but I didn’t see him. I went to class, listening to the teacher droning on. I didn’t get a chance to look for Trystan again until our free period. When I walked into the auditorium I heard Tucker speaking softly and rapidly to Trystan, “…is not okay. You can’t skip class like this and then expect to walk at graduation in June. If there’s something you need to tell me, some reason for your tardiness, tell me. You don’t have to fight the whole damn world by yourself.”
“I’m fine,” Trystan used a tone that said he was finished talking about it. When Trystan turned around, I saw an angry red gash marring his cheek.
The smile I had on my face faltered and slipped away. Tucker looked at me and then back at Trystan. When I was closer, Tucker said, “Talk some sense into him,” as he jabbed his thumb at Trystan.
“What are you talking about?” I asked, not understanding.
Tucker sighed, “Ask him how he got that cut on his face and make sure he had a tetanus shot. He won’t talk to me.”
Trystan’s shoulders tensed as he looked after Tucker, who was walking away, “That’s because there’s nothing to tell.” Tucker walked through the door and left us standing in the aisle alone. The empty seats surrounded us on all sides, the stage lights dim and glowing golden. When Trystan looked back at me, his expression softened, but the slant of his mouth said he still thought he needed to defend himself, and I didn’t want that.
Before he could speak, I said, “I only want to ask you one thing.”