The twilight softened the house into shadows, the lights within not illuminating so much as providing beacons. Molly walked toward the front door, hitching her backpack more comfortably. Her muscles ached from track practice.
She opened the front door, the key turning with a squeak. She stepped in but slowed. It seemed too quiet, like just after an electrical storm.
The front door closed with a faint click and she shot the deadbolt home. She set her pack down in the foyer and walked into the kitchen. It was empty.
“Mom?” she called.
Molly walked through the kitchen, the oven and stove both cold. The table hadn’t been set for dinner. She entered the hall and froze.
On the baseboard, two black streaks marred the pristine white. It looked like rubber from the tread of boots.
“Mom?” she shouted, starting to get nervous again. Still no answer.
She entered her mother’s room. The bed was pushed to the side, diagonally to the room. The lamp from one of the two bedside tables lay on the floor, its shade askew and the bulb broken. Molly heard the toilet flush.
“Molly, you’re home,” her mother said in a normal tone of voice. The tear-tracks on her face stood out like tire marks.
“Mom, what happened?”
Her mother looked at the bed and tears oozed out of her eyes. “John is drinking again.”
Molly felt rage flood her like some kind of poison, except it didn’t feel lethal, it felt powerful. Her hands balled into fists. “Where is he?” she demanded.
Her mother looked startled by her tone of voice. “Molly!” she admonished.
“Where is he?” Molly repeated.
“I don’t know,” her mother answered, deflating. “I think he might have left.” She sounded dejected.
“He should leave!” Molly shouted.
“That’s not your business!” her mother flared.
Molly didn’t answer, just turned on her heel to find her stepfather. She stalked through her house like a hunter, every nerve tingling. He wasn’t in any of the rooms. She pulled the back door open so violently it wrenched her shoulder, but the pain felt good. It helped clear her head.
He stood in a corner of the garage by the door, trying to open it.
“What the hell are you doing?” Molly screamed, her rage boiling out of her.
John turned. His nose was a bloody mess. “Leaving!” he cried, tears in his voice.
Molly stepped down the short stair into the garage. “What happened to your nose?”
“She hit me,” John answered, yanking at the garage door lock. It gave with a squeal of metal and the door started to raise grudgingly.
“Who hit you?” Molly asked, for a moment totally confused. Then her mind cleared and she knew the answer, even as he said it.
My mother hit him, Molly thought to herself. Her stomach boiled, the acid nearly a living animal inside her, coiled and ready to strike. She trembled, hard shudders that were almost painful.
“Why?” she wanted to know.
“How should I know?” John shouted, digging in his pocket for keys.
“She said you’re drinking again,” Molly accused.
“Well, I’m not. I went to the bar with Mike and Steve, is all. She started screaming at me and we got in a fight.”
Molly whirled, her mind too full of it. She stumbled down the stairs beside the house, down to the patio. She ignored her stepfather’s call, ignored the lights of the house, and moved into the night on autopilot. The anger felt like electricity, that if somebody were to take her picture, they’d see it coruscating around her hair like a plasma ball.
She set off into the woods behind their house, not caring where she went. She just needed to get away.
The house, behind her, glowed its light out into the night, oblivious.