Sorry To Keep You Waiting
Author: Angelena Fox-Francisco

Chapter 3
meeting shanna

    "Wake up, sleepy head."
    My eyes fluttered open. The light poured down from the ceiling, blinding me for a moment before my dad slipped in between me and the uninvited break to the darkness.
    Ugh. What did he want? It was Sunday. I stared at his watch, upside down on his wrist. I focused on the little hands and the numbers until they made sense. Eight in the morning? Was he insane?
    "Come on, get up and dressed. We're gonna be late." 
    For what? My own funeral? I sat up and groaned, throwing my legs over the edge of my squeaky mattress. Might as well please him if I couldn't argue.
    "Alright, come on, I picked out your outfit already, Lizzie."
    I turned to where he pointed. I blinked.
    My only skirt outside of the school uniform and my dressy green cardigan lay on the lone chair by my desk. I stared at it in shock and wonder, my brain whirring for a logical reason to why I would need to dress up. Dad hardly wore anything nice on a Sunday, even when we went to a church meeting, something we rarely ever did.
    Were we going to a funeral? I thought of Grace and swallowed. Would he really do that? He might. I tried to remember if he'd done this for any other of his assignments. Had he gone to the funerals before? I had no memory of anything like that, or if he had gone, I hadn't been a part of that at all. Maybe he hadn't wanted to remind me of Mom's funeral. He did that sometimes. And then there were the times he brought it up on purpose. He had somewhat of a split personality when it came to me and Mom. What shall we do today? he might ask him and himself. Shall we bug the heck out of Lizzie or make things a better, more comfortable place?
    "Lizzie!"
    I looked over at my father. He was excited, his face drawn with it, his cheeks pulled into a strange, depressing smile that made me think he was tricking me. Where would he take me on a Sunday? Church was out of the question, funerals were iffy...
    I went over to the clothes and felt the soft fabric of the cardigan. I hadn't worn it in years. Maybe it wouldn't fit. Maybe the skirt was too tight. Then maybe I could just wear jeans and a short sleeve. Maybe.
    "Here, if you're so tired, I'll help you," he offered.
    Rolling my eyes, I pushed his arm away from me and signed, No, I've got it.
    He glanced at my fluttering hands and gave a sigh. "You'll get dressed, then?"
    I nodded.
    Dad left and I pulled the cardigan over my head. I slipped into the skirt and put on a pair of clean socks and my sneakers, hoping he wouldn't mind if I was somewhat casual. Unfortunately, everything fit. It fit perfectly, like he had tailored it or something just for today's secret occasion. Ha, like he even knew a tailor. He was so screwed up with all this murder nonsense he dealt with every day it scared me. Sometimes I didn't know if he would even remember to put his shoes on in the morning when he headed off to work with the Squad on another horrible case.
    Memories of burning photos so Dad would forget Mom's face flashed in my mind's eye. Every one of them, lost to ashes and kept in that drawer in a pickle jar. I turned to the miscellaneous dresser. My eyes lay there, remembering...
    "Lizzie, hurry or I'll come in there! We're gonna be late!"
    I heard but didn't move. I felt the scar at my wrist and remembered. I thought of the tapper and remembered. I closed my eyes, remembering and trying to forget and not being able to. Even the silence was failing. How much time had I put into it? How many times had I punished myself when I made a mistake, how many days had gone by when I didn't go through the struggle and still convinced myself I was making it and that it was going to work.
    My eyes lowered to the floor, my eyes watering and my teeth clenching together as tight as the fists I held shaking at my sides.
    It wouldn't work. I should have known three years ago. This silence would either kill me, drive me crazy or hurt someone else. It wasn't going to erase the memories or shield Dad from the truth about Mom.
    No matter what I did, her story would always be there and the truth would always survive, whether or not I did.

    "Buckle up, girly," he said as we piled in the white SUV.
    We both clicked in and he started the engine. The car rattled under our feet and slowly creeped out of the garage and down the road, coming up behind a minivan and screeching to a stop.
    "Darn construction, probably," he muttered. "Don't know why they bother to do anything anymore. Something breaks, they gotta fix it. Something isn't painted right, they tear the whole thing down and start over. It's just useless. If I was in construction, it might just as well jump off a bridge, I'd be working so hard for no reason."
    My eyes narrowed as I watched him. He would never...
   
"Sometimes I wonder why I'm on the Squad. It's not a good job for either of us."
    He should've figured that out a long time ago. I clasped my hands and placed them in my lap, counting the cars that flew past us as we pulled up to the intersection. I glimpsed the top of the funeral home in the distance and sighed. So we were headed there after all... Funny, though. You'd think it would take a few weeks to get a funeral together. What had it been? Three, four days?
    But he turned right instead of going straight. I glanced out the window at the stores and random apartments for college students and wondered where we would go on a Sunday that involved dressing up. Unless that was just something to throw me off. He also did that. And why the heck were we up so early?
    He turned down different roads, ones I never remembered taking. We zoomed past a lonely church with an extremely old cemetery-- crumbling, unreadable graves and all-- and the post office. I stared at my dad, who seemed determined and confident. He turned one way then the other then did a U-turn and went all over town, skipping over parts I thought we might pass and completely confusing me.
    Eventually I curled up on the seat and closed my eyes. If he was going to spend an insane amount of time going in circles and zigzagging across the state, I was taking a nap.
    Five seconds might have passed when the car jolted to a halt and my dad announced triumphantly, "We're here, Lizzie."
    I sat up. The school? What had the zigzaggy ride been for? Had he been trying to annoy me?
    I got out of the car, turning away from him and facing the school nonchalantly.
    "Sorry about all that. I just... wanted to take the long way around. We were early, and Shanna could only get here at a certain time. We had time to kill, so..."
    Shanna? How did she connect with my high school?
    "Well, go on in. She's here. That's her car there."
    I didn't look at the car he pointed to. I walked to the school doors and went in. Whatever this was, I wasn't going to freak out or do anything rash or stupid that would lead me to trouble. But I was still confused. Why the dressy outfit? Was Shanna some new girlfriend he was introducing me to?
    No. He wasn't dating. Detectives didn't date. Or at least, they couldn't become intimate with anyone from Squad, and he didn't have time to see any girls outside of Squad. He wouldn't anyway. He would never do that to me, would he?
    Yeah, he probably would. He treated me like something... something other than his daughter. Like another one of his victims, like someone who was mourning over a murdered family member that he was trying to solve a case for. I was mostly immune to that, but now it bugged me, like a bad itch that keeps coming back and gets worse every time.
    We made our way down the corridor, Dad pulling out his cell every so often to check and recheck the time, as if it had changed that much in forty seconds.
    I paused in the middle of the hall, curious to what room I was headed into. Dad pressed a hand to the small of my back, ever-so-carefully forcing me to keep walking. "Keep going, Lizzie," he murmured. I stumbled forward until he grabbed my arm and stopped me in front of the main office and told me to sit in one of the chairs inside. Quietly, I obeyed, realizing the door had been unlocked and that he had just let himself in, just like that, no key, no permission. Just let himself in like he was allowed to.
    None of this was meeting any of my expectations for my dad's gigolo. If she was just that, a gigolo. I was suddenly afraid she was something more than that. No. It hadn't been long enough for a serious relationship. But, needless to say, I couldn't wait, gigolo or not, until my dad's "friend" was out of the picture. And if she worked at my school, then I would just add that to my growing list of reasons to why I would hate her until that happened.
    The chair felt unfamiliar. I hadn't actually been in here that often. A few times, but not for a while. I tried not to get into that much trouble. My teachers never had anything to say against me because, unlike all the chatterboxes in my classes, I did my homework and passed all the tests. Maybe they just thought it took that, silence, to be a good student at Mt. Elliot. Because apparently only I, the mute with a dead mother and a father on the Murder Squad, was capable of an A average, a perfectly clean record and a perfect attendance.
    A figure stepped out of one of the three rooms behind the secretary's desk, wearing a black dress and shoes that clicked when she walked across the linoleum. The clickies didn't do much for me, though. Hey, I was dressed up in my best and I still wore plain old sneaks.
    "Hello," she said, wiggling her painted fingers at me. The purple polish struck me as odd and immediately disliked it. What kind of a woman was this for my father to bring home? Or maybe he didn't have to. Maybe he had quit his job and spent all his time over at her place. My teeth clenched together and I turned to my father.
    She probably wasn't any older than thirty. I glared at him, waiting for an explanation. Not like anything could clear up this mess. My dad was forty five with a daughter. What was he doing dating this red-headed freak show with the nice body and big, brown eyes when he was a widower?
    If he was lonely, he should date. But not her. I looked her up and down. Anyone but her.
    "You didn't tell her?" she questioned my father. She smiled, the light glinting off her pink, glossy lips.
    "Stand up and shake her hand," Dad told me, staring me down then throwing a reassuring smile at the gigolo. Ugh, he was pathetic.
    I stood but crossed my arms tightly. If I touched her I was afraid I would lose control and break her wrist. She looked breakable. My dad had taught me tricks to taking someone down without fatally harming them. Here was my chance to prove all those lessons useful...
    "I'm Shanna Gower. It's so nice to meet you, Lizzie. Your father has said so much about you."
    Oh, really? And had he said anything about himself, like his dead wife? I sighed. Couldn't I just go home and take a nap for three hours, or maybe a couple years?
    "I met Jack a little while ago at a PWTT meeting and we got talking..."
    I tried to come up with a catchy phrase that fit together using those letters in that specific order but everything I thought of was stupid and didn't sound like something my father would go to at all. Pushovers With Terrible Tantrums? No. Perky Women vs. Total Terminators? Definitely not!
    Dad smiled at me, rubbing the thin, brown hair on his head in amusement at my flustered expression. "It stands for Parents With Troubled Teens, girly."
    Well, that wasn't at all patronizing. I gave him a skeptical sigh, blinking at him. He nodded but the fake smile remained.
    "He told me about your predicament-"
    Oh, I had a predicament now? Great!
    "-and I thought maybe I could help. Being the new school counselor and all, it wouldn't hurt, so I wanted to meet you before tomorrow..."
    The entire world stopped turning. It froze in place and the air became icy. As I breathed, it was like swallowing hail, the burning cold piercing my throat and lungs and even my stomach. I felt sick. Nothing I saw made sense as it spun past me in a sickening blur.
    I was running. Where to? To any safe place. Where from?
    From everything.
   
    Their voices faded in the black. I burst through the front doors and onto a blistering sun. The light blinded my already blind eyes and the sidewalk below me was hot from the fiery bright yellow star invading the blue sky.
    I ran but it brought no comfort. My muscles were used to the hurried movements of my random outbursts of energy. It wasn't painful and I could breathe with ease as I sprinted down the sidewalk and across the intersection, barely remembering that there were cars coming at me at fifty or so miles per hour that would flatten me into a very dead pancake on the blacktop if I moved in its path.
    My mind was stuck in a black hole, fighting the urge to be happy and to make my dad happy.
    NO! I was not going back into counseling! I was glad Dad wasn't dating again but even that would be better than facing the smiling psychologists who promised "to help me".
    I didn't need any help. I was alright. So what if I didn't talk? I would open my mouth when I was ready to. No one, not Dad, not Shanna, not all those parents in the PWTT group could make me say anything unless I chose to.
    I slowed as I approached the quiet bridge. My hands shaking and my mind screaming No! and my heart thundering against my rib cage, I stepped to the wall and placed my arms in the familiar spot on the cold railing.
    Mom.
    Was this how she had felt? She had gone through troubling times, too. Had Dad realized it made sense for her to be sick of it all and want to die? He was a detective, I'd only been a scared thirteen-year-old, crushed by the sudden truth.
    "Lizzie, I've got a secret. You can't tell anyone, okay?"
    I squeezed my eyes closed as the tears came.
    "Don't tell Daddy. Please don't tell him anything, alright? Promise me, Lizzie. Promise me you'll keep your mouth shut and not say a word!"
    There were a lot of things I "couldn't tell Daddy". Where Mom went when she was supposed to be watching me, that she locked me up sometimes "for my protection" and that Mom would wander around the house, crying, falling to the floor like a broken doll. It was like she was the child, not me.
    That must have been why it was so easy to do what she said. Because I wanted to keep her safe. She was my mother, the fragile child that would always need my protection.
    But this was more than I had bargained for.
    Rain fell from the sky, though it was more than mostly sunny out, turning into hail. I brought my face towards the sky and let the hard drops of ice hit my forehead and melt on my lips. My head fell back, my mouth open, catching the ice on my tongue. One went down my throat and I gagged, bending over to cough it out. I collapsed completely, my jeans getting soggy on the wet ground. It was cold as I placed my hands on the shiny white cement. Although the sun beat down on me, the hail was more effective. I shivered against the pounding ice and stared down through the metal bars at the water crashing against the rocks and splashing up in sprinkling fountains and swirling through chaotic courses of twists and turns, at least ten feet deep and dark indigo.
    I heard a car coming and I whipped around to face Dad's SUV zooming across the bridge. It squealed to a stop and the passenger window scrolled down.
    "What the heck do you think you're doing?" my father screamed from the driver's seat. "Get in here now!"
    He was angry. His face was bright red and he leaned forward, inches away from Shanna, who sat, staring at me with wide, blue eyes.
    I grasped the cold metal railing behind me, my mind a white blur. I didn't know what to do.
    Most importantly, I didn't know what I was doing.
    I pulled myself onto the edge of the bridge. I found one foothold and then another. I stood and, shaking, let go of the railing until I was at my full height of five feet four inches.
    His eyes bulged. "Lizzie..." he whispered, barely making his voice heard over the roaring engine, over the crash of rushing water below me, over the pounding in my own ears. "Lizzie, get down from there now!"
    I stayed there, frozen, just one inch between me and a fall that would kill me. Just seconds and I'd be beaten to death by the crushing push and pull of the strong current. I would have no chance of survival. No one, especially when it was this cold, had any chance.
    "Lizzie, listen to your father!" Shanna's voice, soft, pleading. Was she crying? I couldn't tell. My eyes stared straight ahead.
    I saw nothing. I felt myself slipping, just a bit. If I lost balance, even for a moment. If I fell. If I slid off the edge and into the water.
    I would die.
    Arms wrapped around me. I was pulled down, just before I lost my footing. Shivering, someone held me.
    What had I just done?
    "Lizzie, don't do that to me! I was terrified!"
    I was crying even before I realized that I had been, too.

    "What were you thinking?"
    I pushed the door open roughly, almost tempted to slam the door in my dad's face. He hadn't said anything in the car because Shanna had been there, but now...
    "You could've gotten killed! Don't you realize that? Lizzie, you could have died."
    Well, what else would happen if someone fell off of a bridge? Rolling my eyes, I headed down the hallway to my bedroom and opened that door. I took off my cardigan as I walked, flinging it into my hamper and turning to face my father, hands on hips.
    He looked me up and down, with nothing more than a spaghetti strap and a knee length skirt. My bare feet-- I had kicked off my shoes on the way in the door-- were freezing against the floorboards. I positioned myself so my weight was comfortably supported by my right foot, waiting for him to say something.
    "You know that, don't you, Lizzie? You realize what would have happened. Lizzie, do you know what that would do to me? I already lost your mother, are you really willing to make me lose you, too? Don't ever think that way. Ever! And if it makes you feel better, I'll track down that murderer. I promise I will! It's not too late. He could be anywhere. I'll find him."
    I looked away. If only he knew.
    "I will find him, Lizzie," he said, then, under his breath, "And when I do..."
    My eyes widened. He really had gone crazy, hadn't he?
    He fell silent and collapsed against my wall, motioning toward me with a weak hand. "Get dressed, come on. I don't like you looking like that. You don't wear stuff like that. It looks so... I don't know. Like you're..."
    I glared at him, pulled my closet door open and put on a turtle neck. Now was he happy?
    He cleared his throat and left my room, his feet sliding across the floor as he moved, like he didn't bother to pick them up because he was so tired.
    Tired of yelling at me? Tired of thinking of what had happened? Or just tired because he spent so much time on murder cases and not enough time with his mute daughter?
    I crawled across my bed to the edge where it was pushed against the wall. I curled into a tight ball, holding my legs to my chest with both arms and pushing my thin, shivering body into the corner as far as I could go.
    I lay there for an hour, too afraid to stay awake and not brave enough to fall asleep.
    As my eyes closed, they lay on the miscellaneous dresser, focusing on the top drawer specifically. And then my unconsciousness took over and I began to dream about being underwater and running completely out of air until I was thrashing in the water, drowning but not dying, never ever dying.

 

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