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I tip-toed to the cream door on the soft carpet and flinched as a floorboard squeaked beneath my feet. I pulled the door open and stealthily surveyed the scene. Drat. They were on the stairs, the railing hiding me in the shadows. Sometimes, if they were in the kitchen or Mom’s bedroom, I could sneak into Ethan’s room at the head of the staircase. There was no way I could do that.
I closed the door with a thud and a sigh, and climbed into bed. The cold, silky sheets confirmed the aloneness I felt; Ethan’s sheets were warm and flannel. His bunk bed had become extremely useful, my visits occurring about every other night. We both derived comfort from the sound of each other’s steady breathing, and the knowledge that we weren’t alone. It helped my nightmares.
I heard a door slam downstairs, and snuggled farther into my pillow. I pulled the feather comforter over my head. It didn’t matter; I could still hear the fighting match. I checked the clock. 9:30. Mom would leave soon, and Dad would retire to bed. I wondered if Ethan was asleep yet. Quinn was, he’d never known anything but this. I wondered briefly how it felt to know only yelling. At least I had the memories to day dream about.
I heard the front door close, and the yelling subsided. After a few moments, Dad came into my room.
“Hey, Emma, we need to talk,” he said, his voice weary and dripping with an age he’d known only recently. I knew this was one of the talks that I wouldn’t tell Ethan about. He was still convinced that Mom and Dad would get back together, that everything would be fine, that we’d look back on this and laugh. I’d given up that hope months ago, but I wasn’t going to steal his.
I nodded, and sat up in bed. He talked to me quietly, not taking more that five minutes, reassuring me in the sort of way that wasn’t reassuring. He didn’t lie; I knew they were getting a divorce and although he didn’t say anything to confirm this, he didn’t deny.
When he left, I stared at the ceiling, not sure what to feel. Mostly I felt fear. I was afraid because everything I had known was true, everything that was concrete, was sliding away from me like the waves receding along the shoreline during low tide. My world was falling apart.
At 9:45 I knew Dad would be asleep, or at least in bed, so I ever so quietly snuck to Ethan’s room. If I was caught, I had my excuses planned out. If I was found out before I reached the bathroom, then that was my intended destination. If he discovered me after, I was headed to his room after a nightmare. Both were equally believable. I opened the door silently, unsurprised to see Ethan sit up as I entered.
“Hi, Emma,” he whispered, and I smiled weakly at him. “It was worse tonight, wasn’t it?”
I sighed as I began climbing the ladder to the top bunk. “Ethan, it’ll be okay. Get to sleep, we have school tomorrow,” I said quietly, afraid we would wake Dad. Mostly, he didn’t know I was sleeping in Ethan’s room. If he did, he hadn’t asked.
He nodded, and I soon heard him snoring. I didn’t get much sleep these nights. Mom still laid with us before bed, but when she left our rooms she and Dad would fight, relieving any comfort she’d given us.
Ethan was too naïve for his own good; he’d end up hurt in the end. Quinn was too young for this. What was I? I was afraid. I grabbed my book of inspiration out of my desk drawer, an idea I’d found online. It was filled with quotes that gave me ‘inspiration’, although mostly they just reassured me. Finding the well worn page, I read, “There is no courage without fear,” over and over to myself. I’d be strong; I’d fight for all of us. There would be no relief, of course, but as long as Ethan and Quinn pulled through, I’d be okay.
Eventually I drifted off to sleep, dreaming of the past, present, and hopeful future. I’d be strong… I had to be.