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       Hush, p.1

           Kay Botha
 
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Hush
Hush

  Kay Botha

  Copyright 2015 by Kay Botha

  This book is protected under the copyright laws of the United States of America. Any reproduction or other unauthorised use of the material or artwork herein is prohibited.

  This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient.

  Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

  Disclaimer: The persons, places and events mentioned in this novel are figments of the author's imagination. Any resemblance to anything or anyone living (or dead) is unintentional.

  Table of Contents

  Hush

  About the Author

  Coming Soon

  For my loved ones who are no longer with me,

  You live on every page I write.

  Hush

  "She's got beautiful hair."

  "Too noticeable. Hand me the scissors."

  "She's got to stop screaming, they'll hear her."

  She doesn't remember the day they took her.

  "How old are you sunshine? Five? What a big girl you are."

  "We've got to leave, Red."

  "Not until she's ready. What's your name sunshine?"

  "Madison. She's got it written in that sticker book."

  "Madison, huh. That's a mouthful for a little girl like you."

  She just remembers the little things. How it felt to wake up in a strange motel room. The golden colour of Red's hair; Jane's screaming.

  "You like your new hair?"

  "I've got her stuff packed, lets go!"

  "You know what you look like sunshine? Like a little, red rose."

  She remembers the cool temperature of the bathwater as they held her head in it, remembers how the dye turned it pink. She remembers thinking it looked like blood.

  "Red!"

  "You like that?"

  They held her, kicking, beneath the water until she couldn't kick anymore.

  And then she drowned.

  "You're Rosie now. You're our Rosie."

  She wishes.

  ***

  She's sixteen. She doesn't look it, Red makes sure of that. He buys her too-small princess dresses, the types designed for birthday parties: cheap satin, bright pink, battered with bows and ribbons. She didn't understand it when she was younger, why Jane got to wear shorter skirts and bras and perfume when the other girl was only four years older than her.

  When Red had brought Jane home one day with shiny, diamond studs in her ears, Rosie had envied her.

  She'd begged Red, pleaded, cried big, fat tears that usually won him over. Not this time.

  She'd asked Ty later, when they were alone in one of the flowerbeds, building towers out of mud.

  "Why can't I get any piercings?"

  "You're too young, Rosie. Children don't wear jewellery."

  "But Ty," she smeared brown dirt across her pretty pink dress. "I'm thirteen."

  And in Red's sick, sad family, she would always be the little girl they snatched out of a backyard on a Saturday morning.

  She pulls a chair up to the window, waits for their car to pull into the motel parking lot with a new bag of microwave meals and a box of auburn hair dye.

  It was Jane's fault.

  "What's wrong sweetheart?"

  "She's showing again, Red."

  Rosie puts a hand to her scalp, feels the brittle hair there. Years and years of bleach, dyes, bleaches again, to cover every bit of what she is supposed to be.

  Red doesn't understand her frustration. Rosie is growing up, and with every year that passes, the persona he designed for her is warping.

  Behind her chair, Jane is crying. Sometimes they'll share a bed at night, and Rosie will hear her grunting into the pillows to cover the noise. Rosie hasn't cried in a year, and sometimes when she watches the older girl stare at the ceiling as if it's all a dream, she thinks Red chose the wrong wife.

  There's a clicking sound of a key in a lock, a creaking of the door, and Ty's pale face hovers over plastic packets, gathered to his chest.

  Silently she helps him with the cargo, unloads the groceries, and throws a new lipstick at Jane's shuddering figure on the bed.

  "Did you get them?"

  Ty looks over at her, holding up the travel-size packet of peanuts.

  ***

  She feels a pair of large hands on her sides. Madison is ticklish, but she doesn't giggle today. The hands lift her until she can see into the bathroom mirror. A heap of blonde hair covers the toes of her bare feet.

  "See how pretty you look, Rosie?"

  She blinks at the man behind her, holding her. He looks like uncle Jack, but uncle Jack has a dimple in his chin that looks funny when he smiles. Madison doesn't know what to do, so she keeps staring with bloodshot eyes until the man puts her down again.

  "I want you to meet someone."

  He prods her in the back gently. Madison stumbles, his finger poking her spine, guiding her out of the bathroom door and into a little dark bedroom.

  He hooks the finger in the collar of her shirt, dragging her to a stop.

  "You've met Ty, haven't you?"

  He squats by her side, now pointing his finger at the boy in the corner. Madison knows him. He's the boy who carried her out of her garden.

  "He's going to be your brother," the man says. He shifts her body around until she's facing the bed.

  "And that's Jane."

  A girl looks at her, and through her, with glazed eyes. She's got skinny legs, Madison thinks, like sissy.

  "You know her, too, don't you?"

  She thinks for a moment, little lips puckered in confusion. Then her head, sore head, nods once.

  "She's the girl from the swings," Madison says out loud.

  "That's right," the man smiles at her. "And you know what she did?"

  She played with her, asked about her mommy and daddy, about her favourite super hero, asked where she lived, asked what colour was her favourite, asked what time mommy picked her up from school.

  "N-no," she doesn't like the girl anymore, doesn't like the man or the boy either.

  "She's the one that found you, Rosie."

  ***

  They have to leave again. Red packs the back of the car until they can't even slide a dollar bill in there, and coats her hair in a new layer of dye.

  Jane makes another scene when he puts her in the car. Rosie sits dutifully in the backseat, hands in satin lap, lips pulled thin at Jane's screeching.

  Jane has never liked the car. Every time they put her in the seat and close the door she starts yelling, like she's having a nightmare that she can't wake up from.

  When Rosie was a little bit patient, she'd tried asking her why she hated it.

  "I can't leave."

  "Sure you can, as soon as it stops."

  "Can't leave, can't get out," it was almost a chant, over and over again. "Can't leave, can't get out."

  Rosie didn't ask her twice.

  Once Red gets in next to her and starts the engine, Jane's mouth glues shut. She won't make a sound until they get to where they need to go. She'll shuffle next to them like a robot, find a bed, fall onto it, and cry.

  Rosie hates the process, and now it's starting all over again.

  Ty waits next to her, equally silent. If she listens carefully, Rosie can hear the peanuts crinkle in his pocket.

  "No peanuts, sunshine. They make Jane sick."

  After two hours on the road, Red pulls into an empty gas station.

  He turns in his seat and looks down at her.

  "You remember what to say if anyone asks, Rosie?"

  He always talks to her like she is a child; a stup
id, ignorant child.

  "Yes," she says. "I remember, Red."

  He frowns. He doesn't like it when she calls him that. She's been doing it more frequently lately, and she knows it doesn't go unnoticed.

  "Rosie..." His voice is a warning now.

  "I remember, daddy," it leaves a bitter taste in her mouth.

  Outside the car, she waits next to Ty. Jane has to be coaxed out, like a mouse with a piece of cheese. Mice don't actually like cheese, Ty tells her. She sticks her tongue out at him, indulging in childish petulance while Red is too busy to see. He likes it when she is quiet, soft, and pliable like putty; a pretty little girl, and not much else.

  Ty doesn't like her at all, but they are forced together, and to him she is the better option than the girl being pulled from the car.

  "Stop looking," he hisses.

  Rosie drags her eyes away from his pocket. She smiles, thinly.

  "Don't lose them."

  She wants to take the packet from him, put it somewhere safe and sound. She doesn't trust him. But the plan won't work without him.

  "I won't."

  ***

  "It's your birthday, darling."

  Madison's eyes open to the sight of a birthday cake, glowing with candles.

  Red's hands reach for her wrists, secured to the bedpost. She feels the handcuffs loosen, and he takes them off, one hand at a time.

  "You're ten now, Rosie," he smiles warmly. "You're a big girl."

  She sits up, tries to press feeling back into her arms.

  The handcuffs dangle from Red's finger. "If you keep being a good girl, you won't have to sleep with these anymore."

  "Like Jane?"

  She doesn't want to sleep like Jane. The girl is always crying.

  "No, not like Jane. You'll stay here, with your brother."

  "What brother?"

  "Rosie," he pouts for her amusement, but she doesn't smile. "You know Ty is your brother, Rosie."

  "Madison-" she feels tears prick her eyes. "-My name is Madison."

  She knows the man will get angry with her.

  "No, you're Rosie now."

  "My name isn't Rosie!" She cries. "Please, I'm Madison, I'm Madison. My parents are Jack and Patricia, and my sister is Mandy. I don't have a brother."

  He sighs, puts a hand on her chest and pushes her back.

  "No! Please no," she feels the cool metal of the handcuffs again. "Please, I'm Madison, I'm Madison!"

  Her arms lock into place above her head. She jerks her body, pain snapping at her muscles.

  "You can stay like this for the day," he rises from the bed, bends down, and blows out the candles on her birthday cake. "Night, night, Rosie."

  "No!"

  He opens the door, letting a stream of sunlight into the room.

  "Please don't leave me here, please!" And then the door closes, and the sunlight is gone.

  ***

  "Rosie?"

  She looks over at Red. He glances from her to Ty, irritation flashing across his eyes.

  "Hold your brother's hand."

  She grits her teeth, reaching over for Ty's clammy fingers. She's a little girl. She can't walk out in public without someone's hand in her own.

  While the car fills with gas, Red herds them all into the shop. She wonders what the cashier must think of them. Do they look like a family to strangers?

  Red picks her a chocolate, a thick one filled with runny fudge.

  "For my little girl," he says, passing it to her with dollar note. "Run up and pay for it quickly, while I take your mother to the bathroom."

  Rosie knows a test when she sees one. He goes the direction of the toilets and pauses on the other side of the wall, listening for anything she says.

  Ty gives her an anxious look, the 'don't do anything stupid' look that he gives her three times a week.

  She walks up to the cash register and drops the bar on the counter, along with the money.

  He rings it up, opens the change drawer. Coins knock together, making a metallic sound.

  "You from around here?"

  She isn't used to being talked to with a casual, no-nonsense voice. Red coats his every word in sickly-sweet honey.

  "Just passing through," she says evenly.

  "What's the matter with your boyfriend?"

  "He isn't my boyfriend, sir," she knows Red is listening. He is always listening. "He's my brother."

  "He's white in the face."

  "He doesn't like going outside." Half true, she thinks, shoving the change into her jacket pocket. Red doesn't allow her or Ty in the sun for more than thirty minutes a day. Ty told her once it was because the sun might speed up their growth. Darkness keeps them stunted, keeps them little and young.

  "Thank you," she takes the chocolate. "Have a nice day."

  Red returns from the bathroom, rewards her lies with a bright smile and a gift.

  "You can have whatever you want Rosie," he promises. "I'll buy you anything."

  "You've been a very good girl, Rosie. I'll buy you anything you want today, anything."

  "I'd like some peanuts."

  "No, Rosie, no peanuts."

  "Why not?"

  "They make your mother sick, sunshine. They make Jane sick."

  ***

  He hides his gun in the top drawer. She watches him from her place on the scratchy, carpet floor.

  "Jane, help Rosie comb her hair."

  "Tyler, move the bags to the corner, that's it."

  "Keep your shoes on, Rosie."

  Commands. They come constantly, like a current of water out of a faucet. She pulls herself up onto the edge of the bed, squeezes her too-big feet into the pinched, childish shoes, and cringes as Jane's quivering hands guide a comb through her hair.

  She'd tried to run away once. Red had sent her with Ty to get a new pair of the pinched shoes. She was stupid enough to think he was waiting in the motel for them. He wasn't.

  He was parked around the corner of the shop, close enough to grab her as she ran past, Ty barrelling on her heels. Together they held her down, flung her into the back seat. She fought, kicked. They muffled her screams with a rolled up belt, shoved it so deep into her mouth she couldn't breathe.

  Rosie won't make that mistake again.

  When Red's back is turned, she swats aside Jane's hands.

  "I can do it," she ignores the girl's protests, snatching up the comb and fleeing back to the carpet, to a shaded corner where the lamp can't reach.

  "What's the matter, Rosie?" Red finds her eyes in the darkness. "You seem sad."

  "Will you ever leave me?"

  "No, Rosie," he says. "I'll never, ever leave you."

  She bows her head, the comb leaving indentations in her palm.

  ***

  "I know you're mad at me."

  "You helped him, Ty," her eyes still burn from the car, from whatever Red sprayed in them to stop her fighting. "You should have helped me."

  "He's my family."

  Her eyes shut in annoyance. "He isn't your family. He took you from your family! Can't you see that?"

  But Ty shakes his head, puts his face in his hands and moans, "No, he's my family, I know he is."

  She can't stand to look at him anymore. She focuses on the curtains instead, drawn across the bright light of a full moon. Somewhere, her parents might be looking at the same sight, she thinks, and it's enough to soften the ache in her muscles from the handcuffs, or the rawness in her throat from screaming. She doesn't know how Jane does it all the time. Her throat must bleed, Rosie thinks. Maybe that's why she cries.

  "You know," she says. "You know he's going to replace us soon, don't you?"

  Ty doesn't look up at her, but his body stops shaking.

  "We're supposed to be children, Ty, little and small and young. We're none of those things now. Jane is his wife, his favourite. No matter how old she gets, he'll keep her with him."

  "No."

  She ignores him. "But you and me? Pretty soon, we w
on't fit into his little bubble anymore."

  "He won't," Ty is shaking again. "He won't!"

  "Maybe," she catches herself smiling, straightens her face. "But Jane might put him up to it."

  "She might," he agrees.

  "But if Jane is gone instead... Ty, look at me."

  He does.

  "If Jane is gone instead, I could take her place. And I would tell Red to keep you forever."

  "You would?"

  "But only if Jane is gone."

  He nods fervently, his dark curls bobbing. In the muted moonlight, he still looks like a little boy, she thinks, staring at his cherub face.

  The whisper is caught between them like a promise.

  "Only if Jane is gone."

  ***

  "Take them, please!"

  Rosie controls her voice. "Don't be a coward, Ty. You can't go back now."

  "I can't do it, Rosie."

  She looks at him, and wonders how she is the only one that's grown up.

  "Jane wants you gone," she coaxes. "She doesn't want you here, Ty."

  "I was here before her."

  "Yes, you were," she puts a hand on his shoulder. "That's why you need to do this."

  They huddle together in the motel shower; their legs crossed under them, leaning in so close their voices are only a hiss of breath.

  "Look," she says. She tears a small hole into the packet, shakes four peanuts out onto the tiled flooring. "Pass me a shoe."

  Ty reaches for one of her discarded Mary-Janes, his hands trembling.

  "I told you, don't be scared."

  Red will see it, she worries. She presses the heel of the shoe into the peanuts, one at a time, flattening them into chunks and powder.

  "It'll be so easy, Ty," she scoops the mess into her hands and holds it out for him to see. "As easy as breathing."

  There's a sharp rap on the door.

  "Rosie? Ty?"

  She pours the crumbed peanuts into her pocket, shoves the packet in afterwards.

  "Coming," she calls for them both. Ty is pale, but what else is new she thinks, kicking his leg, hissing, "Get up."

  Red gives her an odd look when she opens the door.

  "We were playing," she says, before he can ask. Ty hovers behind her.

  "I'm going down to the drive-thru, I'll pick us up some hot supper."

  "Can I come?" Ty is always eager.

  "Sure, as long as your sister promises to be a good girl."

  Rosie's lips perk.

  "Oh," she preens. "I'll be the very best."

  ***

  They're gone for more than thirty minutes. It's enough time for her to compose herself, to study her face in the mirror, to twist it until it looks real. She glances at Jane's reflection, pink-cheeked and swathed in blankets.

  "How do you cry so easily?" She asks.

 
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