White knuckles wrapped around the black steering wheel. The nearly full moon illuminated the wet blacktop in front of the car as it raced down the silent, empty highway. The blood smeared across the back of her hand was black in the aluminum moonlight, but her knuckles were white.
What if I just closed my eyes and let go of the wheel... would I crash? Would I die? Maybe that would be better. She couldn't scrub the sound of her daughter screaming from her ears. She couldn't wipe away the feeling of her daughter's clammy hand filling her own, being pulled away from her. She couldn't stop hearing the screams. I can't breathe... I can't breathe.. I don't deserve to breathe. What if I just close my eyes....
Her foot pressed down slowly on the gas pedal. She closed her eyes and slowly lifted her hands from the wheel.
Six months earlier
“Em, you’re going to be late if you don’t hurry up!” The waffles on the table weren’t steaming quite as vigorously as they had been ten minutes before when she’d called the girl down to breakfast for the second time. Kate set her coffee cup on the table with one hand while pulling pins from her hair with the other.
“Mom, I’m late. I have to go, I can’t stay and eat, I’ll just take it with me.” Emily swept into the kitchen, her back pack already around her shoulders as she grabbed a waffle from her plate and bit into it. Kate sighed. The girl seemed less and less interested in their normal routines and seemed to be focused on setting her own schedule. Kate wasn’t so sure she was comfortable with that, not at 12 years old.
The waffle hung haphazardly out of Emily’s mouth as she stuffed papers into her backpack, and Kate watched her daughter move about the kitchen. She had started growing into a woman’s body, just a little bit, here and there. Kate could see a slight curve in her waist that hadn’t been there before, and Emily had confided in her the ache and tenderness in her breasts. Emily wore her dark hair in a little girl’s ponytail, out of her face to make running and sweating easier. Her cheekbones stood out just a little more than they had, seemingly days before, and Kate sighed to herself. Curfews, sex... parties… Shit, I’m so not ready to have these conversations.
“Em, I understand you want to sleep a little later and get out a little sooner, but I expect to be sitting at this table with you for breakfast at least three days of the school week. Fair?” Kate made up the compromise on the spot; she wanted to give Emily her independence but had to make sure she emphasized a family-centered focus, even if it was just the two of them.
“Yeah, okay, okay. I have to go Mom, okay? I’ll see you after school. Love you!” She gave Kate a passing squeeze as she ran out the door, and within minutes, the long yellow bus snorted in front of the house.
Kate stared into her coffee cup, willing some fortune to reveal itself. She swirled the cooling fluid with her finger absentmindedly, her thoughts wandering. She raised her coffee slick finger to her lips and traced them, tasting the coffee and remembering the kiss last night, flavored with white mocha and nervous excitement before licking them clean. The phone rang, startling Kate and a little guilt washed over her. She was going to be late for work, and here she was, dawdling like a teenager.
“Hi, Jess,” she answered, not bothering to look at the caller ID. She knew her best friend had probably counted the minutes before Ellis would be out of the house and Kate could freely recount her date last night, leaving nothing out.
“Okay, so? So?!” Jessie's voice got higher the more excited she became. "You didn't give it up on the first date, did you? Or diiid youuu?"
"Settle down there, lady," Kate couldn't help but laugh. The tie that truly bound Jessie and Kate was laughter. Even in their darkest moments as friends when everything seemed hard, Jessie never failed to make her laugh and break the shadowy spell. It's hard to stay angry when you're laughing so hard you can't breathe.
Kate recounted the date, his outfit, how amazing and masculine he smelled, the conversation. He owned a small shop that sold