Never Let You Go (a modern fairytale) (5 page)

BOOK: Never Let You Go (a modern fairytale)
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“Y-y-yeah, Gris?”

“I’ll figure out a way. I promise you I will. It’ll be summer in a few more months, and I’ll figure out a way to get us out of here.”

“I know you will,” he said, but his voice was defeated.

“Don’t give up, Holden.”

“I won’t.” His fingers slipped out from under her as his lips pressed against her hair for several long minutes. “N-n-now, go to bed, Gris. D-d-don’t fall as-sleep here.”

She clenched her jaw, and her eyes burned with almost unbearable sorrow, the same way they did every night at this dreaded moment.

“Keep your fingers over the letters,” she said softly, pulling away from the warmth of his body, glad that the darkness hid her weak tears.

“I will,” he said, turning toward the wall, and though it was so dark she couldn’t see her own hand, she knew the exact spot he was touching as he fell asleep.

She moved soundlessly through the panel and climbed into her own bed on the other side of the wall, pressing her fingers to the identical, carefully carved letters until she finally fell asleep.


Tears covered Griselda’s face as she backed away from the little bed, the power of her memories making her head pound and swim at the same time. The yawning grief she felt every day from Holden’s loss was almost paralyzing in its intensity here, where they’d spent so much time together. She turned to face the room and noticed the man’s tools still neatly hanging on pegs over his tool bench. It occurred to her that she could pick up any one of those tools—a hammer, a screwdriver, a saw, anything—and end her pitiful sixteen-year-old life right now.

It was tempting to die here, where she’d experienced the best and worst moments of her life. Chances were good that Holden was already dead, and that meant if she killed herself, she’d be reunited with him. She stepped toward the workbench, but her own words stopped her.

Don’t give up, Holden.

The whisper ricocheted through the dead, quiet space like she’d said them aloud.

I won’t.

Still clutching Holden’s bowl, she turned sharply away from the tools and ascended the concrete steps into the twilight of early evening. She shut the cellar doors with a loud thump, then turned her back on the dark, dingy space where she’d been imprisoned until the day she made it across the Shenandoah alone.

As the sun set, she made her way back up to Charles Town on foot, arriving long after dark and checking into a motel that would accept cash up front from a teenager.

Weary and hopeless, she drew a bath, stripped, and stepped into it.

That was when the unavoidable truth assaulted her: Holden was gone.

Three years ago, they’d told her he was gone, but she’d never really believed it. It was almost like she was sure Holden was hiding somewhere in that horror show of a cellar and the moment she appeared, he’d reveal himself, gray eyes soft with relief and love, opening his arms to her and burying his lips in her amber hair.

But now she’d seen the abandoned farm with her own eyes. He was gone, whisked into the night with a monster for company, and Griselda wept there in the motel bathtub, wondering whether he was dead or alive, if he was still scrappy, if he still stammered, if he ever thought of her, and if he hated her for abandoning him. Her heart clutched and wheezed and begged for death at the thought of his hate for her, but she had already made the decision to live.

Her strength was sapped. Her spirit was shattered. Her hope was gone. But she’d told him not to give up. She’d
that he not give up. And until she knew—with her eyes and her ears and her heart and her soul—that he was dead and gone from this earth, she had no choice. She wouldn’t give up either. Whatever strength, spirit, or hope was left in her wasted body belonged to Holden. There was nothing left, even, for herself.

The pain and emptiness had been so profound, in fact, that she knew living was the best punishment of all. To live aching and broken was exactly what she deserved. She had promised to save him, and the only person she’d saved was herself.

Shawn’s SUV went over a bump, and Griselda gasped, jolted from her memories, then shivered as desperation lingered.

“Too much wind, honey?” asked Tina, offering a kind smile and asking Jonah to turn up the music.

“It’s fine,” Griselda said, blinking her tears away before turning her glance back to the window.

They were almost at Harpers Ferry now, and from there it would be a quick thirty-minute drive south to the cabin they were renting on the river. She’d checked a map, and from the cabin, it was less than twenty minutes to Caleb Foster’s farm. The place that her body had escaped. The place where she’d left her heart in darkness with a gray-eyed, sweet-smelling boy.

July 4, 2001




The country route didn’t have a sidewalk, but there was a scrubby patch of brown grass by the side of the road just wide enough that Holden and Griselda could walk side by side. They turned out of the campground and headed in the direction of the country store they’d passed in the car.

“Why’d you volunteer to come with me?” she asked, watching her worn-out sneakers get more dust-covered with every step she took.

Holden shrugged. “S-s-sat a long time in the, uh, c-c-car.”

“Yeah. It was cramped.”

The sun was burning the back of her neck, and she felt a large drop of sweat start by her ear and trickle down her throat.

“Hot out today,” she said.


“You don’t say much.”

“N-n-nor would you if you s-s-stammered.”

“I thought it was stutter.”


“Huh. Do you

“N-n-not to you.”

Her cheeks flushed with pleasure. It was rare for Griselda to feel special or important, and Holden’s words felt precious to her. She wanted more.

“Why me? I ain’t special.”

“You’re, uh, n-n-not mean.”

“How do you know?” she asked, turning to look at him with a grin. “Maybe I act all nice, then attack.”

“N-n-no. I
people. You aren’t mean . . . and you’re r-r-real p-p-pretty.”

Pretty? Pretty!
A stranger to compliments, she turned her face to this one, like a sunflower worshipping the sun.


“It’s true.”

“Hey, you just talked without stuttering,” she said, beaming at him.

“It’s b-b-better when I’m not uncomfortable.”

“So,” she asked, wondering more about this boy who’d held his own against Billy and seemed to have a soft spot for her. “Where were you before the Fillmans’?”

“D-d-different foster family.”

“Didn’t work out?”

“Th-th-they were drunks.”

Griselda nodded. Her previous foster parents had had substance abuse problems as well. She always thought it was strange that she was removed from her mother’s apartment just to go to a new home with similar problems. When her social worker visited without notice and observed the situation, Griselda had been moved to the Fillmans’.

“They hit you, huh?”

Holden’s hand moved instinctively to his eye, which was a little less purple now, and a little more greenish-yellow. He didn’t answer, just kicked the dirt with his next step, raising a cloud of light brown dust.

“Your parents in jail?” she asked.

His eyes whipped to hers, fierce, angry. “N-n-no. Absol-lutely n-n-not!”

“Oh,” she said, feeling sorry that she’d asked a question that made his stammer so much worse. “Only asked ’cause my mama’s probably in jail. Maybe. I don’t know. I ain’t seen her in five years. When my grandma died, there was no one else, so I had my first placement.”

Holden was silent for a long time. “M-m-mine are dead.”

“I’m sorry,” said Griselda.

Holden didn’t answer, but he didn’t kick the dirt again either, and they walked along in silence for a few minutes. Griselda’s neck, arms, and legs prickled from the mix of sweat and dust, and she sighed, wondering why she’d volunteered to make this walk on a ninety-degree day. She guessed they were about halfway to the store, but it was hellish hot, and damn, but they’d have to walk back carrying the extra weight of the food.

She was so mired in her own thoughts, feeling so sorry for herself, that it startled her when a battered red pickup truck suddenly slowed down and stopped just ahead of them on the side of the road. She paused for a moment before continuing her walk, moving slowly toward the truck. She flicked a nervous glance at Holden as a man got out of the driver’s side and turned to them.

“Been lookin’ for you two.”

“Us?” Griselda looked at his unfamiliar red truck and caught a glimpse of a puppy scratching excitedly at the back window. Griselda felt her eyes light up, and she looked at Holden to see if he was seeing what she was seeing. “A puppy!”

Holden’s face was grim and tight, his eyes staring at the approaching man, who stopped before them with his hands on his hips. He wore denim overalls and a flannel shirt that had seen better days, and his brow was glistening with sweat. His hair and beard were shaggy and unkempt, probably brown once, but pretty gray now.

“Come on ’long, now,” said the man. “Parents sent me to come git ya.”

“The Fillmans?” asked Griselda, wrinkling her forehead.

“Fosters,” the Man muttered.

“Oh,” said Griselda. Their foster parents. Well, that made sense. Sort of. Then she remembered Mr. Fillman asking Mrs. Fillman about some relations who lived nearby. “You the cousin?”

“Brother,” he said.

Huh. Well, if Mrs. Fillman had cousins in the areas, maybe she had a brother too. That made sense, didn’t it?

Griselda looked up at him: his eyebrows were bushy and his lips taut with disapproval or annoyance. He looked angry and a little scary, frankly, but she’d expect a relation of Mrs. Fillman’s to look a little scary. And, she reasoned, if he
sent to pick them up by Mrs. Fillman, how would he know the Fillmans were her foster parents?

But Holden still held back, his face cautious. His expression made her pause. She should verify the man’s identity again before getting in his truck.

“You say you know our foster parents?”

“Fosters, yeah. Now, quit playin’ games. Ain’t got time for it. Need to git you two ’uns back,” he said, gesturing to the passenger door of the truck.

Griselda moved around the truck toward the door, with Holden following silently behind her, then stopped.

“But we didn’t get the bread and bologna yet,” she called to the man.

“Got plenty to eat,” he replied impatiently.

Sadie, you still got those cousins that live around here? Ask ’em to bring a cooler of beer and come set a while.

Mr. Fillman’s words circled in her head, and Griselda cut her eyes to the back of the truck, where she spied a large, beat-up red cooler bungee-corded in the back.

Looking at Griselda over the hood of the truck, the man narrowed his eyes. “Day’s wastin’, gal. Now
in the danged truck.”

Griselda looked up at the puppy. He whined, leaping up against the window and running his little paws against the glass like mad.

“Your puppy’s real cute,” she said.

“Yeah, well.”

“Can she sit in my lap on the drive?”

“He. Cutter.” The man shrugged. “I guess.”

Griselda turned to Holden and shrugged, then reached for the door handle.

Holden grabbed her arm, leaning close to her ear, but keeping an eye on Mrs. Fillman’s brother. “I d-d-don’t l-l-like it. She d-d-didn’t say anyth-th-thing, uh, about a b-b-brother p-p-picking us up.”

“You really want to walk all the way to the store, spend Mr. Fillman’s money, and walk all the way back just to get a beating because we wasted the money and sassed her brother?”

“We d-d-don’t really know, uh, w-w-who he is.”

Griselda turned back to the man. “Mister, you said our foster parents sent you, right?”

“Dang it. What’ve I said already, ya half-wit? Fosters. Right. An’ they’ll beat ya good if’n ya keep wastin’ their time. An’ mine!” He yanked his door open and got into the driver’s seat, slamming it loudly and starting the engine.

“See?” she said, pulling her bottom lip between her teeth. “I don’t want a beating. I just want to stick my feet in the river . . . and pet that puppy.”

“G-G-Gris, n-n-no,” he said, still drawing back as she reached for the door handle again.

“Then don’t come with me.” She reached into her pocket and took out the five-dollar bill, handing it to Holden as Mrs. Fillman’s brother blasted the horn. “Go get the food. Waste their money. But you’ll get the beating, not me.”

She opened the door and stepped forward, but he grasped her shoulder. “D-d-don’t. P-p-please.”

“Holden, he knows our foster parents. And you heard Miz Fillman. She said she had family in the area. And he has a puppy, for God’s sake. Somebody with a puppy ain’t gonna hurt us. I’m going.”

She hefted herself into the cab of the truck, and the puppy leaped into her lap, licking her face with joy. When she looked down at Holden, his lips were pursed and his chest rose and fell quickly. He was shaking his head slowly.

As she reached for the door handle to shut the door and leave him behind, he suddenly knocked her hand away and lifted himself up into the truck, shoving her over a little to sit beside her. As the truck started moving, the puppy shifted from Griselda to Holden, licking his cheek with glee, and Griselda giggled. But Holden didn’t even seem to notice the puppy. He was staring into Griselda’s eyes like he knew a terrible secret, and even though she didn’t completely understand why, it frightened her, and her giggled faded.

He lifted his eyes to the man, who stared straight ahead at the road, and Griselda suddenly realized he hadn’t made a U-turn. He was driving away from the campground, not returning to it.

“Took ya long ’nough, Seth,” said the Man. “An’ Ruth? Ya ever make me wait like that agin, I’ll strip the skin off’n yer back.”


BOOK: Never Let You Go (a modern fairytale)
5.94Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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