Authors: Katy Regnery
“This is the life!” exclaimed Jonah, falling onto the bed in their room and pillowing his hands under his head. “Come and lay down here with me.”
He raised his hand, and Griselda looked at him, taking a deep breath before lying down beside him. It was a nice enough place—new wood, a plush sofa and fieldstone fireplace in the living room, a plush comforter on the bed. Plus, she and Jonah had their own bathroom attached to their room, and it had a little bottle of shampoo and conditioner, just like at a nice motel.
Jonah had opened one of two small windows after putting their duffel bags on top of a dresser. “We can hear the river, baby. Nice, huh? That one-fifty went to good use, right?”
She lay back now against the wing of his bent elbow, listening to the Shenandoah, her memories so sharp and painful she wondered how she would get through the next two days. She bit the side of her cheek until she tasted blood, and her fingers, clenched tightly by her side, slowly unfurled.
“Oh, and hey! At that gas station where we filled up? Shawn overheard two guys talking about some fight club thing tonight going on outside of Charles Town. Out in the sticks.”
“Yeah, some real hillbilly shit out in a field. Two guys get in a ring of hay bales by a cornfield and beat the shit out of each other for an hour. When one doesn’t get up, it’s over. No rules. It’s pretty ugly stuff.”
Griselda winced. After a childhood filled with beatings—from her mother, various foster parents, and Caleb Foster—she wasn’t especially anxious to go watch two adults beat each other silly.
“I’m not going to that,” she said softly.
“Hell yes you are. Local flavor, baby.”
Griselda turned onto her side, facing him. “Jonah, I don’t want to see that. You know how I feel about blood.”
“You and Tina can stand way back from the ring and talk about your girl shit. Me and Shawn want some fun. I’m not coming all the way back here after dinner just to bring your sorry ass home. Jesus, that’s why we’re here! To have fun!” Jonah shifted onto his side, propped up on his elbow, staring at her. He traced the scar that ran from the base of her chin to the bottom of her lip. His voice was low and his eyes were mean when he added, “You’ll go, Zelda.”
She took a deep breath and nodded, opening her mouth as his finger increased its pressure on her lips. As she sucked on him, he leaned forward to press his forehead to hers.
“That’s my girl,” he said, the hint of an edge in his voice as he reached for her hip. “Oh, and by the way . . . You are
girl, aren’t you?”
Her hands were trapped between them, but she managed to cross one finger over the other. “Mm-hm.”
“Right. So, I’ve been meaning to ask . . . Who the fuck is
The name shot through her like a shotgun bullet, ripping through the soft spots and gouging an ugly hole that hurt like hell. Her eyes whipped open. Her teeth bit down.
“Fuck, Zelda!” he said, snatching his finger out of her mouth.
“Sorry,” she said, working to suck in enough air to fill her suddenly depleted lungs.
“Should be. You said his name in your sleep last night,” said Jonah, eyes narrow and fingers digging into her flesh. “Who the fuck is he?”
Never, not once in the year she’d been with Jonah, had this happened. She didn’t utter Holden’s name aloud, and hadn’t since the day she’d sobbed on the porch step at Caleb Foster’s abandoned farm seven years ago. She buried that beloved name so deeply that her lips understood it was taboo to utter, even when she was unconscious. It must have been the impending trip that had brought it to the surface last night, falling asleep remembering his thin arm around her, his lips pressed against her hair, his fingers touching their bound initials on the wall.
His name was sacred to her, and hearing it fall from Jonah’s lips was blasphemy, was profane and disgusting in her ears.
Her heart picked up, racing in a different way than usual, and she recognized it immediately as a sensation she had almost forgotten: fury. It rose up within her, boiling and spitting like the lava inside a volcano waiting to erupt. And she realized something else: right now, right this minute, no part of her was frightened of Jonah.
Who the fuck is he?
“No one,” she said, her voice holding a warning as she leaned back from Jonah’s face.
“Must be someone. You never say ‘Jonah’ in your sleep.” Jonah’s fingers twisted on her hip to pinch her skin, and his voice took on a taunting quality. “Tell me who he is, this . . .
Griselda’s anger roiled and swelled as she stared back at Jonah with a bold, fearless rage that she had never shown him before.
C-c-calm down, Gris. C-c-calm down.
“Stop saying his name,” she ground out, reaching for his wrist and pulling his fingers off her hip with surprising strength. She shifted away so that she wasn’t touching him, rolled onto her back, and stared up at the ceiling.
Jonah snickered low with surprise, then stopped abruptly. “Well, lookee here. Sweet little bootlicker Zelda actually has some claws underneath all that soft fur.” He straddled her hips, grabbed her chin hard, and forced her to face him. “You think you can tell me what to do? I’ll fucking stop when I’m good and ready to stop, bitch. Holden . . . Holden . . . Holden . . . Who is he? Are you fucking him?”
She saw white. White behind her eyes. White in front of them. White where Jonah’s face had loomed over hers a moment before. White, hot, savage, vicious anger. She didn’t give a shit if he abused her, hit her, fucked her, used her. But Griselda had one line. One. And Jonah had just crossed it.
“Stop saying his name!”
Bracing her hands on the quilt and leaning her head back as far as it would go into the softness of the pillow, she used her neck like a slingshot, shooting up into a sitting position and nailing Jonah’s nose with her forehead. As he cried out in pain, she twisted her body and leaped off the bed. She stood beside it with her hands on her hips, staring at Jonah, who was grasping his bloody nose with both hands.
, Zelda?!” He leaned his face over his lap as drops of blood splattered on his white nylon gym shorts. “
Bat. Shit. Crazy!
“I asked you nicely,” she growled softly through clenched teeth, then opened the door and walked out of the bedroom and into the great room of the cabin. She stood in the middle of the room catching her breath.
“Hey, Zel,” said Tina from the open-plan kitchen to her left. “I’m making mojitos . . . you want?”
Griselda turned into the kitchen, picked up the open bottle of rum, and upended it against her lips. Her throat chugged greedily for several seconds before she lowered the bottle onto the counter with a bang. Backhanding her lips, she shook her head at Tina.
Then she beelined for the door, walked through it, and slammed it shut behind her.
The upstairs door slammed shut, and she heard the latch click. Griselda’s shoulders sagged with relief because the sound of the latch meant safety . . . for a little while, at least. It meant that she and Holden were alone in the cellar, probably—hopefully—until morning.
Pushing the panel aside, she crawled across the floor. She could just make out his huddled form under the tool bench in the corner of the room, aided by the dim twilight filtering in through the seam of the cellar doors.
“Holden,” she said, wincing as she knelt before him, cradling his cheeks. “Your eye’s already swelling shut. Why’d you do that, Holden? Why? Don’t ever do that again. Don’t ever.”
“I h-h-hate it when he c-c-calls you R-R-Ruth. You’re n-n-not evil. You’re n-not!” whispered Holden in a rush, jerking his head out of her grasp and letting his neck droop forward. She’d seen the tears brightening his eyes, and since he’d turned thirteen, he’d gotten uncomfortable letting her see him cry, so she didn’t try to pull his head back up to look at her. He kept his head bowed, resting on his knees, which he still held tightly, protectively, against his chest. “D-d-don’t look at it. You hate blood.”
She shifted to his side and sat down next to him against the stone wall under the table, her hip flush with his, her legs straight out.
“Why’d you do it?”
“I told you,” he said, resting his forehead on his knees, which muddled his voice. “Its’, uh, n- n-not your name.”
“You know why he calls us Ruth and Seth.”
Griselda and Holden had pieced together the story of the Man’s younger sister and brother, Ruth and Seth, who had been twins. From what they could gather, the siblings had been involved in a relationship with each other that made Ruth “a dirty temptress” and Seth “weak for the flesh.” As far as they could tell, the Man had abducted Holden and Griselda because he thought they were his long-lost sister and brother, and he was hell-bent on reforming them . . . this time.
“This time” because—reading between the lines of his rants, which were unpredictable but frequent—Griselda was fairly certain the Man had eventually killed Ruth and Seth for their sins. She and Holden were terrified that he would one day decide to reenact that part of history.
Holden looked up at her, the tracks of tears snaking down his dirty face. “He’s c-c-crazy.”
“I don’t mind it, Holden,” she said, laying her head tentatively on his shoulder, relieved when she felt the gentle pressure of his cheek resting against her hair. “It doesn’t matter if he calls me Ruth.”
“I mind. You’re not R-R-Ruth. You’re not d-d-dirty. You’re b-b-beautiful.” Holden was silent for a long time before sitting up straight and turning to her, his brows creased and his lips tight. “Someday he’s g-g-gonna k-k-kill us like he did them.”
“I won’t let that happen,” she whispered fiercely. “I promise you. I’ll find a way for us to escape.”
She touched his hair, grateful when he let her.
“But you gotta stop talking back. You gotta stop fighting back,” Griselda sniffled. “He’s so much bigger. He’s gonna break you.”
Holden turned to her, scowling, his discolored jaw clenched as snot collected under his nose, mixing with blood and dirt.
“You ask me if I’m wh-wh-whole or br-br-broken, G-G-Griselda. G-g-go on and ask me. Ask me!” he demanded, his bruised eyes bright and shiny with unshed tears.
She would not cry. She had no right. If he could bear it, she could bear it. But her voice caught as she asked him, “Are you whole or broken?”
“I’m whole,” he said, swiping at his nose and holding her blue eyes with his gray ones in the sparse and dying twilight. “I’m wh-whole because I’m with you.”
I’m whole. I’m whole because I’m with you.
Griselda found a footpath not far from the cabin and walked alone for a good hour down the shoreline of the Shenandoah and back. She guessed that she wasn’t too far from the place where she’d crossed ten years ago this month, leaving Holden—bloodied, battered, exhausted, and terrified—utterly alone with Caleb Foster.
Hot tears blurred her vision as she stared out at the water—the same water that had separated them, ripped them apart, split them into something partial, something incomplete, something that would never be whole and would always be broken.
“Holden,” she whispered, stifling a sob as tears rolled down her cheeks. “Oh God, Holden, what happened to you?”
Her only answer was the rush of the water, an early-summer afternoon breeze, and the lament of her weary heart. The river held no answers, just as it hadn’t been a solution a decade ago. It had betrayed them. She turned sharply away from the Shenandoah, heading back to the cabin.
She returned to find Jonah, Shawn, and Tina sitting on the front deck, laughing and talking over an empty pitcher of mojitos. As she approached, she noticed the dried blood crusted just inside Jonah’s nose, though he’d changed his shirt and shorts. His eyes narrowed, but he smiled at her. “Got rid of whatever crawled up your ass?”
Tina, who sat between the men, her cheeks red and wearing a broad, glossy smile, slapped him playfully on the arm. “She didn’t get you on purpose, hot stuff.”
“That’s right, she didn’t. Did you, Zelda?”
Griselda crossed her fingers in her pocket. “I sat up too fast. It was just an accident.”
“We were thinking of trying a local dive for dinner on the way up to Charles Town,” said Shawn. “There’s a place west of here on 340 called—”
“Rosie’s,” said Griselda, sitting down in the open chair across from Tina.
“That’s right,” said Shawn. “You know it?”
She shook her head quickly, maybe too quickly for Jonah’s shrewd eyes, which cut to her, searching her face.
She made up a quick excuse. “Saw an advertisement for it somewhere. Probably while I was out walking.”
The truth was that Caleb Foster had frequented Rosie’s, often coming home drunk and angry, stomping down the cellar steps to exact his punishment on her and Holden. She’d never been to Rosie’s, but the name was burned in her brain.