There is a day, in everyone’s life, where suddenly – everything falls to pieces. Either through heartache, nothing in your life going the way you wanted or hoped, or something …someone…being taken from you without your control, or you do something horribly wrong. There are so many variables to life, and it is in that moment of shock and reflection that you realize that 98% of your life is completely out of your control.
Life isn’t easy.
What happens to your soul, to your psyche…when your whole life is filled with that kind of low? What happens when all the people who are supposed to love you, who are supposed to gather around you and hold together the pieces falling apart, just don’t? What happens if you are neglected, told you aren’t wanted, and treated lower than the lowest?
Does that person then become a monster?
Perhaps they turn into the type of unique person who only see the world differently.
That’s what she wondered. That’s what she was an example of. She just wondered if she was the exception to the rule.
She stood at the large window in her den, pondering, and watching the birds around the bird feeder fighting for seed. She had found some bad bread in her kitchen that morning when she was making some breakfast. She had already taken that outside and broke it up, spreading around the bases of the feeders. She loved feeding the birds and being able to see the wildlife from her windows. It was the great thing about leaving away from town, and a small Mayberry type town at that. She had seen a lot of deer, even a couple bear cubs, and lots of racoon from her windows.
She watched a robin pop out of the birdhouse nailed into the big backyard tree. That single tree was so big it shaded a good portion of her backyard all by itself. It had taken two years, but birds were finally using the bird houses she had gotten when she moved in. The bird feeders they used right away, but the bird houses had taken longer. She imagined that they finally figured out she wasn’t planning on going anywhere.
At least that’s what she hoped. Moving was never in her plans. She never planned on moving around or being a theoretical gypsy, but she would wake up some mornings and just know it was time to leave. This was the place, though, she had finally decided to make a home. The place where her roots were going to dig in. This was home, she was done with moving.
She managed to find a small town that felt welcoming to her. It was kind of like those older black and white television shows, where everyone knew everyone and everyone’s business was discussed as entertainment over the white picket fences, or at the diner over the meatloaf special, and in every waiting room there was. This was where she believed she belonged. Where she wanted to bury those roots after they dug in. Now the whole family was in the general area.
Though, she was still known as the girl so full of “mystery” around town, which she typically laughed off. She typically only let anyone in to the surface, but never deep enough to figure out the skeletons she kept shackled in her closet. The ones that she didn’t want anyone to ever find out.
She was lucky that she had come out of her childhood situation alive. She couldn’t go as far as to say she had been unharmed, because she had been plenty harmed. It had taken her years of therapy to work through fears and trust issues. Nevertheless, she certainly wouldn’t call her issues “cured” or “gone” by any definition.
After everything that had happened, she had only completely trusted four people in her life, until she moved here. Four people! Well, four people and various therapists, but the therapists she didn’t necessarily trust, she just paraded her skeletons around them. It was astonishing to her. She couldn’t imagine her daughter living like that, like she did.
She sipped her coffee as she watched the robin while the other birds join her.
You ask most children, who understand what trust is, and they will tell you that they trust their parents, their grandparents, siblings, friends, teachers, coaches, family friends, the list goes on. Not with her. She trusted the only girl who had befriend her, that she had ever told her secret to. The girl who had become her sister for the last fifteen years of her life. The one who had married ten years before, settled in one place and up-rooted her family to be where she had finally decided to settle. The whole family had become her lifeline. They had become her everything. Her Mom, her Dad, and her brother. They insisted on doing, and did, everything that they had to in order to keep her before the trials started. They were the ones who got up in the middle of the night, while she screamed out – waking the whole house – from nightmares that plagued her sleep. They’d hug her, talk softly and soothingly to her, and let her cry until she couldn’t cry anymore. They gave her allowances in her behavior, warning her more than they would worn Reed and Gabby. It was Gabby who saved her when she had been contemplating killing herself. It had been Gabby who had sat there and said that if she insisted on doing it, they’d both do it.
She couldn’t take on that responsibility, she wasn’t that selfish. It was in that moment, sitting on that bathroom floor, crying with her best friend, when she realized how selfish that choice would have been. She couldn’t do it, she didn’t do it. All it took was for her best friend to stand by her. They never spoke of it again.
They made her their family. They never let her forget. She knew that they loved her like they did Gabby and Reed. They supported her through the trials, the therapy, the nightmares, the fear, and the trust issues. Now she called them her Mom and Dad. If it hadn’t been for them, for that sliver of trust she had for them to begin with, she wasn’t sure what might have become of her.
She still had scars and she always would. That’s the thing about scars, they never went away, no matter how they faded. But the one thing she couldn’t do anymore was live in fear. She was done walking around, looking over her shoulder. She could no longer be the roaming gypsy she had been, even with a daughter in tow.
She had put her biological father and brother away for life, both sentenced to death. They had been found guilty of nearly eighty deaths, suspected of so many more. They referred to them as some of the worst serial killers in history. It was discovered that they had traveled to neighboring cities to get victims. At least once, they traveled one hundred miles out of town. There were books written about them, movies made about them, about their story, about her story. Some of the proceeds had been given to her, but she’s sure it was only a sliver of what had been made. The Johansons’ had put them into a savings account for her, they wouldn’t take a penny of it. They might share her genetics, but they had never been her family.
She sat down in the overstuffed chair she had placed next to the window. Her coffee still hot in her cup, steam still rising from it, billowing in the air until it dissipated. She sunk back, and relaxed, still watching the birds. Her black Huskey, Luna, got up from the dog bed and walked over to her, resting her head in her lap and she automatically started stroking Luna’s head.
Then she noticed the squirrels starting to come out. There were three of them that lived in her yard. There was one that had a black paw and a black ear, she called him Willy. The one with the chunk of ear missing, well, she called him Ulysses. The normal gray one she couldn’t find any distinct markings on, she called Pudding. She left a bowl of peanuts out for them every morning. They would sit there and break open the shells to get the treat inside. She always had fun watching them, even taking pictures of them for her blog.
Things happened in her life, the courts had allowed her to change her name so that she could try to have as normal of a life as possible. Her life would never be normal though. She would never be rid of the nightmares and the things she saw and experienced. Seeing a bloody naked woman in a cage, tied up, was something one could never get over. She had been alive when the police got there, she survived, but during the trial – after she had testified, she had killed herself.
“Mom,” she heard from behind her. She turned around and saw her daughter with her fiery red curly hair falling around her face, down to about the middle of her back. She was blessed with blue eyes that contrasted her own green eyes. She looked just like her Mom but for the color of her eyes. She dressed in a long sleeved white shirt and a jumper.
“What if we were living on someone’s face, and the mountains were really pimples. The mountains would just disappear when people popped them, and it was like our volcanos spewing lava puss all over killing everyone on that part of the face?”
“Emma,” she couldn’t help but to laugh. “That’s pretty gross.” She encouraged her daughter to be creative and use her brain. Sometimes, she really wondered about her daughter’s pre-teen mind and if it was a danger to herself. She watched her daughter smile and skip out of the room. “I think you do that to try to get reactions out of me,” she yelled after her.
She chuckled as she turned back to her window, seeing the squirrels trying to figure out how to climb the pole to the main bird feeder she has just filled up that morning when she had spread the bread around the base. The squirrels, who had tried it a thousand times already, were not getting anywhere. They did gobble up whatever seed the birds would push over the edge that fell to the ground, and whatever bread was left. They also ran back and forth to the bowl of peanuts in the shells she kept outside.
It was only a few minutes before Emma hopped back into her office. “Mawm-mee” she said drawing out the word that was the absolute best nickname and the worst she had, all at the same time.
“What has crawled into your bonnet this morning Emerson?”
“Well,” her daughter hopped across the room and wrapped her arms around her mom’s waist. “Hannah, Cicaly, Harper and I were wondering if we could have a sleep over.”
Her daughter was referring to the children of her two best friends, Gullia and Catrina. When she had moved here, she had joined the elementary school PTA and met Gullia and Catrina who had both come up to her and started carrying on conversations like they had known each other all their lives. It was a feeling she had only ever had one other time, and that is when she met Gabby.
The PTA was something she was part of but she wasn’t heavily involved. It was a dare to herself to get out of her loner comfort zone. She just sort of blended into the background while her two best friends ran the show. She wished Gabby had kids her daughter’s age, but she loved all of her nieces and nephews so much. She loved that Gabby was there now, and that Reed and his family was in Seattle, just a couple hours away, or an hour by boat, and their parents were just south of them by about an hour.
They were her parents, in every way she had never had until they surrounded her with love and support and didn’t even let her think twice about them not being her parents. She had never met two people who were more loving than Phillip and Rose, though, these days they were just naturally Mom and Dad.
They had fought so hard to keep her with them. Luckily Rose’s sister worked in the Family Welfare department and had pulled some strings back then so that they could take her home that night from the police station. They had supported her, loved her, stood by her while she battled the demons of her past, and cheered for her for every single accomplishment she made. She got the opportunity to be adopted by them, and to change her name.
Gabby had given her the nickname of Bella. It was the first time, other than her biological mother, that anyone had given her a nickname. It was important to keep Bella as her nickname. So, becoming Isabella was easy. Rose had suggested Grace as a middle name after the grandmother she loved dearly. Of course, she took their last name as her own, and she officially had become Isabella Grace Johanson, Bella for short. A name she hoped the evil monster whose DNA was used to create her, and the brother she shared DNA with, would never know.
She didn’t talk about them anymore, not one word. It was like a silent rule these days. Just not to think about them, or talk about them, but every now and then, they crept into her thoughts hanging onto memories mostly. He daughter would never know them, or of them, if she could help it.
“Sleep over where?” She asked turning her back to the window for the moment and facing her daughter. She pretty much knew what was coming. The girls loved to come over to her house for sleepovers because both Hannah, Harper and Cicaly had other siblings. At least at her place, it was just the four of them.
“Here,” she said giving her mother her best pleading look. “Indy won’t leave us alone and Dakota and Hayden go and burp and fart wherever we are, it’s gross! Anna is always coming in where we are, plus Matt and Micha are just brats, Mom!”
Indiana was Hannah’s older brother, Dakota and Hayden were her younger brothers, and Annalisa was Hannah’s younger sister. Harper and Cicaly were Irish twins. Matthew and Micha were their younger brothers. Indy was in the grade ahead of the four girls. Bella suspected he liked Emma, but she wasn’t going to say anything to anyone about that. It was a matter of the way he looked at her sometimes that caused the suspicion. Dakota and Hayden were seven and five respectively and typical little brothers. Annalisa was only four years old and looked up to Hannah and all the girls. She was a little girl who wanted to do everything the big girls were doing. Matthew was seven and Micha was three, those two did everything they could to make their older sisters scream, especially Matthew. Anytime the girls were all together over there was best time to make all of them scream. It was actually amusing if you were a witness to it. Matthew had a very mischievous mind and some of the things he came up with were pretty genius. Of course, Micha just wanted to be cool like his brother. The stories that were told. She didn’t envy Catrina and her husband Greggory in the slightest.
“Have they talked to their parents?”
She looked around innocently, “Not yet,” she muttered. “I wanted to see if it was okay with you first.”
Good call, she thought. “When are you thinking?”
“Short notice, there, Emma Rose.”
“I know, I’m sorry,” she said going back to giving her the best pleading look she had. All the girls were in drama club, all of them had been in some of the community plays. They all knew how to bring out those acting skills when and if needed. She stood up and went to her desk, sitting back down in her computer chair.
She was thinking about asking Gabby, Gullia and Catrina over for a wine night. They could all shoo the three dad’s and little boys for a poker night, she loved hosting poker night, but the girls really wanted to be just the four of them. It was a thought. “I will talk to their moms, okay?”
“Really!?!” she squealed.
“School is getting out soon, we’re headed into summer vacation. So if this plan doesn’t work out, just remember there will be plenty of other opportunities, okay?” She told her daughter.
“But Moooooooooooooommmmmm,” she was a very dramatic child. “It’s a four-day weekend!”
“I know, I’ll see what I can set up.”
Emma squeezed her mom extra hard in a hug and skipped back off to finish getting ready for school. Bella just shook her head. She had no idea where that child got her dramatic flair from, but it certainly wasn’t her.
She debated on shooting her sister and friends an email, a text message, or a phone call. Figured it would be easiest to pop on Facebook and shoot them all a message at the same time in their group message they kept going. It was someplace where they only had to say something once instead of having to repeat it ten times, plus share photos and gossip.
She walked around to her desk chair and sat down. Putting the coffee cup on the quilted little coaster, she quickly worked past her computer security measures and got onto Facebook. She shot them all off a message in one shot.
Interested in a movie and wine night tonight? Emma wants to have the girls over for a sleepover. Dads could play poker and have their own guys night with the other kids. Would be such a full house though – where ever it would happen. Girls could stick around until the campout on Sunday, it’s fine by me.
While she was sitting at her computer, she glanced at her email. Her editor was bothering her for her newest finished book. Problem was, it wasn’t finished yet. She needed to get it done, but she was having a hard time feeling it. She shot her off a reply explaining she was having a little bit of a block. She didn’t understand what the rush was, they already had a book that hadn’t been released yet. She always liked to have that “buffer” book though. It was her own fault. The first few years she wrote, she was getting two or three books done in one year, now that she was twenty books into the series – it was a little bit rougher to find the brilliance that seemed to flow out of her fingers so easily before.
There was an email from an address that she didn’t recognize marked “Urgent.” She was about to click on it when she heard the chime from Facebook meaning that someone had replied to the message. She switched tabs of her browser and saw that Gabby had replied.
I’m in! I will have to bring the baby because I cannot even think about leaving him for a few hours. Plus, I figure you all will love taking him from me every moment you can.
She smiled. She couldn’t wait to hold her nephew and smell him. She longed to have another baby, someday. She just held him two days prior, but twenty-four hours was way too long. Sadly, she’d never have another baby. Just the hand that life had dealt her. Didn’t mean she couldn’t spoil all her nieces and nephews.
Emma had been such an amazing gift to her. It happened her freshman year of college. Her and Gabby were lucky enough to share a dorm room. They had been taking different paths, but still were the best of friends. Just then, they needed to spread their wings more independently. Gabby was really interested in the Greek aspect, and pledged a sorority. Bella still had issues, hard core issues, about large groups of people and trusting anyone.
There was this guy named David in her creative writing class. He was charming and handsome. He would look at her during class and smile at her, but she would always shy away, figuring that he wasn’t looking at her but past her at someone else. Until he confronted her after class one day. She heard him saying “Hey” from behind her but it wasn’t until he caught up to her and tapped her shoulder. She had spun around and seen that it was David, and he had in fact been talking to her.
He started talking to her, and at first, she was almost feeling panicky. He asked her if she wanted to catch a movie with him, or dinner, sometime. She said sure, because she wasn’t sure what else to say. She had never had a boyfriend before, never even going out on a date. Gabby had a boyfriend in high school and there was a lot of group outings and activities as their core group of friends.
Regardless she met up with David and he took her out to a nice sit-down restaurant. She had barely eaten, did the classic order a salad crap because she wasn’t comfortable eating in front of this guy. As the night moved forward he was making her laugh and she was becoming comfortable around him. He made her forget about her fears and anxiety and all those demons in her closet. She felt pretty and smart and like she was valuable. She fell in love with him, or at least, what she thought was love, first love kind of love.
Then small things started to happen, and she’d dismiss them or try to talk her inner voice out of the panic that sat on the edge of her soul jumping at saying what was going on was wrong. Her inner voice was screaming and she brushed it off as being silly. He’d make rude comments and he’d see the look of confusion, or that it upset her, and he’d laugh about it and claim he was joking.
Then he started to show up at the restaurant that she was waitressing at for spending money. He’d show up when she wasn’t working and he’d demand answers for the people she worked with on if anyone was interested in her, if anyone was flirting with her, including customers. Then he’d start sitting at the bar and drink while she was working, and he’d give her this angry stare the whole time she went from table to table to take care of her customers. Waitressing was a huge step for her out of her comfort zone, it was a big deal to her. Luckily her boss wasn’t mad, more so concerned about her safety, but that didn’t mean she wouldn’t get in trouble.
The first time he punched her in the face was after work one night. She had closed, and she was so angry because he had made a scene and almost gotten her fired. She had come out of the back door and he had started in on her right away. She had swung around on him and yelled at him about how he almost got her fired. It was the first time she had actually ever stood up for herself. She was rewarded with a black eye. One of her co-workers and friends came out as his fist met her face and she fell to the ground. He ran off, like a thief in the night, and when her co-workers had asked if she had known who had done it, she lied, and said no.
He had punched her one other time. It was about a month after the first time, they had been dating about six months at the time. They were sitting at her dorm room having pizza and watching a movie. Gabby was doing stuff with her sorority and she was staying at the sorority house. She had done something, and spilled a glass of Coke on him. He just punched her in the head a second time. She demanded he leave between her crying hysterically and him apologizing profusely.
The last straw happened when she was avoiding him, because she was truly fearing being around him. All those feelings of living with her biological family was flooding back and she couldn’t go back there. He got mad about being ignored. She was trying to figure things out in her head and asked him for space. One night, after a party she had been invited to on Greek row by Gabby, he found her starting to walk back to the dorm and started to accuse her of sleeping with another guy and various other horrible things. She started to go back to the sorority house out of fear. In that moment, she decided, it was clear they couldn’t be together. It was such an unhealthy relationship and she was beating herself up internally while she was breaking up with him outwardly. She didn’t see it coming. She just remembered screaming at him it was over, and next thing she knew she was waking up in the emergency room with an IV bag, bruised and swollen face, Gabby was crying. She couldn’t open one eye and two ribs were broken.
The doctor came in with the police. She gave them all the details. After the police left, the doctor came back in and started going over test results. Then he said five words that forever changed her life. “Did you know you’re pregnant?”
She was three months along already and had no clue. She’d been pregnant for almost half of the relationship with David and hadn’t known.
She didn’t tell him. She pressed charges and got a 90-day restraining order. They went to the same college though and unless someone was going to change colleges, it was hard to truly avoid each other. When she started showing, really showing, there was one day where she was walking to her next class and out of the corner of her eye she saw someone walk into a pole. She turned to look and it was David, and he was still staring at her and her large pregnant belly.
He had asked a mutual friend to give her a message after the restraining order was up. He asked if she would meet with him with Gabby in a public place. He didn’t want her to feel uncomfortable and he promised he wouldn’t hurt her. She agreed and told him to meet her at a coffee shop that evening.
When she had gotten there, he was already waiting. She got in line first and got herself a hot tea before she went and sat with him. She hadn’t even told Gabby she was going to meet him. They exchanged some small talk and then he decided to address the elephant in the room, because that’s what she felt like, an elephant. She didn’t lie to him, she was honest about being pregnant with his child. Other than what had happened to her before her escape, she hadn’t ever been with anyone that way but David.
He said he was very remorseful for what had happened. He’d gone to anger management and had even started to volunteer at a woman’s shelter where abused women and kids came in all the time. He didn’t expect to mend things with Bella but he hoped they could be tolerable towards each other. He had told her he wouldn’t make excuses about how growing up in a family where his father abused his mother had damaged him, because what he had done was beyond wrong, but he did want to say he was truly sorry. It did feel like he was being sincere.
She had given him her cell number and he stuck to his word. He didn’t push anything with her and they were forming a bit of a friendship. He wanted to be involved in the baby’s life, but he didn’t want to push anything either. So, she agreed to play it, basically, by ear.
She moved into an apartment with Gabby after college ended for the year. They were pretty much right on campus still and very close to Greek row since Gabby would be highly involved with all of that. Bella had joined the staff of the college newspaper and the photography club. They had gotten a three-bedroom place so that the baby could have her own room. She knew Gabby probably wouldn’t be there a whole lot but it would be nice when she was.
She went into labor on July 3rd that year. She had called him to tell him when she found out she would be having the baby, for sure. While she labored, he rushed to the hospital. On the way there he ran a red light at a high rate of speed and he ended up hitting a semi-truck. His car ended up getting wedged under the truck’s cargo area. The top half of the car was completely ripped off. David’s head was ripped off with it, as his body remained seat belted into the car.
She found out that his car had hydroplaned through the red light on the very wet blacktop. It had been raining hard that day, sometimes causing visibility to be less than a hundred feet. It didn’t help matters that he was talking on his cell phone, which had been found still clutched in his hand. She had gotten so mad when he had told her he was coming and he didn’t show up. So mad!
She didn’t find out until the following day that he had died. She kept trying to call him, and kept getting his voicemail. She left one message. The last time she called, a detective had picked up the phone. He informed her that he had been in an accident. The detective had come to talk to her. She once had strong feelings for him. The fact that – she thought – he was so excited about the baby, and rushing to the hospital, and died on the way there, made her heart sink.
He died before his daughter was born in the very early hours of the 4th. His family had come and they had no idea that she was upstairs holding their granddaughter and niece.
She had attended his funeral a couple days after she went home with the baby. She didn’t know his family, had never been introduced, but she had gone and hung back. There were a lot of people there that she knew, from the college, and so she tried to blend in. She didn’t go tell his family. From what she understood, based on what he had told her while they dated and after when he was explaining to her why he reacted the way he had, she didn’t feel like she wanted them involved in her daughter’s life.
“Mom!” Emma slid through the door in the fast pace she moved at. “I’m headed out for the bus,” she said crossing the room in only a few steps. She hugged and kissed her mom and rushed back out as quickly as she had come in.
She was like a whirlwind, that one.
She wanted to think that David was watching over Emma, wherever he was. She found comfort in that. Her daughter’s own personal guardian angel. She had told Emma about him. She left all the bad stuff out, just saying they decided they’d be better friends. Luckily, she did have some photos of David, so Emma could see what her Dad looked like.
After she was done with college she moved around the United States some. She’d be here a few months, there a year. Once Emma had started school, she had to stay in one place for the school year, at least. Then it got to the point where it was really weighing on Emma, all the moving around. Her own gypsy heart needed to settle down and plant some roots. So one summer she had gone to visit Reed and his wife in Seattle. Emma had just turned 7 years old. She would be starting Second Grade in the fall. Reed and Natalie had three kids at the time. Jacob was 8, Sawyer was almost 5, and little Katie Marie was born six days after Emma’s birthday. They were there to cuddle the baby and for family.
One day, Reed suggested they take a drive, enjoy the peninsula and the Olympic Mountains. So she and Emma got in the car and did just that. They took the ferry over from Seattle to Bremerton and drove around from there.
They had stopped in the small town of Sable Thicket to eat. The diner they stopped at, Lizzy’s Diner, was really good food. The staff had been so friendly, they commented on and interacted with Emma like they had known her since she was born. The waitress, Candice, had even given Emma a small stuffed unicorn, and Emma had carried that thing around with her for a couple years.
After they ate, they had gone across the street to the park and hung out there for a little while. She watched Emma play with the other kids at the park that day, and she just had this feeling that this is where she belongs. This is where she needed to plant those roots with Emma.
She ended up buying her house, going back down to California and packing up their stuff, she hoped, for the last time. The whole process was quick. Before she knew it, she had planted roots.
Her sister Gabby had quickly followed. The funny thing was that Gabby’s husband Callum had already gotten a transfer to a Seattle hospital. By ferry, it was about an hour commute. So they had already settled on getting a house in Sable Thicket too. Mom and Dad were both retired and ended up moving up to a town just south of them, by about an hour. Dad wanted to be close to the bases in case they ever had a job for him, once a military man, always a military man. The whole family was within an hour of each other.
She sipped her coffee and opened her writing program. She got up, to get more coffee. As she made her way to the kitchen, putting her cup on the counter, she decided to open the windows in the house to let the breeze of cool air come in. She walked to the front door, disabled the security for the house, and opened all the windows, and the heavy front door leaving the screen door secure. She walked back through the kitchen, grabbed more coffee, and walked around continuing to open the windows. When she made it back to her office, she flipped on the security monitor that showed the various views from the numerous security cameras.
Then she sat down at her desk, with the window open so she could watch the birds in her back yard, and got to work on her book. She wanted to get what she could done before she had company that night.
The silence in the room was almost deafening except for the heavy punching of the computer keyboard at such a quick pace.