Della

Woods would have carried me inside if I would have let him. He was hovering over me so carefully that if I didn’t love him I’d be annoyed. He was worried about me and he deserved to understand some of this. Maybe not all of it but he needed to know something.

“I had an older brother once. I’ve only seen pictures of him and my father. I don’t remember them. I was too young when it all happened.” I wasn’t sure telling him this wasn’t going to send me into another tailspin but I had to try. He sat down beside me and put his arm around my back and pulled me against his chest. It was like he knew I needed him for this. His hand threaded with mine and he squeezed it. I was going to be okay. He was here with me.

“One day they went to run errands. I was a newborn and my mother was nursing me. We didn’t go with them. They never returned. They were shot along with several other people in a local grocery store. A guy had gotten angry or something and shot ten people before he was shot and killed himself. My dad and brother had been standing in the checkout line when he walked in. They were the first two killed.” That was a story I had heard many times from my mother as she explained the dangers if we went outside. I knew it well. I burrowed back into Woods’ arms and kept my mind from losing focus and getting lost in my memories.

“I’ve got you. I’m right here,” he assured me. His other hand found mine and he held it too.

“My mother’s mother had been mentally ill. I never met her. She was in a special home. We had no other family. My father had grown up in foster homes. Neither of them had siblings. My grandmother lost touch with reality shortly after my mother’s birth. Her father hadn’t stuck around to raise her for long. Mom was raised by her father’s mother who died when she was sixteen. She and my father met in a foster home when they were seventeen. From the pictures we had I could see a healthy woman and good mother. My brother seemed to love her. She seemed happy. But I never knew that woman. We moved after my dad and brother were killed. She moved us from a small town in Nebraska to an even smaller one in Georgia. My earliest memories were in that house in Macon. My mother’s wild eyes and screaming fits were all I knew of life. She could be so sweet at times but other times she was frightening. She talked to my brother a lot. I didn’t understand for years who she was talking to. It was just the two of us. But she saw him, I think.”

I closed my eyes against the memory of my mother speaking to my dead brother as if he were there. The plate of food she would fix him with his favorite snacks left uneaten and moldy on the table. Once it had gotten so rotten I’d been unable to go into the kitchen without getting nauseated. She would finally throw it away and fix him some more.

“Did no one see she was unwell?” Woods asked as his thumb traced circles on my hand.

“No. No one saw us at all. No one knew I existed. We didn’t leave the house. Ever. My mother believed there was danger outside. She was keeping us safe.”

Woods sucked in a breath and I waited for the questions. The ones I’d answered a million times since her suicide.

“Where did you get food?”

“There was a local grocery store that delivered it. She called and ordered it.”

“Where did you get money?”“My father had a very good life insurance policy. My mother sold the house in Nebraska and used her profit to buy one much smaller in a cheaper location so she could pay for it in cash.”“School?”“I was home schooled.”“You never left your house? Ever?”This was what was so hard for people to accept. It was a foreign idea to them and it had been my reality.“My mother suffered from a severe case of agoraphobia. Because of mental illness ran in her family it made her case so much worse. The death of my brother and father triggered it and she became desperate to protect us. To the extent of taking away my life. I knew nothing of the world until I was old enough to sneak out at night. Braden, she’s my best friend and the reason I’m on this quest to experience life, lived next door. She was curious about us because she and her parents had realized we never left the house.The night I snuck out the first time she saw me because she had been watching my house at night when she was in bed to see if we ever left. She was convinced we were vampires and she wanted to prove it to her parents. I didn’t get far. I only stood in my front yard and looked up at the moon and touched the grass. Simple things I’d always wanted to do. Braden came out and talked to me that night still thinking I was possibly a vampire. Our friendship grew over the years and my sneaking out changed and got more intense as I got older. Braden knew more about me than anyone. She was the only person who really knew I existed. She also knew I worried about losing my mom if anyone ever found out. So she kept my secret.”I couldn’t tell him anymore. I needed to stop. This was enough. The other was too dark and it hurt too much.“Where’s your mom?”“She’s dead.”He didn’t reply. His arms tightened their hold on me.“I can’t talk about it anymore tonight. That’s enough.”He didn’t argue. He just continued to hold me. We sat there in silence for a long time until my eyes got heavy and I slowly drifted off to sleep.