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My mother possessed the uncanny ability to switch between being an angel to a devil in a heartbeat. I learned early on that it was in my best interest to keep her happy.

Today, she is not happy.

Her nails dig into my palm as she holds my hand and leads me to the American Airlines check-in counter at LaGuardia Airport. She’s pissed because I complained about the tape she wrapped too tightly around my thighs earlier.

She hates it when I complain.

“Just you and your daughter today, ma’am?” The pretty lady behind the counter eyes us up and down, smiling at the pigtails Mom has twisted my long, black hair into. I resist the urge to fidget, even though the dress I’m wearing and everything underneath it itch like crazy.

Mom hates it when I fidget.

“Yes, just us,” Mom replies, with a cool smile, her hand still tightly holding mine. She’s removed her nail from my palm, but it still stings, like the time I stepped on a bee when I was barefoot in the backyard when I was five.

“She’s beautiful,” the woman beams at Mom, handing her two boarding passes for Flight 179 to Pittsburg.

“Thank you,” Mom nods, smiling her fake smile. “She’s my pride and joy. Don’t know what I’d do without her.”

“Enjoy your flight, ma’am,” the lady says. “We’ll begin boarding shortly.”

“Thank you,” Mom murmurs, her voice soft and demure and polite — nothing like the voice she uses when we’re alone.

She leads me over to a bunch of chairs with leather seats and chrome arm rests and we sit down. Or, at least I try to. Gingerly, I lower my butt to the seat, being careful not to dislodge anything. Mom shoots a warning glance my way and I flash her a reassuring smile.

Everything’s fine, it says. I know what to do.

She nudges me, hard, and I look around, spotting the cop and dog right away. The dog is pulling the cop around, his nose trailing along the feet of the waiting passengers and sniffing furiously. When they’re five feet away, I fall to my knees and squeal, a loud, piercing shriek that turns all eyes in our direction.

With abandon, I throw my arms around the dog’s neck.

“Puppy!” I shout. The cop looks down at me with a mixture of annoyance and shock, attempting to pull the dog back, but I hold on.

“Ma’am, please control your child!” The cop barks, his face an angry scowl.

“I’m so sorry,” Mom says, looking at him with a contrite look of apology. She pats me on the shoulder. “Honey, you’re not supposed to do that.”

“But I love shepherds! Mom, can’t we get a dog? Please?” My arms are still around the dog as he begins sniffing me.

“No, sweetie,” she said, shaking her head at the cop again. “So sorry. She’s been begging for years.”

She pulls me back up. I sit back down again and the cop leads the dog over to the next row of seats. I look up at her, expecting to see approval and love, but instead she glares down at me and hisses.

“Pull your skirt down!”

I look down and see that the edge of my skirt has ridden up, threatening to expose everything below it. Quickly, I pull it down and drop my chin.

“Sorry,” I mutter.

“You screw this up and we lose everything,” she seethes.

“I won’t,” I insist.

After that, she refused to look at me again, and she didn’t say much either. We boarded the plane silently, finding our seats and stowing our luggage in the overhead bin.

In the window seat sat a large, older bald man in a dark suit, and as I sat down next to him, he looked over and smiled, then turned back to looking out the window.

Now that we were on the plane, I knew Mom would relax a little and that meant that I could, too. The hard part was over. I sank into the seat, welcoming the respite from the intense stress of the day. An hour into the flight, Mom excused herself and went to the restroom, leaving me alone with the man.

I jumped in shock when I felt his hand land on my knee, over my dress.

“You’re a pretty girl,” he whispered.

With horror, I watched as his hand began sliding up slowly, stopping when it felt the bulge taped to my thigh. He looked over at me with wide eyes as I met his gaze.

“Say a word and I’ll scream rape,” I growled, my voice a low dire warning. His eyes widened in surprise as I squinted mine in a glaring dare. Slowly, he raised his hand from my thigh, his fingers spread out in silent submission. He turned away with a suspicious glance and I swallowed hard.

All it takes is one mistake, Mom liked to say. One simple obstacle can throw a wrench in the whole operation. I vowed to myself, that no matter what, that I would never be the wrench.

A moment later she returned, and we sat through the rest of the flight without incident. I knew I’d never tell her about the man. She’d find a way to blame me somehow, and the less she knew, the better. The less she blamed me, the better.

I followed behind her through the Pittsburg airport like a faithful servant after the flight landed. As always, we went straight to the ladies room and waited until all the stalls were empty, before walking into the larger, handicapped stall together. 

“Take off the dress,” she said, unnecessarily. I already had it half over my head, more than ready to strip down to my underwear. Swiftly, she began pulling the packages from my thighs, the tape ripping off the top of layer of skin, leaving bright red marks that would take weeks to heal. She deposited it all into her empty suitcase, before handing me a blue t-shirt and my favorite pair of black jeans, which I quickly pulled on.

“I hate doing this,” I said, in a rare moment of spontaneous weakness. If I could have, I would have pulled the words out of the air because as soon as I said them, I knew what was coming.

“Are you daring to complain?” she asked, raising a brow.

“No,” I said.

“It sounds like it. I taught you better than that,” she said, reaching over and pulling the bands from the ends of my braids. She pulled her fingers through my hair, unraveling the pigtails and pulling my hair back before pulling it into a tight ponytail at the nape of my neck.

“I know,” I say, hoping she’ll drop it and not continue to lecture me. “It’s just that it hurts sometimes. Aren’t you ever scared, Mom?”

She sinks to her knees, bringing her eye level with me as she peers deeply into my eyes, the same as her eyes. She clutches my arms tightly, her fingers digging into my skin.

“Listen to me, Nicholai. Fear is useless. Only the weak let their fear keep them from doing what they need to do. I have no time or energy to give to fear, and neither do you. With our skills, we can do anything, Nicholai. Don’t forget that. We have a gift. And nobody can take that away. Not even fear.”

“Okay, Mom,” I said, lifting my chin. I wanted to be brave for her. I wanted her to be proud of me. Most of all, I wanted her to be happy. Because if she was happy, I could be happy. “We did good today, right?”

“I suppose,” she sighed, zipping up her suitcase as I tied my sneakers. “I just wish they’d give us a bigger job. I could do so much if they’d just trust me.”

“Maybe they will now,” I said.

“Maybe,” she sighed. “Are you ready to go?”

“I’m ready,” I said, zipping up my hoodie.

“Alright, stay here,” she said, opening the door of the stall and looking out.  She pulled out the suitcase, before calling out to me. “Coast is clear, let’s go.”

We shuffled out of the bathroom and blended into the crowd streaming through the corridor of the airport.  After a short walk, we approached a bank of pay phones and Mom lifted a phone to her ear and pushed a quarter in the slot, punching a number in and waiting.

“We’re here,” she said, before promptly hanging up. She grabbed my hand, and we wove back into the crowd, leaving the suitcase standing in the corner by the phones. I glanced over my shoulder, watching as a young woman grabbed it and wheeled it away.

I looked up at Mom and nodded.

A slow, satisfied smile spread across her face and I knew that at least for the moment, she was happy.







Eddie held onto me like he’d never let go.

Lying in the bed of his truck, we stared up at the endless sky, sprinkled with stars and lit up with the warm glow of a full, pink April moon.

“I can’t believe this is our last night together,” I whispered, my voice thick with pain. I fingering the thin, gold bracelet he’d given me for Valentine’s Day.

“Don’t say that,” he said. “It’s only for a month. As soon as graduation’s over, I’ll join you. And we’ll talk every day.”

“I’m sorry I can’t stay. I wanted to walk across the stage with you in our graduation gowns, like we always planned.”

“It’s okay, babe. It doesn’t matter.”

“I’m never going to make it if I stay. She’s so far gone…”

He held me tighter, kissing the top of my head gently. Wrapped up in Eddie’s arms, lying under the big Texas sky — this was my safe place. My only safe place.

Leaving it, leaving him, was going to be the hardest thing I’d ever done in my life. But I knew if I stayed any longer, my chance at happily ever after with Eddie would be obliterated.

She’d never allow me to be happy.

Wrought with deteriorating mental health, my mother had descended into a madness that left her hating the only person in the world who cared about her. But as her only daughter, and a minor, I was unable to be anything but her victim. I’d begged the police to take her. I’d begged her to get help on her own. But nobody would force her and she certainly would never admit she was sick. Hell, she couldn’t even admit it to herself.

I’d tried leaving, staying at friend’s houses, or even at Eddie’s once. But that didn’t turn out well. She’d always find me, and the time she found me at Eddie’s, I’d ended up locked in my room with two black eyes and huge welts on the back of my thighs for ‘disobeying’  and ‘embarrassing’ her.

Recently, she’d caught wind that Eddie and I were planning on moving to Hollywood together, as soon as we graduated. Taking the news as a complete betrayal, she’d stormed through our neighborhood searching for me while brandishing a baseball bat. Apparently, according to the screeching she’d been doing to anyone who would listen, I was taking her ‘life’ away, so if I was going to be killing her, then she’d kill me first.

You’d have to know my mother to understand.

She’s crazy, she hates me, but she loves me so fiercely at the same time, that all she knows how to do is suffocate me.

She named me Lucky because she said getting pregnant saved her life. Young and reckless, she was on a downward spiral until she’d had a one-night stand with some famous rockstar. She’d not intended to get pregnant, but she did. The guy blew her off afterwards, of course, but she said that her life had meaning after that, where it didn’t before. She wouldn’t even tell me his name.

After I was born, she put all that weight on me. I became the reason for everything, good and bad, that happened in her life.

It was a heavy burden to bear for a little girl.

And it still is too heavy.

I have two choices at this point. I can let her kill me or I can save my own life and flee her madness, leaving her all alone with her craziness and weathering the guilt that comes with that.

My hands are tied. Fleeing is all I can do.

All day long, I’d hidden in an old fort down by the train tracks, until Eddie finally found me and now, here we are, saying goodbye with a bus ticket to Los Angeles with my name on it sticking out of my purse like a neon exit sign.

Eddie turned to me, his cornflower blue eyes washing over me with pure, soft love. He reached up, his palm cupping my cheek.

“You’re everything to me, Lucky,” he said, “nothing’s going to keep me from you. You just go be strong, find us a place to live, and I’ll be there to help out as soon as I can.”

Eddie was certain he’d never be able to get a job if he didn’t have a high school diploma, so he was staying. Just for a little while. I kept telling myself the time would pass quickly, but I knew it would be a torturous crawl until I could see him again.

“I’ll do my best,” I said, kissing him gently, tears streaming down my face.  He wiped them away, his smile like a gift from heaven that I’d done nothing to deserve. “Just don’t forget me.”

“I’d have to die to forget you, Lucky Lazzarini. It’ll go so fast, you’ll see. Just a month, my love,” he whispered. “Just one measly month. Our love can endure that.”

He kissed me again and just like that — magic.

Everything went away.

All the pain my mother caused. All the uncertainties of our future. Every insecurity that I was usually plagued with.

Gone, in the achingly sweet gentleness of Eddie’s kiss.

He pulled away, his gaze full of love and hope. If there was anything in the world I was sure of, it was Eddie’s love. With the support of that love, I knew I could survive a month away from him if it meant I got to spend the rest of my life with him.




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