Sarah, Returned--Chapter Five (A Steemit Original Novel)
Karen reaches out toward me, her long, red nails filed to fine points that look like they’re dripping blood. To me, they look like claws.
“Don’t touch me,” I whisper, taking a step back. The thought of her hands anywhere on my body makes my skin crawl. I'm not sure I wouldn't get frostbite, either.
“Let me help you, Sarah,” she entreats, raising her voice enough to make sure Matt hears every word. “I can get you the help you need. My family knows people who specialize in treating your kind.”
“My kind?” I blurt out before I can stop myself. Oh, hell no. Did she really just use that word with me? Who does she think she is?
“The mentally ill,” she says, feigning sympathy.
Must. Resist. Urge. To. Punch.
“Maybe she’s right, Sarah,” Matt says, more softly now. He puts his hands out with trepidation, like I’m a rabbit he doesn’t want to startle. “You haven’t been yourself since Karen and I started dating. It’s just gotten worse since we became engaged.” He leaves Jacob’s side and comes to stand beside his puppet master. “It’s just been the two of us for so long. You and me against the world. It’s only natural you would feel a little jealous toward another woman in my life. But, you’re taking it beyond what’s normal. Karen has told me the things you say when I’m not around. Like, you’re will tell me she's cheating on me, and send fake lab results to her family showing she has an STD. I know you’re planning to accuse her of hiring a hit man to kill you. You have to know you’re taking it too far. I hate to say it, Sarah, but maybe you are having paranoid delusions. With the history on your mother’s side….I just don’t know anymore. You should at least get checked out, for my peace of mind. Don’t do it for Karen. I know you don’t like her right now. Do it for me.”
One time, not too long ago, that sincerity would have worked on me. Not anymore. He believes her over me. How can I get past that? Even when all this is over, it's going to be tough to forgive, unless I find out she really did cast a spell on him.
I check in with Great-Uncle Jacob again, a few inches above Matt’s head. Standing perfectly straight, he has about three inches on Matt’s six foot two frame. Jacob gives me a nod and a wink. It’s the kind of unspoken communication I’ve only experienced with Matt, and a pang of sadness hits me hard, as I realize how much I miss our former closeness. But, I have Jacob now, and he recognizes Karen for the snake she is. He’s going to help me get out of here.
I don’t know what he’s going to do, but I trust him. Swallowing my pride, I summon my best community theater skills, and take Matt’s hands. As I grasp them, I lower my eyes to the floor in a sign of submission. “Maybe you’re right,” I say, each word slashing my soul, wounding it. “Things have been all messed up lately, and I’m not sure what is going on with me. I’ll do it, Matt, only for you, because you asked me. Thank you for not forcing it. If you just let me go upstairs and get my purse, you may take me to get an evaluation.”
“Of course,” Matt says, nodding, pleased this went so well. “I’ll get the car keys, and we’ll meet you by the back door. I know this is hard, Sarah, but you’re doing the right thing. Thank you.”
“I’ll go upstairs with her,” Karen announces. She’s not asking, either. “Just to make sure she’s okay.”
“No!” I snap, the word pulled out from somewhere deep inside me by an unknown force. It’s loud and vehement enough they both take a step back. Even Karen looks startled. Crap. I can’t freak them out now. This has to all go seamlessly. Every single thing from this moment until I leave has to appear voluntary on my part for my plan to work. The perfectly made up features on Karen’s face twitch ever so slightly, and I know she’s about to make a big deal out of my unintended declaration of autonomy. I head her off at the pass.
“Being around Karen is part of the problem, Matt,” I say, keeping my voice even and mild. I must make myself sound unthreatening. “It’s when she’s around that I have the hardest time telling what’s real and what isn’t. I don’t know why. She just does it to me. Maybe the doctors can help us figure out the reason. But, if I’m going to go with you, of my own free will, I need for her to stay downstairs while I get my purse. Karen acting like my personal guard at the psych ward is not going to end up going well for either of us. I will be right back. Just please, let me get my purse alone, if for no other reason than to give me a moment to collect myself before we go.”
“I think that’s reasonable,” Matt blessedly agrees.
“I must object,” Karen says, defiant hands on her hips, shaking her head. “She’s unstable, Matt. She needs supervision.”
“Honey, she’s just going to get her purse.”
“And, I will go with her.”
“I really don’t think….” Matt begins.
“Matthew Morgan,” she snaps, “are you really going to argue with me?”
Matt looks from me to Karen and back again, the proverbial “deer in the headlights” look plastered on his rugged, handsome face.
Who will you choose, Matt? Who will you choose?
“I don’t know,” he says, confused. “Maybe Karen should go with you. I’m not sure. This is all such new territory.”
Oh, screw you, Matt! How I wish I could say it to your face.
Karen and Matt are so immersed in this drama of Karen’s creation, they’ve forgotten Jacob is here. That works in my favor, because Jacob, bless him, has been listening to this entire insane exchange. He takes this crucial moment, and follows through on his unspoken promise to me in a way I never expected.
“Karen,” he says, that natural commanding presence of his carrying his soft voice to every corner of the room with ease. Karen and Matt both turn to him as one, seemingly stunned to see him still here. “You and I haven’t had a chance to get to know each other yet. You’re going to be joining the family, my girl, so why don’t you tell me about yourself?”
“Why on earth would I do that?” she demands. Why does Matt not see how rude she is? “You haven’t been in Matt and Sarah’s lives since they were children, and I don’t know you at all. Quite frankly, Mr. Morgan, this isn’t the time to be…..”
Karen’s grating tone trails off in the distance as I take the opportunity Jacob so graciously gave me, and bound up the stairs, two at a time. He won’t be able to keep her distracted for long, so I’ve got to move quickly. I hear Matt’s voice joining the melee as I reach the top of the stairs, but can’t hear what he’s saying. Probably trying to negotiate peace between another relative who doesn’t get along with his fiancée. That should be a clue, Matt. Take it.
I bound into my room and grab my purse and car keys, pausing only long enough to stuff a couple of changes of clothes and my phone into its oversized interior; I won't be using this particular phone, but I don't want Karen to have access to it by leaving it here. Sliding around the corner into the attached bathroom, I pull out the makeup case I keep in there for overnight getaways, and sweep every toiletry I own into it with one hand. Good. I’ve got everything I need for a few nights to a week away. That’s enough time to put the rest of my plan into action. I won’t even have to call the university, because they’ve already given me approved time off school. Grandma was a big donor there; the administration wasn’t going to begrudge me a week off to mourn her if I asked for it, which I did. Besides, my grades are excellent. All my instructors know I can catch up on anything I miss without batting an eye.
Okay. Time to get out of here. I start to tiptoe back to the stairs, but that tugging sensation appears at the back of my mind for the third time this evening and stops me. There’s something else, something more I need to bring with me. What is it?
I hear a sharp, “Unhand me, sir!” from Karen downstairs. Jacob must have put his hand on her arm to stop her going after me. I’ve got to hurry. Come on, Sarah. What do you need?
Grandma! I need something of Grandma’s. My intuition resolves itself, and is quite clear on that point. But, what thing do I need? Something of hers doesn’t want to be left behind.
Oh! I nearly smack myself on the forehead. Your mind can sometimes move so quickly, it actually makes you dense. I need her memory box. No way do I want that falling into Karen’s hands while I’m away, and I just know she’s going to be combing every inch of this place for hidden treasures the first chance she gets. I hate the thought of her frigid hands on anything of Grandma’s, but especially that box. She doesn’t get the box.
Grandma’s memory box is an octagonal wooden thing with a rusty metal hinge. A few tiny precious gems are attached to the top in a circle, using a method I’ve never been able to identify. Not glued or nailed, the way they are attached to the box has always been a mystery to me. Inside the box are mysteries untold. It’s a good six inches deep, maybe more, so it holds a lot of mostly flat things. Matt and I always knew about it, and exactly where Grandma kept it. We also learned from the youngest of ages, when our parents were still alive, that it was never to be touched. Ever.
Once in a great while, Grandma would take it out and show Matt and me a few of the old black and white photos of her and Grandpa Morgan that lay on top of its mysterious stack of contents, and it was a solemn, almost religious occasion whenever she did. If we ever asked about what else was in there, she always brushed off our questioning, telling us it only held the objects of an old lady’s vanity, and assured us its hidden contents were of no interest to anyone but her. She taught us so well to leave the thing alone, I never once considered touching it until now. Even once she started exhibiting symptoms of “dementia,” and even when she no longer lived with us, I left the box alone. As far as I know, so did Matt. I saw it in her bureau drawer a few times when I was rummaging around, getting things I thought she might need at the home, but never thought about opening it. It was like Pandora’s Box. Not only would opening it be a violation of her privacy, part of me wondered if it might cause an earthquake or a hurricane or something. With only a few words in our early childhoods, Grandma infused that box with an enormous amount of power that ensured we avoided it completely, unless she herself brought it out.
Even now, I’m not sure I’m going to look inside, though knowing what I now know, it is certainly tempting. I can imagine myself holed up in a nice hotel somewhere, going through its contents piece by piece. The secrets Grandma so carefully kept, including her origins, might be in there. Yet, part of me is concerned opening it might bring her ghost and those of all my ancestors crashing through the walls to take it from me. Or, you know, start the apocalypse.
Eh. I’ll decide what to do about the box later. All I know is I have to keep it away from Karen, and that means bringing it with me. I sprint down the hall to Grandma’s room, open the top drawer on her bureau where she kept her lingerie, and move a few well-worn slips aside. She always insisted true ladies wore slips, which meant I wore more of them than I ever cared to.
There it is, under the slips, just like always. It looks like I was right, and no one has touched it since Grandma went to live at the assisted living facility. With great gentleness, I lift the box out of the drawer and place it on top of everything else in my purse, pulling up bits of clothing around its sides to cushion it.
I let out a sigh of relief. Retrieving the box was almost more harrowing than making my escape from Karen to come up here.
Okay. Now, I have everything I need. I just have to get out of the house. I don’t think Jacob can help me there. Judging from the noises I hear downstairs, he seems to swiftly be losing his hold on Karen and Matt's attention. They’ll hear me when I crank up my car, anyway. That’s not so much of an issue. Once I’m in my car, Matt and Karen can do as they please. I’ll at least have a head start, and that’s all I need to secure my freedom.
It’s now or never. Quietly and quickly, I begin descending the back staircase. It leads down into the kitchen and straight to the back door. Only a few more feet, and my hand will be on the doorknob. Once it is, no one can stop me.
“Really, I would love to hear more about your….” Great-Uncle Jacob’s voice trails off just around the corner. Is Karen merely brushing him off, as is her norm with most people, or is she….?
Standing right in front of me at the bottom of the stairs.
Damn it! I only had four more stairs to go. The back door is literally two steps from the stairs. How did she know?
“Just as I suspected,” she says, crossing her arms over her chest and shaking her head, like she can’t believe Matt and Jacob were so stupid as to think I was only getting my purse. “Trying to sneak out the back. I told you, Matt. You can’t trust her.”