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Lay Me Down

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Before she can learn to live, she has to learn to love. Kylee's stepfather keeps her life locked down. She's not allowed to leave the house. She can't answer the phone. She's forbidden to talk to the neighbors. So of course when Price moves in next door, she makes it a point to meet him. What he shows her rocks her entire world. Suddenly, everything makes sense. And nothing does.

Chapter 1: Knocked Down

The sun had already dipped low on the horizon of the Virginia sky when the black car pulled into the neighbor’s driveway.

A man stepped out of the driver’s side, but Kylee’s view was blocked by the moving truck that pulled up beside the car. She sat up taller on the crumbling porch step. Neighbors. No one had lived next to the Mansfields in years.

She glanced over her shoulder, through the screen door that barricaded the flies from entering her mother’s house. She heard the slurred drone of her stepfather’s voice from the living room, her mother’s tepid responses.

She pushed herself off the porch and stepped through the knee-high weeds choking the front yard. The sun silhouetted the men as they stood behind the moving truck, blocking out their features. Still, it wasn’t hard to make out the tailored suit the driver of the car wore as he directed the two men in t-shirts and overalls.

Kylee wanted another look at that car. So far, they were too busy unloading the moving van to notice her. She stole a glance at the house sitting at the end of the long driveway. It was a gorgeous, white-washed building, full of character and history, like many of the houses in Pungo. Unfortunately, some idiot missed the memo and built a two-bedroom bungalow not fifty yards away.

No wonder no one wanted to live next to them. As if the weeds threatening to go native in the yard, the run-down, rusted blue pick-up, and Bill’s beat-up clunker weren’t enough, the roof of the house sagged in the middle. Paint peeled from the sides and the gutter had come loose. It now dangled precariously over the concrete steps.

A mosquito buzzed in her ear, and Kylee slapped her neck before it bit her. She’d somehow escaped the summer with not a single bug bite. Probably because she spent almost every moment trapped inside.

“Kylee.”

Her mother’s voice carried to Kylee’s ears. She jerked away from the split-rail fence separating the two yards and hurried to the house before her mother called again. Last thing she wanted was for the new neighbors to notice her. She pushed open the screen door and entered the living room. The whirling ceiling fan did nothing to ease the humid heat clinging to the walls or disperse the twisted trails of smoke floating from the living room. “Mom?”

Her mom sat at the kitchen table, head in her hands. She was always sick these days and rarely lugged herself out of bed. Her dark blond hair hung limply past the shoulders of her baggy T-shirt, and bruises showed across her arms and hands. She lifted her head, her eyes darting to the screen door behind Kylee. “Were you outside?”

“Just on the porch.”

“Bill doesn’t like you out there. Did you do the dishes?”

“Not yet.” She bit her lip to keep from complaining. Her mom needed her. Bill made their lives miserable; the least she could do was help her mother out.

A bird screeched outside, startling her. The dish in Kylee’s hand slipped from her fingers and crashed on the scuffed linoleum floor, shards of cheap ceramic flying under the stove and into the vent.

“Kylee?” her mom said groggily from the kitchen table.

Kylee was already on the ground, gathering up the sharp pieces. “It was nothing. You can go back to bed.” The sounds of the television still blared from the other room, and she didn’t hear the creak of the chair that would indicate her stepfather had lifted his body up. “He didn’t hear anything.”

“Theresa!” Bill hollered from the living room.

Her mom gave a low moan. Kylee grabbed the broom and cleaned up the last of the pieces. She closed the trashcan and shoved the broom back into a corner.

“Get in here, Theresa!” Bill yelled.

The chair shuffled back from the table, and her mother stood with a loud exhale. Her shoulders hunched forward and her head lowered.

“Don’t go to him, Mom,” Kylee said, watching her mother shuffle down the kitchen corridor that led to the living room.

“Finish your job,” Theresa said. “And stay in here.”

“Right,” Kylee sighed.

The low murmur of her mom’s voice carried into the kitchen. She heard the guttural grunt of her stepfather’s response, and then a high-pitched cry. Kylee flinched.

“Kylee!” Bill summoned.

She put down her towel, bracing herself.

“No,” her mom said. “Keep her out of this.”

She straightened her shoulders and hurried toward the living room. Fear shivered along her spine. She stepped down into the darkened room, the blue-ish light from the television and the sunlight filtering through the blinds the only thing to show her way. It took a second for her eyes to adjust, but she made out the shadowy figure of her mother next to the reclining chair. Kylee’s eyes could see where she pressed a hand against an ugly red mark on her cheek.

“Always sticking your nose where it don’t belong,” Bill growled, rocking his chair and taking a swig from the long-necked bottle in his hand.

“Kylee, go back to the kitchen,” her mom said.

Kylee didn’t budge. Her heart pounded hard, the blood thumping behind her ears. It took all of her courage to say, “Only if you come back with me.”

“Worthless, just like your mom.” Bill pushed himself to his feet. His full height of six something towered over her, and he twisted his head around to pop his neck. As if he needed anything else to intimidate her. “You got something to say, girl?”

Kylee’s insides turned to ice, and she felt herself wilting beneath him. “No, sir,” she said, trying to maintain eye contact. “I need my mom’s help in the kitchen. With the dishes.”

“Don’t you dare talk to me that way!” he snarled.

“Go to your room, Kylee,” her mom said.

“Yeah, Kylee,” Bill sneered, slurring her name. “Go to your room so I can take care of your mom.”

For a heartbeat, she forgot her own need for self-preservation. “You leave her alone!”

He stumbled toward her, but her mother’s arm reached out, gripping him around the waist.

“Kylee,” she said, her voice forced and even, “go. Now.”

A warning prickled the skin on the back of her neck, and Kylee knew this was not the time to disobey. She turned and ran through the kitchen before swinging a left into the dining room. Her hip collided with the table, but she kept going. Gasping for breath, she closed her bedroom door and leaned against it.

She could predict what would happen next. It was the same scene, over and over. Her parents would yell and throw things and get physical before her mother made it to her bed and Bill passed out in the living room. She heard him roar her name, and the house shook with the impact of his footsteps.

Why, oh why, hadn’t she thought to bring the phone? Not that it helped. By the time the police made it from town to the farmland in Pungo, the altercation was usually over. She stuck her desk chair under the doorknob in case Bill tried to come in.

Falling to her knees in front of the bed, Kylee’s hand searched under the pillow. Her fingers grazed a sharp knife, but that wasn’t what she wanted. She kept searching, gingerly lest she cause an unwanted injury.

There. She pulled out an extendable razor blade. Yanking her sleeve up, she made a tiny cut in the crook of her elbow, gasping at the sharp pain that skittered up her arm. She could still hear the sounds of the fighting, but her attention was held by the blood pooling in the joint of her arm.

From her peripheral vision, she saw a light flick on next door. She scooted around the bed to get a better look. She saw the silhouette of a boy as he walked across the lit-up room on the second floor. He disappeared from view, then reappeared briefly before turning off the light.

“Kylee!”

Bill’s shout jolted her back to the present, but she ignored it. She made a deeper cut next to the first, and the white pain made her gasp. She put the razor blade away and curled up next to the bed. She closed her eyes and focused on the throbbing ache in her arm.

Chapter 2: The New Boy

Saturday. Kylee flung the covers off and grabbed up a change of clothes. She streaked into the bathroom to shower and change before Bill noticed her. The worst part about the weekend was knowing he would be here, all day for two whole days.

She ended her shower before the running water could attract his attention. She stepped into her room and found a pair of jeans and gray hoodie to put on.

The kitchen was empty. Kylee began working on the dough that would be part of their dinner later. Pausing, she listened for Bill. Nothing yet. Last night’s fight must’ve done a number on him. She needed to check on her mother, but she didn’t want to bump into him. She tiptoed into her mom’s bedroom. Only her mother lay on top of the covers.

“Mom? Don’t you want to leave this room?” Kylee placed a mug of coffee on the nightstand. The response was a soft groan.

“You need to get out of the house.” Kylee took a sip of the coffee. “We could go meet the neighbors. Take them som

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