The following story is a follow-up and between three prior pieces written by Sarah Razner, The Spirits of the Woods, The Night of the Code Word: Hot Dog, Emotional Rollercoaster: A Strange Visitor at the Amusement Park Motel, and Who’s in Charge Here: Nagging Questions & Wise Whys.
Adelaide will always remember this.
In a year. In 25. Even if dementia has strangled her mind, she doubts this is a memory the disease’s cruel and dexterous hands will latch free.
Although, if it did, Adelaide can’t say she’d mind. She’d offer it up willingly, on the shiniest and most alluring of platters. Then again, when are the things taken from us the ones we want to lose? Rarely, if ever.
It’s a lesson she’s learned time and again, one that she doesn’t need another lecture in, but receives anyways. Choices, good or bad, always catch up to you. And now, Adelaide’s are on the doorstep, begging to come in and drag her out over the threshold.
When she hears his voice, cold seeps into her bloodstream. It starts at the tips of her fingers, works its way through her palms and up into her shoulders, fanning out through her chest. It feels like when he filled a bucket with ice and water and submerged her hands as punishment, holding them there until pain stabbed her palms and tears her eyes. Once, as she hyperventilated from the glimpse of someone who looked too much like him and felt the sensation again, Everett told her it was from a panic attack. He knew them well, sparked by his mom who didn’t give them as a discipline, but out of blindness to what she was doing to herself and everyone around her.
“I’m looking for my daughter,” he says, the words bouncing off the front desk of the Parkside Motel and around the doorway to the break room she’s been sitting in, just out of sight in case something like this happened. Her posture immediately goes rigid, and one of her feet, covered in a knock-off Adidas trainer, goes to the floor, bracing itself to run if needed.
Seven weeks, five days, and nine hours to be exact. Adelaide had thought that maybe he had given up on finding her, deciding that letting her be a runaway was better than hunting her down and having her make a scene where she could out him for the abuser he was.
She should’ve known better. Giving up and freeing someone from his clutches was never in his nature, nor was believing that there would be consequences for his actions. If that were the truth, his hands, his fists, the hard toe of his work boots, would’ve never so much as grazed his wife or his children. No, the truth is that he would hunt Adelaide down until he found her, rip her away from the life she was building to save herself and one day her mom and her brother, Mike, and ensure that she would never get close enough to an exit to believe she could do it again.
“I think she might be here. Could you help me?” He continues, and Adelaide slides off her stool quietly, shuffling along the wall to peek at the security monitor mounted in the corner. On multiple occasions, especially those early days, she retreated to this screen as people came to check in, fearing that one would be him. She watched as Everett ran their credit cards, had them sign off on receipts, and handed over keys with colorful fobs for their rooms. With each task, she calmed down a bit more, the worry at a simmer by the time they left the front office.
That won’t be the case today.
Perfectly trimmed hair. Slim shoulders. Mole above his right eyebrow. Bump on the bridge of his nose. He’s here, her dad. He’s come for her, the nightmare of the woods alive and well in this land of black top and floral bedspreads and temporary vacancies.
“Uh, ye-yeah, I should be able to help you,” Everett says, his speech matching the movement of the pixelated version of him on the screen. She can hear the recognition in his voice, the anxiousness. The camera picks up on it, too, in the way he shifts weight quickly from foot to foot, and the blades of his shoulders begin to cut lines in his gray polo, pulled taut against his back with tension. “What’s her name?”
“Adelaide Walker. She’s 17. If that’s of any help,” he says, and just hearing her name flow from his lips propels dozens of memories to the forefront of her brain. All bad. All resulting in pain either mentally or physically. She wants to vomit, but pleads with her gag reflex to hold strong and not give her away.
“Uh.” Everett runs his hand through his hair, sending strands of his red hair every which way. “Her age probably won’t be, but her name will.” It’s a small shift, but she catches it, Everett turning less than 45 degrees to glance at the camera, as if to say, are you seeing this? She nods, although he can’t see her, and in the split second Adelaide gets of his face, she’s sure he wants to puke, too, and if not, reach across the desk separating himhim and her dad and throttle him.
Everett’s fingers click across the computer keys, seconds passing one grain of sand at a time. “Hmm, I’m not-I don’t see anyone by that name here,” he says.
“And you’ve spelt it right? A-D-E-L-A-I-D-E?”
Everett murmurs the letters under his breath, but she has no doubt he’s spelt it correctly when he’s made his sporadic nickname for her “Adelaide with an e.” Others are Addy, Ad, and, when around others, Dyl for the girl she’s supposed to be.
“No, that’s what I have,” Everett says. “Is there any other name I could look her up under or something?”
His hands grip the edge of the desk like he wants to drill his fingernails down inside. “No, not that I can think of,” he sighs. “I do have a picture of her, though. If she might be going by a different name.” From thethe pocket of his khakis of his khakis, he draws his phone and with some swipes and taps on his own screen, flips it for Everett to see. Everett leans towards it, but after a few seconds, shakes his head, too, the hunch leaving his spine.
“No, no, I’ve never seen her,” Everett replies, and Adelaide offers up a note of gratitude to him, to any supreme being that may be looking out for her, although it’s never felt like it. If it was anyone else at the desk, they may have recognized her and offered her up without realizing they were basically handing her to her executioner.
‘Releasing his grip on the counter’s lip, her dad smacks the desk with the palm of his hand so hard that even on the camera, Adelaide can see the free pens in the “Welcome” cup jump, and twenty feet away, she does too. His anger has not changed. It’s become worse, on display for the public to see in a way her dad never would’ve allowed before, and if he’s let his true self slip out like this in front of people he doesn’t know, Adelaide is horrified at the thought of how much further his composure, or lack thereof, has slipped at home in front of those he does.
Recording. That is one salvation. If he realizes she is here and tries to take her, for the first time it will all be on camera. Thanks to Everett, for the first time, it will have a witness of someone who is not his blood or bride.
Everett steps back from the counter, hands lifted in surrender, but his voice doesn’t waver when he speaks. The tone is low, determined. “I’m sorry I can’t be of more help,” sir.”
“No, no,” he breathes. “It’s not your fault.” Filching one of the pens from the cup, her dad quickly scribbles out a note, and slides it across the divider. “Please, if you do see her, give me a call. We need her back home. She’s troubled and we’re all worried about her. My name is Tim, by the way. Tim Walker.”
Everett nods. “Okay,” he says. Not “I will,” or “thanks for the information.” Just, “Okay.” Noncommittal, but not a clear red flag that will lead him to take a magnifying glass to the words.
He backs away from the counter and towards the door, cut off by the edge of the camera frame. Through the doorway, Adelaide catches a glimpse of him, nothing more than the flicker of a figure, sandy hair and black jacket.
It takes at least a minute for Everett to leave his post and cross into the break room. His face has gone as red as his hair, and his mouth has buttoned up like when’s telling her about his mom and another night wasted on pills. “Are you okay?” He asks, although he knows she’s not and she knows he’s not and they both know how much worse this encounter could’ve gone.
Could still go really. There is nothing keeping her dad from spotting her in a few minutes, tonight, or in a week. There’s nothing keeping him from going home and inflicting the rest of his rage on her mom and brother, on top of what he has surely already done to them.
It’s always been her intention to get them away from him, but since she’s left, she’s been afraid that any move she made outside of hiding would lead her back to him. With any action on her part, that fear has been realized.
“I need to call the police,” she tells him, and he offers her his phone before she can even reach out.