"What?" Hayley jumped out of her chair, toppling it backwards.
"What do we do?" I asked.
"We gotta wake up Grandma," she said.
I rushed down the stairs, crashing right into Aunt Georgia. She didn't topple over. She caught my elbow. I could tell in the pale light that she was holding the gun.
"Oh!" I hollered. I didn't mean to. It just sort of came out.
"Quiet!" she whispered severely. "Get back upstairs and don't make a sound. Hide. Go!" She shoved me a little. I obeyed. The living room light switched on behind me.
"She says to hide," I told Hayley.
It suddenly struck me what Bo was probably after.
"Sydney!" I said.
"Shh! Let's go get her. We'll go down the tree and hide in the barn."
"She's too sick to climb down the tree! She could barely walk after dinner."
Hayley cursed softly under her breath.
Just as we got the door to Sydney's room shut and locked, the doorbell rang. My eyes prickled like I was about to cry, but there wasn't time for that. We crept across to Sydney, who was just a tiny lump on the mattress.
"Syd, you gotta wake up. Please!" I begged her in the loudest whisper I could manage.
"Hi, Cara," she said.
"Shh! We need to hide, Syd."
"Hide and seek?" At least she whispered.
"Yes. Hide and seek," I said. I was already pulling her to her feet. "But hide and seek like last summer. Remember our closet? In the apartment?"
I heard Aunt Georgia shouting downstairs, and Bo was shouting back. Sydney tried to walk, but her feet must have gotten tangled up in the blankets, so she fell. I caught her before she hit the floor. Hayley came around to her other side, and we lifted her clear off her feet and carried her to the closet. There were garbage bags of our stuff in there still. I slid some of it over, and we sat her down in the back corner. I had to duck to avoid her teddy bear, which was sailing through the air on its own, aimed right for my sister's waiting arms. Hayley and I tried to cram ourselves in, too. That took some work, and our elbows and heads kept bumping against things like the hangers over our heads.
"We should call the police," I said softly the second the closet door was closed and we were settled quietly on top of the trash bags. I prayed nobody moved, so those bags wouldn't rustle. Sydney was snoring again.
"Grandma said no police," Hayley protested. "Don't you realize that your Momma is not exactly on good terms with the law around here?"
"I don't care what your Grandma says. He could kill us! He went to prison for murder."
“How’d he get out so fast?”
“I don’t know.”
“But Grandma said no police,” she whispered a second time.
“Well, let’s call Momma.”
“The phone’s out there.”
The phone was on its receiver out in the hallway between the bedrooms.
“I’ll go,” I said, and started trying to maneuver around the bags to get out. Just then, I heard Bo yell, “I know they’re both here!”
Hayley gasped and pushed me back, climbing right over me to get out. She left the door open a crack and tiptoed across the room. Suddenly, Aunt Georgia screamed. I threw my hands over my mouth so I wouldn’t scream, too. Sydney woke up and asked, “Cara?”
“I’m right here,” I said. My voice was shaking.
“I know. But we have to stay in this closet for now. We have to stay quiet.”
“Who’s that man?”
I didn’t have the heart to tell her that it was her father. “It’s a bad guy.”
"Like Mervin?" The silly super villain from Super Pets wasn't anything like this real bad guy who could make Momma's nose crooked with one punch.
“Sure,” I lied. “Like Mervin.”
The closet door opened wider, and Hayley thrust the cordless phone at my chest. I held it up to the sliver of light from the door and dialed Momma’s number. It rang and rang. I hung up when voicemail picked up. Momma never checked her voicemail.
“I think he’s coming!” Hayley whispered. Her breaths were fast and panicky. She didn’t try to climb back into the closet. Instead, she hid behind the door, which she locked slowly. The click of the lock sounded as loud as a gunshot. Hayley had something long in her hand. Maybe a broom. “Can’t Sydney wish for him to die or something?”
Sure enough, Bo’s heavy footsteps hit the stairs. “Where are you, you little brats? Daddy’s home.”
“Syd. Syd!” I shook her to wake her up. “Syd, you’ve gotta help us. Wish for something that will help us stop him.”
“Wish?” She whispered.
Suddenly, a freeze pop materialized in my hand.
“No, Syd! We have to stop Bo!” I let the popsicle fall. “Can’t you make him fall down the stairs?”
“Mmm! Grape!” Syd said. Then, “Who’s Bo?”
“The bad guy!” I wanted to growl in frustration, but I didn’t want to make it any easier for Bo to find us.
“Mervin,” she murmured.
Hayley was crying over by the door. Bo stomped up the last step and over to Hayley’s bedroom, where the lights were on. I tried Momma’s number again, but she still didn’t answer.
We heard Bo banging around and cursing on his way up the stairs. I didn’t want to leave Sydney in the closet alone, but I had to do something to stop him. I piled up bags around my sister and slipped out, warning her not to make a sound. She was asleep again anyway. That was probably for the better. Finally, I gave up on what Aunt Georgia said and dialed 911. It rang several times, but when the dispatcher answered, I couldn’t find my voice. I dropped the phone and looked around for something to grab to fight Bo off with. All I could find was the old lamp without a shade, which was the only light in the room at night. I yanked the plug out of the wall and joined Hayley behind the door.
"Alright, you little brats, I got ya now. There ain't nowhere left to hide." Bo stomped across the hall. Hayley and I pressed our shoulders together and flattened ourselves against the wall. We held our breaths.
Bo grabbed the doorknob and started rattling the door. It didn't open easily, so he slammed into it a few times. Then his footsteps went away from us. My shoulders relaxed a little, and I started to sigh out that long breath you usually do when you're glad something is over. But it was too soon to relax. Without warning, Bo let out a growl and hit the door so hard, it flew off the hinges. I screamed as splintered wood flew past us. Hayley froze, broom in hand, pressing herself into the corner. I grabbed her arm, but she wouldn't budge. She could freak out if she wanted, but my sister was in that closet, and I wasn't letting anybody get to her.
I jumped forward and swung that lamp as hard as I could, clobbering Bo on the side of the head. With a loud yell, he whirled around and grabbed my arm, twisting it so hard, I dropped the lamp. He twisted even more, and pulled my arm up behind my back. It was my turn to yell.
"You like that, huh?" Bo said into my ear. His shirt was all sweaty, and he smelled like body funk and beer. "Tell me where she is."
"No!" I said through sobs.
"Oh, you will tell me. I'll save you for last, and we'll have some fun."
Just then, the cordless phone started buzzing like it does when it gets left off the hook too long. Bo laughed and started to drag me toward the closet. I tried to dig my heels in and fight, but it was a little hard with my arm yanked up behind me like it was.
Something must have unfrozen Hayley because she tiptoed up and whacked Bo really hard on the back with the handle of her broom. He held onto me with one hand and backhanded Hayley so hard, she flew across the room and hit the wall before she fell to the floor.
In that one moment when Bo was distracted, I saw something move in the hallway. Great Aunt Georgia had crawled all the way up the stairs on her hands and knees. By the hallway light, I could see that she had her gun. She put a finger to her lips to shush me, so I stayed quiet and bent over. She slowly dragged herself up to her feet on the top step. She was wobbly, and I was afraid she might fall. But she didn't. Unfortunately, though, Bo heard her exhale hard from the effort of standing up. He let go of me and tromped over to her.
"You're asking for it, old girl," he said. "I told you to stay out of the way."
Aunt Georgia pointed the gun at him and said, "You ain't hurting these kids, or nobody else. Not anymore."
"Oh, come off it. She's just as guilty as I am. Only she made everyone feel sorry for her so she could get off easy. She ain't gettin' off easy no more."
Bo stepped up to her easily before she could fire and knocked her arm out of the way. Then he planted his fist right in her gut and shoved. She went tumbling down the stairs like a very heavy doll. Hayley screamed, "Grandma!"
Bo kept after Aunt Georgia. Without thinking, I picked up the gun that flew out of her hand. It felt heavy in my hands, and cold. I tried to remember everything I had been taught about holding a gun right and shooting it, but my mind went blank. I looked down over the bannister and saw Bo kneeling over my great aunt with his hands around her neck.
"Bo, you let her go!" I yelled.
He ignored me.
"I'll shoot you!"
He looked up at me and laughed. "Go ahead and try."
I pointed the gun at him, prayed that I wouldn't miss and hit Aunt Georgia instead, and squeezed the trigger. Nothing happened.
"You left the safety on," Bo said with a nasty smile and a falsely patient tone. "Try again." Then he turned his back to me. I flipped the safety off and fired again. The gun kicked back and almost flew out of my hand. Framed pictures fell off the wall. At least that got Bo's attention. He got off of Aunt Georgia and rushed up the stairs toward me. I turned and ran back into the room we'd been hiding in. Hayley was still where she had fallen.
"Get up!" I yelled to her.
It didn't take Bo long to get to me again. I raised the gun and pointed it at him, even though my wrist throbbed from firing that last shot. I tried to brace it with my other hand like I had been shown.
"Come on, shoot me if you're gonna do it. Don't just stand there and cry like your crybaby momma."
I hadn't noticed the tears that were running down my face. Bo stepped closer and closer, and his knife glinted. I thought he had dropped it, but he must have picked it up when he went downstairs. He held the knife out in front of him, pointed at me. We both stood there, me with my hands shaking and him with his wicked, slobbering grin. He laughed. I closed my eyes and got ready to squeeze the trigger.
"What in the--" Bo said suddenly. I heard his feet scuffing around madly on the floor. I peeked one eye open, then the other. Bo was waving his arms in front of his face, almost dancing around in the middle of the hugest swarm of butterflies I had ever seen. They looked like little, bluish, fluttering ghosts. More and more of them came even though the window was closed. I looked over at the closet and saw Sydney's face through the crack. Our eyes met briefly. She wasn't smiling.
Bo kept flailing his arms, and the knife he was holding slashed across my shoulder. I jumped back. His head and arms and body were just about covered with butterflies, and he staggered around like a mummy in a movie. Something in that swarm must have bitten him. He made a weird, howling sound. I guess I could have tried to shoot him again, but I honestly didn't think about it. I just watched that weird, horrible, slow-motion dance. He shuffled out the door and across the tiny hallway toward the stairs.
I realized that all I had to do was give him a shove, and he would go flying down the stairs. Maybe he would even break his neck and die. I didn't want to get too close to those butterflies, though. Not if they were biting him. One or two, or even twenty butterflies look harmless, but something about this huge mass of the bugs looked downright scary.
It turned out I didn't need to push Bo. He managed to fall down the stairs all by himself. He tripped over his feet, smacked into the wall, and sort of rolled, head over feet, down to the landing. He didn't get up, but he moaned a lot. He wasn't dead. I kinda wished he was, but I didn't want my little sister to have to be responsible for killing anyone. I didn't want her to be a murderer like Bo.
I heard a thud from behind me. A sickening, light thud like a little body falling down. Hayley yelled my name, and I turned around to see Sydney lying face down on the floor just outside the closet.
What happened next I really can't remember. The police still came even though I didn't talk to the person who answered my 911 call. There were lots of lights and sirens, and all of us were loaded into ambulances. Even Bo. He cussed and hollered the whole time, and someone handcuffed him to the rolling bed they used to lift him down the stairs. Next came hours of people in uniforms asking Hayley and me questions in the ER. They whisked Aunt Georgia and Sydney away somewhere and wouldn't let us see them, no matter how many times we asked. Somewhere in there, someone brought me a cup of soup and some Sprite, and I fell asleep sitting up on a padded chair with my head resting against Hayley's.
"Ny-night, bufflyes," Sydney said with a smile as she lay back on her hospital bed. I closed the butterfly book I'd been reading to her and watched her eyes close slowly. She looked so small on the huge bed with the plastic rails. Smaller than usual.
“I love you, Syd,” I whispered.
“Love you too, three, four,” she answered. I thought she’d have fallen asleep quickly like usual, but instead, she peeked one eye open and poked that pointy tongue out again. A nurse walked in and pushed the privacy curtain back. All the butterflies I had drawn for my sister fluttered because of the wind it made. Just like real butterflies.
There were thirty of them taped to the wall behind the bed. Thirty butterflies for thirty days that she’d spent in that bed. After that mess with Bo went down, Sydney didn’t wake up on her own. The doctors said she had a high fever that night. A few days later, they said it was leukemia of some type. That Down Syndrome kids sometimes got leukemia. They said she would be sick for a while, and her hair might fall out from the medicine, but she might be okay when everything was all over. I hoped they were right.
“Hey there, Cara,” said the round, bubbly nurse. “How was school today?”
“It was okay, I guess. I got invited to a birthday party.” I liked this lady, heavy blue eyeshadow and all. Her name was Holly.
“Ooh, are you gonna go?” She was messing around with the tubes connected to Sydney’s arm.
“I might.” Really, I sort of wanted to. I wasn’t sure how to ask Mrs. Weathers if I could. Mrs. Weathers―she wanted me to call her Annie―was our foster mom. She was really nice, but I’d never asked to go out with friends before. It wasn't like I was her kid, so I didn't feel comfortable saying, "Hey, I want to do this, so can I, Mom?" I was more of a "take what you get and don't throw a fit" kind of person. Momma probably would have let me go to the party too, but I couldn't think about that.
Nobody had heard from Momma since the night Bo came to kill us. I now knew my Momma was a messed up person, but I didn't think she would actually up and run off. She loved us too much to leave us, even if she couldn't get herself together. Someone with the cops told me that they were looking for Momma, that they had some questions for her. Hayley said that might be why Momma disappeared. I just hoped Bo didn't get to her, too. The thought made my stomach go all tight. I wrapped my arms around myself.
Holly broke me out of my thoughts. "I hope you go. Everybody needs to spend time with their friends," she said. She pulled a watch out of her Scooby Doo smock so she could take Sydney's blood pressure. "And how are you today, Miss Sydney?"
Sydney pretended to snore. It sounded like she was choking on snot, but I knew the difference. Her tongue poked out again as she tried to hide her smile.
“Uh oh, somebody’s gonna sleep all day and miss the sunshine!” Holly tickled Sydney’s chin, which brought on gales of squeaky giggles. Sydney eventually offered up her arm, the one without the tubes sticking out of it. Holly got to work. A bright pink butterfly floated in through the door and landed on Holly’s red ponytail. I couldn’t stop myself from laughing just a little. Sydney’s tongue waggled.
After Holly typed some stuff on her little computer and left, a second, then third butterfly joined the first one. The little trio wove patterns in the air over Sydney’s bed. She grinned. I carefully crept around the bed and closed the privacy curtain so no one in the hallway would see and shoo them away.
We only had another ten minutes before Mrs. Weathers--I mean, Annie-- came to pick me up for the night. Annie let me visit every day after school until dinner time, and longer on weekends. She didn't have to let me, but she did anyway. And then she came and spent the mornings with Sydney while I was at school. She even found some storybooks with butterflies in them for her. I liked her for that. I felt kind of bad for wishing we could stay with her forever.
Before I left, there was a question I'd been meaning to ask, but couldn't with people around. Nobody else would understand.
"Hey, Syd?" I started. Her eyes were getting heavy and starting to wander. Her eyelids were turning purple, as though those butterflies wove some magic sleep spell over her. However, one eye popped open wider and found me.
"Back there that night when Bo--well, you know..." I was fumbling around, trying to find the words I wanted to say. Sydney nodded her head.
I continued, "Well, why did you wish for those butterflies? I mean, why not wish for something else? Like the police to come, or Momma? At least you could have asked for some bees to sting him."
Sydney smiled. Both eyes got wider and focused for a few seconds.
"Cuz," she said simply, as though I was supposed to understand what that meant.
With that, she drifted off and began to snore for real.