Hell And Back(7)

By: Natasha Madison



“I hope you know what you’re doing, for both your sakes,” he tells me right before I walk out of the room.

***

I pull up in my driveway to a sight that pisses me off.

Here she is in a long-sleeved shirt, long pants, hat, and glasses pushing a brand-new lawnmower.

I make sure I check my temper before I walk over. Right before I cross the street, the little girl on the front porch stops me mid-step.

She’s the spitting image of her mother, just a smaller version. She is sitting at a little plastic table they probably just bought, coloring.

I make my way over to her mother right when the lawnmower goes off.

“I told you I would cut the grass.” I try to sound casual, but the blood in me is boiling. It must be ninety-five degrees outside, and she’s wearing enough clothes for a trek across the frozen tundra.

She looks up. “I also told you I would take care of it, and I would be doing it myself.”

The little girl from the porch makes it to her mother and hides behind her, yanking on her pants leg.

The fearful look she gives me is just like her mother’s. I crouch down, getting eye to eye with her. “Hey there, beautiful. What’s your name?”

She doesn’t reply, and instead she lowers her gaze so she is looking at her feet.

“I’m Jackson.” I reach my hand out, but drop it when I know she won’t take it. I gesture behind me as I say, “I live in the house right over there. I used to know your great-grandma.” I’m trying to draw her into a conversation with me, but nothing I say engages her.

“It’s okay, baby, you can tell him your name. Nan used to make him cookies, so you know what that means, she must have really liked him.” She rubs her daughter’s shoulder.

“I’m Lilah,” she says in barely a whisper.

“That is the most beautiful name in the whole wide world. You’re lucky to have such a beautiful name.”

She smiles at me, right as a car backfires. They both jump up, Lilah yelling and putting her hands to her ears.

Two things happen at the same time. Her mother grabs her and runs toward the house, and the second is from now on I vow to protect them with everything that I have.

“Wait.” I rush after them and make it right through the door before it’s closed in my face. I stand here inside the house and watch them rushing to the corner to hide.

Two broken girls protecting each other against some monster. I walk up to them. “It’s okay. It’s just a car backfiring. It was nothing but a car.”

“Lilah, honey, it’s okay, it’s okay. I’m here. It’s okay, baby girl, we’re safe.” She is trying to comfort the little girl, who is sobbing quietly in her mother’s arms. “No one is here, honey.”

She looks over at me, our eyes meeting for a beat before she lowers them again.

“Look, it’s okay, it’s just Jackson. There is no one here, baby.” She rocks Lilah back and forth. Her back is against the wall while she soothes her baby girl, whose sobs are slowly stopping, her eyes closing.

“What can I do?” I’m now sitting in front of her, not sure how to even start to dissect this.

“Nothing. You can’t do anything for us.” She kisses Lilah’s head. “No one can.”

I ignore the last part, not sure how to talk about this now.

“I’m going outside to finish cutting the grass, then I’ll pick up some food for us. Does she like pizza?”

“Jackson, I don’t know what relationship you had with my grandmother, but I don’t need your help. We will be fine. Please, it’s okay, you can leave.” She rests her head on the wall, closing her eyes, the defeat of the day leaving her body.

“I’m going outside to finish mowing the lawn so Lilah doesn’t have to go outside anymore today. Then I’m going to pick up pizza for myself. You won’t have time to cook, so I’m going to pick one up for you. I want to eat with you guys, but I’m not pushing myself on you either after today. Now I don’t want to fight with you or even discuss this, so just nod you understand.”

She looks into my eyes, but nods yes.

“I can pay you for the pizza. I have money. I don’t need a handout,” she says while trying to push herself up to go get fucking money.

If she weren’t so scared of things, I would punch the fuck out of something right now. “I don’t want your money, now or ever. I have no doubt you can take care of yourself. Consider this a housewarming present.” I get up, going to the door, not even giving her a chance to say anything else.

Right before closing the door, I hear a soft voice, “She’s never had pizza before, so can you just get us plain cheese?”

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