Updated: Dec 12, 2020
Novel Bites is a series of short stories from the perspective of secondary characters in my novels. Sometimes the story is straight from the novel, sometimes it’s not. Lizzie is sister to Maggie, daughter of Peg. This is the part of Lizzie's story. Please comment. Thanks.
John Swanson has only been in our class for a week. I think he’s trying to be noticed by playing devil’s advocate.
Mr. Ludes doesn’t mind. He likes any class participation. He pushes up his glass as he says, “Tyrants come to power by manipulating public opinion and often by doing things that are right. Remember, the Great Depression was world-wide. People in Germany were starving. Hitler promised to make things better, and he did. Employment increased when he first came to power. And he started youth groups—that sounds like a good thing, doesn’t it? Hitler seemed like a hero to many people.”
“Well, they all must have been really stupid, then,” John snorts.
“No! They weren’t stupid.” My voice startles me, and the rest of the class. I’ve been very quiet this year.
Mr. Ludes grins. We are actively engaged in learning.
John mutters something that makes the people near him snicker.
I stare at my fingertips with their raw cuticles where I’ve been chewing and ripping bits of my own flesh. My voice is quiet but steady. “When people are evil, they’re really good at hiding it. In fact, that’s what makes the difference between someone who does some bad things and someone who really is bad.”
“Yeah, right. Sounds like Sunday school crap.” John snorts. His buddies grin.
I pull my hands into fists so I don’t see the bloody evidence. “No. It’s not from church.” I don’t even go to church, except the support group meets there.
Mr. Ludes asks us to think about it. “You’re old enough, there’s probably been a time someone tricked you, or broke a promise, or seemed nicer than they were.”
I stop listening and stare out the window. Looking off into the sky is the centering technique that helps me hold it together when I want to scream. When I glance back at the clock, the eyes of another girl who never talks catch mine and hold for a moment. We instantaneously share knowledge we don’t want to have. The bell rings and we escape together.
“I’m Cindy,” she says. “Wanna ditch lunch?”
We slip out to a spot under the bleachers where we can have privacy. Her story is my sister’s, abuse by a step-father, delivered in short, tough phrases. Mine is different.
“At first, we both thought he was a creep. And Maggie did start acting out, but he made her sound so much worse, especially next to me. Mom had always taken it for granted that I’d do well in school, but Richard made a big deal about every A. He convinced Mom to let me babysit on school nights, and when he caught me sneaking one of his beers to take with me, he just winked and pretended he hadn’t seen anything. I was the good girl; Maggie was evil or on her way to it.”
“Guess I was lucky I don’t have a sister,” Cindy says.
“I was beginning to like him.” I swallow hard. “When Maggie complained about the way he treated her, I ignored her and figured it had a lot to do with the way she was acting.” I can’t hold them in anymore – the tears stream down my face. “I blamed her in my head, even though I never came out and said it. Our counseling group says he was manipulating both of us, that I shouldn’t feel bad. Maggie even says not to worry about it.”
“She must really love you.”
“She does. But it’s not just that I feel guilty. I would have been next . . . What if someone else tricks me?” My fear is reflected in Cindy’s eyes. Will we ever be whole?