The lock was easy to open with a credit card. She let herself in, and eased the door closed behind her. The girl stood still, calming her breath and listening for noises in the house. It felt empty. It’s external appearance had been one of slight neglect, a hint of peel to the paint in places.
The kitchen was on her left, and held nothing but saltine crackers and canned tuna. “Thanks, Grandma.” She started rummaging through the drawers for a can opener, and finally raised up with one in her hand only to see a person standing across the kitchen, watching her.
“Who are you?” the young woman asked.
“I think I should ask you that. This is my grandmother’s house, and you’re not my grandmother.” She put her hands on her hips and raised her left eyebrow.
“I’m so sorry,” the girl stammered, “I didn’t know you were coming.” She shifted her weight from one leg to the other every few minutes. “Your grandmother, they just took her to the hospital, she had a heart attack, they thought.” She kept rubbing her hands together, as though they sought activity, and would have to make do with each other until the woman decided what she was supposed to do.
“I’m just the home health aide. I come three times a week, and this time I had to let myself in.” She shook her head. “She had fallen in the hall, and her head had apparently struck one of the bronzes she has there.” She hesitated, then said, “Well, I’ll be on my way.” She gathered her supplies and her purse and scurried out as quickly as possible.
Maura didn’t know what to do. She should call her parents, but it had been three months since she left home. She’d been rotating couches, including Grandma’s. She wasn’t going back to that, she couldn’t.
She hopped up on the counter and ate the tuna out of the can with a fork. The saltines helped cut the incredibly fishy taste of processed, canned tuna, but Grandma couldn’t afford the albacore in water or olive oil. She got the store brand, cheapest available. But she always tried to help Maura. She offered for Maura to move in with her, but Maura gets queasy when she thinks of living anywhere her parents could find her.
As she hopped down from the counter, she heard the door open very slowly, oh so very slowly, and she knelt behind the bar in the kitchen, invisible to the person coming in. Her heart was beating so fast that she was afraid whoever it was could hear it. She concentrated on relaxing by controlling her breathing.
“You might as well stand up, Maura, I know you’re here,” said a voice rough from smoking and whiskey. She wasn’t sure how the whiskey could hurt a man’s throat. She wondered why they were so frequently paired in conversation, as well as in real life. “Move slowly, child, so we don’t have to treat you like a psycho, okay?” The acid voice of her step-mother cut through the acrid smell of greasy tuna.
Maura stood, lifted her arms, and pointed a gun directly at her step-mother.
“You will not treat me like anything. You will allow me to walk out of this house and never see you again.” Her voice grew stronger the more she spoke, supporting her resolve. “Neither of you will ever be able to touch me again. Nobody will ever touch me again, if I can help it.” She vehemently spat the words out.
“Maura, you don’t have the guts to shoot me. Stop acting the fool, girl, and get your ass out to the car!”
Maura slowly sighted, took a deep breath, let it halfway out, and…