I couldn’t take it anymore. Every nerve in my body anticipated the slightest movement in the hallway. I could hear a TV audience clapping in the distance, which meant my stepfather Richard was probably sleeping in front of the television downstairs. He usually slept like a saint after one of our fights.
I’d had enough. Mom cried every day since she lost the baby. I folded laundry and made dinner every day. I loaded the dishwasher every evening. She barely got out of bed for two months. I even raked the leaves because Richard sure wasn’t going to do any of it. She never asked if I had homework. My first term report card posted and she didn’t notice I had straight A’s. I guess the miscarriage did something to her—it was like she couldn’t be a mother anymore. She unplugged from everything and everyone. Once, she left canned soup on the stove so long it set off the smoke alarm. The soup pot was so scorched I had to throw it out. And another time she left ice cream melting in the cereal cupboard.
I understood her grief even though I resented it at times. As awful as her withdrawal from life was, I could’ve lived with it. I’d mothered her before.
The problem was her husband.
Richard hated not being the center of Mom’s world and without her codependent attention, his temper became dangerous. He took his frustration out on me. I was the thorn in my stepfather’s side, the proof that Mom once loved another man. Richard had always resented her first love, as if her life should’ve started the moment he came into it.
Her first love was Rowan Dickinson, my elusive father.
“Mom?” I whispered, but there was no answer. I pictured her there, asleep in the tub with the water running.
It felt inevitable that one day soon she would fade completely from my grasp. I caught my breath—what if she’d slipped beneath the surface? I imagined her gone from me in the way I feared more and more lately.
I opened the bathroom door and breathed a sigh of relief. Just another bath she’d started and abandoned. I tiptoed across the tiles to shut off the water just as it reached the edge of the tub. I left the stopper in the drain and turned to check the bathroom mirror.
The damage was pretty bad this time. A thumb-sized bruise was forming on my cheek where Richard had squeezed my face when he was yelling. My eyes were still red and puffy from crying, making them seem greener than usual. I would be able to hide most of it with makeup, except for my swollen lip. I reached up to take down my ponytail, wincing at the pain in abdomen. I lifted up my t-shirt to check my ribs. A bruise was already forming a couple of inches above the waistband of my pajama pants. I’d have to wear my hair down for a few days to hide the scratches on the side of my neck.
But I couldn’t let it happen again.
The back of my neck prickled. Lightning flashed outside. In the mirror, a cloaked woman moved along the wall behind me. I gasped and spun around. No one was there. My breath became quick and shallow. I splashed water on my face to calm my racing heart.
Downstairs, the TV audience laughed again. I dried my face and hung up the towel. Thunder rumbled in the distance. I set my jaw and went to check on mom.
Her bedroom door was ajar. She snored lightly in a small pile of used tissues, exhausted from crying next to the empty crib. I held my breath even though it
hurt my ribs, and crept past her room toward the stairs.
I took my time down the stairs, careful to avoid the creaky spots in the wooden floorboards. There was no way for me to get to the hall closet without being seen, so I slipped out the back door without my jacket or shoes.
I stood on the back porch for a moment, letting the damp October air clear my thoughts. Under the reddish full moon, the house cast a long shadow across the lawn. My socks dampened as I crossed the grass to the old willow tree at the edge of our yard.
I parted the long branches and stepped into my sacred space. It was the only place on earth where I felt calm. No shaky hands. No panicky feelings. No pounding heart or racing thoughts. No anxiety. No fear. I rubbed my hands up and down my bare arms to keep from shivering. Lightning flashed overhead, followed by a low rumble of distant thunder. The wind picked up, rippling the leaves around me. I exhaled, letting out a shallow breath. Inside the safety of the willow, my tears flowed, dotting my long night shirt. I’d cried so many times under my tree that I sometimes wondered if it was my tears that made its branches weep. Crying hurt my bruised ribs and swollen lip.
The pain made it all too easy to summon my anger. I let the rage fill me, releasing it in a torrent of half-choked words punctuated by sobs.
“I…h-h-hate h-him. I wish he would just leave. I wish he would get in the car and never come back!”
Lightning streaked the sky. A crack of thunder broke overhead. Startled, I threw my arms around the dewy tree trunk. Warm reprieve pulsed from deep inside the tree, filling every part of me. Soothing. Promising me something I didn’t understand.
I didn’t know it yet, but there was no turning back.
The Recollection of Trees
by Sadie Francis Skyheart
Genre: YA Paranormal Fantasy
Iona Dickinson doesn’t know she’s a witch…until she unknowingly makes a deadly wish that reopens a 300-year-old curse on her family. Torn between conflicting beliefs of family and friends, Iona must risk losing all of them as she gains self-acceptance in The Recollection of Trees.
Sadie Francis Skyheart (1972- ) was born and raised in Michigan. She currently lives in the Chicago suburbs with her husband, two sons, two cats, and a coonhound. She is a dedicated Detroit Lions fan. She likes to write in lucky Halloween socks, often while listening to Thirty Seconds to Mars or Chloe Moriondo.
THE RECOLLECTION OF TREES debuted as the #1 New Release in Children’s Scary Stories and Top 10 Bestselling Teen & YA Ghost Stories. She is currently completing the script for book’s feature film adaptation, THE ACCIDENTAL WITCH. She is an associate producer of IN THE DEATHROOM (2020), an award-winning crime drama based on a short story by Stephen King.
Follow the tour HERE for special content and a giveaway!