Sophia ran until she was nearly sure her lungs were about to burst. After she stopped panting and regained her breath, she pulled her phone out of her pocket, surprised that she had made it all the way to the little gas station by her house. Ethan answered on the first ring, probably waiting for a call or a text from her.
“Hi, baby.” He said into the phone. Sophia nearly heard his smile. “What’s up?”
“I’m at Wawa.” She told him, feeling more tears biting the backs of her eyes. It was freezing out, only having realized that when it was too late. “Would…would you be able to come pick me up?”
He pulled his black Jaguar in front of Wawa, the headlights right on Sophia who was standing just inside the gas station simply because it was warm. She headed outside and quickly pulled the handle to the passenger side, sliding into the heated seat and exhaling slowly. “Hey,” she said as though nothing had happened.
“What happened?” he asked her, his eyebrows knitting together before putting the car in reverse and pulling out of the parking spot smoothly.
Tearfully, Sophia recounted the events of the past half an hour, leaving out the tidbit of her throwing up in the bathroom, and watched Ethan’s knuckles grow white from gripping the steering wheel hard. “That fucking douche bag.” He said bitterly.
Sophia looked at her lap, her hands clutching her jeaned knees. His words were a sharp blow to her. She had honestly believed her father when he said she didn’t mean it, unlike when Ethan said it to her. Honestly, Chris had been going through a lot lately, but he and mostly likely Seth, too, didn’t realize what hell she had been going through for far longer.
Her dad had simply just snapped.
Silence stretched between them as he side-glanced at her, driving calmly down some back road, curving gently around a bend. “I sort of got invited to a party at Rachel’s house.” he admitted. Sophia didn’t look at him.
“Miller?” she asked, even though she knew the answer.
“Yeah,” Ethan confirmed. “I figured we could go.”
Sophia swallowed. She knew where Rachel lived. She also knew what Rachel’s parties were like and she was certainly not in the mood. “I don’t really know her.” She lied. Sophia knew her. But she didn’t like her. And she didn’t want to have to explain all that to Ethan again.
He shrugged. “Her brother’s pretty cool. He’s getting some beer for tonight. I dunno. We haven’t been to a party in a while. It might cheer you up.” He smiled at her, glancing at Sophia before looking back at the road.
Ethan had played football on the same team with Rachel Miller’s brother Oliver before he graduated and went off to college, leaving an open spot as Captain that Ethan took. She knew, though, that he wanted to go. And well, what else would they end up doing? So, she agreed.
She sat quietly as Ethan chattered to her about things she didn’t care about, trying her best to pretend that she was listening as he drove the route to Rachel’s house. Sophia wondered what he would’ve done had she not called. He made it sound like he was going to that party without her, but, when she called, he figured he’d take her.
He unbuckled his seatbelt and took his keys out of the ignition. The house was large, white and had bass oozing out of it. The street was flooded with cars, only an elite few guests having been allowed to park in the driveway.
Rachel answered the door before they even knocked. She tossed her platinum hair so that it caught the moonlight, leaning on the doorframe. Smiling, she stared haughtily at Ethan through her bedroom eyes, laden with too much mascara and glitter on the corners. “Oh, hey, Ethan. I wasn’t sure if you were going to show.” She arched her back making her pushup bra strain against her ill-fitting shirt with a plunging neckline. Rachel didn’t even notice Sophia who rolled her eyes. Why not just be topless, she thought bitterly.
“Yeah, we weren’t busy. So we figured we’d stop by.”
That was when Rachel glanced at Sophia, giving her a once-over. “Well, I’m glad you came.” She said, completely directed to Ethan as though he were there by himself. Rachel stepped back into the house and pushed the door open. “Drinks are in the kitchen.”
The bass in the house made it impossible to talk, let alone think. Sophia felt out of place considering she wasn’t scantily clad, nor drunk or high. She only recognized a few kids from school, but the rest looked older. A few she remembered seeing back when she was a freshman and they were seniors. Some, she knew, were friends with Oliver.
Ethan pressed a red cup in her hand and tried to say something to her. His voice turned into vibrations from the current song, but she smiled as though she understood, taking a large gulp of whatever was in the cup. The taste was vile and she had the immediate to urge to gag, but didn’t.
It didn’t take long for Ethan to find his friends, who talked and laughed about something she wasn’t included in. They stood by the dining room, close enough to refill drinks if they needed to, which they did a few times. Ethan had his hand around her waist possessively, laughing with the other guys on the football team about practice the previous week.
She turned and screamed to Ethan that she was going to find the bathroom. He simply nodded, not even looking at her as she detangled herself from him. Sophia set the half-drunk cup of beer on some counter and went in search of the bathroom. Upon finding it, she flipped on the light and closed the door behind her. Inside, she was able to feel the pulse of the music, but it came through muffled and much more tolerable than outside.
Honestly, she really didn’t have to go as much as she just wanted to get away from everyone and everything. Sophia took her phone from her pocket to check the time. It was just before midnight, and she was already exhausted. If she had it her way, she would take a shower and crawl into bed, desperately trying to forget that night.
For two whole seconds of insanity, she considered calling her father and asking her to pick her up. They both had always said that if she was stuck in a situation where she couldn’t drive or couldn’t get a safe ride home, that she could call them, no questions asked. But, honestly, she just wanted her father more in that moment than she had in her entire life. Instead, she pocketed her phone and checked her reflection. Her hair was a little messy and her eyeliner was smudged a little from tearing up. Quick fixes. And then she faced the party.
It didn’t take long for her to become lost in the unfamiliar house and the throng of people that she didn’t know. At first, she wanted to find Ethan, just because he was familiar, but then from across the room, she saw a flop of blond hair that made her heart skip a beat.
She started to smile and make her way over to him until she got closer. Yes, it was Jace, but he was talking to Aubrey Stone. Rachel’s best friend who was equally as gorgeous. It didn’t look like they were doing a lot of talking but Aubrey had her hand on Jace’s hip. He was clutching a red cup that was still pretty full.
Sophia was more than shocked. First of all, he didn’t usually drink. Second of all, she didn’t think he talked to Aubrey or any of Rachel’s friends. But it was Aubrey who was glaring at her from over his shoulder, intense enough for him to turn around to locate the recipient. Upon spotting Sophia, he blushed immediately and ducked his head.
“I’m gonna go fill up,” Aubrey shouted over the music, icily, not taking her eyes off of Sophia even as she strode past. Instead of heading for the keg, she made a beeline for Rachel.
“Hey,” she said uncertainly, tucking her hair behind her ear.
“Yeah, hey.” Jace said, just as awkwardly. “What’s up?”
She shrugged. “Are you here by yourself?” she asked but immediately wished she didn’t. He wouldn’t be caught dead at the party alone.
Jace shook his head. “I, uh. I went with…Aubrey.”
She just nodded, pretending that it was cool. Inside, she just wanted to leave. She just wanted to redo the whole night. But she stood in the middle of the party with the music blasting and a new red cup in her hand, acting as if she was having a nice time. Then, without knowing why she said it, she blurted, “My dad and I got in a fight.”
The bass of the new song dropped right before she said it, making Jace lean in closer. “What?” he yelled. He was close enough to pick up a whiff of his cologne and that was enough to send her heart soaring.
“My dad and I got in a fight.” She screamed again.
Jace took her by the arm and lead her towards the staircase and then up the stairs. Once they were inside a bedroom that was decorated neutrally, a guestroom, with the door shut behind them, he turned to her. “What did you say?” and then he laughed. “Sorry. I couldn’t hear a damn thing down there. And you looked sort of…” but he let his sentence die.
“I said my dad and I got in a fight.” She said, setting the cup on the dresser and sitting on the bed, her head in her hands. “It was really bad.”
He didn’t sit next to her, but he too set his drink down. “What happened?”
“We were just…he was angry. And then I got mad. And then I…I called him a slut and-”
“You called him a what?” Jace gasped. “Why?”
She looked startled for a second before she remembered that she and Jace hadn’t spoken in months. He had no idea about any of that. Without looking at him, with her head in her hands still and the tears threatening to spill at any moment, she recounted everything. “He cheated on Doc. With, like, a bunch of random guys. Doc found out about it. And he left about a month and a half ago. They haven’t talked since.”
Jace whistled lowly, resting his lower back on the dresser and folding his arms over his chest.
Sophia just sat on the edge of the bed.
“I’m sorry,” he muttered. That was all he had to say. Those simple two words that somehow comforted her more than her fathers’ lame apologies and vague explanations. Her family was disintegrating right in front of her and nothing was the same anymore. It wouldn’t be too long until there was a divorce, until there was a custody battle. She wondered about when she would get through a night without hearing Chris cry and when visiting Seth in his impromptu hotel room wouldn’t be a big deal. Sophia wondered what her siblings were thinking.
She nodded. He sat next to her but didn’t put his arm around her. He didn’t touch her. He didn’t do anything. However, she felt better in that exact moment than she had during this whole ordeal. She turned her face to look at him, those familiar tears slipping down her cheeks. “Thanks,” Sophia whispered, trying to smile.
“You okay?” he asked her. For the first time in a long time, she felt like the question was genuine and not as though he asked it because he felt obligated. Instead, it seemed as though he asked because he really wanted to know the answer.
“I just really want to go home.”
The door to the room went flying open, Ethan standing in the doorway. From behind him, she barely made out the faces of the guys from the football team. Before she even had time to open her mouth, Ethan had Jace by the collar. “Get the fuck off of my girlfriend.” There was the sickening sound of flesh on flesh and Jace fell into the wall behind him.
With the music flooding into the room, Sophia tried to scream. “Stop it!”
Ethan sent punch after punch to Jace’s face, ignoring her panicked protests. His friends, hanging back by the doorway, laughed.
Without thinking, she grabbed his right arm as he pulled it back for another punch. “Ethan, no!” she cried. “Nothing was happening! We were just talk-” He turned and backhanded her in the same swollen spot her dad hit hours earlier. The force of the blow was powerful enough to send her sprawling on the floor, looking at the carpet, shocked. From the door, the football guys stared in surprise, not believing what they had just witnessed.
Ethan was on her quickly, his hand fisted tightly in her hair. “You lying bitch!”
“I’m not lying!” she gasped even though she knew better than to say anything at all. He was shaking her, the grasp on her hair never loosening. “Please, please, we weren’t doing anything!” Sophia said in the loudest voice she could muster, which couldn’t have been that loud, considering.
“You’re fucking him! I knew you were fucking him!” Ethan shouted in her face. She could smell the beer on him and his eyes showed nothing but pure anger. He raised his fist to her and she turned away, braced for the blow that never came. Ethan had let go of her as well.
There was a disgruntled noise, a gasp of pain, the sound of a hollow punch. When she turned to look, she almost wished she hadn’t. Ethan and Jace were on the floor, a tangle of jeaned legs and swinging arms. They were shouting, but between all the noise elsewhere, she couldn’t make out a single thing either of them said.
“Get off of him!” she screamed to neither of them in particular. The football boys looked from one another before the one she recognized as Jeffrey Donahue, Ethan’s best friend, rushed forward. Following his lead, the other boys separated them.
Ethan threw off Jeffrey, glaring hard at Jace who was bleeding from his nose and the corner of his mouth. Without saying anything to any of the guys, he grabbed Sophia’s wrist. “We’re leaving.” He said roughly, dragging Sophia out of the room and down the stairs.
Once they were outside was when she realized that Jace was following them, trailed closely by Ethan’s friends, making sure nothing was going to break out again. “No!” he yelled after them. “Don’t get in the car with him, Soph!”
“You could call us if you ever feel like you’re not safe, Sophia. We’ll come get you. No questions asked.” She suddenly remembered her fathers’ saying. At that moment, she had never felt even more unsafe. But even as she thought it, even as Jace begged with her not to get in the car with Ethan, and even as nearly everyone from the party watched, Ethan shoved her roughly in the passenger side. She looked out the window, fear clinging to every nerve in her body as she pressed her palms against the cool glass.
Jace looked as terrified as she felt. He tried to tug at the handle but Ethan had long since locked the doors. He was shouting after her, but Sophia was blocking it out, keeping her eyes trained on Jace’s before the car sped away.
“I can’t believe you.” Ethan said once they were on some back road, too far gone from the party even though Sophia could not stop crying. “When I was right fucking there, too. Did you honestly think I wasn’t going to find out?” he snapped.
She couldn’t answer, blubbering like a child in the front seat of the Jaguar.
“Pathetic whore.” He spat, striking the steering wheel with an open hand. She shook violently, trying to make herself as small as possible and scooting as close to the door as she could. Anything to get as far away from Ethan and virtually imaginable.
“Please, Ethan.” She gasped. “Please, just take me home.”
He began to laugh. “Home?” he asked, pulling onto the I-95 ramp heading South to Richmond and nowhere near close to home.
“I just want to go home.” She wanted to tell her dad that she made a huge mistake. She wanted to be rid of Ethan for once and for all. She wanted to apologize to Jace. There were so many things that she wanted to do.
He stepped on the gas pedal, making the needle on the speedometer jolt. “We’re not going to go home.” Ethan said darkly.
It was closer to one in the morning when there was a knock on the Grafton’s door. Chris’s mind immediately jumped to Sophia but then remembered that she had a house key. Dread and despair filled his gut as his second thought entered. The police, with news about Sophia’s death. With his heart firmly encased in his throat, Chris opened the door to find Jace in quite a state.
His left eye was swollen and red and his nose looked like it had been broken. There was a considerable amount of blood on his shirt and his hair was rumpled and disheveled. “Jace,” Chris gasped, opening the door wider. “What happened to you? Come here, let me get you some-”
“Mr. G,” Jace panted. “It’s about Sophia.”
Ethan was weaving in and out of traffic dangerously, making Sophia’s heart skip a few beats, especially when he hugged the shoulder or another car particularly closely. Her hands grasped her seat tightly, making her knuckles grow white.
When she glanced at the dashboard, she was informed that Ethan was going about 85, following too closely to the people in front of him before swerving into the next lane when it was almost too late. Every time, Sophia held her breath that they might crash.
“Please,” she breathed. “Slow down, Ethan. Please.”
Ethan laughed humorlessly again. “Aw, am I scaring you?” he asked as the engine spurred with more speed. The speedometer hit 96 miles per hour. Sophia closed her eyes.
There was a car up ahead in their lane and Ethan sped right for it. Sophia’s heart pounded against her ribcage. She told herself not to look, to close her eyes, but she was too scared to do that, even. Right when she was sure the cars were about to trade a little paint, Ethan’s wrists snapped and the Jag glided slightly into the next lane and barely around the car. Then, she lost it. “Jesus Christ, Ethan! What do you want from me!?” she screeched, feeling as though she was about to pass out.
After he was done laughing, a somber look passed over his face and he turned to look at her seriously. “I just want to hear you admit it, Sophia.”
“Had he been drinking?” Chris asked, breathless as he stared at Jace. He listened closely to the horror story about what had happened, from the last person who had seen his daughter. A party gone wrong, a night that shouldn’t have happened, and a dangerous boyfriend.
Jace nodded, ashamed.
“Oh my God.” Was all he was able to manage as Chris snatched his car keys from the counter and slipped on a jacket. “Jace,” he turned quickly to the beaten blond boy that he had known since his infancy. “Stay here and keep an eye on my kids. Call me if she shows up or if you hear any…” but the sentence hung unfinished between them as Chris could not bear to say anymore.
“Where are you going to go to?” Jace asked quickly.
Chris didn’t even turn back after he pulled open the door. “To find her myself.”
“Admit what?” Sophia asked delicately, eyes never leaving the tiny needle that read Ethan’s speed and, inadvertently, his temper.
“Just tell me,” he began, his voice trembling from anger. “Just tell me that you’ve been fucking him, Sophia.” He whispered. “I just want to hear you admit it to me.”
Sophia swallowed and shut her eyes again. She would be lying if she denied it, and that would hold worse repercussions than if she just told him. But then there was Jace, an innocent victim in all of this. And Sophia wasn’t so sure what Ethan would do if he found out.
“If you just tell me about what you did,” he said and paused, jaw clenching and side-glancing at her. “If you just tell me you’ve been sleeping with him,” he continued. “Then I’ll get off on the nearest exit and we’ll head home.”
“And if I-”
“If you don’t,” Ethan said in a sing-song voice. “Then it looks like we’re going to drive until you tell me the truth. I’ll go to Florida if I have to.”
She believed him.
It took three whole minutes of her crying before she was finally able to choke it out. “Ethan, it was…it was just one time.” She whispered.
There was a pause, as though she hadn’t said anything at all. Ethan made a quick few glances at her, brows furrowed and mouth agape in pure fury. “What?” he snapped.
Sophia could not stop her tears, even if she tried. She kept her eyes trained on the road and on the other cars that were honking at them. She frequently glanced at the speed gauge only to see that he was speeding up slowly. “It was just one time. It was a mistake. I’m so sorry. It was months ago and I promised I would never do it again. It meant nothing.” She babbled.
“Shut up!” Ethan roared as he pressed harder on the gas pedal. “Just shut the fuck up!”
She hiccupped with her tears, watching the Exit sign slowly approaching. All she had to do was make it a few miles back into a familiar area and then soon, she’ll be home again. But first, she had to survive his wrath.
“I can’t believe you would do that.” He said lowly after about a minute. The Exit sign drew closer and closer. Ethan clicked the button on his seatbelt. It popped, immediately making the car beep in a steady, unheeded protest.
“W-what are you doing?” Sophia asked, worried, as the Exit sign came up closer and finally passed them. “What are you doing? That was…that was the next Exit.” She stammered, panicked wholly and suddenly. “Ethan!” she wanted to scream. “Slow down! Please, don’t.”
If he was scared, he did a good job at hiding it as he got in the leftmost lane. With his seatbelt off and his car going nearly 110 miles an hour, he turned to look at her. “Romeo and Juliet, right?” Ethan whispered before he jerked the wheel hard to the left and the car veered completely off the road.
Jace was sitting on the couch, eyes fixed trancelike on the television, thinking of the look on Sophia’s face and wondering if that would be the last time he ever saw her alive. He wondered if those would be his closing memories of her, that terrified look on her face, the scream no one heard, those bitter tears pouring down her cheeks.
He wondered if she would leave without him telling her that he loved her properly. He wondered if she knew anyway.
Immediately when he realized how he was thinking, he mentally kicked himself. She was okay. She had to be. Everything is going to be fine.
The phone rang. Thinking it was Sophia or Chris with the news that he found her, Jace picked it up after the first ring. “H-hello?” he murmured, losing his voice completely.
“Hello, this is Marcia Singer at Mary Washington Hospital. Is there a Dr. or Mr. Grafton available?” she asked calmly.
Jace swallowed. “This is he.” He said even though it was a blatant lie. If he was truthful, then it would just take that much longer for news about Sophia to get to anyone.
“We have a Sophia Grafton here in Emergency.”
His heart pounded with adrenaline and mixed emotion. If the hospital was calling and it wasn’t a police officer then the news was good, right? “Thank you.” He said before hanging up.
Chris drove with his eyes and ears peeled for either a black Jaguar or an ambulance or police car with lights on. He traced and retraced the roads that were as familiar as his name and even did a couple of stretches on I-95.
He was about to give up, to call 911 and see if they had had any reports on a car matching the description of Ethan’s car driving erratically. He wanted to report a drunk driver. He wanted his daughter to just answer her cell phone and tell him that she was okay and coming home.
He decided, because he had to have something to think about that would get him all though this ordeal, that when—not if—she came home, he would ground her until she’s thirty-three. Chris would watch her have the worst hangover of her life and finally go to those battered women’s support groups and cut all ties with Ethan.
Yes, that’s what would happen. He told himself that as he got off of 95 headed to Washington, D.C. Then, his cell phone began to ring. “Sophia?” he gasped, not even bothering to look at the caller ID.
“No, it’s me. It’s Jace.” He said from the other line. “The hospital just called.”
There was the sound of metal crunching, of the glass shattering and falling like glitter around her. There was a scream Sophia wasn’t sure even came from her. That was all she really remembered about the crash.
Sophia looked next to her at Ethan. The horn was blasting, a continuous, monotone noise that rang inside her head. He was leaning against it, his chest pressing against the leather of the wheel even though the airbags had been deployed. There was blood dripping slowly from his ears and his eyes were open, staring at her, although Sophia had a horrible feeling that he could not see her. Ethan’s mouth was opened, a few shards of glass clinging to his hair, embedded in his face, his hands.
Sometime later, it could’ve been seconds, it could’ve been minutes, hours, a few motorists stopped next to them. She heard their muffled cries, surprised that she could even see or hear anything at all. “Oh my God,” one man shouted, crouching by her. “Are you okay? Can you hear me?”
But she couldn’t comprehend anything.
“Has 911 been called?” someone else screamed.
“En route!” cried a woman. “How many are in there?”
“Two,” said the guy next to Sophia. “It’s okay, we’re gonna get you out of there.”
She looked down at herself to assess the damages. Warm, red liquid doused her middle completely, her hands closed unconsciously around the wound. Her head was pounding. Blood stung her eyes and she was nearly positive that some bones were broken.
That was all she remembered before she saw black and faded out.
“What do we have coming in?” Seth asked one of the nurses as she walked back from the outside. She sighed, walked with him back down the hallway to greet the new patients.
“Car accident. A couple of kids. Complete mess.” She sighed. “The boy was pronounced dead at the scene.” Nurse Ryan continued.
A stretcher rolled by with a body bag on it, unzipped. Seth glanced, then did a double take once he thought he recognized the face. Shattered bones still did not let the person’s identity leave. There was still the familiar blue of his eyes, not yet opaque. The color of his hair. Ethan.
“BP is eighty over forty!”
With his heart nearly slowing to a halt in his chest, he suddenly turned to another stretcher that was being rushed past him. Frantic nurses worked quickly, ministering to the poor girl that laid unconscious with blood soaking her clothes. Her hand hung off the side. A glint of silver caught his eye. It looked suspiciously like a bracelet he and Chris had given Sophia for Christmas.
“She’s losing more blood.”
Panic and fear caught in every breath he took, Seth began to run for the stretcher. The nurses, thinking he was there to help, started asking him things. Then, he saw her face and covered his mouth with his hand to stifle the cry.
“That’s my daughter.” He gasped. The nurses paused, looking at him.
“Dr. Thompson!” One shouted down the hallway, making Greg come down to meet them, running quickly. “We need you here.”
“That’s my daughter.” Seth said again. “That’s my little girl. Sophia?” he reached for her but a nurse stepped in his way.
“Dr. Grafton, we can’t let you-”
“That’s my daughter!” he screamed. “That’s my daughter! Sophia! Oh God, no, that’s my…” he continued, trying in vain to catch up with the gurney as it was wheeled into the narrow room. Seth, unable to understand what was happening, only understood that his little girl was laying in that room and who knew what was going on? “Why is my daughter in there?” he yelled at the nurse who stared at him, wide eyed.
“Dr. Grafton, please calm down. We’re going to do everything we can.”
Seth knew that speech. He had to give it a hundred times a day. The only problem was that sometimes their best wasn’t always good enough and they lost their patient. Sometimes, there was only so much that could be done. Which is why he sank to the floor in a crumbled heap of despair.
It wasn’t much longer after that when the doors to the ward flew open again. Only this time, Seth found himself staring at Chris who looked wild-eyed and panicked. He glanced briefly into every room before spotting Seth.
“Oh my God. Where is she?”
Seth gestured to the room behind him. “It’s almost two in the morning. Wanna tell me what the hell you were thinking letting her out this late?”
Chris looked absolutely beside himself. He shook his head, gasping continuously as though he couldn’t get a full breath. “W-we had a fight. We started to argue. I snapped. I hit her and she…and she…” he began to sob into his hands. “Oh, God, what have I done?”
“Where are the kids?”
“At the house, Jace is watching them.”
“Oh, God, Seth. I can’t believe any of this. Is she okay? Is she going to be okay?” Chris asked, desperate. He stared earnestly into Seth’s eyes for any trace of hope. Seth simply just sighed and looked away from him.
“I haven’t heard anything yet. I don’t want them to rush her care. All we could do is wait.”