The Fear in Lilly's Eyes

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Mystery and Crime  |  House: Booksie Classic
Shannon Howard's life takes a turn for the worse when her daughter's weekend custody visit with her father lasts longer than expected.

Submitted: February 24, 2014

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Submitted: February 24, 2014

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I hate Fridays, Ms. Shannon Howard thought as she traced the letters “TGIF” in white chalk on the green chalkboard of her first grade classroom.

 

Shannon had bags under her drooping hazel eyes and her short brown hair had been pulled back into a low ponytail. She wore a red sweater and a black pencil skirt that had once hugged her figure, but now was belted to keep the material from sliding off her continually shrinking body.

For a year now, the cheery classroom at Pittsburgh’s Bartholomew Elementary School had a different air to it. For the fifteen years prior, she had enjoyed the small classroom for the freedom it provided her.

That classroom was the one place where Shannon could decorate a room how she wanted and make decisions without them being criticized. It was an escape that allowed her to do what she loved and deny reality at the same time—the perfect combination.

But recently, the room felt different. The brightly colored posters with cliché motivational phrases seemed obnoxious. The smiley face stickers she put on her first graders’ worksheets mocked her.

Each morning, Shannon plastered a smile on her own face in an attempt to keep the optimistic reputation she always had with students and teachers—but every day was a struggle.

When the girls at recess would play “house” and pretend they were getting married, Shannon had to willfully keep herself from telling them to just give up now because marriage was merely a segue into divorce and dating could convince you anyone in a bowtie was your “Mr. Right.”

As a teenager, Shannon had her own doubts of whether or not she would ever get married—especially when she heard that women typically marry men like their fathers.

As a thirteen year old, she had seen her own mother curled up in the fetal position for two full weeks with greasy, unkempt hair. She had seen her mother’s health and wellbeing rapidly decline starting the day her own father had come home from work and told her he had fallen in love with another woman.

Shannon had felt the betrayal of a dad who didn’t care, and she never wanted her own children to suffer that heartbreak. She also knew she wouldn’t have the strength to ever endure that again.

But when she met Greg, everything was immediately comfortable. Everything made perfect sense.

Shannon now realized it had just been familiar. And Shannon’s familiar was far from good. But she was twenty-seven at the time, and she was ready for marriage—and children.

But soon after she got married, she knew she had done what she actively thought she would not do—she had married a man just like her father.

She first realized this one night when she was eight months pregnant with her daughter. She was complaining about how the pregnancy made her lower back ache. Shannon didn’t expect anything in particular from Greg—she just wanted to vent.

Maybe she had even wanted a little sympathy. She didn’t remember. But what she did remember was being completely taken aback when Greg barked, “Will you shut up? You are the one that wanted kids anyway.”

Shannon’s chest abruptly sank. She looked directly into Greg’s eyes and saw something she had never noticed before—his brown eyes looked deadened and vacant. They didn’t sparkle the way a husband’s eyes should sparkle when he was looking directly into his wife’s eyes—a woman he should love.

Shannon knew she had made the same mistake her mother had made by marrying a man who didn’t treat her right, but she would not make the same two mistakes by getting a divorce as well. She hadn’t even given birth to her daughter Lilly yet. She wouldn’t allow Lilly to grow up in a fatherless household.

Instead, Shannon reacted by denying anything was wrong. She tried her best to never complain or pick fights in order to avoid conflict. She would apologize for things, when she was the one who deserved the apology. She would take the blame for everything, thinking that if she didn’t fuel the fire, the fire would just go away.

And throughout those years, she completely lost herself. She lost her smile. She lost her contagious laugh. And she lost the spunkiness and backbone she had always had before.

She sacrificed who she was, because she didn’t want Lilly to have a broken family like she had growing up.

But one day, when Lilly was nine years old, Shannon’s perspective abruptly changed. In a single moment, she saw her situation with complete clarity.

On that day, she saw the fear in her daughter’s eyes when Greg followed Shannon around the kitchen screaming at her. And for what? A clogged sink Shannon apparently broke on purpose to ruin Greg’s day.

Considering Shannon was a teacher, Shannon was not doing her job of teaching Lilly the kind of woman she should become. Instead, she was teaching her daughter to be weak. And in addition, she was instilling trust issues in her that Shannon had grown up with herself.

Shannon knew at that moment she and Lilly would be leaving the following morning when Greg went to work.

Shannon knew she didn’t have the strength to ask for a divorce in person. Greg would do the thing he always did where he twisted all her words and thoughts around so she couldn’t speak her mind. She wasn’t going to wait and see to find out if he would do something physically abusive.

To avoid this, Shannon planned on finding a hotel and staying there with Lilly for a few days while she got everything figured out. Then, she would have the divorce papers sent to her house—which would soon just be his.

This is exactly what she did, and this is why Greg could convince everyone with such ease that he was the victim in the situation.

He put on the act he was completely “mystified” by the divorce and thought their marriage had been loving and happy.  He would feign confusion and sadness as he lied and told others she had just run off because she was over him—and their marriage.

And all of a sudden, he took interest in Lilly—the person who was once the child Greg had simply allowed Shannon to have, was now the “light of his life.”

Greg had never had an interest in being a father and getting to know Lilly until the divorce. Then, just like that, he was using her as a pawn in the divorce to gain positive attention from others.

He always had cared more about his reputation in society than he did about his own family.

During the divorce, Shannon prayed she would get sole custody. Lilly told her she was afraid of her dad. It wasn’t right for Lilly to be forced to spend time with someone who was just using her to get back at his ex-wife.

But this wish did not come true. Shannon was granted primary custody, but Lilly would have to stay with her father on the weekends. When Shannon told Lilly this news, Lilly cried. And nothing could have prepared Shannon for that.

Nothing could have also prepared Shannon for the sad goodbye hug Lilly gave her each Friday when Greg came by their apartment to pick Lilly up for the weekend.

Lilly’s deep blue eyes would look up into her mom’s as she tightly wrapped her delicate arms around her thighs, pleading her mom to not send her away with her father.

The worst part about each Friday was there was nothing Shannon could do about it. She just had to let her go.

Shannon hated Fridays. And the scariest Friday of Shannon’s life was not an exception to that rule.

*

Lilly met Shannon outside her first grade classroom like she did every other day after school. Lilly always had to wait a little longer than her peers to leave school while Shannon cleaned up her classroom and prepared it for the next day she would return.

As they walked out the building, Lilly reached for her mom’s right hand, craned her neck up to the left, and said, “Please don’t make me go to Dad’s this weekend.”

Shannon looked down compassionately into her daughter’s big blue eyes but could only find the words to say, “I know, sweet honey. I’m sorry…”

Shannon’s red minivan was parked in spot #17—the spot reserved specifically for her in faculty parking.

While Shannon was still living in her old, red brick house with Greg, the drive home from Bartholomew Elementary only took five minutes. Since Shannon purposefully moved far from her ex, the drive back from school now took around a half-hour.

But Shannon appreciated the drive for allowing her quality time with her daughter. These small moments were even more precious to her now that the days Shannon had off work had to be spent without her.

Shannon looked in her rearview mirror as Lilly’s long, curly blonde pigtails bobbed back and forth while talking about the project she made in art class that day. Shannon prayed the divorce would not demolish Lilly’s innocent, hopeful, and energetic character.

Lilly entertained Shannon as she chatted away, and in no time twenty-five minutes had already gone by, and the two had driven into the apartment complex. Shannon felt safe living there. She was comforted that she was not only far away from Greg, but also that there were plenty people around when he came to pick up Lilly for the weekend.

“Yikes,” Shannon said as she drove over the curb into the driveway.

Once the red minivan pulled up into the garage, Shannon put the transmission in park, and shut off the engine. Shannon cracked open the car door on her side, and let her left leg hang there while she searched for the apartment keys in her coral-colored leather purse. Lilly had already jumped out the back seat of the car with her hot pink backpack. She was waiting by the painted brown door to go inside.

“Hurry, Mommy. I’m hungry,” Lilly said.

Shannon got out of the car, shut her car door, walked to the door of the apartment, and unlocked it. Lilly skipped up the carpeted stairs in front of Shannon. She ran through the living area and took a sharp right turn toward the white, magnetic fridge that was covered in all her artwork.

Lilly had already grabbed a string cheese to snack on when Shannon took her first step into the kitchen area. Shannon opened the doors of the wooden cupboard to begin making Lilly a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

“Can I watch a little TV before I have to get ready for Dad’s?” Lilly asked.

“Yes, sweet honey,” Shannon replied.

Shannon walked over to the wooden table in the dining room area where Lilly sat peeling her cheese. Shannon set the plate in front of her. On the plate was a peanut butter and jelly sandwich cut in a perfect diagonal on wheat bread.

“Here you go,” Shannon said gently.

“Thanks, Mommy!” Lilly smiled while she set the string cheese down on her plate, picked it up, and ran into the TV room.

Shannon walked over to the sink and started scrubbing the peanut butter off the knife. From the sink, she could see Lilly sitting with her legs criss-cross applesauce on the brown leather couch facing the TV.

Lilly turned on the TV, which was already on the Disney channel where Lilly had left it. Shannon watched and smiled at her daughter’s ability to completely zone out the world around her and be captivated by the story being told on the screen.

Shannon wanted her daughter to keep enjoying her show, so after turning off the faucet and putting the clean knife back in the cupboard, Shannon walked in front of Lilly into her light pink bedroom to pack Lilly’s miniature purple suitcase for the weekend. She made a mental note to straighten up her room before she got back from her dad’s.

After she packed Lilly’s suitcase, she set it down by the stairs, which headed down to the doorway. Shannon then walked to her own bedroom to change into sweatpants.

When she walked back into the living area, she snuggled up next to Lilly to watch TV with her for the few more moments she could.

Ding. Dong.

Lilly’s father had arrived.

*

Shannon walked down the stairs holding Lilly’s hand in her left hand and Lilly’s purple suitcase in her right. She opened the door, expecting to see Greg’s aggravating smirk, but instead saw Amber’s—his new redheaded girlfriend’s.

When Lilly saw her father’s girlfriend, she squeezed Shannon’s hand tighter and leaned back on her heels. Greg was still in the driver’s seat of his black Suburban.

“Hello, darling.” Amber squatted down and looked into Lilly’s eyes with a large grin and uplifted eyebrows like one would look at a Labrador puppy.

Amber reached out her hand to take Lilly’s. When she extended the gesture, Lilly looked up at her mother with concerned eyes to see if it was OK if she took it.

“Go on, sweetie. I will pick you up Sunday night from your dad’s,” Shannon said.

Lilly took Amber’s hand, but immediately craned her neck back at her mother while she walked toward her father’s black Suburban.

Shannon mouthed “I love you” to Lilly before shutting the door to her apartment complex. She couldn’t watch her daughter’s sad, desperate eyes any longer.

Shannon then walked up the carpeted stairs into the kitchen to make herself a turkey sandwich. She sat down on the couch and watched the news for a while, before remembering she had promised herself she would straighten up Lilly’s room.

She walked in her room, saddened by her missing presence, and started straightening Lilly’s hot pink polka dot bedspread.  When she felt a lump under the sheets, she lifted them up to find Lilly’s brown teddy bear.

Dang it.

Shannon stopped what she was doing to reach and grab the white iPhone out of the deep pocket of her gray sweatpants.

She scrolled through her contacts for Greg’s number and called him as soon as she found it.

“Pick up your phone, Gregory Thomas,” Shannon urged.

“Hello, this is Greg Howard. Sorry I can’t get to the phone right now, but please leave your name and number, and I will get back to you as soon as possible.” Her husband never picked up his phone.

“Ugh,” Shannon grumbled impatiently.

Shannon switched her phone off silent so she would hear the ring when Greg called her back. She walked over to the couch to watch TV while she waited, but her thoughts were paranoid with images of Lilly opening her suitcase and worriedly looking for her teddy bear.

Lilly never slept without it.

“That’s it,” Shannon said as she walked over to grab her coral purse off the kitchen counter.

It had been twenty minutes and Greg could have easily returned her call by now. She would just drive over to his house and bring the bear with her.

*

As Shannon turned to go down Bart Drive, her heart sank as it always did when she returned to the place that was no longer her home. She always felt her heart rate beat increasingly faster as she edged closer and closer to the brick house at the end of the cul-de-sac.

But that day, the house gave her an eerier feeling than usual.

Weird, Shannon thought when she noticed all the lights seemed to be off in the house.

They have to be here. They left like thirty minutes ago, Shannon thought as she pulled into the driveway.

Shannon sighed and grabbed the teddy bear and her purse, before getting out of her car and shutting the door behind her.

She breathed in deeply as she walked toward the white door of the house. Seeing Greg and his bimbo girlfriend twice in a day was not her definition of a fun weekend.

She rang the doorbell. No response.

“Seriously, Greg?” Shannon asked aloud.

Shannon walked around to the side door by the kitchen window, which was the only one not covered by blinds. But when she peered inside, she saw the house was completely empty.

The interior of the house looked ghostly with nothing but uninterrupted wooden floors and a couple unfilled cardboard boxes.

He’s kidnapping her.

Without thinking, Shannon ran back to her car ready to chase after Greg. She could catch him. He hadn’t left that long ago, so he couldn’t have gotten too far.

But she had no idea where he would have gone, and he obviously would not answer his phone.

His phone… That’s it.

Shannon had been the one to set up their joint AT&T account. Although in many other ways they had been completely removed from one another’s lives, she and Greg were still on the same phone plan. Neither found a good enough reason to separate from a phone plan that was financially benefitting both of them.

Shannon logged into the account to check Greg’s recent calls.

She typed the most recent number he had called into Google. That number brought her to Amber’s LinkedIn profile.

I’m wasting time.

The next number gave her information she could work with.

She typed in the phone number and was brought to the Days Inn Hotel located in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, which was approximately three hours from where she was right then.

She didn’t have any more time to waste. She typed the address to the Days Inn into her GPS and started on her way, worrying as her fingers touched the screen that the address would not lead her to her daughter.

*

On the highway to Carlisle, Shannon did not waste any time turning on the radio. Instead of her mind being filled with lyrics on her long drive, it was filled with incessant worries.

Shannon knew that right now, at that moment, she was doing the best she could. She had no idea where she would go from there, but she had to take it one step at a time.

What if I get there, and they’re already gone? And how will I find them in the hotel even if they are there?

She realized she would probably have to hassle the clerk to get their room number information. She hated confrontation, but would do everything in her power to get Lilly back.

For the duration of the three-hour drive, the doubts and fear persisted.

When Shannon’s GPS started talking to her more frequently, she knew the Days Inn must be approaching.

And it was.

*

The sky was a blacked blue when Shannon pulled into the parking lot of the Days Inn.

Cars were scattered throughout the lot, but it was mostly vacant. She drove slowly around to find a good parking spot and did a brake check when she drove right behind a black Suburban with a U-Haul attached to it.

He was here. She felt relief and panic at the same time—a feeling she didn’t know a person could experience.

Shannon drove to a parking spot near the side of the building, where Greg would not see her from his car. It would not be an unfamiliar circumstance for him to forget something and have to go out later that night and retrieve it.

She couldn’t let him know she was here until she had already found him—otherwise he would be able to escape.

Once she had parked, Shannon sat and took a few deep breaths before turning off her car. Then, with only her purse to hold on to, she stepped out into the chill, dry air and shut the door behind her.

As she inched closer toward the building, she envisioned herself confidently walking up to the clerk and assertively demanding that he or she give her Greg Howard’s room number.

The clerk is going to think I’m insane.

But Shannon didn’t have to do that plan at all.

As soon as Shannon walked through the automatic double doors, she spotted Amber picking up three chocolate cookies from the guest table.

Shannon stopped her forward movement in the entryway so the second automatic doors wouldn’t open and trigger a noise that might alert Amber. Shannon quietly walked over to the side of the entryway where she wouldn’t be seen, and waited there for a few moments.

Once she saw Amber move past the clerk to the left side of the building, Shannon ran inside, ready to follow her to her room. Shannon swiftly moved through the second set of double doors, past the security guard, and turned left where Amber had just turned.

“Um, maam? May I help you?” the clerk asked as she passed by.

“I’m going upstairs to see an old friend,” Shannon replied, glad she didn’t have to completely lie.

“Mmmhmmm.” The clerk had begun suspiciously raising one eyebrow when Shannon turned her body around so she wouldn’t lose sight of Amber.

Ding. Shannon heard the elevator sound closer to her right ear.

Shannon waited until she heard the doors shut, before turning around the corner to face the elevator. She watched the red digital numbers above the elevator flash and stop at the number 2.

Shannon pressed the up button, and waited for what seemed like forever for the elevator to make its trip back to the lobby floor.

As the doors slowly opened, she ran inside and pushed the button next to the number 2, before obsessively pressing the button to shut the elevator doors until they finally did.

When she arrived on the second floor, Shannon ran out the elevator doors and sharply looked to the right and left. When she looked left, she saw Amber walking to the last door on the right side at the end of the hallway.

Shannon thought the carpet extending down the hallway looked like vomit.

I guess if the carpet makes me vomit, it will blend right in, Shannon thought to herself before reminding herself this was not the time nor the place for her sarcasm.

Shannon waited until Amber had used her key card to get into the room, and then started walking in her direction.

When she got to the end of the hall, she knocked on the door.

“Who would that be?” Amber asked from inside.

Shannon quickly moved away from the peephole to avoid being seen. When Amber started opening the door, Shannon pushed her way inside before Amber could stop her.

“Mommy!” Lilly yelled, with tears falling from her eyes.

Lilly was sitting in a big, black chair in front of the desk. Greg was standing up behind her with scissors in his hands, and pieces of her long, blonde curly hair had fallen onto the navy blue carpet.

He had already begun trying to disguise their daughter.

When Greg saw Shannon, his shocked expression immediately turned into a hateful one.

“How did you find me here? I could have you turned in for stalking me.”

Shannon had forgotten how it felt to be scolded by him. She felt herself growing weak and upset like she always had during their marriage, but shook it off by reminding herself he was more scared than she was right now.

“Give me Lilly,” Shannon demanded.

You do not talk to me like that,” Greg barked as he walked threateningly toward Shannon.

Amber stood scared by the doorway, looking back and forth between Shannon and Greg. When Shannon looked over at her, she could tell Amber was seeing a side of Greg she hadn’t before.

Lilly started sobbing.

“If I hear you crying any more, I will give you something to cry about,” he snapped at Lilly.

“How did you find me here?” Greg focused on Shannon.

When Shannon did not answer, he took her upper arm and squeezed it. When Shannon winced, he grinned before squeezing it harder.

The pain surged out of her right fingertips and she tried her best to breathe deeply to cure the recent onset of nausea.

“You answer me when I speak to you,” Greg ordered.

While Shannon was choking on air in attempt to speak, she heard the hotel door thump shut.

She scanned the doorway and saw Amber had left.

“Look at me when I’m speaking to you,” Greg said, unaware Amber was gone.

“I’m taking Lilly back with me,” Shannon said.

“If I have anything to do with it, you will not be going back. You think you can just run away from me and get away with it? Do you think that’s the kind of behavior I want in a wife? I hate you. I hate you, and I will hate you for the rest of my life.”

Shannon fought against Greg’s arms as they moved from up from her right arm to her neck. As she fought against him, his eyes became increasingly malicious.

“Noooooooo!” Lilly cried right before the door swung open and Amber ran in with the security guard.

“You’re coming with me,” the security guard’s deep voice commanded as he handcuffed Greg.

Shannon let out a sigh of relief while she let her body slide down the wall until she was sitting on the floor. Lilly was sobbing as she ran over to Shannon. Shannon reached her arms out and pulled her daughter into her lap, hugging her tighter than she ever had before.

While they embraced, Amber turned to follow the security guard out the door.

“Amber, wait,” Shannon said.

Amber turned back around.

“Thank you,” she said.

“I’m so sorry… He fooled me. He made me think we were saving her from you. I didn’t know he was this way. I’m sorry.” Amber responded solemnly before leaving the room.

Shannon looked down and saw the fear quickly leave Lilly’s expression as she rested in Shannon’s arms, where she was finally safe to stay.


© Copyright 2018 Tessa Martha. All rights reserved.

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