It was Wednesday, the day she looked forward to every week. As she dressed for school, she also packed an overnight bag. Soft teddy-bear jammies, check. Clean underwear, check. Outfit for school tomorrow, check. Coloring book and crayons, check. Oh, toothbrush, check! She’d get a spanking if Dad checked her bag before she left the house and she had forgotten her toothbrush.
Last night hadn’t been too bad; at least, not as bad as it could have been. They had had salmon for dinner again and she hated salmon. She liked the rock cod that Dad fished from the ocean better. She really had tried to eat the salmon he had brought back from his last trip to the cabin; after all, there wasn’t much else on the table. All she could really manage was to take a few small bites and move the rest around on her plate. Unfortunately, that hadn’t fooled Dad. He had called her ungrateful and spoiled before sending her up to bed. At least he hadn’t taken his belt off. That would have been bad. She heard him yelling at Mom later, but never did hear the smacking sounds of him hitting her, so that was good.
Anyway, tonight she wouldn’t have to worry about all that. Tonight — like every Wednesday night — she was going to her best friend’s house after school and spending the night. She wouldn’t have to come home until after school Thursday. Whoopeeee! She couldn’t wait for school to be over. She just had to get out of the house this morning before anything bad happened.
She didn’t know why Ronnie was her best friend; she just was. She couldn’t remember what she did before they had become friends. It didn’t matter. Now, they did everything at school together. Jump rope, tag, four-square. She wasn’t very good at any of them, but they passed the time. She really hated when the other kids were playing tag and not including her, but Ronnie always stuck up for her and then they’d go do something on their own. She loved the library, so sometimes they just went in there for the rest of recess.
Sometimes she also got to spend time at Ronnie’s house after school and on the weekends. Ronnie was an only child so she didn’t have to share her parents with any little brothers. Ronnie’s mom baked cookies, and let them climb up in the trees in the backyard. They built forts in the living-room out of the sofa cushions and blankets, and Ronnie’s mom never yelled at them for making a mess. Ronnie had a lot of games and toys, which was weird since Ronnie didn’t celebrate her birthday like other kids. Something to do with their church. She got to go to that sometimes, too, but she didn’t really understand what was going on so she just buried her nose in whatever book she was reading. Ronnie’s mom didn’t mind.
The best part about Ronnie’s house was they had a bunch of cats. Friendly, furry, cuddly cats. She had a dog, but he was a big german shepherd and kind of scary. Dad had him trained as a guard dog so he wasn’t very friendly. Plus she always had to clean up after him both inside and outside, and dog poop made her gag. Ronnie’s cats just came and went whenever they liked; she wondered what it would be like to be able to just come and go as she pleased.
She went downstairs for breakfast, but her little brothers had eaten the last of the cereal and there was no bread for toast. She was glad Dad was still upstairs asleep. That meant she could just leave for school. She left the house and started her long walk to school. She always went to Ronnie’s house on the way. Ronnie lived closer to the school and they walked the rest of the way together.
She had gotten about halfway to school when a car pulled onto the sidewalk in front of her. It was Dad. She was scared. What had she forgotten? Dad told her to get in the car. For a minute, she just stood there frozen scared. What if he wanted to take her somewhere alone? She didn’t get a chance to decide to run. Dad grabbed her arm and forced her into the car. All the way home Dad yelled at her. She had forgotten to feed the dog. She had forgotten to let the dog out and it had crapped in the living room. She hadn’t gotten her brothers dressed. She hadn’t cleared the table after their breakfast.
When they got home, Dad just hit her on the back of her head once, and then let her go to do all the things she had forgotten to do. As usual, she gagged while cleaning up the dog poop. Finally when she was done, Dad drove her straight to school. She was happy he hadn’t hit her again along the way.
After school she went to Ronnie’s as planned. Ronnie’s mom asked why she hadn’t come by before school, but she couldn’t think of what to say so she just didn’t say anything. Ronnie’s mom let it go, but gave her a funny look. She and Ronnie spent the evening rolling down the grassy hill in Ronnie’s front yard, and playing Mouse Trap. Every time it was her turn, she kept landing on “go back to start.” After about the tenth time starting over, she got so frustrated she upended the game board and all the pieces went flying. Ronnie’s mom came running in and scolded her for losing her temper. Still she couldn’t say why she was so mad. Ronnie’s mom just put her in a time out to calm down, gave her a hug when she was free to leave the time out, and then they played quietly in Ronnie’s room after dinner until bed time.
At bed time, she always slept on sofa cushions spread on the floor next to Ronnie’s bed. She laid awake for a while, glad to be at Ronnie’s instead of at home. At home she always had to worry about Dad coming in late at night and climbing on top of her. That never happened at Ronnie’s house. At Ronnie’s house the only thing that climbed on top of her at night was one of Ronnie’s cats. It would turn and turn, and then settle down on her chest purring. She liked to fall asleep while it purred in her face.