Home > The Ravishing(7)

The Ravishing(7)
Author: Ava Harrison

My thoughts swirled in confusion as I tried to grasp what he was saying. I struggled to take in a deep breath, but the air failed to reach the bottom of my lungs.

“Are you okay?” he whispered.

“We had a sister?”

The shock was evident in my voice.

Archie flipped over the page and pointed at another photo. “That’s what it looks like.”

With a dry mouth, I managed, “Why didn’t they tell us?”

“Don’t know. When I asked about them having other children before us, Dad took off his belt. . .” His face revealed what he’d done with it.

“They had other children,” I repeated, trying to make sense of it.

He swallowed hard at that.

I frowned at him. “When did you find this out?”

The room was spinning.

He looked full of shame. “A month ago.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“Look at the photo with Mom holding a little girl.”

“It could be a friend’s baby.”

“It’s not. I’m sorry to be the one to tell you.”

“Tell me what?”

“There’s an adoption certificate.” His face went pale. “Your parents’ names have been removed.”

“My parents?” My fingers felt numb. “Not Mom and Dad?”

“There’s a black strip across all the important details.”

Watching him unfold it, I peered over his arm to read the doctored document that revealed so little—yet so much. Did it really hide my birth mother’s name?

A lump lodged in my throat.

He tucked it away as quickly as he’d unraveled it, sliding it back into the album.

The room closed in.

My body chilled to zero degrees, or so it felt. “How come I didn’t know? Wasn’t told?”

“Hopefully, this explains a lot.”

“What else haven’t you told me?”

Why hadn’t they told me?

“I got a ladder and went up to the attic. There were dolls up there you’ve never played with,” he said, his voice distant.

“Maybe you just don’t remember me having them.” He was younger than me, after all.

“I’d remember. There are more photos of that same girl with Mom and Dad.”

“Show me.”

He stared at me for the longest time. “The ladder’s gone.”

“We can’t get up there anymore?” A slither of disbelief. “You should have shown me.”

I always believed our parents were merely eccentric. The only comparison I had was with the families who occasionally came over. Which wasn’t saying much.

Archie reached out and grabbed my arm. “It’s not just you.”

“What?”

He turned a few pages in the album and pointed at a photo of another baby dressed in blue.

“Is that you?”

“No.” His fingers curled on the page. “His name was Archie.”

His words resonated with the same burden. “Wait. You are adopted too?”

“I think so.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?” I asked solemnly.

“Because they never talk to us about anything, and I knew they would never talk to us about this.”

Heady, I reached out to touch the wall, but it was too far away.

“You’re the first person I’ve told,” he admitted.

“We have to ask them about it.”

Archie looked horrified. “Dad gets violent around anything to do with this.”

A memory popped in my brain—running down a dimly lit hallway, someone calling me back.

Russian.

Someone was speaking Russian.

I reached into my thoughts for more, but it dissolved like ice in the sun before I could touch it.

They weren’t dreams. They were memories.

“I hate that they have the same names.”

Sadness shimmered in his eyes. “One day, I’m going to find out who my real parents are.”

“Maybe you’re wrong.”

“I’m not. There’s bound to be more stuff about us in Dad’s office. That’s why I was in there.” He slid the album back into the safe, closed the door on it, and punched a series of numbers to lock the mechanism.

Unsettled, I caressed my chest. “You should have told me.”

“I was scared you would go to Dad.”

“I wouldn’t. You should have trusted me. I might not be your blood but—”

“You’ll always be my sister,” he cut me off. His flash of kindness confused me, but I welcomed it.

In this home, after what we had been through, I needed it.

“Maybe this is why they homeschooled us?” I said more to myself than him. “They didn’t want us talking with our teachers or friends? They don’t want anyone to know?”

“They control what we do on the Internet. And now we know why.”

Memories scattered like fireflies in the night as I felt the agony of a stolen past.

I had never belonged here.

I cleared my thoughts. “We could leave together.”

“Unlike you, I’m not done with school. I still have my exams. Anyway, there’s no money for us to take. We’d never survive.”

In a daze, I strolled over to the bed and sat on the edge as all this sunk in.

“Careful, they’ll know we were in here.”

I sprang up and turned to smooth the duvet.

“You can’t tell anyone.” He came closer. “You know that, right?”

I pivoted to face him. “We just go on pretending?”

“Yes.”

As my flesh chilled, I couldn’t bear to look at him because, for me, that wasn’t something I could do.

Not anymore.

I pointed to his swollen eye. “Can I get you anything else?”

“Just want to play Fortnite and forget I exist.”

I was too shaken to say anything else.

Too rung out with shock.

After we left our parents’ room, we went our separate ways.

I watched Archie returning to his bedroom, feeling sick at what Dad had done to him.

Standing there at the top of the staircase, I looked around at what was meant to be our home but now felt foreign.

My world was unraveling.

Everything I knew to be true was a lie.

Learning I was adopted had come with a price. Dad had punished Archie for looking for clues about his family. Archie had been brave and he deserved me to be just as courageous for him.

This house might be one of the most beautiful properties in the Garden District, but inside its high gates and fancy walls, it festered with lies.

I couldn’t remember the exact moment I saw my parents as cold-hearted and cruel. Perhaps when I’d observed our neighbors from a distance being playful with their children in contrast to our parents’ behavior. It started when we were so young that we’d gotten so used to it.

The faces of those children in the photos he’d shown me would haunt my days and become my nightmares—adding to the older, more mysterious dreams I had.

Morbid thoughts of what had happened to them spiraled in my imagination. Finding out felt like an obsession—a catalyst for me going downstairs.

Heading for that one room we were forbidden to enter.

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