“What about the missing award from the front table?” I whisper.
Emma Jo squeezes my hand, but doesn’t say anything for a long while. Finally, she lets go of my hand, gets up from the bed and walks over to the window, staring out into the backyard.
“The first time he hit me, I was so shocked, I actually laughed,” she speaks softly with her back to me and Bettie. “I didn’t laugh the next time when he broke my nose and I couldn’t breathe from all the blood dripping back down into my throat. It became my reality, my way of life. Watch what I say, be careful of what I do, but even then I wasn’t guaranteed to walk away without a bruise or something broken, it all depended on his mood or which way the wind blew or something other stupid thing that had crawled up his ass. He kept doing it, because I kept letting him. I had no other choice, nowhere else to go. I didn’t have a job or my own money. I was a housewife. That’s all I’d ever known. I spent twelve years making up excuses for why I couldn’t attend certain functions or why there were marks and bruises on my body that make-up and clothing wouldn’t cover when I did leave the house. I made up excuses for the beatings, I made up excuses for him and I came up with a hundred different excuses for why I couldn’t leave.”
Even though I know Bettie isn’t the touchy-feely type, my hand automatically reaches for hers where she’s still propped up on the bed next to me, listening silently to Emma Jo speak right along with me. She doesn’t pull away when my fingers lace with hers. She squeezes them tighter and holds on for dear life.
“When I was in the hospital and they asked me if there was an emergency contact I could call, I didn’t hesitate to give them your information. I needed strength. I needed someone who could make a decision that I hadn’t been able to make for twelve years. Someone who was always stronger than me, smarter than me, and would never in a million years let herself get to the point I was at – hopeless and just wanting it to end, however that had to happen.”
Emma Jo finally turns away from the window, wiping a few tears from her cheeks that fell while she spoke, giving me a shaky smile.
“I don’t know what I would have done if you hadn’t gotten on that plane and showed up at the hospital. Actually, yes I do,” she says with a humorless laugh. “I knew there was a full bottle of sleeping pills in my medicine cabinet that would do the trick. Finally end all of this bullshit and give me some peace. But you did it. You showed up and you saved me. You kicked my ass into gear, got me out of the hospital, and gave me a reason to keep fighting. So I fought. When you were passed out on my living room floor, I made a decision and I fought and I took back my life. I’m not sorry for what I did, but I am sorry for everything that happened after and how you got caught in the middle of it. I never wanted that to happen.”
She stops speaking and the silence is so thick in the room I can almost see it clouding the air. I’m in shock at what she just sort of admitted, but then again, I’m not. There’s only so much a woman can take before you push her too far. Emma Jo was pushed far beyond her breaking point and like she said, she just wanted it to end. She just wanted some peace.
“Jesus Christ, and I thought I was a scary bitch,” Bettie mutters. “Remind me to never piss you off.”
Emma Jo smiles, a little less sad this time.
“I killed him, and then I buried the award back in the woods where no one will find it,” I whisper, repeating the words Emma Jo shouted when the two of us were fighting back and forth, when I thought Emma Jo was trying to cover for me knowing about the murder weapon with Leo, and I refused to let her do it. “You weren’t just shouting whatever you could to protect me, were you?”
She doesn’t say anything for a little while and then she shrugs.
“It was an ugly, stupid fucking award.”
I can’t help it, I laugh. It’s sick and it’s fucked up and if I were a different person, I would be picking up the phone and calling the police, but I’m not a different person. I’m strong and I’m stubborn, and if you’re my friend, I will do everything I can to protect you and I will take your secrets with me to the grave.
It doesn’t take long for Bettie to join me in laughter, and then Emma Jo comes back to the bed, curls up next to us, and the three of us laugh until tears are streaming down our cheeks. Happy ones, instead of sad ones, for the first time in a long time.
“Alright, bitches, that’s enough nonsense. It’s time to get serious,” Bettie suddenly announces, pushing herself up to her knees. “Payton, we need to fix you. You’re broken and it’s too late to return you and get our money back, so who has any ideas?”
“I’m not broken, I’m just sad. I’ll get over it once I get back to Chicago and things get back to normal,” I reply, the urge to cry when I say that out loud so strong that it almost chokes me.
“Have you realized she just says Chicago now and doesn’t call it home?” Emma Jo asks Bettie.
“Oh yeah, I totally noticed. She’s not fooling anyone,” she replies.
“I love her, but she really is kind of an idiot about some things. What should we do?” Emma Jo questions, tapping her finger against her lip in concentration.
“First thing we need to do is drag her out of bed and hose her off. She smells like regurgitated milk and bad decisions,” Bettie complains, plugging her nose.
“Stop talking about me like I’m not sitting right here, assholes,” I complain. “And I don’t smell that bad.”