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Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Affective Needs--Chapter Twenty

**New chapters posted on Wednesdays**

“Your destination is ahead on the right,” my phone informed me.
I scanned the dark road ahead and saw a small spotlight illuminating a wide sign sitting in the center of a weedy median separating two roads, one that led in and one that led out of the Shady Vil age M bile Home Par .
I pulled Vader over on the side of the road. I reached up and turned on the interior light then checked the address I had scribbled on the blue sticky note with the one underneath the dilapidated Shady Village sign. Maybe I had entered the wrong address into my phone?
My eyes flicked back and forth between the sign and the note several times. No, this was the place. For some reason, probably because I had seen Porter walking Paige from her elementary school, I had imagined that they lived inside one of those small but quaint brick homes in the same neighborhood as the school.
I wasn’t sure exactly what I had expected when I opened his file, but I hadn’t guessed that I would need to turn page after page of other stuff before finding his address.
I had tried to not read what those pages had written on them. But some of the phrases had practically leaped out at me.
Emotional trauma due to . . .
Porter had bruises on . . .
Removed from the home due to physical abuse . . .
All of these clues, hints into what had happened to Porter, why Porter was the way he was—I forced myself to not read too closely. When I had eventually found his demographic info in the file, I saw that there was a #43 following the address and figured it was an apartment.
I turned off Vader’s interior light, shifted into first gear, and slow rolled into the Shady Village Mobile Home Park. #43 was not an apartment number—so what? It was a trailer number. It’s not like it mattered. Lots of people lived in trailers—and some of them were really nice. Gran had even lived in one, I reminded myself. After Pops died, and she didn’t want to stay in their house in Jacksonville all by herself, so she had moved to that cute retirement community on the beach—those were mobile homes. With their tiny lawns, and bright colored awnings, and all the tanned, well-groomed retirees driving around in golf carts and waving to each other as they shouted reminders about the clubhouse events, like swing dancing and dominos.
Inside Shady Village, the first trailer on my left, #01, had a crumbling driveway and a set of broken stairs that led up to a screen door desperate to hang on by the one hinge still connecting it to the frame. I drove slow, my eyes swinging from left to right scanning the numbers on the wooden stakes hammered into the ground in front of every angled trailer. Some were lit up inside; their windows illuminated the night with shades of orange and yellow, the flashing white light of televisions. Others looked like abandoned black blocks.
#18 had two men slumped in low slung lawn chairs. They talked and sipped from cans, the red tips of their cigarettes easy to spot in the dark.
#32 had a bright security light that pierced the night as soon as I drove past. The harsh light was so white it almost looked blue. With it on, I could clearly see the American Flag mounted next to it and the perfectly manicured patch of grass waiting to turn green as soon as the weather stayed warm and the owner could start watering.
#43 was ahead on my left.
I stopped Vader across from Porter’s trailer, right in front of #44. I was careful to not park in front of their driveway even though the truck that was parked there was propped up on four stacks of cinder blocks and looked like it hadn’t moved anywhere in the last five years.
I turned off Vader’s engine and waited for the nervous clatter that radiated from my bones to stop. I stared at Porter’s trailer. Deep breath. I can do this, I told myself, hoping that some unexpected rush of courage would propel me from the safety of my car.
I didn’t move.
How mad was Porter going to be to see me at the front door of his shitty trailer? And why exactly was he going to be mad? My God, there were so many possible reasons. The real question was, which one of them was going to be that wrong step in Porter’s emotional minefield that triggered one of the rages that filled his psych file?
Which brought me to my worst offense: the fact that I had rifled through that confidential file in order to get his address. What was I going to say when he asked me—and he would—how I had found him?
The truth? A tight knot pulled at my stomach. I’m sorry Porter, I needed to talk to you and your phone wasn’t working and yes I looked through your file but I promise I didn’t read anything. Totally believable.
My hand reached for the keys still hanging from the ignition. I considered starting Vader back up and driving quietly back to my house—Porter would never even have to know that I had been here.
My feet pushed in the clutch and brake while my hand shook the gearshift to make sure it was in neutral before turning the key—I should absolutely go home.
Movement at Porter’s trailer caught my attention, and when I looked I saw the front door cracked open. A wedge of light from inside the trailer lit up the narrow front steps, and Paige slipped through the door and into the night. With her head down, she held the handrail and watched every step until both her small feet were on the ground. She circled back behind the stairs and then disappeared beneath them.
I took my foot off the clutch and pulled the handbrake before grabbing my phone—it was 9:17. What was she doing? I watched Porter’s front door again, he’d probably come looking for her any second. Lights were on inside but the curtains they had hanging over the short windows were closed.
But I could see shadows moving.
It was cold outside, and I was pretty sure Paige was wearing pajamas and had bare feet. I watched the dark space beneath the stairs she had slipped into and waited for Porter to come looking for her. One minute, two—I checked my phone: 9:20. What was she doing under there?
Shadows were still moving behind the thin curtains, and then, for a moment, the fabric shifted suddenly before settling back into place. The shapes inside seemed to be all over the place.
Dread settled over me and I clutched my phone. Something wasn’t right. As my eyes flicked between the trailer door and the small hole Paige had crawled into, my limbs felt heavy and useless. I wished desperately for Porter to appear on that rickety metal porch outside that door, call for his sister, then haul her back inside while scolding her for messing around.
But with every second that passed, I realized this probably wasn’t as simple as a seven-year-old hiding before bedtime.
My body was loose and shaky but I took a deep breath and opened the door. The temperature had dropped since I left my house. The cold air washed over me and made goose bumps rise up all over my arms and legs. I forced myself to walk toward the trailer and could feel the gravel crunch beneath my shoes. My spine rigid as a steel rod, I clutched my phone for support.
When I heard it, I froze.
Inside my car, Vader’s interior had kept the sounds from reaching me. But out here, standing in the middle of the Shady Village, I could hear that the shadows moving behind the trailer curtains had sounds to go with them.
A man’s voice, deep and aggressive, yelled. Porter shouted back. I heard a loud thud, like a body landing against a hard surface, then more yelling from them both.
My heart thumped hard and a sweep of panic rushed through my body like poison. I looked around at the other trailers sitting silent. Should I run to one for help? I thought of the two men I drove past on my way in, relaxed in their chairs drinking beers and smoking cigarettes—would they come?
I didn’t know what to do.
When I looked back, Paige’s head was peeking out from beneath the steps. It was too dark for me to see the exact features of her face, but I could feel her eyes watching me.
Waiting for me.
Without thinking, my legs moved. One step, then another, running toward her. I half expected her to duck back inside her hole, but she didn’t. By the time I was on their driveway she had crawled all the way out and was running toward me, arms out, tears streaming down her face.
I opened my arms to her and when her tiny body slammed into mine, the force of her knocked me back a step. She buried her face against my stomach and I felt her little hands grasping tight fistfuls of fabric at the back of my shirt.
“Paige.” My voice was shaky and desperate.
She clung tighter, her small arms a vise around my waist.
“Paige.” I reached for her head with both hands and dropped my phone on the ground. I tried to tilt her face so I could see it. “What’s happening?”
The shouts and slams from inside the trailer grew louder, harder than even a minute ago. “Please, Paige,” I begged, but I didn’t know why. I knew exactly what was happening inside that trailer even if I didn’t understand why.
Why it ever happened.
Desperate, I looked all around us. The silent trailers filled with people who either didn’t know or didn’t care about Porter and Paige. Just like Paige, I was waiting for someone to come and help.
Paige tilted her head back and looked at me. In the glow of the trailer’s porch light, I could see the red knot rising near her eye, her split and bloodied lip. “I didn’t . . . mean to,” she sobbed.
I held her tighter and looked up at the trailer. Cold fear washed through me. No one else was coming, and I suddenly realized that I was it: the help Paige had been hoping for.
My eyes found my phone lying in the dirt.
With Paige still clutching me, I bent and picked it up.
Please don’t be broken.
The screen lit up.
My hand shook.
I pulled up the keypad, and dialed.

It rang once, twice; I heard a click. “Nine-one-one, what’s your emergency?”

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