The day of the recital, Lee brought her flowers. So did Lee’s Dad, even though she had never met him. So did Miss Rose Marie and Suzanne. The ballet was beautiful. All their hard work created an incredible moving performance. Miss Liz cried. Delia swooped her up and spun her around. Kissing the top of her head repeatedly and showering her with praises. As she took the stage for the encore with the older girls, she thought her face would break from smiling so big. She looked into the audience and...he was there. Standing next to her mother. Not clapping. A greasy lecherous smirk on his face. She couldn’t swallow and felt immediately cold and weak in the knees. He never came to her performances. Never. It took everything in her power not to collapse. She risked a glance up at Lee and saw his eyes looking out in the crowd. Pointedly in one specific direction. Sheer hatred on his face. It frightened her just a little.
She saw several closed door office discussions between Lee and Miss Liz in the days after the recital. One included Lee’s Dad who was visiting for the weekend. She discovered he was a police officer in his hometown. His uniform made that very clear. That meeting made her nervous. So much so that her stomach hurt. She didn’t need to hear the conversation to know they were talking about her. Their quick glances through the office window were proof enough. During that meeting, Lee and Miss Liz shouted at one another, then Lee slammed the door as he walked out. Lee’s Dad and Miss Liz sat quietly for a long time afterwards. She felt horrible. She had caused this. These problems that weren't there before. Miss Liz had one more discussion with her alone a few days later. She asked her a lot of uncomfortable questions from a folded paper booklet. The questions made her feel awkward. Almost everything she asked about was happening in her life. But she couldn’t admit it. it had gone on so long it almost seemed normal now. Like how plants and vines will grow around a dead and twisted tree. Engulfing it and disguising it as something beautiful and living and vibrant. Not something rotten and dead. That’s how she felt inside. Rotten and dead. She lied straight to Miss Liz’ face that day. Then she promptly vomited in her office waste basket. She was living a lie and she was well aware of it. But it was too far gone to stop now. She had gotten comfortable and had made mistakes. She had tried being a normal kid and it hadn’t turned out well. She had caused people she cared about a great deal of pain. She made mental notes of those mistakes and learned from them. She couldn’t allow herself that luxury again. Her life, and the life of her little sister, depended on her “acting” normal- not being normal. She was 14.