Chloe

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prologue

drop-cap-she had been aware that there were two Chloes for a long time. The one who experienced and the one who watched. When she was a child, there had only been the one who experienced. Life had been experienced in full color, full of sound, taste, smell, and touch. Immersive. But over the years, the one who watched had become more and more prominent. She watched from a distance, where it was safe. Anything negative was minimized so she didn’t have to feel it. The distance pulled her back from the sound, taste, smell, and touch—and from the emotion.

And that had been a good thing. So many things in life were hurtful, and it was better if Chloe could avoid them, and just watch from far away.

chapter-1

hloe was dragged out of sleep by shouting and by someone shaking her violently. Her head and shoulders flopped around, out of control, and she tried to go back to sleep instead of having to wake up and face whatever was going on. She thought maybe it was a family fight. She was no stranger to yelling in the middle of the night, to fights between her parents or between her mother and one of the other kids. 

But the shaking and the shouting didn’t stop. Even when they fought at night, they didn’t come and shake her awake. She was supposed to be asleep in her bed. She didn’t get up in the night. It was against the rules. And Chloe always followed the rules, no matter how unreasonable they might seem. 

“Wake up!” a harsh voice yelled. “You need to wake up! Right now!”

He pulled the blankets off of her and dragged her to the edge of the bed. Chloe put her feet on the floor, her head so foggy and thick that she still couldn’t force her eyes open enough to see what was going on. 

The thick, strong fingers pulled her upright. Chloe’s knees sagged, refusing to take her weight. Why wouldn’t they just let her sleep? She was supposed to be sleeping. She wasn’t supposed to be getting out of bed. He continued to shake her and hold her upright while Chloe tried to find her feet and give her legs the command to hold her up. 

“Come on. Open your eyes now,” the voice yelled in her ear. Chloe turned her head away from him, but he let go of one arm and grasped her chin, forcing her head to turn back, shaking it, slapping her lightly on the cheeks. “Open your eyes. You need to wake up. You need to get up now!”

Chloe blinked sluggishly. The bedroom light was on. The window was still dark. It was the middle of the night. The man holding her wasn’t her father. She had known that, but she hadn’t stopped to wonder who he was. Now as she blinked, she saw it was some kind of policeman. A dark blue uniform. Gold decorations. A heavy utility belt with a gun holster on one side and a baton on the other. 

“Wha—?” Chloe’s tongue was clumsy, and she couldn’t slur out the question. “What’s…?”

“You need to come with me now. Can you walk?”

Chloe looked down at her feet. They were on the floor now, and apparently holding her weight. She concentrated on getting them to move. On getting her right foot to slide forward so that she could take a step. 

The policeman put an arm around her waist, dragging her arm around his shoulder to support her. With him taking most of her weight, he took a step toward the door of the bedroom. Chloe stumbled along with him. Her feet were moving, but her steps were the wrong length or timed wrong because nothing felt natural and right. There were other voices yelling back and forth. Too many people in the house. Why had the police come? Was there a fire? A fight? Why would they be taking Chloe out of her room? 

He kept encouraging her, dragging her along by force and acting as if she was walking of her own volition. “Come on… that’s right… keep going…”

He walked her through the living room, which was swarming with people. When Chloe turned her head groggily to look around at them, the cop turned her head back the other direction, away from the living room, toward the kitchen. 

But Chloe had already seen, and as the policeman walked her out the front door, her brain was trying to process it. Trying to assemble the pieces of what she had seen in the living room, the fragments of voices, all the strange things going on, to try to understand what had happened. 

He took her right out the front door, and Chloe was distracted momentarily by the frigid concrete under her bare feet. It helped to wake her up a little, and she suddenly wondered why she was still wearing her nightgown and had nothing on her feet. Why hadn’t she changed before going outside? Why hadn’t she gotten on her socks and shoes, at least? And a sweater. It was cold outside. 

She was blinded by flashing, strobing lights. Red and blue. And more people outside. Chloe could finally hear her mother’s voice as she screamed and railed at someone. She and Chloe’s father must have gotten into a fight. The police had come to break it up. Her father was still in the house, in the living room, and her mother, Mim, was outside complaining to the police about the whole thing. 

She could hear Justin’s and June’s voices too. June crying and screaming. Justin’s voice calm and even. But all the noise and activity broke everything up and made it impossible for Chloe to understand. There were more sirens, cops yelling back and forth, an ambulance driving up to the house, siren screaming away. Chloe swayed on her feet with a wave of vertigo. But the policeman still held onto her firmly and she didn’t fall down. 

“It’s okay,” the policeman assured her. “Everything is going to be okay. We will take you somewhere safe, and everything will be fine.”

“I want…” Chloe was still struggling to tame her sluggish tongue. “Want to go to bed. What’s… what’s going on?”

“There’s been an accident. We’ll explain more to you when we get somewhere quiet. Let’s get you somewhere you can sit down.”

He walked her through the cold, wet grass with no regard to her bare feet. He was wearing socks and shoes; why would he notice how damp the grass was? He took her to one of the police cars pulled in front of the house at random angles and opened the front door. He lowered her gently into the front passenger seat. Chloe pulled her feet into the car and placed them on the warm, dry carpet. It was gritty with gravel, but at least it was dry. She closed her eyes. 

“When can I go home?”

“Don’t worry about that right now, okay? Everything will be taken care of. They’ll take you somewhere safe tonight.”

“Who will? You?”

“No, it won’t be me.” Chloe looked up at his face and blinked, trying to adjust to all of the flashing lights and force away the afterimages. Why was she trying to memorize his face when he said he wouldn’t be the one that would take her somewhere safe? He had other things to do. She would never see him again. 

Chloe closed her eyes again. “So sleepy.”

“Try to stay awake. There are going to be questions for you to answer.”

He stood there for a moment longer, not saying anything, but not leaving her alone. Then she heard his footsteps as he retreated. Or at least she imagined she did. Probably she couldn’t, over all the chaos raging around her. Chloe tried to just retreat into sleep again. Maybe when she woke up, she would find that it had all just been a dream. A very realistic dream.

She couldn’t remember whether she had fallen back asleep in the police car, or whether she had just sat there, watching all of the police running back and forth outside. She wasn’t sure whether hours had passed or only minutes. Everything seemed out of step. It had to be a dream. That would explain why it didn’t make any sense. 

A cop got into the driver’s seat beside her, introduced himself, and talked all the way to wherever they were going. But Chloe didn’t hear a single word he said. She didn’t look at him. Didn’t ask him to repeat his name, and didn’t introduce herself. She didn’t know whether he asked her any questions, or if he just chattered on to fill the silence without expecting any answer from her. They got to the police station. Chloe was pretty sure it was the police station. Red brick, set low to the ground; it looked like a police station. The cop pulled into the parking lot and got out of the car, then went around to Chloe’s side and opened her door. 

“Come on, sweetheart,” he encouraged, putting a hand under her elbow and easing her out of the car. Chloe swung her feet out of the car and stepped on gravel atop concrete. She winced. It was as bad as stepping on Lego bricks when she had to get up to go to the bathroom. 

The policeman said something to her, and Chloe directed her gaze at his face, wondering what he had asked. He was obviously waiting for some kind of answer. 

“Is that how they took you out of the house?” he asked, shaking his head. “In your nightgown? Don’t you have any other clothes?”

Chloe shook her head. He led her through the parking lot, stepping gingerly over the sharp gravel and onto the smooth tile of the police station hallways. Chloe rubbed her arms, trying to rub away the goosebumps. 

A few minutes later, they were at a counter with another cop. 

“Chloe Simpson,” the officer who was escorting her said. “Age twelve or so? They’ll be bringing in the mom and the brother.”

“Thirteen,” Chloe said. “I’m thirteen.”

She rubbed her eyes with her fists, trying to focus on what was going on. But her brain was still too fuzzy to pull everything together. 

“Where’s…? What’s…? What’s going on?”

“All your questions will be answered soon,” her escort assured her. 

He stuck a red-bordered ‘visitor’ label with her name on it to the front of her nightgown. Then he was guiding her through the hallways again.

Chloe was taken to a bare conference room, with just a table and a few chairs. He nudged her into one of the chairs. 

“Have a seat, please, Chloe.”

She was happy to get off her feet again, but the metal of the chair was cold enough to feel through the nightgown. Chloe hugged herself tightly, trying to stop the shaking that started deep down in her stomach. 

“What can you tell me about what happened tonight?” the policeman asked her.

Chloe studied him for a moment and then closed her eyes, wanting to go back to sleep and not have to think about anything. What had happened tonight? She’d been pulled out of bed because her parents had gotten into a fight. That was all. It was nothing to do with her. Nothing to do with any of the children.

“Chloe.”

She ignored him. As uncomfortable as she was, she was going to go back to sleep sitting in the cold chair. Block him and anyone else out. Not think of anything. 

“Chloe.”

His hand closed around her arm to get her attention, then released her abruptly. “You’re cold as ice!” The backs of his fingers brushed her cheek. “Wake up. You have to stay awake, Chloe. Come on.”

Chloe opened her eyes again and blinked at him. The shaking inside was getting worse and so was the desire to just shut everything out. The cop moved across to the door of the conference room. Chloe heard him call to someone, and they had a muttered conversation. 

“All she’s wearing is a thin nightgown…” one of them growled. “…blankets, clothes… going to need a social worker…”

Chloe roused herself, rubbing her eyes. “No social worker,” she insisted. “I don’t need any social worker.”

They ignored her. Within a few minutes, the officer was wrapping a dark wool blanket around her. It was scratchy like a camp blanket, but at least it provided a little warmth. Chloe lifted her feet off the floor to her chair, pulling her knees up to her chest so that she could enclose her whole body in the warm cocoon. 

“Wait, are you hurt?” 

Chloe followed his gaze to the floor where her feet had been. There was a smudge of dirt and what looked like blood. Chloe rubbed her feet. 

“Maybe I cut them on the gravel,” she suggested.

More dirt and blood transferred to her hands and she rubbed it away with the blanket. The cop bent over her and used the blanket to wipe her feet, examining them for cuts from the gravel. Maybe there had even been broken glass in the gravel. Where in the city could you walk through loose gravel uncontaminated by bits of broken glass? 

“I don’t think it’s your blood,” he said. 

Then whose blood was it?

“There was blood in the living room.” Chloe pinned down one of the fragmented impressions from walking through the house. “Why was there blood? Who got hurt?”

Her mother and June and Justin had all been outside, seemingly well. But Chloe remembered the ambulance and June crying.

The policeman let her feet be and wrapped the blanket back around her. 

“You can’t go back to sleep,” he told her. “I know you’re too young for coffee, but do you want a cola? A little bit of caffeine to help wake you up?”

“I drink coffee,” Chloe said. She remembered how she used to criticize Ruby for drinking coffee when she was a young teen—while secretly envying her for being so daring. It hadn’t been very long before coffee had replaced Chloe’s customary juice and dry cereal breakfast. 

“You want a cup? That would help you to be more alert.”

“I was sleeping,” Chloe said defensively. She looked around the room, but there were no windows or clocks. “It’s the middle of the night.”

“I know. You want to be able to sleep. And you will be able to when we’re done. But right now, I need you to be awake and answer some questions.”

Chloe rubbed her temples. “I drink it black,” she announced. She wasn’t a little kid, diluting it with milk and cutting the bitterness with spoonfuls of sugar. She drank it straight, like a grown-up.

“Okay. Give me a minute to get you some.”

Chloe nodded her heavy head. She clutched the edge of the table, the movement of her head making her dizzy and causing a moment of stomach-dropping vertigo. The policeman noticed nothing amiss and went back to the door to ask someone to bring a couple of cups of coffee, black. In a few minutes, he was seated across from Chloe, a steaming mug in front of each of them. It was too hot to drink, but even just the smell perked Chloe up a little. Her heart sped in anticipation of the stimulant. 

“Who got hurt?” she asked. “Was it June?”

“June is going to be okay. All of you kids are going to be just fine,” he assured her. 

Chloe shook her head at the answer. “But whose blood was it? What happened?” She rubbed her arms. “Why did you bring me here?”

“Chloe… I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but there has been an accident. Your father has been killed.”

Chloe stared at the depths of the black coffee, trying to process this. There was no immediate pang of regret or sadness. Just a blank, unfeeling sense of unreality. 

“My dad? How? I don’t understand.” She tried to think of how it might have happened. An accident? Did he fall? Maybe someone pushed him. He tripped over something and hit his head. The blood had leaked from his head into a pool…

But she knew from the fragmented memories of walking through the living room that the blood hadn’t pooled anywhere. It had been spattered over everything. Small droplets. She watched enough TV to know that that didn’t happen when someone fell and hit their head. Maybe if they were hit over the head repeatedly. Bludgeoned. Or stabbed, hitting an artery that pulsed and sprayed. 

An accident?

“What happened?” she asked numbly. 

“I’m afraid that what it looks like right now is… Justin shot him.”

Another whirl of images and memories that made Chloe dizzy with their rapidity. Justin’s and June’s childish faces. They were eight. How could Justin possibly have shot anyone? It didn’t make any sense. 

Chloe took a sip of the coffee. It was still too hot to drink, but she had to get it down somehow or she was going to faint. She wished now that she had told him to put sugar in it. Maybe sugar would help to keep her from blacking out. 

“Are you okay, Chloe?” the cop asked in a sympathetic tone.

“I’m… no… what…?”

“Did you know that there were problems between Justin and your father?”

“No.”

“Did they fight?”

Chloe rubbed at her eyes and took another drink of the coffee. “Fight…? No… Justin talked back sometimes, maybe got—uh—spanked for it, but they didn’t… fight… He’s only eight!”

“It’s pretty hard to comprehend, isn’t it? I’m sorry, I know this must be a shock. How about your mom? Did Justin fight with her?”

Chloe shook her head. 

“Was there any other trouble? There have been calls to your house in the past.”

“No. Nothing. What do you mean?”

“Disturbance calls. Possible domestic violence. Your sister, a couple of years ago, being admitted to the emergency room.”

“Ruby?” Chloe said blankly. Then she remembered. “Oh, Ronnie. Before she… when she went to that foster family.”

He nodded. “Do you want to talk about it?”

Chloe’s head whirled. “About what?”

“About the situation at home. It sounds like things have been pretty rough.”

“No.” Chloe shook her head and took another drink, trying to counteract the dizziness. “It wasn’t. Things are just normal. There wasn’t any trouble.”

“You didn’t see any problems cropping up between June and Justin and your father?”

“No.”

“There hasn’t been any increased tension? Unusual behavior from Justin?”

“No.” She concentrated. “He acts like he’s older than he is. Admires the boys in the gangs and wants to be grown up like them. That must be it. He just wanted people to think he’s grown up. Doing something that would make them think he wasn’t just a little kid.”

“That seems like an unlikely reason to shoot his father.”

“You just don’t get how it is. He just wanted to look grown up.”

The cop didn’t say anything for a few minutes. The coffee was starting to do its job. Chloe didn’t feel like falling asleep again as soon as he went quiet. She rubbed the back of her neck. Her head hurt. 

“Justin says that your father was molesting June.”

Chloe’s jaw dropped. She sat there staring at the cop. It was even more unbelievable than the news that Justin had killed their father. Their father molesting June? She couldn’t even conceive of the possibility. He wouldn’t ever touch June. He couldn’t. The idea was so unbelievable that Chloe couldn’t even wrap her mind around it. 

“No. That never happened.”

“You never saw anything… that didn’t seem appropriate between the two of them?”

“No!”

“No touching or kissing that might not have been as innocent as it looked?”

“No! No, he wouldn’t ever do that.”

“Did he ever do anything… that made you feel uncomfortable? Sort of icky inside?”

Chloe shook her head, tears escaping the corners of her eyes. He was talking to her like a child. Like she didn’t know what molesting meant. And she could see by his kind, compassionate gaze that he didn’t believe a word she said. They were automatically taking Justin at his word. Why would they believe an eight-year-old over a thirteen-year-old? Chloe was old enough to be responsible for the twins. She took care of them every day, supervised their comings and goings. She knew everything that went on in the house. It was impossible to even conceive of what the cop had said.

“You can’t believe Justin,” she said. “He’s just making it up.”

“Okay. I’m sorry to upset you. How have things been with June and Justin lately? Generally speaking?”

“Where’s my mom?” Chloe looked at the closed door. “I want my mom. I want to see her.”

“Someone else is talking to your mom right now. You’ll see her later.”

Chloe pulled the blanket more tightly around her, a shudder running through her body.

“Please. I want to see her.”

There were tears running down Chloe’s cheeks. She wasn’t playing a game; they were real tears. She wanted to make sure that her mother was okay. Mim would be upset, crushed at her husband’s demise. Chloe wanted her mother to tell her what to do. She didn’t know what she should say to the cop. Maybe she had already said things that she shouldn’t. 

“I’m sorry, you can’t see her right now, Chloe. There will be a social worker here in a few minutes to sit with you.”

“I don’t want any social workers! I don’t need a social worker. I’m going to be with my mom. She didn’t do anything wrong! I didn’t do anything wrong! We’re going to go home.”

“You won’t be able to go back to the house today, or in the near future.”

“I’m going to be with my mom. Not with a social worker or foster family.”

“You may need respite care for a day or two—”

“No!” Chloe insisted, her voice breaking. “I’m not! I’m not going to anyone else!”

“Tell me about June,” the cop said, changing the subject. “What is June like?”

Chloe sniffled. “I dunno. She’s eight. She’s got dark hair like Daddy and Justin.” Chloe raked her fingers through her own thick, dirty-blond mane. “She’s in grade three.” She wiped her nose with the back of her hand. “She’s not doing so good at school.”

“No? Why not?”

“I don’t know. She’s been skipping a lot.”

“Skipping school?”

“She doesn’t feel good in the morning, so she thinks she doesn’t have to go to school. I feel sick some mornings too, but I still go to school.”

“She’s been sick how?”

“Just her stomach. Mom says it’s nothing, she’s just putting it on. So I make her go to school.”

“It’s good that you help to look after the younger kids.”

Chloe nodded. “Someone has to be responsible. I always look after them if Mom’s not home.”

“I’m sure she appreciates your help. How about Justin? What’s he like?”

Chloe wrinkled her nose. There were a lot of words that she could use to describe Justin, none of which she would use in polite company. “He’s a brat. Doesn’t want to listen. Wants to be a hood. He and June…”

The policeman raised his eyebrows. “Yes…?”

“Well, they’re twins,” Chloe offered. “So they’re really close. Always together, even a lot of the time at school. Eat lunch together and walk home together and stuff. Justin’s always looking after her. Protective,” Chloe finished lamely. She bit her lip. Had she said too much? Mim always said that family business stayed in the family. They weren’t supposed to talk about family stuff to others. 

Chloe needed to watch herself. Cops and social workers were dangerous. They broke up families. Chloe had seen it over and over again. Cops and social workers couldn’t be trusted.

She recognized the social worker who was eventually shown into the little conference room. He was Ruby’s and Ronnie’s social worker. The last year or two. Chloe had seen him a couple of times when he came to the house to talk to her parents about something to do with one of the girls. But they didn’t like to talk to him. They said he didn’t need to come to the house to deal with Ruby’s and Ronnie’s cases. The girls didn’t live there anymore; their parents didn’t have anything to do with their lives. 

When he walked in, Chloe gave him no sign of recognition. She just slouched back in her chair as much as the straight-backed seat would allow and pulled the blanket tightly around herself, arms wrapped protectively around her body. 

“Hi, Chloe,” the social worker greeted gravely. “I don’t know if you remember me. My name is Mr. Clive.”

Chloe just raised her eyebrows. 

“How are you doing? This must all have been a big shock to you.” 

She didn’t say anything. Mr. Clive looked her over. 

“Are you okay?” he persisted.

“I’m fine.”

“You need warm clothes and sleep. I’m here to make sure that you’re being treated okay, and I’m working on getting you a place to move into for now until everything gets straightened out.”

“I’m not going to some foster home,” Chloe snapped. “I’m staying with my mom.”

“Your mom is tied up right now. It might be a few days before she can really give you the attention that you need.”

“If it was Justin that shot my daddy, then why are they holding Mom? They can’t arrest her when he’s the one that did it.”

“She hasn’t been arrested. But she is a witness. Both to the shooting… and to the events that led up to it. It’s going to take a few days for the police to sort that out.”

“They can’t keep her here if she isn’t arrested,” Chloe said stubbornly. “They have to let her go, and I’m going with her.”

Clive considered this, studying Chloe with slightly lowered lids. 

“Social Services would like to take a few days to make sure that you are going to be safe going back to her,” he said finally. 

This, at least, was more honest. It wasn’t the police. It was Social Services. They wanted to apprehend Chloe. The family had already lost two girls, and Chloe wasn’t going to be the third.

“I’m not going. If Social Services takes me out, they’re never going to let me go back.” He opened his mouth to object, and Chloe continued, speaking over him. “Ruby and Ronnie never came back.”

“Ruby’s and Ronnie’s cases are different. We just want to make sure you’re safe.”

“Safe from what? What has Mom done?”

“Possibly she allowed abuse to go on under her own roof. Allowed children access to firearms. She may have been a participant in the abuse, for all we know.”

“She didn’t do any of that. You can’t take me away. Just because Justin’s making stupid accusations about my dad, that doesn’t make it true. And even if it was, he’s not there anymore. What’s going to happen?”

“I’d really appreciate your cooperation, Chloe. Let’s work this out together. Sort out a solution.”

“I’m not going to respite. I’m not going to a foster home. If you put me in one… I’m going to run away. I’m not going to be like Ronnie, a little sheep going wherever you say.”

“You know why Ronnie is in foster care. She was hurt pretty badly.”

“And no one ever proved it was Daddy who hurt her. He was never charged with anything. But you kept Ronnie, even though there was no proof. That’s not going to happen to me. You’re not going to take me away.”

“It’s not up to you, Chloe.”

“I’ve got two feet.”

Clive knew Ruby’s history. Knew that they hadn’t been able to do anything to keep her from running away. He knew that no matter what he said about who was in charge, Chloe could run the first chance she got, just like her sister. They couldn’t physically force her to stay. They couldn’t put her in detention for her own good. Not until she had done something other than threaten to run away. 

He looked at his watch. “I still have to see the others. I’m not sure what we’re going to do with you… I’ll have to make some phone calls.”

“I’m not going to foster care,” Chloe maintained. 

He gave a little grimace and got up. He snapped a business card down on the table in front of her.

“If you need to reach me, for anything—”

Chloe swiped the business card off the table, and it fluttered to the floor. Clive didn’t pick it back up. He just walked out of the room.

I hope you enjoyed this sample of

Chloe

By P.D. Workman

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