Bella woke up to the smell of bacon cooking and muffled voices laughing. Her stomach made a rumbling noise letting her know it was ready to be fed.
She looked around and realized she was back in her old bedroom. The muffled voices were Lenny and her parents. She pulled the covers back and sat up.
Her room was so grown up now: full-sized bed (which was very comfy), large dresser with a mirror by the bathroom door that connected her room to her brother’s room, and a dark purple sitting chair by the window. Her mother mentioned during one of their phone calls that she had their rooms redone and that Bella would like her room if she ever came back to visit.
She put her feet on the purple runner by her bed that matched the chair. She curled her toes into it as she looked at the new hardwood floors. The dark hue of them against the light purple walls gave the room an elegant feel.
Bella went into the bathroom to wash her face and brush her teeth. She noticed the door to her brother’s room was closed. He always was a late sleeper. She gave her freshly-washed face a once over in the mirror and headed downstairs.
“Bee? Is that you?” her mother said. She could never could sneak down the stairs no matter how hard she tried. Her mother always knew when she was there.
“Yeah, momma. It’s me.” She walked down the hallway into the kitchen. Lenny and her parents were sitting at the kitchen table, the detritus of one of her mother’s famous breakfasts all over the table.
“Lenny was telling us all about your life in Illinois,” her father said.
Bella looked at Lenny. A smile spread slowly across his face. “All good things, I hope?” she said.
“Nothing but,” said Lenny.
“And why would you expect anything less?” her mother said. Bella rolled her eyes and smiled. Her mother pulled out a chair. “I saved your favorite seat for you. Your plate’s in the microwave.”
Bella got her plate and started eating the bacon before she got to the table. Her parents stared at her as she sat down. “Oh. Sorry.” Bella bowed her head and said grace to herself.
“Yeah, they got me, too,” Lenny said. They all laughed.
“Billy gonna wake up any time soon,” said Bella.
“You know that boy sleeps late,” her father said, “and given the circumstances, he probably sleep even later.”
“I can’t believe Ricky is gone,” said Bella.
“None of us can,” her mother said, “and you know that fool drunk driver who killed him walked away without a scratch.”
Bella shook her head as she shoved another piece of bacon into her mouth.
“You might wanna take a breath in between bites of food,” her father said.
Bella chuckled. “Sorry, dad, you know I love momma’s cooking and I haven’t had it in a while.”
“Well, who’s fault is that,” he said.
“Shots fired,” said Lenny.
“Yes, I know,” Bella said, “I know.”
“Lenny here says there’s a reason you haven’t been coming home but he wouldn’t tell us what it is.” Bella choked on her orange juice. She grabbed a napkin from the table and wiped her mouth while she gave Lenny a dirty look.
“Come on, Bell, they should know,” Lenny said.
Bella could feel the inquisitive stares of her mother and father. The tension in the room was broken momentarily by Billy’s entrance.
“Billy,” Bella got up and gave him a hug.
“Hey, sis,” he hugged her back and kissed the top of her head.
“I’m surprised you’re up,” his father said.
“Bacon woke me. Any left?”
“You know there is,” his mother said, “yours is in the oven, wasn’t room for two plates in the microwave.” He got his plate and stopped short when he got to the table. “Didn’t realize we had company.”
His mother put her hand on Lenny’s shoulder. “Billy, this is Lenny, Bella’s friend.”
“What kind of friend,” said Billy.
“Yes,” said Lenny, “what kind of friend would you say I am Bell?”
Bella choked on her orange juice again. “The kind that’s gonna be an ex-friend if you don’t quit starting trouble.”
“Ouch,” said Billy as he shoved a piece of bacon into his mouth.
“Have you all moved away and lost your home training,” his father said. Billy looked at Bella. She mouthed the word “grace” to him. “Oh,” Billy said, “sorry.”
“So what’s new with you Bee,” Billy said.
Their mother interrupted. “Bee was just going to tell us why she hasn’t been home to visit.”
“This should be good,” said Billy. Bella shot Lenny another look.
“Oh don’t look at him like that,” her mother said, “he’s just trying to be helpful.”
“I’m not so sure about that,” Bella said.
“I’d certainly like to know why you haven’t been around,” said Billy.
“Bell, just tell them,” Lenny said.
“Hold up,” said Billy, “this dude knows why you haven’t been home but your own brother doesn’t? No offense, man.”
Bella looked around the table at everyone. They were all looking at her waiting for an answer. She took a deep breath and told them everything that she told Lenny. The looks on their faces went back and forth between shock, sadness, and anger. After she finished telling them everything the table was silent. Billy was the first one to speak.
“I can’t believe you didn’t come to me. You know I would have had your back, Bee.”
“I couldn’t tell anyone. The whole thing was my fault.”
“Bullshit,” Billy said.
“Billy,” his mother said.
“Sorry, mom. But my baby sister has alienated herself from her own family because of something she didn’t even do?”
“Bee,” her mother took Bella’s hand, “baby why didn’t you say something?”
“Because I was scared. And then when Reese went missing and then was found dead, it was my fault. If I told someone she’d still be alive.” Tears started to run down her face.
Her father leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms. “So you’ve been carrying all this weight on your shoulders all these years. That was a dumb move. Maybe that girl might still be alive if you said something. Maybe not. We’ll never know.”
“Richard,” her mother said, “that is not what she needs to hear right now.”
“Yes, Olivia, it is. Are you forgetting how many nights I wiped your tears? You were crying wondering what was wrong with our daughter? She just shut everyone out. Stayed in her room. Then left for college and never came back. Relegated us to phone calls and the only time we got to see her was if we went to Illinois.”
Bella got up and ran up the stairs to her room.
“Really, Richard. Hasn’t she been through enough?”
“Haven’t we,” he said.
“Dad,” Billy said, “no disrespect, but that was pretty messed up.” He and Olivia both left to check on Bella. Lenny got up and cleared the table.
“So I guess you think I’m wrong, too,” Richard said.
“It’s not my place to say, sir. It’s your house,” said Lenny, “but I do know that it took a lot for her to come back here. She feels responsible for Reese’s murder.”
“Well, she just might be.”
“No, sir. She’s not. Those girls murdered Reese and threatened your daughter. Maybe she didn’t use her best judgement, but she was terrified.”
“That’s no excuse.”
“Well, sir, that maybe not, but I think your daughter needs your support right now, not your criticism.” Lenny put the last of the dishes in the sink and went upstairs.
Bella was sitting on her bed crying. Her mother was sitting next to her rubbing her leg. Billy was laying on his stomach behind her and rubbing her back. “Can I come in,” Lenny said.
“Of course you can, baby,” said Olivia.
Lenny sat down on the purple runner in front of Bella. She looked at him. “I told you this wasn’t a good idea.” Bella’s mother interrupted. “Don’t be mad at Lenny, Bee, he was just trying to help. He was very worried about you. I’m glad you had him out there with you. I don’t think you realize how he saved your life.”
Bella looked at Lenny. He smiled at her. She tapped his leg playfully with her foot. “Jerk.”
“I think we need to go find that girl and beat her ass.”
“William Blake. If you say one more curse word in this house I’m washing your mouth out with soap.”
“Come on, momma. That girl is a murderer. Her and her friend. We need to do something.”
“What happens now is Bee’s decision,” she said, “but first we have a funeral to get through.”
Billy turned over on his back and put his arms behind his head. “I’m not going.”
“Billy, that’s your best friend…no…your brother…you’re going,” Bella said.
“I don’t know how to say goodbye.”
Bella grabbed his hand. “I’ll be there with you. You can lean on me.”
“We’ll all be there with you, Billy,” said Olivia. She looked at her watch. “Well, I guess we better start getting ready. We don’t want to be late.”
“What about dad,” said Bella.
Olivia waved her hand in the air. “He’ll be fine. He just needs some space.” She got up to leave but Bella grabbed her hand. “Mom…I’m…I’m sorry that I cause you all so much pain. I didn’t mean to… I just –”
“Hush all that talk. It’s over now. I’ve got my baby back. Just promise me you won’t do that again.”
“Any room in here for a stubborn old man,” Richard said.
They all chuckled. “Of course there is, daddy,” Bella said. She stood up and gave him a hug.
“I didn’t mean to make you feel bad, Bee,” Richard said, “I was just hurt. You left us. You didn’t trust us enough to let us help you.”
“I didn’t know how dad. I didn’t know how.”
“Well, I know how, and I might have something that can help you, too.”
Richard walked out of the room and came back a few minutes later with Bella’s old camera in his hand. “Here,” he said.
Bella’s mouth dropped open. “Is that my old camera?”
“Yup. That girl dropped it off.”
“No, not her, the other one.”
“Sasha? Why would she do that?”
Richard shrugged his shoulders. “I was opening the door to get the newspaper one morning and she was leaving it on the porch. She didn’t expect to run into me. Just said to give it to you and ran off. Now I know why.”
“Why didn’t you give it to me then, daddy?”
“You weren’t talking to anyone. Always had your door shut. It doesn’t matter now.” He walked over and sat down on Bella’s bed. “I was harsh back there in the kitchen. Truth is, I think I may be just as much to blame as those girls. If I had given you that camera the day she gave it to me…”
“Oh, daddy, no. It’s not your fault either. I’m just glad I have it now.”
“Bell, we should go through those photos,” said Lenny.
“We’ll be late for the funeral.”
“Ricky will understand,” said Billy, “do you still have the reader for the card?”
“It’s in her mother’s office,” said Richard, “she kept your computer and the reader. She uses the computer to write her poems.”
“Poems,” Billy and Bella said in unison.
“Yes, poems. She took up writing after we became empty-nesters.”
Billy and Bella looked at each other incredulously.
“You two going to stare at each other or check the card?”
They got up and went to Olivia’s office. Billy turned on the laptop while Bella took the memory card out of the camera. She put it in the reader and waited several minutes for the photos to load. She scrolled through the pictures. When she got to the one of the cardinal, she stopped. That was the photo she took that day.
She scrolled more slowly and there they were. In the background of the photo of the bird were two girls walking behind another girl. Bella enlarged the photo. It was grainy, but still clear enough to see that the third girl’s mouth was taped and her hands were behind her back.
“Bingo,” said Billy, “we got ‘em!”
“Save those photos to the computer so you have your own copies,” said Lenny, “then print them and we’ll take them and the card to the police after the funeral.”
Tune in next Monday for the final installment of Going Home
Originally published at audrarussellwrites.com on June 11, 2018.