Cynthia C. Scott




Avon Newbury was the villain in our neighborhood, an aberration we tolerated the way folks tolerate cockroaches or rats. There were rumors about him for years, though nobody could ever say if they were true or not. The stories we heard seemed to exist only in the past––stories about little girls, about charges made, charges dropped. They were only rumors, scary stories we told amongst ourselves to frighten us out of boredom. In our imaginations, he was the ogre, the bogeyman, the thing from our nightmares that snatched kids by the ankles and dragged them down to his watery lair. Every Halloween, some of the older kids would go up to the old, rambling house where he lived, ring his doorbell, then run back down the steps to hide in the bushes, giggling at the chance to get a glimpse of the troll in his least guarded moment. He was a game and we made him harmless for it.

Avon Newbury lived down the street from us. He’d sit on his front porch, drinking beer and swatting flies that swarmed around him. Mama said he must have lived in filth. Only filth collected filth and all filth collected flies, she said. That alone, the fact that he had no shame, was enough to condemn him in her eyes. Every day we’d walk past his house to and from school and he’d always be in that old chair, drinking beer, swatting flies, and watching us. My sister Rhonda, who was two years older than me, was scared of him. I didn’t care; I was a tomboy and wasn’t afraid. When Avon Newbury smiled at us, Rhonda lowered her eyes in shame, but I stared right up at him, stuck out my tongue, and shouted: “Dirty old man.” And he’d laugh, like it was a game, like it was our little game.

Then one winter there were more stories about him, involving yet another girl and yet more charges. There was an investigation but nothing came of it because the girl, we learned, who was also a distant relative, retracted her accusations. Newbury was released and returned to his old rambling house wearing his false innocence against our stiff and incredulous glares. He knew how impenetrable he had become. There was nothing we could do but tolerate him.

Or ignore him. That’s what we were told. Don’t talk to him, Mama said, don’t even look at him. But that was hard to do because, by ignoring him, he became even more unavoidable. When my sister and I turned the corner and crossed the street on our way home, he was there peeking at us out of the corner of our eyes refusing to be ignored. He was a troll in a fairy tale, hiding beneath the wooden bridge we crossed daily into the world outside our neighborhood, eagerly waiting for the sound of our trampling feet. We couldn’t avoid him if we tried.

We talked about Avon Newbury persistently after the arrest––in whispers among kids and in that coded language grown folks used whenever we were nearby.

“Somebody ought to do something about him,” Mama said as she, Daddy, and our aunt drank beer at the dining table. Rhonda and I glanced up from the paper dolls we were assembling in the living room, knowing whom and about what she meant. It didn’t matter if we understood. She still spoke in that coded language, vague pronouns in place of the name no one dared speak of openly.

“They said she changed her story,” our aunt said. “Maybe he ain’t done it.”

“Oh, he did it,” Mama said. “Make no mistake about that. Where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire.”

“Well, there’s more smoke than fire from what I been hearing.”

“If you ask me, I never did trust that man. When we first moved here, I knew there was something funny about him––the way he’s always sitting on that porch, eyeing all them girls that pass by. I always thought there was something hincty about him.”

“The girl said it didn’t happen. No point in going on about it now.”

“There’s children in this neighborhood. It ain’t safe with that man running around.”

“Since when anything ever been safe around here?” Daddy scoffed.    

He was right. Nobody in our neighborhood could afford to labor under the illusion of safety. There was danger everywhere. Barnard “Tookie” Tilson was shot and killed by the police when they came to his apartment to serve an arrest warrant. Samuel Crosby, the old man who lived three doors down from us, choked on a chicken bone and keeled over dead right on his front porch. Adelle LaVette was found in her home, her throat slashed and her body covered with cigarette burns. Everybody knew who did it, but nobody was saying. Mrs. Wilson’s granddaughter was struck by a car while crossing a street. She survived, but now walked with a permanent limp. Folks in our neighborhood lobbied to put up speed bumps, but nothing was ever done. The problems piled up like trash, threatening to drown us all in its refuse. In our neighborhood danger lurked everywhere. We navigated its obstacles just to survive.

It was for that reason that our parents went out of their way to keep us safe. “Don’t talk to strangers,” they said. “Somebody try to mess with you, you come run to us.” Rhonda and I were supposed to rush home before the sun dipped below the horizon and the streetlights came on. Whether we were outside with our friends, riding our bikes or jumping rope, unmindful of the dimming sunlight and the chill rising like a ghost off the bay, we were supposed to drop everything, no matter how much fun we were having, and run home once we heard Mama’s familiar call. She knew what we didn’t back then: the night held creatures that snatched pigtailed girls off streets or stopped skinny-legged boys with silver bullets. Behind the bolted door and barred windows of our house, we were safe at least, and Mama and Daddy could sleep with one less thing to trouble their minds. I understand this now that I’m a mother, but back then, my nine-year-old self dragged her lower lip every time those streetlights flickered to life. Dangers lurked, but I hated having to fear them.

“We can’t trust nobody to protect us ‘cept ourselves,” Daddy continued. “If he comes messing around here, he’ll know what to expect.”

He gave Mama a nod and a look. Rhonda and I knew what that meant. Three years ago Daddy bought a gun after somebody broke into our house and stole our TV set. He kept it in a locked box in their bedroom closet, a closet they both warned us to stay away from. Rhonda and I saw it but once. Daddy showed it to us so we’d know it was in the house. He didn’t want us to accidentally come across it and get in the kind of trouble even he couldn’t fix. It was a small, snub-nosed, ugly thing with a black handle that looked worn down enough that I imagined it must have changed many hands, most of them not legal, during its existence. Whatever curiosity I had disappeared when I saw how Daddy loaded and unloaded the bullets and told us what could happen if either Rhonda and me, not knowing how to handle the thing, made a mistake. When he warned us to stay away from it, he didn’t have to tell us twice.

As frightful as that gun was, it was also our comfort, our balm against the outside world. But we prayed just the same that Daddy never had to use it. He wasn’t a violent man, but he understood street justice.

Danger continued to lurk everywhere we looked, and, in the summer of 1980, it sent our cousin to us for safety. In Atlanta, they were finding black bodies floating in rivers and lying in ditches. Boys and men were snatched off streets, stolen in cars, left for dead. In California, we watched in helpless horror at the stories delivered to us on the evening news, comforted neither by distance nor region. This story could so easily have been here, so easily us. Our teacher at Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary passed out green ribbons for us to wear in solidarity. Those ribbons, pinned to our shirts or blouses, fluttered as we jumped rope or swung from the monkey bars in the school yard, little scraps of green tethering us to the sunken dreams of dead boys.

Mama clucked her tongue and shook her head. “They’re killing ‘em. They’re killing all them poor black boys.” They referred to the Klan. We all believed with unshakeable certainty that the Klan was perpetrating a race war, committing their evil deeds and hiding back in shadows like the troll in “Billy Goat’s Gruff.” Mama was constantly on the phone with her cousin in Atlanta, a crease deepening her brow with each bit of information she relayed back to us. Parents made sure their kids were off the streets before sundown. Fathers cradled shotguns. Everybody was suspended in brutal suspicion, aggrieved and unprotected. Mama’s cousin had a solution, at least one that served her purposes. She was going to send her son, Antoine, to us.

“I can rest easy knowing he’ll be safe in California,” she told Mama.

Even my parents could not guarantee that.

The day he arrived was cold and breezy, a typical summer day in the Bay Area. We ran out onto the front porch when we heard our father’s station wagon roll up the driveway. Mama wiped her hands with a dish rag and greeted them as they came out of the car, Daddy carrying a suitcase and prodding our cousin forward. He was a strange-looking boy––fourteen and skinny as a tree branch with a big Afro and thick coke-bottle glasses. Rhonda and I looked at each other, not sure what to make of our visitor. Mama swept him up in her arms and welcomed him to our home. She brought him over to us and told us to say hi. He lifted his hand and said, “Hi.” He sounded like the Canadian geese that flew over our house.

I started to laugh. Rhonda, being too polite to openly mock anybody, tried hard to hold in her giggles, but even she couldn’t manage that entirely. Mama and Daddy warned us with that look.

“What’s so funny?” Antoine wanted to know as we were all ushered inside.

Mama did everything to make him feel more at home. That night at dinner, she let him have an extra piece of chicken. Daddy always got the extra pieces while we had to be content with the two drumsticks allotted us. Antoine went on and on about home in his funny accent––he was in band class and the chemistry club and he had friends who knew or were related to the kids who were found dead or missing. He said the Klan was sure enough involved and that his daddy had a rifle and was going to blow away anybody who tried to hurt his family. He put up his arm like a rifle and started making gun noises. A worrisome look came over Daddy’s face as he glanced at Mama.

Later that night Rhonda and I lay in bed (Antoine thankfully slept on the sofa bed in the living room) and talked about our guest. We both thought he was goofy, with his coke-bottles that made his eyes bug out and his strange and funny accent. We both noticed how Mama plied him with more food, while we had to ask to get an extra piece of chicken or a refill of Kool-Aid. “It’s not fair,” I said, but Rhonda just shrugged, quietly resigned to the injustices of the world. The next morning Mama took us aside and insisted that we be more hospitable to Antoine.

“The boy’s a long way from home,” she said. “This the first time he’s ever been out of Georgia, so I want you two to make him feel at home, you hear?”

That “you hear” was another one of those adult codes kids were supposed to parse and interpret. “You hear” was not only a direct command but a warning: no “back talk” or “lip.” “You hear” meant we were supposed to obey without question. Antoine was here because home was too dangerous, so we had to do everything in our power to make him feel at home and safe.

We all tried hard to accommodate him, but it wasn’t easy. Antoine was a nerd. He loved to take things apart to see how they worked. Within days he took apart our father’s transistor radio, pulling out the little tubes and wires and laying them on the living room table. He hovered over the different parts like a medical examiner performing an autopsy. I warned him he was going to get in trouble, but he waved me away like he didn’t have much patience for me. Daddy wasn’t a man quick to anger. He let things fester before they exploded. But when he came home from work and saw what Antoine did, he grabbed him by the collar and commenced to beat his behind. Mama begged him to stop. That should have learned Antoine, but it didn’t; he took apart the lava lamp in our living room. This time he earned Mama’s wrath.

Antoine was a fan of the game Dungeons and Dragons, which he packed along with his pajamas and toothbrushes. It was a stupid game, but he insisted Rhonda and I play with him. “It’ll be fun,” he said, setting up the board, which was really just a sheet of paper, on the dining table. “You’ll see.” It was a role playing game, he said, and we could be anything we wanted to be, whether it was a wizard or knight or dwarf. We all had to go on an adventure to find hidden treasure and along the way we would meet all sorts of evil creatures that we had to kill. Antoine taught us the rules, then insisted on being the dungeon master. The dungeon master controlled the game. There was always a dungeon master, we found out. We invited several kids from our neighborhood because the game required more than three players. As with Rhonda and me, none of the other kids had ever heard of it before, but were curious enough to give it a try.

There were little pieces in the game, kind of like Monopoly, only instead of a thimble or car there were wizards, dwarves, and knights. Rhonda became a fairy. I chose the dwarf. I loved the little dwarf. It was squat and funny-looking and had an axe. After rolling dice, we chose our character traits, their abilities, strengths, and intelligence. Our very character was the trick of the dice, I learned. The dwarf was the toughest little character in the game, Antoine told me after we completed our characters’ profiles. He was always quick to fight and defend others with valor. I thought this character suited me best.

For three nights we played the game at our dining table. As dungeon master, Antoine told us what to do, where to go, and what dangers were headed our way. We moved the pieces over the board, rolled the dice to determine our fates, staged dialogue, and encountered our first danger: a troll who tried to prevent us from entering the forest. We had to kill it to enter the forest where the treasure was hidden. I took the initiative. With my handy axe, I attacked the troll. But the troll had magical powers and was able to kill me in an instant. My fate was decided by another roll of the dice.

“That’s not fair,” I said, glaring at Antoine.

“That’s how the game is played. Characters die.”

“This game’s stupid.”

I stormed away from the table and watched The Love Boat with Daddy on the broken-down TV set in the living room. After the third day, the other kids got bored too and stopped dropping by. When the game was down to two people, Antoine threw up his hands in defeat; we played chinese checkers instead.

It wasn’t long before Antoine began itching for new adventures. One day, while on our way to buy sodas and candy bars at the liquor store around the corner, we hurried past Avon Newbury’s house. Rhonda and I kept our eyes straight forward as he spoke softly to us from his perch. Antoine was curious. When we explained to him that Newbury was an ogre and we had to ignore him, he grinned mysteriously and munched on a Snickers bar.

A few weeks later, when we were all bored out of our minds, he suggested we play another game, only instead of a board game and pieces that could be easily manipulated, our neighborhood was the board and we were the pieces. Rhonda and I were interested only in that vague way two people who wanted to escape boredom were interested. Willing to give him one more chance, we followed him outdoors and wandered down the street. He pointed to a green clapboard house and said it was a castle. An ivy-covered backyard gate was the entrance to a cave. Street corners, garbage-littered curbs, and telephone poles were transformed into crossroads, towers, and a moat filled with strange and magical creatures. He explained that we were young peasants who had been chosen among thousands by the king to rescue his daughter from an evil wizard who kept her captive in a tower guarded by a fire-breathing dragon. The evil wizard promised to return the princess to her father if someone of brave and stout heart would sneak into the ogre’s lair and steal his gold.

“This is dumb,” I said, crossing my arms.

“No, it isn’t,” Antoine said. “Really. The wizard will free the princess if we bring him the gold.”


“You ask too many dumb questions. Just go along with me, all right? Do you wanna play or what?”

Rhonda and I were incredulous, but since we were both bored and had no alternatives, we played along anyway. In the game we performed different roles. Antoine was both the king proclaiming that Rhonda and I were to rescue the endangered princess and the evil wizard who had smitten her with his magic spell. Rhonda also played the princess, a role she relished with theatrical flair. I only had one role to perform: the young peasant who was chosen to go on this journey. Once the setup had been established, Rhonda and Antoine became my fellow wayfarers.

We wandered the neighborhood, crawling through bushes and trees, peeking over fences, and patrolling the alleyway that connected our two streets. Along our journey we encountered trolls and snarling dogs and fought them with swords made out of sticks. As we doubled our way back through the alley, a three-headed giant jumped out of the bushes and attacked us. The giant beat Antoine with his club. Rhonda and I tried to administer to his wounds, but he waved us away.

“Forget about me. Get the giant.”

Waving my sword, I charged the giant and stabbed him in the gut. A greenish, slick goo oozed from his wound. The giant clutched his belly, doubled-over, and died. Rhonda and I cheered, but our companion lay mortally wounded.

“Quick,” I said to Rhonda, “use the magic healing stone.”

Rhonda reached into her pocket for the magic healing stone, which was really just a smooth white rock Antoine had picked up from one of the neighbors’ yards, and pressed it to Antoine’s wound. Miraculously he was healed.

Continuing our journey, we exited the deep dark forest and approached the ogre’s lair. Antoine pointed it out to us and Rhonda and I were thrust unceremoniously from our fantasy.

The evil lair was Avon Newbury’s house.

Antoine grinned mischievously. “Come on.”

“Come on what?” I said.

“We have to steal the gold.”

“You never said nothing about the ogre’s lair being Avon Newbury’s house,” said Rhonda.

The princess was going to die if we didn’t steal the gold, he said, but by then neither Rhonda nor I gave a damn. We headed back home. He accused us of being chickens.

“What’re you so scared of?” he said, blocking our way. “He’s not even home.”

He pointed to the porch, now empty. If Avon Newbury wasn’t sitting on his porch at this hour, there was a good chance he wasn’t home. That wasn’t reason enough to convince Rhonda into continuing the game, but I had always been a fool for these types of arguments. I had nothing to be scared of, certainly not Avon Newbury, who was too old to be much of a threat to anybody anyway. I wasn’t scared of anything and hated to be accused of otherwise. Antoine knew my weakness.

“You guys are a bunch of scaredy cats.”

“I ain’t a scaredy cat. I ain’t afraid of nothing. Let’s go.”

Antoine and I walked toward Newbury’s house, but Rhonda lagged behind. I noticed the look on her face, the feeling of shame that always darkened her cheeks whenever we passed by Newbury’s house. I sensed her fear and should have known better. But I was nine and I wasn’t going to let Antoine or my sister contradict what I had already decided was going to be the singular trait of my character.

“What’re you waiting for?”

“Mama’ll be mad.”

“No, she won’t. Not if we don’t tell her. Come on, Rhonda. He’s not even home.”

Rhonda glanced across the street, looking for what I didn’t know. Antoine turned to me and said, “Come on.” I followed after him. My sister stood at the curb, looking desperate and alone. I started to doubt myself. I hated to doubt myself. It made me confused. It made me angry at my sister. “Come on,” I shouted impatiently at her. She ran to catch up with us, still muttering her disapproval. Antoine clucked his tongue and shook his head. “She’s such a scaredy cat,” he said, winking at me.

I laughed back. “Yeah, stop being so scary, Ronnie.”

I laughed and ignored the look of fear in her eyes. I wasn’t going to be like my sister––scared of my own shadow. I glanced up at Newbury’s house looming before us. It looked like the very cavern Antoine had described. It was dark and dank and full of mysteries. It was a cavern to be avoided at all times. But the princess’s life depended on our bravery so I looked up at that house like it was something I could conquer.

We made our way past the gate and stepped into the backyard with its clutter of weeds, shrubs, old furniture, and bicycles. Antoine pointed to a waterlogged sofa and said it was the corpse of the last knight who had ventured into the ogre’s lair. Rhonda shuddered, as if it really was the body of a dead knight and not an ugly, old couch. We went up the steps that led to the back door, then hovered around it. We glanced at each other, then peered through the screen mesh. The house was quiet but we felt Newbury’s presence. We egged each other over who was going to enter first, until Antoine, tired of all of our reticence, grabbed the handle and flung the door open. He marched inside with the kind of bravado that would have been funny in any other situation––Antoine with his skinny self, high ‘fro, and glasses acting like he was an action hero. I glanced at Rhonda again, shrugged, then followed Antoine inside.

The back door led directly into a small and sparsely decorated kitchen. Stacks of old newspapers, a cardboard carrier of empty Schlitz beer bottles, and a coiled ring of copper wire cluttered the kitchen table. Antoine opened the refrigerator door pockmarked with little bumps and scratches. Nothing was inside except more beer and leftover pizza. The stove was clotted with grease and burn stains. A pot sat on one of the burners. I recalled what Mama said about Avon Newbury and repressed a shiver.

Rhonda wanted to leave, but Antoine insisted on finding his gold.  

“To hell with your gold,” she said. “I’m going.”

She edged toward the door but stopped to check if I was following. Antoine waited for me, impatient to get on with his adventure. I was caught in between. Fear and bravery. I had a foot in both directions, but bravery won out.

The living room was smaller than we expected. The shades were drawn, so it was nearly dark. Bundles of newspapers and beer bottles were everywhere. On the coffee table we found an ashtray filled with cigarette butts and a tiny strawberry-shaped earring. The earring piqued our interest. Where could it have come from? Who could it have belonged to? Rhonda stood in the kitchen entranceway, her curiosity as piqued as ours. We showed her the earring.

“One of the girls,” she said as she held the earring between her fingertips.

My heart beat faster. I thought about who the earring could have belonged to. Was she a little girl like me, curious and brave? This was no longer a game. Reality had crept in and we could no more ignore that than we could Newbury.

I shuddered and leaned against my sister, feeling complicit in some way I could not fully comprehend. Antoine snatched the earring from my sister. I told him we had to put it back, but he stuffed it in his shirt pocket and stuck his tongue at me. I swung at him, but he ducked.

“It’s my gold,” he said. “I found it.”

“Oh, shut up, ‘Toine,” said Rhonda. “This ain’t no game. I’m going home. You coming?”

I sighed, then nodded. Antoine looked disappointed, as though he was finally realizing that all my show of bravado was for nothing.

“We gotta get home,” I said defensively, then followed Rhonda toward the kitchen.

“But what about our game?”

I shook my head and glanced at Rhonda. Her expression froze. Antoine and I both stared in the direction she was looking. He had appeared so quietly we assumed he amassed from the dust accumulating in the ether of that dark cavern. He stood in the living room entrance, brightening the dim room with the harsh sunlight from the open door. He was haloed by so much sunlight that the outline of his body was blurred in the haze. He didn’t seem real. He seemed like something we conjured up from our nightmares.

We stood watching, too curious to run and too frightened not to.

“What’re y’all doing here?”

It took only seconds for Antoine, our brave hero, to turn tail and dash out of the house. The screen door clattered shut behind him. Rhonda and I stood there frozen and dumbfounded. Newbury closed the door, then slowly approached us.

“How’d y’all get in here?” he said.

We stood there trembling, our mouths slack and silent.

“Did your Mama send you here? Did she tell you to say hi to me?”

I took Rhonda’s trembling hand.

Newbury smiled. It was a soft and tender smile. It was hard to imagine that this was the monster we had all feared, the one Mama told us to avoid at all costs.

“I never get visitors,” he said, scratching his chin. “Fact is, you’re the first in a long spell.” He glanced around the house as though he was looking for something, then looked at us. “You’ll have to excuse the mess, but if I’d a known I’d be having visitors I would’ve cleaned up a bit. But where are my manners?” he said. “You hungry? I could fix a sandwich. Maybe get you a glass of milk.”

“We…we have to go,” Rhonda said. “Ah…our mama’s expectin’ us.”

Squeezing my sister’s hand, I added that we had to leave right away or else our Mama would come looking for us. I hoped this would intimidate him enough to let us go. Instead the muscles in his face relaxed and he smiled again.

“Well, I’ll be damned. I know you two. I see you all the time on your way to school. Always just the two.” He chuckled softly. “You’re sisters, right? You live just down the street. Yeah, I be seeing you two all the time.”

Rhonda’s grip crushed my hand. I thought these will be the last moments I will ever experience. There in Avon Newbury’s house staring up at him while he stared down at us with that soft and tender smile.

“You,” he said, pointing a finger at me. “You the one always sticking your tongue out at me. Somebody ought to teach you manners, girl. Ain’t your mama teach you to respect your elders?” I swallowed the thick saliva in my mouth and stared down at my sneakers. “Well?”


“Yes, what?” He cocked an eyebrow.

“Yes, sir.”

He nodded, smiling, satisfied he had beaten me into that one act of submission, then turned to my sister. “You’re the nice, pretty one. And quiet. You be quiet all the time. I notice how you always be walking home from school with your head down. How come you never smile for your uncle Avon?”

Rhonda was shaking all over now. When he put his hand on her shoulder, she flinched and leaned against me. Her breathing came in thick. She averted her eyes when he leaned in close. I smelled the hot whiskey on his breath.  

“Why don’t you smile for your uncle Avon?”

“We gotta go,” I said.

He frowned at me, pursed his lips, and slid his tongue across the front of his teeth. He glanced back at my sister, eyes darkening. “Smile for me and I’ll let you go.”

Rhonda’s eyes filled with tears and her lower lip trembled. She lifted her chin and exhaled. I squeezed her hand again, assuring her that it was all right, that this little moment will all be over. She squeezed my hand back, then smiled for him. Her smile froze on her face, though her lips still trembled as if they were going to collapse on themselves.

“Now see,” Newbury said, grinning. “That didn’t hurt none, now did it?”

“We gotta go,” I said, pulling Rhonda’s hand.

We both backed away from him, neither of us daring to turn our backs. When we reached the back door, I flung it open. Newbury slammed it shut. My heart burst through my chest. Rhonda and I pressed our backs against the door. Newbury leaned in closer.

“What’re y’all in such a hurry for?” He laughed and touched Rhonda’s braid. She turned her face away.

“We gotta get home,” I said. “Mama’s looking for us.”

Avon Newbury smirked, then backed away. He drew out a chair at the table and sat down. “That’s too bad. I was hoping we’d have a party. Do you little gals like parties?”

Neither Rhonda nor I answered. I reached my hand behind my back and grabbed the doorknob.

“Maybe next time you come visit old uncle Avon, I’ll throw you a little party. Just the three of us––and I’m inviting you, little gal,” he said to me, “just to let you know I ain’t got no hard feelings, though you hurt my feelings pretty bad when you said I’m a dirty old man. Makes me think we can’t be friends, but we can be friends, now can’t we?”

Newbury grinned, pleased with the power he had over us like the big, bad wolf huffing and puffing at our little door. I turned the knob and cracked the door open. The creak of the old wood broke us both out of his spell. “Rhonda, run,” I screamed. We both turned as I threw open the door and dashed outside. We ran down the steps and out of his yard. His laughter raced behind us.

That afternoon Rhonda and I walked home in silence. When we reached our yard, I looked up at our house. The blue paint was chipped and there were a few tiles missing on the roof.  Nothing looked familiar.

I turned to Rhonda and made her promise not to say a word. “Mama’s gonna kill us and Daddy’s gonna kill Newbury. You remember what he said about Newbury and what’ll happen if he messes with us. Please don’t say nothing, okay? Let’s just keep this ‘tween us. It’ll be our secret, okay?”

Rhonda burst into tears. They poured from her eyes as if they’d been there all along and were just waiting for the right moment to come. I put my hand on her shoulder and told her everything was all right. Nothing had happened to us. We were safe now. We braved the lair and the ogre and came out unscathed. We were lucky, I told her. We were the luckiest girls in town, I told her, but she kept crying as if there was no end to the tears she could shed.