When Terry came home after school, the sun was shining and an army of birds had gathered in the trees to welcome summer. It was a perfect day, school was over for what felt like ages, and a huge span of freedom and swimming and simply enjoying herself lay ahead of her. Her backpack carelessly in her left hand, she slowed down, unwilling to go inside at once.
Then she heard the shouting, and rushed inside immediately. The sound came from the basement, as always, and she was pretty sure she knew what was happening. Rob, her stepbrother, was in trouble.
Rob had come to live with them back when her mother brought home a new husband. Terry liked him, and she was glad that her mother finally seemed happy again. However, she would have given her soul if the source of that happiness and the reason for Rob to live with them had been someone - something else.
The man never so much as touched Terry, tried his best to be friendly towards her. the others, however... let's say, it had become more and more difficult to explain all the bruises and the limping, and sometimes Terry was ashamed to be seen outside with her mother. Everybody knew what was happening, didn't they. It was too obvious. And for Rob it was even worse. With his eight years, he showed not the least interest in sports, he was small and easily scared. And he paid the price for this over and over again. Usually in the basement, where there were no windows.
These thoughts drifting through her head, Terry stood on the highest step of the stairs leading down, unable to decide what to do. It might sound selfish, but she was glad that the man never made her the target of his anger, and she preferred to keep it this way. If she went downstairs to interfere...
A door banged against a wall, and Rob appeared in her field of vision. He tried his best to race up the stairs, stumbled, reached the top and flung his arms around Terry's waist. He had a black eye, and his face was disproportional and swollen.
A huge shadow appeared downstairs after what felt like an eternity, but could only have been two or three seconds. Then the man became visible, face twisted with hate and disgust. "You come down here this moment, boy!" His face was glowing red, and he breathed heavily.
"Shh, it's okay", Terry whispered against her brother's head and hugged him tight. "Stay with me."
The man began to climb towards them, and Terry felt her legs shake.
But then something strange happened. The man stopped, looked at them with surprise. His right hand moved up as if to clutch his heart, the right kept a dead grip on the handrail. The sound of his breathing changed, grew more desperate. "Terry, darling - call the hospital." He fought for another gulp of air. "I think I'm - having a heart attack."
Terry looked at him for a moment. Then she turned around with her brother and shoved him in direction of the living room. "Go and watch TV, I'll be there in a minute with some ice for your face." She made sure he was gone, then she used the switch at the top of the stairs to turn off the light in the basement. Softly, she closed the door and took a deep breath. Through the open kitchen door, she could see soft sunlight caressing the drapes. They had plenty of time left until Mum came home. Briefly, she wondered how she would explain everything.
Then she went to fetch some frozen peas.