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Leaving Blythe River
Catherine Ryan Hyde

Chapter One: Tremble

Three months before his father disappeared

Ethan remembers the shaking most clearly. Probably because it was the first moment of the shaking. That most familiar of things making an initial appearance.

When he thinks back on that night, it’s that bone-deep trembling—the out-of-control shivering, the chattering teeth—that still feels vivid. He tried to stop it, to calm it. But he was powerless. In more ways than one.

Ethan tries not to look back on that night. At least, as much as human nature allows. But it’s a funny thing about your darkest moments. They have a life of their own. They come around because they’ve got you pinned. Because they can. The harder you try to push them back into the shadows, the stronger they grow. They draw power from your resistance.

If it had been cold in that police station the trembling wouldn’t have been so humiliating. But an ancient furnace bellowed heat right onto Ethan’s side. He hunched over himself on that hard wooden bench and felt sweat break out on his forehead, run down his back. It was overheated in that place.

But still Ethan trembled.

He looked up to see a uniformed officer looming over his bench. He jumped, startled, enough that he knew the officer could see, would know. The cop was obviously no threat to him, which made his reaction humiliating. But when you’re already swimming in a sea of humiliation deep enough to drown you, it doesn’t matter much if somebody throws in another bucketful. It’s not worth it to stop and pay attention to that when you need to keep paddling.

“Ethan Underwood?”

Ethan tried to answer. A simple yes would have sufficed. But his voice failed him. It seemed he no longer owned one. A strange feeling, to reach for something so basic and find it missing.

He nodded.

“You want to come with me, please?”

Ethan followed him into a tiny cubicle with one tiny window. The officer sat behind the desk. Behind his head, the blackness of the city night threatened. Even though it was out there and Ethan was in here, still it threatened. Ethan perched on the edge of a chair in front of the desk and held his own arms against his sides to try to ease the trembling. It did no good.

“You cold?” the cop asked.

Ethan shook his head.

“Didn’t think so. It’s like an oven in here. You okay?”

Ethan only shrugged. It wasn’t the easiest question in the world to answer.

“You talk?”

So that was it. He would have to reach inside and find his voice again. He would have to force it out of hiding.

“Yes, sir,” he said. But it didn’t sound anything like the voice he’d lost. It was a whisper that seemed to creak, as if it had rusted and needed a good oiling—another bucket of humiliation that Ethan barely had time to process.

“I get it that you’ve been through a scary experience,” the cop said. He had greasy hair and a long chin. Ethan couldn’t stop looking at that chin, even though nothing could have mattered less. “But most people’ve usually stopped shaking by this time.”

A sarcastic response ran through Ethan’s head. Gosh, I’m sorry if I’m not doing this right. It didn’t make it out of his mouth.

He knew then why his voice had abandoned him. Because it takes courage to talk to people. A cop you’ve never met before, on the worst night of your life. Even your own family. Hell, especially your own family, sometimes. He’d always had that much courage before. He’d never been anything like courageous, not even close, but he’d owned enough strength to work his own voice.

Now even that tiny measure of bravery was gone.

The cop was still staring at him. Not particularly coldly. Not particularly helpfully. Just staring.

“I’d stop if I could,” Ethan said, with barely enough volume to travel across the desk.

“It wasn’t exactly a criticism. I was just wondering if you needed some kind of help.”

The word surrounded Ethan like a salve. Pressed against him like a hot-water bottle. Help. It even stopped his trembling, but only for a split second. One tremble was skipped, the way one heartbeat had seemed to drop out of the pattern earlier that night. Then the trembling returned, stronger if anything. Because it was only the word help. It was not as though any meaningful help had actually arrived.

“Like what?” he croaked.

“Now that’s a very good question. Some kind of counseling, I guess. There are counselors for trauma. But I guess that’s more something to talk about later, when your parents get here.”

My mother, he thought. When my mother gets here. They sure as hell weren’t going to come together. Not tonight of all nights. And the idea that his father might come to get him, well . . . he’d be just as happy to see his mugger walk through that door to pick him up.

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