During our seventh grade Christmas break, Elaina fell so ill with the flu that she had to be carried by her father into the bathroom. I went over there to check on the family with my parents, and when I snuck up to her room to check on her, I didn’t even recognize her. Darren later called on my parents to keep an eye on Emmet and Eli, and I became terrified that she was going to die. Faced with the idea of living without Elaina there to make me laugh, check up on me, or to just annoy me, I felt like less of myself.
When Eden found her on the bathroom floor of Georgie’s during my baby shower, that feeling settled over me again. Did she do this to herself? If she had so much pain in her heart that she would choose death, how did I not see it coming? She suffered from dark days, but she was going to therapy and she opened up to me more than ever.
We were forced to standby and watch Roy County EMTs carry Elaina out on a stretcher, with an oxygen mask over her face. She looked as fragile as butterfly wings, as pale as a ghost, and shocked as she stared at the ceiling with tears rolling down her cheeks.
I refused to see what was in front of me for so long, the truth smacked me in the face. Elaina put so much work into Georgie’s, and while they had their ups and downs, her relationship with Chase Claire seemed to be working. I never pulled at her loose ends to see that she was doing all of this work to give everyone a false sense of security while she fell apart in private.
In the waiting room of Roy County Memorial Hospital, I learned that her hemoglobin was low. I had to take to the internet to find out that meant she had low oxygen in her blood. Nicole, the person I went to for all of my medical questions, was busy with Thaden so I couldn’t go to my usual reference for medical questions, and I was thrown for another loop when Amy mentioned she had a peptic ulcer.
“It’s caused by drinking, medications with NSAIDS, caffeine, smoking…A bunch of shit that Laney does,” I said to Eli as I looked at my phone.
“She doesn’t smoke,” Eli pointed out to me.
“Not cigarettes.” I raised my eyebrow as I laid back, holding onto my pregnant belly. “She’s been smoking weed like a chimney for the past three weeks.”
“She also has a head injury and bruising on her neck.” Amy took a seat next to me, before continuing, “A nurse noticed discoloration in her skin and began wiping at it with a wet washcloth. She had caked on a bunch of makeup to cover it up, but it was there. It looks like somebody choked her.”
“I knew she was acting weird in the bathroom. That’s what she was doing.”
“Who the fuck was choking her? Was she awake? Did she say?” Eli snapped.
“She wouldn’t say anything with me there. The nurse made me leave because she didn’t want me around. She’s in pain and they don’t want to give her anything until they get all of the tests back that the doctor is running, now.”
I looked to my right at the sound of metal hitting the floor to see a chair lying on the ground. Nicole held Thaden by the shoulder as he growled into his hands, before wiping his palms over his face and looking at his sister with wild eyes.
“Hey, stop,” Nicole ordered. “As if this isn’t stressful enough, I don’t need you leaving to do something stupid.”
“I finally had her. We were going to leave together tonight. She was coming with me to Arizona, and I can only assume that at some point we were actually going to be together, and now the girl I have loved my whole life is lying in a hospital bed because of him. How much more do you think I can take from that bastard?”
“You can still have all of that with her.” Emmet stood behind his wife with his arms crossed over his chest. “Elaina was on her way to crashing no matter what. What Arthur did to her is bullshit, and he’ll get his for it, but that isn’t important. Elaina is going to recover here, and maybe get a wake up call that she needed. That ulcer wouldn’t have been so bad if she wasn’t ignoring it for whatever reason she made up in her mind. She has meds in her system, she’s been drinking heavily, and she was walking around with a gash in her head. As much as I want to pin this all on him, she played her own part in this. This is her fault, too. She needs help and I hope that she’ll finally admit it now that her choices got her here.”
“Hey, I think it would ruin anyone if the man who raped them as a child came walking back into the picture.”
“What?” Eli and Emmet both stared at their mother with dumbfounded expressions on their faces.
“Arthur is your sister’s abuser.” Amy folded her hands together in her lap as she looked at her towering sons. “She keeps so many things quiet, because I taught her to swallow her pain. I taught her that letting people know you’re weak or vulnerable is wrong. We can’t blame Elaina for who she is. I put standards on her that I can’t even obtain. She’s right, though…I could never be who she is. She has never been mean to anyone she loves. I ruined my relationship with her and handicapped her.”
“So, you’re jealous of your daughter?” Emmet dropped down in front of his mother, pressing his elbows to his knees as he glared at Amy. “I have always known that you were too hard on her, but what you’re saying to me sounds like you’re pissed because you can’t be her, and that is fucking weird.”
“That is the accusation Darren used to make. He worked so hard to protect her from me, but he had a job, and I just wanted her to be who I would be.” Amy physically shook as she tried to take in deep breaths to stop herself from crying. “I had a problem with pills before your father passed away. Elaina had those migraines, and I used to take her in to get prescriptions that I would steal for myself. I stole your dad’s medication for his back after he had that truck drive into his car. I used to buy from Arthur, when he worked at Sheila’s and that’s how he got the job as our gardener. After I confronted him, he blackmailed me into keeping Elaina quiet. He told me that if I ratted on him, he would ruin my life by telling everyone my secrets. Instead of owning my problem, I went for her. I decided that if Elaina was the perfect person, she could have the perfect life and she would never hate me for not protecting her like I should have done. So, I cut down her meals, I refused her food, and when it was just the two of us I constantly scolded her, for her laugh, the rasp in her voice, her hair, her clothes…Whatever I felt she needed to change. I made her run until she got physically ill when she was a cheerleader, and I promised her that if she ever told anyone I would keep her locked in her room.” She cleared her throat and wiped tears from her eyes as she whispered, “I was also your sister’s abuser. She hates me. She tries not to show it. There are moments when she is so perfect at faking her love for me that I almost believe it. Even tonight with that speech, I knew that she didn’t want to do it, but I forced her into it out of some sick pleasure. I created her to be a perfect woman, but there is this part of me that just wants to see her screw up.”
“You need help, immediately,” Emmet snapped. “I don’t even know what to do with you. Now, I get it. When Dad would joke about having you committed or sending you away for good, he wasn’t fucking joking. At this point, it wouldn’t surprise me if you had him killed because he was catching onto your bullshit, Amy.”
“Would you lower your voice?” Amy snapped.
Emmet smiled. “I’m going to go on Cassidy Claire’s podcast with this madness and blow apart your whole charade. Everyone will know the real Amy Pacer when I’m done with my truth tour. You have no idea what I want to do to you right now. She’s my sister! And I don’t have one terrible thing to say about her, but now I get it. Now I know why she is such an amazing person, because she’s pushing herself to be nothing like you. She has an eating disorder because of you. She makes herself sick, because of you! And that, Mom, that should be enough to make you want to crawl in a hole and die.”
“I understand that I am wrong, and I am working on it. I am working on fixing my relationship with Elaina and being a better mother to her, but you cannot treat me like I am a bad mother to all of you. I take care of Emma for you and Nicole, I’ve been there for Eli and Rae. I am always helping out Eden when she needs it. There is just so much of me in Elaina, I had a hard time. It has nothing to do with her and everything to do with me. I understand that I was wrong, but she is the one who gets to decide if I am a part of her life or not.”
“Sounds to me like she decided,” Nicole said. “She was going to leave town.”
“Was she leaving or was she running?” I asked, as I stood up. Eli reached for my hand to help me but I pushed him away. “I need a minute.”
I found the nearest bathroom and locked myself inside of a stall to cry. I was so enraged. Not at my best friend, not at Amy, and not even at Arthur. I was just pissed at myself for not seeing any of it. Just like the circumstances with Jenna, I couldn’t have predicted this. I was under the delusion that everything was fine, until it was too late to matter.
Three days passed before I made my way into the room to see Elaina for the first time. I was thankful to see the color back in her cheeks, and some shine in her bright green eyes. She smiled at the sight of me, as she laid back in the hospital bed with a water cup in her hands.
Thaden sat on the right side of her bed, staring out of a window. He clutched onto her hand as if he were afraid to let her go.
“Hey. What is going on?” I dropped down next to her and stuck my tongue out as she scrunched up her face at me.
“He has to leave.” Her voice was weak as she answered me, and raspier than ever. “His boss is being a hoe, threatening to fire him if he doesn’t show up by the end of the week.”
“I told Elaina that I don’t care, that I would rather be here for her, and she is being an asshole about it,” Thaden snapped, as he stood up and reached for his red and black backpack. “She has the mentality that she can deal with everything on her own. I remember when I felt that way and I couldn’t get rid of her. Everywhere I turned she was there, but when it’s my turn to be there for her all she can do is stress the importance of my dream, as if she didn’t just ask me to take her away with me so that we actually had a chance.”
“I am leaving here to go to rehab.” She gave him a serious look. “There’s a nice one near Pittsburgh. Sylvie is helping me secure my spot now. Even if you stay, it would be for nothing, Thay. Don’t you want to have a job and a life when I am ready to come there? Because if you stay, we’re both stuck here.”
“You don’t need rehab. You’re not an addict, Elaina. You use drinking to handle your emotional baggage, and that’s not healthy, but if you were an addict you would be detoxing, right now. Your body would be melting down. I know because I went through it.”
“I no longer accept people telling me what I need,” she growled at him.
“Rehab for what?” I asked, as I took a seat to the left of her, right next to all of the machines they had connected to her.
“Rehab to keep me alive,” she answered. “Rehab to keep me from using drinking like a bandage for emotional wounds. Rehab for harming myself. Rehab for my bad choices. Rocki suggested it when I called her, and I am not in the position to argue with the person who has gotten me this far.”
“You’re really giving her all of the credit? You’ve been with her for what, like six or seven months? I’ve been with you your whole life.” I gave her a weak smile as she let out a loud laugh.
“Don’t worry, you are and always will be the hero of my story, Rae. Right now, though, you have someone else to focus on. A little baby boy who needs his mom to be focused on her own health and peace. Your house is almost ready for you and Eli to start your happily ever after. We have gotten Georgie’s up and running, and Emmet has agreed to help you keep it in order for as long as we may need him. Nicole is thrilled because he will be staying on the hill. This is the right thing.”
“What happens when you get out of rehab?” Thaden wore a concerned expression.
“I have no idea, but when I figure it out, I will let you know. You two will be the first people that I call.”
“How are you feeling?” I asked, once Thaden had left the room to get himself some food and begrudgingly claim his ticket back to Arizona.
“Tired. Sore. I have a headache that doesn’t want to leave me alone and I feel like if I close my eyes they are never going to open again.” She gave me a sad smile. “I am so sorry about being carried out on a stretcher in the middle of your baby shower.”
“I am so sorry for never noticing how much you were struggling. For not seeing through your facade. I should’ve known better. I should’ve asked more questions, like why you never wanted to be around your mom, and what caused you to just stop eating.”
“Yep.” She sipped from her straw before saying, “You really dropped the ball, girl.”
“I am going to say something that’s hard for me. It kept me awake for a few nights, just wondering how things would be without you. You need to go. Whenever you’re feeling well enough, you need to take off to Arizona and find some peace. I don’t know if this means that I will never see you again, or if it means that you won’t come back to the hill. But, I would rather live in a world where you exist, then a world where you were missed. With Arthur being back in town, and your mother finally admitting to everything that she put you through, you need a space where you are free. That can’t be the hill, not with your state of mind. I talked to Stella about it and she even pointed out that it would give me a chance to grow without you, like maybe us having some time apart would bring us closer.”
“We can get closer?” She widened her eyes in surprise. “We shower together on occasion. I don’t know how much closer we can be without stitching ourselves together.”
“Laney, you get what I am saying.”
“You’re right.” She took a sip of water, as she blinked back tears. “I just really hate the idea of missing out on seeing you become a mom. That’s the one thing I struggled with when I asked Thaden to take me with him. I know that you don’t need me to protect you, but I have always done it. I have always thrown myself in front of the bullets coming your way because I love who you are, and I don’t want you to be broken. I’ve had a hard time dealing with the fact that Eli is going to take that place in your life, but the one thing I really looked forward to was getting to be that person for my nephew. An extra layer of protection from the coldness of the world that surrounds him. And getting to have Elias and Emma fall asleep on me? I was so excited.”
“Nobody says you have to stay gone,” I pointed out to her.
She shrugged. “I guess I just have a huge fear of what I will miss out on.”
“You should be much more excited for what you’re going to discover. Eli and I jump on any opportunity to get away. Living on Pacer Hill can make a person forget that there’s a big world out there. That’s why my parents always disappear to the cabin and that’s why Nicole loves to travel with Emmet whenever she gets a chance. It humbles you. It reminds you that Pacer Hill is not the center of the universe. There is so much to see and explore, Elaina. You’ve hardly left this hill because people have gone out of their way to make it difficult for you. I understand that, now. The biggest reason you should go is that nobody can control you if you’re not here, and you’ve lived through twenty-one years of constant control. I never saw it until your mother confessed her abuse, but I see it now. You also need to go away so that she can fix herself.”
“No matter what I do, the Princess of Pacer Hill died on that bathroom floor. I am no longer that Elaina Pacer. I am a person who wants to live life on my own terms, and I am figuring out what that means for me. Whether I stay or go after rehab is still undecided.”
“So, hey.” Nicole walked into the room with a concerned look on her face. “I need to tell you something before you find out somewhere else. Chase Claire is dead.”
“Mmm.” Elaina gave Nicole a blank look as she bit her lip.
“Oh my god, how?” I asked.
“From what I can gather, it was a hit and run. He was crossing Northam to get to Sheila’s. Oliver found him while running his patrol. And, um…You’re pregnant.”
Elaina blinked and tears fell down her cheeks. “You’re fucking kidding.”
I smacked my hand to my mouth as I stared at Elaina in disbelief.
“Your nurse felt it would be best coming from me so she has waited for my shift to tell you.” Nicole shuffled back and forth in her scrubs. She leaned against the wall first, then started adjusting Elaina’s blankets, before filling her water cup back up.
“This madness is really going to get you some views on your channel!” I chirped, and then immediately wondered why I said it.
“You’re an idiot,” Elaina whispered.
Nicole let out an uncomfortable laugh. “Do you need anything, babe?”
“A bottle of whiskey, a hot shower, a razor blade and a notepad to leave my goodbye.”
Nicole nodded her head. “How about a bag of jalapeño cheese curls? I have a big one in my locker.”
Elaina did not look thrilled to find everyone waiting in the Merlin House when we returned from Chase’s funeral.
“Did you know about this?” she growled at me.
“No idea,” I answered, giving her a quick shake of my head as we stood on the porch, looking through the window to see all of Pacer Hill and then some sitting around the living room and standing in the kitchen. “What do you want to do? Do you want to take off? We can go hide in a room at the hotel and take a nap.”
“Mmm.” She shook her head. “I am positive this is some kind of party to celebrate me, and I accept.”
“Ohhh-kay. I really like that nap idea though,” I said, as I watched her chug a bottle of water. “How are you feeling?”
She nodded her head. “Nervous and excited.”
“It’s no longer Arizona that you’re going to then?” I asked.
“No, it’s not. Whitney has a guest house in South Carolina that I’m going to stay in for a few months, and then I don’t know. I don’t know what comes next. Thaden hasn’t spoken to me since I broke the news about being pregnant to him. I don’t know if he’s scared or angry that I let it happen. I don’t know.”
“Do you know what you’re going to do?”
She shook her head at me. “I don’t. Not about the pregnancy. I just know that I am going to heal myself, and I’ll figure out what comes next for the baby once he or she is here. My hope is that holding the baby will help me be sure if I can be a mother or not. Rocki says that’s a sign I want to be a mother…And, I do. I just didn’t picture it happening like this.”
“So, you’re still considering adoption?”
She nodded her head. “It’s on my mind, which is why I would prefer my mom doesn’t know about this. She’ll hate me for even thinking of it. God forbid I look to the world as if I can’t own up to my responsibilities.”
“My lips are zipped.”
“And, that’s why I love you.”
“Hey, Elaina’s here!” Stella chirped, as she pulled Elaina into a warm hug. “Straight from the hospital, to rehab, to a funeral. It’s not been an easy month for you, has it? But look at how beautiful you are coming out of it. I can see that twinkle in your eye, pretty girl.”
“Thanks, Mama Stell.”
She kissed Elaina’s cheek. “It gets better,” she promised. “You’re going to get away and have an amazing adventure. I also have faith that you’ll come home ready to conquer the world from the top of this hill. As your father always said, real Pacers can’t stay away from this place.”
“Thank you, Mama Stell.”
“My girl.” Amy smiled as she opened her arms for a hug from Elaina.
Elaina gave her a quick kiss on the cheek and pulled free from her. “I’m going to get changed. I’ll be back.”
Amy looked hurt as she turned to Stella. My mother squeezed her shoulder and said, “It gets better with time and work. Show her that you’re trying to be different. Don’t expect instant gratification.”
“I don’t know about instant gratification, but she has never been so cold to me before. Every time I try to speak to her she pushes me away and it has never been like that. She at least tries to fake it most of the time.”
I could only laugh. “You want her to fake it for what? The show you imagine the Pacers are putting on for people? Amy, there’s nobody here to impress.We’re not those Kordalians, or whatever they’re called, and I don’t think Elaina is in the mood to care even if this place was covered in cameras. Hospital, rehab, and the funeral of a guy she really cared about? She’s checked out. She’s ready to leave and we’re all going to have to accept that until she is ready to come home. That’s just how it is.”
Nicole stood at the bottom of the staircase leading up to the second floor and gave me a nod. We found Elaina sitting on her bed, holding onto a bright green hoodie and crying into it.
Nicole sat on one side and I took the other. We both wrapped our arms around her as she let herself feel every ounce of emotion left by Chase’s death.
“This is all that I have.” She held up the hoodie, before folding it and “Could you imagine if he were here? This could’ve been the push that made things work between us. I could picture him being so excited about becoming a father. Stressed, but excited, and I never even had the chance to tell him.”
“Did you tell Cassidy or his mom?” Nicole asked.
“No. I couldn’t do it.” She sucked in a deep breath. “I have no idea if I can even fix myself enough to be a good mom to this baby before he or she comes. And if I can’t fix myself, there’s no way I’m putting my child in a position where his broken mother is the only parent that he has.”
Nicole laughed. “You should feel quite bad for Emma then, because she has two broken parents. A mama who can’t sleep at night because I’m always waiting for my murderous father to show up, and a dad who spends at least ten hours at the gym per week, or else he gets angry at a door for creaking.”
Elaina didn’t react to her comment.
“Okay, so what I am saying is that you don’t have to be perfect to be a parent. All you have to do is love your child and protect her. That’s it. Love and protect. Sing her a song and don’t let her stick her tiny finger in an electrical socket. Feed her and don’t leave her alone in the bathtub. Read her a story and make sure she doesn’t take a big fall down the stairs. That’s parenting. My mom was probably one of the most broken people I have ever known, but she was an amazing mom. I never doubted that she loved me.”
“Do you know what pisses me off the most? Before your brother left I told him everything. I broke down about being pregnant and Chase dying. He listened to it all, he held me and he had the nerve to tell me he loved me. Now, he’s disappeared. He won’t take my calls and won’t answer texts. How do you tell somebody you love them and then blow them off at such a crucial time? He has never done this to me.”
“So is that why you’re going to South Carolina, now?” I asked. “You could be bold enough to go to him. You know where he works. Ask him to his face why he is blowing you off.”
“Have conflict, or choose to move on with my life and find my happiness?” She stood up, disappearing into her closet as she said, “I choose happiness.”
A week later, Eli and I were helping Elaina load all of her bags into her car.
She and I sobbed the whole time, as I remembered that feeling I had in the seventh grade. I couldn’t imagine a life without Elaina, but she hadn’t been my Elaina in a long time. She lost herself to the pressure of being an heiress and dealing with her mother’s sneaky abuse. She accepted an abusive relationship from her highschool sweetheart, because abuse seemed to be a theme of her life. As much as it broke me to say goodbye, not knowing when I would see her again, I had to be strong. I had to accept that these big changes in our lives would take us in different directions, but know in my heart that she would always be my girl.
“Take a lot of stops on your way there,” I ordered as I hugged her. “Make sure you eat enough. Call me when you can, too. And Elaina, don’t forget that I love you.”
She squeezed me as she whispered, “I love you more. Take care of that baby boy. I’ll be back to see you both soon.”
“So, what do you want to do?” Eli asked after Elaina’s bright purple Mustang pulled off of Pacer Drive, making a left towards Natural Bridge.
I laughed. “Oh baby, I need a long nap.”
“Great. You nap, I’m going to take a ride on the big wheels with Lucky Lee.”
I looked down the hill to see Paul waving up at me while he walked his grumpy little dog on a leash, because otherwise the little devil would end up on Broadway Boulevard trying to eat people. He waved at me with that wise smile on his face, like he knew I needed reassurance that everything would be okay without even talking to me.
I smiled back before walking over to my home with Eli. We would be spending our first night there, after he spent my last week with Elaina breaking his back to have it ready for me. I walked in and laughed as I realized that he had put vanilla wax cubes in my warmer with a note that said, “To remind you of home, sweets.”
I was home, and everything had changed, but at least it smelled like vanilla.
Written by Ava McClure
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Thank you for reading! Keep in mind that The Real Pacer Hill Podcast will be coming in September!