A Furrow so deep
Karen stopped walking the moment she spotted the pristine blue sedan sitting in the driveway—right next to her mom’s clunker where her grandmother’s car usually sat. Her mom, Eve Reed, worked retail and didn’t get home until after six most nights, which was why Karen walked home from school. She didn’t have a car of her own. They couldn’t afford it, one of the many reasons they lived with her grandmother.
The owner of the luxury car was Dean’s father, Bill Anderson. But Karen hadn’t expected to see it parked in her drive. Not yet.
Her nerves hiked as Karen skirted around the house, taking her usual trek to the back door. As she took the steps up to the stoop, she could hear a skirmish of voices inside. Her stomach did a somersault. The exact words were muffled by the heavy wood door and thick leaded glass, but she could guess the context. She opened the door and the argument ceased.
Her mom rushed over to welcome her. "Karen…we’ve been waiting for you."
Mr. Anderson rose from his chair as her mom ushered her into the kitchen.
"Karen." He inclined his head, a grim expression defining his frame of mind. Mr. Anderson’s tailored suit next to the off-the-rack discount dress her mom wore punctuated the difference between their lives.
Trembling, Karen placed her books and purse on the table. "Mr. Anderson."
With both adults staring at her as if she carried a plague, any worry she had pushed aside the past few weeks rushed in, making her nauseous.
"Let’s all sit down." Her mom motioned toward the chairs.
Karen wished for the reassuring face of her grandmother. "Where’s Grandma?"
She pulled the chair away from the table and sat, trying to remain composed. Though having to sit directly across from Mr. Anderson’s stiff, no-nonsense demeanor wasn’t helping. She gazed at her mom and waited.
"Karen." Perched on the edge of her chair, her mom’s expression was tense, her voice strained. "Mr. Anderson has something to ask you."
He folded his hands on the table and pinned her with a stern look. "When I go home today, I’m going to tell Dean we are leaving on a family vacation tomorrow."
Karen felt the pinch between her brows grow. "But… He’s expecting to come to my graduation ceremony."
"Of course. He’ll want to explain missing it. When he does, meet with him, but don’t say anything about this …situation."
"I thought we were just going to wait until after finals were over to tell him. But we’re going to wait until he gets back from vacation?"
As his frown deepened, Karen’s nervousness intensified and unease tickled up her spine.
"I want you to take care of it while we’re gone," he said matter-of-factly.
Karen cut her eyes to her mom. "I don’t understand."
Her mom’s gaze fell to a scratch she was rubbing on the table. "He wants you to…" She shook her head.
When the realization of what he was asking her to do dawned, Karen balked. "No. I can’t." She swallowed, barely keeping the contents of her lunch from rising.
She hadn’t given Mr. Anderson reason to dislike her before this, but her refusal seemed to flip a switch because his fist struck the table and he leaned forward. "I’m not going to let you ruin my son’s life!"
Karen straightened in her chair. Ruin Dean’s life? "But—"
He scowled. "It’s either that, or you leave town."
Gathering enough courage, Karen faced Mr. Anderson’s cold expression. She licked her lips. But the dry swallow made her voice thick and hoarse. "Leave town?"
Her mom reached over to clasp her hand. "If we agree to move, he’ll help us…financially. We’ll be able to pay for any college classes you want. It could be a fresh start for both of us."
This was their solution? Karen pulled her hand away, vigorously shaking her head. "But I don’t want to move."
Her mom’s gaze darted to Mr. Anderson then back to her. "It’s for the best." Her expression was pinched and unrelenting. "I know you don’t understand, but you need to trust me."
Karen understood her mom hated Glen Oak. Barely over eighteen, her mom had followed some irresponsible jerk out of town. A year and half later, abandoned and unable to support herself, she’d returned to Glen Oak toting a baby. To this day, her mom swears they’d married, but the lack of a ring and no paperwork provided enough fodder for the gossip mill to make life miserable. But those were different circumstances. Karen loved Glen Oak and Dean wasn’t a jerk. She didn’t want to go anywhere.
Even the thought of leaving the people she loved was almost too much to bear. "But what about Dean? He—"
"Dean is a minor," Mr. Anderson cut in.
Unsure what that had to do with anything, Karen glanced at her mom. And though her gaze remained glued to her clenched hands, and her mouth was set in a tight line, Eve didn’t speak up, didn’t offer Karen any assistance.
"You are not," he continued belligerently.
Disheartened by her mom’s willingness to just sit there, Karen sat back when Mr. Anderson inched forward and narrowed his eyes. By the time he finished talking, his insinuation of what could happen should Karen decide to go against him washed over her with chilling clarity, a rude awakening that disassembled any school girl hopes she might’ve had. Perhaps her biggest mistake had been naively assuming Mr. Anderson would accept the idea of her and Dean together, because from what he said, he would go to any lengths to prevent it.
She shrank from the cold, hard look in his eyes. She swiped the tears flowing down her cheek and cut her eyes to her mom, still hoping she would intervene. That she would defend her.
But when Eve’s gaze finally lifted, she pleaded, "Please accept this, Karen. You really don’t have a choice."
Convinced she was completely alone, Karen wrapped her arms around herself and made the only choice she could live with. Swallowing the sob scratching its way to the surface, she said, "I’ll be gone before you get back."
Satisfied she’d agreed to go quietly, Mr. Anderson rose from his chair. With a grim nod, he was gone.