Hush - Anne Malcom


Missouri summers are never easy, but this was a summer day for the record book in Grandview, a small farming community three hours southwest of St. Louis. The sweltering heat was worsened by the humidity that stuck to you like a second skin and kept most of the locals indoors—but not the children. Some spent the day running wildly through sprinklers in their front yards, others splashed around in the many brooks and creeks that surrounded the town. The older kids were looking for trouble . . . fireworks, alcohol, pot—anything that would give them a rush, a grounding, and some cool points.

But for Orion Darby, it was not the heat she was concerned with, nor any childish games or teenage rebellion. No, it was the blue-eyed boy standing across from her on the back deck of his parents’ home. It was her first kiss on a broiling evening in June.

It would be the last little breath of happiness before her world went dark, and a cell became her home. Before she would wonder whether it was cruel of the universe to give her that little taste of happiness, Maddox’s soft, hesitant mouth tasting faintly like Juicy Fruit. Or a blessing to give her that singular memory to hold on to when the pain felt like it could kill her. Much later than that, she’d realize that the universe was not concerned with her, that there were no greater powers at work other than monsters masquerading as men and she was just a pawn in their world. Surely, if there was a god, he would’ve saved girls like her.

But that was later.

This was still that perfect summer day . . . that perfect first kiss.

Maddox Hampton Novak—or Maddie as loved ones called him—wasn’t supposed to like someone like Orion. He was the epitome of a teenage heartthrob. He played lead guitar in a punk band, started every varsity game as wide receiver for the football team, and he was even the lead in all the school plays. A true Renaissance man. Had he not been the older brother of her best friend, April, Orion knew he wouldn’t have thought twice about looking at her, let alone kissing her. At least, that’s what she told herself. Besides, he was sixteen, two years her senior, and he had plenty of girls his own age to chase after. Some older ones too.

Orion had never planned on kissing him, even after she noticed her lingering glances were being returned. She didn’t want to piss off her best friend, didn’t want to destroy the only real thing she had in her life then. But when the town stud starts noticing the girl from the poor family, with Walmart clothes two sizes too small and a face dotted with countless freckles, what exactly was she to do?

That was the most peculiar aspect of it all really. She was a Darby, and Darbys were poverty-stricken nobodies. Always had been. Always would be. They lived in squalor at Sunnyside Trailer Park, the scourge of Grandview, in a trailer passed down from one dirtbag to the next. Darbys drank away their paychecks and fed their kids scraps, perpetuating a cycle of addiction and abuse that lasted generations.

The Novaks—Maddox and April—lived in a two-story house situated on three acres, in a community where each home was more impressive than the next. Their father was the only dentist in town, their mother a paralegal for the only law firm. Lights were always on, the water always ran, and life was good. Maddox and April had two parents who cared about them, who didn’t have rap sheets, who didn’t lay a hand on them in anger, and bought them whatever they desired. In other words, they were the exact opposite of everything Orion had ever known.

When she first befriended April in the second grade, she had yet to realize just how different her existence was compared to everybody else’s. It wasn’t until she saw the Novak’s house for the first time, full of all their things, and all their happiness and familial love, that she realized just how bad things were.

That was why Ri never expected the heartthrob she’d secretly loved for years to finally see her . . . to want her.

The week before, he’d pulled her aside at Jessie Knowles’s party, and told her how he felt, told her he wanted to kiss her, and his words made her come alive.

She had dreamed of it happening but never expected it, that