Never Look Back - Alison Gaylin


June 10, 1976

1:00 A.M.

Written Assignment for Ninth-Grade

Social Studies Class (Mrs. Brixton)

A Letter to My Future Child

By April Cooper

Dear Aurora Grace,

It is 1976, the year of our nation’s bicentennial. I turned fifteen three months ago. Like many young people my age, I am concerned about some of the issues affecting our country and the planet. The hole in the ozone layer is something that I worry about. The passage of the Equal Rights Amendment could provide equal pay for both you and me. These issues, just like you, are part of a future I can’t see from where I am. I try to imagine the world you may be living in: flying cars; picture phones; pills that can make you beautiful forever. I try to imagine you—what you might look like, the clothes you might wear, the sound of your laugh. I try to imagine who your father might be, and I’m hoping with my whole heart that he’s someone I will meet many years from now, when everything is better.

I don’t know a lot. I’m only a freshman, and my grades are just okay. I don’t play any musical instruments and I’m not on a sports team. I’ve never traveled to a foreign country except for the one time my mom and I went to Mexico, and I was only five years old then, so all I remember is the hotel swimming pool.

But there are things I’ve seen now. There are things I know.

I heard the gunshots when I got home from school. I was walking up the driveway and there were three loud blasts. Fireworks for the bicentennial, I thought. I told myself the blasts were coming from the park up the block, from someone else’s backyard, from my own imagination. But part of me knew that something horrible had happened.

When I opened the door to my house, the lights were off and the shades were drawn, and so the first thing I noticed was the smell. Like sawdust and smoke and something else—something coppery and dark that made my stomach turn.

I felt hands on my back, someone gripping my neck and spinning me to look at him. “I didn’t mean to,” Gabriel said. “I was just so angry at your stepfather. I know you only broke up with me because he made you. I love you so much, April.”

I could smell his sweat. I felt it slick and cold on his hands and on my skin. When Gabriel turned the light on and I got a good look at him, I noticed the spray of tiny red drops across his face.

Papa Pete was on the floor. Blood spreading beneath him. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone or anything as absolutely still as his body.

I tried to ask where Jenny was, but I was crying so hard I couldn’t get the words out. Jenny is my baby sister. Your future aunt, Aurora Grace. She’s only three years old. I don’t know what he’s done with her.

When I was still crying, Gabriel put the gun in my hand. He wrapped himself around me, the same way he had done back in January, when he taught me how to hit a golf ball at the driving range near his house. He aimed the barrel on Papa Pete and pressed his fingers against mine and made me pull the trigger. Papa Pete’s body shook. Mine too. My throat was raw from screaming, but I couldn’t hear my own voice.

Hours later now, and my ears are still ringing. Gabriel is asleep, but in my head, he is still saying it, over and over: Now you’ve done it too. You’ve shot him too. Your prints are on the gun. We’re in this together. He is so close, his lips brush the back of my neck. “We’re in this together,” Gabriel whispers. “We’ll always be together.”

When someone is that close, you don’t just hear a whisper. You feel it.

It’s 1:00 A.M. A half hour ago, I sneaked out of my room and tried to call the police, but the line had been cut. I felt someone watching me. It was Gabriel, awake and standing right behind me. He pressed the gun between my shoulder blades. I felt it so clearly—the full circle of the barrel on the part of my back that leads directly to my heart. It felt heavy and cold and I was scared beyond breathing. Gabriel spoke very quietly. “Jenny is in a safe place,” he said. “She’s being cared for. Things