Kalina’s skin was crawling with fear. She pushed the kitchen door open and heard another loud boom. She froze. The noise was coming from inside her house. Her hand held the doorknob tightly as her mind raced madly. What was going on and what she was supposed to do? The kitchen was empty and neat as always. Her mother would never allow a dish or a glass to sit dirty and unwashed, not even for a second. Everything was in its proper place. Everything looked normal. The white metal chairs with the yellow cushioned seats were in their proper places. The salt and pepper shakers sparkled in the afternoon sunlight that crept past the bright yellow kitchen curtains.

“No!” She heard her mother scream. “No, Preach! No!”

Kalina let go of the doorknob and ran through the small, cramped living room. She had always complained that the furniture was far too big for that room. She bumped her knee squeezing past the coffee table and the console television set her father had just bought. Then she heard another piercing scream.

Kalina’s feet hit the bottom stair, and she stood still as she heard her mother pleading. Then Kalina moved up the stairs toward her mother’s voice as silently as she could.

“I did it for you and for her!” Charlotte’s voice choked with tears and dread about the money in the drawer she had just earned. “I did it for you. Preach, listen to me. He paid me. Put the gun down, Preach. Please, Preach! Put the gun down!

“Let me explain!”

“Once a whore, always a whore. That’s what Momma told me when I brought you down here. She said you would make me rue the day I laid eyes on you! And, I told her she was wrong. I told her how I couldn’t live without you and how you couldn’t live without me.”

Kalina heard him clearly. Her parents’ bedroom door was open. Less than ten feet away, she stood stock-still and listened.

“Preach, Preach. Come on, Preach. Think about our baby. Think about Kalina. You don’t want to ruin her life because of our mistakes,” Charlotte reasoned.

“What do you care? She could have come home and been the one to find you with that man in our bed. Charlotte, how could you?” Her father’s voice was calm as it echoed through the hallway to her standing on the stairs of the small brick cottage. Then Kalina heard the sound as Preach primed the shotgun.

“Preach, you made her promises you couldn’t keep. We can’t send her to school in Pennsylvania.  That scholarship money won’t cover enough, and you know it. I was just trying to help,” Charlotte offered. “Put the gun down, Preach! We need to get Deke some help. He’s losing a lot of blood.”

“He’s already dead, Charlotte,” Preach said so calmly that Kalina’s entire body shivered. “I never ever would have thought you would have betrayed me, not trusted me. I had faith in you, Charlotte. Why didn’t you have faith in me? I took care of you, of Kalina, the church, my job, all my obligations to everybody. What was it that made you do this to me?”

“I was lonely, Preach. You didn’t look at me with that love in your eyes no more. The only loving eyes you have are for Kalina. But, that’s not why I did it. I wanted to make sure she didn’t want for anything. Not the way I did. That’s how I ended up down the wrong path. I didn’t have anything. Nothing. My parents weren’t there for me. You know that. You helped me. Preach, you know I always loved you for that,” Charlotte was measuring her words.

Kalina absorbed everything, but she didn’t want to understand what she heard.

“I took you off the street, and after all these years you bring the street to my bed, my home that I built for you,” Kalina heard her father take a couple of steps.

“You built it for us,” Charlotte’s voice became shrill, “for us! For Kalina. For us. Don’t throw it away, Preach! Not like this. We have got to stay strong for our child. You have to help her reach her dreams, Preach. Don’t throw those dreams away. Please don’t throw us away!”

“I could have asked the same of you, Charlotte. I can’t let you destroy me like this. You’re right. That’s why we both have to go. Kalina will be all right,” Preach began to sob, and Charlotte began to moan loudly.

“No!” Kalina tried to yell as her feet became unglued from the landing of the stairwell, and she started toward her parents’ bedroom door.

“No!” She tried to scream again, but nothing was coming from her mouth, or maybe it did but was drowned out by the deafening sound of the gunshot that silenced her mother’s excruciating cries for mercy.

Kalina reached the door just in time to have it blown shut in front of her. She heard the impact of her father’s body slam against the door as he had put the second shot to the bottom of his chin. Thrown against the hallway wall by the force of her parents’ bedroom door, she slid onto the floor and sat there for a few seconds. The house was as silent as a mausoleum at midnight as the smell of sulfur permeated the air.

She jumped up and started pushing against the door, using all the strength of her 100-pound frame to get it open just a couple of inches. The first thing she saw as she tried to enter the room was her father’s legs stretched out across the carpeted floor. They were sprayed with blood.

“Daddy!” She screamed. “Daddy, let me in!”

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