My parents' room was still lived in. My father hadn’t made the bed and there were socks on the floor. I went to the closet. My mother had always hidden our birthday presents in there, up on the top shelf.
My father’s military uniforms were hanging nearest the front. I brushed them aside and grabbed an armful of sweaters, scouring the corners, floor, and shelves for the missing jackets.
Downstairs, I heard the door open, and the sound of feet on the hardwood floor.
If my father was off shift, we were late for ours.
My heart missed a beat. That voice was not my father’s.
“Mina!” Rory’s voice was pure panic and in the instant before I bolted my eyes landed on the insignia on one of the dark green jackets I had thought belonged to my father.
Three inverted chevrons with a line over top – a colonel’s rank symbol.
I flew out of the room and raced for the stairs, snagging the clothes hamper as I passed.
Below me there was a bang and a thud – Rory hitting the wall and then the floor. I leapt out of the stairwell swinging. The hamper smashed against something solid and a man in an SO’s uniform – a major – toppled, his baton skittering out of his hand and across the floor.
I clutched at Rory’s jacket, but he was already on his feet and hurtling towards the door – towards the man standing in front of it. The man – the colonel – could only gape as Rory and the box of mittens slammed into him and sent him crashing into the wall. Then Rory and I were past him, out the door, leaping off the porch and tearing up the street.
The hamper was big – awkward – heavy. It slowed me down. Rory got further ahead.
Then something caught my arm and wrenched me around. The hamper slipped from my hands, spilling onto the road. I was nose to nose with the major I had just knocked over. I had a brief glimpse of his snarling red face, saw his arm move out of the corner of my eye, and then my head was snapping to the side and fire was spreading across my cheek and over my eyebrow, up to my temple.
There was a crunching thud and I was sure it was the sound of every bone in my face shattering.
The grip on my arm loosened and slipped away.
My head spun and all I could see were colourless splotches. I threw my arms out, not knowing which way the ground was coming at me.
A hand caught my wrist, steadying me instead of making bruises.
My vision cleared and I found Sade. The look on his face was as horror-stricken as I had ever seen it. My gaze sunk to the major, sprawled on the ground between our feet.
“Halt!” The colonel stumbled outside, revolver drawn and pointed at us.
“Go!” Sade shoved me forward.
I threw my arms over my head and ran.
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