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The sudden sound of footsteps pounded at the bottom of the stairs.

     “Francesca? Is that you?” No one replied. The noise stopped, silencing Lilia’s breath. “Who’s there?” The boards began to creak, step by step. At the top of the landing, Ermando appeared out of the shadows, where he hovered. His eyes blinked open and shut in the dim light. He was clearly drunk.

     “Ermando, you frightened me! Why didn’t you say anything?”

His vacant stare and penetrating eyes sent chills down Lilia’s spine. She felt naked and uncomfortable in his presence. Lilia had never liked Ermando, but she’d never feared him, either…until now. She instinctively gripped the broom, sensing she was no longer safe, as a wicked smile curled on his lips. Ermando yanked the broom out of Lilia’s hands and pushed her to the floor. Her heart accelerated as she lay pinned under his weight. She felt his creeping hands slide past her hips and up her thighs. Incensed and frantic, Lilia kicked furiously.

     “What are you doing? Get off me!”

He slammed his hand over her mouth and leaned into her face. Lilia could feel the coarse stubble on his cheek and smell the whiskey and cigarettes on his breath.

     “You’re going to keep quiet and keep your mouth shut.” His sinister smile and drunken eyes gleamed with vile anticipation.

     Lilia tried to scream, but her voice was muffled under his hand. She jammed her nails into his face until he yelped with pain. Ermando wiped the blood off his cheek and raised his hand to strike her.

     “You bitch!”

     “Stop! Stop!” Lilia covered her head and screamed with her whole body.

     “Get off her, you monster! Get your filthy hands off her!” Lilia focused her eyes to see Francesca at the top of the stairs, yelling and hitting her brother repeatedly with the broom handle until she herself weakened, gasping for air. “You drunk bastard! What do you think you’re doing? She’s just a girl!”

Lilia inched to the corner of the hall and wrapped her trembling arms around her dress, pulling it tight to her ankles. She watched in horror as Francesca pummeled Ermando with a rage Lilia had never seen before. Ermando shielded himself, cowering under his sister’s wrath until she withdrew to catch her breath.

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