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Thirty years earlier

A dark, creepy feeling, like I’d walked over someone’s grave, slithered down my spine as the girl climbed the broken front steps of the porch with the social worker. The thin blonde clutched a black trash bag to her chest as they came through the ripped screen door. I didn’t have to be a genius to guess that everything she owned was inside.

Me and my trash bag had moved fourteen times in the last nine years. I couldn’t remember how many times I was passed around before that. My first memory was my stomach gnawing on itself, so I’d begged for more dinner and my foster dad had backhanded me across the face. I was four, or so they told me. It was hard to keep track when you never saw candles on a birthday cake because you ain’t never had one.

I’d bet if Mrs. Holiday was still alive, I would’ve got one, maybe even every year, but she got real sick and they moved me to a new house after six months when it was clear she wasn’t gonna make it long and couldn’t take care of us. First time I’d ever felt like someone wanted me. First time someone let me pick out my own clothes at a store. First time someone asked what I wanted for dinner. First time I ever felt like I had a real mom. All that did was make it harder when she was gone. It taught me to never get attached to anything or anyone in this life because there was nothing good down that road.

Every house before and after hers were different versions of the same old shit. You weren’t one of their real kids; you were the paycheck they didn’t do nothing to earn. Barely fed you. Lucky if you got a toothbrush from some of them. And clothes? Whatever the church donated or maybe what the real kids grew out of. Nothing new, that was for damn sure.

The undershirt I was wearing right now was more stained than white, and when I caught it on a chain-link fence earlier this week and ripped a hole in it, Jerry shoved me up against the side of the house and whipped off his belt to teach me a lesson, something he liked to do a few times a week, especially after he’d finished a six-pack and had a few smokes.

Mean drunks weren’t nothing new either. I could spot them at a hundred yards now.

If Jerry didn’t have a foot and a hundred fifty pounds on me, I would’ve hit him back the first time he pulled that belt free. Well, that, and knowing that if I got kicked out of this house, there was no one to protect Destiny. She was only six, but I saw the way Jerry looked at her. It wasn’t right, so I did my best to stick as close to her as I could.

More times than not, I sneaked out of my room at night and slept in front of her door, just to make sure he didn’t try nothing. I didn’t trust that piece of shit as far as I could throw him, and with that fat fuck, it wasn’t far.

“We’re so excited to be able to place Destiny and her sister together, finally. Everyone, say hi to Hope,” the social worker said, as much hope in her voice as the girl’s name. She didn’t get that there was no hope in this house, even with her here.

No hope in the whole fucked-up system.

Destiny’s short, skinny legs flew across the room as she threw herself at the girl’s waist while Jerry and his wife, Dixie, and their son, Jerry Jr., watched from a few feet away. He didn’t get real close anymore. Probably because Jerry and Dixie only let me shower once a week. Saving on the water bill, or so they said.

When the new girl dropped the trash bag to hug her little sister, Jerry ran his tongue over his teeth, eyeing her like she was one of those thick steaks he brought home from the butcher to cook only for himself.

Lead settled in my gut when I realized she was older than I thought, despite being so small. Probably older than me. She already had tits, and definitely wasn’t wearing a bra.

Jerry couldn’t take his eyes off those tits of hers, and he wasn’t even trying to hide it.

If the way he looked at Destiny wasn’t right, the way he looked at Hope was downright fucked up. I’d found his porno mags stuffed into a box in the lean-to where he thought no one would see them. He liked them young and blond, and I wanted to yell at the social worker to take both girls and get them as far away from this house as possible.

But I knew what’d happen if I shot my mouth off. I’d be the one who got booted, and there wouldn’t be no one to protect either of them from Jerry.

“Missed you so much,” Hope whispered to Destiny as she dropped to her knees on the dirty linoleum floor. They hugged long and hard before Hope looked up to take in the rest of us.

Jerry stepped forward first, of course. His gut strained against his white tank top as he held out his arms. “I’m your new daddy, Hope. Welcome home.”

Hope’s eyes widened, and she looked behind him until she caught sight of me. Like recognized like. She knew I wasn’t one of the real kids. I shook my head just an inch to give her the warning.

I had to give the girl credit—she was quick on picking up signals, which blew, because that meant she’d been through shit that would make me go ballistic.

She kept Destiny hugged to her side and did one of those side-pat things with Jerry, but that bastard was persistent. He squeezed both girls in a hug.

“Feels like our little family’s complete now.”

Dixie gave her a nod. She didn’t say much, probably because she spent as much of the day as possible drinking from a Sprite two-liter bottle. Except there were no bubbles in it, and when she passed out on the couch for the first time after I moved in, I’d twisted the lid off to take a swig.


Should I know that shit at thirteen? Probably not, but I didn’t have the luxury of a childhood. Plus, she was always busy covering up the bruises Jerry left on her the mornings after those nights he turned the record player up real loud in their room.

Maybe it was wrong, but since I was already pretty sure I was going to hell since my last foster mom’s favorite nickname for me was “spawn of Satan,” I was glad of those nights. It meant there was less chance he’d make a move on Destiny.

But Hope? Fuck, Hope meant trouble.

Jerry released them both after the awkwardly long embrace. The social worker was still beaming about her accomplishment of reuniting siblings.

“Well, I’ll leave y’all to get better acquainted.” She looked at Dixie. “You know the drill. Nothing new.”

Jerry laughed, and the bottom of his shirt lifted so his gut hung over his pants. “Nothing but a bump back up in that check we get every month, you mean.”

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