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I packed the little one-hitter and grabbed my lighter. “Watch,” I said, as I set the weed aglow, keeping my thumb over the hole on the side until it was time to inhale all the smoke I’d just created. I exhaled and held the lighter and bowl out to her. “It’s not blow, but it will take the edge off.”

Thia turned the lighter over in her hand and examined the bowl like it was an artifact from a museum, running her fingers over the smooth blue glass. She attempted to light it but dropped the lighter when the only thing she managed to light was her fingertips. “Here,” I said, picking up the lighter from the grass I held the flame over the bowl as she did what I’d showed her, taking her thumb off the hole and taking a shallow drag, releasing the smoke on a cough.

“I didn’t kill my dad though,” she said when her coughing subsided. “My mom did. I came home and she was sitting there in my brother’s old room. She had my dad’s pistol on her lap,” she said, continuing her confession.

As much as I thought Thia could have been working for Chop it never occurred to me that she maliciously killed her parents, but I stilled at the mention of a brother, wondering if she was about to tell me there was a third body out there somewhere, but she filled in the blanks before I could draw my own conclusions. “My brother died when we were kids. We weren’t that far apart in age. We were playing on the porch. There was always spiders out there. Groves give off a lot of moisture and spiders love a good wet heat and a little nook or crevice to hide in. The porch had all that. We saw a spider climb into my dad’s work boot by the door, I was going to stomp on it, but my brother wanted to check it out. He reached into my father’s boot…” She trailed off. “They took him to the hospital but it was too late. Brown widow. Not always fatal in adults, but in kids…”

“You don’t have to tell me,” I said, not wanting to send her back into a state of shock that her story might trigger. “I know what it’s like to not want to relive the horrible shit over and over again.”

Thia continued anyway. Looking up at the smoke from the fire as she spoke. “My mom started to slip away. Growing more distant every day. Most days went by and she didn’t even talk to me. Business started to go to shit. They were always fighting. Then one night I came home and,” she sniffled, “there was no more fighting.

“My dad was already dead. I made a run for it, but I tripped. She wanted to send us all to the same place. Said we were all going to be together. I convinced her that we should go at the same time. I switched guns with her, giving her one I knew always coughed on the first pull. She was so determined. There was no arguing, no getting out. I could have shot her in the arm, in the leg, but I couldn’t be guaranteed she’d drop the gun, or that she’d stop firing. The look of determination in her eyes told me that shot or not she’d keep on coming. I couldn’t let that happen. I thought about my dad. About him always telling me to be his strong girl. So I did what I had to do to be his strong girl, and I aimed at her chest and I fired.

“I’m going to remember this as the worst time in my entire life. The very worst.” She shook her head. “There is nothing I can do to change that. Girls my age are playing sports, going to dances and parties, kissing boys. And that’s never been me. I’ve had a full-time job at the grove and a part-time job at the Stop-n-Go. I’ve done nothing over the last few years except work my ass off and watch my family fall apart. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse…now all this.” She waved around to the house and to me and let out an awkward laugh. She took another hit off the bowl, passing it back to me. Her coughing much less than it was on her first try.

“Ti, how old are you?” I asked, clearing my throat as I ventured into territory I knew I shouldn’t. She was a pistol, even if she was a sad one, but there was a wave of innocence about her that had me both feeling bad for her and salivating for a taste of her.

This is for her, not you. I told myself. It was only a partial lie.

“Seventeen,” she said, sniffling. “Eighteen soon.”

“You ever been kissed?” I asked, and her eyes met mine. “And not a peck on the cheek or a brief smack of the lips, but a real fucking kiss. One that leaves you without air in your lungs and your thighs pressing together in search of more?” I said, my voice coming out deep and strained. My cock coming alive at the thought of tracing my tongue along her plump lips.

“Why?” she whispered, and as soon as the words left her mouth I knew there would be no coming back from what I was about to do.

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