“I didn’t leave. I just took a walk to cool off.” His voice was tired and raw. “I promise I will always come back to you. Always.” He lifted my hair off my neck and kissed my bare shoulder. “It’s time for you to share your final secret with me, Abby.”

“Now?” I didn’t know if I could.

“Yes, now.” It was a demand, but a gentle one. “It’s the only thing left between us. I’m not going to push you for anything but your words. The rest is up to you.”


They’d sat heavy on my tongue for almost nine years. They’d never gone any further than that. It was time. I knew it was. I wanted to be unburdened of it now, and I let that feeling lead the way. It felt right to have Jake know all of me.

I was as unsure of his reaction as I was of myself.

Darkness quickly freed me of my fear.

The words surprised me when they started to flow out of my mouth and into the shadows. I closed my eyes as I told him about the last night I’d spent in my mother’s house before I was put in foster care. He listened as I told him how I’d eaten the neighbor’s dog’s food, though only when I’d been hungry enough not to think about feeling bad for stealing it from the dog. I even told him about running from the constant open-door orgies and endless parade of vile “aunts” and “uncles” who came and went with the same frequency as their highs and jail sentences.

I described in detail how I’d used the shard of mirror to stab the man in the eye who’d come into my room. “I might have killed him... there was so much blood.” My eyes spilled with hot tears, but I wiped at them before they had a chance to fall. “I asked the social worker who picked me up if he was dead. I don’t think they tell nine-year-olds if they’ve killed someone, though.”

Jake was quiet as he listened, but he continued to trace around my upper thigh with his fingers, blazing a trail of fire on my skin everywhere he touched. But, it wasn’t like the fire of a few weeks ago.

This fire was built out of want, not fear.

“That’s not all.” I braced myself as I began to tell him the rest.

Suddenly, I am nine again. I am naked and crouching in the field. The winds have died down, and now, it’s just the cold rain pummeling my skin.

I am free. I am free of the jail I never committed any crime to be in.

The home that held me prison would soon be a memory. I will work my way through starvation. I will never eat dog food again. I will find a family who will love me.

I am still worth loving.

A strong hand is on my arm, hoisting me up from the ground. A bitter voice in my ear: “Now you’re really going to find out what happens to bad girls, you little shit.”

With one hand wrapped in my hair, she is dragging me through the tall grass, sand spurs clinging to my legs. “You think you can defy me? You think you can say no? I own you and that scrawny, little body. If you don’t want to give it up to who I fucking tell you to give it up to, I’m going to make it so no one will ever want you again.”

Back in the house. Handcuffed to the radiator. Each burn of her cigarette. Each stab of her knife. Every time she slowly drags the rusted blade across my body, I jump back against the steaming radiator she’s purposely set on high.

I am waking up.

I am passing out.

I am waking up.

I am passing out.

I wake, and my mother is no longer over me. She’s across the room on the couch, tying a tube around her arm and shooting the needle into a vein by her elbow.

“Abby has been a bad girl, Vinnie. She screams when I punish her.”

My mother nods to a man sitting on the floor, leering at me. He isn’t wearing a shirt. He smiles and his front teeth are missing, the rest of them a mixture of yellow and black.

“She needs to learn how to shut that mouth of hers. Think you can help?”

The man stands and throws me onto my back, my hand still cuffed to the burning radiator, blood drips down my arm. “Come here, darlin’,” he says. He smells like the bottom of the trash can behind the Chinese restaurant. The one where I’ve looked for food.

He slowly unzips his jeans, and before I can wonder what he is doing, he shoves himself into my mouth, pressing his hands against the back of my head. He holds a knife at my throat. My screams are muffled. I choke once, twice, three times. Then, I’m throwing up, but he won’t pull out of my mouth. He just laughs. The vomit spills out the sides of my mouth and splashes down his legs.

Suddenly, I don’t care what happens to me. A feeling of not being meant for this world washes over me.