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If anyone would’ve been more upset about the pregnancy than our parents, it would’ve been Devin’s. They were the definition of strict. I would’ve been surprised if poor Devin even knew what sex was. My parents’ reaction was probably tame compared to his parents’.

“Do you know what that will do to that boy’s life? You’ll ruin his whole future,” Mama scolded, and in that moment I hated her a little. My parents were more loyal to the church than they were to their own children. “What will people think of us?”

“I-it’s not his,” Sammie said as her voice shook.

All of our eyes widened in shock. That was a surprise to me, to say the least.

Mama cocked an eyebrow. “Then who’s the father?”

Sammie lowered her head and didn’t speak.

That only made things worse.

Mama cringed from the silence. “You don’t know, do you? You went out running around town like a little hooker—”

“Mama!” I cried out, disgusted.

“Stay out of this, Emery. I don’t even know why you’re here. You’re not wanted during this conversation,” she said so coldly. “You haven’t been wanted for a very long time.”

A rush of air left my lungs. I felt that one. It felt as if Mama had slammed her fist straight into my chest.

Where Dad abused with his stares, Mama’s power was through her words. Mama spent her whole life working inside a library, and it was as if she’d learned how to use her words to hurt others. If only she’d learned a few words from her Bible, then maybe things would’ve been different.

Calling her daughter a little hooker? Telling her other child that she was unwanted?

Seemed a bit unholy to me, but who was I to say?

“Don’t talk to her like that,” I ordered.

“Watch your tone, Emery Rose,” Mama demanded right back.

“Watch your words,” I replied as my hand rested against Sammie’s shaky forearm. I wanted her to feel my closeness to her. I wanted her to know that she wasn’t alone.

Mama’s black-as-coal eyes locked with mine. I hated how much I looked like that woman. From our doe eyes to our full lips and kinky hair, we were identical. She aged slowly, too, and often looked as if she could’ve been an older sister to me. I hated that when I looked into mirrors, I saw my mother’s face. That face had disapproved of me and my sister for so long, to the point that the way she pouted triggered something tragic in my chest.

Mama narrowed her stare. “Don’t give me that slick college mouth, Emery. You may not live under my roof anymore, but you will not step foot into this house and act as if you are some independent woman who’s out there taking the world by storm. Don’t you forget who’s paying for that free life of yours in California.”

I went to argue with her, because unlike Sammie, I wasn’t afraid to speak up to my mother. Yet, before words could leave my mouth, my father held up a stern hand toward me, silencing me.

Within seconds, I was quiet. Even though Mama wasn’t scary, in my eyes, my father had a way of intimidating me with a simple wave of his hand. He hadn’t even needed to say anything to me. That simple hand raise to quiet a situation always sent chills down my spine in the most disturbing way.

My father never liked me. Sammie always disagreed whenever I’d say that, but that was simply her being nice. It was clear as day to me that my father didn’t have a drop of love for me, but he did love my sister.

While I looked like Mama, Sammie was Dad’s twin. They had the same nose, same ears, and same dimples. They were both tall and slim too. Their brown skin was shades lighter than mine and Mama’s. It wasn’t only physical features the two had in common; they also shared many hobbies together. They loved watching sports together. I was almost certain Sammie had joined the basketball team simply to appease our father.

One night, after a victorious game where she was the leading scorer, Sammie told me that she didn’t even love playing. When I told her she should quit, she laughed, saying Dad would never forgive her if she walked away from the court.

My sister was so obsessed with pleasing our parents that she never took a second to please herself.

Except for four months ago.

Except for when she’d finally put her hair down and allowed herself to be free.

And that was when everything took a turn for the worse.

“Explain yourself,” Dad commanded of Sammie.

Sammie’s gaze rose from the carpet she’d been staring at for the past ten minutes. Her lips parted to speak, and I hated how they were looking at her as if she was anything less than their daughter.

How were we both born from two people who were so cruel?

I stood close to Sammie and squeezed her hand, letting her know that still she wasn’t alone. “I’m here, Sammie,” I whispered. She lightly squeezed my hand back, and then she began speaking as we all listened closely.

“I went to a party with a few girls from the basketball team. I knew I shouldn’t have gone, but I wanted to be a normal kid for one night. So, I let loose. I . . . there—there was this guy . . . ,” she softly whispered, her voice trembling.

I stood up straighter and tilted my head. “What happened?”

“He asked me if I wanted to hook up. I said no to him. I know I was a little bit not myself, but I said no to him. Over and over again, I said no as he pinned me . . . as he undressed me . . . as he . . .”

Raped her . . . ?

No. Not Sammie. Not my baby sister.

“Do you know who it was, Sammie?” I asked as rage simmered beneath my skin.

“No . . . it was some college guy. That was how we got to talking. He was telling me how he was a big shot at his college, how he loved living away from home, and how I’d love it too. I-I never thought he’d—I thought . . .”

Her words faltered, and the pain in her brown eyes was deeper than the ocean.

“Did you get tested?” I asked. “Did you go to the hospital?”

She shook her head. “No. I . . . I didn’t mean for it to happen—”

“Were you showing off your body?” Mama asked.

“Mama!” I snapped, rage shooting through my whole system. My entire mind twisted at my mother’s question. What in the world did that have to do with anything that Sammie was telling us?

“Answer her,” Dad ordered.

Sammie shook her head. “No, I wasn’t. I was hanging out with my friends, Susie and Ruby.”

Mama huffed. “Those sinners who don’t do anything but play on their phones during church services. Of course. Were you drinking at the party? What in the world would make you think you should’ve even been at a party? Do you have any clue how this is going to make Devin look? How it will make us look? Goodness, I doubt we’ll even be able to step foot inside of that church again.”

“Are you fucking kidding me?” I snapped. “Did you not hear what happened to Sammie? What she just told us?”

They both ignored me. Looking past me as if I didn’t exist. Instead of being worried about the church, they should’ve been horrified by the trauma their daughter had experienced.

“I—I . . .” Sammie took a deep breath as I laced my fingers with hers and squeezed her hand slightly. Still here, Sammie. You’re not alone. “The girls from the basketball team threw me an eighteenth birthday party. It was a surprise. I didn’t know it was happening until I showed up.”

“Did you drink?” Mama asked.

“No, ma’am.”

“Did you do drugs?”

“No, ma’am.”

“But you were stupid enough to let a boy take advantage of you because you were running around like a little hussy with your whore friends. I mean, seriously, Samantha Grace, what did you expect to happen? You were pretty much throwing yourself into these men’s faces and—”

“Shut up, Harper,” Dad cut in, scolding his own wife. I wasn’t shocked that he’d told her to shut her mouth, because my father was a professional at putting my mother down. He belittled her all the time whenever he got the chance. If dysfunctional was a love story, it would be Theo and Harper Taylor’s. “I’m getting sick of your monologues today.”

Mama didn’t say a word. Embarrassment flashed across her face. The only person in the world who could make Mama feel worthless was Dad, and he made sure to make her feel that way every chance he got. She took his verbal beatings too. Almost as if she didn’t know anything else. Mama never seemed the type to be afraid of anyone. I swore, sometimes I thought she could stand up to the devil and not break a sweat. Yet with Dad, she always fell submissively to her knees before him.

Toxicity at its finest.

At least he was stopping her from putting down Sammie. At least it seemed as if he was doing the right thing, until he spoke again.

“You need to leave,” Dad said as he stared my way.

I raised an eyebrow, confused. “I think Sammie needs me here.”

“I wasn’t talking to you, Emery. I was talking to your sister. Samantha, you need to pack your bags and go.”

“What . . . but Daddy . . .” Sammie’s eyes welled with tears. She always called him Daddy, because she was his little princess.