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“Don’t call me that,” he snapped at her; his eyes that often looked on her with pure love were filled with nothing but distaste. “Go pack some bags and leave. I will not sit here and have you showcase your mistakes in front of me, in front of this town, and ruin our reputation. Leave.”

Mama’s eyes softened for a split second before they iced over just like Dad’s.

When did it happen?

What year was it when my parents became monsters who pushed their children away?

When did they give themselves to the darkness and pretend that they were praising God?

“Where . . . where will I go?” Sammie asked as her voice cracked with fear.

“How about to the house of the boy who did this to you? It’s not really our concern, now, is it?” Mama snapped, her words filled with disgust. She turned her body away from Sammie, as if the simple act of looking at the child she’d brought into this world was too hard for her soul to handle.

It wasn’t long before Dad turned his back on her too. Without thought, Sammie crumbled as she rushed over to Dad’s side. She threw herself at his feet and wrapped her arms around his legs, begging, pleading for him to reconsider. Praying that he’d change his mind about disowning the one child who seemed to never have let him down.

“Daddy, please, you don’t understand. I’m sorry. I’m sorry, it’s just—”

“Let me go, Samantha,” he ordered, his tone smoky and harsh. My father never smoked a day in his life, but his voice held a grittiness as if he’d smoked a pack a day for the past forty years.

“No. I won’t let go. Please, Daddy. I’m sorry. I love you, Daddy, and we can fix this. We can do whatever it takes. Please. Please,” Sammie cried, and with each plea, my heart ached for her.

Dad didn’t show any signs of pity, just disgust.

I walked over and wrapped my hand around Sammie’s forearm. “Let go, Sammie. Come on. Let’s go.”

“No. I won’t let go. Look at me, Daddy. Please,” she said, but he wouldn’t. What kind of monster could be so cruel?

“Get up, Sammie, please.” I yanked on her arm. “You don’t need to ever beg for anyone’s love. Not even his.”

“You should leave, too,” Dad told me.

“Trust me, I am. I don’t want to be here to begin with.”

Once I was able to get Sammie to let go of Dad’s leg and pull her to a standing position, Dad finally built up enough nerve to look her way. “You did this to yourself.” With that, he and Mama exited the room.

There was something so disgustingly vile about the two humans who’d raised us.

Sammie’s whole body broke into uncontrollable shivers. A weighted cry broke from between her lips as she covered her mouth from shock and despair. If I wasn’t there, she would’ve crumbled to the ground and shattered into a million pieces of brokenness. If I wasn’t around, Sammie would’ve hit rock bottom before her mind had had a chance to catch up with the fact that she was falling.

Yet I was there, so into my arms was where she fell.

“I got you, Sammie. I got you,” I promised. She held on to my shirt and began sobbing into my arms.

“Where will I go?” she cried. She was so young, so innocent, at only the beginning stages of her life. She was supposed to be going off to college in the fall and getting her breath of freedom away from our parents. She was supposed to become a doctor. She was supposed to succeed in ways that I never could’ve.

Sammie did everything right, as far as giving Mama and Dad exactly what they’d expected of her. She showed up to church every Sunday and Bible study on Wednesdays. She volunteered at food shelters on her weekends and had received straight As throughout her whole school career. During the summers, she went on mission trips. My little sister was exceptional in every way possible. Even though I was older than her, I looked up to Sammie and her ability to succeed with nothing less than a smile against her lips. My sister was always the definition of success. She was our parents’ golden child, and in her moment of need, they tagged her as fool’s gold and tossed her back into the stream.

“With me,” I promised, holding her close to me as I comforted her the way our parents should’ve. “You’ll come stay with me in the dorms. Then, when the time is right, we’ll get an apartment together. Don’t worry, Sammie. You’re not alone in this. You’re never going to be alone in this.”

She didn’t reply, because her tears were too consuming. Her body shook as I walked her to her childhood bedroom to gather the essentials that we’d take away with us. I packed her bags for her, because she was too much in a state of shock to do much of anything.

When I was finished packing up her things, I walked her to the car and placed her in the passenger seat. “I’m just going to get your last bag. I’ll be right back,” I told her.

She didn’t reply as she stared forward into the darkening sky before us.

I walked back inside the four walls that had witnessed me grow up and paused at the front door when I saw Mama pulling the suitcase to the front door. She had a scowl sitting against her lips that made her appear ten years older than her actual age.

“Here,” she said, shoving the suitcase my way.

I didn’t say a word, because I knew if I spoke to my mother, nothing decent would fall from my lips. I was standing before a woman who had no love inside her heart. I knew it was pointless to try to argue with her.

“You did this to her, you know,” Mama stated, making me turn back to face her.

“Excuse me?”

“You did this. You were always a bad example to your sister. You were always the troubled child, and she had to watch you grow up. Your sins infected her.”

I narrowed my eyes, baffled by her words. “I’m sorry—are you somehow finding a way to blame me for Sammie being pregnant?”

“If the shoe fits. If it weren’t for you, she wouldn’t have even known about these kinds of things.”

I laughed. “You mean parties? Sorry, Mother, I’m pretty sure she would’ve found out about parties with or without me.”

“Your sins are what led her here. You did this. I bet whatever outfit she wore that night she found in your closet.”

My jaw slacked opened as shock skyrocketed through my system. “What does that have to do with anything?”

“If she was showing off her body in a provocative way, that would make boys—”

“What is the matter with you?” I snapped, cutting her off. I couldn’t take any more of listening to Mama’s radical beliefs. Was she victim-shaming? Was she blaming my sister for the horrific act that had happened to her body? That had happened to her soul?

How dare she.

“The truth is, Sammie could’ve walked into that house party completely butt naked, and it still wouldn’t have given that animal enough reason to put his hands on her. He raped her, Mama. A disgusting boy took advantage of my sister, and he raped her body. He raped her heart. And somehow you are saying she’s to blame for the acts that happened to her, due to her outfit? Are you insane?”

“It wasn’t only her outfit. She put herself in that situation by showing up to a party. She made herself prey. If she didn’t—”

“If she didn’t what? Exist? Would you rather her live in a bubble? Would you rather she wore a potato bag? You are fucking insane and—”


Mama’s palm flew across my cheek, making me stumble backward. My heart raced in my chest as shock filled me up inside. Even though my mother was cruel, she’d never laid a hand on me. She’d never crossed that line until that very moment.

“Mama,” I choked out as tears formed in my eyes.

“Don’t come to my house cussing like you ain’t got no sense. How dare you, Emery. This is a house of God.”

She was batshit crazy. Delusional to the truths that surrounded her.

“I hope I never see you again,” I whispered before walking away with my hand still on my stinging cheek. I couldn’t listen to her anymore. Hell, I couldn’t look at her. Besides, Sammie needed me. I didn’t have time to deal with my abusive mother.

We drove back to California, and the ride was completely silent, because I didn’t have the right words to give to my sister. It was late into the night once we arrived at my dorm, and Sammie refused to eat anything. I skipped dinner too. We were close in that way—when her stomach was in knots, my stomach ached too.

We lay in the small twin-size bed beside one another, staring at the ceiling and not speaking a word. I reached for my cell phone and headphones and handed one of the earbuds to Sammie as I placed the other in my ear. Without question, I began playing Alex & Oliver’s first album, the one that had gotten me through some of the hardest times in my life. Alex and Oliver Smith’s voices had a way of healing through the headphones. Their words fixed parts of my soul that I hadn’t even known were broken.

We still weren’t speaking, but tears were rolling down Sammie’s cheeks as her eyes remained closed and the powerful duo soothed her.

She fell asleep in my arms, but I couldn’t do the same. Not after learning what had happened to my innocent little sister. Sammie’s breaths fell from between her slightly parted lips. I studied the swollen bags sitting beneath her eyes from crying.