I awoke to the feeling of bony fingers digging for something beneath my flat pillow. Taking a moment to really assess what was happening, I opened my eyes slowly to look upon the stealthy intruder. Dim emerald orbs that seemed to be swimming in their hollow sockets met my gaze without really seeing me.
“Mom?” I whispered groggily, knowing all too well that she wasn’t in a coherent state of mind.
I watched momentarily as she continued to claw at the empty space beneath my head in search of what I assumed to be money. After years of going through this little routine whenever she was in dire need of a fix, I had become quite accustomed to her unwelcome visits. Instead of wrestling her out of the room like I usually would, I decided to study the putrid specimen before me as I thought of ways to make her leave without waking everyone.
Thin brown hair that was coated in a dense film of grease framed her sunken face and protruding cheekbones. Her hooded lids were caked in a heavy layer of smudged eyeliner, making her look like a cracked out hooker. She had a significant amount of bruising on her right eye and there was a festering cut on her temple, leading me to believe that her man of the week hadn’t been pleased with her recent performance.
She probably passed out while pleasuring him, I thought snidely.
Small groans of disappointment fell from her cracked lips as she began to start patting me down more aggressively. Too exhausted to argue, I allowed her to feel me up for any hidden cash that she thought I might have hid on my person while I slept. I didn’t bother stopping her invasive actions until she reached for the sleeping figure next to me.
Before she could paw at the blissful angel nuzzling into my side, I gripped her wrist tightly and shoved her away. I let out a low hiss in warning, bearing my razor sharp fangs at the walking corpse staring at me lifelessly.
“Don’t,” I snipped quietly, not wishing to disturb my little beauty.
“I need it,” Mom whined desperately. “Please Arlo, Mommy needs her medicine.”
Her lip quivered in a futile attempt at earning my sympathy. Unfortunately for her, I’d seen her little ‘feel sorry for me’ act far too many times. I refused to fall victim to it and let out another venomous hiss to let her know that it wasn’t working.
“Get the hell out,” I spat while grinding my fangs together.
“Come on, baby girl. Please,” she begged helplessly. “Just let me borrow a little money, I swear I’ll pay you back. Please sweetie, be a good girl and help your Mommy.”
That was a lie.
Mom hadn’t paid anyone back in her life. Her false promises and petty begging rolled off of her sinful tongue fluidly. If I was more naive I would’ve fallen for the cute nicknames and the ‘good mom’ act, but I could see through her like a glass house. Her manipulation wouldn’t work on me.
“I don’t have anything,” I lied effortlessly.
It was one of the only traits that I was proud of getting from her.
“Don’t lie to me,” she warned with wild eyes. “I know you keep some stashed away you fucking bitch! Now give it to me!”
I hated to admit it, but she was right. I couldn’t afford to lose all of my earnings if she somehow managed to stumble upon my stash during one of her nightly raids, so I kept my money separated into small stacks. There was a little more than a grand hidden in small bundles all over the house. If she did manage to find one of my spots, she wouldn’t get more than thirty bucks and I could live with that.
With that being said, I knew she wouldn’t leave me alone until I gave her something. Mom could be incredibly persistent when she wanted to be, and with the petite body beside me beginning to stir I knew that I needed to get her out of here as soon as I could. I didn’t want anyone else to see her this way.
“There’s five bucks in the coffee maker,” I admitted. “Take that.”
“You know that’s not enough,” Mom grumbled hoarsely while rubbing the sickly red and purple track marks peppering her frail arms. “I need more.”
“Then figure it out,” I snapped. “You’re lucky I’m giving you that.”
“You owe me when you get home,” she concluded delusionally. “You’re a waste of space and we’d all be better off without you here.”
“That’s hard to believe considering I’m the one that pays the bills,” I rebuked snidely.
“You’re worthless,” she muttered beneath her breath as she turned on her heel. “I hate you, I wish you died instead of your father. Ungrateful slut.”
“Thanks Mom,” I sneered sarcastically.
I watched her shuffle out of the room, still mumbling to herself about how horrible I was and that all of her problems would just fade away if I was gone. I tried not to take her words to heart, knowing that most of her bitterness stemmed from the temporary withdrawal. But it was still hard hearing such hateful words come from the woman that was supposed to love me unconditionally.
I laid awake for the rest of the night, staring at my cracked ceiling silently as the tranquil sound of nearby snoring kept me company in the dim room. Light began to seep through the poorly applied newspaper that acted as makeshift curtains eventually, cluing me in that it was almost time to get up. I clutched the warm body next to me tightly as I begged the sun to stop rising.
I wasn’t ready to leave our bed yet.
Nonetheless, I knew that I had to. I couldn’t afford to be late again and there was no guarantee that our morning routine would run smoothly, especially with Mom roaming around. I burrowed into a soft sea of strawberry locks and started poking at the slim figure fighting to remain unconscious for a bit longer.
“Time to get up, little bird.” I cooed quietly.
“Five more minutes,” she muttered groggily.
“That’s what you said last time,” I reminded her. “Come on, Wren. It’s time to get up.”
Instead of replying, my younger sister flipped me off and buried her face beneath her flaccid pillow. I sighed in exasperation and yanked the rough cushion away from her, earning a begrudged groan. I continued to poke and prod at her, tickling her rib cage until I saw a slight grin crack across her small face.
“Okay! Okay!” Wren giggled manically. “I’m up!”
I smiled in triumph as I nuzzled into her frizzy hair lovingly, still doing as much as I could to annoy the heck out of my built in bestie.
“I said I’m up!” She grumbled.
“I know, I’m just making sure.” I admitted while grinning widely.
Wren had been very difficult to pry from bed lately, which was shocking since she used to be such a morning person. I recalled her waking up just before dawn to listen to the pretty songbirds in the early hours. But ever since she turned thirteen in the spring, everything had changed.
My chipper early bird was gone, leaving behind a crabby teenager that I had to irritate awake. I didn’t mind it of course, she was fun to mess with and I thoroughly enjoyed watching her squirm around uncomfortably when I jabbed her sides.
“Come on, get up.” I urged. “You can have the bathroom first.”
“I don’t need it, I bathed last night.” She denied quickly.
“Are you sure?” I asked quietly, being more than willing to give her first dibs on the washroom.
“You go ahead,” she pushed. “I’ll get the boys up while you’re in there.”
“Oh thank God,” I let out a heavy breath.
Getting Wren to wake up was a chore in itself, but trying to get the triplets ready in the morning was an absolute nightmare. I used to have to do everything for them all on my own, but my kid sister had been exceptionally helpful lately and I would forever be grateful for that.
I rolled my eyes as a loud snore erupted from one of tiny bodies beside her. All five of us were forced to share a ridiculously uncomfortable mattress on the floor of the only bedroom in our home. It was a tight fit and we were typically packed like sardines when we went to sleep each night, but we managed.
It wasn’t like we had much of a choice, it was all we had.
“I can’t wait to move out,” Wren whispered dreamily.
“Me neither,” I sighed. “Don’t worry little bird, I’ll get us out of here soon. I promise.”
“How much longer do we have to wait?” She asked curiously.
“We’re almost there,” I promised. “If I keep getting good tips, maybe we can get out of here before Christmas.”
“I hope so,” my sister prayed. “I don’t want Mom passed out naked in the snow as my only gift again.”
“It won’t be,” I swore. “I won’t let that happen, you should’ve never seen that in the first place.”
“It’s fine.” Wren waved me off. “Moms a mess. It was probably gonna happen eventually, right?”
“Yeah, I guess.” I sighed. “It’s still not okay. This isn’t normal, you know that right?”
“I know,” she nodded. “Most families have running water and more than one bed. They have parents that love them, not one that steals their stuff to pawn it for drugs.”
“Exactly,” I agreed. “And most men aren’t like the guys Mom brings around. You know that too, right?”
“Mhm,” she shrugged. “Men shouldn’t hit women, they should take care of them and protect them.”
“Yep,” I smiled wryly. “That’s exactly right, and vice versa. Women should take care of men just the same, nobody should put up with getting hurt the way Mom does.”
“Arlo, I know.” She groaned. “We don’t have to go through this everyday, I know this isn’t normal and that I shouldn’t put up with any of this crap when I’m older. I won’t end like Mom, I promise.”
“Okay,” I yielded. “As long as you know. I just worry about you, that’s all.”
I was more than aware that my constant lectures about ‘how a man should treat a woman’ was likely old news to my little sister at that point, but I couldn’t help myself. I needed her to understand that the hell we were going through was unacceptable, I couldn’t live with myself if she turned out to be anything like our pathetic excuse of a mother.
With our small window of free time coming to a close, I nuzzled into my sister one last time before climbing out of bed and slipping down the hall. I stopped outside of our bedroom door for a moment, listening intently for any sign of Mom rummaging around.
Our house was small and easy to navigate. If someone stood in the hallway, they’d be able to see just about everything. Facing my room was the bathroom door and a small linen closet to the left. On my right was our backdoor that led to a small slab of yellowing grass and a withered garden that hadn’t been touched since dad’s funeral.
If I looked to my left, I’d be able to see the front door, along with a little bit of the living room and kitchen as they shared the same space. This view made the hallway my favorite lookout spot in the entire house, as it was the safest way to spy without getting spotted.
When I decided that the little ones would be safe for a few minutes, I slid into our small bathroom. Cracked tile littered the floor and the wallpaper was peeling in some spots, but what were we to do? Waste the small amount of money that we had to fix it? I think not.
Knowing that there likely wouldn’t be any water running, I tested the sink for water just in case. When nothing came out, I cut my losses and reached into a small cabinet to grab a bucket of stolen hose water that I had solicited from a neighbor’s yard the night before.
After shucking off my childish nightgown, I stepped into the shower with the heavy basin and began to wet a nearby washcloth with the icy water. I’d managed to swindle a bar of soap from a gas station a few weeks ago, so I took great pleasure in spreading the suds on every inch of my pale skin.
I scrubbed my face and body quickly with the damp cloth, shivering slightly at its frigid touch. I then wrung out the soggy rag and wet my hands a bit before moving onto my long hair. I couldn’t exactly wash my hair fully with such a limited supply of liquid, so I just rubbed a bit of moisture into my tresses and scraped my scalp with my fingernails for a while.
Continuing my morning routine, I saved our only towel for my stinky brothers and allowed myself to air dry as I got ready. I took a moment to study my bare appearance, not usually taking the time to appreciate how I looked without a mask of cosmetics plastered on. I wouldn’t consider myself to be breathtakingly beautiful, but I was pretty.
I had light brown hair that grazed my lower back. It was surprisingly healthy with the lack of care that I put into it and I adored the ginger hues that only seemed to show in the sun. I tucked a lengthy lock behind my ear to get a better look at my face.
My eyes looked like glistening silver this morning, but I’d bet anything that they’d appear to be green by the time I made it to work. That was the great thing about having hazel eyes, I never knew what I was going to see in the mirror.
I ran a tired hand over my petite face and began to dig out my super secret makeup bag from behind the toilet. Supplies didn’t last long in this house, so I’d have to throw on what I needed fast.
I hurriedly applied a liberal amount of mascara and eyeliner to my tired lids before filling in my sparse brows. I then caked on a film of concealer to cover up my sun given freckles. Although I didn’t have as many as Wren, I still felt the need to cover them up.
I preferred the natural look on myself, but my boss had insisted on doing whatever I could to make myself look older. That was pretty difficult to achieve with a petite frame and a face full of sun kisses, but I managed to look like a smutty adult by the time I was dry enough to get dressed.
I snatched my work clothes from a nearby hook and shimmied into my uniform. And by uniform, I mean a skimpy sheer mini dress accompanied by a tight corset that pushed my tiny boobs up to high heaven. Finishing my trampy attire with a pair of ripped fishnets and nine inch stilettos, I threw on a long trench coat to give me a bit of modesty for the time being before stepping out of the decrepit washroom.
I could already hear the familiar noises of my brothers protesting. From the sounds of it, Wren was on the losing end of a heated argument between Milo and Oliver over who was going to get the bathroom next while Leo couldn’t find a clean shirt to save his life.
“Milo gets the bathroom first,” I declared after cracking the door slightly.
“That’s not fair!” Oliver protested.
“You got to bathe first yesterday,” Wren reminded him calmly.
“So? Milo takes too long!” He countered. “I have to poop!”
“Then poop while he’s in the tub,” I suggested with an eye roll.
“No way, I don’t wanna smell that!” Milo scoffed while passing me to head into the bathroom.
“Well too bad,” I shrugged. “And Leo’s wearing one of your shirts today.”
“What?!” Milo groaned angrily. “That’s not-!”
“I don’t have to be fair, no I don’t care that he leaves pit stains, and you’re the one sharing because you get to wash up first.” I finished in a rush, predicting what he’d say before he could finish furrowing his dark brows.
Milo blew out a sharp breath and entered the bathroom in annoyance with Oliver following close behind. Leo happily pulled on a shirt from Milo’s pile on the floor and started messing with his hair in the cracked mirror beside the bedroom window.
“How did you do that?” Wren gasped with an awestruck look upon her flushed face.
“Magic,” I joked chummily.
Wren rolled her eyes and spun on her heel to get herself ready for school while I made my way to the kitchen. Mom was sprawled out on our soiled sofa with a needle in her arm. Her eyes were glazed over and she had a blissful look on her face, leading me to believe that she must be experiencing some type of chemical nirvana.
Not wanting Wren or the boys to see her in such a traumatic state, I pulled the putrid syringe out of her creamy skin and tossed it along with a few piles of surrounding trash into the wastebasket. I also tried to cover up the fact that Mom was higher than a kite by rolling her tiny body onto its side and covering her with a foul smelling blanket.
I fled the scene when I heard one of the doors open and started making breakfast as quickly as I could. We didn’t have a lot of food in the house since Mom would usually breeze through it at night, leaving us with mere scraps in the morning. I made due with what we had, preparing a few slices of toast and cutting up an apple for my siblings to share.
Guess I’m skipping another meal, I shrugged internally.
One by one, everyone filed into the kitchen with fresh faces as they hungrily devoured every morsel in front of them. Wren kept motioning for me to take some of her rations, but I tried to deny it. She was still growing and needed it more than I did.
“I already ate,” I fibbed. “Finish your food.”
“You’re a bad liar,” she murmured while slipping me a piece of browning fruit.
I took the offering hesitantly and chewed it slowly, savoring the first thing I’d had to eat in two days. Following suit, all of the boys tried to offer me some of their apple pieces as well but I refused adamantly.
“Hurry up and eat so we can get going,” I commanded. “It’s gonna be a long walk.”
“But I didn’t get to do my hair yet!” Oliver protested while waving a dramatic hand over his frizzy locks.
“You look fine,” I scoffed.
Nevertheless, I stood behind him and brushed his curly ginger locks while he ate. I had to use a little spit to keep some of the more stubborn strands in place, but he looked like a proper gentleman by the time I was done.
Leo and Oliver had light ginger hair like Wren, while Milo had brown tresses like Mom and I. Mom and Wren were the only ones with green eyes while the rest of us were stuck with confusing hazel orbs that never seemed to know what color they wished to be. I envied my little sister’s jaded stare and always smiled when my eyes took on a similar hue.
“Alright birdie,” I addressed Wren by her childhood nickname. “Could you get everyone’s bags ready while Leo and Oliver do the dishes?”
“Why do-?!” Oliver began.
“Milo needs to brush his teeth and I’m taking out the trash,” I explained before they could continue arguing. “Now hurry up, we gotta go.”
Everyone finished their assigned chores quickly and we were all filing out the front door within minutes.
“Bye Mom!” Oliver called out before I could shut the front door.
“She can’t hear you,” Leo muttered.
“Shut up!” Milo snapped. “Leave him alone!”
Wren and I shared disapproving glances as the triplets began bickering about everything under the sun like they did every morning.
“Is it always gonna like this?” Wren asked quietly, not wishing to disturb the vicious quarrel behind us.
“What? The boys arguing constantly?” I jeered. “Who knows?”
“No,” she shook her head. “I meant having to ration our breakfast and walking an hour to school everyday while Mom tweaks on the couch.”
“First of all, how do you know that word?” I reprimanded. “And second, no. It won’t be like this for much longer, I promise.”
“Pinky?” She asked, nudging me with her smallest digit.
“Pinky,” I smiled while grabbing her tiny finger with my own.
“Okay,” she grinned. “So what’s our new house gonna be like?”
“I don’t know,” I shrugged. “What do you think it should be like?”
I knew without a doubt that would get Wren going, and sure enough it did. She went on and on about all of the luxuries she dreamt of having in our future home like her own bed and running water. We continued to trek through the remains of our impoverished town while my little sister talked my ear off and the boys bickered amongst themselves until we finally reached our destination.
I dropped them off to school proudly, doing my best to ignore the hateful stares and curled lips that were hurled at me by the surrounding parents. When I could no longer see the bouncy orange curls of my little bird, I turned around and trudged the long forty minute walk to the nearest strip club while silently praying that I’d make good money tonight.
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