“How much longer do we have to stay here? We’ve been here for 30 minutes and have no information on what will happen to us,” Teddy asked worriedly.
I looked around the police station, hoping to catch one of the officers’ sight, but all I received were looks of pity. “I don’t know, buddy, but hopefully Detective Jones will come out of his office soon and tell us,” I said hoping to alleviate his fears.
It’s been Teddy and I against the world for three, almost four miserable years. We used to live with our mom, but she passed away when I was 11 and Teddy was five. We were left in the care of our stepdad, or Sir, as he likes us to call him. Thankfully, those four years of hell ended with his death, but now I have something else to worry about, another person to protect Teddy from.
I was coming home from the grocery store to cook dinner for Sir and some of his friends who would be joining. It was Saturday morning, and Teddy was at a friend’s house. I saw Sir as soon as I opened the door, hanging from the living room fan with a rope around his neck.
Thank god, I thought. Teddy and I can finally be happy.
And then I saw the note, that dreaded note. With trembling hands, I picked it up and read it,
“Did you really think his death would mean you’re safe from me, sweetie? As if Damon, my best drug dealer, would die without my permission. I may have sent someone to kill him so that you would be mine and mine alone. I’ll be back in town tomorrow morning to take you. Don’t even think about calling the cops or I’ll make you regret it.
I can’t leave Teddy alone. Who will protect him? I have to do this for him, if only to give us a slight head start before he comes back and finds us.
Picking up the phone, I dialed 911.
I’m brought out of my thoughts by Teddy shaking me, and notice a young woman sitting in front of me. She’s holding two files, one with my name and another with Teddy’s.
“Who are you?” I asked, pulling Teddy closer to me.
The lady gives a sympathetic smile before introducing herself, “My name is Everly, and I am your social worker. I’m sorry for your loss. The two of you must be in shock after losing the only father figure you’ve known.” I flinched at the word stepfather. No father does the things that he has done to me.
Oblivious to my sudden movement, she continued, “I have found some family willing to take you in, your brothers. They live in New York and own a chain of restaurants and hotels around the country and even some in Italy.”
I froze when she said brothers. They want us? After 10 years of no contact? Well, I surely don’t want them, but what choice do I have? It’s either live with the brothers who abandoned us or have him take us, and I would rather die than do the latter.
“I think you must be confused, we don’t have any brothers. It’s just the two of us. Right, Ava?”
Looking at my confused brother, I requested, “Can I have a minute alone with my brother? There’s some things I need to explain.”
Nodding her head, she stepped away as I turned to face Teddy. “I’m going to speak in Swahili so they can’t eavesdrop, okay?” Mom had made sure that I was fluent in five languages by the time I was 10, and I had continued this with Teddy.
Teddy nodded his head, and I began telling him the story in Swahili. “When I was four years old, mom and I used to live with our five older brothers and father. Our brothers’ names are Alessandro, Elijah, Leonardo, Matteo, and Emilio. They loved mom and I so much, but one day that changed. Mom and I were forced to leave. At the time, she was pregnant with you but didn’t know it at the time. We moved to Georgia, and you know the rest of the story.”
“Did mama love them? Our brothers and dad?”
“Of course, she did. God, Teddy, she was devastated when she had to leave them. I still remember the tears in her eyes. She tried to hide them for my sake, but I could tell how sad she was every day.”
“They why did she marry Sir? If she really loved our dad, then why did she marry that evil man?”
This question. I had asked this question to myself every single day since the beatings started. I remember how depressed Mom had been for a whole year until she met Sir. After a whole year of being sad, she was finally happy, so I never questioned how quick their relationship progressed. How they married within 6 months of knowing each other. How Sir adopted us 3 months after their marriage was finalized.
I don’t know what changed after Mom’s death, but suddenly that nice man expected us to do all of the chores. Every little mistake called for a beating. Didn’t make dinner on time? Beating. Didn’t do well on a test? Beating. Thankfully, the most that happened to Teddy was a slap here and there. I made a deal with the devil himself to protect Teddy, and it worked. It just meant that the punishments were worse, but I would do anything for Sir to leave that boy alone, even die.
Answering Teddy, I said, “I don’t know, but we don’t need to worry about that, right? We’re going to live with our brothers, and everything will be better.”
“But, what if they treat us like Sir did? How do you know they won’t abuse us?”
I try to think of the perfect answer, but the truth is that I don’t know. There is no way of knowing if the love that my brothers had for me is still there or if they will even feel anything towards Teddy, a boy they have never known or loved. Even if I don’t trust my brothers, I find it in me to reassure my scared brother, “How will we know if we don’t take a chance? I’ll be by your side the whole time, so there’s no need to be scared. I’ll protect you, I’ll always protect you.”
“I love you, Ava.”
“I love you too, Teddy.”
Taking a deep breath, I prepared myself for what I’m about to tell Teddy. He needed to know the danger we were in. “Now there’s something serious I need to talk to you about. About what happened in that house.” Teddy nodded his head for me to continue. “When I found Sir’s body, I found a note written by him. He wants to take me with him, but, before you worry yourself sick, there is no way he will get me. Okay?”
Teddy was on the verge of tears, but he needed to know this. He has to be careful because if he finds us, Teddy is the first person he’ll get to hurt me. “How will we stop him?”
“We can’t tell our brothers about the abuse. He has eyes everywhere. The minute we tell our brothers, they’ll make us file a police report-”
“-and then he’ll find us,” Teddy finished, lowering his head.
This boy is too smart for a nine-year-old, I thought. “Exactly. Do you pinky promise that you won’t tell, not until the time is right?” I held out my pinky and Teddy links his with mine. “Us two against the world,” I said.
“Forever and ever.”
Everly had taken us back to our house to pack what we needed, not that we had much. Teddy and I each had four pairs of clothes, a first aid kit, and books, mainly medical books that Teddy would use when Sir’s beatings got out of hand. I can proudly say that my nine-year-old brother can clean and suture wounds better than most people.
Teddy was currently going through Mom’s belongings and deciding what he wanted to bring to New York. I had gone through her things years ago and had taken her wedding ring, her first wedding ring. Sir was always jealous that he wasn’t Mom’s first love and wanted to destroy any trace of our father after her death. So obviously, I had hidden the ring safely in a vent in the basement for years. Cost me a torn up back and a week of school, but at least I had something to remember my mother.
I turned on the light to the basement and walked down the stairs to retrieve the ring. The chains. Those awful chains. It had only been two weeks since I had been chained to the wall.
“You shouldn’t have done that. I warned you of what would happen if you told anyone, didn’t I? You brought this on yourself,” Sir calmly said, cracking the whip on the wall.
I knew he was right, but I had to try for Teddy. He deserves so much more than living in this abusive home with his drug dealer of a stepfather. Thankfully, Sir never laid a hand on him because of our deal, but I knew his mental state was deteriorating. No child should flinch when an adult raises their hand for a high five, no child should have to ask permission to eat their dinner, no child should have to listen to the cries of their sister as she is raped by numerous men throughout the night.
I had reported the abuse to my school’s guidance counselor, but what I hadn’t known is that the guidance counselor is one of Sir’s friends who keeps an eye on me at school. The guidance counselor called Sir to take me home, and now I’m chained to the basement wall waiting for my impending whipping. Lucky me.
I’m brought out of my thoughts by the sudden burning sensation in my back. I tried to stop the cries of pain from leaving my mouth, but I failed, adding fuel to Sir as he continued the assault on my back.
‘I need to focus on something, anything, to take my mind off of the pain’, I told myself. I close my eyes and focus on my mother. Oh, how I wish she would hold me and tell me that everything will be alright. I miss her perfume, I miss the warmth her hugs and kisses would give me after a bad day, I miss the songs she would sing to me before bed. I miss having someone to take care of me and to rely on.
Suddenly, the chains were removed, leaving small cuts around my wrists.′ I guess Sir had enough’, I thought as the darkness consumed me.
Teddy had to take a week off of school to nurse me back to health, and Sir was not happy when the elementary school had called him. Let’s just say that Teddy had to stitch up a stab wound in my thigh.
“Ava, Ava, where are you? Everly says we need to leave soon,” Teddy yelled.
“I’m in the basement, but I’m coming upstairs right now,” I say as I grab the ring from its hiding place and walk up the stairs.
“There you are,” Everly exclaimed. “We need to leave now or you’ll miss your flight.”
I don’t want to see them, but I have to keep Teddy safe from him. If they were worse than Sir or him, then I don’t know what I will do. I definitely don’t trust them, but I’ll try if they’re still the same loving brothers they were ten years ago. Beware, fratelli, you might take us in, but we won’t make it easy.