I shake my dad and he wakes up with a jolt. “Young lady, where the hell were you?”
“I had to get some food for us to eat. We’re getting weaker,” I say. I’m scared he’s going to take out his whip and add more scars to my back, but he punches me so hard in my stomach that I can’t breathe let alone walk. Pain is everywhere and my eyes can’t focus on anything. I take a small step back from him and pain spreads to my spine and my legs can barely move.
“That’ll teach you to ask next time, girl. Get me my food,” he grumbles.
“Yes, sir,” I gasp.
I walk slowly outside and try not to use my abs. “Jack? Can you get me some meat and cheese for dad, please?”
He almost ate everything and all that was left was a quarter of cheese and a little meat piece. His face turns red because he knows he ate my share, but I don’t say anything. He needs it more than I do. I’m not big on food anyway, but I grew up with it my whole life. It always seemed wrong to my stomach and the way it felt going down was a little weird and didn’t seem natural, but I forced it into my stomach and dealt with it because without food, I was dead. I take the food from his hand, grimacing from the muscles it takes and then go back inside to my dad and hand it to him. He takes it but then he nods his head toward the door.
“Get outside with your brother, girl. Leave me in peace.”
“Can I take a walk? I need it for my muscles,” I say. I take a few steps away from him because he always gets mad when I ask questions like that, but he only stares hard and cold at my face.
“Be back before dark and take your brother. He needs it too,” he says sternly.
I go outside and ask Jack if he wants to walk with me but Jack just stares at my hand holding my stomach and his face goes slack.
“Stella, what’s wrong? Are you okay?” He looks so worried and it hurts my heart. I hate it when he worries about me. I love him too much to see him hurt or scared. I already feel sick about the way he’s starving, but there’s nothing I can do. He stands up and walks closer to me trying to take a better look at my face because he knows when I’m lying. “Come on, tell me.”
“Don’t worry, I’m fine. Are you coming or not?”
“Okay, okay. Yeah,” he says, still eyeing my stomach. I take his hand in mine and we start the walk, walking side by side and breathing a little too hard from using more air and muscle than we had in awhile.
We take a path going to the public park with the pond in the center. I stare at the ground and notice that I’m limping too. I don’t dare take the socks and shoes off my feet though. It might worry Jack—will worry jack—if he sees the matted blood and scars and dirt covering my feet.
The path is beautiful with soft brown dirt and patches of grass every now and then. My eyes follow a green dragonfly soaring across American elm trees and then move onto a clouded Sulphur on a purple flower, stretching its wings. The sky is clear with scattered clouds and a bright, hot sun pouring its rays onto earth. I twirl while walking and breathe in the fresh air. It smells like trees and dirt and just nature in general.
I hear a laugh and turn towards the sound. Jack is staring at me with curiosity and a slight smile on his face. He lightly pushes me, which barely makes me move at all, and gives a tiny giggle knowing I’ll join in.
“What?” I ask, hurting my face from trying not to smile or laugh. My happiness makes him happy and him being happy makes me even happier.
“You look so happy and you were smiling and when you went to look at me, you had this light in your eyes I haven’t seen before. It makes me happy to see you happy.” I laugh at that because I was thinking the same thing.
“Really now?” I ask.
Before he can answer, I fake lunge at him and he starts running, but I run after him and tackle him down. We’re halfway to the park now because we ran and we have weeds sticking at us everywhere and it starts to hurt. I feel like I’m getting holes all over my body but I forget all about that because Jack starts laughing in a hysterical way making me also giggle right into his ear. He pokes me in my side and I burst out laughing because he hit a ticklish spot.
Basically every part of my body is ticklish and Jack knows that from the times he accidentally runs into me or pokes me somewhere. Now he does it on purpose and I really don’t mind. He’s just so focused on not doing it around dad that he almost stopped tickling me for a while. He’s around dad a lot these days which makes sense since dad became super over protective about him. If he does tickle me in front of dad, dad might hurt us because we’re not allowed to smile—or that’s what I say. Every time one of us used to smile, dad would whip our backs and say that we shouldn’t be happy because mom is gone and she’s never coming back. He’s not happy and he wants us to be unhappy with him. We’re only trying to move on and dad hates that we try to do that. I think that dad even hates us. Every parent says that if a man or woman has a child, they will love that child unconditionally, but I know that that’s not true for every parent. My dad is proof.