I squeak when he lifts me up and over his shoulder. Smacking my ass so hard it tingles, he says, “I told you, girl. I am lucky.”

He throws me down onto the bed and I giggle.

Freeze. Hold the hell up.

I gasp and Ash chuckles. I whisper, “Did I- I think that was- I can’t believe I just-”

“I think you just giggled,” he smirks, thoroughly amused.

Shaking my head, I lie, “No, it wasn’t. I don’t giggle. It was gas.”

Ash throws his head back and laughs hard. I can’t help but laugh with him. He runs a hand through his hair. “Only you would think that giggling is worse than farting.” Shaking his head, he mutters, “Too damn cute.”

He pulls me down next to him and wraps me tight. I peck kisses onto his chest, neck and chin. Feeling brave, I ask quietly, “You think you’ll ever be up to telling me what happened to you?”

Rather than answering the question, he pulls me tighter to him and sighs. “When I was eight, my dad lost his job. And it was a good job. He was high up in some lending company, sort of like a bank. We always had money. Mom and Dad both came from money, so it was expected we’d stay that way. Well, shit happens. People lose their jobs every day, but my dad started drinking. A lot. There’s not a memory I have that doesn’t include him drunk as fuck or lying somewhere in his own vomit. He’d been drinking all day. It was my birthday and I was working on my bike in the garage. Dad comes down and…”

He stiffens and I know something’s happening.


I raise my head to look up at him. His brows are furrowed and his eyes vacant.

My heart races. I’m suddenly scared.

Putting my hand to his forehead, I ask quietly, “Baby, talk to me. What’s happening here?”

“He was a bad man,” he whispers almost childlike.

And my heart breaks.

Chapter Twenty-One


Eight years old…

“The fuck you think you’re doing, boy?” His words sound funny. Like he’s falling asleep.

My stomach twists. I’m nervous.

He’s been drinking the brown stuff again. I tried it once when he was sleeping outside. It’s not nice. It made me cough a lot. My throat felt like it was burning. I didn’t like it.

I tell him, “Fixing my chain, sir.”

He wobbles over, knocking things down on the way. He looks funny. I try to hold my laugh but the smile breaks free. He spits through slurred words, “You think this is funny? You got grease everywhere. Who’s gonna clean this up?”

I nod and say, “I will, sir. As soon as I’m done.”

“So I suppose you want me to say happy birthday to you, son.” His tone is sharp. I avoid his eyes and keep working on my bike chain. I don’t like him when he’s like this. I try to hide the bottle or pour it down the sink, but he always knows it’s me. I don’t like when he hits me. He grabs my arm and yanks me forward, booming, “Look at me when I’m talking to you, boy!”

My lip quivers as I look up at him. “Yes, sir.”

Through gritted teeth, he says, “You were the worst mistake of my life, Asher. I prayed to God that your mother would have a miscarriage. I knew you’d be no good. I was right. You’re just a bad seed. You’re nothing and you never will be. Mark my words, boy. Aim low. So low that you can reach the crumbs that drop on the ground. That’s all you’ll be. Scum crawling on the floor. A beggar.”

Tears pour out of my eyes. When he notices, he becomes aggravated. “Stop that, boy.”

But I can’t, I silently sob. I know he doesn’t like the noise. With every hiccup I see his blood boil hotter. A minute passes and he warns, “You don’t shut that mouth of yours, you’re gonna get it.”

It makes me cry harder and shake. I’m scared. When he stands and pulls up his sleeves, I want to scream for help. I know it’s no use, though. Momma wouldn’t come. I close my eyes and wait for the hit but it doesn’t come. Calming slightly, I open my eyes and see his empty, cold eyes staring back at me. He mutters, “I warned you.”

Then he steps forward, takes my arm and bends it back at the elbow. I yell out and cry. It hurts so much. He keeps bending. My body shakes like electricity runs through it. The pain is so strong. I feel like I’m going to fall asleep. I scream until my voice is hoarse. I hear it. I hear the snap. Something in my body takes over and I don’t feel a thing anymore.

I fall to the floor on my knees before looking up at my dad through blurry eyes. I see his smirk. “That’ll teach ya…little fucker…waste of space…fucking useless,” he says.

He walks out of the garage and finally, I sleep.

“I think he needs to go to the hospital, honey.” Mom sits near me on my bed and bathes my forehead with a cool towel.

I think I might burst into fire soon. I don’t think I should be this hot. It feels like someone left me out in the sun to bake.

Dad stands at the door glaring at my mom. He says, “He’s fine. Always attention seeking.”

Mom looks down at me, her eyes sad. She whispers, “We need to take him to the hospital. His fever spiked last night and it’s not coming down, Robbie. He’s going to die if we don’t do something.”

Dad straightens at the door and walks away muttering, “Good riddance.”

Ten years old…

The rain pounds hard on the roof. It’s always weather like this that makes it sore.

I rub the long six-inch scar on my left arm. It twinges but I’m used to it.

The black eye he gave me last night holds most of my attention anyways. When I walked in on him wailing on mom, I lost it. Jumped on his back and tore him off of her. I know it was a stupid thing to do, but mom loves him. Really loves him. Why? I have no idea. He’s a shitty husband and a shittier father.

I told him if he was gonna pick on anyone, it would be me and I’d take it without a word.

I think I struck a deal with the devil. I don’t care what you call it. I have to watch out for my mom. I love her. She’s good to me. Always makes sure I’m okay and not hurt too bad. She sneaks into my room at night and tells me how lucky we are to have each other, that most families don’t have mothers and sons that are as close as we are. I like when she hugs me and plays with my hair.

I know she’s trying to make the situation sound better than what it is, but that’s what moms do, right? As long as she keeps looking after me, everything will be okay.

Twelve years old…

Coach saw the bruises yesterday. I told him I got them when I went to my cousin’s farm last week. I think I was pretty convincing, even though I don’t have any cousins or know anyone who owns a farm. Coach looked at me for a long while.

Please don’t call my dad.

Shit. If he calls dad, I’ll get another round tonight, and last time I stayed out to avoid it, he beat mom.

“Come on, Coach. Don’t get me in trouble for chasing the pigs,” I say.

Chuckling, Coach replies, “You’re a good kid, Asher, but you’ve got to be more careful. You’re a great addition to the team.”

Dad beat me that night anyways. He was drinking again. He drinks all the time. He yells a lot, and when he’s not yelling, he’s sleeping. He smells bad. I don’t think he’s had a shower in months. I try to hold my breath when he’s near me because the smell makes me want to throw up.

He got me good. Broke my nose. I’m getting used to keeping painkillers in my school bag. I always take a few before I come home, just in case. I’m nervous about going home tonight. Last night was the first night he told me to fight back. I think he was shocked when I did. Got him in the jaw a few times and pushed him back into the bookcase.

As soon as he was down, I ran to my room. I locked the door and jumped out of the window. I’d rather be out in the rain than home with him.

Tomorrow I’ll quit baseball.

Thirteen years old…

“How many fucking times have I told you to keep that shit down?”

I grit my teeth and shut my eyes tight. My chest heaves and tears run out of the sides of my eyes. It hurts more when you look at it. I hear my skin sizzle as he presses the metal into my skin. This is his new favorite thing to do. Heating anything metal and burning me with it. Tonight’s choice is a fork.

As soon as the prongs touch me, I want to scream loud and hard, but I won’t give him the satisfaction. Besides, if I scream, he works harder. My body shakes. Shaking is good. It means I’m not gonna pass out. I have to be careful when the shaking stops. He knows it too. He waits and watches for it.

His knee digs into me, holding me down to the ground, and he touches me over and over with the heated prongs. Never touching my arms, only my chest. He learnt a lesson from breaking my arm. If people could see the scars, they’d ask questions. He doesn’t want people to ask questions, so he avoids the areas people can see. Every now and again he’ll punch me in the face, but people believe anything my parents spout. A few of the better excuses are ‘He’s a very active boy. Loves his sports’ and ‘Boys will be boys’, is an old favorite of my dad’s.

Blood roars in my ears.

The pain is almost unbearable. I don’t give in though.

The thing about burns is that the healing is just as painful as getting them in the first place. I think that’s why he likes doing it so much. Doubling my pain.

Clenching my mouth shut, I have no choice but to breathe in through my nose and the stink is so bad. I feel the vomit climb my throat, but I swallow it down again.

If I vomit, he’ll make me eat it like last time.

Mom sits in the corner of the room. She’s empty. There’s nothing left of the sweet woman I loved. He makes her watch, but she goes someplace he doesn’t know about. She disappears inside her head and hums. I close my eyes and listen to her. She hums one of the songs she used to sing to me when I was a baby. This is her only form of comfort these days. He would punish her for coming to see me at night, so she stopped. I’d like to say I understand, but I don’t. Now I hate her as much as I hate him.

I’m the child. She should be protecting me. Not the other way round.

She’s weak. And I hate her.

Sixteen years old…

I don’t give a fuck about anyone or anything. Let ‘em talk. I’m gonna leave here one day and things will be better then. I kick the wired fence and push off to walk away.

“Hey dipshit, your shirt’s ripped and you stink.”

I look over to the jock and snigger, “Jealous I’m gonna steal your girl, Chris?”

Chris’ face reddens. He’s not the best looking guy, but he’s a jock, meaning he’s got some god-like status in this fucking shithole of a school. He comes toward me, grips my already-ripped shirt and sneers, “You’re gonna pay for that, fucker.”

He has no idea how many times I’ve heard that exact thing at home. It doesn’t scare me anymore.

I lean forward and whisper, “You have no idea who you’re fucking with. I’ll shoot you three times in the head and still make it look like an accident.”

For a few seconds he looks like he’s going to let me go, but he and I both know that would make him look weak in front of the others. He cocks his arm back and I sigh, “Make it quick, shithead.”

Just then I feel someone by my side. Chris’ eyes widen and he steps back from me. A hand on my shoulder makes me turn and I see this guy. I know this guy. Well, I don’t know him but he’s one of those guys. The popular guys.

What the fuck is he doing?

Just as I’m about to tell him to fuck off, he says, “You need a hand?”

And he isn’t talking shit. I’ve had enough experiences with bad people to know this guy is actually asking if I need help kicking this jock’s ass. Still unsure of him, I narrow my eyes and shake my head.

He nods, all the while looking at Chris in warning. And then he’s gone.

I wait all second period by the lockers. I feel like an ass just standing here, but I want to talk to him.

Finally, there he is. Dark brown hair, lightest brown eyes I’ve ever seen and making out with a hot girl. He’s got his hand on her ass and for a second, I’m jealous.

I’m taller than him. Not by much though. I wait til he passes me in the hall and run to catch up with him.

When I reach his side, I walk with him. I say, “I’m Asher.”

He nods his head, looking straight ahead. He replies, “I’m Nik.”

We walk the halls together and people stop and stare. People like me don’t hang with people like Nik but there’s something about this guy. He’s got an attitude to him. He’s one of those guys that makes the trends. No one would dare question him.

I know why the people are staring. I have holes in my clothes and Nik wears designer shit. We just don’t match. Halfway to class, I ask, “Why’d you do that?”

Acting dumb, he asks, “Do what?”

I’m this close to losing my shit. I snap, “I don’t owe you a fucking thing, pretty boy!”

Nik grins. A single dimple pops out and he says, “Never said you did, asshole. Calm your shit down. Here’s what’s gonna happen. You’re gonna come eat your lunch with me today. Just me and you. We’ll talk then.”

Then he disappears down the hall.

Nik sees I don’t actually have lunch and gives me half his sandwich. He says with a full mouth, “So what’s the deal with all the angry?”

I narrow my eyes at him. “What the fuck is there to be happy about?”

Nik grins. “Good point.” His face becomes serious. “You been through shit?”

I don’t answer, just stare him down while I take a bite of the sandwich. He nods and says quietly, “Yeah, me too.”

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