His - Brenda Rothert Page 0,1

and it meant hot, spicy cider, piles of crunchy leaves to plow through, and football games to cheer at.

But now, fall means the dreaded, bitter winter is on its way. I’ll spend my days taking Bethy from one heated public place to another in an effort to stay warm. At night, we’ll sleep underground. The cold down there isn’t life threatening, but some of the people are.

I’m so tired. It hits me all at once, and I sag against a filled plastic trash bag. Last night we got kicked out of the park and chased by a group of frat boys threatening to gang rape Bethy and me. If there hadn’t been nine of them, my friend Bean and I would’ve wiped the cocky grins off their faces.

Fucking rich boys. Their sense of entitlement is staggering.

I sigh and crawl back down the trash hill. The wail of a siren approaches as I fish a plastic bag out of my pocket and stuff the cold spaghetti noodles into it.

It’s food, and Bethy won’t complain. We’ve both eaten worse to stave off hunger pangs.

I close my eyes, pushing down the wave of anger welling inside me. The fatigue won’t go away if I sleep well tonight. It’s bone-deep. I’m tired of running. Tired of feeding my sister scraps of food other people threw away. Tired of wondering if the hell I saved her from is worse than the one I brought her into.

Thinking about this will drain me. I force the thoughts away, wrap my hands around the edge of the Dumpster and swing my leg over.

Two more years. That’s what I focus on instead. In a little over two years, Bethy will turn eighteen and we can have a real life. I’ll get a job, and she’ll go back to school. We’ll stop running and looking over our shoulders constantly. We won’t go to bed hungry or cold ever again. I’ll make sure of it.

The alley is quiet. It’s just me and a chubby guy smoking a cigarette, the orange glow of its end bright in the blackness. I put my head down and stuff my hands in the pockets of my coat.

“Hey.” The man’s voice is deep and insistent. I don’t look up at him.

“Hey, I’m talkin’ to you.” This time, he grabs my upper arm. I shake myself out of his grasp and push off the ground to run away, but his arm locks around me.

“What’s your fuckin’ problem?” His warm breath smells like cigarettes and garlic, and I turn away when it hits my face.

I thrash, struggling to escape his hold. He laughs at me.

“Tough girl, huh?”

He’s bulky, and I can’t stop him from slamming my slight frame against a brick wall. The more I fight, the harder he laughs.

“Let go,” I say in a level tone. He presses my upper arms against the cold stone so hard it burns, and he laughs some more.

“You think you’re too good for me?”

I kick him in the shin, and he pulls my arms forward and then slams me against the wall again. The impact rattles my teeth and knocks the wind out of me.

And now I’m pissed.

“Please don’t hurt me,” I say in a tiny voice.

“Scared now, aren’t you?” The satisfaction in his tone sends my adrenaline racing. “You better be.”

“I’ll do whatever you want. Just . . . please don’t hurt me.” My voice shakes, and he relaxes his grip on me.

It takes me less than a second to knee him in the crotch and wrap my hand around the knife in my leg holster. In a move too fast for this lard-ass to see, let alone block, I pull it out and sink the blade into his gut. Underhanded—harder to block. If I wanted to kill him, I’d pull it out quickly and stab him again with the tight, quick jabs Bean taught me. But he’s not worth the trouble.

There’s resistance from his flannel and his skin, but once I get past that, it’s a smooth trip through layers of fat. My arm muscles tingle as I hold the knife in place for a few seconds.

I see the whites of his eyes get larger. His mouth drops open as he stares at me in disbelief.

“You bitch,” he mutters. I’m not gentle when I pull out my knife. He cries out and puts his hands over the wound. I quickly wipe the two sides of my blade on his shirt to clean it.

He reaches for my wrist, but I’m