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Ain't nothin' but a thing.


Chapter One

     Emergency lights bounced off the surroundings on the night-darkened street in a dizzying pattern that hurt Meggie’s eyes. Blue. Red. Blue. Red. The colors flickered endlessly from the three patrol cars that had responded to her ‘911’ call.
     Her shoulder throbbed. Thomas’s hit had been particularly vicious tonight.
     Blinking, Meggie stared at the sky, missing the neighborhood she’d grown up in, with its swath of trees and simple beauty. Still, she was able to pick out Venus, the brightest star in the heavens. For some reason, the memory of Dinah singing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star swirled in Meggie’s head.
     They’d been so happy then. Her daddy had visited more often. Dinah had smiled all the time. Meggie had felt protected and loved. She’d had dreams.
     Earlier, when she’d been out with her friends, enjoying the 4th of July celebrations, she’d somehow pretended her life was still good. She’d pushed away the relief and despair that mingled together whenever she sank a razor or a blade into her flesh, stealing a semblance of control in her own way, while the world around her went mad. She’d felt normal because she’d been allowed to spend a day out with her best friends. Most of the time, she could only spend a night out for a sleepover at Lacey or Farrah’s house, and that after strict assurances by their parents there would be no excursions away from the home.
     This morning, Megan had awakened with such hope. So stupid on her part. But today was her father’s birthday. When she’d acknowledged it with a text and much love expressed in heart emojis, she’d thought he would’ve responded. He had last year. But it had been months since he’d texted back. He hadn’t even contacted her for any of the past holidays. If she thought hard, she didn’t believe she’d heard from him since her last birthday.
     Before that…had he contacted her for her sixteenth birthday? She couldn’t remember. She only knew between her fifteenth and sixteenth birthdays, Dinah had gotten the courage to leave Thomas a second time. Meggie had wanted her mother to go to Big Joe for help. She’d refused.
     What else was new? Dinah had the unerring ability to ignore every suggestion Meggie made that might see them to safety and then lean on Meggie to patch her back together after one of Thomas’s violent rages.
     Her mother brushed past her, opened the door and leaned inside. A moment later, the porch light came on before Dinah returned to the officer she’d been talking to.
     This was the third time in the last month Meggie had called for help. It seemed as if this response would go much the same as the others.
     Her burning, thumping scalp reminded her how Thomas had grabbed a fistful of her hair and dragged her down the hall and back to the living room. The moment she’d walked into the house, she’d heard Thomas screaming at her mother and she’d only wanted to get to her room before he saw her.
     She hadn’t succeeded.
     The porch light worsened Meggie’s headache, a glaring testament to a scene too often repeated. Her mom standing on the second step, speaking in measured tones, a smile plastered on her face. Her stepfather off to the side, affable and laughing, talking to the two male police officers who’d pulled him to the side.
The coolness of the evening washed over Meggie’s face. If she’d still been crying, the breeze might have dried her tears. But nothing could calm her fears. No one cared anymore. The neighbors no longer bothered to come outside when the cruisers swerved up.
     “I’m so sorry, Officer Landry,” Dinah said in a calm, self-assured tone, so far from the truth of her personality that Meggie sometimes wondered if her mother had a split personality. “Girls my daughter’s age are so emotional.” She trilled laughter.
     Meggie flinched at the high-pitched sound.
     “I’m around them all day, five days a week during the school year.”
     Officer Landry returned Dinah’s driver’s license. “You’re a schoolteacher?” she asked.
     Dinah nodded, stuffing her ID into the pocket of her modest skirt. “An assistant principal.”
     A burst of male laughter rose into the air, momentarily drowning out Dinah and Officer Landry’s conversation. Meggie tuned into her stepfather’s words.
     “The more her mother and me try to rein her in, the wilder she runs,” Thomas      Nicholls said. Affable. Convincing.
     Why hadn’t she slept at Farrah’s house again?


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