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“Shania!” Jack said, surprised. “What’s with the bags?”
Shania gave Jack the half-smile that always stopped his heart. “Bill and Gloria gave me the boot… and by that I mean I’m kind of a runaway.” She frowned and glanced down to scrutinize her tennis shoes. “Can I crash here for awhile?”
Jack nodded and Shania picked up her bags before stepping inside. “So, random question… are you like broke?”
Shania shook her head. “I cleaned out my bank account last week, had some cash stashed from babysitting, and I stole Bill and Gloria’s gambling money.” She ran a hand through her unruly black layers which hung down to her waist.
“I’ve taught you well,” Jack commented, trying not to stare.
Shania laughed. “That you have, Jack, that you have.” She looked around. “Where are your ‘rents?”
“Grocery shopping. Why?”
“They won’t kick me out and call child services, will they?”
“’Course they won’t! My parents love you. They think you’re like a good influence on me. So why’d you take off?” Jack asked.
“Well… you know I’m adopted,” Shania began, sitting on her duffel bag.
“Yeah, Shan, of course I know that. What does that have to do with you running away?”
“Well… Bill is kind of… okay so he and his friends are seriously screwed up.” Shania stretched and Jack caught a glimpse of a purple bruise on her belly. He was beside her in an instant, kneeling on the ground next to her.
Reaching out to touch Shania’s bruise, Jack thought, “The b******! He won’t get away with this! He will pay for hurting her!” Out loud, Jack quietly asked, “What happened?”
Tears filled Shania’s eyes. “His stupid poker nights!” she whispered. Shania tried to stand, but Jack grabbed her hips and pulled her back down.
“What happened?” he repeated. When she didn’t respond, Jack switched to begging. “Please, Shania, just tell me what happened!”
“His friends… they made me… Greg thought I was pretty… and he threatened Camia…”
“Camia? He threatened the little Hatian girl?” Jack was appalled. Shania and Camia were closer than most biological sisters ever got to be. Camia was only six.
“I couldn’t let him hurt her!” Shania cried. “I told him to let Camia go and Bill got mad at me for telling his friend what to do so he whispered something in Greg’s ear. ‘I’ll let her go’, Greg said, ‘if you do something for me.’ ‘Anything,’ I told him. ‘Just let my little sister go!’” Shania paused, trembling. “He told me… he told me to get on my knees. When I did, Greg let Camia go and I told her to run upstairs.
“What did… what did Greg make you do?” Jack whispered, horrified.
“Jack, do you really have to ask?” The tears in Shania’s eyes were streaming down her cheeks. “I tried not to let him, Jack, but he was so strong! The first time I screamed for help, he slapped me. The second time, he kicked me a bunch of times and hard as I tried to get away, I just couldn’t!” Shania stopped talking when she noticed the murderous gleam in Jack’s eyes.
“Tell me what happened next,” Jack ordered calmly.
“There were so many of them… Jack, I couldn’t get away!” Shania added desperately. Jack and Shania looked away from each other’s eyes to find Jack’s parents, Kerry and Macy, listening, disgusted, to Shania’s tale.
“Shania, did any of the other men there hurt you or touch you?” Kerry asked; he was the sheriff.
“Yes, they did. But I need to get Camia out of there as soon as I can,” Shania stated. “I don’t want her to go through the same thing I did.”
“Shania, you know I can’t get a warrant quickly,” Kerry warned. “But judging from the look in your eyes, you’re not planning on using my help to get your little sister out, are you?”
“No. Can we stay here until I figure out where we can go?” Shania asked, tucking a lock of hair behind her ear.
“Of course you can, Shania. You know that,” Macy assured her.
“I know that if Jack will help me out, I can get my sister out of that house. And I know I can do it legally.”
Jack stood and took both of Shania’s hands. “What do you need me to do?”
The next night, Jack was leaning on his car when Shania walked out of the house looking… well, Jack thought she looked like a prostitute. Taking in the micro-mini skirt and super- cropped tee shirt she wore, he said, “Please tell me you’re not going around Bill and his friends dressed like that.”
Shania took a deep breath, squeezed her eyes shut for a moment, and replied, “You know I am. You know I have to.”
Jack glanced over Shania, counting 11 bruises on her belly and legs. “Shania…”
“I know what you’re gonna say, and I’m not waiting for a warrant.”
Jack grabbed Shania’s shoulders. “Shan, listen to me. If you go in there, do you have any idea how many risks you’re running? Pregnancy, STDs, major injury, and, God, Shan, you could die.” Shania’s eyes held no compromise. Jack shook her. “Are you even listening to me?”
Shania nodded. “Listening and agreeing aren’t the same, though. I’m getting my sister out. And I really, really need your help.”
“I really don’t want to help you get hurt or worse but…”
“Better me than Camia.”
“That’s not what I said!”
“It’s what I say.”
“Shania, please just wait for a warrant. Are you a glutton for punishment? Do you want to get raped?”
“Jack you know I’m not looking forward to this!”
“Then just wait another day or two!”
“I can’t, not unless I’m back there with Camia.”
“Then go back and lock yourselves up in your bedroom with a few days worth of food!”
Shania’s features relaxed. “Alright. Alright, I will.”
“Yes. I promise.”
“All right. Get in.”
A few minutes later, Jack pulled up the drive to Bill’s house. “Shania… be safe. It’ll be awhile before Dad can get a warrant, but he will. He’ll get it soon.”
“Jack,” Shania whispered. “I’m scared.”
Those two words were Jack’s undoing. “Don’t be scared, Shan, I’m begging you. If you say that, I won’t be able to leave you here.”
“Please don’t leave!”
Jack bit his lip. “All right. All right I’ll stay with you and Camia.”
“Thank you Jack! Jack, I’ve never been this scared in my life!”
“I’m here.” They stepped out of the car. Jack took a look at Shania and gave her his button down shirt. “I’m gonna get on up to your room. Get Camia and random food, kay?”
Shania nodded and walked to the kitchen, looking for Camia. Out of nowhere, she felt a large, strong hand on her shoulder. “Shania!” Bill said. “Where’ve you been?”
Shania gasped, “Bill! I was over at Carly’s. She had that new Lady Gaga CD, you know the one I asked for on my Christmas list?”
“Oh yeah, that one. Well, why are you dressed like that? Whose shirt are you wearing?”
“Well you know… Carly’s older brother is like… reaaallly hot. Then on my way home, I stopped to talk to my friend Jack ‘cause he has my copy of the latest Three Days Grace CD, so he was like ‘Shan, put some clothes on!’ and threw me the shirt.” She wrapped Jack’s shirt more securely around herself when Bill’s hands started sliding down her shoulder and onto her chest. “So, um, Bill,” she continued, shrugging out of his grip. “Where’s Camia?”
Suddenly pissed off, Bill shoved Shania against the nearest wall. “You know better than to ask questions when you know you’re already in trouble,” he growled. After a slight pause, he yanked Shania toward her room. “You also know better than to try and go out without my permission!” he roared, throwing Shania on her bed.
“Bill, I’m sorry! I won’t do it again!”
“Shut up, Shania. You know the rules in this household! And you broke two of them in a row!” Bill slapped Shania’s face so hard that stars popped in front of her eyes. He slapped her again and again. Bill grabbed Shania and threw her on the ground and started kicking her. Shania was about to black out when, suddenly, the harsh blows cut off. There was a crash and she heard Bill grunt. Shania saw a blurry image of a shirtless Jack on top of an angry Bill.
“You will NEVER hurt her again!” Jack shouted, punching Bill over and over.
“Jack?” she mumbled.
“Shania, call the police,” he ordered, clocking Bill in the jaw. “Now!”
Shania stumbled to her phone and dialed 911. “911 what’s your emergency?”
“My name’s Shania and my foster dad just tried to hurt my friend Jack and me. I need police and I think maybe an ambulance.”
“What’s the address, Shania?”
“502 Wentsly Avenue.”
“All right, Shania, help is on the way.”
Bill had pinned Jack and was driving his knee into Jack’s chest. Shania shrugged off Jack’s shirt and yanking Bill off of Jack, she said, “Bill, you’re not mad at him. You’re mad at me. So punish me however you will, but leave him alone.”
“I will punish you,” Bill said, flipping open his pocket knife. When Jack jumped to his feet, Bill held the blade against Shania’s throat. “Take another step and she dies, punk. Now sit down.” Jack sat. Bill slit Shania’s shirt down the front and pushed it off. When he pushed her down onto the bed, Shania caught a glimpse of Camia standing, terrified, in the doorway.
“Go to Jack, Cam.”
“Shut up!” Bill backhanded Shania across the face, snapping her head to one side.
“Get off her, Bill,” a new voice ordered five minutes later, when Shania’s clothes were all gone and Jack was trying to resist the urge to kill Bill. “It’s over now.” Bill’s weight was abruptly yanked off of Shania, who scrambled to her feet.
“Shania!” Jack cried, grabbing his shirt and wrapping it around Shania. “Shan, I’m sorry I didn’t stop him! He would’ve killed you!” He wrapped his arms around Shania.
“Jack, shut up. I know,” she sobbed.
In the next instant, Kerry was beside them. “Shania, are you all right?” he asked. “Stupid question. You look like hell. Come on, out to the ambulance. Now,” he added when she hesitated.
“Go on,” Jack whispered. “Go on, they won’t hurt you.” Shania studied Jack’s familiar face: his dark brown bangs falling across his forehead, his golden eyes full of concern, and his full lips frowning with worry and stress. “I’ll be right behind you,” Jack promised. He wrapped his shirt more tightly around Shania, and urged her over to his father.
“Come on, Shania,” Kerry said, wrapping an arm around her shoulders. “You’re safe now.” He pulled her out to the ambulance.
An hour later, Shania was stepping out of Jack’s car with a shaken Camia holding her hand. “Shania,” Camia asked, “Where are we gonna go now?”
“For now, baby, we’re gonna stay here,” Shania replied. “After that, I don’t know.”
Jack scooped up Camia. “It’s late,” he told her, “and I think you should go to bed.”
Camia yawned and nodded. Jack carried her to a spare bedroom and Shania tucked her in. “Good night, baby girl. I love you,” she told Camia.
“Love you more!”
“Not possible, baby girl. Sleep tight.” Shania kissed Camia on the forehead and strode out of the room still clinging to Jack.
“Shan are you okay?” he asked. Shania shrugged.
“As okay as can be expected, I suppose,” she replied uncertainly.
When they entered Jack’s room, Jack took Shania securely into his arms. “Do you know what I think?” he asked. Shania shook her head. “I think I love you,” he murmured in Shania’s ear. “I think I never want to see you hurt again.”
“I think I’m afraid of love.”
“Please don’t tell me it’s because of that piece of crap, Lee.”
“He convinced me he loved me and he broke my heart!” Shania protested. “Of course it’s because of Lee.”
“You know I won’t hurt you like that!” Jack countered. “Do you have any idea how much it hurt me when you came to me crying? Can you even fathom how it killed me to see you so crushed?”
“Jack, please don’t put this on me!” Shania cried, pushing away from Jack.
“Shan, I’m not putting this on you! I’m putting it on Lee! I just want you to know that it kills me to hurt you or to see you in pain!”
“Jack, I can’t deal with this right now. I need to figure out how to stay with Camia through this whole thing, I need to figure out where we’re gonna go—“
“Just take the night off, then Shan,” Jack urged. “You’ve got enough going on without worrying all the time.” When Shania shook her head, Jack continued, “Shania, you’re sixteen. You can’t deal with everything. You can’t be Camia’s mom all the time. Just for tonight, at least, take some time to be sixteen.”
“J, I don’t know what to do!”
“Just come here. Just be sixteen for now.” Jack sat down on his bed and opened his arms to Shania.
“Jack, you know we can’t…”
“Shan, is that all you think I want? Babe, I just want you to be safe and happy.”
Shania sat next to Jack. “J?”
“Thanks. You know, for coming with me. I don’t know what would’ve happened if you hadn’t been in that room with me.”
“Please don’t think about that.” Jack did something then that he’d been dreaming of doing since he met Shania. Jack gently lowered his mouth to Shania’s.
“Don’t think, Shania. Don’t think about where you’re gonna go tomorrow or where you’re gonna be in a month. Just focus on tonight.”
“Listen, Shan. I’ve waited and waited for you. All you could think about was Camia. You’re not a mom, you’re not even legal yet.”
“Jack, I love you.”
“Shania you don’t… what?”
Shania pressed her lips to Jack’s.
“I love you. Jack don’t you get it? I always have!”
“Shan… you didn’t want me… you always wanted the jocks…” Jack wondered between kisses
“No, Jack,” Shania corrected. “I was trying to get your attention… Jack…”
“Never try to get my attention again,” Jack told Shania, cupping her face in his hands and staring into her eyes.
“I hope I never have to again.”
“You’ll never have to,” Jack promised. He gently kissed a bruise on her cheek. “How are you feeling?” he asked, brushing back a lock of her hair.
“Sore,” Shania shrugged. “Sore but safe.”
“You know you’ll have to testify against Bill to throw him in jail. And so will Camia,” Jack reminded Shania.
“Yeah, I know. But I want to just be sixteen tonight.”
Jack smiled and kissed Shania again. “Shania, you’re gonna have to tell me when to stop, ‘cause you know I won’t stop on my own.” He wrapped his arms around Shania and lifted her till she straddled him. Shania tangled her fingers in Jack’s hair.
“What if I don’t want to stop?”
“Then we won’t.” Jack held tightly to Shania’s hips. “But if you want to stop, tell me.”
Shania’s fingers moved to the buttons of Jack’s shirt. When she fumbled with the top button, Jack’s hands were there, helping her unfasten the button. She didn’t need help with the rest of the buttons. As soon as Shania pushed Jack’s shirt off he leaned back, pulling Shania down with him. Soon Shania’s shirt was on the floor and Jack was hovering over her, kissing every bruise he found. “Jack… stop,” Shania whispered, barely audible. Jack didn’t hear her. Shania panicked. “Jack, I said stop!” she said louder.
He rolled to his back. “Shan, what’s wrong?”
“I… I can’t do this. A few hours ago… I know it isn’t the same I know you won’t force me but…”
“Hey. You don’t have to explain yourself to me. I said that if you wanted to stop I would. So I will.”