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She heard him pull the car noisily into the driveway and she headed straight for the room she and her foster sister shared, locking the door behind her. Sarah was tucked tightly into her bed. The plain yellow sheets covered her all the way up to her shoulder where her soft face was scrunched up in her deep slumber. The young girl held her breath as she heard him stumble through the front door and slam it closed. The sound of beer bottles clanking together came from the living room and echoed throughout the quiet house. He let out a large burp.
“Please go to your room.” She breathed to herself as she leaned her head against the door. His footsteps thundered down the hall and the girl was still as she heard him pause by their door, but he moved on and went into the bedroom that would be empty again that night. Paulina, her foster mother, was out either at a bar or in a sleazy hotel with a guy she just met. If she did not bring home more money than last time she would be in trouble. Nathan, the foster father, worked the evening shift at ‘Moe’s Motor Shop’ as a mechanic. He got off at nine, but like that night he did not get home until midnight and like always, he was drunk. The girl let out a small sigh of relief and tiptoed quietly to her cot on the opposite side of the room. It was not really much of a room; her cot and Sarah’s bed were only a few feet apart, a small chest of drawers in the corner was shared between the two girls, as if they had a lot of clothes in them, and a small bowl under a cracked mirror was on the wall between the girls. She slipped her night shirt on over her plump stomach and pulled her ripped flannel pants up over her stubby legs. As she crawled onto the cot and stretched the two thin sheets she kept for blankets over her, Sarah’s soft voice sounded.
“Rylee?” Sarah said quietly. Rylee lifted her head up. Sarah’s light brown hair was tangled around her face, making her look younger than ever.
“Rylee, I’m hungry.” Sarah told her. Rylee sat up more, resting her head on the palm of her hand.
“Me too. Do we have any crackers left?” Rylee asked. Sarah got up and crept to the small vent right behind the mirror. Even after the ten months of sneaking around to get food Rylee was still amazed at the cat like abilities of the eight year old. The floorboards creaked too loudly for Rylee’s weight and they could not take the chances of Nathan waking up. Taking an old screwdriver that they kept underneath one of her shirts in the worn down drawer, Sarah took the tool to the screws on the sides of the vent. They only had two on there; partially to help get the air out easier and it was less noise and work. Once it was off Sarah reached her thin arm into the hole and came back with nothing. Rylee’s face fell, for she too could feel her stomach growling.
“No more crackers. The bread is all gone too. Rylee I am really hungry.” Sarah pleaded. Her blue eyes begged her older sister to find something for her to eat. Rylee did not want to leave the room. If Nathan found her sneaking food… she shuddered at the thought. But the little girl’s eyes were too hard to say no to. Sarah WAS skinny, skinnier than most eight year olds. The old t-shirt Sarah was wearing hung on her body and the way her cheeks were starting to sink into her cheekbones were making her look like a skeleton.
“Okay. I will be right back. Lock the door after me and I will knock twice when I want back in. Got it?” Rylee explained. Sarah nodded. They crept to the door and Rylee reluctantly unlocked it and slipped through a crack. No one had cleaned the house in months. The terribly tacky purple paint on the walls was peeling, dirty laundry was piling up in the hallways on boxes that still had not been unpacked from their move three years ago, beer bottles and plates with half eaten pizza and unrecognizable foods were scattered on any flat or unused surface, and the yellow-tinted lights above her flickered occasionally. Rylee tiptoed as quiet as possible through the odor filled hallway. In the kitchen she went past pizza boxes, Chinese food containers, and crumpled beer and soda cans. A small white door on the far right was where Rylee needed to get to. She reached out her hand and twisted the doorknob. She grabbed a box of Saltine crackers at the very bottom of the pantry; sure no one would miss it. Suddenly a car door slams shut outside. Paulina. Rylee closed the door quickly and darted out careful to avoid knocking anything over on the way back to safety. Rylee was almost to the door when the front door opened. Rylee knocked twice and when the door opened she threw the crackers in.
“You!” came a shrill voice. Rylee turned and saw a short, plump, dark haired woman standing unsteadily in a very low cut, tight, short dress in the doorway. Her face seemed to be shriveled up in a permanent scowl and around her eyes were wrinkles from squinting through her many, many years.
“Paulina! I was just using the bathroom.” Rylee tried. Paulina walked towards her in the most unbalanced sort of way, stumbling over her very high heels and grabbed Rylee by the hair.
“You got a bowl in there don’t cha?” Paulina snapped. Spit flew as she talked and Rylee could smell the cigarettes and alcohol on her, no matter how hard the woman tried to hide it with gum or cheap perfume.
“I-I’m sorry. It won’t happen again I swear.” Rylee breathed. Her teeth were clenched in pain. Paulina let out a low sort of growling sound.
“Mom, let her go.” A sullen voice sounded. Paulina whipped her head towards the voice. Standing at the doorway into the living room, directly behind the two women, was a boy of about sixteen years old. His hair was dark brown like Paulina’s and they shared the same round face shape; he was tall, built thin, and his mouth was turned down in the same frown as Paulina. It was Andrew, Paulina and Nathan’s real son. Paulina wobbled over to her son in a drunken stupor. Andrew gave Rylee a look of despair, but one that also said, 'It's okay, go.' Rylee nodded and slipped away leaving a heaviness in her heart as she closed the door on Paulina gripping a strong hand on the front of Andrew's shirt.