Tonya was in my bed, snoring softly. I was due at work in an hour and it was time to get her up. I had to get her home or her mother would notice that she hadn’t slept in her bed the night before, or any night for the past few weeks.
It had become a pseudo ritual for us, Tonya would come over around midnight and sneak into my window and we’d trade places, with me on the floor and her on my bed. I didn’t mind the arrangement, Tonya was just a friend to me and I had her back in the situation she was in.
After putting away my sleeping bag I went and tapped Tonya’s shoulder.
Tonya moaned, beginning to stir. “Huh?”
“It’s morning,” I said, going and opening my drapes and letting the sun into the room.
“Already? Gees.” Tonya got out of bed and stretched. She was only fourteen but she already had the body of a woman, which was the reason why she was staying nights at my house. She was a pretty kid, curly red hair down to her shoulders, cute little button nose and a lovely round face, but it was all in her eyes, they were dark brown and held so much pain. She had a stepfather who couldn’t keep his hands to himself and she was too afraid to say anything to her mother. If she’d let me, I’d handle things with her stepfather any day of the week.
“It’s Saturday, go spend the night at a friend’s house, see if your mother will let you.”
Tonya ran her hands through her hair, shrugging her shoulders as she gazed down at the floor. “I guess that’s a good idea.” The expression on her face tore me apart. She didn’t need to be living in fear, especially in her own house.
“Hey.” I wrapped my arms around her. It was the only way I could think to comfort her. I’d known Tonya Garland since I was thirteen and she was nine, she was an only child and I liked thinking of myself as her older brother. “It’s going to be all right, I’m not going to let anything happen to you.”
Tonya pulled away and gave me a lopsided smile, and then she made a face. “Eww, go brush your teeth, Ry.”
Just like a kid.
“Go brush your teeth.” I tousled her hair and headed over to my window. I made sure the coast was clear before opening the window for Tonya to sneak out. “You ready?”
Tonya slipped her shoes on.
My room was on the second floor and in the back, which made it easier for Tonya to come and go. Her house was behind mine, making our nightly ritual even less complicated.
Tonya climbed out of the window and onto the branches to the tree in my backyard. She looked back to me before beginning her descent to the ground.
“Call me if anything happens?” I asked.
Tonya looked to her house, nodding her head morosely. “Yeah, I will.”
“Okay, be safe.” I watched her climb down the tree like she’d done dozens of times. She walked back to her house and stole a final glance at me before heading inside.
I let out a breath as I ran a hand through my short, disarrayed black hair. I’d check on her later, I had to get to work.
After my shower I headed back to my room and dressed in my work uniform. With a quick glance in the mirror, I had just enough time to comb my hair in place before exiting my room.
There wasn’t time for breakfast, as I had to drive across town. Instead, I headed down to the kitchen and grabbed a bagel from the pantry and smothered it with cream cheese.
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