Parallel Copyright © 2011 by Claudia Lefeve
All Rights Reserved
PARALLEL is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, and events are either the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
Miller High Life and Pall Malls
Like any orphan, I wished that someday my real family would come for me. Only, I knew my parents were dead. They died in a plane crash when I was five. But in my dreams, I always imagined my rescue from foster care, I’d learn I was really a princess, and we’d live happily ever after.
Like most daydreams, they’d quickly dissipate and I’d jump back to reality, remembering who and where I was—an orphan stuck with Lester and Patsy Johnson—along with six other foster kids.
If you asked around town, most folks would consider seven abandoned kids lucky to be under the care of the Johnson’s. There weren’t many couples who were willing to open their home to care for our sorry lot. What they didn’t know was that we kept the Johnson’s finances afloat. To them, being foster parents was easier than applying for food stamps.
But as self-righteous as the other families around town were, nestled in their idealistic homes and raising perfect children of their own, they were blind to what was really going on behind the Johnson’s closed doors. The attention they lavished on their wards wasn’t exactly the type the foster care system approved of, nor the good citizens of Alexandria—had their gaze extended beyond their casual observance around town.
Lester was a sadist. To fulfill his penchant for violence, he exploited the revolving turnover of foster kids to satisfy his warped need to inflict pain. His wife Patsy was no better. She was just that—a patsy. She merely took care of the house and turned a blind eye when it came to Lester’s extracurricular activities. She was all too happy to play Betty Crocker, as long as Lester had his attention focused on anyone other than herself.
“Emily! Get down here!” We heard him call from downstairs.
I watched Emily’s face crumple as Lester called her down to the basement. That’s where he always took us. She was only seven years old and was no match for Lester, even on his bad days. He always came up with some house infraction—like the time he claimed I didn’t take out the trash—and used that as an excuse to beat us until he was satisfied.
“It’ll be okay Emily.” I looked at her sad brown eyes. “I’ll walk down with you.” What I really wanted to do was take Emily and run.
“Etta, I didn’t do anything, I swear,” she said in a whimper.
My heart went out to her. How do you explain to a seven year old that men like Lester didn’t need an excuse?
“I know you didn’t, honey,” I said, unsure of what to do next. Ignoring Lester just made things go from bad to worse. I had taken up residence in the Johnson home only two weeks ago—I was what social services dubbed a ‘repeat customer’—but it didn’t take long to realize that Lester preferred the younger kids who couldn’t fight back. I only had the pleasure of dealing with Lester a couple of times, but I knew that the longer you took to respond the worse off you’d be.
Inside, my body seethed with rage. How could the social workers turn a blind eye to what was going on? Didn’t they notice the bruises and broken spirits when they were thrown back into their custody? Having played the system for years, Lester knew exactly what he was doing and took great care not to send the children back with tell-tale marks, but sometimes it was unavoidable. And yes, when Lester tired of a particular child and the foster kid got a bit older, he’d thrust them right back to the disgruntled, underpaid, and overworked social workers.
So the faster I got Emily to the main floor, the better off her punishment—if you could call it that—would be.
I reluctantly hustled her down the stairs and there stood Lester, standing at the foot of the stairs waiting for her. If I’d had the guts, I would have kept on right past him—out the front door.
“Well, well. What do we have here, huh? Looks like someone’s meddling in other people’s business again.” Lester was not only nasty on the inside, but on the outside as well. His beer belly did nothing to help his already oafish build. Every time he managed to get close to me, I could smell his rotten breath mixed with a hint of Miller High Life and stale Pall Malls.