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THE room was beginning to grow hot and stuffy. The three of them were groaning occasionally in discomfort, unable to handle the heat invading the windowless room.

Bella almost felt as if she couldn't breathe. Her head was back against the wall, her shirt was drenched and her breath was heavy. Sweat was gathering on her skin, dripping down the sides of her face and dampening her dark strands of hair.

Elliot had moved to the side of Bella, still close but not touching her. His small breaths were heavy and his flesh was glistening as well.

The older boy had his head back against the wall too, his eyes locked on the other side of the room as he sat bound and gagged. His ebony hair was almost soaked as well, a single strand of it had fallen onto his forehead, and his dark shirt was stained with perspiration.

They had been sitting there for a while, but there was no way to tell a distinct amount of time. Mommy had just left to go finish developing the photos she had forcefully snapped of the three of them, and the temperature of the room shot up around twenty degrees after that.

The older boy started making noise, his slate-coloured eyes locked on Elliot who was looking at him too. The older boy started nodding, gesturing with his head to come towards him.

Elliot instantly looked up at Bella. "What does he want?" he asked, his voice tight and his dark eyes confused.

Bella looked over at the older boy who's gaze held intense desperation.

"Maybe he wants you to go over to him," she whispered, her voice straining. "Go pull the bandana off his mouth for just a second."

"What if I get in trouble?" Elliot questioned worriedly. "If that lady comes in, she w-won't want the bandana off."

Bella's lips tightened in thought, while she looked around at the mess of toys in the corner. "Just for a second, to see what he wants. I'll let you know if I hear her coming."

Elliot hesitantly stood up, his tiny fingers reaching up to wipe his forehead. He slowly walked a few steps to the older boy before he knelt in front of him and tightened his fingers around the bandana. He worriedly glanced back at Bella, before pulling it down to the older boy's chin.

The older boy's breaths were heavier once the gag had been removed. "Look in my pocket," the older boy ordered Elliot, his voice raspy and tight. "Please. The left one."

Elliot's eyes were wide, and Bella watched him slowly reach his hand out towards the pocket of the older boy's jeans.

"Your other left," the older boy directed, and Elliot moved to the other pocket, reaching in and pulling out a silver switchblade.

The older boy breathed in relief, and Bella watched as Elliot stared at the object in his small hand, slack-jawed with huge eyes.

"Cut the ropes around my wrists off," the older boy said, glancing at the doorway. "Hurry."

Bella noticed that the boy seemed to have an accent of some sort. She couldn't figure out what kind.

"Do you really think this is a good idea?" Bella asked suddenly, making the older boy look over at her. "First of all, you have a little boy with a knife around your arms. Second, you don't know what that woman is capable of. Why would you make her mad right now?"

The older boy laughed, but not in amusement - more in a desperate and tight gasp, as he shook his head. "That psycho lady? I'm not worried about it. Kid, just do it, please."

Bella wanted to yell at the older boy, but when they all fell silent, they heard footsteps creeping slowly towards the door. Elliot instantly dropped the switchblade to the ground, and the older boy's eyes widened.

"No, no, put it back-" the older boy tried to say, but Elliot quickly slipped the gag back over his mouth before he could finish his frantic thought. He then sprinted over beside Bella, nearly tripping over a doll in the process, as his chest moved up and down in horror.

The older boy's eyes did not stray from the switchblade, even when the door slowly creaked open and Mommy walked in. Mascara was rubbed beneath her eyes, and she seemed drowsy with an unlit cigarette hanging out of her mouth.

"Hey, kids," she said around the cigarette. "I have the pictures drying in the light. Maybe we can have a family night!" she said, her voice slow.

Her eyes observed the three of them slowly.

With a drunk grin on her lips, her eyes caught the switchblade laying on the ground in front of the older boy. "What is this?"

Elliot was shaking like a leaf against Bella. Bella just watched silently as Mommy knelt down and picked up the dangerous object, chuckling beneath her breath.

Bella's heart instantly fell into her stomach, and she prayed to whoever was listening that this older boy wouldn't end up costing the three of them their lives. With the frightening glint in Mommy's eyes, Bella wasn't so sure if they would even still be alive within the next few minutes.

"Thank you for the new weapon, Sweetie," Mommy garbled loudly, her words slurring as she combed her thin fingers through the older boy's hair. "Say, why don't we pull this gag down for a second and see what my oldest has to say about this?"

Her fingers slipped through the bandana and pulled it down, revealing the older boy's mouth. All he did was quietly stare up at her. There was not a hint of fear in his eyes - instead, there was a sudden gleam of genuine bemusement threaded in his stare.

"Do you have anything to say for yourself?" Mommy asked, her head tilting to the side and allowing her crispy strands of hair to fall to her other shoulder.

The older boy was still for several seconds. "Io non parlo inglese, mi dispiace."

Mommy squinted at him for a few seconds, her eyes blank. Bella, herself, even recoiled in confusion, her eyebrows furrowing at the way this boy suddenly spoke fluent Italian.

"What did you say?" Mommy asked, her wrinkled fingers rubbing against the glimmering edge of the switchblade.

"Non so quello che stai dicendo, io non parlo inglese," he spoke with ease. Bella noticed a quick second of amusement flash between his irises.

Mommy's cracked lips surrounding the white stick in her mouth lifted into an evil grin, and her tiny, beady eyes did not leave the older boy once. She slowly brought the switchblade up to his neck, pressing the sharp blade just against his Adam's Apple, which bobbed as he swallowed and watched her.

"I'll have my boyfriend deal with you at some point," she spoke with a simple lift of her skinny, exposed shoulder. "Your father seemed to have turned you into somebody different. I will make sure you turn back."

She stood up and took the cigarette out from the folds of her red-painted lips, holding it between two stick-like fingers.

"You three are away from me for two weeks and you're suddenly new people," she said in disgust, her other hand threading through her untamed hair. "That will change. Trust me, it will."

Her eyes met Bella's, and Bella's breath disintegrated from her lungs instantly. A small gasp of fear escaped her lips involuntarily - she hated feeling so scared.

"At least my daughter is still the same slut she's always been. That hasn't changed."

Bella blinked in surprise, her eyes instantly shifting away from Mommy's.

"You all deserve to starve. But since I love you so, because I am a good parent, I will bring your dinner," was all Mommy said.

The door slammed shut behind her, and the three of them were left in deafening silence.

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