Chapter 1: The Girl No One Cared About

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"Alright ladies! Inspection time!"

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"Alright ladies! Inspection time!"

Sixteen-year-old Valeria Torres looked up from her novel and groaned. While the other girls in orange jumpsuits began panicking and hustling to hide their contraband, she did not. In the eyes of the guards, the girls at the center, and everyone else – nothing she did or said mattered, and she certainly didn't have anything valuable to protect – she never had.

She held the book at her side as she stood by her cot, surveying the overcrowded room that had served as her home intermittently over the past two years. The room was mostly unadorned; it lacked any real furniture, and the lone window near the ceiling was surrounded by brick walls covered in peeling paint. Girls stood by their beds, and their behaviors varied as the two guards entered the room.

Some of the girls hurled obscenities and taunts at them, while others smiled and offered more seductive nicknames. Valeria's stomach lurched at the latter. While the thought of male guards taking advantage of young vulnerable girls was disgusting enough, for Valeria, there was more to it than that. Something...personal.

Valeria's cot was near the back of the room and was the last to be searched. She studied the two guards as they approached. One was light skinned, overweight, and short. The other was tall, skinny, and had the gross habit of scratching his butt in front of them all the time. And thus, Valeria had come up with their nicknames: Bigs and Wedgie.

"Last, but not least, we have our little escape artist," Bigs said as he approached.

Wedgie upended her cot's mattress and started tearing it apart. "What's her name again?" he asked, inspecting her pillowcase.

"It doesn't matter," Bigs said, eyeing the book in her hands. "She's nothing but a penny thief. Speaking of which, I'm guessing you stole this from the library. Give it here."

Valeria shook her head. Part of her refusal was personal. She had grown attached to the character in the story. He was an orphan like her, but more importantly, he started off as a kid no one cared about, and that hit close to home. But there was another reason she had refused. A more...strategic one.

"Maybe you don't understand," Bigs growled, his face inches away from her own. "You do what I tell you to do! But maybe you're deaf? Dumb? Or maybe you just no understand English?"

I speak English just fine, asshole, Valeria thought to herself. She met his eyes with a defiant stare and waited patiently. When he tried to steal the book from her, she used one hand to cradle it like a football, and the two of them struggled for a moment.

"Give me a hand here, Wiggins!" Bigs yelped.

The other guard grabbed Valeria from behind, and the three of them tussled. Once her plan had succeeded, she released the book. The two guards took a moment to catch their breath as they moved in front of her and studied the cause of the commotion.

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