Chapter 1

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Saturday 5:32 a.m.

Fourteen year-old Jasmine and her twin brother Cade opened the door to their mother's bedroom. It was pitch black except for the luminous numbers from an alarm clock. They held hands, which is something they've been doing since the womb and approached their mother's bedside. Tara was cocooned up under her grandmother's old comforter due to the bitter chill in the house. Loosing her job after being accused of stealing food, which wasn't proven, left Tara broke. She did her best to pay bills and feed her family. But then two weeks ago the furnace pipe had broken because it was ancient like the house itself. Tara tried relentlessly calling their landlord to please come out and fix it, to no avail. He claimed that since it was so old, he'd need to order a complete replacement and since she was behind on rent, she'd have to wait. Jasmine tried to nudge her mother awake, and when she didn't respond, she started to pull down the comforter. Tara jolted up as the cool air touched her warm skin and shivered. She turned over to peer into two sets of eyes.

"What is it?" She thought it was something about baby, Marcus. He'd been sick for the past three days. Ranging from a high fever to developing a wheeze in his chest. The poor thing has been ill off and on since he was born premature when she was just eight months. But when she looked over at his crib, she saw him sleeping as peaceful as he could. Only a light wheeze could be heard coming from him.

Tara sat up straight and motioned for her twins to sit down on her bed. It was very dark but she could make out their features. Their faces were somber-like, large almond-shaped eyes of a cool grey sky looked back into her chocolate browns. Ever since her husband died six years ago, the twins had changed. Cade stopped speaking after the funeral, and Jasmine seemed to age. Whenever one twin did something, the other followed. Tara only recently got her twins to stop sharing food between one another. No matter how much was on their plates, they would first eat from one, then the other. People found it impossible to eat in front of them whenever they would chew something up and take it out and give it to the other. Feeding, like they were birds.

Tara reached out and told each of their hands.

"What is it my darlings?"

With barely a whisper " We're hungry mother, our stomach's hurt," said Jasmine.

"I know my sweets, and mommy is terribly sorry, but we don't have anything left. I did apply with the government a few days ago, something called food stamps, but the caseworker said that she has thirty to forty-five days to complete my case. I'll try again today at the blood-bank to see if I can donate. It's been two days since my last donation. I just needed to rest a bit." She checked the time, her alarm clock would go off in another eight minutes.

"Why don't you two go and get ready for school". Before they rose and left, she planted a kiss on each of their foreheads. She hated sending them to school on an empty stomach. Last night, the three of them barely shared the last Cup of Noodles. She made sure that they ate most of it. Fortunately though they qualified for free meals, breakfast and lunch at school. As far as the baby, he at least had formula through WIC.

After they closed her door, Tara tip-toed over to the crib to check on Marcus. He actually looked peaceful and she couldn't help but to reach down and touch his tiny little rosy plump cheek. A head full of wavy red hair he got from her late Irish father. Unlike her and her twins, just like a raven's.

Waiting on their bus to arrive, Tara sat with her children in the living room. Though the TV was on, no one watched it. There was nothing but more of what they themselves were going through. Tara felt living in Death Valley, Nevada with the name alone wasn't just coincidence. Jasmine listlessly played with her mother's tresses, while Cade read a comic about vampires, his favorite subject. The whole family were introverts. They enjoyed just being around themselves. None of them had friends. It wasn't uncommon to hear while shopping at the local mart or walking through the halls at school rumors surrounding their family. Some would say that the father was killed by them in order to eat. Others have said that they've seen him around, lurking in shadows haunting the family. Tara tried her best to help her children cope with the utter stupidity of their common neighbors. "When nothing good is happening in their lives, they lash out, hoping to crush others in order to make themselves feel better."

With a hug from their mother, the twins left for school. There was never a problem with seating for them on the bus. Everyone agreed it was better and safer if the twins sat together. Tara straightened up around the house and woke the baby. She was gonna need him to stay with Ms. Dill while she ran some errands. Ms. Dill was curious about the family, but unlike her fellow neighbors, knew the Clines to be harmless. She fed them whenever she herself had received a little extra from her monthly allowance from her son. He would advise her over and over to not have any dealings with them. Ms. Dill secretly ignored his antics, for fear he'd cut her off. Besides, Ms. Dill was a loner. Her best friends were her three prized cats. All named after the Three Musketeers, her favorite movie.

Today was a better day for baby Marcus. His face seemed to have a bit more life to it. Tara was afraid that after he was released from the hospital when he was two months, that he would never come home. He had needed several blood transfusions. It took it's tole on Tara. She'd lost weight and stopped eating.

Besides a running nose, and watery eyes, Marcus gave no fuss when his mother dressed him for the trip. She was sure he'd feel better once he was inside Ms. Dill's house where it was nice and toasty and was playing with her cats. Tara made sure he had clean bottles, formula, diapers and wipes, a few toys, his baby aspirin, and a change of clothes before they headed out.

Her first stop would be the blood bank. Since she didn't have any money, she couldn't afford to take the bus let alone hail a taxi. So she walked. Using a steady pace, her time was limited for when the twins got out of school. She was always there when they arrived. Seven miles to the Amargosa Valley Medical Center, would take her several hours. But it would be all worth it, as long as her family ate that night.

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