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Steele by Kelly Gendron (1)

PROLOGUE

 

I sit with my legs crossed under the kitchen table. My small hand barely covering the cell phone I’m holding against my ear. “Somethin’s wrong with Mommy,” I whisper.

“Steele, where are you?” I hear Mommy call out. “Steele!”

“Daddy, you gotta hurry and git here!” I lower my voice. “Please, Daddy, hurry.” I snap the phone shut, hoping my daddy gets the message in time.

“Steele!”

I peek out from under the table but don’t see her.

“Steele!”

On my hands and knees, I crawl from the safety of the banged-up four-legged fortress. “Here, Mommy.” I slide the phone on top of the table. “In da kitchen.”

I pull my hand back from the cell just as she walks in the room with Stone on her hip, dressed only in a diaper. The one I put on him this morning when I got him out of his crib. Swollen red eyes flit around the room. Oh no, she’s been cryin’ again. Whenever she does that—walks back and forth, biting her nails, twisting her long black hair, and sayin’ bad words—when she does that, I know something bad’s gonna happen.

“Come on!” She grabs my shirt and drags me toward the back door.

I lock my feet to the ground. “Where’re we goin’?”

“For a ride.” She gives me a tug, but I hold my footing.

“I need my shoes.” I can’t leave. Need to wait for Daddy to come. I left him a couple of messages. He’s coming. I know it. He’ll save us. “Let me get my shoes⸻”

“No,” she jerks me harder, and Stone’s tiny head bobs against her shoulder.

“Teele!” His arms reach out for me, his little hands opening and closing, “Teele! Teele!”

“Let me carry him!”

“No!” She pushes the torn screen door open. “Shit! Keys!” She twirls around and heads back into the kitchen with Stone still crying in her arms. “Where’re my fucking keys!” She stumbles, falling against the wall. Luckily, not on the side where my little brother is.

She spins back around, banging into the table as she scans the room for her keys. Stone’s body flops in her arms. She’s gonna drop him. If she drops him … I spot the keys on the counter. I race toward them. If I can get them. Hide them …

“There they are!” A thin bruised arm shoots in front of me and bony fingers swipe the keys from my view. “Let’s go.” She gives me another hard nudge toward the door.

I wish I was big like Daddy. She’s twice my size. I’ve tried to stop her before, but she always wins. Besides, I don’t want to upset her too much, not with my little brother in her arms.

We get to the car. Stone’s screaming as she drops him in the front seat.

“Mommy, what about the car seat?” I point at the back.

“Git in.” She ignores me and picks up the garden hose from the corner of the garage. “And calm your brother down.” She drops the hose and nearly falls reaching for it again. “Git!” She waves.

Doing as I’m told, I crawl in the car, pull Stone close to me, wrap my arm around him, and talk to him until he quiets. Mommy gets in the car, pulling the hose in with her through the window. She rolls the window up far enough to hold the hose in place, and then she starts the car. I look behind us, waiting for the garage door to open. When it doesn’t, I turn to her.

Eyes half-closed, she rests her head against the seat, fanning her fingers through my hair. “I love you, baby. You know that, right?”

I nod. Oh good, this is about the time she closes her eyes for a long time.

“That’s right.” Her eyelids lower. “You, me, and Stone, we’re gonna leave this place. We’re gonna go somewhere your daddy can’t ever take you away from me.”

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