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Damaged and the Beas

By:Bijou Hunter

Damaged and the Beast (Damaged #1)
        Author: Bijou Hunter

       
         
       
        
Chapter One


Standing at the bus station, I put on a brave face. As Dad fished around in the back of the car for the suitcase, my younger sister Tawny didn't even pretend to be brave. Crying her eyes out in the backseat, she had said goodbye to me already, and I didn't think she could do it again. Finally, Dad handed me the suitcase he stole from tourists in Florida.

"Mom is waiting for you," he said quickly. "She'll pick you up."

"I know."

Glancing around, Dad was nervous about being seen. People with guns were looking for him, and only some of them carried badges. He planned to run like always, but this time, I wasn't coming along. After five years as his copilot, I was on my own. Tawny wasn't so lucky.

"Be careful," Dad said, hugging me. "Be smart and safe. Don't take risks. Don't trust people. Just keep your head down and get that education and become a teacher. Be the good kid so I can drop off Tawny with you when she's eighteen. I want my girls to have everything, but you've got to want it too."

"I do," I said, nuzzling my face in his jacket, the smell of leather comforting in its familiarity.

"Your grandma says Mom is doing better. Aunt Tess says it too, and Aunt Tess lies like crap. If your mom were still messed up, we'd know. You'll be okay."

"What if Mom stops doing better?"

Dad released me and then took my face in his rough hands. "You ditch the bitch. Take care of you and only you. Get what you need out of that place and don't worry about anyone else."

"Okay."

Stepping back, Dad looked around again, his brown eyes surveying the bus station. Tawny and I got our eye color from Dad. Our brown hair too, though Tawny's was lighter and nearly blonde in the summer. Just thinking about my sister sobbing behind her hair almost brought me to tears. Dad gave me a half smile and stepped back again.

"You're ready for this, Farah. You've been ready for a while, but now is the time for you to make a great life for yourself."

I made no attempt to wax poetic about how great my life had been with him. He wouldn't buy the lie, and I didn't think I could sell it anyway. Tired after the drive and crying in the backseat with Tawny, I wanted to say goodbye and yank off that Band-Aid.

"I love you, Dad."

"Right back at you," he said, heading to the car.

As the urge to cry rushed up inside me, I said nothing. My lips trembled, and my eyes felt hot, but I angrily blinked away the tears. In a few minutes, I would be on the bus with strangers. A girl alone crying like a fool, I had victim written all over me. In the past, I'd taken advantage of girls like that, and I had no intention of allowing it to happen to me. 

Carrying my suitcase and backpack towards the bus, I heard the compact's engine start. I considered looking back and maybe waving goodbye to my sister and best friend. My dad might give me one last confident grin. Instead, I refused to look as they drove away.

Soon, my suitcase was in the cargo bay, and I was in my seat. I gave my "screw you" face to anyone who dared make eye contact. Spotting a few possible threats, I sat against the window with my feet on the second seat, knees in the air, and a blade waiting for anyone who thought to mess with me.

The next few hours slowly passed as I hid under my long hair, allowing me to watch for trouble. I wore a jacket even in the heat because my body had a weird way of looking sexier than it was. With my fat lips and small C-cup sized breasts, I endured a lot of leering from the wrong kind of men. Those few possible criminal-types on the bus got the message that I wasn't someone to approach. Ignoring me, they eyed a middle-aged woman closer to the front. My mind was so focused on avoiding danger that I never let myself worry about what happened when the bus reached my destination.

I was moving to a college town where I would find a job, go to school, and hopefully make friends. I didn't think about any of this until the bus pulled into a station one town over from Ellsberg.

Having not seen my mother in five years, I only spoke to her a few times over the last two. I didn't know how she felt about me moving in with her. I was never consulted about the school and its reputation. One day, I was told if I wanted to attend college that my grandma would help me go to New Hampton College in Ellsberg, Kentucky. Though never actually stated I couldn't go anywhere else, it was implied. I wanted to go to college so badly I didn't care where the school was or its merits.

Dad didn't want me to leave. Knowing he didn't trust my mother, I also suspected he feared without him around I would get into trouble. Mostly, he would miss the money I brought in from my waitressing jobs. My dad loved me, but he wasn't the kind of man to let sentimentality get in the way of paying his debts. Dad had a lot of debts.

The bus finally arrived at my stop, and I collected my suitcase and then looked around for Mom. I saw a few women talking, but they weren't waiting for anyone. Had Mom forgotten? Did she have second thoughts about me staying with her?

When a woman waved at someone behind me, I glanced around but saw no one. Was she waving at me? Had my mom sent a friend in her place? Walking towards her cautiously, I was nearly on top of the woman before realizing she was my mother.

Still pretty in a rough way, Amy Jones Smith had bleached blonde hair and mossy green eyes. She looked worn down in a way I didn't remember, and I was surprised by how small she appeared. I last saw her when I was thirteen, not really a child any longer. This woman looked like a tiny older version of the woman I never told goodbye.

Based on her expression, I hurt her feelings by not recognizing her.

"I wasn't sure because of the glare from the sun."

Amy nodded, but I doubted she was convinced. Even if I was an above decent liar, my mom spent most of her life as a grifter and had a talent for seeing through people's bullshit.

"Do you have everything?" she asked.

I had chosen that exact moment to lean in for a hug. An awkward few seconds passed while we embraced. Pulling away, I gave her a smile. "I have everything. Thanks."

Nodding, she turned away and walked towards her car. It was an older sedan, but in good shape. I knew from my grandma how Amy worked in an office. She was clean now too. Living a respectable life was how Grandma Delta put it. I'd heard a hint of mockery in her tone but was never sure why.

My grandma looked the role of a church-going, God-fearing, tax-paying citizen. In reality, I knew she spent most of her twenties running cons until scoring a mark that paid off big enough for her to retire. Now she looked the part of anyone's grandma, but she had the devil in her heart. She told me this last part during a visit when I smiled at her for too long.



       
         
       
        

Amy asked if I was hungry and I said yes. These were the only words we exchanged between the bus station and the restaurant near her apartment complex. Our apartment complex, I reminded myself. It had been a long time since I lived in a real home and I was excited to see my room. First, we sat in a small Mexican restaurant and avoided talking.

"How do you like your job?" I finally asked.

"Boss is a nag. Otherwise, it's fine."

"My interview for the job at Denny's is scheduled for tomorrow."

Amy nodded. "Don't expect much tipping around here. College kids are cheap."

For the next few minutes, I picked at my food while growing irritated by how Amy hadn't asked about Tawny. She didn't ask about me either, but I felt worse for Tawny. My sister was stuck with Dad, who was hiding from criminals again. She didn't know where they would sleep, when they would eat, or how long before they were running somewhere else.

"Tawny's gotten tall," I said when Amy remained silent through the whole meal.

"Brian is tall."

Nodding, I waited for her to take the hint and ask about her daughter. Why didn't she show any interest in the child she hadn't seen in five years? Instead, my mother fell silent and never spoke again until we were at the apartment.

The dark brown apartment complex was spread out over a large area. There were two stories with our apartment on the bottom floor. Once inside, I found a small living room opened up to an even smaller kitchen. Down a little hallway were two bedrooms and one bath. One of the bedrooms was mine, holding a sparsely covered bed and a white dresser.

"I bought you a bed with the money your grandma sent. It's used, but clean. I also got you a dresser. That's new. Your grandma sent fifty dollars for you to use for school or clothes."

Smiling at my mom, I suspected Grandma sent more than fifty. Likely a hundred with the assumption Amy would steal half of it. Grandma was good at sending money for school, holidays, and birthdays. As a grandmother, it was her job to do certain things, and she took these responsibilities seriously. If we visited and someone commented on our ratty clothes, she would spend money to buy us new ones. Yet if we were homeless and living in a car, it didn't fall on her list of responsibilities so she wouldn't even pay for a motel room. My grandma was weird that way.

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