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Ballad:Rockstar 05

By:Anne Mercier

PROLOGUE


Coley



"Mama, I'm tired."

"I know baby girl. We're almost there," she says. She's been saying that  a lot and I don't think we're ever going to get there. We've been  moving so much lately and I miss my friends. I miss my nana and my kitty  Gable. I miss our car that broke a kajllion steps ago.

"How far is almost there?" I ask, my feet aching and it's getting harder and harder to keep my eyes open as I walk.

"I know someone just up this road. They have a nice house, well, a cabin  really, out in the woods. There'll be all kinds of animals you'll get  to see and it'll be warm and safe." Mama squeezes my hand softly. "Just a  little farther, Coley."

"Okay, mama." She sounds as tired as I am and her cough is getting worse. "Will they have medicine for your cough?"

She smiles down at me, but it's not the same smile she used to have.  This one isn't really a ‘happy' smile. I miss her happy smile.

"They'll have everything we need, baby girl."         

     



 

I just want to sleep but we keep walking and the snow is starting to  come down. It's so pretty but I'm too tired to twirl and stick out my  tongue for the icy flakes to land on.

"There," mama says and I look up to see a large home made of tree  trunks. There're lights on in the house and it looks warm. "I bet they  have a big fluffy pillow ready just for you."

"I'm going to hug it tight when I sleep tonight. Do you think they'll  have one for you too?" I don't want a pillow unless mama has one.

"I know they do. And warm blankets and a fire burning in the fireplace.  See?" She points up ahead where we can see the fire through the window.  It looks so warm and the snow is making me shiver. The front door opens,  a man and a woman come out. The woman waves. She's short like my mama  but the man is big. He scares me. As we get closer to them, I cling to  my mama's hand and hide behind her so I can sneak peeks at the giant.

"It's all right, Nicole," mama tells me softly as she moves to the side  so I'm right in front of the giant. I look up, up, up, way up to see him  looking down at me.

"Hello Nicole," he says, his voice low and rumbling. I cling to my mama's hand.

"Hi," I squeak out.

I've seen how big men can hurt my mama, so when the giant reaches out to  her, I jump forward, punching his legs and stomach as hard as I can.

"Nicole!" mama shouts.

"It's all right, Tina," the giant tells mama as I fight and punch and  kick. I wait for him to hit me back but he doesn't. He just stands there  until I'm too tired to fight anymore. Then he crouches down in front of  me and instead of looking angry and mean, he smiles at me. Why isn't he  mad?

"Little, Nicole," he says softly, "I won't hurt you or your mother. I'm here to help keep you safe."

I blink up at him, so scared I think I might pee my pants. I'm only seven and this big man could squish me like a bug.

"You didn't hit me back," I whisper, then immediately cover my mouth. Stupid mouth.

"No, darlin', I didn't and I never will. I won't hit your mama or  Monica, my wife, either. I promise. If ever I break that promise, I'll  let you take me to town where you can pick the biggest, meanest looking  man to hit me. I'll let you tie my hands behind my back so I can't fight  back," he tells me softly, his big finger softly rubbing my cheek.

I nod. "That bruise doesn't hurt anymore."

His mouth gets mean then goes back to nice. "You'll never have to deal with anything like that again as long as I'm breathing."

I frown, confused. "Why?"

"Because no man should ever lay hands on a woman. Ever," he whispers.  Then he reaches for me and lifts me up into his strong arms and sits me  on his side. Now I'm a giant too. Everything looks so small from up  here.

I turn to him and whisper, "What's your name?"

"Frank."

I nod at him as he turns his face to mine. I put my hands on his cheeks  and pull him closer. "Please don't let them hurt mama anymore. My  daddy-" I begin but he cuts me off.

"You've no worries here, Nicole. Your daddy won't be bothering you  anymore. I promise," he tells me, but looks at my mother whose shoulders  slump and she starts to cry.

"Mama?"

"It's okay, Coley. These are happy tears of relief that we can stop running now. At least for a while," she tells me.

I yawn and rest my head on Frank the Giant's shoulder. "That's good then. I'm so sleepy," I murmur.

"Let's get them settled, Monica," Frank says to the pretty lady who looks a lot like my mama.

I can't open my eyes when they take my jacket and boots off. I keep them  closed when they change my clothes and I'm in pajamas. I hug Frank  tighter. He's so warm and smells nice.

"You can put her down, Frank. She'll go right to sleep," mama tells him.

"I'll hold onto her as long as she'll let me, Tina," Frank tells her. He  sits down and rocks in the chair, and I drift off to sleep with a  smile.



He held me as long as he could. He didn't lie. He held me while my mama  was sick and he held me after she died. He held me until the day I heard  him telling my Aunt Monica that my daddy's family had found us. He held  me while we moved to another safe place. He held me when we found out I  was sick. He held me while, at the age of twelve, I learned what acute  lymphoblastic leukemia was. He held me while I asked if I was going to  die. He held me tighter when he told me no. He held me while poison  flowed through my veins to try to make me better. He held me while the  poison made me sick, so sick I thought I'd die. He held me as I lost my  hair and shaved his off to match me. He held me when the doctors told us  I was in remission.         

     



 

The day after my sixteenth birthday they whispered about how they'd  found us again. I wasn't going to have them move again. They have  children of their own. They've been nothing but good to me and I repay  them by making them move again and again? Starting over in each place?  No more. If it was just Aunt Monica and Uncle Frank, I might. But it's  not fair to my cousins. Besides, my being here is putting them in  danger.

I wait until they fall asleep before I grab my backpack and shoulder  bag. I leave them a note thanking them, telling them I love them, and  that I'm sorry.

I open the door to the house, pausing to look back for a few minutes. As  a lone tear slides down my cheek, I close the door on the only family,  the only love, I'll ever know.





CHAPTER 1


Coley



Sometimes it's easier to just stop thinking. Sometimes it's easier to  stop feeling. Sometimes it's impossible to stop either. A few months ago  was one of those times. Watching Trace Styx toss Meggie Melody over his  shoulder and promise to remind her who she belongs to, well, it was a  swoon-worthy moment. It got me thinking and when I do that, it's never  good. It's usually best if I just roll with the punches and not try too  hard to make anything happen, try not to hope. Hope is a luxury I can't  afford anymore-and it's free. I had hope once and I even indulged in it.  Then my world got ripped out from under my feet, I ended up in "the  system"-which is a shitty system, I've gotta tell you. So many kids get  missed, slip through the cracks, and those are usually the ones that can  actually be helped, the ones who want to be helped. But they're  overlooked because they're average. There's nothing wrong with average.  I'd give anything to be average for just one day in my life, but that'll  never be. Yet, another reason why I no longer luxuriate in the wistful  whim of "hope".

But now I've got a sliver of hope inside me that maybe, just maybe, I  could be an average girl one day. Sure, I'm still taking medication for  my leukemia, but I'm not in chemo. I'm not in radiation. I'm in  remission. I'll have to take medication whether I'm in remission or not.  At least my hair is starting to grow back now. Granted, it's just  strands of hair sticking up all over the place and in every direction,  but oh how it warms my heart to see that hair on my head. I cried the  other day when, after I can't remember how long, I noticed I have  eyebrows. Eyebrows! It's the little things that people overlook every  day that I'm most grateful for. Just last week Kennedy's leg brushed  against mine and he lifted one of his dark brows and asked me if it  wasn't time for a shave. When I burst into tears, he didn't say a word.  He just pulled me close and held me, rocked me, and called me his baby  sister. The dam burst majorly then and he chuckled and kissed the top of  my head. This is when that fragment of hope began to bloom.

"Stop daydreaming, Coley, and get your sweet little ass into wardrobe," Spenser scolds.

I grin. "You just want to touch my boobs again."

He laughs. "If I swung that way sweetie, I'd be all over you like white on rice."

It's my turn to laugh now. "Are you tarting me up again?"

"You know it …  even if you're too skinny."

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