“Lira, get me a fucking beer!” John yelled from the next room, his booming voice jerking me awake.
I had fallen asleep at my desk again, my neck now painfully stiff at an awful angle. It took me a second to orientate myself as my sleep-filled eyes took in the two empty coffee mugs and study notes strewn all over my tiny desk.
“Don’t make me get up, girl,” John growled, his tone angry and laced with annoyance.
He wasn’t in a good mood today.
Jumping up from my chair, I rushed into the kitchen and quickly grasped two cold beers from the fridge. The small kitchenette in the back of the old single-storey house we rented was a mess. Cockroaches crawled across the cheap vinyl flooring, running in and out of the half-opened cans of old tuna and frozen lasagna meals littered across the kitchen bench. The off-white walls of the living room were smudged with spots of dirt, and the blinds were drawn shut, bathing the house in unnatural darkness.
“Took you long enough,” he growled, snatching the beers from my outstretched hand before taking a long swig out of one. His bloodshot eyes raked down my body.
My stained, tattered T-shirt fell down to my knees and enveloped me like a blanket. The black sweatpants I wore underneath had several holes. I had been meaning to buy some new clothes with the extra money I had made working the night shift at the nursing home but I hadn’t had any time to go to the shops.
Between filling out medical school applications and studying for my last exam, I had barely any time to brush my hair let alone shop for new clothes.
“You get uglier and uglier everyday, you know that?” John spat, his disgusted gaze travelling over my curly hair and full body. My cheeks warmed as I focused on the frayed edge of the cheap, stained rug. My vision started to blur as tears filled my eyes, his words having the desired effect. But I bit down on the inside of my cheek and fought to stay strong in front of him.
I wouldn’t cry. I wouldn’t show him how much his words hurt me.
Sure, I wasn’t anything pretty to look at but you didn’t have to be beautiful to get into university. I had accepted a long time ago that I would never be one of those pretty girls guys chased. No-one would ever look at me like they looked at my half-sister and I was okay with that.
I stared at John, taking in his dirty, overgrown stubble and the protruding potbelly sitting under the white, wife-beater singlet he had on. What had my mother seen in him?
“Boys will have to put a paper bag over your head when they’re fucking you,” John laughed, unbuckling his belt and settling into the grey, mouldy recliner that sat in the centre of the living room facing the TV.
Biting down harder until I could taste coppery blood, I stood there until he finished. This was the routine everyday. He’d finish doing an overnight delivery to a warehouse and drive his truck home just before I left for school. Only two more weeks and I could leave this hellhole; start a new life where no-one knew me. No more being beautiful Roxy’s older, frumpy sister. No more being the plain girl with the deadbeat step-dad.
Slamming the empty beer bottle on the table, my stepfather cracked open the second beer and downed half of it keeping his eyes trained on me. I swallowed thickly, trying not to give away my fear.
Everything is going to be okay. Everything is going to be okay. I repeated the mantra in my head as I stood still in front of him.
Holding my breath as he watched me, I shuddered as his dirty gaze lingered at my breasts. Maybe today he wouldn’t try to do anything. Maybe he was finally sick of me. Maybe he would let me go back to my room and study.
I wasn’t that lucky.
Standing up, he drunkenly staggered towards me. I edged back towards my room and made a run for the bathroom to lock myself in. That was what I usually did when John drank. He was slow when he had had a couple of beers in him.
However, this time was different. I stumbled, tripping over the frayed edge of the rug.
I tried scrambling up but I wasn’t fast enough. He grabbed my arm and swung me, slamming me against the wall. Sliding his dirty hand under my shirt, his palm enveloped my breast and squeezed roughly. I started to scream but his thick fingers clamped over my mouth. He leaned closer until the stench of him made my eyes water.
“Fuck, you’re such a dirty, ugly whore. Too bad you didn’t get your mama’s looks or I would’ve fucked you sooner,” he whispered roughly in my ear, pushing his hardness between my legs.
A wave of nausea hit me as I fought the bile threatening to rise. My fists pushed ineffectively at his shoulders, trying to shove his drunken body off me. Sobbing, I wished my mama were still alive to protect me from this vile human being.
“Now when I fuck you I’m going to have to fucking close my eyes and pretend I’m not with the ugliest slut I’ve ever seen.”
My eyes widened as the reality of what was going to happen sank in.
I went wild.
Sinking my teeth into his hand, I bit down as hard as I could. He screamed, pulling his hand away before slamming his knuckles against the side of my face. Pain burst through my cheek, travelling down my jaw, but I ignored it. Twisting and jerking my body, I flailed my limbs around, hitting and kicking him.
He growled and pulled me by my hair onto the couch. Pinning me under him, he pushed his hand under the band of my sweatpants.
Oh god. Oh god.
Tears blurring my vision, I reached behind me and my shaky hand found his empty beer bottle. Gripping the bottle tightly, I swung it down onto his head.
A resounding bang echoed through the house.
Time froze for a second as I watched him stare down at me in shock.
Then everything sped up again.
He fell to the ground with a thud, his heavy body crashing onto the hard floor. Shakily, I stood up and stared down at him. The empty beer bottle fell free from my trembling grip to the floor, glass shattering against the hard, vinyl flooring. There was blood gushing from his forehead, trickling down the crevices of his face.
Oh god, had I killed him?
“Oh my fucking god, what the fuck did you do, Lira?” Roxanne screeched from the doorway.
My half-sister was dressed in a denim mini skirt that showcased her long, beautiful legs and a tight, cropped top that pushed her breasts up. It was the same outfit I had seen her leave with on last night. She must have been out all night. Her long mane of blonde hair tumbled down her back in perfect waves, and precise makeup defined her high cheekbones and angular face.
Roxanne threw the purse and stiletto heels she was holding on the floor and hurried over to John. That snapped me out of my shock and I watched her try to shake him awake.
“Daddy? Daddy? Wake up!” Roxanne called, her day-old, crusty makeup creasing in worry.
Her angry eyes snapped to me, “For god’s sake, Lira, check if he’s fucking alive.”
What if I had killed him? Oh god, I would go to jail and everything I had worked so hard for would be gone. No more medical school, no becoming a doctor and helping people.
Focusing on not throwing up I crouched down, keeping my eyes trained on him. My trembling hands found a steady pulse; I had just knocked him out. I only had a few minutes before he woke up to pack my life and leave forever.
Running into the room I shared with Roxanne, I reached for the suitcase sitting under my bed. My hands trembled as I hurriedly crammed all the half-filled medical school applications, important documents and a handful of clothes into the suitcase. If John woke up before I could leave, I would be dead. Ripping off the envelope of emergency cash I had taped to the back of my desk, I hurried into the kitchen and picked up the keys for the little car Nan had left me when she died. John forbade me from ever using the car, even though Nan had left it to me.
Hurrying towards the front door, I paused and turned to glance at Roxy. No matter how horrible Roxy had been towards me, she was still my sister. I couldn’t just leave her here to fend for herself.
She glared daggers at me. “Go ahead and run, you bitch. You’ll still be a fat, ugly slut that no-one wants around.”
Her words were like a knife twisted into my gut. Clenching the handle of the suitcase until my knuckles turned white, I tried to stop the hurt from showing on my face. I turned around and walked straight out the door, not looking back.
THREE YEARS LATER
Sighing, I rolled my shoulders, easing the tension built up from the long drive.
Nearly home now.
I had been cruising down Highway 62 for the past four hours. Both meetings with my supplier and the bank had dragged on longer than usual, but everything was settled now. The loan had been approved and the auto-repair garage I had been spending every afternoon in since I was ten was finally mine.
I still couldn’t believe it.
Old man Rick was ready to retire soon and he had promised that he would sell the garage to me if I could get the loan from the bank approved. Everything was going to plan. Once all the official documents were signed, the garage would be mine and I would be able to handle the rapidly growing list of clients I had gained over the years. Suddenly all those years of working ten-hour days since graduation and helping Rick build the business to the stature it was today became worth it.
It still amazed me that people from nearly every town around Hazelwood wanted me to fix their cars and build their custom bikes. Me: the angry, screwed up teenager people used to shake their heads at.
Fuck, if I had told my sixteen-year old self that in seven years time he’d be a fairly successful businessman, and a legitimate one to boot, he’d probably laugh in my face.
Passing the old, worn ‘Welcome to Hazelwood’ sign with the leaning, grinning cowboy swinging the lasso, I instantly relaxed. Every minute I was outside of Hazelwood, I was on edge.
Running a hand through my cropped dark hair, I tapped out the beat of the song crooning out the radio on the steering wheel.
It wasn’t too long until I would be home. All I wanted to do was grab a cold beer, sit out on the deck with Jett and Blake, and shoot the shit while watching the sun set over the lake.
Grinning, I turned the radio up and rolled the windows of my truck down to let the harsh Australian sun beat down on me. Fields and fields of pasture filled either side of the road as far as the eye could see. Black angus cows grazed lazily, letting the sun bathe their shiny, black coats. The sky was bright blue with only the slightest wisps of cloud streaking through; a true Australian summer day.
Whistling to a tune, I saw in the distance a broken down car to the side of the highway. Steam was rolling out of the hood in waves and a girl I didn’t recognize stood glaring at the huge piece of metal with her arms crossed defiantly against her chest. Speeding closer to her, I saw her step forward and place her fingers under the edge of the hood and go to lift it up.
“No!” I shouted from my car, simultaneously stepping down harder on the gas. But it was too late. I watched in horror as steam whooshed out of the open hood, the force throwing her back a few metres.
Screeching my truck to a halt a few feet in front of her, I hastily unbuckled myself out and ran over to where she lay.
Her shocked eyes were wide open as she stared up at the bright sky and her body frozen, as if she was paralysed.
Kneeling down, I clutched her shoulders, “Hey! Are you hurt?”
She stared through me.
“Hey!” I shouted again, trying to snap through her shock.
Her chocolate eyes blinked rapidly, coming back into focus.
“Where are you hurt?” I asked, this time more softly.
She groaned, ignoring me, her hand lifting slightly to her head. Lifting her gently into sitting position I peered at the top of her head. There was no gash, nothing to show for the harsh fall she had taken as she hit her head on the hard, cement road.
I glanced down trying to assess her injuries. The edge of her hair was singed. She was lucky. A step closer and her whole face would have been burned. Her right hand looked okay, only a few cuts and scrapes, but her left hand was severely burned.
It looked pretty bad as well; the skin had peeled off the tips of her fingers and her palm, exposing the red flesh underneath. Glancing around, I spotted a water trough at the edge of the paddock, down the ditch, off the side of the road. Lifting her soft body into my arms I carried her towards the water.
She went wild. Twisting her body, she tried to free herself from my hold, her good hand pushing ineffectively at my shoulders.
“Let me go,” she growled, her teeth gritted as she pushed harder.
“Woah woah. Calm down, I’m not going to hurt you,” I yelled, as I kneeled her onto the soft grass.
Pouring a steady stream of water from the pipe onto her hand held open in my palm, I watched her turn away and grit her teeth in pain. As she was not glaring at me with her distrusting eyes, this gave me a moment to take her in fully.
The first thing my eyes drifted to was her hair and goddamn it was beautiful. The colour of rich chocolate, each strand of hair curled in every direction possible. I had never seen anything like it before. This hair had a life of its own.
The girl moaned, trying to pull her hand away.
“You need the water,” I murmured, rubbing her forearm, trying to soothe her pain.
“I know how to heal a burn,” she muttered, whipping her face to look me in the eye and making her full head of curls bounce. I was seized with the vision of those sexy, silky curls running down my stomach and draped over my thigh as she kneeled down in front of me.
Her brown eyes glared holes into me. I stared back, not intimidated by her probing gaze. Peering closer into her eyes, I could see hints of green flickering at the edges.
After around fifteen minutes of running lukewarm water over her burn in complete silence, she stood up and supported her dripping hand with her other hand.
“Do you have a bandage?” she asked in a clipped tone. There was something wrong with this girl. Here I was trying to help her while she stood there irritated, spitting venom with that gorgeous mouth of hers.
“In the back of my truck,” I replied, standing to face her with my hands on my hips. She pushed her shoulders back trying to make her 5’’4 appear taller, but she barely brushed my shoulders.
“I can wrap your hand for you,” I murmured, running a wet hand through my dark locks letting the droplets of water cool my sweltering neck.
“No need,” she said before marching with a slight limp towards my black truck.
I stood watching her. The snug old T-shirt with the tomato sauce stain stretched tight across high, proud breasts that were definitely more than a handful. Her slim waist flared into generous hips and long, toned caramel legs. All I could think about was grabbing handfuls of her perfect ass and hauling her body flush against mine. Then again, I wasn’t really fond of the idea of being kneed in the balls by this stubborn-as-fuck mistress of Satan.
Following her, I pulled down the tailgate of the truck and hauled the first-aid kit out of the metal compartment in the back. Rummaging through the box, the girl sighed impatiently for the second time, tapping her foot obnoxiously, until I finally found the bandage sitting at the bottom. Stripping it out of its plastic packaging, I went to stick the square piece on her palm.
Snatching the bandage from my hand, she pressed it gently onto her palm, wincing sharply. Her button nose was scrunched and her caramel dipped skin glowed under the sun, bringing out the deep pools of melted chocolate that were framed by impossibly thick lashes.
She wasn’t a typical beauty; her features were odd but when they came together, there was something mesmerizing about her face — I mean, when she wasn’t frowning at you as if you were a piece of gum stuck on her shoe.
She turned to face me with her good hand propped on her hip. “I’m going to need a sling. Do you have one?” she asked sharply.
“Yeah I do,” I bit back, pulling the thin material out of the first-aid box
Taking it from my hands, she placed it on the back of the truck. Fine. If Miss Independent wanted to do it herself, I wasn’t going to stop her. Smirking, I watched her fold the material into a triangle.
I stepped to the side, leaning casually against the truck, watching as she struggled to hold the sling in place with one hand. Shooting me annoyed glances, she tried using her shoulder to grip the sling and then swing it around her neck, failing miserably. She tried once more before giving up with a sigh.
“You know I think it’d help if you had two hands handy.”
Her nostrils flared in annoyance. Thrusting the sling into my face, she held it out waiting for me to take it from her.
“Can you help me?” she muttered, her face sour as the words passed her lips.
Staring at her for a beat, I contemplated actually saying no to this hellish girl.
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