Steve was drunk again, as always.  Maddy curled her lip in revulsion as she passed him, spread out on the couch, an almost-empty beer bottle in one hand and a cigarette in the other.  He was going to catch the house on fire if he kept doing that.  Maddy gingerly removed the smoldering cigarette from between his engine-grease stained fingers and stubbed it out in an ashtray, holding her breath against the foul odors emanating from his body.

Steve was the latest in a long string of men her aunt/foster mother fell in love with and let move into the house, only to run them off a few years later.  It was easy for Aunt Ricki to find men — she was pretty, and she knew how to turn on the charm when she wanted to.  But it wasn’t so easy for her to keep them.  Once they got to know her, even the biggest losers couldn’t stand to live with her.  She was mean and nasty when she was drunk, which was most of the time, and she took all her frustrations out on the people around her, mostly Maddy.

But it wasn’t going to be that way for very much longer.  Maddy had a plan.  She was going to move out of this trash heap and make a better life for herself.  That was why she was saving every dollar she made working at Dairy Queen and doing odd jobs for neighbors.  As soon as she finished high school, she would get a tiny apartment and start taking classes at the community college.  It might take her awhile to finish, since it would be hard to make enough money to pay for rent and tuition, but she was hoping she would qualify for some financial aid and maybe even a small scholarship.  She made pretty good grades even though she didn’t have time to participate in sports or any other extracurricular activities that might have helped her.

She fingered the twenty dollar bill wadded up in her pocket that she’d earned washing old man Johnson’s 1986 Cadillac that afternoon.  As soon as she entered her bedroom she pulled it out, eager to add it to her collection.  She had a bank account where her paychecks were deposited, but the cash she earned went into a hiding spot in her room — a plastic food container she kept on the top shelf of her closet.  She liked to watch the stack grow higher up the sides of the box as the bills accumulated.

Her hands fumbled around on the shelf above her head, feeling for her stash, and she accidentally knocked down a box of mementos.  Her money box came with it, cracking open as it landed, spilling the bills onto the matted, brown carpet.

“Is that you, Ricki?  What’s for dinner?  I’m hungry,” Steve grumbled as he pulled himself off the couch with a groan and tromped down the hallway.

Maddy’s face contorted as she realized her door was still open.  She definitely didn’t want Steve to see all the money she was hiding.  She raced to close it, but she wasn’t quick enough.  Steve’s eyes landed on the pile of bills like a laser beam hitting a target.

“Well, lookie what we have here — a genuine treasure!  Where’d you get all this money, honey?”  Steve chuckled as he pushed his way into her bedroom.

“It’s mine; I earned it,” Maddy said as she rushed to grab up the bills before he could reach them.

“Now, I thought we were a family in this house, and families share things, don’t they?  Your aunt shares this house with you, shouldn’t you share some of that money?”  His eyes bored into her with an evil glint as he reached for the money.

“This is for college; you can’t touch it.  Go get a better job if you’re so desperate for money, you loser!”

Steve’s eyes grew dark and squinty and Maddy knew immediately it was the wrong thing to say.

“I ain’t no loser, sweetheart.  I get exactly what I want, when I want it, even if I have to take it.”  He grabbed the money, prying it out of her sweat-slick fist and shoving it in his pocket.  His hands reached for her next, grabbing her shoulders and forcing her towards the bed, his eyes full of lust and anger.

Maddy’s mind played out the scenario like a movie as they moved in slow motion.  She saw his filthy, heavy body collapsing on top of hers, his hands tearing the clothing from her body, his foul breath poisoning the air as she tried to catch her breath around his forceful kisses.  She knew she couldn’t let it happen; she’d never be able to fully recover.  She only had moments before his momentum trapped her, but she mustered every ounce of strength she had and channeled it into her leg, driving her knee between his.

He howled in pain as his legs collapsed under him, his hands reaching to cup his injured member.  Maddy vaulted over him, grabbing the few bills still lying on the floor and dashed out of the bedroom.

She raced down the narrow hall and through the tired living room with its sagging plaid couch and scarred tables, and she slammed open the front door like a choking fire victim seeking oxygen.  She didn’t know where she was going, but she knew she couldn’t stay there another minute.  Not with that lowlife threatening her.

She would call her aunt as soon as she got somewhere safe and tell her what happened, convince her to get rid of him.  Surely Ricki would be willing to help her.

Maddy shivered as she ran through the backyards of her neighbors, staying out of sight in case Steve was following her.  She didn’t think he would bother to chase her, but she really didn’t know that much about him.  The sun was setting and the temperature was dropping quickly, just like her hopes for the future. 

When she broke through a line of trees and saw the library, she sighed in relief, propping her hands on her knees as she bent over to catch her breath, her whole body heaving.

The library was perfect because it was warm and open late, and Steve had probably never been there in his entire life so he wouldn’t think to look there.

She walked through the doors like she had a hundred times before, but this time she felt like she had a giant sign on her forehead, announcing her trauma.  She looked around furtively, her eyes landing on the door to the bathroom.  She could call her aunt from there and hopefully no one would overhear her.  She forced herself to walk casually, normally, despite the fact that her breath was still coming in heaves and she was sure the whole building could hear her heart pounding.  The clean, quiet bathroom was a lysol-scented sanctuary, and she exhaled loudly as she sank to the floor, the cool, hard tiles offering comfort — a sanitary reprieve from the madness of the last few minutes.

The phone rang four times before going to voicemail, and Maddy left a teary message.  She didn’t know where Ricki was or how long before she would listen to the message, but she stayed in the bathroom for what felt like hours, calling, hoping to eventually catch her.

The librarian had just made the “10 minutes till closing” announcement when Maddy’s efforts to reach her aunt finally succeeded.

“Aunt Ricki, it’s Maddy.  Where’ve you been all evening?  I’ve been trying to reach you!”  The calmness she had attained after waiting so long immediately evaporating.

“I was havin’ cocktails with my girlfriends, not that it’s any business of yours.  What do you need, anyway?”  Ricki’s voice was slow and slurred from one too many cocktails.

“Ricki, listen, Steve took my money and he tried to… touch me.  I can’t go back there with him in the house.  You have to kick him out.”

“Now, hold on jus’ a minute, lil’ miss uppity, Steve’s a good man — maybe the best one I ever had.  You musta done somethin’ to set him off.”

“I swear, I didn’t!  I was just putting away my money and he barged in and took it from me, said I needed to share it with the family.  That’s my college money, Aunt Ricki!  I earned every dime of it.  I yelled at him and called him a loser and that’s when he grabbed me and tried to… you know.”

“See?  That’s what I mean; you done paroled him.  I mean paroked, er… pavoked him!  What’d you e’spect, girl?”

“Aunt Ricki, he tried to… rape me!”  Maddy’s voice was a high-pitched whisper, shrill with anxiety.

“Well, were ya parading around with them skimpy pajamas on you like to wear?”

“What?  No!  I was fully dressed.  I don’t parade around in my pajamas!”  Maddy couldn’t believe how her aunt was responding.  Well, actually she could.  It really shouldn’t have surprised her.  Ricki had never been on Maddy’s side, never bothered to take care of her.  All she gave her was a roof over her head and three meals a day — if Maddy was lucky.

“Well, if you was dressed, how could he rape ya?  Huh?  Quite makin’ up stories and git home.  It’s  late and it’s your turn to make supper.”  The line went dead, and the silence felt final.

Maddy slumped back down to the floor, her back sliding against the slick tile walls of the bathroom.  The thump she made as she hit the floor echoed in the empty room and she sobbed, overwhelmed by the situation.  She hated her life — hated her Aunt Ricki and all the loser boyfriends who always took priority over being a good mother, hated that nasty old house that smelled like beer and urine, hated the fact that her stupid, irresponsible birth mother had given her to her aunt to raise instead of to a good family.  Maddy knew the only reason Ricki agreed to take her was for the foster money.  She never really wanted her, never loved her.

What was she supposed to do now?  She refused to go back to that house, to put herself at Steve’s mercy.  But it was too soon to move out; she still had several months till graduation.  She didn’t make enough money working part time to pay for an apartment.  The manager at Dairy Queen had said he’d probably let her work full time come summer, but it was barely spring and too cold for most people to be thinking about ice cream.

She had her money in the bank she could use, but she hated to dip into that.  It’d be hard enough to pay for college as it was, let alone if she took three months rent out of her college fund.  But what other option was there?  She couldn’t stand another minute living in that house with Steve and Ricki.

She sighed and glanced at the clock on the cheap Tracfone she carried then jumped to her feet in surprise when she realized the library had closed 30 minutes ago.  Why hadn’t anyone come to shoo her out?  Didn’t they realize she was in there?  She poked her head out the door and stared at the darkened room before her.  Was she locked in the library?

She tiptoed out of the bathroom and peered around the corner, looking for any sign of life at the counter, but everything was dark and quiet.  She scurried to the front door and was relieved when it swung out in front of her, but she paused just before she let the door close behind her.  She didn’t have anywhere else to go tonight, and there were some soft chairs she could probably sleep in.  What would it hurt to stay here?  The worst that could happen was someone would find her and kick her out, but it didn’t look like anyone was left to see her.  She expected at least a cleaning crew, but she didn’t hear a single sound emanating from anywhere in the large building.

Exhausted from the emotional turmoil, Maddy stepped back into the library and made her way to the reading nook in the far corner.  She slumped into an overstuffed armchair, the pillowy cushions enveloping her, and she let her eyes close for just for a minute.