I stared down at the ground as I walked. It was cold out and my breath hung in the air for a moment before fading away. We were on the cusp of spring, but the cold snap that came through a week ago made May feel like late February. My choice of skirt today wasn't helping stave off the chill much at all.
I stumbled back a step when I came in contact with something solid.
The figure in front of me was imposing. He glanced down at me, well more like looked down. I only came up to the man’s chest.
“I am so sorry, sir.” In my state of shock, I forgot to make my voice higher to mask my gender.
The man hid his shock quickly and smiled softly. “It’s alright. No harm done. Are you okay?”
I shook myself and forced my voice into the practiced range. “I’m fine.” I looked up at him through my eyelashes. “Thank you for asking.”
The confusion was evident on his face, but he didn’t comment. “Actually, do you happen to know where I might find the Mayor’s office?” He asked, glancing down at his phone. “I cannot for the life of me find it.”
I forced a giggle. “You’re standing under it.”
He looked up. “It’s above the printing shop?” he asked incredulously.
This time, my laugh was genuine and I dropped my feminine voice. “I know, it’s the most random place for it.”
The man chuckled. “Well, thank you.” He motioned to the door. “I appreciate your help. I was very lost.” He reached his hand out. “Seriously, thank you. I’m Ryan, by the way.”
I hesitated, but took his hand. “It was my pleasure. Good luck with your meeting.” I said, withdrawing my hand and walking away without giving my name.
When I got home, it was a nightmare. I could hear yelling from the end of the driveway. I clutched the cash tight in my fist and walked through the door.
“There you are!” Jeramy growled.
I silently held out my hand and dropped the cash into his before moving toward the kitchen. My aunt cowered against the counter carefully putting together Jeramy’s dinner.
“Do you need help?” I asked softly, but not softly enough when Jeramy came up behind me and grabbed my hair.
“If you want to ‘help’ you can get your ass into the living room and entertain my friends.” He yanked my head back. “They know not to touch too much. You,” he turned his attention to my aunt. “What’s taking so long?”
She held up the tray without saying a word.
“Good. Let’s go.” He dragged me with him as he returned to the living room. “You had better be on your best behaviour tonight.” He hissed in my ear. “You know what I’ll do if you aren’t.”
The threat, while silent, was real. I shivered and nodded. The beatings that came from him were brutal enough, but when his friends were involved, they were magnified tenfold. I resigned myself to the long night ahead of me.