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Finch can spot a fake a mile away.
Chris has lived through hell.
In a world full of fake, can they find something real?
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I hated the sound of footsteps.
It was such a common, normal sound, something that acted as background noise most of the time.
Except, maybe, if you were walking down an abandoned street at night, if you were supposed to be alone in your apartment, if the sound of footsteps harbingered other things. Things not so innocuous. Things that made fear course through your system–twist your stomach, tingle up your spine, make a chill wash over your skin, causing goosebumps to prickle up.
These footsteps were ever panic-inducing.
Because these footsteps, the steady thunk of boots on stairs, they never brought anything good to me.
They brought pain and abuse and humiliation.
They brought injuries that lasted for days.
They brought the need to escape into my own mind, to go somewhere that wasn’t filled with cruelty and brutality.
I could go to Christmas. The ones before my mother died. The ones that had a twinkling tree I would slide under to stare up at. I would close my eyes and take a deep breath and smell brown sugar and oats as we baked oatmeal cookies together that we’d found in a recipe book I had picked up at a Scholastic book fair at school when I was nine, because I knew my mom loved to bake, that we liked to do it together.
Sometimes, though, Christmas memories were hard, didn’t work to help me escape.
Because there was one Christmas in a foster home where there was an artificial tree in a corner only half put together, light-less, with no presents to pile on the skirt, with no cookies on the counter for “Santa” even though we all stopped believing many years before.
There was just leftover, dried-out macaroni and cheese with watered down Hawaiian Punch, and the vague hum of A Christmas Story playing on a marathon in the living room.
And when you were trying to escape grabbing hands, probing fingers, other things… a depressing orphaned Christmas in a rickety bed in a room shared with two other system-hardened teenagers simply wasn’t going to cut it.
So sometimes I went to the beach.
Some years, when we were really frugal, when we cut back on manicures and eating out and buying clothes for the changes of season, we managed to take a holiday at the end of Summer. After most of the families had abandoned the warm sand to go back to their lives and start early sleep schedules to get on track for the upcoming school year, to buy bottomless supplies of notebooks and pencils and tissues. We practically had the shoreline to ourselves, the town itself entirely ours for the taking.
I would be woken up to my mother dropping down on my bed, waking me up with strands of my own hair tickling my nose. She’d drag me out of bed, down the street, and onto the beach, cool sand between our toes as we walked, welcoming the waking sun.
Those memories were soft and warm, comforting enough to keep the chill away.
But the footsteps came hard and fast and without warning.
I must have drifted off without realizing it, lost time, lost the ability to get ahead of what was coming, to slip away.
Because, I learned, once you let the panic pulse through your body, there was no stopping it. There were no memories strong enough to bank out what was going to happen.
A hand grasped my ankle.
Unfastening the shackle that had long since eaten away far too many layers of skin, leaving me constantly raw and aching.
The weight, something familiar and, in its own way comforting, falling away.
Hands sank into my hips, crushing into bone–since the healthy layer of flesh had been starved away–yanking hard, pulling up, dropping me on my feet that refused to work, refused to be active participants in my own torture.
Lips cursed me, told me I would pay for being so difficult.
Those were lies.
I would pay either way.
Good or bad, the same outcome would befall me.
There was no reason to believe anything resembling kindness or leniency existed in my world anymore.
I took short, fast, shallow breaths, having found that if I did so long enough, things got hazy, I got to see, hear, feel, think a little less.
But I was hauled upward, body curling over a shoulder, ribs painfully pressed against an angular shoulder bone.
Then more footsteps.
Up up up those stairs.
Clomping across the floors of the house above.
Pausing in front of the door.
The door to a room.
A room with a bed.
A bed with a metal headboard.
A headboard that sometimes had handcuffs or rope.
Handcuffs or rope that would slip around my wrists, clasped or tied too tightly, biting into soft, delicate flesh by someone’s hard hands.
Hands that would do other damage.
Sometimes, when I was particularly unlucky, multiple sets of hands. Of teeth. Of other things.
Of men who all meant to gain satisfaction
By inflicting pain on me.
This was the part where I was supposed to wake up.