Helena stumbled from the sofa into the bathroom, vomiting the booze she ingested for breakfast. She did not intend to sleep as long as she did, so she had to hurry if she wanted to catch the next bus out of Sawyer.
“Let’s go.” She yanked the kids by their shirt collars and pushed them out to the porch.
“Hey, I need you to watch this little shit for a few hours; I have something important to do.” She shoved Austen at the tall, blond teenager who lived next door with his mother.
“Whoa, hold on a minute, when will you be back? I have a summer job, and I can’t be late.”
“Look, if I’m not home before you need to leave, sit the brat out here by the door. He knows to stay put when you tell him, or he gets his ass whipped.” She grabbed Aiden by the arm, pulling him down the steps behind her. “Come on, we don’t have much time.”
Spencer Brittingham hated the nasty woman. She always yelled at the twins, and based on the ever-present bruises, smacked them around whenever they got in her way. He looked down at Austen, who had not moved from his spot and wondered when this kid last ate a decent meal. “I bet you’re hungry, aren’t you? Let’s go inside, we can share some toast with grape jelly.” Austen’s chocolate brown eyes lit up, and he nodded his head in agreement. “Where did your Mommy take Aiden?”
The child did not answer, just shrugged his shoulders.
“That’s okay, you don’t have to tell me.” A knot formed deep in his gut; something was not right. He rarely saw Helena spend time with her boys, and she sure as hell never took them anywhere.
Ray walked in around eleven fifteen that night to find Helena sitting at the kitchen table. She was drinking her whiskey straight from the bottle and smoking a joint. Several more bottles of whiskey sat next to the sink.
“Where did all this booze come from? Did you buy all this shit instead of food?”
She looked up, her lip curled in a sneer. “No, I didn’t spend any of your money, I spent my own.” Standing up, she balanced herself with one hand on the back of the chair while digging in her pants pocket, producing his ten-dollar bill. “Here’s your lousy ten, so shut your fat mouth and leave me the hell alone.” She clasped the joint between her lips, picked up a bottle of whiskey, and then walked the few steps from the table to the sofa. “Does it bother you to know you’re nothing but a worthless, ugly old goat?” she laughed at him.
“You disgust me, but I can’t help but to pity you.”
“I don’t want or need your pity, Bozo. You see, I’ve discovered a way to get lots of cash.” She leaned her head back laughing and then swallowed another mouthful of whiskey.
“Well, make sure you invest part of it in a sturdy broom so you can fly out of my life permanently. The twins and I don’t need you.”
Ray went to check on the boys. He crept across the room, avoiding the familiar areas where the floorboards creaked and moaned. It was dark and stuffy, even with the windows open; just enough moonlight filtered through the window for him to see that Aiden was not in the bed.
“Austen.” He gently shook the boy awake. “Where’s your brother?”
“I don’t know Daddy.” He sat up, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. “He didn’t come back with Mommy today.”
“Where did they go?” he whispered.
“I don’t know. Mommy said he better be extra special nice to the man and do what he tells him.”
A sickening feeling washed over Ray along with an unthinkable image in his mind. He knew Helena was hateful, but never thought she would sink to this level of evil.
“You go back to sleep son, everything will be okay; I promise.” He kissed the top of his head and sat on the threadbare mattress for several minutes until Austen fell asleep. Before he confronted her, he needed time to compose himself. Ray stood in front of the window and looked up at the full moon wondering how this would play out. He was not a religious man but liked to believe God or some unseen deity would guide him through this turmoil. “Please, if you can hear my prayer, keep my boy safe. Don’t let them hurt him.”