Ellie cried into my shoulder for at least the quarter of the hour. I held her and patted her back gently, wanting to say something...but unable to find any words. Finally, I drew away and brushed a strand of hair from Ellie's tear-stained cheek.
"It's going to be okay," I whispered, kissing Ellie's forehead. "It was somebody who was mad at Geena, but he's gone now. Nobody will hurt us, I promise."
I could tell Ellie was trying to be as brave as possible, but she still trembled. I enveloped her in my arms once again.
At long last, Ellie pulled away and took a deep breath. "I'm okay," she said, even though her voice was still breaking.
We went downstairs to find Geena scurrying around the kitchen. "Look," she said, motioning toward a plate with three doughnuts on it. "I got those for you yesterday, but I forgot to tell you about them. You can have one for breakfast." She paused. "You like strawberry milk, don't you?"
Ellie nodded, but her eyes were still wide with fear.
"Sit down, sweetie," Geena said. "Katsie, I'd like to talk to you in another room."
I followed Geena into the bathroom, the only place that was actually secluded enough for us to talk without being overheard. Despite the fact that our apartment was the largest we could afford, it was still pretty tiny.
"I don't want you to tell Ellie lies about me," Geena said, twisting some of that dirty hair around one of her fingers.
"I'm not," I responded.
"She's my sister, too, you know," Geena reasoned, but I cut in before she could say anything else.
"Yeah, and my sister just woke up to gunshots in the house! If you want to be a good older sister to her, then stop being so stupid! We can get a job other than...than..."
"Than dealing? Than selling my body? Yeah, I know." Geena smirked. "Trust me, though - this is how I want it. And if I know you right, then this is how you want it, too."
I shook my head, but there was a knock at the door. Probably some man wanting to purchase Geena. I crossed my arms and looked away. "This is not how I want it. If I hadn't threatened to turn you in, then you'd have me selling myself, too. But you should know that I'll do whatever it takes to keep Ellie safe." I looked into the kitchen to where Ellie sat, munching on her doughnut. "Even if it means I have to take her away from here."
Geena's eyes narrowed. "You wouldn't," she said, voice low.
I shouldn't have said anything. The knocking on the door grew more persistent. "You customer awaits," I said.
Geena sighed and walked toward the door. I, however, strode into the kitchen. Little Ellie tried to give me a courageous smile, but I knew better. And I didn't want her to get corrupted by the world, either. Sometimes, ignorance really was bliss.
"Ellie," I said, "if I were to tell you that I wanted to take you away from here to keep you safe, what would you say?"
Ellie stopped chewing and just stared at me.
I sat down beside my baby sister. "Come on, Ellie. What would you say?"
"I'd be happy," Ellie said, eyes filling with tears.
Looking over my shoulder, I could see that Geena and whoever had been at the door had gone upstairs. Reaching across and squeezing Ellie's shoulder, I whispered in her ear, "I will keep you safe, Ellie. I promise."
Long after Ellie had finished eating and had gotten onto the school bus, I sat there at the table, planning. Something had to be done. I wouldn't let Ellie get hurt any longer.