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Jessica was cold and shivering despite piling several old blankets onto the bed. It was winter and the old farmhouse was cold, especially since the electricity had been turned off. The woodpile was getting very low, Jessica had noticed that evening when she got home from school. What would they do when they were completely out of wood? She managed to build a fire in the lone fireplace in the house each morning, but she was hesitant to build another fire when she got home from school because she didn’t want to use the small amount of wood that they had left.
Her father, Marty, was often not at home for days on end. When he was there, he was usually too drunk, or high, to get a good fire going. He usually brought a few groceries once a week, but not nearly enough to keep Jessica from being hungry. With no electricity, they had practically no perishable goods. Jessica usually ate some bread and, on rare occasions, a banana for breakfast. At night she usually went hungry, but sometimes opened a can of soup and ate directly from the can. The lunches at school were almost unpalatable, but they were free and she forced them down. She sometimes wrapped part of it in a napkin and brought it home for her supper.
Jessica Smithson had just turned 18. She was a Junior in high school, the oldest in her class. She had missed so much school over the past couple of years that she could not pass her course work. She should be graduating this year. She was so withdrawn that she had lost all of her friends. The teachers had shown concern for her, but she was unwilling to admit to anyone the horrendous conditions in which she lived. She often walked a mile down the road to catch a ride to school with a neighbor, but refused to discuss the situation at home.
It had not always been this way. When Jessica was a Freshman, 3 years previously, she had been among the top students in her class. Her older brother, Nolan, had been valedictorian of his class that year and was a popular athlete in both football and basketball. He had gotten an academic scholarship and moved 200 miles away to go to college. All of that happened before anyone, including Nolan, knew that their parents, Marty and Beth Smithson, were both addicted to prescription drugs.
Shortly after Nolan moved away to college, their mother began staying out all night several times a week. Their father, Marty, drank every night. Jessica gave him a wide berth. He had been such a kind, gentle man when she was younger, but now he yelled at her and was verbally abusive in other ways, as well. He often called her names, like “bitch” and “little slut”. This puzzled Jessica, for she had never even had sex, nor had she ever even come close. She had never even been kissed. She had never had a date. She had become scared of her father and tried to stay away from him.
After a few months, Beth had been arrested for breaking and entering. When the police searched her car, they found stolen property. Apparently, Beth would drive to homes in isolated areas and, if no one was home, would break in and search for pain pills or valuables that she could pawn. Jessica was shocked, having never suspected that her sweet mother was capable of such things. Her mother was a beautiful woman and had brought her children up to go to church, to read their Bibles every day, and to practice the Golden Rule. Then, almost overnight, she had changed. They quit attending church, although Jessica sometimes got a ride from a family who attended their congregation. Jessica started noticing that her parents drank in front of her, as if they no longer cared that they might be setting a bad example. They had taught her and Nolan that drinking was a vice. Jessica didn’t see why anyone would want to drink or do drugs.
When Jessica was in the eighth grade, her father had an accident at work, injuring his back. He had several operations, but was still in constant pain. He was put on disability and soon was addicted to pain pills. During this period of time, Beth slipped on ice and hurt her hip. The doctor gave her a prescription for pain meds, but refused to continue to refill them. She was still in pain, so used her husband’s pain medicine. She soon recovered from her injury, but was addicted to the pills. Her husband’s prescription was not enough to satisfy their addictions, so they started buying them from drug dealers. Her addiction became so pronounced that she lost her job. Soon, practically all their income went toward providing themselves with pain pills and alcohol. Nolan had moved away to college, leaving Jessica at home, but almost totally ignored.
Beth wrote letters to Jessica from jail. She explained to her how she had gotten addicted to pain pills and had become so desperate to feed her addiction that nothing else mattered. She had broken into homes to search for drugs and to find valuables to sell.
Marty’s income consisted of a disability check. Jessica wondered if they were not eligible for other relief, but when she mentioned it to Marty he had become topkapı escort enraged and she was actually fearful that he might strike her – something that he had never done.
Jessica had never thought of herself as anything special. She was 5-10, and had always been lanky and thin, but she had been pretty. She had very dark, almost black, straight hair and brown eyes. Many people told her that she resembled Tina Fey, but her hair was much darker and she was a lot taller. Two years of malnutrition had changed her looks. She was now painfully thin, her hair lacked luster and her face looked shriveled. Nobody ever told her that she was cute or pretty like they used to.
As Jessica lay in her cold bed, shivering, alone in the old farmhouse, she realized that she had to act. She was hungry and cold. If there was a real cold-snap, she might actually freeze to death, she feared. She had been reluctant to tell anyone what was going on, but her clothes were ragged and it was difficult to stay clean with no electricity. She carried buckets of water from a stream that they used for drinking water and to bathe. She had asked her father to buy bottled water to drink, but he had ignored her. She was thankful that she could shower after P.E. class at school. It seemed such a luxury.
The next day she entered the office of the Guidance Counselor, Miss Watson. She was a kind, middle-aged woman that had, several times, tried to talk to Jessica about her situation. Everyone, of course, knew that Beth was in jail. Jessica was obviously depressed and looked haggard, unkempt, and had obviously lost weight.
“Hey, Jesse! Come in,” Miss Watson said as she closed the door and Jessica sat down. “What’s up, Honey?”
Tears began to stream down Jessica’s face. She sniffled, wiped her face, blew her nose, and said, “Miss Watson, I was wondering if you would let me use your phone to call my brother?”
Miss Watson regarded her with concern. “Jessica, do you not have a phone at your house? Not a landline or a cellphone?”
Jessica ducked her head, unable to look her in the eyes. She shook her head, but offered no explanation.
Miss Watson got up and sat in a chair next to Jessica, taking her hand and stroking it kindly. “Jesse, you know that we are here to help you, don’t you? We WANT to help you, Honey.” Tears came in her own eyes.
Jessica suddenly looked directly in her eyes and jerked her hand away. “I just want to use the phone. Is that too much to ask?” she demanded.
Taken aback, Miss Watson paused for a minute, studying Jessica’s face. “Of course you can use my phone, Honey. I’ll just step out. How long do you need? Is 5 minutes enough?”
Jessica nodded. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean…”
“No, it’s okay, Jesse. I know you’re going through a tough time. I wish you would talk to me about it. That’s my job, you know,” she said as she got up and walked to the door, opening it.
“Thank you,” Jessica nodded. Miss Watson closed the door as she stepped out into the hall.
Jessica called her brother’s cellphone and informed him of her situation. She apologized over and over for bothering him. Nolan was not aware that she and their Dad were living without electricity and running water. He knew, of course, that their mother was in jail and was very aware of Marty’s addictions. He promised Jessica that he would see what he could do.
Nolan was extremely upset by the phone call. He had been worried sick about Jessica. He had not heard from her in several weeks and had no way of calling them to check on what was going on. He had planned on calling a friend and ask him to drive out to the farm to check on his sister and father. What his sister told him was a shock. It made him fearful for her.
Nolan was a tall, handsome boy. He had just turned 21 years old and was a Junior in college, where he maintained almost a perfect average. He, like his sister, had dark brown hair, neatly trimmed and even darker brown, almost black, eyes. He had routinely lifted weights a couple of times a week since he first played football in Junior High school. He was no body builder, but he had a great physique and was widely admired by girls. Incredibly, however, despite having dated several girls, he had never had sex. He had been taught by his parents and Sunday School teachers that sex was something very special and wasn’t just for recreation. Marriage, ideally, was the province of all sexual activity. He hadn’t dedicated himself to “saving himself for marriage”, but he totally subscribed to the idea that it would have to be with a very special person.
Nolan’s favorite Bible verse was “whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might”. He had excelled in football and basketball, not because he was a natural athlete, but because he worked at it diligently. He was the top student in his class in high school because he, unlike nearly all of the other students, dedicated himself to perfection in his homework and tuzla escort study. Whatever he did, he did it in the very best way he could. This sometimes cost him friendships in high school, but the teachers and adults, in general, admired him. Now, as he pondered what his little sister had just told him, he wondered what was the best way to handle this. In his heart, he felt he already knew. He went to his dorm room, read his Bible, which he did every single day, and prayed. He had gotten out of the habit of praying daily, but still believed in its efficacy. He knew what he had to do, now. He had known what the best course of action should be even as he hung up the phone with Jessica, but now it had been confirmed. He went to the administrative offices of the college, explained the situation, and withdrew from school. He was assured that his scholarship would remain in place if he returned to school within a year.
Nolan was soon packed and on his way home. He had called a few friends and explained his situation. Most of them told him that he was doing the right thing. There was nobody on earth that was more important to Nolan than his little sister. He had watched as their parents’ neglect had changed her from a blossoming, intelligent, happy young girl to an unhappy, undernourished girl who was failing many of her classes. He felt great guilt that he had not put more effort in intervening on her behalf already. He knew that she was highly intelligent – way more intelligent that he was – and that it was just a crying shame that situations beyond her control had caused her to be a failure in school.
She had been so cute and pretty, her body beginning to develop in her young teen years, until, almost overnight, she wasn’t attractive anymore. She looked haggard. She wore old, ill-fitting clothes. Most of her clothes now hung off of her because she had lost so much weight. She wore sweaters over the top of her clothes, hiding whatever curves that she might have.
Nolan drove until late in the night, arriving at the farm after 10 PM. There were no lights at all. He wondered what they used for light. Candles? Lanterns? Flashlights? He used the flashlight on his cellphone to make his way to the front door. He managed to get the creaky front door open and noticed immediately that it was just as cold inside as it was outside. It was less than 40 degrees and he knew that there had been sub-freezing nights recently.
“Anybody home?” he yelled.
“What the hell are you doing here?” he heard his father reply. “Why aren’t you at school?”
“Jessica called. She said that they’ve cut the utilities off. I came home to see what I can do,” he replied as he made his way toward the living room where he heard his father’s voice.
“What the hell are you gonna do about it? Are you working for the power company? Jessica needs to keep her damn mouth shut and get her lazy ass in gear and get a job.”
Nolan shone his light on his father, who was reclined in his easy chair with several quilts piled on him. Liquor bottles littered the floor. “What was for supper, Dad? Did you cook, or did Jesse?”
“Shut the fuck up. You know there’s nothing to eat here, you smart ass. I can’t work. I can’t do anything about it. Your whore mother got herself thrown in jail!” he shouted.
Nolan strode across the living room and grabbed his father by the collar. “Do not call my mother a whore! She did what she could to supply your drug habit, you useless old man!”
Marty pushed his son’s hands away from him. “She stole shit to support your lazy sister. Spoiled brat! She’s fucking 18 years old. She should be supporting ME – I’m disabled. Then she goes and tattles to you, as if you can come in here and straighten everything out! Well, what are you gonna do, Hoss?”
“Dad, please do not talk about Jessica that way. She is not at fault here. I am sorry that you had that accident and I know it took away your ability to support your family. I get it. As bad as things are, you can’t lay blame on Jesse. She’s a child. She’s innocent!”
“Innocent my ass,” Marty replied. “She’s a selfish little bitch. ‘Dad we’re out of food’, ‘Dad we’re out of wood’, ‘Dad we need this. Dad we need that!’ She whines all the time instead of going and getting a job. She’s pretty. She could strip or give blowjobs. She’s young. Men will pay a lot for a teenager.”
This enraged Nolan. He grabbed the bottom of the recliner and lifted it, turning it over and spilling his father into the floor. “Get up, old man. You’re not going to talk about Jessica that way. You can say anything you want to about me, but not about her! Do you understand me?” he shouted as tears coursed down his cheeks.
“Ohhhh, oh fuck you’ve hurt my back,” Marty moaned. “Son, help me up. Why the fuck did you have to show up here? Everything was going fine. Help me up!”
Nolan was so angry that he was on the verge of hyper-ventilating. He considered kicking his father. He was angry enough at that pendik escort moment, he thought, to kill him.
Then he felt someone touch his back. Startled, he turned. He still held his cellphone in one hand. It momentarily blinded his sister, who stood there, wrapped in a blanket, visibly trembling.
“Jess,” he said, then put his arms around her and held her to him. Her body shuddered as she wept. She didn’t return his hug, but merely stood there allowing him to hold her, soaking in his love for her.
“Dad?” he said, through his own tears, “How can you have done this to her? How could you have neglected your own daughter for this long?”
Marty groaned, reaching behind him to indicate that his back was hurting. “You’re a couple of spoiled, sniveling brats. You come in here and throw your own father in the floor. I am ashamed of both of you.”
Nolan gently helped his father to his feet. “Dad, I should not have done that and I’m sorry. I was out of control,” he said, as he placed the recliner back in its place. “I am here to try to help. Not just Jesse. You, too. I still love you, Dad. I want everything to be okay, again. Will you cooperate with me?”
Marty moaned as he took his place in the recliner again. “Just let me sleep. I’m tired,” he said as he reached for his whiskey bottle and took a long draught. He reached for a bottle of pills, poured some into his hand and chased them with another swig.
“Dad, you’re going to kill yourself with that stuff. We need to get you in rehab. Seriously,” Nolan told him.
“Nah! Just let me sleep. We’ll talk tomorrow,” Marty said as he pulled the handle on his recliner and closed his eyes.
Nolan guided his sister back to her room and covered her with several blankets. He tucked her tightly and kissed her forehead. “Jess, everything will be okay. It may take me awhile, but I’m going to fix this. You’re not going to live like this any longer. I’m so sorry for not being here for you sooner.”
Jessica wrestled her arms out from under the covers and flung them around his neck. “Nolan, I love you so much!” she cried. “You’re the only person on earth that I trust.”
His sister’s sniffling and tears broke his heart. Fresh tears coursed down his cheeks as he remembered the bright, pretty girl that his sister once was. Now she was scared and hungry. She clung to him as if she couldn’t bear for him to ever leave her.
“Get up, Jess.”
“What? Why?” she asked through her tears.
“Let’s drive into town and get you something to eat. Have you eaten supper?” he asked.
“I can manage. I had a peanut butter sandwich,” she told him.
“Come on, get up. We’ll buy a few groceries, too. I’ll go tomorrow and see if I can get the utilities turned back on.”
Jessica got out from under the covers and, unashamed, took her pajamas off. Her back was to him, so Nolan couldn’t see her breasts, but her legs and bottom were too skinny. He could easily count her ribs. She pulled a bra on and turned to face him. The bra was way too big for her. Nolan figured that the bra probably fit her well before she lost so much weight. Even before he had moved away, she had shapely breasts and a nice figure; he hoped that her body could recover. He was going to make sure that she had enough to eat from now on. He would make sure that she was warm and safe. He would get her out of this environment where she was suffering verbal abuse.
They drove into town and ate fast food in the car. Only drive-throughs were open at that late hour. Jessica ate two hamburgers, a large order of fries, and a large milkshake. “This will probably make me sick,” she observed. “I’m not used to eating this much.”
“I hope not, Jess,” he said as he reached and stroked her face. She was still pretty, even though she was emaciated, he thought. Her face hadn’t suffered as much as the rest of her body. She wasn’t as pretty as she used to be, but she was still the same cute girl that he remembered from before her world collapsed.
She smiled as she grasped his hand. “I knew you would save me,” she said as, once again, tears poured down her face. “You’re the best person I’ve ever known, Nolan.”
Nolan couldn’t keep his emotions under control. He wept, his muscular chest heaving. “I’m so sorry, Jess. I was worried about you, but I should have been here taking care of you.”
Jessica pulled his head to her chest, kissing his face over and over. “I love you so much!” she keened over and over through her own tears.
“I’m going to take care of you, Jess,” he sniffled.
“I’m gonna let you!” she laughed through her tears.
They drove to a grocery store and picked up several staples, things that didn’t need refrigeration. Then they drove back out to the farm. Jessica lit a candle in her room and another in Nolan’s. She reminded him that, if he needed to use the bathroom, that he would have to do it outside because there was no running water. They had bought some bottled water and shared a bottle as they brushed their teeth. Nolan had told her to stop drinking the water from the creek. It could make her sick.
Nolan once again tucked her under her covers, told her he loved her, and kissed her forehead. He then went to his own room, found a couple of extra blankets and was soon fast asleep.
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