Michelle

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Here is a free sample of Michelle, Between the Cracks #3 for your reading pleasure!

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drop-cap-mICHELLE WAS IN HER room with a book when her daddy got home from a long haul with Marcie. She listened to June greet Justin and Marcie. Kenny, sitting on the bed staring at his schoolbooks, got up and went out to the front room.

“Kenny, get out of here and back to your homework,” June told him.

Kenny said nothing. He rarely had anything to say.

“Kenny…” she raised her voice warningly.

“Leave him alone, June,” Justin told her.

“I told him no TV before his homework is done.”

“Well then, I guess his homework is done.”

There was silence for a couple of minutes, while they probably glared at each other, trying to decide whether to have an out-and-out argument over it.

“Where’s Michelle?”

“In the bedroom with her nose in a book, like always.”

A moment later Justin was in the doorway. Dark hair like Michelle and Kenny had. Like all of them had. Justin and June looked strikingly similar; slender, medium height, with fine features. And the same dark hair. “Hi, pumpkin.”

“Hi, Daddy.”

He walked in and sat down on the edge of the bed. “How are you doing, Michelle?” When she turned her face toward him, he saw her black eye. “Oh, sweetie. What happened?”

Michelle shrugged and didn’t answer. She didn’t need to. He knew what had happened. “I wish I was Marcie and could go with you all the time.”

“Well, you need to go to school. Marcie doesn’t.”

Michelle nodded. “I wish I was like her.”

Justin touched Michelle’s bruised face. “You don’t wish you had cerebral palsy.”

June walked in. “What are you doing?” she demanded sharply.

“I’m talking to Michelle.”

“Get your hands off her!”

Justin withdrew his hand and frowned at June. “What’s the matter, June?”

“You think I don’t know what’s going on? Get out of here and leave her alone.”

Justin stood up, his brow creased in consternation. “Do you think I’m hurting her? I would never do that. We were just talking.”

“She doesn’t need you in here, putting ideas in her head and touching her.”

Justin walked out of the room. June also left. Michelle went back to reading her book. A while later, June yelled at her to come for dinner.

“I’m not hungry,” Michelle answered.

“You have to eat.”

“I don’t want anything.”

“Leave her alone,” Justin told June.

“Fine, it’s less money spent on groceries if she doesn’t eat,” June grumbled.

“June, have a drink and relax. You’re usually happy to see me when I’ve been away on a long haul.”

June said nothing. Michelle listened to the clinking dishes and glasses.

Michelle was asleep when Kenny came in. She woke up and watched him slowly undress for bed. Justin had put Marcie to bed with Michelle earlier and her little sister was now fast asleep with Michelle’s arms encircling her. Kenny was oldest and stayed up watching TV late as usual, waiting until long after dark when everyone had gone to sleep and the apartment was totally silent. June and Justin had gone to bed together an hour or two earlier. Michelle didn’t know how they could fight and argue all night and then go off to bed together as if nothing were wrong.

“Goodnight Kenny,” Michelle said softly.

He flapped a hand in her direction and climbed into bed.

Two days later, Justin was off to work again and Kenny and Michelle were left alone with June. June was quiet and easier to get along with for a couple of days, as she always was after Justin had been home. But it didn’t last. It never lasted.

Kenny was in trouble at school again. Not for fighting this time, but because he was failing, and failing in everything. Usually, they advanced him a grade anyway, but they called home to try to motivate him to work harder.

“You are so stupid,” June berated him. “How come you can’t pay attention in class and make the teachers think you got something between your ears besides rocks? You’re so dumb!”

“Leave him alone,” Michelle protested.

June turned on Michelle. “You stay out of it, missy! This has got nothing to do with you.”

“Kenny is good at school, he doesn’t bother anyone. He’s quiet…”

“And he’s thick as a post! If I want to hear from little Miss A Plus, I’ll tell you.”

Michelle opened her mouth to argue and June raised her hand. Michelle ducked back and went to her room, shutting the door. She turned her radio on loud to drown out the sound of June’s voice as she continued to castigate Kenny.

He came into the room later, avoiding her eyes as he went over to his bed and lay down.

“Are you okay?” Michelle questioned, and went over to him, sitting down beside him. Kenny covered his face. Michelle looked at him.

“I hate her,” she muttered. She opened the door and looked around covertly for June. She couldn’t see or hear June. Michelle went to the bathroom and was back a moment later with cotton and peroxide.

“Okay, let’s see now.” She held Kenny’s hand away from his face and dabbed at the cuts. “Hold still. We gotta get you fixed up.”

He let her clean the cuts and grazes without protest. When she was done, they just sat in silence looking at each other.

“Do you have any homework?” Michelle asked finally.

“Uh-huh.”

Michelle looked around for his books. “Where is your bag?”

He looked away. “I forgot it at school.”

“Oh. What were you supposed to do?”

“Dunno.”

“You gotta bring your bag home. I can help you with your homework, but you gotta bring it home.”

“Yeah.”

“I’ll help you,” Michelle repeated.

He nodded. Michelle went back over to her bed and picked up her latest book. Kenny lay staring up at the ceiling in silence.

Kenny was ten and Michelle was eight. Only a year and a half apart, actually. He should have been one grade above her. It was pretty young to be on their own, but Michelle was considering it. Justin was rarely ever home and June wasn’t getting any less abusive. Things weren’t going to get any better.

Michelle honestly hadn’t realized how bizarre June’s behavior was getting. Justin got home after a long haul one day and June refused to even let him get close to Michelle.

“You just leave her alone. Stay away from her. You understand?”

Justin didn’t get angry. He just looked at June. “You don’t even know why you’re doing this, do you?”

“Doing what?”

“I didn’t figure it out last time either.” June was looking at him like he was crazy. “How old is Michelle?”

“You know as well as I do she’s eight.”

“And what happened when you were eight?”

June stared at him, understanding flooding her features.

Michelle looked at them. “What happened when Mama was eight, Daddy?”

“Go to your room and let your mom and me talk.”

Justin wasn’t usually strict with Michelle so she pressed further. “What happened?”

“You heard me.” His voice was firm and he raised one eyebrow.

Michelle went to her room, wondering what was going on.

June’s place at the dinner table was empty. June was in her room with the door shut. The children all looked at each other.

“What’s wrong with Mama, Daddy?” Michelle asked.

“Mama’s got some things to think about. You just stay out of her way for a while.” Justin was preparing to feed Marcie and didn’t look at Michelle when he spoke.

“Daddy… can’t we come with you when you leave this time?”

“Honey, you know I can’t go dragging three kids around the country with me. I have a hard enough time with some of my bosses over taking Marcie with me.”

“Why don’t you ever take me or Kenny with you instead?”

“I have to take Marcie because June can’t take care of her. There’s nowhere else for Marcie to go.” Justin inserted a spoonful of pureed peas into Marcie’s mouth.

“What if Mama can’t take care of us either?” Michelle persisted.

“You guys can take care of yourselves. Marcie can’t.”

Michelle looked pointedly at Kenny. He could take care of himself? “You don’t know what it’s like.”

Justin finally looked at her, his face sad. “Sweetie, if I could be here all the time, I would. But somebody has to pay the bills.”

“You don’t know what it’s like,” Michelle repeated desperately.

He studied her. “You’re a smart girl,” he said. “Smarter than anyone I’ve ever met. You tell me what you think I should do.”

“Is mama going to be better after this?”

“You know she’s not going to get any better.”

“Then I don’t want to stay here anymore.”

Justin was silent for a while. “You want to go to foster care?”

“Yes.”

“I’ll call Social Services,” he said finally, after another long silence, during which he fed Marcie.

“They have to keep us together,” Michelle said.

Justin nodded. “If we can,” he said quietly, “but you gotta know, they could separate you. And even if they don’t, there’s no guarantee you’ll like it any better than here.”

“I know.”

Justin looked at Kenny. “What do you think, Kenny?”

Kenny didn’t look up from his plate. He shrugged.

“You want to come with me if I go away, right?” Michelle prompted.

Kenny nodded. Michelle and Justin sat looking at him.

“Do you understand what that means?” Justin asked.

Kenny didn’t answer.

Justin went back to feeding Marcie, silent.

“I’d like to talk to the children separately,” the social worker told Justin. She was on the short side, with tousled blond hair and a tough face.

“Marcie can’t talk. Besides, she’ll be staying with me. Kenny won’t talk to you. But you are welcome to talk to Michelle.”

Marsden looked at Marcie in her wheelchair and discounted her. She looked at Kenny and Michelle. “I’ll talk to the boy first,” she challenged.

She took him by the arm and led him into the conference room. She sat him down in a chair across from her. “So how are you, Kenny?”

He shrugged and didn’t say anything.

“Why don’t you tell me why you don’t want to live with your mom anymore,” Marsden suggested.

He didn’t make any response.

“Do you want to go with Michelle?”

He nodded.

“Why do you want to go with Michelle? Is that what your daddy told you to say?”

She expected him to shake his head, but he didn’t do anything. He just sat there looking at his feet.

“Does your mom hit you, Kenny?”

Again there was no response. His head sank lower. His eyes didn’t leave his feet.

Marsden tried approaching it from several angles, but got no response. She abandoned the topic and tried to engage him in a casual conversation about himself or his interests. But Kenny just sat there as still as a statue, not looking at her. Eventually, Marsden gave up. She took Kenny back out to his father and motioned to Michelle.

“Come with me, honey.”

Michelle followed her. She sat down in the chair, shifting uncomfortably.

“So maybe you can tell me why you don’t want to stay at home anymore.”

Michelle looked around. “I’d like it if Daddy was there. Mama’s okay when he is. But he’s not home very much. He’s a trucker.”

“Yes, he is. Why don’t you want to stay with just your mom?”

Michelle looked down at her hands and scratched at the arm of the chair. “Mama can’t take good care of us,” she said cautiously.

“Why not?”

“She gets mad… and then she gets mean to Kenny.”

“What does she do to Kenny?”

Michelle bit her lip. “Sometimes when he gets in trouble at school she hits him.”

“Is that what your dad told you to say?”

“No. She doesn’t do it when he’s home.”

“Does she spank him or hit him hard?”

Michelle shrugged. “Hard.”

“Does she ‘get mean’ to you too?”

Marsden held her gaze and Michelle looked away from her. “Uh-huh.”

“What does she get mad at you for?”

“Sometimes… I forget to help with dinner… or I try to stop her from getting mean to Kenny.”

Marsden nodded. “Okay, Michelle.”

“I get into trouble at school too, sometimes,” Michelle added, “because I talk too much. The teachers say I’m disruptive.”

“Okay. Let’s go back out and see your dad.”

I hope you enjoyed this sample of

Michelle, Between the Cracks #3

By P.D. Workman

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