Abbot Sisters Introduction
Eighteen year old Sloane Abbot stared straight ahead, not daring to look behind her as her mother’s coffin lowered into the ground, Rayne and Pepper, her younger sisters clinging to her hands. As the cold drizzle changed to rain, Sloane swallowed past the lump of pain in her throat and she wanted to close her eyes. She wanted to pretend that this wasn’t happening and this day was just a dream…or a nightmare. Her mother wasn’t really dead, she told herself. Her mother would jump out from behind one of those trees any moment now and say, “Gotcha!” Desiree Abbot was a jokester, loving to sing and dance and tease. Sloane’s mother was a beautiful woman who loved life, embracing it with both hands and calling out simply because she was happy.
Unfortunately, there was no “Gotcha!” moment. In fact, the only change was that the rain came down harder, pouring down on her and her two younger sisters as if even God was crying out at the injustice happening here today. Her mother…gone? It seemed impossible! Desiree was too vital, too happy and too…well, too everything!
And yet, that vital, amazing light had been snuffed out by a stupid, arrogant, smug bastard who had gotten drunk and stepped into a car. Yeah, he was in jail now, charged with driving while intoxicated and manslaughter, but those charges didn’t help the fact that Sloane was only eighteen years old and…terrified! She was eighteen! How was she supposed to go on with her life? How could she…?
Pepper, only fourteen, pressed her face into Sloane’s arm, turning away from the image of their mother’s coffin being lowered into the ground. Gone. Gone forever! At the same time, Rayne, the middle of the Abbot sisters and only sixteen, sniffed, trying to be strong but failing miserably.
Sloane released her sisters’ hands and wrapped her arms around both of them, holding them close. She didn’t know what else to do other than keep her sisters close, protect them from…everything! That thought terrified her! Now that her mother was gone, what were they going to do? Their mother was everything to the three of them!
Their sniffles reminded her that her sisters were crying and probably feeling just as lost, just as confused as sadness and anger overwhelmed each of them. How dare some miserable excuse for a human drink too many beers, end his evening with a shot of tequila and then get into a car?! How dare he think of himself as invincible! How dare he…!
Pepper squeezed Sloane’s waist, her shoulders shaking as the sadness overwhelmed her.
The cold, miserable rain trickled down Sloane’s neck and she lifted her arms, trying to keep the rain off of her sisters as much as she could. Technically, Pepper and Rayne were only her half-sisters. Her mother had been a beautiful woman, but she’d chosen men who were…well, less than honorable when it came to their parental responsibilities. The three men that had come into Desiree’s life had been happy enough to enjoy her mother’s soft touches and sweet affection during the fun times, but as soon as she’d discovered that she was pregnant, those disgusting men had disappeared faster than a mosquito in a tornado!
The minister looked over at the three of them, pity in his eyes, but Sloane ignored him. In general, she ignored men just on principal, having learned her lesson well from her mother’s experience with the male species. As the oldest, she’d been around to watch and learn, knowing that men were about as fickle as the weather. She wasn’t going to fall into that trap. Men were…well, not to be trusted, she told herself.
“Thank you for your help, Pastor Mike,” she said, shaking the man’s hand.
“Are you girls going to be okay?” he asked, squinting as the rain came down harder.
Sloane didn’t know the answer to that question, but she nodded with feigned confidence. “We’ll be fine,” she assured him. “Fine” was probably a relative term, she thought.
The minister nodded, hesitated a moment, but accepted her word. “Call me if you need anything, Sloane. Anything at all.” Sloane tried to smile, but her cheeks were too cold from the rain. Her feet were numb since she and her sisters had been standing in the muddy grass during the ceremony and their thin shoes were no match against this miserable weather.
“Let’s go,” Sloane urged her sisters.
Rayne released her older sister’s arm and paused, looking down at the hole where her mother’s plain, pine coffee rested. As the only red-head in the family, Rayne knew that she had to be careful and not become angry. The ridiculous stereotype of the fiery red-head had followed her throughout her whole life and she hated it. Almost as much as she hated the anger that someone had taken her mother. Anger was a waste of energy. It wouldn’t bring her mother back and it wouldn’t give them justice for her murder.
Taking a deep breath, Rayne closed her eyes and…there was silence. She wanted to pray, to ask God for help, but…silence. She was terrified of what would happen next, how they would move forward without their mother. Desiree had been…amazing! She’d been Rayne’s confidant and friend and mother and the woman who just…understood. Sloane and Pepper both had dark hair, so they looked more like sisters. But Rayne didn’t look like either of them, except for her blue eyes. Yes, her eyes were similar and that…for some reason that was enough.
Sloane touched her shoulder and Rayne forced her eyes away from the hole. She saw the fear in her sister’s eyes and that terrified her even more.
With the rain pouring down, Rayne looked around and wondered at the injustices in the world. Why? Why had someone done this to their beautiful, wonderful mother? One moment, Rayne had been in her room, studying for her history exam when the knock came to their door. Rayne remembered that moment, remembered glancing at the clock and seeing that it was after eleven o’clock at night. Well past the time when she should have gone to sleep. And well past the time when her mother should have been home. As a hair stylist, their mother closed up the shop at nine and was generally home to kiss them all goodnight around nine-thirty. Their mother always tried hard to be home before they went to bed, wanting to chat with them, ask about their classes and make sure that they’d done their homework.
Every night, Rayne had resented her mother asking about homework. She was sixteen now, and had always done her homework, never missing even one assignment over the years. But as Rayne looked at the mud that was slowly falling into the deep hole as the now-pounding rain created a mini-mudslide onto the coffin, she wished that her mother was still around asking that stupid, annoying question.
Rayne knew in theory that her mother’s homework checks were just her way of connecting with each of her daughters. But Rayne had always rolled her eyes and simmered with irritation. Desiree would simply smile or outright laugh, then kiss Rayne on the top of her head and walk out of the room. Sometimes she’d be singing, sometimes even dancing as she moved on to Pepper’s room to go through the same ritual.
They hadn’t had much growing up in this small, Texas town, but they had a lot of love and tons of laughs. The four of them had always laughed, always knew that there was love in her mother’s hugs.
As she looked up, Rayne wasn’t sure what she was going to do now. Sloane was talking to the minister and Pepper was pushing her dress down over her knees. The rain was steady now as the other guests moved slowly off to their cars. There weren’t a lot of guests, even though her mother had been a very popular hair stylist.
Poverty, she thought to herself. Desiree might have been a popular woman to do one’s hair, but showing any sort of affection for a woman that had given birth to three children from three different men, none of whom had stuck around, meant that the Abbot family was “bad blood”.
Rayne shivered, but not from the icy rain. No, this shiver was because she hated being poor. And she hated that people would dare to treat them like this! Lifting her chin, she ignored the cold and the wetness creeping down her neck because they couldn’t afford umbrellas. Somehow, she was going to get out of this miserable town. She was going to be respected! People would know her name and…damn it, they wouldn’t look away when she walked down the street!
Sloane looked over at her and Rayne suspected that something was very wrong. Rayne sensed that there was pain and…fear in her sister’s eyes? Was that possible? Sloane never feared anyone! Her big sister was all-powerful, all-knowing! The possibility that Sloane might be afraid of…whatever…was too terrifying to consider. No, Sloane would figure this out. Whatever it was, Sloane was the smart one of their trio. She’d figure it out and they would all be fine. Just like always, Sloane would make this work.
Pepper leaned her forehead against Sloane’s arm, trying to give her sister some of her strength. Pepper might be the youngest, but she knew things. She was stronger than they thought and she could help whatever was going on.
Looking over her shoulder, she sighed with relief when Rayne started coming towards them. But she quickly looked away when the cemetary workers moved closer, their impatient glances telling everyone that they wanted to cover up the coffin where Pepper’s mother lay, still and lifeless. Their shovels started tossing dirt over the pine coffin, the muddy thuds sending shivers of horror throughout her body. Moving closer, she pressed against Sloan’s side, wanting to get out of here, away from this place where her mother’s body was being covered by mud. It wasn’t right, she thought. This whole thing was…so wrong! So unfair!
Pepper tugged at the cheap cotton shirt she’d donned earlier this morning, thinking that it was the best shirt she had and wanted to look pretty for her mother one more time. But with the rain, Pepper suspected that the shirt now looked horrible and her heart ached, wishing that her mother were here to tell her one more time that she looked pretty and that she was smart and creative.
That wasn’t going to happen. Never again! Because some asshole had…she closed her eyes, pushing that thought out of her mind. People who thought it was okay to drink and drive never learned. They thought they were invincible and…her eyes moved to the muddy hole one more time, then quickly looked away. The guy who had done this to their beautiful mother was sitting in a jail cell right now, awaiting trial. He’d go to prison, she thought with comfort. He’d go to prison and he’d rot there and she hoped that he thought about her beautiful mother every single day while he was in that cell! Orange! The man would have to wear orange! No one looked good in orange! She tossed her brown locks over her shoulder, vowing that she’d never, ever, wear orange!
Sloane slammed the car door shut, cursing the pathetic excuse for a car. It started when it felt like it, barely drove over fifty miles per hour and guzzled gas as if it were three times the size of the compact hatchback.
But it was all they had and she smacked the newspaper against her leg. Another day and four more job interviews. She had to get a job soon because the rent on their tiny apartment was due soon. She had a bit more in savings, but she’d had to drop out of high school and get a full time job. They’d buried their mother only last month and things were looking pretty grim.
Surely things couldn’t get worse, she told herself, wondering what her high school friends were doing now. Probably still in class, she thought as she pulled the mail out of the small, metal mailbox. Sifting through the mail, she tossed the ads and magazines into the recycling bin, ignored the utility bills that…well, she wasn’t sure how she was going to pay those. The only other piece of mail was…her fingers shook as she stared at the envelope. It was from…!
A stream of men were walking down the stairs, all of them carrying boxes and…a sofa? Sloane blinked, stuffing the mail into her purse for later, not wanting strangers to see the anxiety on her face. These men were…carrying her sofa?
“What are you doing?” she demanded, thinking that she was seeing things. Surely, that wasn’t her sofa! That was someone else’s sofa, someone else who had the exact same ugly green sofa. The exact same sofa with the stain on the end where Pepper had spilled hot chocolate years ago.
“Just following orders, ma’am,” one of them replied, obviously wary.
“Who’s orders? And is that my…?” she gasped when she saw her bedroom dresser coming down the stairs next. “Why are you stealing my furniture?”
The landlord came out of his apartment, his smarmy laugh making her skin crawl. “You can’t pay the rent, Sloane,” he said with a chuckle. “You can’t pay, you can’t stay.”
Sloane spun around, horrified by what was going on. “But…the rent isn’t due for another two weeks!”
The man with beer stains on his yellow tee-shirt shrugged. “You got a job?”
She blinked, feeling panic well up in her throat, almost choking her. “Not yet, but I will!” she told him firmly. “And you can’t kick us out of the apartment when we’re still paid up for the next two weeks!”
He laughed again. “Watch me,” and he didn’t bother to reply. He simply ordered the men to put all of their furniture on the side of the road.
The big, yellow school bus pulled up at that moment, letting off the other high school kids who lived in the apartment complex, all of them staring at the growing pile of furniture and boxes that were now piled on the curb.
Pepper and Rayne rushed off of the bus, hurrying to where Sloane stood, staring in increasing horror.
“What’s going on?” Pepper demanded, grabbing Sloane’s arm. “Why is all of our stuff sitting on the curb?”
“The landlord is kicking us out.”
Rayne spun around, glaring at the man who was no longer around. “He can’t do that!” she whispered with a hiss of fury. She walked over, her fist pounding against the door. When the landlord opened the door, his smug, lascivious smirk made Rayne’s skin crawl.
“Hey Red. What’s up?’
“What’s up is that you’re breaking the law!” she growled, pointing to the curb where the men were still piling more and more stuff up. The Abbot sisters didn’t have a lot, but every little piece was precious to them.
At that same moment, thunder blasted in the distance.
The man looked up at the sky, then back at Rayne. “Yeah? Well, who is going to stop me?”
Rayne opened her mouth, prepared to reply, but what could she say? The men wouldn’t stop carrying their belongings to the curb and now the long awaited storm was on it’s way. This wasn’t good, she thought.
“Rayne, we need to…”
Rayne turned and looked at her older sister. Sloane was biting her lip, watching the henchmen carry more and more stuff down the stairs. Some of the furniture broke when the men just tossed it onto the growing pile.
“Come on. We need to save our clothes,” Pepper called out, tugging at Sloane’s hand.
Rayne looked back at the horrible landlord, wishing that she could do something. But in this circumstance, just as when the police officer stopped by their house a month ago to inform them that their mother had passed away, she and her sisters were powerless.
So instead of replying, she hurried over to the pile and pulled out the boxes of clothes, fighting back the tears of humiliation. Everything they had was on this pile. All of their furniture, pictures, books, plates, utensils, mixing bowls…everything just dumped into beaten up boxes and tossed on the curb, as if it were all trash.
To most people, this stuff was trash. But it was their trash!
That’s when Pepper saw her friends. They were all standing on their balconies, watching the drama play out. Some of them whispered to each other, others just backed away, ashamed to be watching something so horrific.
And none of them came down to help, to offer their assistance or a place to stay for the night.
The thunder boomed again and Rayne felt Sloane and Pepper beside her, tugging at the clothes, just pulling anything out, not worrying about whose it was. The furniture could stay. They had no way to save the furniture. Same with the kitchen items. Right now, they just needed clothes.
“Grab the blankets,” Pepper whispered. “And pillows.”
Sloane was right there, doing the same thing. All of them were beyond humiliated, but they worked fast, salvaging anything they could. Unfortunately, the storm moved in and poured rain on everything. The sofa was ruined, as were the mattresses and any wood furniture. Several of the men laughed as they threw more of their stuff onto the pile, purposely throwing it where fingers were tugging. Rayne wasn’t sure if the men were aiming for their fingers, or just trying to make it hard to get the clothing out from underneath everything else, but they were mean and horrible men!
“That’s enough, Sloane whispered. Rayne looked up at her older sister, wanting to argue. But Sloane continued. “We can’t move all of this stuff in Mom’s car. We can only take what we can pack in there. We’ll figure out the rest later.”
Pepper dumped out one of the boxes and all three of them shoved whatever they could into the box. Everything was now muddy and soggy, several things had torn because of the tugging and all three of them were shivering in the cold. But they continued to grab whatever they could.
“That’s enough,” Sloane said, taking Pepper’s hand, then grabbing Rayne. “Let’s get out of here.”
Rayne followed, glancing up at the balcony once more, her anger increasing as she watched several windows where the curtains twitched. In that moment, she vowed never to stand by when someone needed help. Never!
Sloane pushed herself up against the cinderblock walls of the homeless shelter, glancing to her right and left to make sure that Pepper and Rayne were still safe. The big room, filled with other sleeping “guests” was loud with snores and moans. The clock ticking away over the shadow of the basketball hoop told her that it was just after two o’clock in the morning.
She couldn’t sleep as the tears streamed down her cheeks. Every time she thought things couldn’t get worse, they did. Her mother had died, leaving them all orphans. Okay, so technically, Sloane wasn’t an orphan since she was legally an adult. But technically, she hadn’t been allowed to graduate from high school since she’d dropped out after the funeral in order to get a full time job. Right now, she was working at a fast food place down the street, which was the only place that would hire her. But if that disgusting manager brushed by her and touched her butt one more time, Sloane wasn’t sure what she might do. Break the guy’s fingers?
No, she wouldn’t do anything, she reminded herself. She’d just endure his groping because she didn’t have a choice. It was endure or be poor again. They’d been living here at the shelter for two months now. They had a routine down pat and, in a couple of weeks, Sloane would have enough money to get a new apartment. Living here at the shelter, they had no expenses. Pepper babysat after school and in the evenings, earning some extra cash. Rayne worked at a grocery store after school, which gave them more money. And Sloane worked at the fast food place during the day time hours, then walked two blocks over to wait tables at a diner whenever there was an extra shift.
Was this all there was? Would they be living like this for the rest of their lives?
Impossible! Sloane looked around, resting her hand on Rayne’s shoulders. Sloane knew that Rayne was the most affected by what had happened to them. All of her friends had seen their apartment furniture get tossed onto the street. They’d moved to the next town over after that. Anonymity was a blessing at times. Besides, what good were friends when they weren’t there to help?
Sighing, Sloane leaned her head back against the wall, trying to figure out how to get out of this mess. Looking to the left, she saw the white envelope poking out of her bag. She remembered reading that note on that horrible day. The day that they’d been evicted.
Moving silently, she pulled the envelope out and unfolded the single page. “Congratulations,” it started off. Full scholarship. Excellent grades and they’d be “proud” to have her as a student.
Yes, Sloane had gotten through high school with a four point five grade point average. She’d been on track to be valedictorian. Then the accident had happened and her whole life was thrown off balance. She’d been accepted to NYU, one of the most prestigious schools. On a full scholarship!
Now, she was a high school drop-out working at a fast food joint.
Carefully, she let her fingers slide over the words, wondering what her life would have been like if her mother was still alive. So many changes in such a short period of time.
Sloane wasn’t aware of the tears streaming down her cheeks until one of them fell on the paper, the drop sounding loud in the night time air.
With a sniff, she folded the paper, stuffing it back into the envelope and back into her purse. That was another life, she told herself firmly. Another time. She had her sisters to take care of. And they were so much more important than going to NYU. Besides, how would she even have gotten there? After taking over her mother’s bank accounts, Sloane knew that her mother hadn’t had the money to send her to the college in New York. That was thousands of miles away. It might as well have been the moon. Right now, all the money they had saved so far would go towards rent and food.
Until her mother’s death, Sloane had gone through life oblivious to how expensive the world was…and how cruel. If it hadn’t been for a kind stranger, they never would have found this shelter, might have been living on the street for all this time.
But somehow, some way, she was going to turn their lives around. Glancing at the other sleeping “guests”, Sloane vowed to give her sisters a better life! They would have a chance at a real life! They’d go to a real school! Somehow, some way, she’d give them the life that had been snatched away from her! Rayne was brilliant and passionate, she deserved the chance to find out what her brain could do. And Pepper, she was so amazingly creative! Where she got some of her ideas, Sloane would never know. The girl could draw and create just about anything! It was truly impressive.
And the clock continued ticking. Second by second, time was slipping by.