His Young Queen:(Steel Jackals MC #1)By: Tiff P. Raine
~ Prologue ~
Tish O’Malley sat on the very edge of the couch in the rundown apartment, continuously picking at her swollen cuticles. She’d promised herself when she turned six she’d stop doing that, but yesterday had been her birthday and here she was, still pulling at those little bits of skin. She put her thumb in her mouth when she felt a wetness and knew she’d made herself bleed again. She didn’t look at it, though. Not because blood made her sick or anything, she just didn’t want to take her eyes from her mom.
Rachel, she corrected herself.
Rachel didn’t like being called Mom. She said her friends liked her better when they thought she was only babysitting Tish, so Tish had to call her Rachel. That was hard to remember sometimes, and Tish got hit on the back when she messed up.
Rachel was on the floor. She’d started out on the couch that morning, but after using her bent spoon to, well, Tish didn’t know what her mom did to the stuff she bought from Freddy. Warmed it up? Cooked it with her lighter? Burnt it? Who knew? All she knew was that after the smoke was sucked in, Rachel usually looked really tired. And she smiled a little. Rachel didn’t smile very much.
But the past couple of days had been different. Every time her mom, er, Rachel, breathed in her smoke, she got sick. Real sick.
Tish yawned so big her eyes watered. She wanted to sleep but was too afraid—
She jerked forward and flew down to land on her knees beside her mom as she lurched upright. Tish grabbed the chipped brown throw up bowl she’d used when she’d had the flu at Christmas and shoved it under Rachel’s face just in time to catch the rush of vomit that came out. It pushed forcefully through her mouth and nose and smelled awful, but Tish was used to it now. She patted Rachel’s shoulder and waited for it to pass. When it did, she got up and ran into the bathroom to dump the throw up in the toilet and wash the bowl out in the bathtub.
She went as fast as she could, and when she got back to the living room, there was a smell in the air. Like burnt plastic. Rachel was leaning against the couch, her spoon and lighter sitting in her lap.
Tish approached slowly and placed the bowl on the scratched table. “Maybe you can not do that tomorrow?” she asked quietly. “I haven’t been at school since Thursday…” It was Wednesday. Almost a week had passed since she’d sat at her desk.
Rachel raised her sleepy-looking eyes. One had a spot of blood on the white part. Tish had seen it appear after a really long throw up session last night where she’d had to run and empty the bowl twice before it was over.
“So go. I don’t need you here.”
She went down on her knees but stayed more than an arm’s length away. Rachel didn’t like to be touched. “But I’m afraid you’ll be sick when I leave.”
She shrugged and nibbled on her lip. “So I can’t clean it up if I’m at school.”
Rachel started moaning and holding her middle. Tish reached for the bowl again, but she was too late. The remainder of the chicken soup she’d heated up earlier, along with a brighter yellow liquid, spewed out of her mom’s mouth to land all over them and the floor. As it soaked into Tish’s jeans, she pushed the bowl—
Rachel shoved it away, and rather than save Tish a little work, she laid down where she was and retched onto the floor until her tummy was finally empty. She kept making those terrible heaving sounds, but it wasn’t until a watery sound came from her bum that Tish jumped up and started cleaning up the soggy noodles and throw up that was running in a little river under the couch. She eventually got Rachel out of the dirty clothes and into the bathtub.
“What are you doing? I’m freezing! Where’s my clothes?”
Tish held back her tears as she ran and grabbed the pillow and blanket off her bed. Her limbs were shaking because she was starving and so, so tired. She came back to find Rachel in the same position, curled on her side, and she was peeing. Tish quickly rinsed the urine down the drain, and shrugged, not minding it so much because it was easier than cleaning it off the floor with the already dirty towels. After drying her mom’s legs and bum—she wiped her up there as best she could, until she was back-swatted on the chin for her troubles—she pushed the pillow under Rachel’s head and covered her with the blanket. Her blond hair was dark with grease, but her skin, which looked shiny, was white like paste.
As fast as she could, before it all started again, Tish loaded up the basket with all the dirty laundry that she’d piled in the corner over the past couple of days, and raced to the second floor to toss it and some soap into one of the old washing machines. As the cycle ran through, she ran back upstairs, grabbed a handful of coins from the can on the counter and took off for the variety store at the end of the block. It was getting dark. With a loaf of bread under her arm and her knees feeling shaky, she ran back home. Two kids in her class shouted at her as she whizzed by, asking her where she’d been lately, and as she jerked open the apartment building door, Tish called out that her mom had the flu.