Here’s the Prologue to Max and Quinn’s story.
Quinn pulled the front of her zippered sweatshirt tighter together and tried to ignore the tiny hole her thumb just slipped through.
Stopping on the street corner, she looked around and saw the normal everyday traffic, people moving fast with their heads down. In her neighborhood, pedestrians didn’t make eye contact and it was better that way.
She reached down, pretending not to notice the frayed edges of the sweatshirt that was two sizes too big and decades old. As she placed the ends of the plastic zipper together and tugged, she hoped it didn’t break, just like she did every time she tried to close it. When it got caught up on some loose material, she yanked fast, the zipper closing all the way up to her neck.
Pulling the zipper down a bit, she readied herself and lifted her hood over her head. It’d keep the wind off her neck, not that it offered much warmth in the late fall of her Chicago neighborhood.
Neighborhood. That was a joke. It was the slums and anyone who said differently was only fooling themselves.
She took a steadying breath, dreading what she was about to do, but what she’d had to more times than she cared to admit. It wasn’t like she enjoyed it, but she had no choice. The kids were depending on her.
Lowering her eyes and straightening her shoulders, she marched into the convenience store like she did every few days. She knew how much she could spend, but she’d have to take a bit more.
Unfortunately, the balance on the EBT card her mother left on the table just wasn’t going to stretch enough for the four hungry mouths in the house.
Not knowing when her mother might return, Quinn figured she’d have to get enough to last a few days. Since it was Friday, she was pretty sure her mother wouldn’t show up again until late Sunday night, maybe even Monday morning…after Quinn had gotten her brothers and sister up and walked her brothers to school before heading there herself. The baby would be left with a neighbor, if she could find one who’d open their door.
Doing as little as possible, that was her mother.
Time to get this over with. Quinn opened the door, heard the bell chime, and walked over toward the pasta shelf. It was cheap, filling, and she could make it last, while spicing it up so the kids didn’t think they were always eating the same thing all the time. She learned to be creative in the kitchen thanks to a neighbor giving her herbs to grow on the windowsill in their tiny two-bedroom apartment.
With her head down, she moved quickly, grabbing what she needed, what she knew she had enough money for, then moving toward the other aisle. There was no soap or toothpaste left in the house. She’d used the last bit herself. They might be poor, but they could still be clean.
Shuffling the food items in her hands, she quickly and efficiently slid the toothpaste inside her sweatshirt on one side, then looked around, made sure no one saw her, and did the same with a bar of soap.
Her head was racing, her hands were sweating, and she was silently praying to a God that never seemed to answer her prayers. No matter how many times she’d done this, it didn’t make her feel any better. She was just glad she needed smaller items this time, not bigger boxes of feminine products. Those was harder to hide in her clothing.
She walked a few more aisles over, browsing for anything that might be marked down that she could rearrange and manage to squeeze in with the limited amount of funds she had.
After a few minutes, she decided to just buy what she had and save any remaining balance for another day. There was still one more week in the month anyway.
“What do you think you’re doing, you little punk?” she heard right before a strong hand gripped her shoulder tight.
She felt the tears well up in her eyes, but pushed them back, squared her shoulders, and tried to shrug off the hand…only it wasn’t moving. Time to be strong, time to talk herself out of this.
But when she turned to see who the hand belonged to, it wasn’t an employee or the store owner, it was a police officer.