This is my first Shea Swain book and I’m sure it won’t be my last. She has a way with words that really grab you from the first pages. As I have said in the past, I have to take my time with ebooks. It was hard to do, heck, I attempted to push through a headache a few times. It weaves a story that you won’t want to put down. Let’s just say I haven’t felt so conflicted with a book in a while.
While they were addicting, I had a hard time reading the first few chapters. It was painful reading the experiences the Jones’ had to endure. I had a hard time liking Junior as well, even though I knew he was a victim of Cefus’. This story made me change my mind about things a few times and it made for a great book. The only issue I’m having at this time is writing the review without any spoilers. There is just so much to say about the book that would give things away. I will note that I can’t think of anything I especially disliked with the story, I enjoyed it quite a bit. I also didn’t notice any spelling or grammar issues what weren’t supposed to be there. All around, I would recommend it to people who enjoy darker reads.
Junior pulled himself out of bed and threw on some denim jeans and a long sleeve shirt. He hurried to the bathroom, took care of his needs then washed his face and brushed his teeth. When he heard the sounds from the kitchen below his room, he knew it was Eve. She was getting up early the past week to cook. It was something Pearl usually did, but since she wasn’t feeling well, Eve took up her chores.
He hurried down the stairs, his bare feet making little to no sounds as he entered the kitchen. Junior halted in the oversized arch entryway when he saw her. Immediately, he felt the urge to help out and actually took a step toward Eve to do just that, but he caught himself. Helping came with consequences that Eve would pay for in the end if his father found out. So he stood in the entryway watching her go about the chore.
The oversized dress Eve wore was one of Sadie’s from when his sister was younger. It was a few sizes too big for Sadie then, and it dwarfed Eve’s small frame, but she didn’t seem to care. Junior wondered what size Eve really was now. She’d grown so much in three years.
Junior found himself wondering what her favorite color was but shook the thought out of his head. His father never allowed Eve or her mother to have anything other than old clothes and enough food to keep them alive.
Junior entered the kitchen, sat at the table, and watched quietly as Eve continued to cook with her back to him. She moved around with a confidence that said she knew her way around and knew what she was doing even though her mother rarely let her in the kitchen. Clearly, Pearl was teaching Eve to cook when he and Cefus weren’t around.
Seeing her move around with confidence and ease was a side of Eve Junior had never seen before, and it intrigued him enough that he didn’t announce his presence. He realized too late that his silence was a mistake. He watched Eve turn around, her eyes widened, and a low hiss came from her mouth as she jumped back. She was able to regain control of the plates she held, but when he got to his feet and reached out to help, Eve jumped back.
Junior didn’t so much as see, but he heard the plate hit the floor.
Eve placed the other plate down and immediately got to her knees and began picking up the mess. Junior’s pulse raced as he squatted down to help. They needed to clean the mess up, and they needed to do it fast.
That was his second mistake.
When Eve noticed him helping, she balled up and began pleading with him. Eve’s reaction set off a throbbing ache in his chest. He knew the brutality his father was capable of but that wasn’t him, and it hurt that she would react to him in the way she was. Frowning, Junior couldn’t think of any time he intentionally harmed Eve or her mother. If anything he tried to make things easier for them.
“Eve, please,” Junior whispered, “You have to be quiet. You’ll draw him.”
Eve closed her hand over her mouth but continued to keep herself tucked in the little ball she wrapped herself in.
Junior shook his head but turned his attention to the mess. He used pieces of the broken plate to gather the ruined food. He then rushed over to the sink and swept the food into the garbage disposal. Junior grabbed a handful of napkins and wiped up the stains the food left on the floor. He barely had time to grab the broken plate from the sink and throw it in the trash before Cefus stalked into the kitchen. Junior couldn’t help his initial reaction as his body went rigid, but he relaxed before Cefus noticed.
“What the hell was that ruckus?” Cefus yelled. He balled his fist and pinned a shivering Eve with a death stare.
It was Thursday morning, and Cefus wasn’t intoxicated, yet. He drank during the week, but he saved ‘ass over feet’ drunk for the weekends. The weekends brought out the violent, insulting, nasty, man who operated on autopilot. Cefus could be reasoned with in this state.
“Rushing, dropped my plate,” Junior said with a confidence he didn’t have. When he noticed Cefus’ eyes on him, he added, “Coach wants me there early to run drills. He says some men are coming to watch me and Rafael on Friday.” Rafael was a really good quarterback, and with Junior’s speed, they were practically unbeatable.
Junior could hold onto a football through punishing hits, and he was a fast runner too. He avoided getting tackled. Time and again Coach told him that he was a natural; that he could get a free ride to college then get a pro gig if he put in the time and effort.
Cefus grunted, but he didn’t say anything else about the broken plate. Junior knew that bringing up football was the perfect distraction, but lately, Cefus’ reactions to the sport were altogether different. Cefus was a legend in high school football and still basked in that glory. He even forced Junior to play, in an attempt to hold on to that glory. Though, instead of gloating about how good his son was, Junior noticed that Cefus showed little interest nowadays.
When Cefus took a seat at the table, Junior let out the breath he was holding.
“You’ll never be as good as I was,” Cefus announced with a sneer. His shoulders were back, and his chest pushed out. “Davy can have you run drills your whole damn life, but you ain’t me, boy. You know it, and he knows it too.” Cefus looked angry, seeming to have worked himself up with just a few words. He stared at the spot his plate was supposed to be, his jaw clenching and releasing repeatedly. “None of them scouts gonna waste a single second with you. They comin’ to see that spic friend of yours, Guzman, not you.”
A lump formed in Junior’s throat. He forced it down as he let it sink in that the one thing that he and his father had in common just vanished. It was better not to respond so Junior turned around, picked up one of the full plates of food off the countertop, and placed it in front of his father. Still on his feet, he glanced over at Eve, who was still on the floor, attempting to clean it.
Junior turned back to his father who was now staring down at Eve. “Go wake Sadie,” Junior ordered Eve without looking at her. She didn’t need to be around with Cefus brewing. “Yeah, maybe, Pop. You coming to the game on Friday anyway?”
Try harder… Junior thought as he realized he couldn’t keep Eve off Cefus’ radar.
A rumbling sound worked its way up Cefus’ throat as an answer to Junior’s question, but his father continued to regard Eve as she unhooked her chain and left the kitchen. “Damn girl has the body of a boy.” Cefus shook his head before shoveling more food into his mouth. He lifted another fork full of eggs and meat into his mouth a few times before fixing his gaze back on Junior. “The toilet needs plungin’.” Cefus got to his feet as he drank the orange juice down. “See to it that the pup takes care of it.”
Cefus left his empty plate on the table as he moved past Junior, making his way toward the front door. Junior followed. It was then that he realized Cefus was dressed for work; he usually worked mid-shift. “You going to work?” Junior asked.
“That asshole Brett Hammonds went and got his thumb cut off.” Cefus took hold of the door handle but turned his head around to face Junior. His eyes were narrowed and one corner of his mouth twisted. Junior knew the look and what it meant. Cefus didn’t have to put the orders into words. After three botched missions to get help and living in constant fear for those around him, Junior knew to keep his mouth shut.
Junior lowered his head in response. Satisfied with Junior’s submission, Cefus left the house without saying another word.
A minute or so after the front door closed, Junior heard his father’s truck start up. Junior didn’t move a muscle as the unmistakable sound of tires rolling over the gravel driveway reached him. When the sound faded, he ran upstairs and quickly took care of the mess Cefus left in the bathroom before returning to his bedroom. Junior opened up his closet and grabbed the bottle of fever/pain pills he hid in some old shoes. He got them from the clinic for what he reported was a football injury a couple of months ago.
Junior ran down the stairs to the kitchen, navigating the familiar obstacles in his way. He opened the basement door and flicked on the light before grabbing the glass of orange juice and the only plate of food that was still on the countertop. Moving quickly down the stairs while trying to be mindful of the food and drink he carried, Junior made his way to the small room that sat directly in front of the stairs.
Inside the room was dark, so Junior left the door open so some light could filter in. He placed the plate of food and drink on a makeshift table, an overturned crate that had a piece of wood on top of it. Pearl was lying on her mattress, her head on the end beside the makeshift table. The mattress was much thicker than the thin foam mat she had last year. It took a little acting on his part and a few complaints to coach Davy about his back before his father was encouraged to get a new mattress for him.
Cefus didn’t like his old high school classmate, Davy, who was the football coach. But more importantly, Cefus refused to let anyone, let alone his rival, think he couldn’t manage his own household. Cefus also hated handouts. So a week and a few punches to Junior’s gut later, his old mattress was replaced with a better quality, gently used mattress from the thrift store.
The end reward was worth the punishment, and his plan worked. Junior was able to give his old but perfectly fine mattress to Pearl. Now she wasn’t virtually sleeping on the floor.
A thick blanket he’d also given Pearl, covered her completely, leaving only the hair on the top of her head visible. She didn’t move when he entered, but that could be because she stopped jumping in fear when hearing people enter her space a long time ago.
He hoped that was the reason why she didn’t move.
Junior kneeled beside Pearl’s bed and pulled the sheet from over her face. With her asleep, relaxed, Junior could think of no other who could match her beauty inside and out. Unlike his father, Junior loved the even cocoa color of her skin. He hardly saw many fancy women in person, but he knew instantly that Pearl was rare. She walked, talked, and carried herself in a way that he imagined royalty would.
What she endured daily was unspeakable, yet she remained sweet and gentle to Eve, Sadie, and him. He remembered the day after his father threw Pearl and Eve in the cellar. With all she was going through, Pearl pulled herself together for her daughter and subsequently for him and his sister.
Pearl was the best thing that happened to him.
Junior smoothed his hand over her hair then moved down to her forehead. He sighed. The stress that rode him for the past few days evaporated. Pearl’s fever was gone. Junior slid his hand under her head and gave her a slight shake to wake her. “I have some pain reducer and food,” he told her.
Pearl gently stroked his hand then tried to push him away. “Give the food to Eve,” she said so low he hardly heard her.
Junior squeezed his eyes closed and swore to himself. To see her suffering day after day under his father’s hands tore at him. She had little strength in her frail body. “You need to eat, Pearl. Sadie makes sure Eve eats, so your care falls to me. Come on.” It was helpful that Sadie took to Eve instantly. His sister treated Eve like a doll, cleaning, feeding, and caring for her.
He gave her a gentle tug. Pearl grunted in protest then pushed herself into a sitting position. He noticed her swaying to one side so he reached out to stabilize her. Once she was sitting up on her own, he pulled the bottle from his pocket. “Open up,” he ordered.
Pearl trustingly allowed Junior to place the pills in her mouth. He hoped the pills would at least help with her other aches. But he could rest easy now that her fever was gone. Junior placed the cup of juice in her hand, but they both held on to it as she took several sips. Pearl coughed then began to choke, so he pulled the juice away and rubbed her back gently.
“I need to get you and Eve out of here.”
“No!” Wide eyes stared at Junior. “Promise me you won’t do anything to anger him, Junior,” Pearl wheezed. When Junior didn’t answer, she took hold of his chin.