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Crash Here part two
Tears. Tears were all Camia could see. The tears of her big sister, the only one who had ever protected her from Bill, flooded Camia’s vision and made her want to cry, too. Shania was crying on her bed, unaware that Camia stood in her doorway. Jack was sitting next to Shania with his arm draped around her, whispering words that Camia couldn’t hear.
“They’re gonna take her away!” Shania sobbed into Jack’s shoulder. “How could they do that?”
“They have to. Maybe we can find a way to keep you two together. We’ll do everything we can.”
“But what if they make us move to another part of the country?”
“We’ll figure something out.” Jack tipped up Shania’s chin and smiled at her gently. “I promise.”
Shania looked up. “Camia!” she cried when she saw the little girl. Camia ran to Shania and jumped into her lap.
“I don’t want to go anywhere else!” Camia told Shania. “I like it here!” Camia’s big brown eyes were filling with tears. “Don’t let them take me away!”
“Shh, baby girl, I won’t let them take you away from me,” Shania promised, hugging her sister. “But we might have to move. It’ll be okay, Cam.” Over Camia’s head, Jack glanced at Shania, pain evident in his golden eyes. “It’ll be okay,” Shania murmured again, mostly to Jack. She wiped the tears from Camia’s cheeks and said, “Come on. Let’s go to the park.”
A month had passed since Shania came to Jack, begging him and his parents to let her and Camia stay with them. That had been the easy part. The hard part had been getting Camia out of the house full of abuse she was forced to call home. Recalling what he’d been forced to watch and had been helpless to stop, Jack always felt the need to see Shania and hold her close. As Shania, Jack, and Camia walked to the city park, that now-familiar urge to protect Shania reared its head again, and Jack found himself putting a hand on Shania’s waist.
Camia went straight to the swings, just as she always had and probably always would. Shania pushed her as high as she could and smiled for the first time in awhile when she heard her sister laugh and giggle. After ten minutes of tireless swinging, Camia ran to the jungle gym and played by herself while Jack and Shania talked.
“You can’t move,” Jack said. “You can’t leave me.”
“Child services might make us. I’m sorry Jack, but it’s true,” Shania reminded him with a glum smile. “I don’t want to leave, but I can’t very well live with you till I graduate.”
“Why not?” Jack challenged and Shania smiled.
“Because if I do, we’re gonna get in trouble.”
“Who’s gonna get in trouble?” Camia asked brightly. Shania grinned at her.
“You’re gonna get in trouble if you keep eavesdropping!” Shania cried and chased Camia around the park. Soon it was Jack and Shania against Camia in a game of tag. Problem was that Camia was really fast, and whenever Jack was just about to grab her, she slipped away from him with a taunting giggle. Shania checked her watch after a half hour of the exhausting game. As Camia tagged her, Shania announced that she had to go to work.
“Oh, crap, I’ve gotta go to work, too!” Jack realized.
“Camia, can you behave at the library while I’m working?” Shania asked. Camia nodded. “All right, you’re coming to work with me.”
“Be safe,” Jack told Shania, kissing her quickly on the lips.
“Only if you will.”
“Always.” Jack jogged in the direction of the auto repair shop he worked at as Shania and Camia headed to the library.
Camia skipped ahead of Shania. “Catch me if you can!” she sang. Shania laughed.
Her laugh was abruptly cut off when she saw a chillingly familiar face. Bill’s friend Fred was watching her and Camia. “Camia,” Shania called. “Come here. Now.”
“Only two blocks to the library,” Shania told herself, taking Camia’s hand. “Only two blocks.” Fred was following them in his van. They hurried along.
“Shania slow down!” Camia complained.
“Camia, we’re gonna be late if you don’t hurry,” Shania lied. “You don’t want me to get fired, do you?”
“Well I can’t keep up.”
“You’re gonna have to,” Shania snapped irritably. Camia’s eyes welled up with tears. “Cam, come on, don’t do that. I need this job so I can pay our bills.”
“There’s our clothes and the car payments and I have to pay for gas, too,” Shania explained. “Kerry and Macy won’t let me pay rent, but when I go to college I’ll have to. Now come on, I really don’t want to be late.”
Camia didn’t complain about the pace after that. The two were only a half block from the library when Fred pulled up beside them. As Fred stepped out of the car, Shania pushed Camia behind her. “Shania,” Fred greeted her with pseudo-pleasantry, “Where are you off to in such a hurry?” Fred was slowly advancing, herding Shania and Camia backwards. It wasn’t long before Camia’s back was against a wall and Shania was panicking.
“T-t-to my j-job,” Shania stuttered. “I’m g-gonna be late, so s-s-sorry, but we h-have to go.”
Shania glanced over Fred’s shoulder and saw that a policeman had stopped and was watching the scene with evident concern and interest.
“Oh, I don’t think you’re going anywhere,” Fred said. “You see, that court date is coming right up, and I would rather my good friends Bill and Greg didn’t go to jail. You won’t be able to testify…” Fred produced a pocket knife and flipped it open.
Shania screamed as loudly as she could. The policeman was at her side in a matter of seconds, but that was just a little bit too late. Shania dropped to her knees with the blade buried in her stomach. She couldn’t make out quite what was happening other than that Camia was crying. Shania reached out and took Camia’s small brown hand in hers and mumbled, “It’ll be okay. Tell the police everything,” before she passed out.
Shania slumped onto the sidewalk. “Shania!” Camia cried, “Wake up!” Then Camia saw the blood on the cement and screamed, “Please, Shania, wake up!”
Then a police officer was pulling her away from Shania saying, “Don’t worry. She’ll be okay. What’s your name?”
“Camia. Is Shania gonna die?”
“Is that Shania?”
“Yes, sir. She’s my sister.”
The policeman’s eyebrows furrowed. “She’s not gonna die. Are you two adopted?”
“We were. But then Jack’s mommy and daddy let us stay at their house ‘cause Bill hit her and said he was gonna hit me.”
“Do you mean Jack O’Connor? Is his daddy named Kerry?”
Camia nodded. “Then this morning Shania was crying ‘cause she thought I’d get taken away from her.”
“What happened next?” the policeman asked.
“I started crying ‘cause I don’t want to go anywhere else and then Shania said we had to go to the park. Then Shania and Jack both had to go to work and Shania works at the library and she said I had to come with her. Then that guy over there was following us and he got out of his van and was talking to Shania. Then when she screamed he put his knife in her tummy.”
“Okay, Camia. You’re gonna have to come with me. Is that okay?”
“What’s gonna happen to Shania?”
“She’s going to go to the hospital and get all fixed up so that she can play with you again sometime soon. Now come on,” the policeman urged.
Jack had barely walked into the shop when his boss, Alex, called, “Jack, come here.”
“I just got a phone call from your dad. He said to send you to the hospital.”
“I’ve gotta work… why am I supposed to go to the hospital?”
“I got Luis to cover your shift. Man, Shania’s in surgery.”
Jack felt himself tense. “What?”
“Jack, Shania got shanked. If that policeman hadn’t seen that guy threatening her, she’d probably be dead by now.”
By the time Alex got to “that guy,” Jack had grabbed the keys to his work truck and was out the door. Jack was speeding most of the way to the hospital; when he got there, his parents were already in the waiting room. “What happened?” Jack demanded.
“One of Bill’s friends got to her,” Kerry said. Macy stifled a sob. “She just waited too long to scream,” he continued.
“What’s the name?”
“They haven’t told me yet, but they did take him into custody. Shania’s still in surgery and Camia’s being interviewed.”
“What’s he look like?”
“Like a sick b******. Shania’s not gonna come out of surgery for awhile, Jack,” Kerry said.
“I know. I’m gonna go kill the S.O.B. who tried to murder her.”
“Jack, come on. You know you can’t.”
“I’m sick of people trying to hurt Shania!” Jack growled in a sudden fit of temper. “It’s happened too much.” He turned to the door.
“Where do you think you’re going?” Kerry asked.
“Police station. I’ve gotta let Camia know…”
“Let her know what, son?” Kerry inquired, gripping his son’s shoulder.
“I just need to see her! That little girl is everything to Shania! Do you know how scared she probably is right now?” Jack scrubbed his hands through his hair. “Camia watched her sister get shanked.”
“That’s true, but you can’t interfere with the questioning. Just wait here with us, Jack,” Macy pleaded. “We need you right now.”
Jack shook his head and crashed out the door.
“Did you know the man that hurt Shania?” the man asked. He had a nice smile. Camia was quite sure she could trust him.
“I think I’ve seen him before,” Camia replied. “But I don’t know his name.” Camia took a drink of the root beer the man had given her. It bubbled and stung in her mouth, but it tasted good. “Shania would be mad at you,” Camia said frankly.
“She doesn’t let me drink sodas until after lunch,” Camia shrugged. “I won’t tell on you,” she promised.
“Is Shania nice to everyone?” the man asked. “Do you know why that man wanted to hurt her?”
Camia shook her head. “She was never nice to that man. He came to our house a lot. She bit him once,” Camia giggled.
“Why’d she bite him?”
“He was hitting her.”
“I don’t know. Bill’s friends hit Shania a lot.” Camia looked down. “She wouldn’t let them hit me.”
“How did she stop them?”
Camia was getting tired of the questions. She yawned. “Camia, can you tell me how she stopped Bill’s friends from hitting you?
“She’d yell at them sometimes. Sometimes she’d hit them till they let go of me.” Remembering the terror that went hand-in-hand with poker nights, Camia’s eyes welled up with tears. “One time Bill hit her in the face and her eye turned purple.” As the tears spilled over she asked, “Where’s Shania? Or Jack? Does Jack know?”
“Shania’s at the hospital, Camia. She’ll be there for awhile. I don’t know where Jack is.”
Camia looked out the window on the door. “Jack!” she cried when she saw his face. The nice man let Jack in.
“You can’t interfere.”
“I know, Doc. I just had to see Camia,” Jack replied as Camia hugged his knees.
“Jack,” she said, “I don’t want to talk to him anymore. I want to see Shania!”
Jack knelt so he could look Camia in the eyes. “I know, Cam, but Shania’s still in surgery. You’ve got to tell this man everything you remember, okay? Don’t exaggerate, ‘cause I know you do that sometimes. Just tell him the truth.”
Shania woke up with the feeling that a long time had passed. She was in a hospital bed. And she was alone. No Camia, no Jack, no Kerry or Macy. No nurse or doctor and especially no Mom and Dad. They’d never been there. At least, not that she could remember.
After a few minutes of brooding on her nonexistent childhood, Shania noticed a pain in her abdomen. When she looked down, she found that her midsection was covered with bandages. She wondered for a few moments what had happened to her, and then it all flooded into her mind: Fred following her and Camia… Camia being unable to keep up… the flash of the blade in the sunlight… then the staggering pain of the knife digging through her flesh. Shania took deep breaths, trying to calm herself. It wasn’t long before a nurse came in.
“Your heart rate was pretty high there,” the nurse commented. “Are you all right?”
Shania raised her eyebrows. “Will I live?” she asked.
“I’d bet my life’s salary on it,” the nurse replied with a reassuring smile. “You’ll be fine.”
“Where’s Camia? And Jack? And Kerry and Macy?”
“Jack and Camia are at the police station. Kerry and Macy will want to know you’re awake,” the nurse replied cheerily. After checking all of Shania’s vitals and IV bags, the nurse bustled out. A moment later, she returned with Kerry and Macy in tow.
“Shania!” Macy cried. Her eyes were red and bloodshot.
“Has Macy been crying over me?” Shania wondered silently. “Hey, guys,” she greeted them weakly. “How’s it goin’?”
“You scared the hell out of us,” Kerry told her, his voice and face exhausted.
“Aw, I can’t take the credit,” Shania grinned. “Fred did all the real work.”
Kerry and Macy didn’t smile. “He was Bill’s friend,” Kerry said. It wasn’t really a question. Shania nodded.
“He used to try and hurt Camia. When I’d step in, he’d beat the crap out of me.” Shania smiled. “I always paid him back.”
“He has a scar on his left hand from when I bit him… then one time when he stayed over I spiked his toothpaste with Chinese Hot Sauce. Umm… let’s see… x-lax in the salsa—that one was hilarious—smoke bomb in his car… I think that’s it.” Shania smiled again. “Oh, yeah, and I replaced his hemorrhoid cream with capsaicin.”
Kerry stifled a laugh. “You’re kidding!”
Shania shook her head.
“Kerry,” Macy spoke for the first time. “Let her rest. The nurse said she could come home within a day or two if she showed enough improvement.”
“Home,” Shania breathed. “I’ll be able to come back to your house?”
“Our house,” Macy corrected. “Kerry talked to a judge, and you and Camia can stay in our house till you go to college. Then, once you’re eighteen, you can officially adopt Camia.”
Shania smiled widely. “You’re serious?”
“We’re serious,” Kerry said. “It’s completely legal, too. Are you in?”
“I’m in,” Shania agreed happily.
“You’re in on what?” Jack asked, walking in to the hospital room with Camia clinging to his hand.
“I’ll tell you later,” Shania promised. Her eyes were bright and her smile was wide enough to break her face. Jack couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen her so completely happy.
“Shania!” Camia yelled, running to the bedside.
“Hey Cam, what’s up?”
She giggled. “I got a root beer!” she sang.
“Before lunch?” Shania pretended to be shocked. Jack smiled at their playful banter.
“Don’t be mad!”
“Baby girl, I’m not mad. I’m glad you’re okay.”
Macy herded everyone out of the room. “Shania, get some rest,” Macy ordered.
“Jack, stay for a minute.” Shania requested. Meeting Macy’s motherly glare, Shania promised, “Just a few minutes, then I’ll sleep.”
When everyone else was gone from the room, Jack pulled a chair up and sat at Shania’s bedside. He took her hand and kissed each fingertip. “I told you to be safe,” he murmured against her palm.
Shania sighed. “I know. I didn’t exactly plan for this.” With her free hand, she gestured to her bandages. “Your dad talked to a judge. Camia and I can stay with you until I graduate. When I’m eighteen, I can legally adopt Camia.”
“Really? Shan, that’s great!”
Shania smiled at Jack. Jack smiled back. “What would I do without you, J?” she asked. Jack shrugged.
“Have no one to kiss,” he suggested with a playful smile. He leaned in and kissed her briefly. “Now sleep. Please. So you can come home.”
“Home sounds so nice,” Shania murmured, kissing Jack once, twice. “Make sure Camia doesn’t have any more soda today, kay?”
Jack smiled. “No problem.” As he left the room, he stopped in the doorway to glance back at Shania. She was already asleep.
A week later, Shania and Camia were herded into a courthouse along with Kerry, Macy, and Jack. When they were told that they couldn’t watch each other testify, Shania was nearly in tears. How could they make a six-year-old girl testify against a man she was terrified of without anyone there to reassure her?
Shania knelt to Camia’s level. “Don’t be afraid,” she said. “I’ll be right outside. As soon as we’re all done, we’ll go home, okay?”
Camia nodded. Almost an hour later, it was Shania’s turn to testify. Her hand shook as she was sworn in. “Shania, did you run away from Bill Henly’s home on September 26th of 2010?” the defending attorney asked.
“Why did you run away?”
“I was scared of Bill. The night before I ran away, Greg hurt me. Bill encouraged him.” Shania’s voice wavered.
“How did he hurt you?”
“He slapped me. He kicked me. He threatened my foster sister, Camia. He… he…”
“Your Honor, I don’t think the victim is fit for questioning,” the attorney said.
“Objection!” the prosecutor yelled.
“Overruled. The jury will disregard the defending attorney’s last comment,” the judge said. She had a disgusted look on her face. “Please finish your statement, Miss Katin.”
Shania swallowed. “He touched me,” she finally spit out. “And made me touch him.”
“Did you ever play pranks on Fred or Greg or Bill?”
“Yes sir.” Shania brushed her bangs of her eyes.
“What kind of pranks?”
“I put a smoke bomb under the hood of Fred’s car. I put x-lax in the salsa they always ate at poker nights. I put Chinese Hot Sauce in his toothpaste. And I replaced his hemorrhoid cream with capsaicin cream.”
“Why did you do these things?”
“Greg would get drunk and threaten Camia. I couldn’t let him get away with that.”
“So Shania, why didn’t you alert the authorities immediately? Isn’t your best friend’s father the sheriff?”
“I didn’t report him sooner because I was scared of what would happen if they didn’t believe me.”
“No more questions.”
The prosecutor approached her. “Shania, tell us what happened the night that you ran away from home.”
“The night before, Greg and Bill were hurting me and threatening Camia. The next morning, I packed my things and went to Kerry and Macy O’Connor’s home; their son, Jack, is my best friend. I asked for help getting Camia out, and Kerry offered to get a warrant. I thought a warrant would take too long, but Jack convinced me to wait for it. I went back to the house with Jack. We planned to get food and water and wait in my bedroom with Camia and a lock the door till Kerry got the warrant, but our plan was… interrupted. Bill was hitting me and Jack tackled him. I called 911, but Bill had pinned Jack. I pulled Bill off of Jack and then Bill pulled out his pocket knife. He took off my clothes and… and after a few minutes the police came.”
“Would you consider Bill a strong man?”
“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, Bill Henly’s and Greg Thorton’s attorneys would like you to believe that Shania Katin is a problem child and they were disciplining her as they saw fit. Shania, what’s your GPA?”
“I have a 3.9, sir.”
“Have you ever committed any misdemeanors such as petty theft or drug possession or ever gotten an MIC?”
“Have you ever consumed alcohol or used drugs?”
“You see, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, Shania is an average teenage girl who was put into an unfair and unsafe environment. When she tried to escape from that environment and take her foster sister with her, she was rewarded with physical, mental, and sexual abuse. Shania Katin is not a problem child. She’s a child with problem foster parents.”
The judge excused Shania from the courtroom. Camia was patiently waiting for her. A half hour later, Jack joined them. “Come on,” he said. “Let’s go home.”
That evening, after putting Camia to bed, Jack searched Shania’s eyes for worry, but found only exhaustion. “You all right?” he asked.
Shania nodded. “I can’t believe that I’ll be able to stay here till I leave for college. It’s so insane!”
“So are you,” Jack teased. “But I love you anyway.” Shania buried her face in Jack’s neck.
“You know how I said we’d get into trouble?”
“Wanna get grounded?”Jack’s mouth found Shania’s.
The next day, Shania received word that Greg and Bill were being sent to jail, as well as Fred. For the first time in over a year, Shania felt that she could breathe easily again.