Accepted & Rebuilt (Shattered Duet Book 2)

Nix: Age 5

“Mommy, is Aaron coming?”

I hook my arms around the legs of the chair. I don’t want him to come. He makes me do bad things. I know they’re bad, but he tells me they’re not. I’m confused. His eyes scare me.

Mom takes another drag of her cigarette.

“I’ve told you. Mom doesn’t fucking know these things, Nixon. I’m sure you’re counting down the fucking minutes, dumbass.”

I flinch and duck my head.

“I don’t want him to come,” I whisper. “I don’t wanna do what he says.”

Mom grabs a cup and throws it at me. That’s why I’m by the chair. I quickly jump behind it and listen to the glass shatter.

“Clean it up.”

I don’t know what Mommy’s drinking, but it’s that drink that always makes her extra mean.

“Am I gonna be able to start school this year like all the other kids, Mommy?”

She bursts from her chair and storms over to me, grabbing the shirt around my neck and pulling me up by it. Her hazy grey eyes reflect how much she hates me.

“What did I tell you?!”

“My dad said no.”

She tosses me back down. “Then listen. He said no and you’re just Aaron’s son. A piece of shit. Kids like you don’t get school. Now clean up the fucking glass before your father gets here and wipes one of our faces in it.”

I sigh and drag my legs over to the broom, but despite my grumbling, I do clean up every last piece. If Dad sees one, he can use it to hurt me or someone else. It’s too tempting for him to resist. So I always hide sharp things. If they aren’t there, he can’t hurt anyone with them.

“Where’s my son?”

Aaron.

He didn’t see me.

I sprint from the kitchen, sneak out the back door of the house, and run into the woods outside. Well, Mommy says they’re not really woods, but there are enough trees to hide. I duck behind an especially large one and curl my knees into my chest.

Please don’t let him find me.

“MARTINA!” Aaron roars. “Where the fuck’s my son?”

I can hear him from over here. He’s always crazy, but I make him especially mad. I hear my mom whimper as Aaron drags her outside by her hair.

“He was just here,” she slurs. “He was goin’ on about school again.”

Smack! My mom stumbles over from the force of Aaron’s hand flying across her face. I flinch. I should help her. It doesn’t matter that she hits me. I still don’t like her hurt.

“I told you to put an end to it.”

“In case you haven’t noticed, your son’s an idiot.”

His eyes flare. Oh, no.

I pull my face back behind the tree.

“Nix, you’re very predictable, kiddo. Do you want me to punish your mother because she didn’t do her goddamn job and keep track of you? Or should I punish you for hiding from me? Again.”

I hear the venom in his voice. I’m so scared. I bite my wobbling lower lip. I can’t let Mommy get in trouble ‘cause of me, though.

I always lose.

Slowly, I push to my feet and pull up my track pants on the way up.

“Here, Aar… Dad.”

He glances up at me. His stormy eyes flash. He throws my mom off the porch. It doesn’t bother me anymore. I’ve seen it a lot of times.

Aaron cocks his finger. “Here, boy.”

I run over. My little feet don’t make a lot of noise in the grass. When I’m close, he snatches my shirt, like Mom did, and pulls me inside.

“Always fucking giving me trouble. Your sister never gives me trouble,” he grumbles.

Her name is Rose. Dad showed me a picture once. She’s so little. Littler than me. She’s got bigger eyes than me and her hair is lighter than mine. Apparently, I’m her big brother, but Aaron says I’ll never meet her. He says she’s good. She doesn’t know her dad’s a bad man. I’m bad, and that’s why I know the truth about our shared dad.

He tells me good doesn’t talk to bad.

Unless they’re killing them.

Or using them.

Which… I guess that’s why he keeps her when he wouldn’t keep me? He’s using her for something, I guess.

He lets go of my shirt when we get to his truck.

“This is why I had your mother live way out here,” he tells me, fumbling through his back seat.

There’s a large squeal and then, coming out of the car, in my dad’s big arms, is a really cute black and orange cat.

I’ve never seen a cat in real life.

My eyes go big.

“Is that a real—”

I’m cut off. “Go in my back pocket,” he grunts. The cat is scratching him. It makes me like the cat better.

I do as he says. I go in the pocket and pull out something cold.

I immediately know what it is.

I dangle it between my fingers, feeling my blood go cold.

A gun.

I stare at Aaron. Then the cat.

No. Please no.

“Dad?” I whisper.

“I’m gonna set this thing down. I’ll hold it for you since it’s your first time using a gun, but I expect you to get better. Rose cried about this fucking thing. I need it to disappear so I can tell her it ran away. Figured I could teach you a few things along the way.”

“Dad, I don’t wanna hurt it. Won’t Rose be sad?”

“You let me worry about her. You do as I say. So, first, you turn off the safety. I’ve taught you that already. So go on.”

“Dad…”

“Nix, if I kill the damn thing, I will make it hurt. You’ll do it fast. It’s up to you, but if you don’t do as I say, it’s gonna be your fault that the cat suffers.”

Feeling tears well up, I swallow so Aaron can’t punish me.

I turn the safety off.

“Good. Now put your finger on the trigger.”

I can’t…

I slide my finger in the slot.

“Aim. Point it at the cat. Don’t miss, Nixon, or I’ll buy another and we’ll practice on other live animals. I don’t think you want that, do you?”

“No,” I whisper.

“Then,” he shakes the cat. The poor kitty. I can’t help but cry. This pisses my dad off to no end. I see it in his eyes.

I close one eye.

I point the gun.

I feel the skin of my childhood shed.

I let my heart shatter so I can save the kitty from torture. Even at five, I know Aaron will hurt it so bad. He’ll make it bleed. I’ll kill it fast. I won’t let it hurt for a long time.

So I shoot.

BANG!

The sinister smile on Aaron’s face lets me know I just gave him something I didn’t ever want to.

Something I know I will never get back.

My five-year-old self crumbles.