Chapter 1

Zhainier's face was solemn as she watched the burning ruins of her former home vanish before her eyes. Her cruel stepfather was forever trapped within the burning house. She could still hear his screams echoing in her mind as he begged her for life, for mercy, the same way she had begged him for sixteen of her dreaded eighteen years of existence. It was a wish that he had never granted her, laughing, while he relentlessly beat her until she couldn't walk. Her mind would never release the images of his face bloodied by her hands. Her eyes would never forget the way he fell to his knees when he could no longer hold his weight up on his shaking legs. She would forever cherish this night, the night she broke free.

It's over, she thought as she heard the distant screams of the fire engines cut through the thick midnight air. She could breathe. She was alive.

And I look like shit, she thought to herself, looking down at her ripped shirt, torn baggy jeans, and one sneaker. Her clothes were bloody as a result of the many gashes that now marred her skin. Her eyes were round, green, and bloodshot. Her hair was wet and matted with dust and debris from the fire. Most importantly, her conscious was clear

She took a swig from the liquor bottle dangling from her right hand. Maybe I'll go to Canada, I hear it's nice there, she laughed darkly.

She stepped up on the curb as the fire trucks and police cars came to a screeching halt behind her.

"Are you okay, ma'am?" a concerned looking firefighter asked from somewhere beside her, she could barely see him out of her peripheral. Her sights were strictly set upon the burning building before her. All that remained of what had been her personal hell for the last sixteen years.

"I'm okay," her voice sounded hoarse, even to her own ears.

"No offense, ma'am, but you don't look it," he tried to take a step closer to her, but she side stepped him.

"I look a hell of a lot better than the man that's burning up in there," she pointed towards the house.

The firefighter looked startled but immediately covered it up and yelled to a comrade that that there was someone in the house.

"Do you have somewhere that you can go?" he asked, turning back to her.

"Are you suggesting that I can't stand here?" she replied, feeling like a bitch. Though, at the moment, she really couldn't find it in her to care.

"No, of course not. I just thought that you wouldn't want to sleep here, on the curb," he quickly corrected, putting his hands up in defeat.

"I have somewhere that I can go. Thank you for your concern," with that, she smiled darkly, shook his hand, turned, and walked away in the direction of Eli and Summer's house.

Eli and Summer were her favorite two people in the entire world. They were twins, Eli being the oldest and Summer following two minutes later. She loved them and their split personality-ness. They would provide her food and shelter until she could haul her ass out of there. They'd done it many times before. They just wouldn't let her go home because of a new bruise or scar they had found. Eli was always the best at finding the bruises.

Maybe Zhainier just sucked at hiding them, who knew? With every step she took away from the burning flames she felt lighter, like a weight was being lifted off of her shoulders. Or maybe the vodka had started taking more affect on her already dull senses.

She saw the spectators on the side of the road and smiled as she passed. Everyone was there to witness her break for freedom. It made her feel good. Accomplished. Maybe she would skip… She stumbled. Maybe not…

As she approached Eli and Summer's house, the security light came on outside. She walked across the grass, past the barking bulldog, and straight through the door.

"I'm home," she yelled as she stumbled through the door.

She was immediately attacked by the fiery blur that could only be Summer. "You smell like alcohol," she said as she pulled away from Zhainier and only just now seemed to realize the state of her appearance.

"Well, I guess I do," she said and held up the bottle.

"Peanut, what happened to you?" she asked in her serious voice, making sure to look into Zhainier's eyes.

"The Easter bunny came for a visit. He wanted his eggs back really badly," Zhainier said, trying to make the situation seem lighter.

"Please be serious, Peanut," Eli said from behind Summer, leaning on the wall partition between the hall an the living room with her hands in her pockets .

"Can I tell you guys later. I just want to get clean, and I might need a place to stay for tonight," she said, looking down at her feet.

"As long as you tell us at some point. And, of course, our casa is and always will be your casa," Summer responded, her hands firmly placed on Zhainier's shoulders to get the point across.

"Thank you. You two are the best. I'm just not ready to talk about it right at the moment," she hugged them both and headed for the stairs, on her way to a warm shower and an extremely comfortable bed.

The bathroom was as shiny as the shower was warm. It felt really good to just sit there in the tub and let the water roll and steam off of her scarred flesh. Once again, she reveled in the fact that it was finally over.

No more drunken rages. No more fighting. No more rape. She was free. And most importantly, she had finally avenged her mother's murder. The sick bastard has finally paid for his crimes.

Tears streamed from her eyes at the thought of her mother, so beautiful, so perfect, so amazingly kind. she was killed when Zhainier was only eight, right in front of her very eyes.

Pull yourself together, she told herself and stood up to get out of the shower. Drying off she smiled to herself and walked into Eli's room to find a pair of pajamas in her top drawer. She put them on and walked back down the stairs and into the living room to sit beside Summer on the couch. She laid her head in Summer's lap and let her stroke her bangs off of her forehead. She slowly relaxed into a deep sleep and found herself dreaming, not of her usual nightmares, but of the future.