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"What would you say if I told you I was going to invite Sam Killroy and his older brothers over?" Jack's voice echoed in my head.
My blood ran cold and I struggled to catch my breath. Time seemed to slow down. No. No. No! How could he know? He couldn't know. It wasn't possible. I was just imagining it.
Realization was appearing on the faces of my three oldest brothers. I was taking too long to answer. I would only get a few more seconds before, no matter what I said, my brothers would know the truth. I couldn't let that happen. I wouldn't let that happen.
Could I stop this war before it had even started? No, I realized, the Killroys had started this war when they tried to kill me all those years ago. My brother's would find out eventually. If Jack really did invite them over and I went out or stayed in my room like I usually did, the boys would catch on. But could I stand being in the same room and pretend to be friends with the four guys who had made it perfectly clear that they saw no reason to spare me my life? I'd die first. It was obvious that, eventually, my brother's would find out what happened that day six years ago. All I could do was post-pone the inevitable.
On my death bed I will tell them! I thought in a panic.
They couldn't find out now. They couldn't.
I fought to maintain a calm demeanor. "I'd say go ahead." The questioning tone in my voice implied that I didn't understand what Jack was getting at.
Jack was wearing a cocky smile, completely aware of how much I was struggling to deny everything he was saying. He was winning and he knew it.
The Killroys were my brother's best friends. They grew up together. The friendship started when, shortly after he was adopted at the age of ten, Bobby met a boy his age named Patrick, the oldest of the four Killroy boys. When Angel was adopted almost three years later, Bobby introduced him to the second youngest Killroy boy, Andre, who happened to be the same age. Bobby once told me that, at first, Angel didn't get along with Andre. Angel was jealous that Andre had three biological brothers and they all lived with their biological parents. Andre had a "real family", as Angel had called it at the time. Since then, Angel has learned what family really means and, as he developed a connection with Bobby, he slowly developed a lasting friendship with Andre as well. When Jerry was adopted, at age twelve, him and the second Killroy boy, Dennis, immediately hit it off. Their personalities were mirrors of each other, both boys being incredibly bossy, not to mention boring. Jerry had always been a bit of an outcast in the Mercer home, always being the odd-one-out, and Dennis was the same way in the Killroy home, not that this bothered either of them. By the time Jack was adopted the next year, the Killroys and the three eldest Mercer boys were always together. Samuel loved Jack's company from the start. Jack, like Angel, took a while to get used to the Killroys, but by the time I came to live with the Mercers, the two families were inseparable. I grew up with the Killroys. I cared about them. I trusted them. It came as quite a surprise to find out they hated me.
Throughout the years, Ma had fostered many children of various ages and each one made an imprint on us as a family. I have met quite a few of the children Ma fostered before I came, each one grateful for Ma's never-ending love. Ma continued to foster children after I was adopted but since she no longer had an extra bedroom, it became much rarer.
The foster kids would tag along with the boys and it never seemed to be a problem with the Killroys. With me, it was different.
Maybe it was my everlasting presence. The fact that I had been adopted meant that the connection that I developed with my brothers would never waver. I would always be there.
Maybe it was that there wasn't a Killroy my age for me to spend time with so, when the Killroys were around, my brothers still seemed to feel the need to look out for me.
At first, I spent a lot of time fretting about the fact that they hated me. I didn't know what I had done. The Killroys had never let on that they even had a slight dislike for me; at least, they never did in front of my brothers. In the end, it wasn't important why they hated me; it just mattered that they did.
Patrick and Dennis never had much of a problem with me. Bobby and Jerry were so much older that I didn't spend much time with them. In fact, I hardly spent any time with Bobby at all. Andre and Sam on the other hand, had taken personal offense to the strong connection I had with Angel and Jack.
It didn't matter which ones hated me and which ones didn't, when they cornered me six years ago, they were all there. Patrick and Dennis were more than willing to help out their younger brothers on their homicidal quest which was supposed to end my life and, coincidentally, Paul's.
I never asked Paul why the older boys didn't like him. I was too afraid that he might ask me the same question and I was more than willing to forget about the whole incident. I trusted the Killroys and I hated myself for it. If it hadn't been for Paul, I'd be dead.
"Come on, Jackie! The Killroys are practically family!" Jerry commented, shaking his head.
Jack turned his gaze away from me, the Killroys were like family, and it might be harder than he thought to convince the guys otherwise.
"When was the last time that Alex hung out with us when the Killroys were around?" Jack demanded, trying to make his point.
The room was silent for a minute and I began to panic. It had been so long since I had been in the same room as the Killroys that even I couldn't come up with an example.
"There was one time that I remember." Angel started quietly, "We were watching the Fourth of July fireworks. Alex would have been, I don't know, about eight. She and Sam were joking around the whole time. Remember?"
Angel's voice was gentle, he sounded like a little kid that wasn't sure if they were welcome to speak.
"That was seven years ago! That would have been before the day her and Paul met!" Jack snapped.
I turned to see Bobby looking at me. When I acknowledged him he looked into my eyes. He was trying to read my thoughts, trying to figure out if Jack could be right. I tried to look away casually.
"Man, Jack! Why are you turning on the Killroys all of a sudden? You and Sam get into a fight or something?" I enquired.
"There aren't four brothers in Detroit, our age, who we've never met! Tell me it's not them!" Jack spat.
"It's not them!" I shouted forcefully but my voice cracked ever so slightly.
My heart was racing. I had always been ashamed that I had let things get so far that day. I had always felt that I had screwed up, that it was my fault that the four older boys had tried to kill me. I had always felt that by telling my brothers what had happened, it would be like tearing a family apart. The Killroys weren't just like family, they were family. But it wasn't the first time that I had had my 'family' try to kill me.
6 Years Earlier:
"You tell the Mercers about this and you're dead!" Patrick's face was mere inches from my own and I could feel his warm breath as he threatened me.
I struggled to pull away and he lifted me off my feet by the collar of my shirt. He had me pinned against the telephone pole with one arm while Dennis was busy tying my hands behind my back.
"She'll be dead before she gets the chance." Sam's cocky tone was contrary to Jack's normally gentle demeanor.
I could see him sharpening a switchblade from the corner of my eye.
They say opposites attract… I remember thinking.
"Not so tough now are we, Tehsar?" Patrick asked as soon as Dennis was finished with the knot.
I cringed at the sound of my birth last name; I didn't even know that they knew it.
"If you let me go now, I won't tell them. I promise!" I begged as I felt my fingers begin to go numb.
Dennis must have tied the rope so tight around my wrist that the blood couldn't flow to my fingers.
"And you call yourself a Mercer!" Patrick said as he spat in my face.
Tears stung my eyes and I saw Andre step towards me.
"Help! Somebody help me!" I screamed the words that had so often echoed through the streets of Detroit.
Andre hit me so hard across the face that it drew blood. "No one is going to hear you." He taunted.
I looked down the dark alleyway and struggled to see past a row of garbage bins blocking my view. It was futile; I knew there was no one there. The only life forms I could see were the four Killroys, each of which wearing a matching dangerous smile. Past the garbage bins the alley was deserted, except for, I found out later, Paul. The Killroys had tied a noose around his neck and left him to hang from a fire escape of one of the abandoned buildings. Apparently, Paul's offence hadn't been nearly as big as my own and he thus merited a less painful demise.
Andre took a small step away from me and I noticed the baseball bat swinging loosely in his right hand.
"So boys, where should we start?" He mused as he lifted the baseball bat to jab me hard in the stomach.
He hit me again and again, three, four, times with the bat.
I gasped for air.
"My brothers will kill you for this!" I shouted at them for probably the millionth time since they had cornered me.
It was nearing Jack's birthday and when the Killroys had been at my house earlier that day, Sam had asked me to come to the alley that night to help plan for Jack's surprise party. Sam had told me that we had to do the planning in the alley otherwise Jack might find us and ruin the surprise. So, that night, after I was sure Ma and all my brothers were asleep, I opened my window and climbed onto the roof. Slowly and gently I had crawled to the edge and flipped over, hanging onto the eavesdrops, I swung my legs until I could reach the decorative vine support on the side of the house. I stuck my feet into one of the squares and slowly moved my arms until I had a firm grip on the support. Then I climbed down, as though I was on a ladder. To this day, I still use that way to sneak out.
At first I was nervous. Being only nine years old, this was my first time on the dangerous Detroit streets alone, especially at night. But I trusted the Killroys. I was convinced nothing would happen to me if one of them was around to look out for me. I trusted them.
"Awe, how sweet, you still think that you are going to get the chance to tell them!" Sam's voice, once again, reminded me that I wouldn't get out of this.
"They'll know it was you and they'll kill you!" I shrieked on the verge of tears.
"Shut up!" Andre yelled and, despite his attempts to disguise it, I heard fear in his voice.
"They'll kill you!" I was looking directly at Andre now, hoping he would back down out of fear of my four older brothers.
Dennis yanked my hair so hard my head slammed into the telephone pole.
"You aren't going to win this fight so you might as well do as you're told. Maybe it will be a little less painful that way." Dennis sneered, still holding my hair in an iron grip.
You don't deserve to be called a Mercer! I remember yelling at myself silently after Dennis released my hair.
I was ashamed that I had lost the fight. Mercers didn't lose fights.
Patrick stepped towards me and I yanked so hard at the ropes that were tied around my ankles and wrists that they left burn marks on my skin.
"Stop struggling!" Sam warned as he pressed his newly sharpened knife to my throat.
I pulled away. I knew from the start that this whole plan was originally Sam's idea. He and Patrick were the most violent of the four.
I felt a trickle of warm blood run down my neck as Sam put more pressure on the knife.
"Stop struggling!" He insisted.
And I did as I was told.
"Tell me the truth!" Jack voice pulled me back to reality
"Would you stop giving me the third degree for one second?" I begged, trying to regain composure after remembering the day that had so often haunted my nightmares.
"Don't lie to me again!" Jack's voice was weak.
The image of Angel crying in his room earlier that evening flashed before my eyes and I had to fight the erg to give in.
They don't need to know! Not now! I reminded myself.
"I'd remember if it was them!" I insisted.
"I didn't say you didn't remember, I said you were lying!" Jack argued.
"Jack!" I tried to shout but it came out as more of a plea.
I could tell that for the second time that week, my web of lies had completely unraveled itself.
These two families going head-to-head could only end in a blood bath that would cost the lives of many casualties. I wasn't going to let that happen.
"I said one condition, Alex!" Jack reminded me.
I inhaled deeply, positive that I wasn't fooling anyone anymore but I wasn't willing to give up.
"What would they have against me anyway?" I asked, my voice growing calmer.
I was suddenly curious if Jack knew that the Killroys had hated me all along. Had Sam told him something? Had they been giving my dirty looks that Jack had caught? Was there something that Jack knew that I didn't?
"I don't know, Alex, that's what I'm asking you!" Jack made eye contact with me and I had to prevent myself from looking away.
"I don't know why you think that's what happened." I said, my brow furrowed in fake confusion.
"Alex, you know you can tell us anything." Jack tried a new tactic.
I sighed, obviously exasperated, "There's nothing to tell."
"Alex." Jack's voice suddenly grew stern.
I opened my mouth to talk but Ma walked into the room at that very moment.
"That was Child and Family Services on the phone." Ma informed us.
"What did they want?" Bobby grumbled.
Bobby's dislike for the company mirrored my own and that of my other three brothers. None of us would have been put into so many abusive homes if it had not been for CFS.
"Mr. Adam seems very concerned that Jack and Alexa are being abused so they are just going to come and check it out, make sure everything is in order." Ma explained calmly, referring to the principal at the high school that Jack and I both attended.
The air in the room felt heavy. I put my hand on the back of my neck, letting my fingers trace the scar where Sam Killroy's knife had penetrated deep into my skin.
"They have little kids all over the place that are being raped every day by their foster parents or biological parents or older siblings or complete strangers for crying out loud! The list goes on, but they are coming here?" Bobby asked in disbelief.
"I just ask that you all try to be on your best behavior! I couldn't stand losing any of you!" Ma smiled lovingly.
"We'll do our best, Ma." Jerry assured her.
"I knew I could count on my five amazing children!" She beamed at us before leaving the room.
The room was silent for a moment. I felt guilty about CFS coming and I knew Jack felt the same way. Everyone was thinking of what life would be like without Ma and each other. Technically, Ma could only lose custody of Jack and me, but, that didn't mean that the older three couldn't still be separated from her and each other.
Bobby finally broke the silence by speaking to me for the first time since Jack and I had started to argue. "Why didn't you tell us?" His voice was hoarse.
"That CFS was coming?" I asked calmly, as if I truly thought that's what he was talking about.
"Alex," The voice was so quiet that I couldn't distinguish who it had come from.
I looked around the room and could see all four of my older brothers staring at me in shocked silence. Four sets of eyes were trying to bore into my soul. Four sets of eyes were begging me to tell them the truth. Four sets of eyes were asking me to finally say what had happened that night. Four sets of eyes were pleading with me to trust them, to really trust them. Four sets of eyes were daring me to have faith in them.
I broke down as tears threatened to spill down my face. "I trusted them…" I finally sobbed.
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