Maria Hightower was ten going on eighteen that summer. The only girl in the family, and all the kids teased her and told her that she would be just like her mother one day. The town whore. Kids can be mean at that age, but the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. She wore makeup, smoked when she could find half of a cigarette lying around and even took a sip of her mother’s alcohol-infused coffee from time to time. She was going nowhere fast and would be pregnant by the age of sixteen.
In one corner of the park, there sat picnic tables used for private parties, and for people to enjoy the concessions stand items. For Maria, this was the perfect place to get that extra cash she needed. Parents with their purses on the tables, and their eyes on their children. Maria waited till one of the women ran off to chase a wayward toddler before taking a seat at the table and sliding her hand down in the bag. It was her lucky day. This woman left a couple of twenties in her purse, and now they laid squished in Maria’s hand as she ran to buy more tickets.
“Twenty dollars in tickets, please,” Maria asked.
The woman selling the tickets looked at her with a suspicious gaze. She had early pushed Maria away when she tried to steal a roll. ‘Where did you get this money?” she asked. There were particular children that you knew didn’t belong, and the Hightower family was those children.
“My brother gave me this money. What’s it to you?” Maria asked. She was challenging the woman and knew she would win. Who fights with a ten-year-old kid in a park designed for children.
The older woman leaned across the counter, her beady little eyes passing judgment on the child, “If I catch you, I’ll take you out there in the woods and feed you to the boogeyman.” Smug, she leaned back, shooing Maria away with a flick of her fingers, knowing that they may be tough at the age, but the creatures under the bed still exist. “Get out of here before I summon him up.” the woman laughed.
“Bitch,” Maria screamed as she ran away with a fist full of tickets. All she could hope for now was that her brothers didn’t find her and take them all. Usually, when they wanted something, a few punches to the arm made her drop and cry, but tonight she would have the time of her life, and if they tried, she would scream. The Hightower boys were known for bringing trouble wherever they roamed. Her night would begin and end with a rollercoaster ride. One out of pleasure, and the other, it’s was pure fear.
“You see that?” Seth pointed. He saw his sister with a fist full of tickets and knew she swiped money from someone. Seth told her to but never expected, the ten-year-old to go and do something he said. As Maria ran by, he snatched her shirt at the neck, grabbing the extra twenty from her hand. “This is called paying taxes. You get paid, I get half. The government does it all the time, so get over it,” Seth said. It wasn’t the first time he took something from her, but if she had her way, he never would again.
With eyes bursting with tears, she wiped her eyes with her forearm. “You’re a bully Seth Hightower. That’s why your father left. Because your a god damn bully, and you’re ugly,” Maria screamed. She was wise enough to run before he lashed out, but she knew the moment he came home, he would beat her more than her mother ever had in the past.
Humiliated, Seth stood there with tears in his eyes, shaking from her words. He knew his father left because of his mother, but those words cut him like a knife.
“Come on, don’t listen to that brat. We have things to do,” Brody said. He was trying to smooth over his friend’s feelings but knew that what his sister said would affect him for the rest of his life.