First Chapter of "A Beautiful Girl"

S A R A ’ S   U G L Y   S E C R E T


Hi.  My name is Sara Miller, and I’m seventeen years old.  I was born in Philadelphia and have lived here all my life.  Fortunately, I’ve always had a place to sleep and food to eat.  Only problem is, I don’t know who I am.
I used to know what I liked, what I didn’t.  I used to play and laugh.  Now, I don’t remember how to laugh.  I don’t even think I smile much anymore, if at all.
Growing up with a father who played instruments nurtured my love for music.  He taught me how to play piano and violin, but now I don’t play much.  After his death three years ago, my mother remarried, so a lot has changed.
At first, Mom – her name is Bridgette - thought she could make it taking care of four kids on her own.  But with the cost of daycare, and no one to look after us at night, going it alone became…a challenge.
So, she remarried after almost two years of struggling to keep a roof over our heads.  Without hesitation, my step-father, Chuck, sold my violin for cash and had forbidden instruments of any kind in the house.  He wanted nothing within our reach that reminded us of the father we once knew.
That’s when my life took a turn for the worse.  Chuck started beating Mom almost every night.  I always huddled in my bedroom closet with my three younger siblings until it was over.  We covered our ears with our hands, but we still heard her screams.  We prayed that we wouldn’t be next. But, Chuck’s already promised I’ll be next.  He’s only waiting for my eighteenth birthday to “treat you the way I treat my wife”.  How can I escape this? 
Chuck’s decided he wants to soften me up, get me ready.  He makes me do things I don’t want to think about.
Sometimes he…shhh…don’t say it, don’t think it.  It hurts too much…I feel dirty all over.
Mom says I was the most beautiful baby she’d ever seen, but I don’t feel beautiful anymore.  How could anyone else see me as beautiful?  I feel so dirty…all over. I didn’t ask for this!
It’s my senior year and my first day at a new school. 
I’m scared.  Chuck took us away from our home in Germantown, a place northeast of downtown Philadelphia, to Cherry Hill, New Jersey.  He claims the pay is better as a security guard in the Garden State, but I think he’s trying to hide us in the suburbs.  It’s not a horrible place, but it frightens me that I wouldn’t know where to run if I need to.
This morning, I said goodbye to my younger siblings, who are also having a hard time with the change, and got on my bus.  We made many stops before finally arriving at the school.  My heart seems to be skipping every other beat.
So many students and I can’t make friends with any of them.  Chuck promised harsh punishment if any of us grew attached to anyone.  As for me, if he ever suspects I like someone, well, my birthday present from him will arrive earlier than expected.  I’m trapped in a wide open world.  I’m trapped by the man who holds my mother hostage.
I found my locker after an initial stop at the office, and then I headed for my first class, homeroom.  I liked that because I had time to get my bearings and pull myself together.  I entered the class, but the only available seat was at the back of the class.
Scanning the room, I took in what the girls wore and how happy they seemed.  I tried not to notice the boys, but one of them caught my eye. 
He’s cute.  I looked at my shoes, trying to avoid eye contact as I walk past him.  I can’t let myself like anyone here, not even a little.
I slid into my seat and looked up toward the front of the classroom to find the same boy looking at me.  My face felt hot.  Why?  I noticed how warm his brown eyes are before quickly switching my gaze.  Such care is in those eyes.  His gaze reminded me of the way my dad often looked at my mom. Is that how Mom ended up with Chuck?  She forgot what to look for? It just so happens, the boy showed up in most of my classes. The teachers called him Rick.  Rick.
I made it through all my morning classes.  No one approached me and that’s fine.  It would only cause heartache if I had to reject them later.  I didn’t want to reject them, but Chuck has never failed to do what he says.
I found the cafeteria.  It was easy enough.  The noisy conversations coming from a door at the end of the hallway provided the biggest clue.  Longing eyes and quick paces were further clues, which betrayed the hunger inside many students that needed to be satisfied.
I paid for my lunch and sat alone at a small table in the corner.  I hoped no one would notice me, but to my dismay, I heard footsteps closing in on my location.
“Hi,” said a male voice.  “You’re new here, so I thought I would introduce myself.  I’m Rick,” he finished, extending his arm for a hand shake, as he smiled at me.
I felt goose bumps pull at the hairs on my arm, and my stomach churned.  Oh, God, this isn’t happening.  I can’t make friends, especially not with him.  But something inside me took over, and before I realized what’s happening, I extended my arm toward him and spoke.
“I know.  I heard the teachers call on you.  Mine’s Sara.”
“It’s good to meet you, Sara.  Mind if I sit?”
His brown almond-shaped eyes sparkled and his voice sounded as calming as the surface of a quiet lake.  He looks Asian, but…
“No,” I said,  wondering if he noticed my quivering hand as I pulled it back into my lap.
I looked at my food and realized I had lost my appetite.  I heard him shift around in his chair.
“I wanted to meet you.  You’re in most of my classes.  Who knows?  We might be able to pair up for some of those class projects.”  He paused.  “Sometimes, I have trouble eating the chow here, too.  You never know what’s in there some days.  Where’re you from?”
“Philly,” I replied.  Germantown area.”
He’s kind and friendly.  I looked at him and saw the details of his face.  He has a strong chin.  Scanning his face, I caught a glimpse of two dimples in his cheeks that seemed to mark the ends of his captivating smile. “Cool.  Did you just move here then?” Rick asked, seeming a bit nervous.
“Yes.  My parents wanted a change of scenery.  Are you from around here?”  I really shouldn’t be continuing this conversation.  Why didn’t I cut it off when he said ‘hi’?
“Yeah.  Hey, um, how would you like to join a few of us for a party this weekend?  I could introduce you to some people.”
I felt my arms wrap around my torso.
“I can’t.”  I looked away from his face and then quickly turned back again.  I found it difficult not to look at him.  I wanted so much to be his friend.  I wanted to be free to have just a little piece of happiness.
“Oh, that’s too bad.  Maybe some other time.”
I didn’t answer.  I think I shrugged.
He finished eating his lunch, seeming at a loss for what else he should say.  I nibbled at my plate until he got up.
“We should go.  Class starts in five minutes.  I can take your tray if you want,” offered Rick.
“No, thanks.  I got it.”
I picked up my tray and walked to the door, throwing my trash away and dropping the tray on the cart.  Rick followed me out of the cafeteria, but started walking next to me after we entered the hallway.
We walked in silence to our next class.
Afterwards, I rushed out toward my final class of the day, relieved to find Rick did not have the same class.  At the end of the day, I caught him looking inquisitively at me as I got on my bus.  What in the world have I gotten myself into?  What am I going to do now?
Chuck, conspicuously taking care of the garden, watched me as I walked up to the front door and went inside.  I dared not look at him just in case my face would give something away.
Mom dusted the coffee table.
 “Hi, honey, how was school today?”
“Fine,” I said abruptly before dashing into my room, locking the door, and falling on my bed for a good cry.