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The red, green and yellow glow of the stop lights glare against the blacktop of the road. Paired with the other lights of the city, everything has a flourescent flush to it this night. There are people out on the streets, some sitting out on their steps conversing, others enjoying a feignly veiled bottle of alcohol, yet more people smoking. At the end of a block, two teenage girls are dancing to the sounds of an iPod hooked into stereo speakers sitting on the top step.

Corrine smiles at them and they smile back, and she does a little hop-skip as she passes them, momentarily letting her feet get away from her. Dancing comes so naturally to her, it's almost going against instinct to not dance along when she hears music. Beside her, Caleb smiles, raising a brow quizzically. "You're very... whimsical, I believe the word would be," he comments, pausing at the corner as he waits for the light to change. "It reminds me of my sister."

"Oh? You never said you had a sister." She takes his hands, trying to encourage him to skip through the intersection with her. He resists, although not vehemently. As they reach the other curb, he finally plays along, leading her into a spin. She grins big in response, the expression lighting up her entire face like sun breaking through clouds. She does another little spin as they walk the edge of the park. The sounds of the city change from block to block, and now in the evening dusk, two older gentleman playing chess have Patti Page's 'You belong to me' playing. "--Along the nile... Watch the sun rise on a tropic isle... Just remember, darling, all the while... You belong to me..."

Caleb listens to the music for a few seconds, contemplating how to respond. "Yes, she's... well, uh, that's... I don't speak of her much. The communcation has been slow for many years," he eventually admits. It wasn't a complete lie, just a different version of the truth. He'd only met this girl two weeks ago, and his sister, Amelia, was not something he spoke of on 'friendly' terms. However, Caleb has to admit he was beginning to enjoy Corrine's company quite a bit. There was something childlike and innocent about her, but yet a maturity and intelligence that only showed in rare, sparkling moments.

Flinging her brown locks over her shoulders, she takes his hands again. "Well," she says beginning to slow dance with him as they walk. One of the older gentlemen gives them a glance, the barest faint of a smile creeping up his lips, a feeling of nostalgia coming to him as he thinks of his late wife. "I'm sorry to hear that. Maybe you should call her?" she suggests.

Caleb goes with it this time with no resistance, one hand on her hip and the other around her shoulder. He can't help but smile at all of this. If he didn't know any better-- and, honestly, he couldn't be certain-- he'd think Corrine was flirting with him. Oddly enough, he finds himself completely okay with that idea. It registers just how comfortable he is with it and he breaks the dancing off, trying to supress the smile when she makes a pitiful little whimper. "The, uh... the lack of communication isn't from my end," he says, watching as she jumps to the top of a park bench and begins carefully balancing her way across.

Towards the end of the bench she carefully leans outwards, springing forward on her hands and landing on her feet on the pavement. "Ah. Dunno what to tell you, then." Corrine gives him a hopeful little shrug. "She'll come around. Did you guys have some big disagreement, or are you just the black sheep of the family?"

Both were true, in their own ways. He had no intention of telling her that, though... not yet. Up until now, they had shared a semi-professional relationship. They were quickly becoming friends, but information about his sister and his family were priviledged, and she hadn't yet hit that designation deserving of such detailed knowledge. "A bit of both." He moves his hands to the pockets of his jeans. Her glance at his hands and the vague look of disappointment on her face as his hands became unavailable didn't go without notice, but he did his best to brush it from his mind. "What about your, uh... your family? You've spoken of siblings... several, actually."

Corrine makes a face, something like a grimace and bitterness. "Angela lives down in Florida, she's the one I talk to the most. Then there's Patrice who's out in California, haven't spoken to her in three years, it's been longer since I've actually seen her. Louis is... actually, I don't know where Louis is these days." She smiles at the thought of her older brother. "I'm closest to him, but he made off for Europe about a year ago. Not clue one what he's doing out there, and no one's really heard from him. There's me, and then Eugene, who's at college in Florida, living with Angela. I had a little sister, Cassandra. Casey. She... died in an accident when I was younger, though."

Casey. Shift.

"Stay here," she says whispered, and slips from the closet. The hardwood floors are cold against her bare feet. Corrine makes her way to the end of the hall quietly, trying to pick the spots that creak the least.

She flinches away from the staircase at the sound of glass shattering. Casey and Genie are looking through the crack in the door of her bedroom. She can hear the screaming already. Louis, first. Then mama. Louis again. There's thumping, like struggling.

Louis screams something about papa. Something else shatters, and there's no more sound from Louis. Corrine's frozen. She can't move. She hears mama muttering, screaming, but she can't move. She hears the footsteps coming up the stairs, but she can't move.

"Therese! Là où est Eugene1?!"

That gets her moving. She barrels backwards, tripping over her own feet and landing on her butt. She scrambles back, trying to turn and run, but mama's got her by the hair and she's hitting the wall before she can even think. "S'il vous plait, maman2!" as she tries to dodge the hands grabbing at her. Her hands clench into fists and swing back wildly, trying to dodge the blows. "Ce n'était pas son défaut! Il n'a pas su! Il ne l'a pas voulu dire! Maman, s'il vous plait3!"

"Je vous ai élevé une fille respectable, et regard ce que vous avez fait à votre frère4! Just like your papa! Mal5!"

She's got her by the hair again, and she's twisting her head around, then her arm, and she's pulling her down the stairs. Corrine tries pulling back, and her foot shifts on the stairs, tumbling her down the remaining ones to the landing. She hits the bannister hard, hearing the crack of wood behind her head. Mama's tossing her onto the floor before she can even think about moving, and she sees Louis's unconscious form on the kitchen floor. She tries crawling, but a swift kick catches her in the ribs and she doubles over, curling into a ball and trying to block her face and chest.

The foot comes again and catches her in the top of her head, and she shouts, curling tighter. "S'il vous plait, maman, veuillez arrêter, s'il vous plait! Vous me blessez, s'il vous plait6!"

The assault stops suddenly, and it takes Corrine a moment to even notice it. She looks up, her vision blurry. She can't see out of her one eye, and she'll later look in the mirror to find it bloodshot and bruised.

"Eugene! Eugene! Répondez à la maman quand elle vous parle7! Eugene!" Silence for long moments, and then screaming. Incoherent. Corrine can't focus anymore. She blacks out.

Black out. Shift.

Corrine sits up with a scream. Immediately Caleb's bolt upright in bed, rubbing his eyes and staring at her. "Baby?"

She rubs her sides, remembering the feeling of the broken ribs. She can remember cleaning up after her mother that night. Her and Louis exchanged no words as they carried her to her bedroom and laid her down on the bed, letting her sleep off the drunkness. Mama didn't move once. She can remember Casey coming into the room, tucking herself under Louis's arm and staring at the form of their unconscious mother. "When is papa coming home?" she said.

"Is she... dead?" Eugene asked from behind them.

"Nous devrions seulement être si chanceux," Louis replied coldly, pushing them all out of the room and closing the door behind him.

"We should only be so lucky," Corrine says, staring at Caleb. Tears are filling her eyes.

"What? Honey, what's--" His hand is on her face, his thumb gliding across her skin to wipe away a tear. "Love, what's wrong?"

"I'm scared," she says quietly, curling into his embrace. He wraps his arms around her, holding her tight. He doesn't say anything else, mostly for lack of words, but also knowing there's nothing much he can say. She keeps so much to herself, doesn't speak on so much...

So he just holds her. He holds her, never letting his eyes slip closed once even with the late hour. He holds her until he knows she's asleep, and he only lets her go when she changes positions groggily. She mumbles something indistinct and Caleb reaches an arm over, just resting it on her hip. Just letting her know he's there.

In the morning, they speak of none of it.

1). Where is Eugene?!
2). Please, mama!
3). It wasn't his fault! He didn't know! He didn't mean it! Mama, please!
4). I raised you to be a respectable girl, and look what you've done to your brother!
5). Evil!
6). Please, mama, stop, please! You're hurting me, please!
7). Answer mama when she's talking to you!
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Corrine Bertrand

October 2009

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