I mull the words over and over as I stare through my window at the three kids crouching on the front steps of my house.
My soon-to-be ex-house.
Their smudged clothes and untidy hair don’t overshadow their hushed laughter and exchanged winks.
Probably plotting how to prank me once I step out of the door.
My heart tugs at the thought of never seeing them again. Not those tiny hands. Not those innocent eyes. Not even their distasteful pranks.
I breathe through my mouth and nose. No crying. Ever. My prostitute mother didn’t give me much, but she sure as hell taught me that only weaklings cry.
“No daughter of mine is a weak bitch, got that, Emmanuelle?”
I hated my French name. I hated that she didn’t call me Elle like everyone else. Her real name was Sophie but she went with Electra for work and decided Emmanuelle was a suitable name for her daughter.
What I hated the most was that she left me alone at the age of six in the streets.
Eighteen years later, I still take the no-crying rule seriously.
Time to step on my heart and do this.
My fingers latch around my bracelet. The only feminine thing I wear. It’s a dainty silver chain with a firefly motif. Two yellow jewels serve as its wings.
My first present from Zoe and a token of our friendship.
I throw one last glance at the empty hellhole with vintage cupboards I almost managed to call home.
Until the only person that made it a home vanished. Leaving me alone. Not hungry or young or in the streets, but still so miserably alone.
I won’t be missing this place; the loud landlady, the slums of eastern London, or the mouldy ceiling. I’ll only miss the memories, the laughter, the fighting, the adrenaline, and the children plotting my fall outside.
Here’s to giving the little adorable things one last laugh.
“Killer!” I call. A black fluffy ball of fur runs towards me from the adjacent room – Zoe’s room. He’s rarely left his owner’s bed since she disappeared. The loyalty in this tiny thing matches Zoe’s.
He yaps and runs between my legs in maddening circles, his little teeth grazing at my jeans.
I pick him up and hold him to eye level, lips pulling in a saddened smile. “I’m sorry I have to leave you as well.”
Killer whines, pants, and tries to lick my face.
I cuddle him to my chest. I hate hugging, but Zoe forced them on me. She said I needed them even if I didn’t know it and would thank her later.
There’s no later.
I will let her hug me as much as she likes once she returns. In the meantime, I squeeze her dog. “I’ll bring her back. That’s a promise, Killer.”
Still carrying him in my arms, I zip up my hoodie and lift a dark blue duffle bag. Instead of opening the door, I give the kids a head start and rattle the handle longer than needed.
My plan works since the little demons scatter over the sides of the staircase that leads to the house. I suppress a smile at Cindy’s failed attempt to stop her wild ginger hair from poking like antennas.
David stifles a giggle with tiny hands.
Hayley, on the other hand, is as still as a board, waiting to throw whatever insect she caught at me.
She’s seventeen. I have no idea why she likes pranking at this age. But it’s better to prank instead of drifting with those teenage thugs who roam around here.
I lean against the patched wall, pretending to not notice them.
“What do I have here?” I ask in a voice they can hear. “Oh, it’s chocolate. I wonder who would have this entire bag?”
It takes one second, two –
“Me!” Cindy jumps out from her hideout first, pointing a stern finger at her face. “Imma tell you what Hayley has if you give me all the chocolates!”
“Me also! Me also!” David hops out of his hiding spot on very energetic tiny legs. “Give me all ze chocolates!”
Hayley comes out last, groaning. She’s wearing her school uniform complete with a flannel skirt and dark blue jacket. She added fishnet stockings and dark makeup because she’s into that goth phase now. “You guys suck!”
“Daddy says that’s for bitches.” Cindy tries to subdue her mane of ginger hair behind her ears and fails.
Hayley and I exchange a look before I say, “All right, Cindy. No more eavesdropping on your daddy when he’s talking with grownups.”