The dust rose up to blind the lone girl. She noticed now that the highway was dirty. The sandy desert engulfed the two-lane road. She was utterly alone except the wind brushing her hair and maybe a few stereotypical cactuses. She forgot why she had decided to hitchhike anyway. But then she remembered.

She had officially turned sixteen. Her sweet sixteen! Her Mama had even gone out of her way to surprise her. She had driven to Las Vegas and picked up real party decorations and a fancy cake. It even had those number candles that spelled 16 in blue wax. The old, worn-down trailer was strung with blue and yellow paper streamers. As the candles were lit, the wax slowly melted and dripped, until it settled on the glossy white cake.

Then he came home. He came, in the middle of singing Happy in the Happy Birthday song, how ironic. Seeing him made her the least bit happy. He stepped through the door with a grimy smirk on his face. His mustache curled around his face to look like a drooping dog's tail. How appropriate, because he was a dog. He definitely smelled and bathed like a dog. Worst of all, he acted like a damn dog to her Mama. He was never good enough for her Mama, let alone for a step-child.

"Verna, why'd you have to go do a fool thing like that? You probably damn- near bought the whole store with these sorry streamers. Probably, damn- near busted our money too." He was drunk, and his speech slurred. But she had learned to decipher his words, as she had heard him talk like this for nearly five years.

"Bill, I just thought it'd be nice for Kate on her sixteenth birthday to have something special. Since she can't get a car or nothing."

"I need a car more than her ass! Hell, you don't even have a nice car! A little girl is not going to have a car when her folks can barely have one!" Stage Two: Anger.

"I-I'm sorry Bill, I didn't mean we should get her a car or nothing,"

He interrupted, as always, "And look at this fancy cake," He pointed with a dirty finger. "This is a mighty fine cake, for a mighty fine young lady." His finger traced her buttocks. It then trailed to rest on the cake, where he proceeded to scoop up icing. He licked it with force off of his finger.

He leaned over to kiss her cheek, his rough facial hair scratching her delicate face as he did so. His lips rested longer than necessary and he breathed with drunken breath into her ear, "Happy Birthday, darling."

She squirmed out of his grip and headed towards her room. He followed.

"Honey, Happy Birthday, don't you wanna kiss your Daddy?" His hands reached out to grab her buttocks. The force of his grab knocked her down to the floor. He laid down on top of her.

She had not said anything this whole time, hoping it would pass as it usually would. But now she could not resist any longer, "NO! GET YOUR FILTHY HANDS OFF OF ME!"

His heaving breaths remained in her ear and she could feel him worming himself around on top of her. Her Mama whimpered in the background, "Bill, stop it! Bill!"

Mama, help me, she thought. But she never did help. She always had to do things for herself.

She pushed up, arms flexing, with all her might. He stumbled backwards.

Her new pink summer dress was torn. She tried to close it back together, "You bastard,"

He had passed out on the floor.

Her Mama rushed to her while sobbing hysterically, "Katie, he didn't mean it. He was just-just drunk." That's right, defend him like always. She was sick and tired of it.

That was when she had run off.

Kate now looked at her meager belongings stuffed into a suitcase. The suitcase was ratty and worn, just like her life, but it seemed able to hold everything necessary, just like her. She could hold up with arguing, yelling, and violence, but never a violation of herself.

She thought of her Mama every few minutes, and felt sorry for her. She shivered at the thought of her Mama living with that jerk by herself. She shivered, even though the hot afternoon sun scorched the earth and made it as hot as an oven. Just as she was about to turnaround, to go back to her dear Mama, a white sedan pulled up.

The white exterior was caked with dry mud and it coated the underbelly like it was a white ice cream bar dipped in chocolate. The car screeched as it stopped.

"You need a ride?"

Kate peered inside to see a middle-aged man behind the wheel. His hair was almost completely gray, and his eyes looked to be the same color. His eyes were a demure gray. He looked to be well-off, with a nice gray blazer and black slacks.

Kate nodded her head, and hesitantly hopped inside.