It's been two weeks since Clair was shot and dad was sent to prison and now we're in the back of a van being transported from the hospital to a shelter where children can live until they're eighteen. It's called Paperthin Hearts and the people who work there are supposed to be really nice. I hope they are. Neither Clair nor I can handle mean again. It would probably kill my fragile sister. She's sleeping now, her head leaning against my arm. Though her wound is considerably better than it was two weeks ago, it still aches and bothers her often, she's still tired easily and I'm constantly having to force her to rest.
The van stops and I glance out the window to see a large, white-washed building with a statue of a girl with wings in front. I stare at it for a moment before I gently shake Clair, whispering, "Clair, you have to wake up now. We're here. You can sleep again in a little bit, I promise, Clair."
I watch as she sits up and yawns. She rubs the sleep from her eyes and in that moment I see a small girl, a girl far younger than my twin sister. However, when she stretches and winces, I see one far older, one who has experienced too much pain in her lifetime. I feel tears welling in my eyes at the memories of what happened to her, when she falls into me, leaning against me as she shakes, waiting for the pain in her chest to pass, I swallow and force them away. I have to be strong now. I have to be strong for Clair.
The door to the van opens and I help Clair get out of the car. She's walking very slowly because of the pain in her chest. She tells me that even though it makes her look like an old woman, it helps the pain. The first time she said this, I cried. She shouldn't have to feel that way. But there is nothing I can do to change that now. I can only help her get better and that is exactly what I plan to do. Now, I walk slowly beside my sister. I don't want to leave her alone.
We're just reaching the entrance to the building, when I notice there's a woman standing next to the door. She has dark brown hair and bright green eyes. She wears a blue blouse and smile on her face. I glare. I already don't like her. How can she smile when my sister is in so much pain?
When we finally reach her, she holds out her hand and says, "Hi, my name is Adrian Julian. I'm going to show you around Paperthin Hearts."
I turn away from her and say, "Can't you see she can't move hardly? She's hurt!" The expression on the woman's face changes and I can see that she's startled, but that only lasts for a moment before I see a look of what can only be understanding melting into her features.
Understanding? How can this woman even begin to understand the hell I've been through? She's smiling. She's never experienced unhappiness in her life. She doesn't know what it's like to be fearful for your life every day. How can she continue to stare at me like she knows what I'm going through when she clearly doesn't?
"Will," she says softly, "let's go inside."
I don't want to follow her in, but I don't see what my other options are, so I do as I'm told. I lift Clair into my arms, so she doesn't have to hurt anymore. She whispers thank you to me and I kiss her forehead, afraid if I speak, I'll growl.
The woman, Adrian, is sitting on one of the uncomfortable looking couches in the lobby of the place. Her hands are clasped in her lap and as I approach her, I notice for the first time the scars crisscrossing her arms. I look at her suspiciously. I know what those scars mean. I've seen girls and boys at school trying to hide their own red marks on their arms. I don't know what their reasoning is, but they almost always have a dead look in their eyes. Even the ones who have stopped, even the ones who now only have scars, look like a part of them is dead. This woman doesn't look like that at all. What reason did she ever have for doing that to herself?
"Please sit down," she says, gesturing to the space beside her. I take the seat across from her and place Clair on another couch. She lies down gratefully, letting out a soft sigh as she does so. I push her hair out of her eyes and wish I had a blanket to cover her with.
"Will, I know you think that I don't have any idea of what you're going through," Adrian says softly. I notice her fingers on her right hand absentmindedly ghosting over the scars on her left arm. "But that's not true at all. I know exactly what you're going through because I was your age when I was freed from my parents. My parents abused me too. They tried to kill me more than once and I'm actually surprised I'm still alive."
"You never watched your sister die," I respond, still glaring, glancing back over at Clair.
"No," she says, "I didn't, but I watch my older brother fall into a bottle that he couldn't climb out of, until I tried to kill myself."
This startles me. She tried to end her life because of her past? Just how bad was it? What did they do to her? It must have been horrible. She must have been scarred for life. Not just on the outside with what she did to herself – obviously to cope – but on the inside. Her heart has probably been broken and stitched back together again so many times. Maybe she's right. Maybe she does understand what Clair and I are going through.
"It may not seem like it right now," she says, her voice still soft, "but it does get better. You're in a wonderful place where people are going to help you get better. You're going to be alright now. No one is going to hurt you again."
I'm still staring at Clair, but I give a half smile because I know Adrian's right. No one is going to hurt us again. It's going to get better. Everything is going to get better. How can it not? After all that has happened, I don't see how life could be bad ever again. Everything is going to be fine now. I can feel it. It makes me smile. It makes me laugh and out of the corner of my eye, I see Adrian smiling too. I don't look at her. I just continue looking at Clair because I need to take care of her still, but she's going to be okay and I am too because after all that's happened to us, after all this time we're still alive.