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Everybody's Looking for Something

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Now that she has Sweetpea on one side and Babydoll on the other, Rocket sleeps on her back. That way she doesn't have to turn away from her past or her future.

"I'm not choosing her over you," she mouths silently to herself. "I'm choosing me." If she says it enough times now, maybe it will make up for not saying it earlier. Not that it matters anyway. Her sister won't hear it and Baby doesn't need to. She already knows.

"I'm choosing me," she says a final time, just enough air behind it that the sound reaches her lips.

*

The Kents had a barn and horses and a boy named Clark. Mrs. Kent insisted he was named after Clark Gable, but that didn't make it any less ridiculous. He was no Superman, but he could hoist half a dozen bales of hay into the back of his daddy's pickup without stopping to rest, and Rocket didn't exactly mind the way that made his muscles bulge.

"You stay away from that boy," her mother said. "Boys are nothing but trouble."

Rocket didn't stay away. Mr. Kent and the horse buyer found them in an empty stall.

She didn't cry while her mother yelled and she didn't cry while her daddy whipped her with his belt. She didn't break until Sweetpea came in with a cold cloth to lay on her welts. She wept then, and her sister held her and kissed the tears away.

"Did he kiss you like this?" Sweetpea asked, brushing her lips across the curve of Rocket's cheekbones.

Rocket shook her head.

"Like this?" Sweetpea pressed a kiss to the corner of her sister's mouth.

"No," Rocket said. Clark's kisses had been all tongue and hunger, spit and teeth. They had made her want to open her legs. Sweetpea's kisses were molasses-slow and salty. They made Rocket want to open up her ribs, wrap her sister around her heart.

*

Baby can dance. She can plan and she can fight. She makes a girl want to dream again.

At night, when the lights go out, if you're very quiet, you can slide your fingers down your belly, between your legs, give yourself what the men in here want to take from you.

Rocket used to think of Clark. She used to think of Sweetpea. Now she thinks of Baby and her big eyes and her soft hands and the way she holds a knife.

She thinks of Baby dancing.

*

When she decided to run away, Rocket hadn't thought it would involve so much actual running. She'd imagined smiling women leaning over to open the car door, saying, "Just going down to Richmond to see my sister, need a lift?" or, "You're in luck, honey, I can take you all the way to Indianapolis." She didn't think about having to choose between hours standing in the sun or walking miles along baking asphalt shoulders. She didn't think about cops, or the guy who'd try to get you in his truck even after you told him you didn't need a ride after all.

*

Rocket thinks she remembers how it felt to get excited about things before. On the outside. But until there's a possibility of escape from this place, the memories are muted. Now, now she can feel the anticipation thrumming through her blood, can feel her muscles and sinew working under her skin, taking her body where it needs to go, making it do what it needs to do.

There is a world of possibility in the tilt of Sweetpea's head, in the arch of Amber's foot, in the shape Blondie's fingers make curling around Baby's wrist. There's electricity in Rocket's bones.

*

Sweetpea caught up with her in Muncie. Rocket had only been calling to tell her she was still alive, she was on her way to California where the sun would shine on her every day.

The basement where her sister found her was partly flooded, but it had a broken window where she could get in and out, and if you stayed right in the corner it was dry. Rocket refused to go home, and Sweetpea refused to go back without her.

*

Map, fire, knife, key. The words have no more relation to the items than Rocket's name does to a tube of metal sent to the moon. Like Sweetpea means sister, the litany means freedom, hope, chance, life.

*

Somehow they headed east instead of west. Rocket had a system for getting food, and she could run fast. Sweetpea called her system starvation and claimed to be better at not being seen.

It wasn't a total lie; they made it to Albany before they got caught.

*

Now, when the pigs who've held her down come to Rocket in her sleep, she smells steel and steam instead of sweat and the stink of fetid breath. There's flesh and bone to take hold of, fingers reaching out to pull her free. Her kicks connect with balls and bellies and throats, and the piggies squeal.

"I don't have nightmares anymore," she whispers to Sweetpea in the dark. "I have dreams."

"Dreams are dangerous," Sweetpea warns.

"Dreams are everything," Rocket answers.