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As far back as he could remember, all there was was hurt.

Unbearable pain. He had never really known anything other than this pain, but that didn’t mean it didn’t make him cry every night.

Pain in the form of fists flying from his foster siblings or the kids at school, of words from their mouths, his foster father’s hands on him, and the mean and scary thoughts in his own head.

Even when the thoughts in his head were technically good, they hurt. In fact, he thought that they might hurt even more when he was trying to think happy thoughts and hope.

He tried to fool himself that he could remember being safe and loved. He tried to fool himself into believing that he could remember the moment right after he was born, when his mother would have cradled him close to her chest and kissing him on the forehead, rocking him back and forth and telling him how much she loved him.

Maybe his father was there, taking him from his mother’s arms and doing the same things that she had done.

He knew that he couldn’t really remember it, but the memory that he had created for himself felt so real that it was the only thing he could hold onto. When he was curled up in his bed with another black eye from the boys at school, he would cuddle his pillow to his chest, cry into it, and pretend that his real mother and father were there to comfort him, and that they would swoop in and take him home, wake him up from the nightmare that was his life.

Obviously, he didn’t have his own bed to cry in. No one did in a group foster home, especially not this foster home. Well, except Jake, whenever he decided to kick Jeff out of their shared bed, which was almost every night. But, the good thing about group foster homes was that the parents he had right now didn’t care if he ate every night. They just cared that he stayed alive to get them the money that the state gave them to take care of him and the other kids.

That meant, for the half hour feeding frenzy that was dinner, Jeff had the boys’ room all to himself. For half an hour every day, he had a semblance of peace. For half an hour every day, he could just think about the words and the fists and the hurt, instead of being continuously subjected to them.

Fucking loser.

The kid in the grade above him that had screamed that into his face at recess didn’t know that that one barely even hurt anymore. It had been screamed at him so often, by so many people, that it barely even stung.

You smell like shit, get away from me. Hey, everyone! Jeff smells like shit!

That one was a little harder to stomach. He wished that girl knew that his foster brother shoved him out of the way every time he tried to take a shower so that he could take an extra one and impress the girl at school that he had a crush on.

Wow, I can see why your mommy and daddy didn’t want you.

That was the worst one. No matter how many times someone told him that, it never failed to bring tears to his eyes. He had been just a little boy, he didn’t know that telling the other children at school that he was a foster child would have such terrible results. He had tried to tell them that his mommy and daddy did love him, that they wouldn’t have ever left him if they weren’t dead, but they hadn’t listened.

They probably killed themselves. I would if you were my kid.

He held the pillow closer, wishing as hard as he could that he could just disappear and never ever come back. If he died, his life would get better. Maybe his mommy would be there, and she would love him.

The sound of chairs sliding and plates clacking alerted him to the fact that dinner must be over, and the other boys would be coming back upstairs to torment him some more.

Gasping in surprise and horror that his brief respite was ending so soon, he tried to wipe every trace of tears from his face and throw himself off the bed, but he wasn’t quick enough.

“Ew, stupid Jeff was crying again!”

“On the bed? For fuck’s sake! Stupid brat.”

Matthew, the oldest of the foster kids in his house, grumbled, grabbed Jeff by his worn out shirt, and threw him off the bed along with his damp pillow. The little boy landed hard on his stomach, with the pillow shielding his face from damage. Not that it mattered if his face got a little more beat up. The school nurse had long since stopped asking him about the bruises that covered his body.

Clambering off his stomach to his knees, Jeff crawled under the bed, which had been his sleeping place for the entire time he had lived in this house. There wasn’t even any dust left, and so Jeff just did his best to ignore the noises of his roommates as he buried his face back into his pillow.

Jake kicked him further under the bed, grumbling about how he had gotten it wet and that was how he fell asleep, head on his damp pillow and praying that, someday, the hurt would stop.

Someday, he would make the hurt stop.