The divorce-is-finalized present came. Minerva's best friend, Feeney, warned her it would. She prepared Minerva through each step in her parent's divorce, having gone threw it twice herself – even anticipating Minerva's move from her lovely home on Chestnut Lane to the pink monstrosity on Vomit Avenue. Thirty blocks from Feeney. Might as well have been thirty light years from Feeney as Minerva's mother would not let her ride the bus alone. “You're only ten, Minerva.” Which was becoming her mother's annoying mantra for everything. Minerva spotted the box on the porch beside the newspaper and was more surprised that the crackheads ( mother – don't call them crackheads ) in the back part of the duplex, technically triplex, hadn't stolen it. Daddy must have dropped it off before sunrise. “Is that for me?” Mother asked, full of hope. “It's for me,” Minerva said suppressing her enthusiasm. It was weird to feel her mother's jealousy. And anything she could do to minimize it or ignore it she did. Though she itched to open the big box, she set it down on the coffee table and pretended it could wait until after her bowl of Lucky Charms. Her mother took the newspaper. Since the divorce, her mother scanned the want ad's every morning and grumbled. Occasionally, she put on her black pants and white blouse, both of which were too tight now, and went out on a job interview. Minerva had the unshakable feeling that the grumbling and the interviews were a performance put on solely for her. “Open it. Let's see what the bastard bought you this time.” Minerva untied the pink ribbon delicately. She would keep that. Her mother hated pink and didn't often let Minerva buy anything in pink. Not that Minerva was very girly. She couldn't afford to be. Schoolyard mates held their androgynous breath, teacher approved, to achieve the perfect balance. Who was she to be the first to let it go. She lifted the lid and parted the tissue paper. Roller skates! Just what she wanted. Someone had been listening … be it Daddy's secret girlfriend, or Daddy's secretary, or Daddy himself. Someone remembered. And just the kind she wanted too. Not roller blades but skates with four pink wheels! “Look, Mom!” She lifted one skate. “Pink!” Mother scoffed and reached for her pack of cigarettes. “Typical of the bastard. Pushing his preconceived notions on what a girl should–” “I like pink.” Minerva immediately put on the skates. “You've been programmed to like pink.” “Like you've been programmed to hate pink?” “Don't be a wise-ass, Minerva. Take the dishes into the kitchen and wash them before you go outside.” She glided across the thin carpet, dishes in hand, cereal box wedged under her armpit. “Can I go to the park?” “Yes.”Her mother was shocked. Probably 'cause Minerva was actually volunteering to leave the house rather than be 'shoved' out. Ever since school ended her mother would say, over her shoulder, as she sat in front of the computer, the one site she frequented blocked by a stationary page she'd summon whenever Minerva came near, 'I don't want you hanging around the house all summer, Minerva. Get some sun.” She was one to talk. Ever since the divorce she had gone pale and puffy. Each new pound only had her declaring – 'I'm voluptuous now.' Minerva didn't dare say, “Who're you kidding, Fatso.” Her mother spent half of her settlement on a new wardrobe. Designer bags, hooker heels, cougar print. And an edgy new buzzed cut with the floppy remains dyed platinum. She looked ridiculous. All that money wasted. And they were left in the pink monstrosity with the don't-call-them crackheads in the apartment behind them whose music thumped like a heartbeat. Minerva clomped into her bedroom and sat at her mother's old vanity. The only present she got from mother during the divorce. Only because she'd upgraded to a brass vanity with a lighted mirror. Minerva preferred wood. She sat on the bench and looked over her mother's hand-me downs. Old lipsticks and glosses, eye shadow, and eyeliner. Even three bottles of perfume drippings. She rubbed peach gloss over her lips, ran a comb through her long dark hair and tied the pink ribbon around it. Then spritzed herself with something the label had worn off of. “Goodbye!” Minerva called, half out the door. Her mother didn't look up from her computer. “Don't get yourself killed.” Minerva headed for the park. It was the only good thing about the move. It was six blocks away with a bike path that dipped down past the lush picnic grounds and swing sets and wound through a wooded area before circling back towards the pond and wishing well. The pond had ducks and swans and boys that made sailboats out of sticks and bits of paper because of the sign – no remote control boats. She coasted down the bike path. Even though it was sunny out, there wasn't many people at the park. Just a man on a bench and - “Hey, pretty gal.” Minerva didn't bother to look around. “I'm talking to you, roller skate girl.” This time she did look and scowled at the man on the bench. He grinned. Minerva sped up wanting to make the distance between them greater. She heard footsteps behind her – running steps. “Hey, what's your hurry.” Her heart began to thud. Part in fear, part in anger. In the six weeks they lived in this neighborhood she'd been been offered everything from crank to speed. “Screw off, I'm not interested.” “Interested?” The man shook his head and his shaggy blonde hair caught in the corners of his mouth. “I don't know what you're talking about, Prettygal. Polite girls when they're complimented say thank you.” “God, they should sell bug repellent for this area.” Minerva muttered. Louder, she said, “If you don't leave me alone I'm going to scream.” He stopped and stood in the middle of the bike path but his smile didn't leave his face no matter how far away Minerva got. * * * Minerva already knew what her mother was up to. It didn't take a genius to figure out, just timing. One day her mother didn't switch tabs fast enough and the title – HOT SEXXX HOOK-UPS burned into Minerva's already divorce scarred brain. “Minerva,” her mother hissed. “Don't sneak up like that on me again.” “I wasn't sneaking.” Because the idea ate at her – No, her mother couldn't be like that – she had to be sure. Last Tuesday she left the house as her mother told her to and waited in the neighbor's bushes. Waited for an hour when a man showed up. And he stayed for an hour. Each day a different man. Until Minerva could not stomach the truth anymore. There was not place to go but the park. “Well hello, roller skate girl. Those are mighty pretty pink wheels.” It was him again. Hiding in the bushes. Same outfit as yesterday - saggy jeans, and a hoodie over a t shirt that said dreamstuff. Where was everyone? Not even a swan in sight. “Wanna see some dick?” Minerva was so shocked she skidded right off into the grass and fell to her knees. His laughter neared. She felt a hand on her arm. Strong hands lifting her up so easily it was frightening. “Let go! Don't touch me.” “Calm down.” His voice held irritation. She yanked her arm away and backed towards the bike path. “Look.” He was unzipping. “Stop it!” It was out. His it. A weird pink thing like a droopy sausage sprouting from wiry hair and that that awful sack below. “Ugh! Put that ugly thing away, pervert!” She couldn't stop looking. Her heart hammered so fast she thought she'd pass out. Of course she and Feeney had seen as much on the internet but this was real. Scary real. The man's smile tightened. “This happens to be part of natures beauty like a tree or a bird. Bring your phone tomorrow and I'll let you take a picture of it.” “You're crazy.” Minerva's voice shook. Her whole body wobbled, blazing with tingles. “I'll buy you an ice cream.” He zipped up. Damn calm. “There's a cart over there.” “Leave me alone.” “All alone? You like that? Never seen you with a friend, a mother or your daddy.... you're all alone, Prettygal, like me.” Minerva skated fast. Not to get away from the man... but to escape those words. * * * Minerva flew out of the house with pin pricks of blood on her cheek cursing her mom to a fate worse than death. Wrinkles, baldness, turd breath! Her mother hit her with a hair brush so out-of-control angry that she didn't bother turning it to the flat side. All Minerva was trying to do, poking around in her mother's dresser, was find ten dollars for food. Bread and baloney. Criminals in jail get as much. They were down to frozen tater tots, packets of oatmeal and a lone pickle floating in a jar like a lost shipwreck victim. She hadn't intended to find the rubber things. She chose to call them things. And would've died if Feeney was with her and seen them. She wasn't stupid. But after seeing them wished she was. Vibrators and well... things. Things that she'd never seen in her parents drawers before the divorce. Back then the drawers were full of nice surprises – scented sachets. And silk camisoles that she would rub against her cheek. The crazy man noticed right away. “Your cheeks bleeding, Prettygal.” “No shit, Sherlock.” “Nice little girls shouldn't say things like that.” “I'm not nice.” She tried skating backwards, delaying her escape. “That's okay, I like bad little girls too.” He crossed his legs at the ankles sticking them way out into the bike path as if hoping to trip her. “Oh, look I made Prettygal smile. I got fucking superpowers.” Minerva skated away. “Hey, not so fast, hell-on-wheels. I was only kidding.” He ran up to her but stopped suddenly. His brows lowered and his mouth quivered nervously. Up ahead bicyclers were pedaling toward them. A family of them. He retreated into the bushes. “Chicken shit, chicken shit, chicken shit,” Minerva taunted. His face set in hard lines. Worst, his eyes were like dead flint. Not a spark of life. Not even burning hate. Cold fear sweep Minerva. Maybe... “Am not.” He said as though he meant to prove otherwise. Minerva skated on grateful for the protective shield of the passing family. Even if it was only a momentary protection. * * * It rained early in the morning. Minerva's stomach growled as she coasted through puddles; her pink wheels grinding up the bloated bodies of worms. Wished she could call up her father and beg for ten dollars. But mother had been adamant – she would take care of everything. Don't go crawling to him. It wasn't fair! Her mother who had always been so organized and kept a well-stocked fridge had become a mess. Yet, acted as if she'd been liberated from prison. Minerva couldn't image their lovely past as a prison. So much good was lost. Even her tree house which Daddy had just built the year before. Children don't win tree houses in divorce proceedings. Another spot-on prediction from Feeney. It was sold along with the house for another child to enjoy until her parents decided enough was enough. Until they agreed that the definition for prison was wall to wall carpeting, and a fully stocked fridge, and being a full time mommy and daddy to a full time daughter. She wheeled around a bend. A figure jumped out at her. Screaming, she lost her balance and fell to her knees, skinning them. Ferocious pain flared and subsided under the rush of adrenalin. Laughter loud and obnoxious rolled over her. That stupid man again! “Look what you made me do! Don't touch me.” But he hauled her to her skates and wouldn't let go until she was stable. “Hey, I made you bleed!” The man eyed her wounds with creepy fascination. Unease stole in and all Minerva wanted to do was get away from this weirdo. Why did he seem to be around when nobody else was? Did he have some people radar that alerted him when it was safe to come out? She skated backwards but he had hold of her plastic jacket. He fell to his knees before her. “What are you doing?” Minerva said, a ripe panic starting in the pit of her belly. She couldn't move. He grabbed her legs and started licking her wounded knees. “Ugh! Ugh! Stop it!” The sensation wasn't so bad but the idea! He was licking her blood. Her torn-up skin. Her packed with dirt and gravel and Ew! Ew! Ew! She smacked him on the head. The first time she actually touched him and he let go of her. “Blood for blood, Minerva. I owe you my blood.” Minerva took off. Freshly scared. He knew her name! She couldn't help looking back seeing him drag his knees over the paved bike path as though desperate to achieve Minerva's wounds. Good luck, creep! * * * Minerva's mother had a swollen lip when she got home and refused to say anything more than she slipped. A lie fatter than her lip considering Minerva wasn't deaf and heard her call up her awful friend Yvonne to yell how some guy ripped her off. Her mother kept looking into the fridge and cupboards as though by closing the doors and opening them again something might magically appear. The pickle would clone itself. Veggies and boxes of corn dogs would sprout in the freezer. Minerva already tried the trick earlier this morning and it didn't work. “Mom, if someone's pestering you–” “I have no idea how that feels.” Snotty point taken but ignored. “How do you get them to stop?” “Minerva please, I'm begging you – BEAT IT!” Minerva stormed off and slammed her bedroom door. Twice. How could her mother effortlessly get rid of her yet when she pulled the same routine with the man it never worked. Why wasn't he hurt or discouraged? She supposed she could threaten him with the police. Did she need proof? She'd lost her phone in the divorce proceedings. Both mother and father had argued over who got to pay for it. Mother won but lapsed on paying. Father, after losing, no longer saw paying the bill as such an honor. Everything seemed more precious during the battle. After washing her knees and bandaging them, Minerva went into the living room to show them off. Her mother didn't notice. Minerva feeling forgotten sat looking out the front window at the rain coming down. The streetlight made it appear silvery. A pizza delivery car pulled up out front. Her stomach gave a leap of joy. Her mother must have scrounged up ten dollars. “Mom!” She called as the boy with the pizza box ran up the front steps. Her mother came running with the phone still in her hand. “What is it?” The doorbell rang. Minerva caught her mother saying - “In back.” And her stomach whimpered. The pizza wasn't for them. It was for the crackheads in the back apartment. Salt in the wounds! The possibility of dinner was gone leaving behind the torturous scent of pepperoni. A half an hour later Yvonne came over with a casserole. Minerva and her mother didn't bother with plates. They set the tuna casserole down on the coffee table and both dug into the steaming dish with forks. Noodle-heaven! Her mother sobbed, ruining Minerva's appetite. She called Yvonne 'a lifesaver.' Yvonne rubbed her back and said, “you've got to wring that asshole out for more money. He's got it. No, listen to me. I'm the expert.... You also need to veg out, girl, you're all tense. I brought a little … something.” She cast a hateful eye at Minerva. “For a party.” Although it was embarrassing being hated by a grown up, especially one of her mother's best friends, Minerva perked up at the mention of a party and imagined balloons and cake and soda pop. “Take off, Minerva.” Her mother said. “Yes,” Yvonne echoed coldly. “go watch some TV or do whatever it is you do.” Banished just like that. She knew now why her mother hated old Disney movie's like Cinderella. Why she called them absurd. She didn't want Minerva to know the truth that it was possible when wife's lost their husbands they could turn into wicked step mothers. Even real moms. Later, provoked by laughter, Minerva sneaked down the hall and found out that her mother's version of a party involved – burning spoons? … something on a spoon. She didn't want to know anymore. They didn't hear her as she ducked back into her room. She brushed her hair before the vanity mirror. A hundred strokes. Hard. Harder. To blame her abuse for the tears that flowed. * * * Minerva sat on the bench where the crazy man usually sat. He wasn't around today. She was almost disappointed. Last night she'd made out a list of mean things to say to him or threaten him with. It was still in her pocket. She crunched it. But it didn't make much noise being slightly damp from her sweaty hands. A prickly sensation surged down the back of her neck as her hair bow began to slither. Someone was pulling it loose. “Stop that.” Her hand went up as she turned around. But the pink satin slipped through her fingers. The man darted out of reach looking like one of Minerva's pesky classmates Clinton, who had a horrible fetish for stomping on someone's foot then running off for a victory laugh. The pink ribbon dangled like a prize from his fingers. “Mine now.” “Thief! Thief!” Minerva's voice rose. “Shhhh!” The man pleaded. His desire to keep the ribbon – he ran it over his lips – could not outweigh the logic that for once Minerva had him. Minerva knew that he knew. He tried to hand it back. “Gross after you've slimed it with your lips!” Minerva leapt up in pretend horror and clutched one end of the bench as if to keep it between them. “I still don't even know if you've given me AIDS or something worse, goobering up my knees with your germy spit, you disgusting pedophile.” “Eh, now don't be prejudice.” He said softly taking a seat as though he was about to give her a serious lecture on bigotry. “Pedophiles aren't so bad. It takes all kinds to make a world. And what a nice soft word it is. Like pedicure or pedestal or parricide.” “I don't know what the hell your talking about.” “Parricide is the murder of one's parent. Do you want an ice cream? I sure could use one.” Minerva dreamed up a Fudgsicle and her mouth watered. “Come on.” He stood and started down the path toward the boy with the ice cream cart. He looked back.“Who's the chicken shit now?” Minerva stiffened. She wasn't scared. Not really. There were people around. Families that if she screamed for help she was pretty sure they'd come running. She glided towards him but kept her distance. He waited to see what she would pick - a Fudgsicle - and he picked the same. They licked their bars and headed back to the cool shade. “It's cooler in the woods. They got benches in there.” The man said casually catching the drips with his tongue and cursing the ones that slipped past, down his arm. “You crazy. I ain't going in the woods with you. How do you know my name anyway?” “I asked around.” He's lying. Minerva was surprised that she could tell. Her heart beat fast with a fearful excitement. It was different than knowing when your parents lie. This was a man. “I tore up my knees for you. I could cut off the legs of my jeans and show you … No? There was no one around to kiss my wounds and bandage my knees.” “Nobody kisses my boo boos anymore that's kid stuff.” She scoffed. “I bandaged my own knees.” “Ahh.” He said like a talk-show psychiatrist. Annoyed.“Ahh what?” “Your mother don't even give a shit when you bang up your knees?” Minerva was furious at the mock pitying look and that slippery smile of his. “You shut up. My mother does so care. You think I'm stupid. I ain't stupid. Neither is Feeney –” “ – who the hell's Feeney?” “ – our teacher tells us about weirdo's like you and your tricks so you can can just save them for some other moron.” “Some other moron? Are you a moron, Minerva?” he teased. Flustered, Minerva skated off, her face flaming. * * * Minerva attempted to find a different park 'friend'. But … an older couple scolded her for talking to strangers, the kids never looked up from their phones and a young mother with a baby smiled in polite dismissal, handing her a baby wipe to clean her wheels. She took the wipe sensing the woman wanted her to leave. If she was prettier or smiled more or could do or say something clever, then would grown ups stop pushing her away? On TV only special kids with talents, ones that could sing like angels were worth fawning over. She was ordinary. She couldn't even skate good. All she had to look forward to was defeating a desperate molester who had probably moved on to bright pastures. Feeling low she made her way up to the top of the slope and decided to take it full hilt. No using her brakes she would soar like a bullet. And wouldn't everyone be upset if she took a spill? Daddy would rush to the hospital, no putting her off then, and mother would she stop to put on her face? She went flying down the slope. Past the bench where the creep usually sat and– ahhhhhhhh! Her hair snagged – head snapped back – pain – oweoweowe! Whipped off her skates, her feet flew up in the air. Whatever had her suddenly released. She fell solidly on her bony bottom and her elbow hit the pavement, sending a jolt through her funny bone. Her throat gulped over the sick pain throbbing in it. She laid back tears blobbing up and blurring her view of the man, the creep! looming over her. That grin. “Gotcha. I seen you coming. I grabbed your ponytail.” He was sick! Crazy! “You nearly killed me,” Minerva sobbed. “Are you crying?”His smile uncertain. “GET AWAY FROM ME!” Minerva screamed. He bolted. The pain in her neck subsided a little now that the pain in the neck was gone. Her mother ambushed her at the front door. “Your father is taking you out for dinner.” It sounded accusing. “Have you told him anything? Don't you go whining to him about food. I got us six TV dinners today and they'll be more when those are gone.” Minerva rolled her neck. Was her mother blind? She exaggerated her limp. But her mother was waving her hands. The smell of fresh polish struck Minerva. A new bottle on the table. Snot green. How much did that cost – three TV dinners? “He wants you to wear something dressy. I smell an introduction to his current whore.” Her mother followed her. Minerva pulled out an old mauve dress she liked. Her mother stuck around showing a rare interest even pulling her hair into a braid. “What's the matter with your neck?” Finally! But as Minerva started to explain that she snagged her hair, well, actually this man … “You want to complain about pains. My lip is still in agony after that basta – that fall I took.” How odd, Minerva realized. They were both keeping something from each other that involved pain caused by a strange man ... how odd. Her father was no more interested in listening about the man in the park than her mother, and kept texting during every stoplight. “It's green.” Minerva said irritated. She should have known it was useless to count on either of them. They had their own little worlds now. Little worlds that fascinated them as the old one never could. Because they no longer had to share. And Minerva felt like a relic from the old world, passed back and forth, and this constant movement only reinforced the fact that she held no permanency in either new life. A truth reinforced when her father cleared his throat and said, “there's someone special I want you to meet.” How original, Daddy. They pulled up to her father's lakeside condo. Minerva had only been to his place twice in the last year. And wished she could have stayed longer. His backyard was a patio, with a private dock leading to his new sailboat, The Windswept. She hadn't even been out sailing yet. They weren't going to the condo. Her father steered her down the dock to the boat club or rather its restaurant. A girl from one of the tables stood and waved eagerly. Minerva started waving eagerly too. It was her ex-babysitter, Tiffany. She turned, “Daddy that's --” Her father was waving to Tiffany. Her stomach sank. This was someone special? Last year's babysitter, the one who was taking a college course in the history of Vampires in literature and cinema. The one who kept all her notes in a Justin Bieber binder and painted her nails to look like watermelon slices. Minerva wanted to puke. She'd never be able to face Feeney with this cliché. “Remember me?” Tiffany tittered nervously. “Yes.” The coldness wasn't lost even on the very dim. Her father hurriedly signaled a waiter and the news just got worse. They were a couple now. There was a baby on the way. Marriage? Oh, ha ha, we don't want to rush into that just yet. They were 'thinking' ( drawn out to make the lie worse – throw Minerva a bone and let her think she has some say in this ) of moving to Florida. The chocolate shake felt nice sliding down her throbbing throat. “Can I come to Florida?” She said calmly. “To visit.” Her father hurriedly clarified. “Sure.” The custody had been joint and split. But she wondered if her father was now backing out after battling for those six months. Minerva had the strangest sensation like she was being ghosted. They were slowly erasing her from their existence. A child in limbo that nobody much wanted. And all traces of her transformed. Tiffany no longer held the title of her babysitter. She'd moved up in the world. In the middle of talk about Disney World, which sounded nice, Minerva blurted – “Can I have two hundred dollars?” Her father stayed calm. “Is there something you need?” “Just the money.” “Minerva, if your mother–” “It doesn't have anything to do with her.” “I just gave you those skates.” He looked as though he still hadn't recovered from not getting a personal thank you, though Minerva had tried and couldn't reach him. Minerva exploded. “It's for food. F-O-O-D. Food. We don't all live in condos and eat shrimp by the sea. And we don't have our old double door fridge anymore that made ice and was always fully stocked.” Her father's face turned red. “Shhhhh!” he tried. People were turning around to stare. She had everyone's attention.“I won't shush. Nobody listens to me. She told me not to tell you and now you'll tell her -” “Quiet!” She trembled. He was furious. He looked down at the table and smoothed out his linen napkin flicking off Tiffany's hand when it dared to interrupt him.“I have given your mother sufficient funds to care for you, Minerva. You and her. What is she doing with that money?” The question frightened Minerva. She shook her head and her neck spasm-ed. “Is she doing drugs? Answer me.” Horrified, Minerva's chest tightened. How could – How could he say that about mom! “There's things about the divorce you don't know about Minerva. We wanted to protect you –” “Like you and my babysitter. Only people in stupid Lifetime movies do things like that.” Her father looked as though he'd been slapped. “Don't talk to me like that, Min. I mean it, not ever. I didn't suggest your mother was alone, or the only one. Dammit, Minerva. It's been a year. I thought.” He sighed and took out his wallet. “For someone whose worried about food you've barely touched your shrimp cocktail. And it's your favorite.” “I lost my appetite.” Minerva whispered. Tiffany, apparently bored by the drama had taken out her phone to text – her sunny smile was so woefully out of place at the table it was offensive. Minerva wanted to push her shrimp cocktail into Tiffany's lap. And before she lost her nerve – she did. Her father sent her home in a taxi. Struggling to forgive, he kissed her roughly and gave her two hundred and fifty dollars under the instruction not to let her mother know. He also gave her his private number. Minerva felt both cared for and dismissed. A washed teddy set on the shelf. The thought had her piling all her forgotten bears into bed with her that night. She cried into their plush faces. 'I will never, never forget you,' she cooed to them. Never. * * * She took the wagon to the supermarket and bought– cauliflower, squash, cherry tomatoes, lettuce, and cucumbers. Staples like chicken, rice, milk, cereal, eggs and cheese. Resisted most of the junk food and hid the change. But when she got home there was no celebration. No praise for her grown up thrift or savvy. Her mother was typically furious and like a train switching track hung up on whoever she was talking to to ring 'that bastard.' Depressed, Minerva put the groceries away, a knot growing in her stomach. She ran out of the house when she heard the familiar phrase - “Don't you threaten me, you son of a bitch!” Knowing she was risking her mother's wrath she took her MP3 player. Didn't want to deal with the creep today. She would tune him out with her mom's retro list. She clipped it onto her shorts, stuck in the ear buds and skated down the block, wigging along to Billy Idol. The creep wasn't out on the bench but that didn't mean anything. Not after his psycho move yesterday. Minerva came prepared. She had braided her hair and wrapped them Heidi style around her head. They were anchored with a thousand bobby pins. No one was pulling her hair today. Her dirty bandages flapped. She attempted a spin. Made it! Crazy man was jogging up to her. Talking. She turned up the volume and pointed to her ear buds. Smiled, the sweetest brush off. He kept pace and it was almost comical watching his mouth work while she nodded patronizingly – yes, yes, what you say is fascinating. It was exhilarating to finally stick it to an adult. This time Minerva wasn't listening. His eyes lost interest in her dance wiggles. He grabbed her elbow. “Let go!” She scanned the park, they were in shouting distance of picnickers. Some of her panic ebbed. “Let go.” He pulled out the ear buds. “Don't think you can ignore me. I can offer you the world today, Prettygal.” “You're like a bad penny. Go hurl yourself in the wishing well.” He didn't join Minerva's laughter. “See that yellow caution tape down there.” He pointed towards the trees. “That's life and death. They found a body of an old man early this morning.” “Baloney,” Minerva said airily. “They put that tape up when they want to plant new flowers. I ain't going down there. And don't push me today. I'm really mad.” The guy looked away from her quickly uneasily as if the game was finally over. He went and sat on the bench. Minerva licked her lips. Should she lie – well, not that mad. A bike bell rang behind her. She jumped to one side, suddenly understanding his need for distance. No game. Stomach heaving, she scanned the ground. Like when she needed to keep the neighbors dogs at bay. Any stick would do. There were stones rimming a circle of tiger lilies. She picked one up. He rose from the bench. “Got to focus on that bad shit. Learn from it.” “Keep back!” She showed him she had a stone. His smile wavered. “Don't you throw that rock at me, Minerva.” “Don't use my name. Don't speak to me anymore. I don't want you talking to me or touching me.” “I do what I damn well please. Nobody tells me what to do. I'm not a child.” Minerva got the secret dig – not a child, unlike you. He took a step forward. And then laughing he strode towards Minerva. Nobody listens. She threw the stone. It struck his head. He looked stunned and touched the quickly running wound. Horrified, she watched the blood stream and drip. And him snarling and muttering half-deranged with anger. I did that. He started towards her again. No! She stooped, picked up another stone and hurled it. Maybe it struck his stomach, she didn't know having already whirled and skated away. Something hit her back – hard – sending her to her knees. The pain, so intense she couldn't even scream. The second stone whirled past her, skipping over the pavement. His running footsteps. Nearing. She scrambled to escape, already sobbing. He grabbed her arm pulling her up. “You ever fucking start something, Minerva, I'll end it. You bet I will., sweetness! Hit me and I'll hit you back. … Donchu scream. Donchu fucking dare.” He large hand covered her mouth. Squinting over the park, he dragged her into the bushes. “Calm down and maybe I'll let you go.” Minerva limp with fear was grateful, for it washed out the pain. Moments passed. Cyclists passed. He let go. Reluctantly. She'd been pressed against his body which smelled sour-sweet of sweat and candied cherries and deodorant. And his hand had traveled over her body, one trip, skimming her flat chest but lingering on the wing of her hipbone, testing it, as though he was considering snapping off a piece. When he released her, she skated numbly away. She held it in until she saw her mother meditating on her old yoga mat. Then she burst into tears, flew into her mother's lap and tried to explain that some man had thrown rocks at her. Her mother pushed her away. “Dammit, Minerva. I'm trying to get into a peaceful zone here.” “Somebody threw rocks at me!” Her mother remained calm, didn't even tell her not to scream like that simply asked with irritating logic, “Why would someone throw rocks at you? What did you do?” “I threw rocks but –” “Min-erv-a,” Mother shook her head and changed position. “What do you expect. You can't go around throwing rocks and not expect–” “I hate you,” Minerva said, very calm and headed for her room. She took a bath after a strained supper. Her mother ate her meal talking to Yvonne on the phone. In the privacy of the bathroom she mimicked her mother's cackley laugh and inspected her back. The bruises had already bloomed. The hot soak felt good. And she could cry softly, dunking to wash the tears away. Tomorrow, she wouldn't go to the park. * * * “Minerva, I'm not asking you to go play, I'm telling you.” “If I get raped and killed and stoned to death and found in the park woods you'll be sorry!” She slammed the screen door and decided to duck down towards the bushes. Her mother would be sorry. When the flavor-of-the-day got out of his car, Minerva popped up. “Go on in for your hump. That's what you came for wasn't it? You ugly, disgusting pervert!” The man turned bright red and looked like he wanted to jump back in his car or under it. “What is this some kind of trick?” he croaked. “Pervert!” “Minerva,” Her mother streaked out the door. “Get your ass to the park, to the moon, off a cliff, anywhere!” Her mother yelled. Minerva couldn't skate away fast enough. There was no place to go but the park. The creep was there. Minerva saw him from far off and her stomach heaved. But the man waved. He had something in his hand. A flower. “Yesterday a comet landed on my head, flung by the goddess, Minerva” Idiot. Minerva didn't take the offered flower. He sat on the bench his arm laying along the back edge. “Did you tell your folks a man threw rocks at you.” “Mom phoned my father to scream about safety pads.” He smiled almost sad. “You know what happens to girls your age? They discover they're stuck loving people they really don't like. And they know it's only the beginning.” His words frightened her.“I'm all bruised and sore.” She accused, eyeing his own bandage. “I got stitches myself.” “How many?” She tried to tone down her excitement. She caused that much damage? “Twelve. I have a gift for you.” He tapped the flower against his leg. The petals fell off a little more with each tap. He stopped and pulled out something, wrapped in a handkerchief, from his pouch. “What is it?” He opened it. A little gun! “Is that a real gun?” Minerva was more awed than scared. “Yes it is. It holds three rounds.” He held it in offering to her. She reached for it and drew back. “What am I going to do with a gun?” “Whatever … ... you … want.” * * * She put the gun in her jewelry box. Not that her mother ever snooped anymore. Or put away laundry or harassed Minerva to make her bed. Sometimes, Minerva would tuck in her bears in a long line up and holler for her mom to come look, aren't they cute? Just to bring her mother into her space to show her she'd cleaned it without being asked. But her mother would stare blankly. What? And notice nothing. Sometimes she wanted to ask her mother if father won her sense of humor in the divorce. And before the gun, sometimes she would wish her dead. A dangerous thing even to admit with the bringer of such glittering possibilities lying close at hand. Someone was pounding at the front door. Yelling. Minerva flushed from fright to irritation. Probably some druggie at the wrong door. She heard the voice of her father. “Stay in the bathroom, Minerva.” Her mother ordered passing by. “Close the door.” She left it open a crack. And wished she didn't. The secrets flew out of her mother's mouth like Pandora's box unleashing unknown pain onto Minerva's world. Minerva went lightheaded. They didn't really mean … The battle turned from tug-o-war to hot potato. Now neither wanted Minerva. Always a worry but never a belief that it could happen. The one angle Feeney hadn't predicted. She didn't fit … like Mother's cast off vanity traded in for a bigger, brassier mirror. Too bad Minerva couldn't reinvent herself – run off with the weirdo in the park, a new dad, a new mom. Minerva's own life. But there was no divorcing parents. Minerva left the bathroom letting the door slam. She went into her bedroom, took the gun out, put it in her fanny pack, and strapped it on. She laced up her skates. Her father was outside her door looking contrite, sad, boyish as though he needed comfort. Minerva rolled past him. “Minerva, I'm sorry you had to witness that. Taken out of context–” “I'm not.” Her mother said loudly. “It's time Minerva grew up and realized she might be spending winter with your mother.” Minerva rolled past her. “Be back before supper.” “Drop dead.” And a chill went through Minerva because … she could make that happen. * * * He was there waiting, eating sunflower seeds from a package which he held out. She ignored the offer. “Why did you give me the gun?” “That's for you to decide.” “Why me?” He shrugged. “You're living an evil fairytale. An I ain't got no bibbity-boppity shit. Why'd your Daddy let you move into that pink hellhole.” He knew where she lived!“He gave her money. She spent it.” “Ever wonder on what?” She shrugged. “I'll bet you do, Prettygal. I'm gonna tell you something. Someone put out insurance on you, Minerva. They want you dead. I got paid five grand to make it look like some pervert grabbed you in the park.” Minerva couldn't breath. Her vision fuzzed. No, no! She stumbled over to the bench and held onto it like it was the only real thing left in the world. He laughed. “Had you going, didn't I?” “Which one?” “Which one what?” “Which one of them. Which one, stupid, wants me dead!” His smile vanished. “I was only teasing. Think I'd do something like that for a piddling five grand.” “Which one!Which one!Which one!” She yelled and realizing she had the power to make him tell, to stop laughing. She tugged the gun free of her fanny pack and held it up to his head. “You tell me.” He stopped laughing. “Careful with that thing.” But he didn't seem entirely scared though his breath started to come in sippy, little gasps. “Tell me everything or I will. I'll pull the trigger.” His hand disappeared down the front of his pants. Minerva pretended she didn't know what he was doing. Couldn't run yet, she had to know. The sobs came.“You tell me which one. Mom or Dad. Please! Please! I need to know.” “I ain't – I ain't -” he gasped. “I ain't gonna tell ya. … Pull the trigger, bitch. Go on.” His words got uglier, more threatening. He said that he would take the gun from her … that he would put it to her head … that he would collect the money ... that – She pulled the trigger. Click. No bang? The man gasped loudly, moaning as he bent into himself. His busy hand finally still. “Ah yeah. You're a player alright,” he said and looking up, laughed. He removed his hand from his jeans and wiped it off on his knee. Then he reached into his hoodie pouch and extracted some bullets. “Now you've earned them.” He held them out. Dazed, she took them. “Why won't you tell me?” “You watch too many movies.” He put a cigarette in his mouth and lit it though the park was a smoke free zone. “Nobodies put a hit out on you. Shit, you're parents must be real assholes if you buy that one. Like this game?” “No!” “Got a real humdinger for tomorrow.” Clicking his tongue in anticipation, he winked. * * * Minerva wrote a letter to Feeney explaining everything that happened to her over the last few days in the park. The man. And the gun. She made her bed and left the letter there like a message. She put the bullets in the gun and put the gun in her fanny pack. She phoned her father and left a message. “Dad, there's this weirdo in the park who's been bothering me. He won't leave me alone and there's no where else to go.” She laced up her skates and cruised into the park. He was waiting for her. The man. Hair – combed and face – washed. He held out his hand and she took it. “Today we go look at the swans,” he said smoothly, casting a glance her way to see how she took this news. They could cut across the grass to get to the pond. That meant her clumping along in her roller skates the entire way. He pulled her towards the woods. It was a test. Would dad open his messages first? Would mother read the letter? Which one would believe and care enough to come to her rescue. Which one? Her heartbeat roared excruciatingly as they moved from sunlight into the cool eclipse of tree-shadow. No longer in view. Not that she was ever noticed anyway. She needed one of her parents to come to her rescue. To prove she mattered. She clutched the bulge in her fanny pack. She didn't want to learn that she had to become her own rescuer. That she was all alone. Not yet. She was only ten. Mother said! Please come. … Mom. .. Dad.