Ashley stood in her room, looking out the window. The girl from the documentary haunted her, and she couldn’t get the idea out of her head. It was crazy. and yet… it wasn’t. The girl herself had quit college. She said it was too stressful and anything was possible. But it wasn’t just the idea. The documentary had brought back memories, things she loathed to remember.
She was home on her own. The neighbours were always butting their sharp noses in, tutting and reprimanding her foster parents. A little girl shouldn’t be left at home on her own, they said, especially not at ten years old. But Ashley didn’t care what the neighbours said. She was worried about Santiago. He had left the day before, and he hadn’t come back. Miguel and Holly were out looking for him. It wasn’t like him to do this, he said he’d never leave her. He’d promised. But how could she trust anyone if she could not trust her brother? They were not tied by blood, but many things were more important to Ashley than what ran through her veins. He had been her guardian for three years, protecting her from Miguel’s foul temper and feeding her when Holly forgot. She was jolted out of her thoughts when the door opened, and she ran into the hallway. It was Santiago. She ran at him and he hugged her tight. Then he gently prised her away to look her in the eyes. His eye was bruised dark purple, and savage cuts were freshly torn on his knuckles, just below his tattoos.
“I’m leaving, Ash. I can’t do this anymore. It will be better for you, once they break up, I promise.”
“But where are you going? Can’t you take me with you?”
“I’m sorry, Ash, but you know you cannot come. It would look bad. I am going to Portugal, to find my mother, and then I will go to Madrid. I can find a job there.”
“I’ll help you pack. If Miguel finds you…” She didn’t finish. They both knew what would happen.
“Thank you, Ash. I will never forget you. Find me when you grow up, or I’ll find you, okay?” He hugged her again.
“Okay. But we have to hurry.”
She helped him pack his bags, and gave him her favourite thing, a plastic toy lizard with flowers on. He scribbled a quick note, then hugged her again. He kissed her on the nose, and then he was gone. When Miguel and Holly came back, she told them she hid in her room because she thought it was a robber, and then found the note when she crept back downstairs. Miguel went mad, as if a demon had possessed him. He threw Ashley out of the house and would have beat his wife to death if those nosy neighbours hadn’t called the police. Ashley was taken back to the group foster home. Holly tried to regain custody of her, but was told she was irresponsible and an unfit parent. Ashley never saw Santiago again.
She took a deep breath and wiped away her tears. She held her hands out and looked at her knuckles, then wrapped her arms round herself. The thought of finding Santiago was tantalising, like a carrot dangled in front of a donkey. She knew it would be almost impossible. But that girl had filled her with hope.
Lauren called her. Dinner was ready, and afterwards the cake would be revealed. Ashley turned and left the room, closing the door softly behind her.