Jessie shivered as the cold wind whipped around her legs, reaching its cold fingers through her dress as if the dingy cloth wasn't even there. The leggy 14-year-old clenched her teeth to keep them from chattering as she walked wearily through the dark alley. Oh, how she wished she had been more sensible when she chose this dress! It had been a present for her thirteenth birthday, and she had fallen in love with the material from the moment the first saw it. Her father hadn't been quite so sure.

"Are you certain it's what you want?" he had asked. "It looks rather thin."

"Yes, I'm sure. It's just perfect!" she cried, twirling around with the dark green cloth to watch it fly out around her legs. "Look, isn't it beautiful?" she said for the third time.

"Well, yes," her father had to agree. "I guess we can get it -- after all, it is your birthday."

Now she sighed as she neared her home in back of the shoemaker's shop. The shack was a small wooden structure, obviously built some years past. When her father died less than a year ago, she had been sent to live with her uncle. He was a cruel, perverted man, and she was tormented by terrible memories even after she ran away. This shack was her home now.

Jessie entered and looked aroung the room in the light of the setting sun. It was poorly furnished in comparison to her father's house. Still, she was proud of the results of her labors.

She placed the bag of scraps she had been carrying under the upturned crate the used for storage, taking out a stiff piece of bread before replacing the box. The coarse bread was stale and crunchy, but Jessie had gotten used to the taste during the weeks that she lived here, and even savored it as she ate slowly, letting the meal last as long as possible.

After finishing, Jessie climbed into her makeshift bed. She had made it by piling old blankets on top of each other. It was convenient, because as it got colder, she simply burrowed down a layer deeper. Tonight the ground seemed especially hard as she lay on the only two blankets that were not covering her. Ignoring the insects crawling around her, Jessie settled down and drifted off to sleep.

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Chapter 2