Living in a two parent home would seem ideal, but for this little girl.
Cherish Flowers is a six-year-old child prostitute trafficked by her father, and her mother knew about it. Although severely sexually and mentally abused, she finds a way to deal with her life as it is. She takes solace in her ability to dance.
Cherish is in love with the dancing, but can she survive the daily travails of her life?
With no formal training other than her passion for dancing, Cherish has finally gotten her big break, but it might cost her everything. Unable, to put the nightmares of her past and the man that abused her out of her mind, she soon finds herself spiraling under those bright lights.
Will this flower bloom? Or will she wilt?
Read an Excerpt
"Cherish!" Father grunted barging into my room. I was lay on my bed pretending to be asleep.
"Get your butt up this minute! I told you last night that we were going to the café' today to meet a client.
"And don't make me come over there and smack you!"
I stood up slowly and trudged towards him. "Hurray up and get dressed!" he yelled.
"Bernard, there's no need to involve her in all of this, she's just a kid" Mother pleaded but Father was not going to have any of that, his mind was made up as he put his hands firmly on me and led me out of the house. Outside waiting as usual was my mother's sister Aunt Sherlyn.
"STOP PLAYING WITH YOUR FOOD, Cherish! That soup isn't free. Behave yourself for once. You've got better things to do with those hands of yours."
Even at eight, I have experienced enough to understand what that last statement meant. At times, defiant furies stir in the pit of my gut forcing me not to behave.
I plunged my fingers into the bowl of soup again, twirling them as I hummed. It was almost impossible not to imagine I was actually dancing on stage, with millions of fans screaming my name. I've always loved dancing. I'm not really sure why but it came naturally to me. My fingers moved with the elegance of a swan, twirling, and breathtakingly beautiful. My pinkie did a spectacular twirl and splattered chicken noodle soup in my father's face.
"I said stop that!" Faster than I could blink, his hand whipped up and struck me across the face. The sound reverberated through the cafe. In my periphery, I could see heads swivel in my direction, but none lingering for too long. My cheek stung.
"Ouch!" I wailed while the tears pooled in my eyes.
But I wasn't crying because of the pain. I had already gotten used to being hit up to ten times a day by my father. The tears came because of the meaning of that slap. I wasn't a free person. My father owned me. He could do anything he wanted to me without getting any query from anyone.
He had made that clear last week when he threw me across the living room for breaking a plate while dancing in the kitchen.
My father hated seeing me dance.
"Look what you made me do!" He yelled.
"Bern!" Mama cautioned, "Please if you hurt her ..."
"Okay! Okay!" He said regaining his composure, "Clean her up it's almost time." He added moving towards the direction of the door.
"Let this be the last time you hit her, Bernard," my mother always warned. Although from the quiver in her voice, I could tell she had zero power over what my father chose to do to me. It was like I was living in the twilight zone or something. What in the hell was happening here? Why was God allowing this to happen to me? Why did she?
Mama hurried over to me with tears in her eyes. "Let me see." It was hard to imagine other kids of my age living the way I did.
A waitress hurried over to clean up the mess made on the table. For a second, our eyes met, and a strange look crossed her face. Was that ... pity? Before I could figure it out, she tore her gaze away from mine and wiped away the chicken-soup stains on the tablecloth. I sank into my space in the booth. It had to be pity. Then again, she had seen me get beat up a couple of other times, but she never reported my father to the authorities. Maybe it was because she was scared of him. Or maybe she fancied him, like the dozens of other women in his life.
"Thanks, darling," my father said, winking at the waitress. She smiled seductively and left the table, with my father staring after her.
Yeah, she was probably one of those skanky hoes he was messing around with. Daddy licked his lips like she was a piece of steak right in front of mama too.
"Loose bastard," I heard my mother muttered. She sidled towards me and cradled me to her chest.
My father's eyes narrowed to slits. "What did you just call me?"
"Nothing I haven't already said in the past five years", Mother spat, stroking my shoulder length, curly brown hair. "And I'd love to say more, but we happen to be in a public place."
"That's what I thought." He scowled at me. "You better not be crying when the client gets here, or I'll beat you to stupor."
"How old is this client, Bernard?" My mother wanted to know.
"Old enough," was his curt reply.
Mother hugged me tighter. "One of these days, you'll end up in jail for this-this sin. How can you watch your own daughter get defiled by those disgusting men and still have a clear conscience? You're a sick bastard, you know that?"
"I'd watch my tongue if I were you, woman," my father growled. Sitting beside him, was my mother's sister, Sherlyn; she also smirked as she smoked. The sight of her made me want to gag on my plate.
She was flabby, with black lips and a frizzy wig cropped up on her head. And she loved to smoke, which made her look like a dirty bag of bones or one of those frizzled out winos, this crossed her name off my list of favorite people. I had always hated cigarettes.
She was the only family besides my parents that I knew. I often wondered why no other family visited? Was it because the rest of the family hated us or was it because they didn't know where we were? Or perhaps they didn't want to get tainted by my father's bad lifestyle.
"Oh, come on, Liz," Sherlyn said. "Can you even hear yourself? "We have talked about this already. There's nothing special about this girl, and this is where the money is!"
Her words pierced my heart like red-hot knives, searing my confidence. She always laughed at me every time she found me in the bathroom, bleeding on the ground, trying and failing to treat my injuries with the first aid kit we kept under the sink.
There was nothing special about me. I was nobody. I could feel more tears well up in my eyes. I shut them and tried to shut out the rest of the world too.
"Well, the men seem to think otherwise," my father said, and he and Sherlyn roared with laughter
"She's always been an impertinent one, my sister," Aunt Sherlyn said, taking her cigarette out of her mouth. Wisps of smoke slithered between her lips, obscuring her face. "I suppose that's where Cherish gets her stupidity from."
"Don't you dare talk about my daughter that way", Mother snarled at her sister and Bernard. "I've got a good mind to rat you out to the cop's one of these days"
"And tell them what, Liz? That you watched your own daughter do favor's for all those men, and received part of the money she made from them?" "By all means, go ahead. I bet you'd look like an idiot and a criminal."
I felt mother's heart throb. She took a deep breath before speaking again. "I just don't like what you're making Cherish do." She sighed heavily.
Once a week we would come here to meet men for me to service and she let it happen. Did she really care about me? Or was this a crazy game of "Good Cop and Bad Cop?".
I was a child prostitute, trafficked by my father and my mother knew about it.CHAPTER 2
I remembered the first time it happened I had been six years old and my father said we were going to play a game, a game I thought this was odd because my father never played with me.
He never held me or said he loved me.
"Okay" I said, "What kind of game?" He said a few of his friends were coming over and that they would come into my room and get into the bed with me.
"Don't they have their own beds at their house?" I asked innocently.
He laughed, "yes, but it's a game and so they would act like your bed was their beds."
My father would remain in the room, so he could "keep an eye" on the men who molested me.
After each incident, my father would tuck me into bed, kiss me on the cheek and tell me I had done a good job and he was proud of me.
It was confusing. He was supposed to be protecting me, but he was exploiting me.
These encounters usually happened when mama went to work. Eventually, I told mama about one particular man because he made me touch his private parts.
Screaming in horror mama ran and told daddy, not realizing his involvement. That was the first time I watched my father beat my mother up. He beat her so bad that she couldn't move for a week.
What I learned at an early age was that even if you tell, even if your mom does the right things, it doesn't stop; things only get worse.CHAPTER 3
The bell chimed as the door of the cafe swung open, and the booth went silent. I opened my eyes and raised my head just in time to see a guy in a black bomber jacket and black bottoms walk in. He looked in his late teens, with a lanky frame, long dark hair and a stubble-covered chin.
My father shot to his feet and hurried over to meet him, an exaggerated smile plastered onto his face, and it hit me that the newcomer must be the client my father mentioned just a minute ago. I let out a whimper and slouched further in my seat.
"Pleasure meeting you," I heard my father say. His voice was getting closer, which meant he and the man were coming towards the table. A chill raced through my body. Oh, God.
"It's going to be okay, sweetheart," Mother said to me. I wanted to scream at her, to tell her she was wicked for allowing my father to make me do these horrible things. But I knew she wasn't the one to blame. Not really, at least.
Until that moment, I had managed to convince myself that she just didn't really understand what was happening to me, but no, she had no power over my father and was scared to death of him. What did she like about him to make her stay in this mess?
Mother always said that she owe him her life, and no matter what she couldn't leave him. She says leaving him would mean I wouldn't have a father anymore. But what do I care? The man wasn't worth being a father, and I would love to see him thrown in jail. He was a disgrace to fatherhood.
Just then father and the strange arrived at the table and sat down.
"This is Stan, everyone," my father said, gesturing at the man.
The man lifted a hand in greeting. I looked at his black clothes and hair. Stan? More like Satan.
"Hello, Stan," Sherlyn cooed.
Mother and I said nothing.
"Stan said he would be delighted to have the talented Cherish service him this afternoon, for just ten measly minutes. Isn't that right, Stan?" Stan nodded and locked eyes with me, and I gave an involuntary shudder. Even as a kid, I knew a lot could happen in ten minutes. I looked at my mother for support, but she couldn't look me in the eyes.
"Come on Cherish," my father said, getting to his feet. When I didn't move, he slapped me, hard. "Now!"
Overwhelmed with pain and hopelessness, I got up and followed the man out of the cafe. My father winked at Stan and went back inside.
Stan and I stood in silence for a couple of seconds. Then he said, "My car is just over there." Walking to the car seemed like walking ten miles. My legs were as wobbly as Jell-O. With my heart beating in my throat I opened his car door.
Once we were in his car, he took my hand and guided it towards the bulge in his jeans. I knew exactly what he wanted me to do to him, yet I couldn't help gasping in horror when my hand touched him. "I am only 8!" I yelled in silence.
"You know what to do."
Mechanically, I unzipped his jeans and curled my fingers around him, stroking him like my father had taught me to do a couple of months ago. It didn't take long before Stan groaned and emptied himself into my hand.
My father would be very proud of me.
I couldn't say the same for myself.
I burst into tears again. This was not the life Cherish Flowers deserved.CHAPTER 4
Stan had gotten what he wanted – and even more. After I was done with what he asked me to do, I sat in place and waited for my payment. But instead of handing the money to me like all the other clients normally did, he struck me across the face and continued hitting me, covering every inch of my body with his palm. Somehow, nobody on the street could see or hear him.
Stan threw me into the backseat. Following closely behind, he pushed my dress up past my knees and toyed with me with his fingers. He touched me there – the forbidden zone, the part no man was ever meant to touch.
That was the worst ten minutes of my life.
At the end of it all, he whipped out a cigarette and lit it, but the cigarette never touched his lips. The next thing I remembered was a scream, my scream, the scream no one could hear. And then the deed was done.
I glanced down at the burn mark which stayed imprinted like some kind of crest, I looked at Stan and all I could see was that deep mask of excitement which had clouded his face.
He was actually enjoying what he was doing, "do you feel any pain?" He asked.
I shook my head in the negative, "Well I want you to feel pain, that's the major reason why I branded you" he smiled malignantly.
Tears streaked down my face as I tried to run at the burn mark, but Stan caught my hand forcefully inserted his finger in between my legs.
"Please ... don't hurt me again ..." I managed to mutter, but he wasn't even hearing all I had to say, he was deeply entwined into his own twisted reality.
"Shut up!" He hissed sharply and since I was so afraid of getting struck across the face again, I muffled up my cries.
I exited the car and ran down the street to the café'. Now standing outside the door of the cafe, I could still feel the pain he had caused me. All I had to do was lift my dress up to see the crooked he had made on my belly with the cigarette.
Later, when I was older and much wiser, I would wonder why he branded me with that cigarette. Maybe it was because he was white, and I was black, and he was marking me like slave owners had done to Africans in the past.
Maybe he had just gotten overexcited and decided to have a little more than fun with me. It was not my first time of being hit, but I had never been burned with a cigarette before. The wound hurt like hell.
"All that for a hundred dollars."
Of course, my father wouldn't see it that way.CHAPTER 5
I stared at the dollar bill in my hand while standing outside the cafe, my tears splashing on it. Through my misty eyes, I could barely make out the number 100. Behind me, cars rolled along the road, honking and sputtering.
I thought about how easy it would be to just turn around and jump in front of one of them. Then I wouldn't have to live with the memory of what had just happened to me.
I grew up with the feeling that I didn't deserve to live. I thought about killing myself on multiple occasions, but somehow it never worked. There was a time I tried jumping from my window and drowning myself in the bathtub. I was lying in it, water reaching up to my lips.
"What are you doing?" Mother exclaimed as she stepped into the bathroom. She switched off the shower plug and carried me out of the tube.
"I'm so sorry, Cherish. I know I'm not a good mother, but please don't leave me, you are all I have."
"Mother, I'm sorry too, but I can't do this anymore. I have no life. Wouldn't it be better to end it now rather than live like this for the rest of my life?" Mother shook her head adamantly, rubbing my bare shoulder up and down my elbow.
"If you leave me, I wouldn't know what to live for anymore. Promise me you won't do this anymore." I hadn't promised her anything, but I had a change of heart. I had stopped trying to kill myself, for her. Everything I did was for someone else's satisfaction. When would I get my freedom?
It was hard to convince myself that I am worth the air I breathe and it's his voice inside of my head that tells me I will never have any value. More than any other label he threw at me, it was the word 'worthless' that hurt the most, and stayed with me the longest.
I wiped my tears away and reached for the door handle, but it swung open before I could touch it. Speak of the devil ... my father strutted out, followed closely by Mother and Aunt Sherlyn.
He snatched the money out of my hands and grinned. "Wonderful."
That was it. He didn't even ask what could possibly have happened between me and Stan for him to have given me this much money. That was as caring as he was. The hatred he had for me was all consuming.
"You're crying again," he said. He narrowed his eyes at me. "Did you cry in front of Stan?"
He didn't wait for a reply but slapped me once, twice. Mother shook like a mound of jelly. Sherlyn fished out another pack of cigarettes from her pocket book.
"I told you not to cry, Cherish. You made good money today, but I bet you could have made more than a hundred bucks without those tears of yours," my father said.
I gave an audible sniff and stared at the ground.
"I got to leave," Aunt Sherlyn said. "My husband is waiting for me."
Sometimes I wondered who Sherlyn was married to. I had never seen the so-called husband. She was always talking about him going on business trips outside of the country. Maybe it was something illegal.
"Good riddance," Mother muttered.
Sherlyn must have heard her, because the next thing I knew, the two women had started an argument. It wasn't hard to tune them out. The pain from my belly wound helped. I wondered what Mother would say if she saw it.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "As the Flowers Bloom"
Copyright © 2018 Cheryl T. Long.
Excerpted by permission of Cheryl T Long.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
About the author ii
Chapter 1 (CHERISH) 1
Chapter 2 (CHERISH) 8
Chapter 3 (Cherish) 10
Chapter 4 (Cherish) 14
Chapter 5 (CHERISH) 17
Chapter 6 (Cherish) 20
Chapter 7 (Cherish) 26
Chapter 8 (FATHER: BERNARD) 29
Chapter 9 (Mother: Liz) 33
Chapter 10 (Cherish) 35
Chapter 11 (Cherish) 38
Chapter: 12 (Liz: diary) 43
Chapter 13 (Liz) 46
Chapter 14 (Cherish) 50
Chapter 15 Cherish. 52
Chapter 16 Sherlyn. 56
Chapter 17 (Cherish) 61
Chapter 18 (cherish) 64
Chapter 19 (Cherish) 67
Chapter 20 Cherish. 75
Chapter 21 Cherish. 79
Chapter 22 (CHERISH) 82
Chapter 23 Cherish. 85
Chapter 24 Cherish. 90
Chapter 25 (Cherish) 93
Chapter 26 (Cherish) 95
Chapter 27 Cherish. 102
Chapter 28 (THE REIGN OF TERROR BEGAN) 108
Chapter 29 (More of the same) 111
Chapter 30 (Cherish) 118
Chapter 31 (The beginning of the End) 122
Chapter 32 (THE ESCAPE) 126
STAY IN TOUCH.. 133