The Long Road Home
by Kim (KP) Pritekel
Disclaimers: Though these two lovely ladies seem familiar, well, that's about where the Deja Vu ends. These two belong to me.
Subtext: Yes, this story contains all the good things in life. If you can't buy me a beer, or have a propensity for severe narrow mindedness, I suggest you don't read this.
Violence: This story depicts domestic violence, as well as some mild description of child abuse, and its results. If this bothers or offends you, then perhaps you shouldn't read this one.
If you'd like to tell me what a wonderful writer I am, or that I royally suck, feel free at:
Sean Waters sat on her back porch with a steaming cup of coffee in her hands to keep them from freezing in the late October chill. The night was quiet. In her neighborhood full of modest sized homes occupied by modest sized families with modest jobs and little league on Saturdays, there was never any noise past ten on a Tuesday. She picked a piece of candy from the small pile that lay on the stoop next to her. Smarties. She opened one end, and ate the sweet-sour, powdery candies one at a time. Tonight was Halloween, and she hadn't had as many ghouls and goblins this year. The candy had to be eaten by somebody, and Sean knew that Sarah sure wasn't going to eat any of it. God forbid it might mess with her diet.
Sean rolled her eyes and crushed the plastic wrapper in her palm. She took a sip from her black coffee which tasted absolutely acidic after the sweet candy. She scrunched up her nose and set the cup aside, and looked out over her backyard. The area was small, and that was fine with her. She was at the bookstore so often that planting a yard, let alone maintaining one was not on her list of priorities. During the summer the Seattle rains helped the fence to fence grass to grow and be green, and Todd Hilsabeck, the fourteen year old boy next door helped it to be cut, and manageable. She had hoped to plant some roses over the summer, but never got around to it. With Jeanne leaving so suddenly, and Sean having to cover the lost help, the summer had been hectic at best. Sometimes being the boss isn't all it is cracked up to be.
Sean thought back again to her mother's letter. Her father had finally died. He'd been suffering from, what was it she had said? Cirrhosis, was it? She'd have to check. Regardless, he was dead, and certainly not to her detriment. Russell Farrow had been a miserable man, and had hidden his evil in the bottle. The last thing he had said to her was when she had been fifteen, and had decided to move in with her grandparents, Roy and Millie Waters. She had her last suitcase in hand, and had opened the old screen door that banged no matter how softly you closed it, that led to the short walk that would lead her to her grandparents old Chevy: freedom.
"Hey, Sean." he had called out from the top of the stairs. He had just woken up from another long night of hard drinking, and was no better for it. He stood there barefoot, his stained boxers half covered by the three day old shirt he had been wearing, unbuttoned, his stomach peeking through the opening. Sean stopped at the door, handle in hand. She turned to look at him. "You goin' now?" he said with a belch. He swallowed and coughed.
"Yeah. I'm going." she had said, angry at herself as she could hear the intimidation in her voice.
Russell Farrow smiled, his unshaven, grizzly face lined before it's time.
"Don't let the door hit you in the ass, kid."
Sean didn't take another look around before she left. She knew that the television was on low, as it had been all night, and anywhere from twenty to thirty empty beer cans would be scattered around the old brown recliner with its vomit stains, and ever present stench of cat urine. Donny's toy trucks were piled in their usual corner of the couch with its plaid upholstery, the pillows on one end flattened where her mom's head had lain overnight, her arm over her weary eyes. Sean pushed the door open and walked out. With a loud bang, like a gun firing, she cut ties, and started a new life.
With a shiver that was eighteen years old, Sean stood from the cold cement, and gathered her cup and candy to take into the house with her. She walked back through the sliding glass door that led to the dining area which was separated from the large kitchen by a half wall that was topped with a slab of wood block to make a breakfast bar, or more counter space. Straight out of the dining area was the living room, the hard wood floors covered with large area rugs in subtle shades of dark blue and cream to match the dark woods of the furniture. The room was small, but made cozy by a large fireplace in the corner with a hearth made of mountain rock, the dark wood mantle ornate with carvings of roses and flowing designs. The cream colored couch and recliner was set off by Queen Anne tables with delicately carved legs. Large, overstuffed pillows of the same color of blue as the rugs lay on the floor against the wall for kindred floor dwellers.
Just off to the left of the living room was a door that led to the basement where the television was, as well as a stereo attached to speakers upstairs, and a pool table. Next to that were two closed French doors, stained dark wood to match the rest of the woodwork in the house. Beyond those was Sean's study. She kept her computer and books concerning the Wood Closet, and her huge library of books. Shelves lined three of the four walls from floor to ceiling filled with volumes of fiction, non-fiction, as well as reference books. Her spare time, what time she had, was dedicated to writing.
One shelf close to her desk was filled with four large three-ringed binders that held finished and unfinished manuscripts, as well as journals. The decor of the room was little to none. This was the one room of the house that Sean had not wanted to decorate. This room, she decided 5 years ago when she bought the place would be her own space. Her room to breath, and think. The big desk that held her computer, as well as housed her files was an antique given to her by her grandfather when she had decided to open the small, but successful women's book store seven years ago.
To the right of the living room was a long hallway that was interrupted by a small entry way that was the front door, then proceeded to three bedrooms, the two distinctly smaller of the three on either side of the hall, then ending in the main bathroom. To the right of the bathroom was a short flight of three stairs that led to the master bedroom, Sean's bedroom. The large, four-poster was the center point of the room. The tall dresser was on the wall to the left of that of the bed, the wall where the bathroom was. An antique hope chest given to Sean by her grandmother just before she died, was at the foot of the bed. Night tables were on either side of the bed. A large, mirrored armoire was opposite, the closet to the left of that. The rugs were full of reds and blacks to match the vibrant red and black patterned quilt on the bed, as well as the red lace that was draped across the posts. A simple black wing-backed chair was against the wall opposite the bathroom under the large picture window that over looked the backyard.
Sean went to the kitchen and dumped the remains of her warm coffee in the sink and rinsed the cup. She startled as the doorbell chimed. Ignoring it she plugged the sink, and squirted some Dawn into the hot water rushing from the faucet. She had turned her porch light off an hour ago, so all the little beggars would have to go to the next house in their search for trick or treats. Someone knocked on the door, then she heard the screen door squeak as it was opened. She would have to oil that. Next week, maybe.
"Trick or treat?" Sarah's voice called out as she closed the front door behind her.
"Hi." Sean said as she walked to the table in the dining area to gather the dishes from her solo dinner. "In the kitchen." she dumped the silverware in the hot, soapy water. Sarah entered with her usual flourish. She was garbed in a black, leather skirt that looked painted on, and barely reached mid-thigh. A white poet shirt with a very low neck-line that showed off Sarah's plentiful cleavage was tucked into it, and a black cape tied at the neck. Her long legs were clothed in black nylons, and ended in stiletto high heels that made her a couple inches taller than Sean.
"Vampire, huh?" Sean said indicating the fake white fangs that filled Sarah's smile. A thin dribble of blood ran delicately down her chin. Her blonde hair was teased and fanned out in what looked to be eighties punk style.
"Vut ov course." Sarah said, her voice low and sultry, yet deceptively sweet. She came up behind Sean and pressed her body to her, her hands flattened on Sean's hips. Sarah teased the flesh on the side of her neck with the points of the fangs. A shock wave raced from Sean's neck to between her legs. She fought back a moan. She had promised herself.
"Quit." she laughed as she squirmed away from Sarah, who backed away and took the teeth out.
"These things are so uncomfortable." she exclaimed as she grabbed a paper towel to wipe her mouth.
"Maybe that's why Dracula was so ticked off all the time." Sean said as she began to scrub the fork, knife, and one cooking spoon.
"So what did you do tonight?" Sarah asked. She took off the heels and threw them aside, then hopped up onto the counter-top opposite the sink, her heels thumping against the cabinet below.
"I handed out candy." Sean said as she rinsed the silverware, then plunged her coffee cup into the water. "I killed the porch light about nine, and sat out back."
"Do we have to do this again, Sean?" Sarah exclaimed, her arms crossed over her voluptuous chest. "I told you it was not my fault that it was Toni and Mary's party. I don't think my ex would like it if I brought my current girlfriend. Do you?"
"I wouldn't know, Sarah. I've never met Toni." Sean set the cup into the strainer, and started on the plate and salad bowl.
"Well, I don't know what else I can tell you."
"I don't, either. You brought it up."
"Yeah, I brought it up because I know you're pissed about it, Sean. That's why I did it." Sean put her hands up in surrender and faced Sarah.
"Okay. You win. As I stand here and drip on my kitchen floor, I admit defeat. Okay?" Sean ran her hand up and down her forearms to collect all the suds that had slid down when she raised her hands. She turned back to the sink.
"What does that mean?" Sarah asked, jumping off the counter.
"It means that I don't particularly want to argue about this, and I want some coffee. Want some?"
"Okay." Sarah said, satisfied she had gotten her way, again. She walked over to the fridge and looked at all the magnets Sean had stuck on there, and read the little notes and lists Sean made for herself and put there for reminders. She plucked Sean's grocery list out from under a magnet of Goofy winking. "Pop-tarts? Do you have any idea how fattening Pop-tarts are?" Sarah said, disgust edging the concern.
"I'm not real worried about that, Sarah. Unlike some people I intend to live by my own rules."
Sarah looked back down at the list either not hearing, or choosing to ignore the nip.
"Wow. You don't eat very healthy, Sean." she said putting the list on the counter, and watching as Sean rinsed the last pan, and set it in the strainer against the plates. She pulled the plug, and began to rinse the soap suds out of the sink. Shutting off the cold water, she let the remaining suds disperse as they may. Sean dried her hands and grabbed the glass coffee pitcher and filled it with enough water for four cups. Sarah watched Sean's every move as she put the coffee on to brew.
"So what are your plans for tonight?" Sarah asked, obvious intent reflected in her brown eyes. Sean turned away from her and headed out to the dining table to wipe it down.
"I am going to pack tonight." Sean said, surprising herself. She had not yet decided whether or not she was going to go to Russell's funeral in Ohio or not. Subconscious decision, and Sarah, you were apart of that. She thought ruefully to herself.
"Pack? What for?" Sarah asked, following Sean, and leaning against the wall as she watched her run the wet towel over the smooth surface of the wood, collecting crumbs in her hand.
"I got a letter from my mother today,"
"So. You were never close to that bitch anyway." Sean looked at Sarah, her crystal blue eyes dark. She collected the rag in her hand and walked back to the kitchen. "Well, you're not, right?" Sarah asked, following her, hands on her hips.
"No, we're not. But my father died."
"Oh." she was silent for a minute, bit her full lower lip. "Were you close to him? I can't remember. There are so many people in your family you don't like."
"Sarah! Do you have a human bone in your body?" Sean fired. Sarah looked startled and innocent. "No, I did not get along with my father. I've hated the man since I was a kid, okay? And yes. There are a lot of undesirables in my family. How's that?" Sean tossed the rag into the sink and went to the cabinet. She yanked open the door and pulled out two cups. Sarah watched in silence as Sean poured the coffee, slopping the hot liquid onto her hand. "Damn!" she yelled as she put the burned hand to her mouth.
"Hey." Sarah walked over to her and took the wounded hand over to the sink and put some cold water on it. "Calm down, Sean. I'm sorry I was insensitive." she said quietly, massaging the red skin. "If you hated him so much, why are you going to go to his funeral? And don't they live back east somewhere?"
"Yes. In Ohio." Sean took her hand out of Sarah's. "Go ahead and make your coffee. You know where everything is." She said as she walked out of the kitchen, and to the bathroom in her bedroom. She leaned on the black, pedestal sink and closed her eyes, her head down as she tried to get her anger under control. Why was she so mad? It seemed that lately it didn't take anything and she was annoyed, or irritated, or out and out angry with Sarah. Sean thought back to a conversation she had with Wendy, employee of the Wood Closet and long time trusted friend.
"Girl," Wendy had said, her dark features almost disappearing in the shade of the early evening as they sat outside of Sip of Reginald, a gay owned sidewalk coffee shop and cafe. "You see what it is, these white women, they real bitchy, and you so whipped you put up wid them. But now, see you are seein' the light, Lord Hallelujah! So now you are seein' the error of her white woman ways, and you don't like it."
Sean had laughed and looked fondly on her old friend. "You know something, Wendy?"
"What's that, suga?" she had said as she sipped her espresso.
"I am a white woman."
"Hell, no you ain't white! See, what it is," she sat forward for emphasis. "You a sista in white woman's skin. You ain't nothin' like that Sarah person. What do you see in her, anyway? 'Cause I know it ain't brains."
"Great sex." Sean had said simply. "That's all I want from her right now, and I'm pretty sure that's all she wants, too. I don't need the hassle of a relationship. It's not worth it. I mean, Wendy I am thirty-four years old. I've got my dream house, a great business. Why deal with all that crap?"
"Honey, you no happier widout all the 'crap'. You been more lonely in the last six months since you entered this union of sorts. Good god, woman. She wrong for you. You too good for the likes a her. An' you know she ain't playin' it straight wid you! How many times do me or you got to see her wid some other woman, or how many times she got to stand you up? Dump the bitch!"
Sean opened her eyes and looked at her reflection. Her blue eyes were cloudy with an emotion she could net define. She could feel her anger seeping out through her ears, and realized that her anger really was not directed at Sarah, but at herself. This life she was leading was not like her; this indifference. Her work had become her life. Her time with Sarah was fun, usually, but she played no role of real importance. No one did except for maybe Wendy. She had no ties or connections to anyone; not even herself.
Sean ran her hands through her long, dark hair and sighed. Time for a change. Maybe she should drive to Ohio. That would give her some time to think, and be alone. That would mean that she would be gone longer than if she flew, but she knew the store would be just fine in Wendy's capable hands. Wendy would probably welcome the responsibility, too.
"Are you okay?" Sarah asked from the doorway. Sean's mind snapped back to the present, and looked at her.
"Yes. I'm fine. So how was the party?" she asked as she walked past Sarah to her closet and pulled her old, beat up Samsonite off the top shelf and plopped it onto the bed.
"It was fine, fun. Andrea showed up. I was kind of surprised considering the little situation she had gotten herself into last year." Sarah said with a laugh.
"Hmm." Sean said absently as she unsnapped the hard, gray case and opened it up. The lid bounced slightly as it hit the soft mattress. Sean started to pull out some sweaters and pants as Sarah rattled on about costumes, and who was dating who in her world that Sean had never been invited to enter. The names and events were meaningless to her.
"So how long do you plan to be gone?" Sarah asked, her brow drawn at the growing pile of garments.
"I don't know." Sean shrugged.
"Well, have you made arrangements yet?"
"No. I'm going to drive I think."
"Drive?" Sarah plopped herself down in the wing-back, threw her legs over the arm. "Why on earth would you want to do that?"
"Because I need some time." Sean said plainly. She re-folded her sweaters so they were smaller and would fit better.
"Some time to do what?"
"To think." Sean looked up from her task and studied Sarah for a moment. She was lazily swinging one of her legs, and was looking down at the basically non-existent neck-line of her shirt where some fake blood had spotted. She licked one of her fingers, and was vigorously scrubbing at it. Sean shook her head. Why was she bothering to explain? Without a word Sean headed into the bathroom to collect some toiletries that she would need.
"When are you going to leave?" Sarah asked from the bedroom. Sean went to the cabinets next to the bathtub that were built into the wall to store towels, or extra toilet paper. She squatted infront of the lower one and began to dig through the mess.
"I don't know." she called out. She found the travel case for her soap clear in the back with a spilled box of tampons on top of it. She stood and closed the cabinet door. "I'm thinking either tomorrow or the next day." Sean entered the bedroom with her travel soap case with a fresh bar of soap loaded into it, a new toothbrush, and a tiny tube of Crest, threw them into the upper pocket of the suitcase. She'd have to pick up some travel-sized shampoo later.
"So what do you need to think about?" Sarah asked quietly. Sean looked up at her surprised.
"I didn't think you had even heard me. I'm impressed." she said turning her attention back to organizing her toiletries.
"I heard you. What's happening here, Sean?" Sarah flipped her legs back over the arm, and turned her body to sit forward, her legs crossed at the knee. She looked to be in the mood to talk serious.
"What is happening is I need a change. I need to distance myself from my life for a bit, and see what I see." Sean went to a drawer and started to throw pairs of socks and underwear on the bed.
"You mean distance yourself from me." Sarah said dryly.
"You are in my life." Sean said pointedly. Sarah studied her for a minute then stood, her eyes expressionless.
"That's pretty harsh, Sean." she turned toward the door. "Coffee's getting cold." and she walked out the bedroom door, down the three stairs, and disappeared around the corner.
Sean stared after her, her mind whirling. She thought back to that first night they had met. It had been a perfect night, the kind that books are made of. It had been late April, and a mutual friend had been having a huge party out on her ranch on the outskirts of town. Sean and Wendy had arrived together, and had sought out their hostess.
"Sean! Wendy! I'm so glad you gals made it."
"Hey, Tina." Sean smiled, and took the large woman in her arms for a hug.
"Girl, who is that? Mmm, mmm." Wendy exclaimed, looking off into the crowd.
"Wendy we have been here less then two minutes, and already you're scoping the place out." Sean had laughed, and shaken her head in mock disgust.
"Oh, honey, you see them legs over there, and you know why my stomach is growlin'."
Sean had looked over in the direction that Wendy had indicated, and had stopped dead in her tracks. There stood one of the most beautiful, and sexy women she had ever seen. She wore a mid-thigh length red skirt with a slit up the side, and a red leather vest with nothing underneath that left not too much for the imagination. She was talking with a group of women, but Wendy's booming voice had caught her attention, and now her eyes were on Sean.
"That's Sarah Joyce. I used to work with her when I was still in real estate." Tina explained.
With a polite smile to the other women, Sarah started walking toward her.
"Hi." she said extending her hand to Sean, full of confidence. "I'm Sarah, and I noticed you looking my way." Sean took the warm hand and held it for a moment before letting it go.
"Nice to meet you. How do you know Tina?" she took Sean's arm, ignoring Wendy and Tina, and led her toward the back door to the deck.
"She's a regular customer at my store. She's been coming in for a few years now. Since we opened, anyway." Sean explained, leaning nonchalantly against the redwood rail.
"What's your store?"
"The Wood Closet."
"Ah, yes. The woman's book store over on fifth." Sean nodded. "I've never been there, personally, but I do know people who have. It's nice." she said simply.
"Thank you. I like it. What do you do?"
"I'm an agent at Crossman Realty."
The rest of the night had been spent on idle chit chat, the sexual tension between both building until finally Sarah had leaned into Sean and had whispered in her ear.
"So what do you say we ditch the people we came with, and go somewhere a little more private."
"What about Wendy?"
"That black woman you came with? I'm sure she can find her way home without you."
Without a word Sean had led her back through the party toward the front door. Midway she saw Wendy glanced at her, brows drawn in confusion. Sean had simply smiled in answer to her frown, and led Sarah to her car.
Sean shook her head to shake the memory, and closed the case and snapped it. She grabbed her backpack from the closet and headed into the living room. Sarah was curled up in the big recliner, her feet tucked up under her. She had removed her nylons and the skirt. They, along with her stiletto heels were in a small pile on the floor next to the chair.
Sean set the empty pack on the couch opposite the chair and headed to the kitchen to make herself a cup of coffee. Sarah had wiped up the coffee she had spilled, and had left out the can of cream and sugar canister for her. With a touch of cream and a lot of sugar Sean walked back in to the living room. Sarah was looking through a couple of books that had been on the coffee table.
Sean went into her den and grabbed her writing notebook and favorite pen. Much of her quiet time was filled with writing her thoughts and dreams in the notebook. She had already filled a half dozen of them in the last couple of years. Sarah looked up as she approached.
"Ah, yes. The intellectual mustn't be without pen and paper for such a long journey. Is that the only way you can deal with things, Sean? Write them down?" her voice edged with sarcasm.
"Well, Sarah, some people talk, some yell, and some go shopping and spend hundreds of dollars on useless items." she stopped and looked her in the eyes. "And some write."
Sarah plopped the two books she had been skimming onto the side table next to her.
"Would you hand me those, please?" Sean asked, indicating the discarded paperbacks.
"Can't leave home without Noel and Claire, is it?" Sean ignored the jab and slammed the books into the pack.
"God, I hate to read." Sarah stood, the poet shirt just barely covering her red, silk panties.
"How boring. I'd rather live life, not read about other people's.
"Well that's you, then isn't it? Sarah, I have a lot to do tonight. Why don't you just go?"
Sarah looked at Sean, surprise in her calculating brown eyes. She must have seen something in Sean's eyes that she didn't like.
"Are you asking me to go for tonight, or for good?" Taken off guard by the question Sean just stared at her for a moment.
"For good." she finally said, finality in her voice.
"Fine. You'll regret it. Believe me, you will never find a more perfect situation than this."
Sean smiled to herself.
"Perhaps. I guess I've just had a bit too much perfection then."
Sarah grabbed her skirt off the floor and tugged it on, her nylons and heels in hand. She headed for the door. With her hand on the knob she whirled around to face her.
"You are going to be so easy to replace, Sean. Maybe now I can find someone who is still alive."
"Maybe so. Infact, I'm willing to bet that young little thing you met at that party is still waiting outside for you." Sean said, her voice flat and cold.
"Bitch!" Sarah saw the large ceramic bowl of candy on the hall table, and hurled it at her, narrowly missing her shoulder and exploding on the wall behind her. Tiny little Snickers and Milky Ways scattered across the floor with the shards of the ruined bowl. "Happy Halloween." Sarah yanked open the door, and slammed it behind her.
The house was quiet, all the lights had been turned out, the mess would still be there in the morning.
Jenny Aberman made her way to the kitchen, careful not step on any broken glass or trip on the tumbled furniture. She switched on the light that was on the underside of the stove hood, and grabbed a glass from the cabinet and poured herself some Sunny Delight. She sat at the small kitchen table that she and Ben had picked up at a garage sale for twenty-five bucks. That had been, what, two years ago? Maybe three? She couldn't remember.
She leaned her cheek on her hand then winced as her nerve endings reminded her of the bump that was surly forming a bruise by now. She tentatively ran her fingertip over the tender skin. Not bad, but it would hurt for a couple of days. Especially tomorrow. She glanced over at the clock on the microwave, 3:21. I guess it is tomorrow, she thought with a rueful laugh. Probably better put some more ice on it.
Jenny looked down and noticed a missed spot when she had wiped the table down after dinner. A small spot of dried ketchup was on the corner of the green speckled Formica. Using her fingernail she scratched it off. Suddenly the realization that today was Halloween hit her. She smiled as she thought of how excited Mark, Pam's little boy was about dressing up as a Mighty Morphin Power Ranger. His little face had lit up when he'd seen the make-up kit Pam had bought for him on her break down at the grocery. Tonight she was having a party and had invited some of the girls down at the store, including Jenny. Jenny had had to decline saying that she and Ben were taking the nephew she didn't have trick-or-treating. The truth is Ben does not like Halloween. He didn't want her spending their good money on some "stupid costume that you'll wear once and throw out". Oh well. Maybe one of these years she'd be able to talk him into it.
Jenny spotted the plate of brownies on the counter. She slowly raised herself from the kitchen chair, her aching body protesting loudly. She grabbed one of the small brown squares, and sat again, happily munching on the rich treat. Ben would be mad if he knew she was eating one. He had told her to make those especially for him. Oh well, she reasoned. He's always mad about something, and she could make more. Then suddenly a pang of anger flashed through her, startling her. She was always having to "make more" for him, always making him happy when Ben would never be happy. It was getting harder and harder to do, and even harder to try and make herself appease all of her faults to please him. If in the last ten years she hadn't become his perfect wife, she never would.
"Damn him." she said to herself, her voice bitter. She thought back to when her father had tried to talk her out of making the biggest mistake of her life, marrying Benjamin Lewis Aberman.
"Jenny, you are a beautiful young girl. So many nice boys will come along and sweep you off your feet." he had said, his blue eyes, so much like her own, twinkling. She had been an impressionable young girl of sixteen. Ben had been new in town, seven years her senior, he had seemed quite sophisticated at twenty-three. He was handsome with intense brown eyes, and long, shiny black hair pulled neatly into a rebellious ponytail. He had ambition, and was going somewhere. He ended up going no further than the steel mill where he worked for a year before being fired for being "under the influence" on the job. Then Jenny's father, Bill had gotten him a job at his pharmacy with the agreement that he hold the job for at least two years before he would give his consent for his only daughter to marry. Ben had held the job for exactly four months and three days before he "quit" after getting into a fist fight with a customer over a misplaced prescription.
"Boy, you are going to have to learn to control that temper! The world is not your punching bag! And I will not allow you to use my daughter as one, either. She is too good for the likes of you, Ben. Now please leave my house." Jenny's father had said in his usual no nonsense, but kind voice.
"What are you talking about? I would never lay a hand on her! And besides, Jenny wants to go with me. Don't you?" Ben had demanded, his sharp gaze on Jenny who stood in her parents' living room torn between the two men who meant the most to her. The one thing that stood in Ben's favor was the fact that she was already carrying his child. Neither he nor her father knew this. No one did. In their tiny Kansas community she would be shunned and seen as a loose girl for not being married. Her father's reputation as a good, strong town leader would also suffer. She felt she had no choice but to disobey her beloved father, and go with Ben.
"Daddy, everyone makes mistakes. I don't think you're being fair to Ben." she had said, her voice full of forced confidence. Her father's head snapped in her direction, his blue eyes wide and surprised, beginning to grow angry.
"What?" he said, his voice incredulous. Ben looked at Jenny, satisfaction in his smile. "Girl, think this through. At seventeen you are hardly aware of the consequences of choices. They can ruin your life."
"I'll be happy, daddy. Don't worry." Jenny smiled, hoping to reassure her father as much as herself.
"We're getting married. Isn't that right, baby?" Ben said, putting an arm around Jenny's shoulders.
"Well, I suppose,"
Marriage? The subject had come up briefly, but never anything definite. She knew in her heart that she had no choice. This baby should have a father, and she didn't want to hurt Ben. He seemed to love her so much. She had always dreamed of a man who would love her in a way that he would never want anyone else, and he didn't want her to have anyone else, either. Once Ben had even fought another guy who had made a lewd gesture to her in the K-Mart. She had thought it had been a bit over the top, but chivalrous all the same. At that age she had been lost in the excitement of romance.
Jenny could feel the familiar sadness that had plagued her for months now rise in her throat, and sting behind her closed eyes. She used to be able to have a good self-pitying cry and feel much better, but that didn't work anymore. Now all she felt after was tired and angry at Ben for making her feel trapped. Angry at herself for lacking the courage to get out.
She laced her fingers and rested her forehead against her joined hands. Her mind raced back to five years ago when her father had literally been on his deathbed. At the time she and Ben had been living in Colorado Springs, Colorado. They would not move to Seattle for another two years.
"Come in here, my Jen Blossom." Jenny's father had said weakly when he spied her watching him quietly from the doorway of the darkened room.
"You haven't called me that in years." she smiled as she sat on the edge of the bed. She took her father's hands in hers, the skin of his dry and tight. They sounded like sandpaper against the blankets.
"What's wrong?" he asked, his eyes insistent as they looked into Jenny's. She looked away from him, not daring to look into the kind stare that had gotten her through some of her most difficult times throughout her life. She knew if she let him see the pain that had a permanent place in her eyes she would lose control of her emotions and upset him.
"Nothing, daddy. I'm just glad to be here, is all. I'm so sorry you're sick."
"My Jenny can't lie to me. What is it, child?"
"Daddy, please don't." she said, fighting the emotion from her voice. He smiled and patted her hand affectionately, quiet understanding.
"You have always been different, Jenny. Special. There is a light in those crystal blue eyes of yours that betrays your heart. You are a searcher." he paused as a wave of pain from the cancer coursed through his feeble body. Jenny's father shut his eyes tightly, and held his breath as he waited for it to pass.
"Daddy? Should I get mom?"
"No, no." Bill breathed. "I'm okay." he took a deep breath, and continued. "Now what I am telling you is important, so listen to me. You have been looking for something your whole life. I'm not sure what that something is, and I'm not sure that you know yourself. I think you have tried to find that magic you seek in Ben. Is it there?" Slowly Jenny shook her head. "Are you happy, girl?" concern filled his eyes.
"Yes, daddy. I am happy. You always told me to make do with what I had. I'm doing what you said. I'm happy." she smiled and kissed his dry fingers.
"I hope so, girl. I hope so. That is all I ever wanted for you, and for your brother. But Paul has found his happiness with Lana. I want the same for you. Be who you are, Jenny. Don't let anyone step in the way of that. Promise?"
"Yes, daddy. I promise."
"Good. Leave me, child. I need to get my rest." he patted her hand
"Should I send mom or Paul in?" she asked standing from the bed.
"No." he said quietly. "I have already said good night to them."
"Okay. I love you, daddy." she kissed his forehead.
"I love you, too my little Jen Blossom. Take care of you, and be happy. That's all I ever wanted for you."
Jenny left the room, closing the door behind her.
Jenny, her mother Connie, and her brother Paul buried their beloved husband and father three days later.
Jenny rested her head on her arms on the table, the sobs racking her entire body.
"What am I doing?" she cried, her already sore muscles throbbing from the intense spasms. "I'm sorry, daddy. I'm so sorry."
"Oh, Ben." she groaned as the last nights events came back to her. He had done a dozy to her this time. She wondered if she didn't have another concussion. The water cut off, and she could hear Ben drying himself.
"Jenny!" he yelled. "I forgot my pants. Bring them in here. Please."
Please? Jenny thought for a moment. How odd. She couldn't remember the last time she had heard a please or a thank you escape his lips. She rolled out of bed and held her breath as her head was jarred to life when her feet hit the floor. Taking small steps she walked to where Ben had thrown his jeans the night before, and picked them up.
"Here, Ben." she said as she walked to the tiny half-bath that was in their bedroom. "Do you have to work this morning?"
"Yeah." Ben said. He stood in his underwear infront of the mirror styling his dark hair that had just began to thin on top. He turned to her to grab his pants. He looked at her for only a second before looking down at the floor. "Thanks." he said turning back to his own image. Puzzled, Jenny went back into the bedroom and looked in the mirror over the dresser. The hot tears threatened to come out. She held them off and swallowed them. The left side of her face was a myriad of lumps and bruises ranging from black to deep purple. A small cut at the corner of her mouth had bled a bit over the night.
"My god." she breathed. It was worse then last time.
"What are you doing?" Ben asked, taking a half step backward out of the bathroom to look at his wife.
"Nothing. Just making up the bed." Jenny quickly set out fluffing the pillows, just how Ben liked them, and pulling the sheet and blankets up. The thick quilt that Ben's mother, Alma had given them at their wedding had been destroyed by Ben's rottweiler, Buzz. She had nothing to replace it with, and no money to buy a new one, so Jenny had put the newest blanket she had bought over the old, dingy gray one they used to stay warm during the long, cold nights. She had been so glad when that dog had been hit by that truck. She grinned to herself as she imagined Ben being hit along with his beloved beast.
"What's so funny?"
Jenny was startled from her thoughts by Ben's voice coming from the doorway.
"Nothing. Just thinking." she gave him a small smile, and returned her attention back to the bed. Finally the sound of Ben's electric razor. She looked guiltily toward the bathroom door as she hurried around the bed back to the mirror. Ben hated it when she looked at herself after a fight. She tried to make herself feel better by thinking that maybe, just maybe somewhere deep down he felt guilty for what he had done. That was the only way she could make it through without losing control completely.
She stood infront of the all too revealing truth of the silvered glass and raised her over-sized night shirt. Her breath caught, and she brought her hand to her mouth. A bruise extended from just under her right breast to halfway down her ribs. That must have been where she had struck the end table, she thought. Several smaller, but equally painful bruises lined her back, and crept down to below her panty line. Maybe she should see a doctor. Could a rib be broken? She did not know. Amazingly enough, she had never broken one. She took a deep breath, and realized that besides the pain of the bruises, she could take a breath without too much trouble. No reason to risk seeing a doctor. She shook her head in amazement when she saw the perfect outline of Ben's fingers on her upper arm.
"Damn, I'm good looking!" Ben bellowed as he shut the razor off, and threw it onto the counter top. Jenny rolled her eyes, and pulled her shirt back into place. "What are you doing today? Do you work?" he asked as he entered the bedroom, and walked to the dresser to grab his watch and wallet, stuffing lose change into his front pocket.
"No. I'm not sure what I'll do. Are you still going to Dan's tonight?" Jenny asked as she picked out her clothes for the day, careful to chose pants that were slightly big on her so they would not rub against her tender skin, and an old, comfortable sweatshirt.
"I'm just wondering, Ben. I need to know if I'm making you dinner or not." she headed toward the bathroom.
"I don't know. You probably won't need to." he called after her. "And, hey, remember what we talked about last night, Jenny. You better do it!"
"See you tonight." Jenny said, and closed the bathroom door behind her.
The hot water ran over Jenny's body like a million soothing hands messaging, and appeasing her aching muscles, and wounded pride. She tilted her head back under the powerful stream, the water mixing with her tears. Crossing her arms over her breasts, she leaned against the cool tile wall. Her mind raced as she thought of what she could do. She could call the police and have Ben arrested today down at the garage. What would that do? Nothing but make him spend a night or two in jail only to return home and maybe kill her. She could file for divorce. But where would she go? Johanna's maybe? Pam's? No, not Pam, and Ben would think to go to Johanna's. They hated each other, and he knew that she was Jenny's best friend.
Suddenly the new and comforting anger that had come to her aide last night took over, and Jenny grabbed the bar of soap and began to vigorously scrub at the cuts and bruises that littered her skin, ignoring the pain. Ben had made his mark on her, almost as though he were trying to mark his territory through blood. Not this time, she thought bitterly. I am no man's property. Jenny stopped, soap bar ready in hand. The realization dawned on her that she had let Ben claim her as his, tag her as his property like he would his car or a piece of furniture. He had broken her, and now tried to own her. All these years when she had cowed to his every wish, his every command she had thought it had been her trying to keep peace. What it had been was her denying herself the basic right of being human. A woman, proud and strong. She used to wonder what it was that she had done so wrong to deserve this. Now the realization came bitterly that she may not have asked for the beatings, and the cruelty, but she had answered to it. Ben's ruling fist had become Jenny's guiding force. She found herself in the very trap that she questioned other women's loyalty to.
Growing up it had been taking her mother's selfish whims and biting tongue. Now her own husband. When was Jenny ever to belong to herself? She closed her eyes, then with purpose opened them and finished her shower. She cut off the water and stepped out
Jenny wrapped a towel around her blond, the reddish highlights reflected in the bathroom light, that reached just below her shoulders, and an old, comfortable robe around her body then headed to the kitchen to make some coffee.
A wave of dread seeped through her as she walked down the short hall from their bedroom to the living room. She was afraid to see what the damage looked like during the day. She stopped, hands on her hips and studied the carnage. The end table that she had landed on was laying in a pile on the floor, the legs folding under her slight weight. The lamp that is usually on top of the table on it's side, unbroken, the lamp shade askew. A hole five inches in diameter was in the wall just under the picture that she had talked Ben into taking last spring at a professional studio. She looked at that hole and realized that had been made when she had ducked Ben's fist causing it to go through the dry wall instead. The vase of silk flowers she kept on the piano had been knocked off, and lay shattered on the worn, dark brown carpet, the flowers scattered. The paper back she had been reading when Ben started his tirade was half under the couch, it's torn cover barely visible. Jenny continued into the kitchen and scooped some grounds into the basket, and filled the carafe with water, and pushed ON. Jenny started to walk to the living room to clean up the mess when the phone rang.
"Hey. Happy Halloween to you." the familiar voice, made low and velvety from twenty years of smoking, said on the other end of the line. Instantly Jenny smiled.
"Hey there yourself, Johanna. Now you know we don't celebrate Halloween here."
"Oh, forgive me. I forgot." Johanna said dryly. "How about going trick or treating with us tonight? You know Becky would love to have you come along."
"Oh, I don't know. Ben would get pretty mad."
"And your point would be?" Jenny smiled to herself. As the coffee began to brew she started to feel nauseous at the smell.
"Whoa. I wonder if Ben bought a new brand of coffee. This stuff is awful! I'm going to take you into the bathroom with me." she said switching the cordless into her other hand as she removed the towel from her drying hair.
"Oh. What are we gonna do in there?" Johanna asked, her voice lowered, and edged with a smile.
"None of your business. So what did Becky want to be this year?" Jenny asked as she tried to comb out the mass of thick hair. She avoided looking at her face as much as possible.
"She is an angel."
"Kind of a contradiction in terms, isn't it?"
"Funny girl! Very funny girl. I gotta go. The boss from hell is back from, well, from wherever he goes every morning. Pick you up at five."
"Wait, Johanna I didn't say I was going." Jenny said, her voice suddenly filled with panic. "I really want to go, but Ben-"
"Screw Ben, Jenny. The sooner you get that through your head the better off you'll be. I was married to Becky's dad for a third of the time that you've been married to that lunatic, and did not take half the crap that you do. Honey, you've got to get you back. Understand? Don't let him run your life. Try and hide all you want but I know what's up. Okay? Okay?" Johanna persisted when Jenny did not respond.
"Okay. I know." Jenny said, her voice tired and lifeless.
"No you don't or you would have been gone by now. See you at five." then the line was dead.
Hanging up the phone was Johanna's way of telling Jenny that she did not have a choice, and that was the end of discussion. It usually happened on a weekly basis.
Ben and Johanna hated each other. Jenny suspected that mutual jealousy was the cause. She and Johanna had met on the city bus one morning when Jenny's car had been in the shop and Ben had refused to drive her to work. Johanna never drove to work because she hated the idea of having to walk to the parking lot at night.
"Hey, can I sit here?" a woman's voice had said, ripping Jenny out of the world that the novel she was reading had sent her. She looked up, annoyed with the woman who looked down at her. She had blond hair that was just long enough to perm, bouncy curls all over her head, a wide mouth, and dark brown eyes. Without a word Jenny had removed her purse from the empty seat and had gone back to her reading.
"What's that?" the strange woman asked.
"What's what?" Jenny had asked rudely. She had still been upset from the fight with Ben that morning.
"The dot on your forehead. The book!"
"Oh, it's called 'Dreaming In Color'. Charlotte Vale Allen is the author."
"Never heard of her." Jenny had nodded acknowledgment to the comment, then had turned once again back to her book. The woman was quiet as the crowded bus came to a stop, the air brakes disturbing the early morning hush. "Any good?" the woman asked.
Jenny looked over at her, irritation clearly evident on her face.
"Yes it is, now would you please let me read?"
"Sure, feel free."
"My name is Johanna Stuart." Jenny's head snapped up ready to pounce when she looked into the woman's dark, mischievous eyes. In those eyes she felt as though she had found a kindred spirit. Her face softened, and she smiled.
"Wow, you need to lighten up. Who peed in your Cheerios this morning? I'm guessing you're not a morning person?" Johanna Stuart asked.
"I'm sorry. I was being completely rude. My name is Jenny Aberman."
Jenny had talked with Johanna for the remaining thirty minutes of her bus ride, and had made plans to meet her for lunch. That day she found out that Johanna was thirty-five, and had a four year old daughter named Becky. She had divorced Becky's father, Steve when Becky had been six months old, and had never re-married, nor ever planned to. She had been born in Prossor, but had moved to Seattle at the age of three, and had been there ever since. Jenny had told Johanna of her marriage to Ben, and everything about her life prior to.
That had been two years ago. Johanna was one of the only people in the world who could reach Jenny as her father had been able to. They talked about everything, laughed together, cried together. Jenny sighed. She wished she could find a guy that she could have a relationship like that with. She ran the brush slowly through her hair disheartened. She knew that it would probably never happen. There were just no men like that. As much as she had loved her father, even he had proven a disappointment to the depth of men, or lack of. When Johanna had told her that she never wanted to marry again Jenny had been surprised by such a bold statement. Don't children need fathers? Even girls? But now she did not question Johanna's brave, and proud existence. Now she envied it.
Jenny set out to straighten the living room. She examined the end table, and realized there was no fixing it. Two of the legs had cracked and broken off toward the top. The glass top had split in two. With a feeling of sadness and a sense of apprehension Jenny carried the ruined table to the curb for the trash to pick up. She almost felt that the ruined table was only the beginning of
something major. Something was going to happen, and she did not know what it was, only that it
scared her. She decided she would leave the hole in the wall. Ben would have to fill it when he got home. If he kept it up, their landlord would withhold their deposit for damages.
"Damn him." she mumbled as she walked back to the house.
The small house on Cherry Lane that Jenny and Ben had rented was a cute little A-frame with two tiny bedrooms, a living room, moderate sized kitchen and two bathrooms. As Jenny walked up the steep driveway from the trash barrel at the curb, she yearned as she had when she had been a kid, for her own house. Something she could call her own, that she had paid for with hard earned money. Now, Ben rarely kept a job, and the only jobs he would allow her to take, if any, were part-time, minimum wage.
Jenny sat on the front stoop, wrapping her robe tight around her body to keep the mid-morning chill out. She looked up at the sky that was covered with gray clouds. She liked these kind of gloomy days. She almost felt as if the low clouds were like a blanket of safety, holding her inside it's thick embrace. She smiled to herself as she thought of what Johanna had said when she told her of her love for the clouds.
"Thick embrace? What? Are you high?"
she hugged herself a little tighter as a brisk breeze swept through the street. Jenny thought of the sadness that her father used to say was in her eyes, the emptiness. She had fought hard to make that sadness go away, and fill the emptiness. She could feel its return like a vivid dream that you just can't shake. Maybe, just maybe if she and Ben could sit down and talk about things. Somewhere the message was not getting to him. Maybe she just assumed too much, and thought that what she said he heard. Men and women are not exactly known for their communication skills. Maybe that's why he hit her; her was too frustrated, and could not find a way to talk to her about it. Jenny was not one to just throw in the towel and say to hell with it. She was a fighter. Maybe this time they could make it work. Hope raced through Jenny's mind. Just as quick the bubble was destroyed. She had never been happy with Ben. She knew that. Even in the early days before he had laid a hand on her. Jenny constantly found herself lost in a daydream, or a world she had created that was far away from her reality. A world she found herself in now. A place where she could run free, be herself. No games. She craved the feel of the wind in her hair, the wheel in her hands. She could actually see herself in her mind's eye leaving Ben. Packing up everything she owned, pile it all in her old Subaru, and head out. Get a good job somewhere, get a small place of her own. No one to dictate where the money would go, what money she saw, and she could have real curtains! She would get a cat, too. She had always wanted a cat since she was young. Her mother had been allergic. Jenny closed her eyes and smiled as she pictured her new life being created before her.
"Yes!" she exclaimed to the open street. She jumped up and threw her head back, and arms up toward the heavy, gray clouds and laughed. "I am free!" a wild burst of energy coursed through her body making Jenny feel as if she could do anything.
Suddenly feeling like she was being watched, Jenny looked to the house next door to see Richard, the muscle bound, tattooed motorcycle collector staring at her as he stood next to the dissected motorcycle at his feet, bandanna half way to his head. "Hi." she said brightly, then giggled all the way into the house.
"She is getting so independent. I can't believe she didn't want me to walk up with her." Johanna said shaking her head, her eyes on the slight figure with a halo made of a bent coat hanger covered in gold Christmas tinsel, and twin white wings bought at Wal-Mart. "I mean, what if those people are great big, ugly monsters who feast on children? You know?" Johanna turned to Jenny for backup, and met a look that told her she was being ridiculous. Johanna turned back to her little Becky as she climbed the first of four cement stairs.
"If you're so worried then why don't you follow her up there?"
"Nah. Becky would kill me." they remained silent as both shivered in the late October cold.
"So are you going to tell me what happened, or are you going to lie again to protect that pond scum?" Jenny looked at Johanna in surprise. She had never asked her about her cuts and bruises before. Johanna looked at Jenny when she did not respond. "Yes, I notice. You may as well tell me about it, Jen. I know what that's all about, you know."
"I know you do." Jenny was quiet for a moment. She had lied about Ben for so long that it was hard for her to even form the words in her own head as to what had happened. She had a hundred lies and excuses all lined up and ready to go. The truth was not so easy. Finally she said simply, "Ben wants me to quit my job."
"And knowing you as I do, you refuse to do that." Jenny nodded.
"We need the money."
"Good god. What does he do for a really serious offense?"
"Oh, that's easy. He ties my hands to his truck, and my feet to the bumper of my car, and has me drawn and quartered. It's not pretty. He usually gets the neighbor guy to help him."
"That's not funny, Jenny. So because you won't quit your job at the grocery he beat the hell out of you."
"Mommy, I'm gonna go to the house next door! They gave me a Hershey bar!" Becky yelled as she ran across the front yard of the house to the front yard of the next house over.
"Hey, Becky. Wait for us!" Johanna yelled back. "We better catch up."
I made a decision today, Johanna." Jenny said, eyeing her companion for her reaction, as they began to walk again. "I need your help to make me go through with it." Johanna stopped and took both of Jenny's gloved hands in hers.
"We'll have you packed and out of there tonight." Jenny grabbed Johanna and hugged her to her.
"Thank you, Johanna. I knew I could count on you." she squeezed her eyes tightly together as she felt the tears coming. "Are you sure about another roommate, though?" I mean I know that you and Lisa didn't do so well." Johanna pulled away from Jenny and held her at arms length.
"Don't you worry about that, Jenny. That was a different situation entirely." Johanna looked around, then spotted her daughter. "We better go. I think my little angel is about to steal Zorro's candy."
They followed Becky from house to house, her big paper grocery sack getting fatter and fatter.
"This is such an awful holiday. Whoever thought it up should be shot. The bigger that thing gets, the more I'm calculating in my head for fillings."
"Come on, Johanna. She's only a kid once."
Jenny looked around at the houses in the neighborhood. They were small, but kept up with nice yards, and new paint. A slow smile spread across her face as she watched all the kids in any manner of costume running along in groups, or being led by the hand of a parent or older brother or sister, their bulging sacks of goodies swinging at their sides.
"Penny for your obviously really good thoughts?" Johanna said with a raised brow.
"Give me a dollar and I'll give you a whole mind full."
"I was just thinking how lucky these people are. They live in these nice houses, and have a family. Look at them over there." Jenny pointed to a family walking across the street. Two kids aged three to seven. The youngest child, a boy dressed as a cowboy complete with little boots, a gun belt and two six-shooters at his side. The older boy a ninja with a plastic samurai sword in hand. The cowboy on his father's shoulders kicking his little legs with excitement. The mother walked along carrying the boys' orange, plastic pumpkins full of candy. The family looked happy and content
"That is what I want. Someone to love, and to be happy with. I want a family with kids and a cat. I watch people, like Ben who are so close to happiness, and yet they throw it all away. Right out the window until poof" she snapped her fingers for emphasis. One day it's gone." Jenny shook her head. "I don't get it." she turned to look at Johanna. "You know?"
"Yes I do. People forget to enjoy the simple things in life because they're so worried about the big things that you can't do anything about, anyway."
"I am not looking forward to doing this at all. I wonder how Ben is going to take it." Jenny said.
"Do you think maybe you should call the police to be there, too?" Johanna asked, concern filling her voice.
"No. If things start to get too bad I'll just leave. I can go back tomorrow during the day and get my stuff. I think it will be fine, though. Who knows, he may be relived."
"I think Becky fell asleep." Jenny said quietly looking into the back seat of the car. Startled from her thoughts, Johanna looked over at her. She looked in the rear-view mirror and saw her daughter slouched in the seat, her head to the side, mouth open. She smiled.
"I think the seat belt is the only thing keeping her upright."
"It's ten." Jenny said, looking at the clock in the dashboard. "I doubt Ben's home from Dan's yet. Usually he's there half the night."
"What are you going to do?"
"I don't know. I think I'll go in and pack up everything that I can that will fit in my car for tonight. I can get the rest later. When he gets home we'll have a talk."
"You'll come over tonight, and then tomorrow we'll figure out what to do. When I get home I'll make up the second bedroom. You'll have to sleep on the futon, though. When Lisa left she took everything in that room." Johanna said as she rounded the corner and turned on to Cherry Lane.
"Shit." Jenny breathed. "He's home."
Johanna pulled the car into the driveway behind Jenny's beat up old Subaru. Ben's truck was parked on the street infront of the house.
"You need a new car, girl." Johanna said. "That thing looks like it could die any day."
"I know. As soon as I get rich I'll do just that." Jenny forced a smile, her stomach in her nose.
"Let me come in with you, Jenny. Please. I would feel much better to know you're okay."
"No. Ben will take it as an extra blow that you knew before he did. That male ego thing. I'll be fine."
"Okay. I guess you know best. See you soon." Johanna smiled. Jenny took her hand and squeezed it, then opened the car door and got out. Johanna watched as Jenny walked quickly up the drive and opened the screen door. She did not look back as she stepped through. Johanna closed her eyes for a moment, then put the car in gear and backed out to head home.
Jenny opened the screen door and walked into the living room. The lamp from the broken table had been put upright on the carpet, and was turned on. The t.v. was on some movie that she didn't recognize. Ben always insisted they have cable. There may not be any food in the cabinets, but by god they better have cable. She walked on into the kitchen. On the table were two boxes from Kentucky Fried Chicken. The larger one had spots along the sides where the grease had begun to seep through. Ben sat in a kitchen chair looking down at his hands that were clasped around a bottle of beer.
"You got dinner? How nice." Jenny said brightly as she took off her coat and laid it and her purse down on the table.
"Where were you?" he asked, not looking up.
"I was with Johanna. Didn't you go to Dan's?" Jenny walked over to the fridge and opened it, looking inside for something to drink.
"What were you doing?" Ben asked ignoring her question, his voice low and hard.
"We took Becky trick or treating." Jenny said, looking at him from over the door. She turned back to the fridge and grabbed a can of Pepsi.
"What did I tell you about Halloween, Jenny?"
"Come on, Ben. Becky is six years old, and cannot go by herself. I did not spend a dime on Halloween. Ask Johanna." she closed the door and walked back to the table. Ben grabbed her wrist as she passed.
"I don't have to ask that dyke anything. She's a lying bitch."
"What? Dyke, lying bitch? What are you talking about, Ben?"
"You know I don't like her."
"But I do." Jenny pulled her hand out of his grip. She sat in a chair opposite his. Ben leaned forward in his chair, meeting her eyes with his.
"I get home early, spent money we don't have on that shit you like, and you're not even here." he growled.
"I asked you this morning what you were doing tonight, Ben. You said you were probably going to Dan's, and that I should not bother making dinner. If I'm not supposed to make dinner then that usually means that you are not going to be here to eat it."
"You said you weren't going anywhere today. That's the whole reason I got that." he said shoving the heel of his hand into one of the boxes, sending it to the floor. The container of mashed potatoes flew out, splattering the floor and one of the legs of the table.
"I'm sorry I was not home. That was very nice of you, Ben. Thank you." Jenny grabbed a paper towel. "Was that necessary, Ben?" she squatted down and began to clean up the mess. "Just like living with a kid sometimes." Jenny looked up at Ben. He was examining his beer bottle. She could see his jaw muscle at work as if he was trying to get his anger under control. "We need to talk." she said as she sat in the chair again, putting the paper towel on the table infront of her.
"What about?" he asked, his voice and face unreadable.
"About us. I've had enough, Ben. I can't go on like this."
Ben stood and walked to the counter, hands on either side of the sink, head down.
"I'm not happy, and haven't been for a long time." she swallowed as she gathered her courage. He was hiding his face from her. This frightened her, not knowing what he was thinking she could not judge what he'd do.
"Not happy." he said quietly, as if he was testing the words on his tongue.
"No. I don't think you have been, either."
"You don't think so, huh? Well I think maybe you shouldn't think so much, little girl." he pushed himself from the counter and turned to her. His features were hard like stone. "When you married me, you married for life. You don't leave me. Not now, not ever."
"No!" he put his hand up to silence her. "There is nothing else to say." he spread his arms to indicate the room. "This is your life, Jenny. You came in. It's bought and paid for. That's the way of it." he put his arms down and walked toward the living room. Jenny jumped up from her chair and followed him.
"Ben, that's not how it works! I am not a cow you bought at auction. I am your wife, a human being-" Ben turned on her and back handed her across the mouth.
"That's right. You are my wife!" he screamed. He grabbed her by the shoulders and pushed her against the wall, holding her there with his body. "You are my wife. You can't leave, I don't give you permission. Understand?" he held her there, his breath hot on her neck as he put his head on her shoulder. "You can't go." he mumbled into the side of her throat, his breathing getting heavy, and faster. Jenny closed her eyes. No more beatings, please god, she begged silently.
"Okay, Ben. I won't go." she gently pushed him away from her. "I'm tired." she headed down the hall to their bedroom. In the bathroom she examined her lip. A thin stream of blood had already began its journey down her chin. She grabbed a piece of toilet paper and wiped it off. As she cleaned it she formed a plan in her head. No more. She would be gone by morning.
* * * * *
The clock in the hall ticked the minutes away as Jenny lay awake. The room was hot and smelled of sweat. She closed her eyes as she thought of Ben taking her with a determination that she knew well. His way of telling her "how much he loved her." She called it voluntary rape.
She looked over at the digital alarm clock on the dresser: 4:38. She looked over at Ben. He was sound asleep. It was now or never. Jenny pushed back the blankets, careful not to move his side, and inch by inch scooted herself off the bed until she almost fell out. She put her foot on the floor, and pulled herself up, and out of bed. She stood for a moment trying to think. She had a bag in the closet, but those old metal doors squeaked so bad she knew Ben would wake up. She thanked her lucky stars when she remembered that all of her winter clothes were hanging in the closet of the spare bedroom because she had no room in their one, shared closet. She tip-toed into the other room and quietly closed the door before she turned on the switch. Jenny held her breath as she opened the closet. No noise. She let out her breath with a silent prayer of thanks.
Four heavy, wool sweaters and three lighter long-sleeve, cotton shirts hung next to two pairs of jeans. She pulled on one of the jeans and a heavy emerald green sweater. Her winter boots were in there, too. Pulling them on, she did not bother to tie them. Jenny grabbed all the hangers in one hand and shut out the light before leaving the room.
She stood stock still in the hall and listened. She could hear the blood pounding through her body as her heart beat like a race horse. Nothing. Only the steady breathing of a man deeply asleep. Jenny hurried out into the cold early morning. A car was driving down the street slowly, rolled newspapers being thrown out the side back windows. The streets were still wet from the late evening rain. Jenny unlocked the door to the hatch, and threw in all the clothes. Back in the house she located her purse, coat, and sunglasses. She would try and hide her bruised face as best she could to avoid questions. Money.
"God." she breathed. She looked in her wallet and found only twelve dollars. In the bottom of her purse were four one dollar bills rolled together. Sixteen dollars would not get her out of the state. Then she remembered she had gotten paid the day before, and had not yet cashed the check. She closed her eyes and sighed, almost near tears she was so happy. She found the pay role check; it was for $240.19. She could do it on that. She only had to get to Illinois. If she could make it to Paul's, she would be fine. Jenny piled her jacket and purse on the recliner near the front door and stole into the main bathroom. She kept an extra brush in there. She didn't wear much make-up, and wouldn't bother getting it if she did. She stepped out of the bathroom and froze.
"Jenny?" came Ben's voice from the bedroom. He sounded groggy from sleep.
"Yes." she said, her eyes closed as she battled to keep her emotions under control.
"What are you doing?"
"I needed a drink of water."
"Oh," he mumbled, and his breathing once again became deep and steady.
"Oh, god." she breathed, and nearly ran to the front door. She gathered her pile, and closed the door behind her. Jenny dumped all of the rest of her belongings on the front seat next to her, and threw the Subaru in neutral. She pushed the car with her leg down the driveway, not daring to start the engine. Once in the street, she turned the wheel, turned the key, and drove as fast as her shaking hands would let her.
"Hi:. It's me."
Johanna bolted upright. "Where the hell are you!"
"I'm at Wal-Mart."
"What? Wal-Mart? Do you always go to Wal-Mart at," she glanced at her watch "five in the morning?"
"I do when I've just left my husband." Jenny answered, her voice shaky.
"Are you okay? Want me to come get you?"
"No. I'm going to head out from here. I had to leave with what I could. I'm here buying underwear and socks."
"Long story. Can you talk to Mr. Samms down at the grocery for me? Don't tell him anything more than he has to know, okay?"
"Yeah, okay. Are you going to your brother's?"
"I'm not going to say, Johanna. You know me well enough to know what I am going to do, but I am not going to actually tell you so it doesn't come out later that you knew. I don't know. Maybe I've seen too many cop shows." Jenny smiled nervously.
"Okay. I am gong to talk to Mitchell and see what can be done."
"The boss from hell? What can he do?"
"He may be the boss from hell, but he is one of the best divorce attorneys in Seattle."
"Okay, thank you."
"What happened? Did you talk?"
"Sort of. He wouldn't hear anything I said. So I told him I'd stay. I laid awake all night while that bastard fell into blissful sleep. Finally I knew I had to go. I gathered as much as I dared to without waking him, and came here. I am going to hang out here for awhile until my bank opens." Jenny was silent for a moment. "Johanna, watch yourself. I don't know what he will do. He might go crazy, and go after you to get to me. I just don't know."
"Don't you worry about me, Jenny. I'll be fine. I can take care of myself."
"I'm going to get off the phone now. I keep looking around this place thinking I'll see him. Johanna I am so scared."
"Don't be, honey. You did the right thing. Does he know where Pau, well, where you're going?"
"No. He's never been there. I think he'll think I went to your place or maybe to Pam's."
"Well, hang in there, sweetie. You did the right thing, and we'll get this straightened out. You be careful, and please stay in contact."
"I will. Thank you, Johanna. Give Becky a kiss from her Aunt Jenny." Johanna smiled sadly.
"Good bye, Jenny. For now."
Jenny hung up the receiver and left the pay phone. She walked to the bathroom with the paperback she had bought. She looked at her face in the mirror. The swelling had gone down some, but her lip was split from last night. The deeper bruise around her eye and on her cheek bone was still dark in color, but the other more superficial bruises were turning yellow and beginning to disappear. Jenny memorized where every bruise was, and exactly how it felt to have them. She knew this would be the last time, and wanted to use that knowledge to pave her way to her new life. She grabbed her novel, and went to the far wall of the bathroom and sat on the floor. She sighed, and opened her book.
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