by Kim (KP) Pritekel
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:
The house was clean, the windows and doors secure. Sean looked around for a final time to make sure she hadn't forgotten to pack anything. She did not plan to stay in Ohio for very long. She would arrive the day before Russell's funeral, and would leave the day after. Sean's mother, Helen had asked her to stay with her while she was there. Why not? Better then paying for a hotel.
"Listen, Sean, I think we have a lot of catching up to do. We have a lot to talk about." Helen had said, her voice pleading.
"No, Helen. We have nothing to talk about. I am not driving across the country for a social visit. I am going to Russell's funeral, and heading back home. That's it."
Sean thought about this last conversation with her mother. Should she let go of this anger that had been eating at her for nearly twenty years? She quickly pushed this thought out of her mind. She wanted nothing to do with the woman. She just wanted to feel numb, and forget that Helen Farrow was even out there.
Sean slung her backpack over one shoulder and grabbed her travel case full of her favorite CD's, and headed toward her 1987, red and black Chevy Blazer locking the front door behind her.
With everything piled into the back, Sean sat in the driver's seat and looked at the map that she had drawn her route on with red marker. She would catch the I-90 East, and head out of Washington. Satisfied she knew where she was going, Sean refolded the map and tucked it in her glove compartment, and started the engine.
"Hmm." she said, opening her CD case. "What to start out with." she pulled out the latest Sarah Brightman CD, Eden, and slipped it into the player. As 'In Paradisum' started, Sean backed out of the driveway, and headed toward the end of the block.
The early morning air was cool and damp from the rains the night before, the pavement like gleaming black ice. Sean always liked to drive at night after it had rained, the lights from the cars and the traffic lights were dazzling against the mirror hidden by the darkness. The dim light of the early morning was not as good , but it would have to do. It reminded her of the drive to Seattle from Toledo, where she had lived with her grandparents until she had graduated from college with a double major in literature and business. She packed up her Honda, and headed west. She lived in Chicago for about a year with her first steady girlfriend, Rhonda. When that went belly up, Sean moved on again, this time stopping over in Denver for three years where luck was on her side, and she got on with a publishing firm before finally reaching Seattle at twenty-six. She worked at another publishing firm, quickly moving up the ranks, and then after a year she pulled her savings out, got a loan, and opened the Wood Closet.
Sean pulled to a stop at a red traffic light, a man in a BMW wearing a dark colored suit pulled up next to her. Part of the nine o'clock working class, she thought. He looked at her, then turned back to the light. Sean reached for her Mega Mug that was full of hot coffee loaded with caffeine to keep her awake. The plastic, gray travel mug felt awfully light. She removed the lid.
"Damnit." In her hurry to get on the road she had forgotten to pour the coffee. That meant that her coffee pot full of coffee getting stronger by the minute, was still on. She'd have to call Wendy and ask her to turn it off. Sean remembered a small store attached to a garage a few miles up the road called The Park and Pump. She would stop there. Sean's mind drifted back to her book store. She had just hired three women for the holiday rush. She hoped Wendy could handle the store, and training them. She ran her hand through her hair. Maybe this trip was a mistake. This certainly would not be the time of year she's pick to have a vacation. Why couldn't Russell wait until after the new year to die? Sean shook her head to clear it.
Just up ahead she saw the two small connected brick buildings come into view. She looked down at her gas meter, still on full. Okay, only coffee it is.
As Sean pulled into the small parking lot next to the two pumps, she noticed an old, beat up white Subaru parked infront of the garage. A woman, whom she assume the car belonged to, was talking to the mechanic, her arms waiving in the air infatically. The mechanic, a man in his forties with close cropped graying brown hair, took off his baseball cap and scratched his head as he nodded to the woman's gestures. Sean could not see the woman's face, but only her blonde hair that was pulled back into a half-hazard ponytail, and the heavy green sweater and jeans she wore..
"Bummer. That mechanic will probably take that woman for everything she's got." Sean said as she cut the engine of the Blazer, and walked into the tiny store. The counter was just off to the left with an elderly man leaning against the aging orange Formica counter top, tapping his finger to some unheard beat. The back wall was lined with coolers filled with soda, juice, beer and dairy products. Infront of the coolers were two neat rows of shelves stocked with snack items, and extra batteries, and flashlights. To the right was the drink station with its soda machines and industrial size coffee machines. Stacks of cups in three sizes lined the wall with a stainless steel rack of three different size lids next to it. A hallway stretched out between the coolers and drink station with three doors, one for the office, and two for the restrooms. A pay phone was mounted on the wall next to the drink station.
"Mornin'." the old clerk said as Sean entered through the single glass door.
"Hi. I'm in desperate need of coffee."
"Right on back there to the right." the man said, pointing a bony finger.
"Thanks." Sean headed in the direction the old man had said, trusty Mega Mug in hand. She took the lid off and slid the mouth under the spout of the coffee machine when she heard the bells above the door jingle. She looked over her shoulder to see the woman with the Subaru enter. The woman walked to the counter.
"Hi." she said. The old man stared for a moment. Sean's hand slipped off the button when she saw the woman's face. The entire left side was swollen and covered in painful looking bruises and cuts.
"Hey, you should see the other guy." she smiled. The clerk swallowed, then smiled.
"What can I do for you, miss?"
"Do you have a phone in here?"
"Sure do. Right back there is a pay phone." he pointed the same bony finger in the same direction he had for Sean. The woman followed his finger until she saw the phone.
"Thank you. " she said with a sweet smile, and headed toward Sean. Sean turned back to her coffee.
"If only I had an airplane." the woman smiled at her as she picked up the receiver. Sean smiled and nodded. Sean looked at the woman, and realized that she was actually quite lovely. She had delicate features, and a full mouth, though the upper lip was swollen. She was shorter than Sean by close to six inches, though that wasn't too uncommon with her standing near the six feet mark. She looked into the woman's eyes. They were a beautiful clear green, reminding her of the sea. Those eyes were kind, but curious. Like the eyes of a child. In those eyes Sean also saw a deep fear. The woman put her quarters in the slot with an intensity borne of desperation.
Sean finished filling the mug, and put the lid back on. On the counter next to the coffee was a clear plastic case filled with fresh doughnuts. She looked at all the different kinds of cinnamon rolls, and long johns and powdered, and sugared, and frosted. What to pick.
"Ross? Can I talk to my mother, please?" Jenny said. She looked back over her shoulder as she waited. She could feel her heart beating so fast she worried she would have a heart attack. She wished that she could just deal with Ross, her stepfather. She knew he would help her out, if for no other reason than to get her out of their lives again. She looked over at the woman with the mammoth coffee mug to see if she was still there. She was looking in the doughnut case. Just another persons presence near by made Jenny feel safer, though what this woman could do to save her against Ben's wrath was a joke. Nonetheless, she hoped she wouldn't leave.
"Hello, Jenny. How are you?" Connie, Jenny's mother asked politely.
"Hi, mom. I'm fine. I'm sorry to bother you, but-"
"What do you mean bother? You're not bothering us, honey."
"Good. Mom, you know I wouldn't ask if I didn't need to-"
"What? What happened?"
"I'm trying to tell you. I need a plane ticket, or even a bus ticket to Paul's. Please, mom. My car just died, and it will cost me an arm and a leg to fix it. An arm and a leg which I don't have to give right now."
"You're going to visit Paul? That's great. Give him a big kiss for me. Why don't you two just use Ben's truck?"
Jenny swallowed. "Ben isn't coming. Only me."
Sean listened to the woman's conversation. The woman was getting more fidgety by the moment.
"He isn't because, mom. Just-" she cut off, her brows drawn in frustration. "Yes. I did. And he will find me if I don't leave. Please!...Yes, a stable home is important, and if I had one I wouldn't be here now. He is not what you think he is, mom. Believe me. I've been married to him for the past ten years!... You know Paul can't afford it! I-." the woman slammed the receiver in its cradle. She turned to Sean. "Sorry." she said shyly.
Jenny leaned against the wall, her mind whirling as she tried to think of what to do. She knew there was no way Paul could send her money or a ticket. She did have the money from her paycheck. She could use that. It would probably take most of it, but-
"Excuse me." Jenny was ripped from her thoughts by the voice of the tall woman at the coffee machine. "I'm sorry to bother you. I couldn't help but hear your problem. Listen, if you want I can give you a ride to wherever you're going."
"That's very kind of you. But somehow I don't think you're going as far as I am. But thank you."
"Well, I'm heading to Ohio. That's about as far as you can get east." Sean smiled. The woman smiled back.
"I'm going to Illinois. Thank you, but I can't let you do that. It's my problem." she smiled again, and took a deep breath, gathering her courage. She began to walk back to the front of the store when she stopped dead in her tracks.
Jenny stopped as she heard the loud engine of a big truck tearing into the small parking lot. She held her breath. The red truck with the huge golden retriever looking over the side of the bed pulled to a stop, and two loud men jumped out. Jenny's heart raced. She let out the breath, and turned back to the woman who was gathering her coffee and doughnut.
"You know, maybe that would be a good idea. We could split expenses, and have some company, too."
The woman smiled. She put down her coffee mug and extended her hand.
"Sounds good. I'm Sean Waters."
"Jenny Aberman. Good to know you, Sean. You're a life savor."
"What are you going to do about your car?" Sean asked as they walked to the counter so she could pay for her coffee and cinnamon roll with chocolate icing.
"I don't know. Maybe just leave it." Jenny said, her brows drawn in thought.
"Maybe you could sell it to him for fifty bucks for parts." Sean shrugged. "It might work."
Jenny took everything from her car and loaded it into Sean's Blazer as Sean went back into the station to make a quick phone call, handed the keys over to the mechanic, and left the gas station with seventy-five dollars more than when she had come. She felt a bit better with over three hundred dollars in her purse rather than just the money from her job.
As Sean guided the Blazer back onto the road a light drizzle started to come down to dot the windshield and gently tap on the roof and hood.
"I love the rain." Jenny said, glancing over at Sean, and met the eyes of her rescuer.
"Me too." Sean smiled. "And I suppose that we live in the right place, then." Jenny smiled and nodded. She got a better look at her companion. Sean looked to be in her late twenties, or early thirties with clear, honest blue eyes, incredible blue eyes, and dark hair that bordered on black. It was long, well maintained, reaching to about mid-back, one side swept back behind an ear. Sean turned back to the road, and Jenny studied her profile. She had strong features and jaw line. She felt safe with her for some reason.
Jenny turned away and looked out the passenger window as the scenery passed by in a blur, and the drizzle began to turn into a full-fledged rain. Jenny's heartbeat slowed with every mile. She started when she realized she had not even called Paul. She knew that he would take her in. She just hoped they had not decided to go down to Lana's parents home in Texas for the holidays. No, she reasoned. He would have told her, or their mother. She would call him later.
Jenny glanced out the window at the side mirror. About two-hundred yards back was a dark colored sedan, and a motor home. No big trucks. She could not stop having horrible thoughts about Ben, like he was following them, and would grab her the first time they stopped. Jenny knew this was ridiculous. Ben had no idea where she was headed, and certainly would not know Sean's Blazer.
"So what's in Illinois?" Sean asked, glancing over at her passenger.
"My brother. I've decided to go and see him."
Sean nodded, her eyes on the road. "Sounds good."
"What about you? What's in Ohio?"
"My father. Well, his funeral anyway."
"I'm so sorry, Sean." Jenny said, her brows drawn in sympathy. "I lost my father five years ago. It's not an easy thing to go through, is it?"
"You and your dad were close?" Sean asked, ignoring the question, and trying to keep the bite out of her words.
"Very. I miss him dearly." Jenny looked out the window. "Especially now."
Sean looked over at Jenny, obviously old, painful memories had been stirred.
"Jenny, I'm sorry I brought it up." she said quietly.
"No, no. It's not that. Don't be sorry." Jenny turned back to Sean and smiled.
"Is there anything I can do?"
"No." Jenny looked at the side mirror again. Sean noticed she had done that a couple of times in the last fifteen minutes.
"Are you in some kind of trouble, Jenny?" she asked gently.
"No. Well, not legal trouble, anyway. I'll be fine." another smile. Sean glanced at her passenger again, trying to read the young woman. From what she had heard over the phone, and all the bruises and cuts, Sean was sure she had a pretty good idea what was going on. She knew those marks well. With a quiet sigh, she looked back to the road.
Jenny closed her eyes for a moment, and breathed a sigh of relief. She wondered if Ben was up yet. Probably. He always seemed to sense when she wasn't around, or when she wasn't where he thought she should be, or she wasn't doing what he thought she should be doing. What was going through his mind? Had he talked to Johanna yet?
She mentally shook herself. She didn't want to think about that right now. She'd go insane if she thought about all the what ifs.
"So do you like music?" Jenny was pulled from her thoughts at the sound of Sean's smooth, alto voice. She turned to the other woman.
"Do you like music?" Sean glanced at Jenny, then turned her eyes back to the road as the rain began to fall again as dark clouds moved in.
"Oh, yeah. I love music." Jenny smiled.
"Good. Here." Sean reached back to the floor behind her seat, and grabbed her CD case. She handed it to Jenny. "Pick something." she pushed eject on her player, and placed the Sarah Brightman CD back in its case.
"What was that one?" Jenny asked as she opened the hard black case, eyeing the case in Sean's hand.
"Sarah Brightman. Kind of an acquired taste." Sean grinned. She handed it to Jenny to put away. Jenny glanced through all the titles as she replaced the case in the empty slot near the front.
"You've got some good stuff in here. " she smiled up at Sean. Sean stared at her for a moment. God, the woman was so beautiful. All the ugly bruises that ran the length of the left side of her face broke Sean's heart. Realizing that Jenny was still smiling up at her, she smiled back, and nodded.
"Let's see, we've got Madonna, Bob Dylan, the BeeGee's, Moby, Killer Klowns?" Jenny grinned, holding up the brightly colored CD. Sean glanced at it, then a wide grin broke out across her finely sculpted features.
"Yeah. Kind of a joke from a friend a few years ago." Jenny chuckled and put the CD back in its place.
"Oh, how about some Savage Garden?" Jenny eyed her companion. Eyes still on the road, Sean nodded.
"I saw these guys in concert once." Jenny smiled as she handed the disc to Sean. She sat back in the seat, a small smile playing over her swollen lips. Johanna had taken her for her birthday last year. Knowing that Ben would never have allowed it, she had told him that her brother was in town, and wanted to go to dinner. Ben and Paul hated each other, and Ben gladly let her go without him.
Jenny watched the scenery again out the side window. She felt a sense of peace that she hadn't felt since the first days of her marriage to Ben. She felt as if the last ten years of pain, heartache and confusion were finally unraveling, unwrapping possessive fingers from around her throat. She held her breath as she suddenly felt a lump forming. The sob that was long in coming wouldn't be denied, and suddenly she felt it rip its way through her very soul as tears sprang from her eyes.
Sean glanced at the young woman sitting next to her, her own heart full of pain for Jenny. The rush of emotion was so sudden that it seemed to take Jenny by surprise, and she buried her face in her hands. her small body shaking with the intensity of it. Sean longed to take her companion in her arms and rock her to sleep, tell her that it would all be okay. She would never let anyone lay a hand on her ever again. Sean mentally hit a brick wall. What was she thinking? This girl didn't need her to protect her. Jenny would go on, she'd be fine. She had a strength deep down that Sean didn't even think Jenny herself realized. She glanced at the road, then back at the woman that was so full of pain.
"Shh. It'll be okay, Jenny." she said quietly, her hand rubbing gentle circles over the girl's back.
Jenny took several deep breaths, squeezing her green eyes, turned deep green from the tears, shut for a moment, then she turned to Sean.
"How? How do you know?" she asked, her voice barely a whisper. Sean smiled at her. Jenny looked just like a child.
"Because you're strong, Jenny. Otherwise you would never have left." she smiled through the tears that still silently fell. Jenny reached up and placed her hand on Sean's that had come to rest on Jenny's shoulder.
"Thank you." she whispered. Their eyes held for just a moment, then Sean broke the connection, tearing hers back to the road. Whoa. She took a deep breath, trying to cover her shaking hand that she placed back on the wheel.
Jenny sat back in her seat, Sean's words buzzing through her head. She felt so much better knowing that she would be with Sean for a while. Even if just for the drive to Illinois. She had the feeling that Sean's quiet reserve would be good for her. Plus she sensed that Sean had a demon or two in her own closet to deal with. She glanced over at the other woman, and smiled.
Up ahead she saw the sign that would signal Jenny was headed into a new life, her old one left behind over the state line. She sighed and wiped the errant tears from her cheeks, her face feeling tight, eyes so tired. She just wanted to close them, fall asleep and wake up when all this was over. She glanced once more into the side mirror, and saw nothing out of place. Just a group of strangers rolling through their own lives, finding their own hopes. Jenny leaned back into the seat, her shorter legs stretched out, crossed at the ankles, and closed her eyes.
Sean glanced over at Jenny as the first strands of "Affirmation" began on her car stereo. With a sigh she glanced back out onto the road. The rain was coming down in sheets now, pummeling the hood of the Blazer. She found it comforting, as if the steady beat were a wall surrounding her, impenetrable for the enemy. The combination of Jenny's bruises, the rain, and the inevitable end to her journey at her father's funeral brought Sean back to a memory that she had wanted to forget, and had thought that she had...
The rain had been falling steadily now for three days, the weather man hinting at widespread flooding, and massive damage throughout most of Ohio and much of the east coast.
School had been cancelled for the second day, and Sean's mother had suggested a nice day with her and Sean's two year old brother, Donny. So an eight year old Sean had happily agreed. Helen wanted to bake a birthday cake for Donny's upcoming third birthday.
"What kind are we gonna make, Mamma?" Sean asked, standing at the counter on her tippy toes trying to see what her mother was doing with the big blue bowl and wooden spoon. The smells coming from the bowl were heavenly.
"Well," Helen had said, lifting her daughter to sit on the edge of the counter next to the stove so she could see better. "We are going to make Donny a lemon cake with vanilla frosting." Sean gazed with adoring blue eyes up at her mother as she listened to the soothing tones of her voice. "How does that sound, sugar?"
"Yummy! Can I help?"
"Of course, Sean. Here. Take this egg. Remember how I taught you to break it? Tap just until it cracks... good, honey! Okay, now dump the two ends into the bowl. Good. Now put that shell inside the other one, careful, don't let it drip."
Sean had watched in awe as her mother had whipped the batter with a whisk, letting Sean dip her finger in every so often to "taste to make sure it tasted right." Sean and Helen had glanced toward the living room when they had heard Donny begin to cry after a loud thump.
"Stay here, Sean. I'll be right back." Helen had wiped her hands on a dish towel, then had tossed it onto the stove top. Sean glanced at the big metal pan that her mother had poured the yellow cake mix into. She nudged the pan, and grinned as the yellow stuff jiggled. With a small sigh she looked around. She was bored. She glanced down at the stove. She wrapped her small fingers around the knob and turned it one way, then the other, liking the clicking sound as it turned. "Sean! Grab a Band-Aid and come here, honey."
"Okay, Mamma." Sean hopped down from the counter, and raced upstairs to the bathroom. She found her mother rocking Donny who sat with his blue eyes at half-mast, his thumb in his mouth, and his bleeding knee forgotten.
"Thanks, baby." Helen took the strip from her daughter, and closed Donny's wound up. "There you go, sweetie. All better." Helen smiled at her young son, then the smile fell from her pretty, though tired face as a car pulled into the driveway. "Come on, Sean. Let's start on dinner. Daddy will be mad because it's not ready."
"I hate when Daddy gets mad." Sean muttered as she followed her mother back to the kitchen. The back door opened, and a very wet Russell Farrow walked through the door.
"Damn weather." he snarled as he whipped his soggy coat off and threw it on the coat hook next to the door.
"Hi, sweetie. How was your day?" Helen asked as she pecked him on the grizzled cheek.
"It sucked. That asshole. Sack of shit doesn't know a recliner from his asshole!"
Uh, oh. Sean thought to herself. Daddy is already mad. It's not gonna be a good night.
Russell plopped himself down in a kitchen chair, the old wood creaking under his ample weight.
"Those damn people at Sears really should watch who they hire. They're all a bunch of damn idiots!"
"Russ, I'm sure they're not all idiots. You probably just got the new guy.
"Yeah, right. From now on do your own damn shopping, Helen. Work down at the office was bad enough without doing that female shit."
"I'm sorry, honey. I just thought it would be good if you picked out your own chair. That's all."
Sean stayed near her mother's legs as she watched the interaction between her parents. Her mother stood at the sink, peeling potatoes. Russell glanced at his daughter.
"Do something useful and get me a beer." he barked. Sean cringed, then numbly walked to the fridge and grabbed the cold brown bottle from the bottom shelf, and meekly handed it to him. He popped the top on the edge of the table, and took a huge swallow.
"Is the rain letting up any?" Russell opened his mouth to answer when they were all startled by a loud whoosh on top of the stove. "Baby look out!" Helen exclaimed, pushing Sean away from the small fire that had started. Helen grabbed a dishtowel, and began to beat at the flames, smothering the fire until the kitchen was just filled with smoke and the smell of burnt material. The dishtowel she had tossed onto the stove had caught fire.
"What the?" Russell stammered, his thick brow drawn.
"Honey, did you turn on the stove?" Helen asked the young girl, concern edging her voice. Sean stood stock still, tears welling in her vibrant blue eyes.
"Dunno." she mumbled.
"What do you mean, you don't know? Either you did or you didn't!" Russell bellowed. Sean really began to cry as she saw the rage building in her father's face.
"Russ, it was an accident. She's just a kid." Helen said, dread in her voice.
"Mamma?" a tiny voice said from the doorway.
"Come here, Donny. It's okay." Helen grabbed her son in her arms, and stood in the doorway, her eyes darting back and forth between her husband and her daughter.
"You want to start fires, little girl?"
"No, Daddy. I'm sorry."
"You will be sorry." his voice was a low rumble in his large chest. With two steps Russell was upon his daughter who had begun to cling to the counter near the sink, her knuckles white with fear.
Russell grabbed her and pried her small fingers from their death grip, and drug her to the stove. With the flick of his wrist the burner turned a deep, foreboding red. He took her small hand in his.
Sean shook herself from her reverie, and realized that she had been crying. She swiped an impatient hand across her eyes, and stared down at her palm. The scar had mostly disappeared now. But if you knew where to look, it was still visible. The slightest lightening of the skin, two curving lines dead center.
Sean glanced over at Jenny to see that she was still asleep. She glanced at the clock on the dash and realized that it was nearly two in the afternoon, and that she was really hungry. She glanced at the white bag on the console that contained her doughnut, but there was only one, and chances were good that Jenny was hungry, too. As if on cue, Jenny began to stir. She opened her green eyes, still groggy.
"Morning." Sean smiled. Jenny grinned at her as she stretched her back. Sean had to look away as the emerald colored sweater was stretched taut over full breasts. Jenny yawned.
"Did I sleep long?" she asked as she ran her hands through her thick hair, and pulled the band that held her ponytail together. She shook the long locks out, then gathered the hair again, pulling it into a neater tail.
"About four hours."
"Wow, really?" Jenny looked surprised. She looked around and noticed that the rain had stopped, and the sky was clear. "What a beautiful day. " she smiled. Sean couldn't help but smile in return. Jenny had the most endearing expression on her face as she gazed up at the puffy, white clouds that littered the sky.
"I was thinking about stopping in the next town. I don't know about you, but I am hungry."
"Hmm. Am I?" Jenny thought for a moment, then realized that she was. She hadn't eaten since yesterday afternoon. But somehow she wasn't . Her stomach was upset again. Nerves. She hated how they made her feel so nauseous. Being hungry and sick to the stomach at the same time had to be the worst combination. "I suppose I could eat something. How far is the next town?"
"I think only about five miles." Sean smiled, then turned back to the road. Jenny glanced at Sean, then her attention was drawn to her keychain that swung back and forth on the hoop that attached it to the ring of keys. It was shaped like a flag waving in the wind, and was very colorful, all the colors of the rainbow in horizontal stripes. It had something written in black letters that she couldn't quite make out. Hmm. Pretty.
"So what do you do, Sean?" she asked.
"I own a bookstore."
"You're kidding? How wonderful! I love to read." Jenny gave Sean a sheepish grin. "I also started to write last year. I've completely fallen in love with it. I wish I would have started it years ago."
Sean grinned. "I write, too."
"It's so wonderful." Jenny smiled again, her whole face lit up like a sunrise. "What's your store called?"
"The Wood Closet." Sean said simply. She seriously doubted that Jenny had ever heard of it alone been there.
"Yeah! That is my best friend's favorite store. She is in there all the time."
"You're kidding?" Sean gave her passenger a surprised look, her brow cocked. "Who's your friend?"
"Yeah, sure I know Johanna. She used to come in with her friend, Lisa all the time."
"How is Lisa? I haven't seen her in there for awhile." she glanced at Jenny.
"Well, they had been roommates. It didn't work out. So I guess Lisa moved out, moved in with some other friend, or something." Jenny had to make herself close her mouth. Jenny didn't know that Johanna and Lisa had been lovers? Whoa. So did she know that her best friend was gay? How would she react if she found out? She shook herself out of her thoughts.
"Well, tell Johanna I said hi next time you talk to her."
"Okay. Actually, when we hit this next town I think I'll give her a call. She made me promise just this side of my life that I'd keep in touch, and let her know what's up."
The sign quickly came into view announcing their arrival to Fairview, Idaho, population 10,000.
Sean drove along what appeared to be the main street, the small, locally owned storefronts passing by the windows of the Blazer.
"There's a little cafe." Jenny pointed out, the little hole-in-the-wall place on the next corner.
"Looks good to me." Sean swung the vehicle into a parking spot along the curb, and cut the engine.
The small cafe called Teddy's was filled wall to wall with square, chipped wooden tables, the chairs that lined each side worn, the red vinyl cushions ripped in places, some of the hard stuffing protruding. Jenny and Sean stood in the doorway until they noticed the Please Seat Yourself. sign. Sean led the way to a table near the back in the non-smoking area. The hallway that led to the restroom and payphone just beyond their table by the wall.
"I'll be back." Sean said, dropping her keys and wallet on the table. "If the waitress comes, tell her I want a glass of water, and a Pepsi."
"Okay." Jenny watched as Sean headed toward the ladies room, then grabbed a menu from the salt and pepper rack against the wall. As she pulled the grease-stuck laminated pages apart, she noticed Sean's keychain again. She laid the menu down, and picked up the key ring, noting the heaviness. She fingered the soft plastic flag with all its colors proudly spread across the body of it. She turned it over, and read the neat black letters:
LOVE OF FREEDOM OUR RIGHT
FREEDOM OF LOVE OUR FIGHT
She thought about this for a moment. Freedom of love our fight. She tasted the phrase on her tongue, then thought of the colorful flag. The colors of the rainbow. Rainbow. Freedom. Freedom colors! She drew her brows together as she studied the keychain, as if it had all the answers. Could this mean that Sean was gay?
Jenny glanced up when she heard the bathroom door squeak open. She quickly set the keys down again, and picked up her menu. Sean sat down and grabbed her own menu.
"Anything look good?" she asked from behind the aged pages.
"I don't know yet. I can't decide." Jenny felt cranky all the sudden, like a fog had settled over her. She felt so tired, and her stomach hurt. Damn. She just didn't feel good.
"Afternoon, ladies. What can I start ya with?" both women looked up to see an elderly, plump woman with graying hair, and kind eyes staring at them, steno and pencil in hand.
"Water and a Pepsi for me." Sean answered. She looked to Jenny with a raised brow.
"Umm, water. No, Pepsi. No, make that a Sprite."
"We only have 7-Up, honey."
"Well, damn. I don't want 7-Up." she mumbled, staring at the beverage section again. "Just water I guess."
"Comin' right up." the waitress walked away, sticking her pencil back in her bun. Sean eyed Jenny with an amused expression on her face.
"What?" Jenny asked.
"Nothing." Sean said. Just that you're so damned cute. Sean's smile faltered as she noticed that Jenny seemed to turn green before her very eyes. "Are you okay, Jenny?" she asked, worry etching her forehead.
"I don't feel so good." Jenny mumbled. She could feel her stomach churning, and she wrapped her arms around her middle. "I'll be right back." she slowly rose, and made her way to the narrow white door that led to the women's bathroom. She barely made it to the toilet before anything left in her stomach came rushing back out with a gag. "God." she breathed, one hand still on her stomach, the other on the back of the toilet. She took a deep breath as she felt her insides lurch again. Jenny felt tears stream down her face as she slid to her knees, her back leaning against the wall of the stall. She closed her eyes, brushing the damp bangs away from her face. "I have got to get these nerves under control." she murmured to the empty bathroom.
Sean sat at the table, not sure what to do. Should she go in there and see if Jenny was okay? Would Jenny get mad? She knew that she hated to be bothered when she was sick, but that was her. Sean stood just as the bathroom door opened, and a very pale Jenny stepped out. Sean rushed to help her to the table.
"Are you okay?" she asked.
"I think so. I think all the stress is just coming out now." Jenny said, glad to feel the chair beneath her exhausted body.
"Just take it easy. I hope you don't mind, but the waitress came back. I ordered you some soup and a grilled cheese sandwich. Mild, and should go down easy."
"Thank you, Sean. That was thoughtful." Jenny smiled weakly. She had to admit she did feel a little better. Usually, as much as she hated to throw up, it did help to get whatever it was out. "I think I'll be fine now."
Their food came, and Jenny dutifully ate, though she really didn't feel like it anymore. Despite the rundown appearance of the place, the food was actually pretty good. Jenny watched as Sean dug in to her chicken fried steak with mashed potatoes and cream gravy. She liked to watch Sean. It seemed like everything she did had a certain grace and fluidity to it. Suddenly Jenny's peaceful musings were interrupted by an incredibly sickening smell. She scrunched up her nose, looked around. Finally she spotted it. Cigarette smoke. God! She felt like she could throw up all over again. The guy sitting two tables down was happily puffing away on his Marlboro as he read the paper.
"Excuse me." she said, her voice edged with ice. "Excuse me!" she said a little louder when the guy ignored her. He turned curious eyes to her.
"Yes?" he asked, the smoke dangling precariously from his lips. She fantasized about grabbing the damn thing and jamming it down his ever loving throat.
"You're smoking." she said as if he had just knifed a woman infront of her table.
"Yeah." he said, shrugging his shoulders. Sean looked up from her meal, brows narrowed at her companion. What was the big deal? So the guy was smoking in a non-smoking area. It happens.
"This happens to be a non-smoking area, sir."
"What part of non-smoking don't you understand!" Jenny stood and walked over to the little brown sign and framed it with her hands. "Non-smoking. That means no cigarettes, no cigars, no smoking stuff!"
"Jenny." Sean said quietly, trying to get the angry woman's attention as she noticed other customers staring.
"Listen, sir, I don't mean to be rude, but I don't feel so good, and the smell of your damn smoke is making me feel like I want to hurl!" the man flinched as if he'd been struck, and took the cigarette from his mouth, and dropped it in the cup of water infront of him, the butt fizzing as it sank to the bottom. "Thank you." Jenny smiled sweetly, and sat back down. "What?" she asked at Sean's incredulous look.
"Are you sure your name isn't Sybil?" she asked. Jenny smiled.
"I know. I guess maybe I did overreact. It's just that that damn smoke was making me feel sick all over again."
"Are you sure you're okay, Jenny? Are you coming down with something? Maybe we should get you into a doctor. The road is not a pleasant place to be if you're sick. Trust me on this."
"No, I'm sure I'm fine. Just nerves."
"If you say so. Look, I'm going to go pay the bill, so why don't you go give Johanna a call?" Sean asked, standing and digging through her wallet.
"No, Sean. I can't let you do that. Let me get this." she removed her own wallet from her purse.
"Jenny." Sean said, placing her hand over Jenny's to stop her. Sean stared at Jenny for a moment, the touch electrifying to her. She quickly removed her hand, and looked away. "Let me, please. You've had a bad day. It's the least I can do."
Jenny sighed in a strange kind of disappointment when Sean had removed her hand. In that moment of physical contact, she had felt utterly safe, protected. She shook herself from the thought.
"Fine." she conceded. "But dinner's on me."
"We'll see. " Sean grinned, and walked toward the counter. Jenny headed to the payphone, and inserted her thirty-five cents into the slot, and dialed Johanna's number, only for the operator to inform her that she needed to insert fort more cents.
"Damn phone company." she mumbled as the phone to Johanna's office began to ring.
"Good afternoon. Mitchell and associates."
Jenny felt a wave of emotion rush through her as she heard the familiar low voice of her best friend.
"Johanna." she choked.
"Jenny? Jenny, honey, are you okay?"
"I'm fine, I'm fine. I'm just so glad to hear your voice. It makes me realize that I haven't lost my mind." Johanna chuckled into the phone.
"You haven't lost your mind, Jenny. How are you? Where are you?"
"I'm in some little town in Idaho."
"Wow! Your car actually made it that far? I'm impressed." she said sarcastically.
"Ha ha. Yeah, so my car was a piece of shit."
"Was?" the confusion was evident in her friend's voice.
"Yeah. It died before I even got out of Washington." Jenny laughed. It felt so good to laugh at it now. At the time she had thought for sure that she was dead.
"I met an angel at the gas station. She was headed to Ohio, so she's giving me a lift. Annnd, you'll never guess who it is."
"Who?" Johanna asked, her brow drawn in worry. She ran her hand through her curly, blond hair as she waited for Jenny to finish the story.
"The owner of that book store you love so much."
Johanna's eyes opened wide as realization crossed her features. Shit! Jenny will find out.
"Sean?" she asked, getting her self under control. If Jenny found out she did. She probably would have sooner or later anyway. She knew her friend wasn't stupid. Jenny would figure it out.
"Yeah. Small world, huh?"
"I guess. Well, that makes me feel so much better. I know you're safe with Sean. She is an incredible human being, Jenny."
"Yeah, I've kind of gathered that." Jenny smiled. "So have you heard anything from Ben?"
"No. Believe it or not. Mitchell sent out the divorce papers this afternoon via messenger. Jenny, he wasn't there. The place was empty."
"What! Where could he have gone?"
"I don't know. We were kind of hoping you would know."
"I have no clue. He, we, I don't know, Jo. I just don't know. Shit." Jenny glanced toward the front door and noticed Sean standing at the large picture window, arms crossed over her chest as she stared out into the day. "I should probably go. I don't think we'll be on the road for too much longer today. I'll call you when we get stopped for the night, okay?"
"Okay, Jen. Oh, and your boss was great. I talked to him this morning. He said that if you ever needed your job back it was yours." Jenny was flooded with warmth for Mr. Simms. He had always been good to her.
"Thanks, Jo. I better go. Take care of yourself, and give that little monster of yours a hug."
"Will do. And tell Sean I said hi and thank her for me."
Jenny hung up with a heavy heart. She missed Johanna. Why couldn't she go back to her old life with her same job, same friends, just without Ben? But then she never would have met Sean. They say the Lord never closes one door without opening another.
The lights of another town loomed up ahead. A small town called Langton. This would do for the night. It was nearly nine. They had been on the road for just under twelve hours today.
It wasn't long before Sean spotted a Holiday Inn. She pulled up infront of the manager's office, and ran in to get them a room. Jenny began to stir as the bright lights from the parking lot shined in through the windshield. She opened her eyes and saw that Sean was gone. She sat up suddenly, her stomach rocking with the motion. She couldn't help but feel like she was on a ship. Then to her relief she saw Sean walk out of the building directly infront of the Blazer, and head back to her.
"Sleeping Beauty awakes." she smiled as she settled herself, and started the engine. "Mind if we stop here for the night?" Sean asked before she backed out of the space. Jenny stared at her for a moment. It felt so strange to be included in the decision, and actually asked for a change. She smiled.
"Yeah. Fine by me." Sean smiled back, and backed up, drove to the end of the lot, and pulled up infront of dark room.
Within ten minutes they had dragged everything from the car that they would need for the night, and Sean had plopped herself down on her bed. The room had two doubles. Jenny went into the bathroom for a shower. She felt so grimy after being on the road for so long, and after being sick. She stared at her reflection in the mirror, refusing to look at the ugly bruises as she pulled her hair loose from the ponytail. Her head felt tingly from the hair being pulled captive for so long. She brushed her fingers through the long strands. She began to undress as she thought of Ben, and the fact that this would be her first night away from him in ten years. For some strange reason this thought scared her. She was completely on her own now. Something she had never had to do before. Did she really want this? Could she really do this? Jenny glanced in the mirror once more, this time making herself look at the left side of her face, the bruising, the swelling. Then her gaze traveled down to her breasts, and the fading bruise that extended under her breast and down her ribs. With a deep, cleansing breath, Jenny smiled at her reflection. She made a silent pack with herself to never, ever allow her thoughts to go back to Ben again, and the need to have his familiar presence beside her. No. From this night on she was her own person, doing her own thing. She stepped into the hot shower. Almost like the water of a baptism.
Jenny opened the door to the bathroom carrying her clothes from that day in her arms. She had picked up an over-sized t-shirt and a pair of sweats to sleep in at Wal-Mart. She laid the clothes down on the floor next to her bed, and glanced over at Sean. She was sound asleep, the t.v. remote still in her hand. Jenny smiled, and gently took it from her lax grasp, and set it on the night stand. Sean was still fully dressed, so Jenny removed her shoes, and pulled the covers over her softly breathing body. She stood and stared down at the beautiful woman for a moment. Sleep had softened her chiseled features making her even more beautiful, if that was possible.
She felt she owed Sean so much. Her life. Her sanity. She smiled ruefully.
"Thank you, Sean." she whispered, and kissed two of her own fingers, and gently pressed them to Sean's cheek, and climbed into bed.
original fiction <> homepage