I Know This Bar
By: Girl Bard
Please see Part 1 for disclaimer.
Additional disclaimer: This part contains violence. It is detailed, but not graphic. If this sort of thing upsets you, please email me and I will provide you with a G-rated version.
Many thanks to everyone who mailed me feedback! Keep it coming!
June 18, 2000.
"Hang on!" The startled voice yells from the other end of the door. Ignoring the voices order, I bang on the door again. "I said hang on!" The voice yells again and I barely control myself from kicking in the door.
It swings open to reveal a tall, broad-shouldered young man whose handsome face is marred by a swollen and painful-looking nose. Asshole. He looks at me in surprise, his bloodshot eyes wincing from his front porch light. He opens his mouth to speak, but I beat him to the punch.
"Scott Spencer?" I ask, pointing to the badge on my chest. I am enjoying every minute of his discomfort as he shakes his head yes.
I begin to make my way through his front door. He acts like hes going to try to stop me for a minute, and when he sees I wont back down he timidly steps aside.
"What is this about officer?" he questions, and I cant believe how stupid he is.
"Are your parents home?" I ask and he shakes his head no. Good for me, bad for him.
"Mr. Spencer, I need you to answer some questions about the assault and attempted rape of Grace McKenzie." I tell him, my voice more filled with fury than I can ever remember. It hurts me to even say the words and I wonder if anyone would really miss him if he turned up dead. "Turn around and put your hands behind your back."
His eyes widen as he absorbs what I have said and he looks as if he might cry. "But I didnt do anything!" He protests in vain as I roughly shove him to the ground face forward. He hits the carpet with a painful thud and he howls in pain. Oops, that fall must have really hurt his nose. Poor baby.
Kneeling on top of him I pull his arms behind him, fastening the handcuffs around his thick wrists. He continues to struggle and protest and I cant help but get a sick enjoyment from all of this.
"Oh, you dont like it when someones on top of you, do you big man?" I growl in his ear. "ANSWER ME!" I scream at him and am not surprised when I see the tears that have been forming in his eyes pouring down his cheeks. "How does it feel to struggle and say no, huh?" I feel myself getting out of control; I am so filled with rage for this scumbag who hurt my Gracie. "Do you like knowing that the harder you struggle, the more you say no, and the harder you try to get away, the more its going to hurt?" I am vaguely aware of the fact that I am now screaming in his ear. "HOW DOES IT FEEL?" I screech and he begins to cry and sob so much that I fear he will choke.
I stand up and pull him to his feet. He is horrified, shaking and bawling like Ive never seen anyone before. I cant say that I feel a little sorry for him because I dont. Rapists are the lowest form of human life, and although Im no saint, I could never do what this young man tried to do to my Grace.
"Sit down." I order him and he immediately obeys, sitting down on his couch. I slowly pace in front of him, back and forth, observing his nervousness. "Im going to speak, and youre going to listen. Do you understand?" I tell him and he instantaneously agrees.
"You ever come near Ms. McKenzie again and I will personally escort you to a jail cell filled with big horny men who would love to have you as their girlfriend. Do you understand me?" My tone is terse.
He answers "Yes" softly.
"Consider yourself warned." I tell him, my eyes glinting with hatred for him. "You ever do to another woman what you tried to do to Grace and I will guarantee you that more than your nose will get broken." He gulps in terror as I roughly pull him to his feet.
It kills me to take off his handcuffs. Hopefully Grace will press charges and he can be arrested for real. If I take him in now, I have no doubt that his parents will get him a good lawyer and I will be in big, big trouble. Sometimes I really hate our justice system.
He knows better to protest when I shove him rudely back down to the couch. I lower my face dangerously close to his.
"This isnt over Mr. Spencer." I hiss to him. "Enjoy your freedom while you still have it." I smile a feral smile at him before turning to leave. He gulps and I can smell his fear. I deliberately walk to the front door, my handcuffs dangling from my hand. He continues crying as I shut the door, leaving him alone.
That was the easy part, I tell myself as I get into my rented SUV. Turning on the ignition I head out of Scotts driveway and make the left hand turn that will take me to the bar.
I had to see Scott before I saw Grace. Once I saw her, and how hurt she was because of him, I knew I wouldnt be able to stop myself for killing him.
And honestly, Im afraid to see Grace, plain and simple. Its easier for me to scare the living daylights out of some pathetic teenage boy than it is to see the woman I love in pain. I dont handle emotional things very well, and I feel like Grace and I have had too many of them in our brief relationship.
I sigh and will my hands to stop shaking as I pull into the bars busy parking lot.
Here goes nothing.
June 18, 2000.
I feel her enter the bar before I can see her. Im really busy tonight because this place is so packed. I glance around, looking for Jaden, as I set down my tray and nervously wipe my hands on my apron. I dont know how to do this. I dont know how to tell the person I love more than anything goodbye.
I finally spot Jaden, decked out in her severe-looking police uniform. She looks as nervous as I feel, her pale eyes frantically glancing around the bar searching for me but Im well hidden in the crowded area next to the restrooms.
She searches for a minute more and not finding me, she heads for the jukebox and fills it with change from her pocket.
To everyone else Im sure she appears relaxed and casual. But to my well-Jaden-trained eyes I can see her tension from across the room. Her usually noble shoulders are slouched and her normally impeccably neat hair is mussed, as if shes been pulling at it.
I continue to watch her, my nervous heart rate picking up when she heads over to the bar and sits down. I know now that shes not going to leave, not that I expected her too. But a part of me loves that she will sit and wait for me, and another part is desperately scared because now I have to face her.
I know I cant hide any longer, and that I have to deal with this. I make myself seen, coming out from my hiding spot. As I busy myself with customers I feel her eyes on my back, watching me. Out of the corner of my eyes I glance at her, seeing her sigh and pick up the newspaper.
I really cant stand doing this to her, but I dont know how to stop it. Its not fair of her to have to rush here, pay for a plane ticket, rent a car, and go through all of this stress on my behalf just for me to ignore her.
She pretends to be interested in the paper and I take that as my opportunity to slip down the dark back hallway to my uncles office.
As I expected, hes on the floor playing tug-of-war with Bean. Before I had Bean, uncle Rick would socialize around the bar, playing cards and talking to customers. Now that Bean comes to work with my every night he keeps her in his office and spends most of the time back here playing with her. He adores my little dog.
He looks up at me, sees the look on my face and says simply; "Go." I smile at him as I lean down to hug him. I dont think Ive realized how wonderful hes been to me.
"Thank you." I whisper and he hugs me back tightly. I leave his office, my stomach rolling with nervousness. Its time, I tell myself as I approach Jaden. Her back is turned towards me, and Im thankful, not knowing if Im ready to see her face yet. "Hey tall, dark, and deadly. Where ya been all my life?" I greet her, my mouth pressed to her ear.
She turns on her bar stool, a nervous yet gentle smile on her face. Standing, she envelops me in a soft hug. I feel like it has been years since I saw her last, so much has happened.
"Its been too long." I tell her in her ear and she smiles with understanding as she pulls back from me.
Sometimes the strange connection between us is too intense. She looks at me closer, her beautiful cerulean eyes lighting up in surprise and then flashing with anger as she sees my swollen face.
"Lets get out of here." I tell her as I head for the door.
Its easy to pick her rental car out from the battered and rusted others in the lot. We head for the Explorer and Jaden comes over to unlock the passenger door for me. I am so upset, I cant help but remember the first time we went somewhere together, when Jaden came to unlock my door exactly like she is doing now. Things were so different then, so happy and innocent. So much has changed in just a year.
"Jaden?" I ask, my voice shaking as much as my entire body is.
"What is it sweetheart?" She replies softly, her liquid voice caressing me.
"Can I have another hug?" I am ashamed of my weakness, but I need her safe embrace. She says nothing as she cradles me, kissing the top of my head. This is the last time I will ever hold her, I realize. I cant stop the sobs from escaping and I swear that I can actually feel my heart break as I struggle to memorize everything about her. The way her strong body wraps itself around mine. The way her head fits perfectly on top of mine. Her expressive hands stroking my back. The way her soft hair tickles my face and neck. The smell of her, sweet and spicy, musky and pure with a hint of coconut. I cant ever forget how she feels, how we feel together.
I cant torture either one of us any longer. I need to tell her that its over so she can leave and go home.
"Where do you want to go?" Jadens voice breaks me from my pensive silence. I glance around, seeing we are still in the bars parking lot.
"Sorry." I mumble, nearly jumping out of my skin when Jadens hand reaches over to take mine. Instinctively, I pull away from her, not missing the hurt look on her face. I clear my throat. "Im sorry Jaden, you just startled me."
She nods in understanding and I reach over and take her hand. I squeeze in gently, enjoying its warmth. Sometimes I think she has a space heater hidden under her clothes. Shes always so warm and snuggly.
I know I keep saying that I cant prolong this any longer, and I keep prolonging it. I dont know what scares me more, having to tell her that I cant see her anymore, or her actual reaction. Making up my mind, I tell her that we should go to Mill Hollow.
Might as well end this where it started, right?
June 19, 2000.
Im an idiot. I love Grace, I know that, and as much as it scares me to admit it, I dont think I could ever love anyone more. I know I couldnt. So why am I tongue-tied and unable to say anything to her. I cant begin to comfort her after what she went through, I dont even know how to begin. I dont know what to say to her, and instead of taking a risk, I say nothing. That probably makes her feel like I dont care about her.
The only emotion I have besides my love for Grace is hatred. I want to kill Scott, and the fact that I only scared him isnt enough for me right now. My normally vibrant and energetic Grace is sullen and silent. I want to kill him for destroying that innocent and alive part of her. I know that this part of Grace isnt destroyed forever, but its going to take her a long time to learn to trust.
And when she pulled her hand away from me in the car, she acted afraid of me. I want to kill him for making her not trust. And for being afraid to be touched. Because regardless of her feelings of only loving him as a friend, she still trusted him. And he betrayed her. I want to kill him for that.
"Jaden?" Grace asks, her voice dull and lifeless.
"Yes?" I answer, my heart jumping to life. We are sitting on "our" bench in the bluebird fields at Mill Hollow and havent said anything to each other yet.
"Can you hold me? Im freezing." She says, her teeth chattering.
"Of course." I tell her softly, tears springing to my eyes. A few weeks ago she wouldnt have even asked, and just placed herself in my lap. I slowly and gently put my arm around her, treating her as if she was a spooked horse. Maybe thats how I have to do this.
She settles into my arms and I rub her back to get her circulation going. There is a strong breeze tonight and the trees are bending slightly in the wind.
"No bluebirds tonight." She remarks. Her voice seems sad and far away.
"Too windy." I tell her and I feel her nod in agreement against my shoulder.
"I have to tell you something." She begins and I know that its something I dont want to hear. I can only assume that the horrible sense of fear Ive felt all day is because of what happened to Grace today. I thought that when I got here and saw that she was physically okay, that I would calm down. But I havent. And I know that whatever shes going to say is going to be bad.
What if Scott actually raped her? What if she has injuries she hasnt told me about? "What is it?" I ask, my mouth dry.
"I cant see you anymore." She states and at this moment I know what it feels like to die.
June 19, 2000.
She hasnt said anything yet. I cant stand the mixture of despair and disbelief in her beautiful blue eyes so I look away. Telling her wasnt as hard as I expected. I just opened up my mouth and told her that I couldnt see her anymore. A lie, I know. But I dont feel like theres another way. Its not fair for her to have to deal with my problems.
She doesnt have a perfect life. Sure she has a wonderful apartment, a job that she pretends to hate but I know she secretly loves, shes beautiful and intelligent, but she has problems. The most important thing is that she still will be okay without me.
"Why?" She finally asks, breaking her silence. Her voice, I can hardly describe it. It sounds like a bird calling from far away, mute in tone and forlorn.
This will be the hard part, because I dont have a good reason myself. How do you tell someone that the reason youre breaking it off with them is because: a. youre terrified of what was done to you today by someone you trusted, b. your family already hates you as it is and they will never speak to you again if you are in love with Jaden, and c. you dont have enough self esteem to realize that what happened with Scott wasnt your fault and you truly believe that you are incapable of having anyone love you.
So I decide on a complete and total cop-out. Im not going to say anything stupid, like tell her I dont love her. I dont want to lie to her anymore than I have too. So why not tell her the truth? Because its too hard and I dont want to admit it. A little voice in my head tells me that Jaden deserves the truth. I know thats the case. I owe her so much. So I open my mouth and begin to speak.
"Its a lot of things Jaden. After what happened today, well, it made me think about so much. And I dont think its fair for you to have to constantly worry about me."
She cocks her head as if she doesnt understand. Tears are falling freely down her golden face and all I can think about is how beautiful she looks and how much I adore her. "So stop this, you asshole." The voice in my head says, but I cant stop it. Not now.
"I bring trouble to everyone I love. Im a nuisance, and you deserve better." Now, I know a part of me is just saying this so Jaden can say, "No youre not!" And I can feel better about myself.
On cue, Jaden echoes my thoughts. "Gracie, you are anything but a nuisance." She turns so she is facing me. Looking into my eyes she enunciates clearly. "I love you. I want you. There is nothing I want more than for you to live with me this summer."
Whoo boy. I didnt expect that. My chest constricts, and I suddenly feel like I cant breathe. Waves of panic wash through me as violent images of the storm and the shipwreck and Scotts angry face flash through my mind. I take deep breaths and try to calm down, focusing on Jadens eyes. Who needs a freaking bluebird to look at? All I need is her eyes. She looks concerned as I continue to breathe deeply and calm myself down. I want to live with her for the summer. I want to pack up all of my things, put Bean in the car and drive out to Massachusetts, all by myself. But I cant. Im so scared.
"I cant." I tell her, my voice cracking.
"Why?" She asks again, and I dont have an answer. "Grace, Im not going to push you into anything. But youre not safe here, youre not happy here! Please live with me. You can even bring that silly dog of yours." She smiles at me, but I dont smile back.
"Jaden, I appreciate your offer. But I just cant. I know you dont understand, and I cant expect you too. I know Im not being fair to you and Im truly sorry for that." I speak softly and slowly, my eyes never leaving hers. I hope she can understand how much she means to me. I feel my resolve slowly melting as her eyes bore into mine and I know I have to finish this conversation before I give in and shes stuck with me and I ruin her life.
"Im sorry." I tell her sadly. "I need to go home now." I stand up and walk back to her car, waiting for her to follow. She doesnt, and I look back to see her still sitting on the bench, her arms folded stubbornly across her chest. I hold my hand out to her, hoping shell give in and accept defeat in this battle.
It takes her a few minutes, but she slowly stands and reaches me. Her long form accepts my hand and we walk silently back to her car. Im crushed, to say the least. But for some reason, at this time, some part of me has taken over and pushed all the sadness and broken-heartedness away in order for me not to go insane right now.
Jaden drives me back to my house. Pulling the Explorer into the driveway she opens the glove compartment and pulls out two plane tickets, one with my name on it. "Id hoped you come back with me." She says softly, handing me the ticket. I see that shes even reserved a space for Bean under my seat. Every fiber of my being screams for me to accept the ticket and run into the house and pack. Instead, I give it back to her.
"Im sorry." That seems to be all I can say to her. She nods, and her face makes the transition from open and anguished to stony and emotionless. "I love you Jaden. Please dont forget that." I tell her softly, leaning over to kiss her one last time. She doesnt return my kiss and her lips feel icy on mine. I cant blame her.
"Grace, dont forget what I said either. If things get bad for you here, you are welcome with me." Her tone betrays her words however, and I flinch at the harshness of her voice. She softens her voice and continues. "Take care of yourself Gracie. Dont get into too much trouble." She smiles slightly and leans over to plant the sweetest kiss on my cheek.
I leave the car, my palm on my cheek where she kissed me and watch her drive out of my life.
June 19, 2000.
I open my front door, my hands shaking with the keys. Unsurprisingly, I find my mother waiting in the living room for me.
"Hi mom." I greet her softly, hoping shes come to her senses.
"Grace." She answers tersely. I guess she hasnt come to her senses. "Have you made up your mind young lady?" She asks.
"Yes." I tell her wearily.
She smiles triumphantly. "Good. I assume because you are in this house that you have made the right decision. Well talk in the morning, I cant believe you made me wait up this long for you." She heads down the hallway to her bedroom and I raise my middle finger to her retreating back.
I head to my room, finding a very sleepy Bean curled up on my bed. I get under the covers and cradle her, letting my sobs finally emerge.
I cant believe shes gone. I cant believe that Ill never see Jaden again. What have I done? I gave up the most important thing in my life for this? For Ohio and a mother that will never love me? I gave up the only person in my life who respected me for who I am in exchange for some "good girl" role Ive been playing my entire life?
I am suddenly full of rage. Getting out of bed I look around my room. Blue ribbons, shiny 1st place trophies, framed awards. A+ report cards and size 4 dresses. This is Grace McKenzie. The honor student, start athlete, first place winner, overachiever, teachers pet, and the thin girl who skips lunch at school.
I growl with anger.
This is not Grace McKenzie. Grace McKenzie is the intelligent woman who wants
to be a writer. Grace McKenzie is the woman who likes sports because they are
fun, not because she has to win at everything. Grace McKenzie is the woman who
has an eating disorder because her entire life shes been told that shes
fat and ugly. I am not the Grace McKenzie everyone thinks they love. I am not
perfect. I am not perfect. I am not perfect. I am not perfect.
I chant this over and over in my head. Who loves me and realizes that I am not perfect? Who loves me for who I am? Jaden. Uncle Rick. And Lydia. And what have I done to all of these people? These few and far between who love ME?
Ive ignored them. Hurt them. Not told them how much I appreciate them.
Instead, Ive done what everyone else has expected me to do. Be perfect. So, youre fiancé tries to rape you, huh Grace? Well, dont talk about it; make sure you hide it away so no one knows your dirty little secret. What is it that my mother has told me my entire life? Dont air your dirty laundry?
Well, I have an entire pile of dirty laundry. And Im going to air it all now. Its about time.
I lovingly pack Beans favorite toys and treats. Looking around my room I find that I havent really packed that much. I decided that I was taking anything that truly mattered to me with me. With me where, one might ask? I am not sure. I dont know where Im going yet. But Im going, and thats the most important thing.
My awards and trophies are staying. The blue ribbons on the wall, staying also. I am taking my personal items, the items that reflect who I am. My guitar, my stuffed unicorn from Jaden, they are all going with me. I frantically but quietly search through my room, removing any little meaningful trinket or possession. Then I neatly make my bed and straighten up. I might as well leave my perfect room in perfect condition the way that perfect Grace would have. It will be the last time that perfect Grace is allowed out to play.
All thats left to go through is my closet. I promised Lydia my clothes that I didnt want, so Ill wake her soon. But there are a few things I need to sort through by myself first.
I pack my journals. I have so many, dating back from the time I could really write, honestly. Those will stay with me. I also pack my jewelry from my grandmother. I wish I could visit her and say goodbye, but I just cant. Maybe some other time. I take my books, Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson, Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar is my favorite. My CDs and CD player are in my car, but I take a few of my favorite mix tapes anyway.
I come to the last box in my closet. I know what is in here by heart. But I havent gone through it since that day. Wiping away my tears I open the box, and the smell of hay and tack and horses transports me back to the barn. The barn where I went right after high school graduation to see my horse Annie.
Only to find her stall empty, and her gone.
"Sold." My mother told me, but wouldnt tell me where or who she had sold Annie too. My mother had decided that I shouldnt be distracted by a horse when I had a wedding to plan. Even though the groom was still in high school, and we wouldnt marry until he was out of college.
I hated my mother at that moment more then I ever thought I could hate anyone. I still hate my mother, and my hatred grows as I examine the contents of the box, all that remains of my horse.
Her halter, frayed and stained with mud. For some reason that upsets me the most. Ive always heard its bad luck to sell a horse without its halter, and Ill never know why it was left hanging on Annies stall door.
Her horseshoe, saved from when she stumbled on the trail when we were cantering, threw her shoe and I fell and broke my arm. She was such a good horse that she stopped and came over to me where I landed, and allowed me to pull myself back up on her one-armed. Then we rode home together.
And pictures. I must have taken a hundred rolls of film of my horse. They are all saved at the bottom of the box. They are all I have left of her now. I put the box down, fighting the urge to break down.
I take a deep breath and put my hands on the box, sealing it back up and adding it to my pile of things Im taking.
Then I go to wake Lydia. We have some clothes sorting to do.
I love to pack. I never realized it before, but I do. Its so methodical, you make two piles. One for you, one for Lydia. From the pile youre taking, you start with the heavy things. Shoes, jackets, things like that. The heavy things are neatly placed in the bottom of the suitcase. Then the lighter things, long sleeved shirts, underwear, and bras are all placed on top. Its so satisfying to me at this moment, maybe because its assurance that Im really going.
Im leaving. I told that to Lydia as I woke her up. She was still half-asleep, but she shook her head in understanding and followed me silently to my room. I know shes upset, and a part of me wants so badly to take her with me. But I know I have to do this on my own, and Lydias life isnt so bad here.
My mother loves her, honest to goodness loves her. Although Lydia and my mother dont get along, (not that many teenagers and their parents do), my mother has always placed Lydia on a pedestal that I could never reach, no matter how hard I tried. And Lydia doesnt hate it here, her and my mother are close regardless of how Lydia tries to pretend otherwise.
That still doesnt make my mother a good mother, just because she truly loves one of her daughters. But it makes it easier for me to leave Lyd and not feel as guilty.
Im almost finished. Lydia has asked me several times where Im going and I just cant answer her. I dont know where Im going.
Go to Jaden, the voice in my head tells me logically. And I know that would be the best thing to do, for myself. Fess up to her, admit that I was wrong and stupid and scared and thats why I told her the things I did. But I dont know if shell still want me and I dont know if I could handle it if she doesnt.
Im finished packing. Lydia is asleep on my bed with Bean. I look around my room in awe. Its amazing how much the same it looks. Im bringing with me seven boxes, my guitar, my dog, and for the first time, myself. But my room looks as if nothing is missing. The only things that will be gone are the only things that truly define myself. Its sad, really, that Ive lived the past 22 years of my life as a complete stranger to those around me.
I check my watch. Its almost 6:00am. I have to hurry. My father will be getting up for work soon and I need to be gone before he awakens. Gently, I wake Lydia and help her back to her room. Tucking my baby sister who is taller than I am into bed I kiss her forehead. She opens her pretty brown eyes and regards me sleepily.
"I have to go. Im going to miss you so much." I tell her, my eyes wet with tears.
"Ill miss you too." She mumbles, struggling to wake up. "Grace, dont forget about me, you promise?" She asks, her normally aloof voice filled with emotion.
"Never." I promise her. "How could anyone forget the best little sister ever?" I ask teasingly, and she smiles. "Ill call you as soon as Im settled, okay?" I tell her, my voice breaking.
She nods. "Bye." She whispers and I hug her tightly.
"Its not goodbye." I answer in her ear. "Its Ill see you around." I fiercely whisper in her ear. That simple phrase, said so many times to me by Jaden, Ill pass on to Lydia. It seems so much more hopeful than "goodbye." I release her and head for her door, blowing her a kiss on the way out.
"You should go to Jaden." Lydia tells me as I pass through the door. I turn around to find her curled up in bed, fast asleep. Or pretending to be asleep, Im not really sure.
I give my baby sister one last loving look and head out of her life. For now.
"Uncle Rick." I greet his gruff sleep-filled voice over the phone.
"Grace?" He mutters. "You okay?"
"Yeah." I answer him. "Better than Ive ever been."
"You didnt get your car last night. I was worried." He says, and I smile at his admission. He pretends to be such a grump, when hes such a teddy bear on the inside.
"I need it now. Im leaving." I state firmly, in case he tries to stop me.
"Good." He answers, surprising the hell out of me. "Ill bring it over now." He hangs up the phone.
Its 6:04 am. Uncle Rick lives above the bar and if I know him hell literally bring my car over now. Hell be here in twenty minutes. I have to hurry.
I carry all of my things out into the driveway, careful not to make a sound. It takes me a few trips, but I carry as much as humanly possible. Making sure I have my purse and my bank account information, I then change into the comfortable clothes that I left unpacked. I dont know where Im headed, but I know Ill be driving for a while. Slipping on my black jogging pants and a t-shirt I grab my hooded sweatshirt, remembering the slight chill I felt when I was just outside. I head for the bathroom, splashing water on my puffy and sleep-deprived face. What day is it? Monday? Has it really been less than 24 hours since Scott hit me? I guess it has.
I run a brush through my long hair. "You have such beautiful hair!" People have always exclaimed to me. My mother has always told me to keep it long and shiny because that is how men love it. Scott loves my hair.
I hate my hair. I always have. I find it annoying and irritating to have long hair that I have to blow dry and spend time styling. I open the bathroom drawer and find the scissors I know are there. Dare I?
I look in the mirror, a blue-green eyed, black and blue-faced woman staring back at me. A woman, who for 22 years of her life hasnt been able to have a hairstyle that she has been able to choose.
I raise the scissors to my head and snip a long lock off.
Its satisfying. Snip, a long tress falls into the sink. Snip snip, more hair falls around me. With every cut I am leaving perfect Grace behind. With every cut I am claiming myself.
Snip, snip, snip. And suddenly Im finished.
I run my hand through my now very short and shaggy hair. Ill need to have it professionally done, of course, but for now it suits me perfectly.
I dont clean up the huge pile of hair I left in the bathroom. Perfect Grace would clean everything up nice and tidy but she is gone, remember?
Grace is in charge now. And I think Im going to like it that way.
I hear my car pull into the driveway. I run to my room and grab Bean. Scooping her up in my arms I kiss her puppy nose as I glance around my room.
Goodbye, Perfect Grace, I tell a part of myself.
I turn off the lights and shut the door to my room.
Then I walk slowly out of my house and into my new life.
My uncle walks Bean around the front yard letting her potty as I load up my car. Everything fits easily, thanks to my nifty fold-down back seats. I have everything ready to go, and Uncle Rick slowly walks Bean back to the car.
"You sure youre taking her?" He asks, pointing at my little dog.
"If I were to leave her with anyone, it would be you. I know how much you love her." I tell him. "But I need her with me." I say, and he smiles.
"I know." He answer simply as he gets into the passenger seat of my car. Ill drop him off back at his apartment above the bar and from there Ill head out.
"Thank you." I offer to him on the quiet drive over. "I cant repay you for everything youve done for me." I squeeze his hand and he gently holds it in his.
He doesnt answer. Hes not a man of many words, but when he does say them he means them.
We arrive at his apartment. "Come in for a minute." He demands, and I agree and follow him inside. I cant say that I dont get a little nervous, even though I know that my uncle would never hurt me like Scott did, but Im still so jumpy.
We head up the rickety wood stairs that take us to his apartment. Inside is neat and tidy, like Ive always remembered it. He motions for me to sit on his couch and I comply.
"Where are you headed?" He asks, sitting in the chair across from me.
"I dont know." I answer simply.
"Maybe. If shell still have me." I tell him, my voice sad.
"You love her?" He asks, looking at me with intensity.
I decide to tell him
the truth, its not like he doesnt know anyway by now. My parents
might be easily fooled, but not him.
"I love her so much." I whisper and he nods.
"Then go to her." He moves to sit next to me. "Dont let the love of your life disappear like I did."
I look at him in question. I dont remember Uncle Rick ever dating or anything.
"It was a long time ago, Grace." His deep brown eyes grow sad. "Ill never forgive myself for being too scared to follow him."
Him? HIM? My Uncle Rick is gay? "Him?" I manage to croak out. He smiles softly and nods his head.
"I was scared Grace, I was scared and stupid and instead of admitting my feelings I ran away." He looks around his small apartment. "And what do I have to show for it? I live alone over the bar that I own. I live in the same town that I grew up in and most of the people here dont even know my name." Finishing sadly, he looks down at his hands. "All because I was too weak to admit who I was."
I gently take his hands
in mine. "Im so sorry." I tell him. "You are such a wonderful
person, you deserve to be happy."
"Grace, happiness isnt guaranteed. Even if Jaden loves you as much as you love her, that still doesnt mean you will be happy." He pauses. "Happiness comes from inside. If youre never truly happy with yourself, no one will be able to give happiness to you."
I smile at him because I know hes right. "I know." I tell him. "And thats why Im leaving. Because I hate myself here, and in order to change myself I need to leave." He nods in agreement as I continue. "And Im not running away, but simply removing myself from a toxic environment."
"Im proud of you."
"And you can be proud of you, too. You dont have to stay here Uncle Rick." I state firmly, squeezing his hand for emphasis.
"I know." He answers. "But this is my path and Ive already followed it for too long."
"Make a new path." I tell him, standing. "You have it in you, I know you do."
He stands, wrapping his arms around me and pulling me into a hug. "You stay safe." He orders in his best fatherly tone. "And call me when you get wherever it is youre going."
"I will." I tell him, hugging him once more. "Youve been more of a parent to me than Ive ever had. Thank you for everything."
"Aw, get out of here before anyone notices youre gone." He answers, his brown eyes moist with tears. He walks me to the door. "I dont know where Ill find another waitress half as good as you." He adds.
I laugh, causing his grim face to break into a smile. "I love you very much." I state as I walk down the stairs. As I reach the last step I hear his faint reply from inside his apartment.
"Love you too, Grace."
June 19, 2000.
The phone rings in my ear. I impatiently shake my leg as I wait for her to answer.
"Hello?" Her liquid voice greets me. I breathe a sigh of relief that shes home.
"Jaden?" I ask tentatively, unsure if shes going to speak to me or hang up.
"Grace?" She answers, her voice surprised. "Is that really you?"
"Yes its me." I respond, waiting to hear the dial tone as she hangs up.
But she doesnt. Instead she questions. "Are you okay?"
"Im fine." I assure her. "I left."
"What do you mean you left? Where are you?"
"Im at the Ohio state line." I tell her. "I just left. I realized what a mistake I was making, and how Im tired of pretending to be someone that Im not. And I just left."
"Where are you going?" She asks, her voice shaking.
"I dont know." I answer honestly, wondering how many times Ive been asked and asked myself that question in the past few hours.
"Come here." She states firmly. "Please Grace, come here. I dont care about what happened last night. I want you here." Her voice breaks with emotion and she begins sobbing on the other end of the phone.
A million memories rush through me, some my own, but many others foreign to me. And all at once I know exactly where Im going. Im following the path of Grace McKenzie, and at this time in my life that path is leading to Jaden.
"Okay." I tell her.
"What?" She squeaks in surprise.
"Im on my way." I answer, my face breaking into a smile. "Ill see you around." I tell her as I hang up the phone.
I get back in my car. Crossing the border I head east, leaving Ohio in my rearview mirror.
June 19, 2000.
I crossed the Massachusetts border about an hour ago. Im minutes away from Jadens place, and as I drive slowly through the stately neighborhood, I somehow recognize where I am. I stopped to get gas and to call Jaden a few hours ago when I knew she would be home from work to tell her of my progress. I had just crossed into Connecticut and she gave me directions to her apartment. She sounded really excited to see me. I hope she isnt regretting this. Hell, I hope she isnt regretting me.
Its a hell of a long drive. But pretty, and Bean and I have been taking our time and stopping whenever the need strikes us. This is my first real road trip and my first time having any kind of independence. I really like it.
But Im anxious to get to Jadens apartment, and to see her. To make sure that I didnt screw anything up with my foolish attempt to forget about her and push her out of my life.
Like that could ever happen. From the minute we laid eyes on each other it was like The Fates themselves led us together. I know it sounds silly, but its true.
I just hope Fate is forgiving. Because I have a lot of apologizing to do, and Jaden has a lot of forgiving to do.
Reaching her apartment, I nervously pull into the driveway and park next to her dark blue Explorer like she told me to. I put my car into park and turn off the ignition, lovingly patting it on the dashboard. It got great gas mileage on the way out here, and ran perfectly. Thank Goddess, because I didnt have a cell phone and really didnt feel like getting stranded in the mountains of Pennsylvania.
Im procrastinating, I know that I am. Its easier to stay here in my car then it is to go inside and face Jaden. But Ive been driving for about twelve hours now and desperately want to get out of this seated position. Bean looks at me pathetically from her doggie seat belt and I take pity on her by unsnapping her. Opening the car door I hook Bean onto her leash and start up the stairs I know will lead me to Jadens apartment.
As I step onto the large front porch the front door swings open to reveal the most gorgeous sight Ive ever seen. Jaden, dressed only in a skimpy camisole top and soft blue flannel shorts, holds a huge bouquet of lilacs. The porch light makes her skin glow, and highlights her long dark hair.
"Hi." She says softly, holding the flowers out to me. I dont know how she knew that lilacs are my favorite, but she must. I take them shyly, inhaling their perfect scent.
"Hi." I echo her back, unsure what to do next. She takes the initiative and engulfs me in a warm embrace. I carefully hold the flowers out to the side and relax into her arms. This feels so completely right, and if I ever had any doubts about leaving Ohio theyve just all been erased.
She ruffles my hair affectionately. "It looks beautiful." She says, and I smile.
"Come on." She says, gently leading me inside. "Lets get you settled and then Ill bring up all of your stuff." She starts up the inside stairs.
"No." I answer her, heading back to my car.
"What do you mean?" She asks, hurrying back down the stairs to catch up with me. "Youre staying, arent you?" Her face is panicked and I rush to calm her down.
"Of course I am." I soothe her. "I just dont want you to have to bring in my stuff later. Ill just bring my bag of essentials up now." I grab the bag out of my car, feeling guilty for scaring her.
We head into her apartment. As I remember, its incredibly clean and minimally decorated. Bean sniffs excitedly around and Jaden calls her into the kitchen.
"Look what I bought her!" She motions me to join her in the kitchen and I do so. On the tile floor is a food and water bowl, both adorned with a burping Odie that states "MY BOWL."
"Jaden, you didnt have to do that but thank you, they are adorable!" Bean sniffs them expectantly and I grab her food from my bag and fill one. Jaden fills the other with cool water and Bean happily enjoys her dinner.
"What about your dinner?" Jaden questions. "Have you eaten?"
I shake my head no. "I stopped a few times for fast food, but Im starving." I answer honestly.
"Good, me too. How about pizza?" I grin and nod excitedly. She smiles and grabs the phone. "Go get comfortable and Ill have it delivered."
I head for the bathroom, pajamas in hand. Everything still seems so surreal to me and I shudder at the thought of what my parents are thinking right now. Im sure they notice Im gone. The blonde hair all over the bathroom made it clear that something happened. Hopefully they called Uncle Rick and he kind of explained things.
But I dont want to think about it right now. Im exhausted from driving, I have a headache from not eating and most importantly, Im here with Jaden.
And she doesnt seem to be mad at me. Changing quickly, I run my hands through my newly short hair. I love it this length. It was pretty warm out this afternoon and with the windows down in my car I had perfect car hair. No blowing in my face or getting tangled. I cant wait to go to a real hairdresser and get it evened out, but for now its perfect.
I exit the bathroom
to find Jaden sitting on the couch with Bean. They both seem to be having no
problems adjusting to their new living situation. In fact, I cant decide
which one of them looks more content.
I join Jaden on the couch, noticing she has put the lilacs in a vase on the coffee table. "How did you know that they were my favorite?" I ask, pointing at the lovely flowers.
She smiles. "When I was in Florida and we were exchanging letters, you wrote an entire page to me one time about the 6 foot tall lilac bush outside of your bedroom and how you couldnt wait for it to bloom." She chuckles, her voice low and soothing. "I just figured it out."
I smile at her, leaning my shoulder against hers. "I cant believe you remembered that." I say softly. "That was so long ago."
"Ive never forgotten anything about you Gracie." She answers. "Ive heard you dont forget things about the person you love." She looks down, her eyes nervously darting around the room.
Taking her hands in mine I turn to face her. "I do love you Jaden." I tell her, my voice threatening to crack with emotion. "Im sorry about everything. I cant tell you how sorry I am." She squeezes my hand, her blue eyes emphatic. "I hope you know that."
"I know." She answers simply. "We have a lot of things to talk about, but we have time."
"Yeah." I answer, smiling. She returns my smile and leans over to inspect the bruise on my face.
She gently touches my cheek. "Its still bruised." She frowns. "It looks like it hurts."
I smile at her, speaking not only of my swollen face. "It does hurt. But the pain will fade."
But not for good! Join Jaden and Grace on their next adventure in the sequel to I Know This Bar, called Houdinis Box coming soon!
I want to give a very special thank you to everyone that helped me with this story. Terri, (my first beta), SB (my current beta), and Linda (my first and still current beta!!) Without you this story would have just sat around chocked to the brim with grammar mistakes. Thank you for your time and amazing effort.
Another big thank you to everyone who responded with feedback. I really appreciate you all taking the time to drop me comments about the story!
Houdinis Box is on the way!!