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She was breathless, arms and legs pumping through the air as she propelled herself between the rows. She cried out as she stumbled, tripping over a low, crumbling stone. Panting in fear, she quickly picked herself up and continued, glancing over her shoulder. He was still behind her, tracking her.
Braxton could feel hot tears run down her cheeks as she saw that she was coming up to a fence. She ran headlong to it, gripping the bars and shaking them in violent frustration. She turned, back to the cold, hard iron strips, waiting. She cried out in surprise as a hand rested on her shoulder, reaching through the bars. She turned…
“I’m here to help you…”
Braxton cried out, her chest heaving, a sob torn from her throat.
“Hey, it’s okay.”
Braxton blinked several times to see Becca sitting on the edge of her bed, a comforting hand on her arm. “Jesus,” she blew out, wiping at her tears.
“Are you alright?”
Braxton hesitated, then nodded. “Yeah. Thanks.” For just a moment she wanted to lose herself in Becca’s arms, be held and told everything would be, and was okay. She was startled by that thought, and quickly pushed it away. “I’m sorry. I keep waking you.”
“Nah. I was up. It’s only just after one.” She studied the trembling woman beside her. “You want to talk about it?”
Braxton shook her head no, but didn’t want her roommate to leave, either. “Would you mind… Never mind.”
“What? Would I mind what?”
“God, I feel like a dork. But would you mind staying for a few minutes? Maybe talking or something. I need my head to clear before I can go back to sleep.”
Braxton’s eyes widened at the request, but then did as Becca had asked, and scooted further over on the bed, making room. She held the sheet to her t-shirt-covered chest, almost like a shield as Becca got settled, back against the headboard.
“What do you want to talk about?”
“Do your nightmares have to do with your accident?”
Braxton was surprised. “How did you know about that?”
“Alicia told me. She wanted to move out with Theo in April, but we had to hold off until you got better. What happened?”
Braxton sighed, deciding how much she wanted to tell Becca. Glancing over at her, she saw nothing but genuine care and curiosity. “I used to date this guy named Andrew. Real prick. He will definitely go down as one of those, ‘what the hell was I thinking’ moments. Anyway, I went to a party at his place, caught him getting blown by some other chick. Might I add I had sought him out to break up with him?” They both chuckled.
“Can’t imagine why,” Becca quipped, for some reason feeling a bit down that Braxton had had a boyfriend.
“Yeah. On my way home I decided to go take a drive. Ended up in the middle of Nowhere. I was upset.” She met gentle blue eyes again. “That’s the last thing I remember.”
“Alicia said the accident was pretty bad. Touch and go for awhile,” Becca said softly.
“Yes. I ended up in a coma for the summer, and my car is now scrap.” She looked down at her hands, which rested in her lap, biting her lower lip to stop emotion that she felt rising in her throat.
“Are you okay, Braxton?” Becca didn’t believe the blonde’s vigorous nod for a minute. “Come here.”
Reluctantly Braxton allowed herself to be gathered into strong arms, her cheek resting against a solidly pounding heart. Becca scooted down in the bed until she was lying down, taking Braxton with her. She could feel the petit body trembling, as though Braxton were trying valiantly to hold it in.
“Hey,” Becca whispered, stroking the short, blonde hair. “It’s okay to feel, Braxton. It’s okay to be afraid. And it’s okay to cry.”
Those softly spoken words sent the dam into splintered pieces. Braxton’s tears came fast and hard, her body heaving with the power and intensity of her release. She cried out her fear from that terrible night, she cried out the loss she felt for that missing time in her life. The fear of the images from her nightmares that, though did not stick in her memory, stuck in her heart, and chilled her heart. She cried for the way Andrew had treated her, and that she’d let him get away with it for so long. And she cried as suddenly she remembered Jared hanging up on her, turning his back.
Becca’s eyes squeezed shut as she tried to keep tears of sympathy at bat. Braxton needed her to be strong, not add to the misery, no matter how much it may love company. She held the blonde closer, stroking her back and hair, cheek resting against her soft hair.
Finally Braxton got herself under control, feeling foolish, but greatly relieved. “I’m sorry,” she murmured, starting to pull away, but Becca held her tight.
“Just stay, and you have nothing to be sorry for. Relax,” Becca said, running her fingers through Braxton’s hair. “Do you dream about the accident itself?”
Braxton shook her head, using the edge of the sheet to wipe her tear-streaked face. “No. I don’t remember what it is once I’m awake, but it scares the hell out of me. I’ve started drawing them as soon as I wake up, and it’s helped.” Becca was curious as to what the drawings were of, but didn’t ask. “Why don’t you drink?”
Becca froze, her heart beginning to pound.
“Not that that’s a bad thing or anything,” Braxton said at the prolonged silence. “You don’t have to ans-“
“No, I’ll tell you,” Becca said, her voice tight.
Braxton raised her head, looking down at Becca. She could see the fear and pain in the blue eyes, as well as the tightness in her jaw and body. “Hey, let’s just leave it at you don’t drink because you don’t want to, okay?” she said gently. Yes, she wanted to know, but no, she saw no reason to make Becca divulge something that was painful fro her.
Becca’s gaze met Braxton’s, relief rushing through her. She’d never told anyone why before, and wasn’t sure she’d be able to make it through the conversation without running screaming into the night, never to return. She smiled, grateful for the reprieve. “Okay.”
The relief in Becca’s eyes was palpable, and tickled Braxton’s curiosity, as well as her dread, even more, but now was not the time. “Hey, why don’t you go get some sleep. I’m okay now, and really appreciate your waking me. Again. And staying.”
“Are you sure?” Becca asked, not really wanting to go. She felt as though right then she needed Braxton’s comfort as well as wanted to give her own. At the blonde’s nod, Becca knew there was no good reason for her to stay, no good argument, so sat up and pushed off the bed. Before she left, he turned to Braxton, who sat in the middle of the bed, looking for all the world like a lost child. “Sleep well, Braxton. If you need anything, I’m close.”
Braxton nodded. “Thanks. Good night.”
It was a long time before Braxton got back to sleep.
“Oh! Look at that.” Margot hurried to a storefront window, Braxton walking up next to her. “Can you imagine? Sculpting that castle out of chocolate?”
“That is definitely amazing,” the younger blonde agreed.
“Let’s go in.” Margot turned mischievous eyes on her daughter. “You still like chocolate, don’t you?”
“Duh!” Braxton exclaimed, laughing as she was drug into the specialty candy shop. The smells were amazing- cookies, chocolates, hard candy, and ever other type of confection the imagine could conjure up. Though she’d just eaten, Braxton’s mouth watered.
“Smells wonderful in here, doesn’t it?” Margot said, her voice quiet with reverence. “What do you want?”
“Mom, I can’t let you pay. You already bought lunch. You don’t have the money for this.”
“Oh,” Margot waved off her words. “You only live once, Braxton. Make it count.”
Braxton watched her mother hurry off to a display of white chocolate, looking at the older woman like she’d lost her mind. Who is this woman? She followed, loving the smoothness of the white stuff.
“I want to give you something when we get back to the house, too. Don’t let me forget,” Margot said, bending over the glass-topped case to see what goodies she wanted.
Lydia’s was the only car in the drive when they reached the house. Margot helped Braxton carry in all the bags of clothing she’d bought for her during their ‘girl time’. She’d never spent so much time with her daughter and felt so free. They’d laughed and talked, and actually had a normal day without Fletcher the man, or the fear lurking over their shoulders.
Braxton was almost giddy, excited about the new things she’d gotten, deciding not to fight her mother on it, as she truly did need the clothes. She was also excited about the day she’d had. She had no idea Margot Crowley could be so much fun!
“Hey, Brax?” Lydia said, following the blonde up the stairs and to her room. When she reached it, Braxton was already emptying her shopping bags onto the bed.
“Yeah?” Braxton tossed over her shoulder. She heard the soft click of her bedroom door closing. Turning, she saw a very serious Lydia walk over to her. “What’s wrong?”
“Two policemen came looking for your mom today,” she said, keeping her voice low.
“They said they wanted to question her about something, but wouldn’t tell me what. I didn’t tell them she was staying here, Braxton. I wasn’t sure what to do or what to say.” Lydia’s troubled eyes made Braxton’s heart pound just a little faster.
“Okay. I’ll talk to her and see what’s up.” She held open her bag of mixed white and milk chocolate. “Want one?” Braxton popped a candy into her mouth as her roommate picked one for herself.
“You look like you two had fun. Your mom is practically glowing.” Lydia’s eyes slid closed in ecstasy at the burst of milk chocolaty taste on her tongue.
“We did. I had a lot of fun with her. I had no idea that was even possible.” Braxton put away the new clothes, hanging the new winter jacket in her small closet.
“Did your mom go on a shopping spree for you?” Lydia asked, plopping down in the armchair.
“Pretty much. I tried to say no, but she wouldn’t hear it. Not sure if she and my dad struck the lottery or what.”
“I’m surprised he let her come here alone.”
Braxton shrugged. “Who knows. Maybe the bastard had some sort of church function, and mom coming here got her out of his hair.” They both smirked and headed downstairs.
At dinner, which Margot took them all out for, Braxton watched her mother carefully. Something was off, but she couldn’t quite put her finger to it. She watched as the older woman and her roommates laughed over wine and trash talk, which even Braxton had to grin at a couple times.
“Your mom’s awful generous,” Becca said from beside the blonde.
Braxton met her gaze and nodded, turning back to her dinner. “Yes, apparently she is.”
“You’re bothered by something, aren’t you?” Becca sipped from her Coke, eyes never leaving Braxton, who was surprised by just how observant the taller woman was.
Braxton nodded. “Yeah. Not sure what, though.”
Margot declared she needed to use the restroom, and Braxton decided to go with her. They stepped inside the small room, taking turns using the one stall. Margot waited for her daughter to finish washing her hands, Braxton studying her mother’s reflection in the mirror above the sink.
“Two policemen came to the house looking for you today while we were gone,” she said softly, carefully gauging Margot’s reaction to the news. Her eyes widened slightly, her face a bit drawn and pale. The rosy hue in her cheeks from an fun, exciting night was gone.
“I see,” Margot said, busying herself by snagging a few paper towels from the dispenser so Braxton could dry her hands. She met concerned green eyes. “When we get back to your house, we need to talk.”
Margot sat uncomfortably in the armchair by the window, watching as Braxton stripped off her coat and hung it in the closet. She cursed her hands, which wouldn’t stop fidgeting in her lap. Her daughter finally got settled on the bed, legs folded in front of her, and waited.
The older woman cleared her throat before she’d meet Braxton’s eyes. “I need to tell you something, and I want you to listen to every word before you speak or react. Alright?”
Braxton felt fear flutter through her, but nodded. “Alright.”
Taking a deep breath for courage, Margot began to tell her story.
Margot looked down at her hands, grimacing as the dry skin cracked on her knuckles. The steam from the lemon-scented dish water wafted into her face. Doing dishes up to four times a day wasn’t helping her cause, any. Fall and winter in Colorado was such a dry time of year, and lotion was a must. The cheap, store brand Fletcher made her get didn’t hardly touch the dry flesh.
With a heavy sigh, Margot began to fill the sink with the dishes from a big breakfast. She had no idea why that damn man insisted to a big meal breakfast, lunch and dinner. She had to prepare each one, and try and keep it original, then she was the one to clean up the mess. His mess. The stack of pans on the counter next to her made her stomach roil. They were each covered with stuck on food- eggs, sausage and bacon, Fletcher insisting that each be cooked separately. It would make things so much easier if he’d allow her to just cook them all in the same pan. But that would require him allowing anything for her to be easy. It hadn’t been in twenty odd years, so why start now?
“At least he’s consistent,” she smirked to herself, grabbing the sponge with scrubbing surface on the other side, and starting in.
Margot marveled at the fact that it had actually been somewhat of a quiet, mild morning. Yes, Fletcher had woken up in a bad mood, but she couldn’t remember the last time had hadn’t. No biggie. He’d left her alone, heading to the living room to read his morning scripture, leaving her to get breakfast going. He hadn’t said a word, as Margot knew exactly what he expected. This morning had been different, however, when he hadn’t beaten his silent request into her.
Breakfast had also been quiet, Fletcher stuffing his face on the fragrant food and reading the morning paper, grunting out a few stories or facts of interest. Margot didn’t listen, didn’t care. She oohed and aaahed in all the right places, but continued to eat.
Fletcher looked up from his breakfast, eyeing her. “You’re not listening to me, are you?”
Margot met his gaze, but only briefly. “Of course I am, honey. Very interesting.”
He tossed the newspaper down, closing it first. “What did I say? What was I talking about?”
Panic grabbed Margot’s insides as she frantically searched her brain to recall what she’d heard. He’d never quizzed her before. “Uh, the… uh, tractor show.”
“That was five minutes ago, woman!” he yelled, slamming a fist into the table, making coffee spill over the rims of their freshly-filled cups.
“Fletcher, I’m sorry!” Margot rushed, panic in her voice. “My mind wandered, as I was thinking about what I needed to do today, to get ready for the wonderful brunch the ladies at church and I will be serving after your sermon, and-“
“Liar!” Fletcher rose to his feet so quickly, the vase of silk flowers at the center of the table toppled over, taking the pitcher of warmed syrup with it. The dishes shattered to the floor along with a warm, gooey mess. Fletcher ignored this and instead grabbed Margot by the collar of her housedress and dragging her from her chair.
“No, Fletcher, please,” Margot begged, clawing at the hand that held her as she was dragged to the kitchen, her slipper-covered feet useless against the smooth linoleum.
“When are you going to learn how to be a real wife?!” Fletcher demanded, shaking her violently. He took satisfaction in seeing Margot’s eyes literally rolling in her head. “Now, you clean up that mess you made in there, and then you’ll read every word of the Book of Mark to me. Do you understand?” he shouted with another fit of shaking.
Margot couldn’t breathe, as Fletcher’s grip on her collar had tightened to the point where his knuckles were digging into her windpipe. “Fletch-“ she gasped, smacking at his hand.
“Don’t you ever hit me,” he growled, his grip tightening as he realized what was happening.
Margot could feel her life slipping away, and for one brief moment considered letting it happen. After all, who would miss her? Then she thought of her daughter, and saw her beautiful face before her mind’s eye. With a renewed vigor and the natural instinct to survive, she let go of Fletcher’s hand, and blindly reached out, trying to find something, anything that would get her free. Her fingers wrapped around the handle of the cast iron frying pan she’d used for sausage. It had been a wedding gift from her own parents so long ago.
The CLANG from the strike was almost deafening in the small kitchen. Fletcher cried out as he stumbled backwards, his hands going to his bleeding head. He fell to his knees, and finally his butt as the blood continued to gush. Margot stared down at him, filled with a rage she’d never known before. Her fingers flexed on the handle again, and with bared teeth, sent the pan flying through the air in a deadly arc, hitting Fletcher upside the head, sending him sprawling. He didn’t move, but it didn’t stop Margot from landing one more vicious blow.
Heaving and panting, she looked down at what she’d done, not one bit of regret or guilt in her heart.
Margot grew silent, her soul expunged with the telling of her story. She didn’t tell Braxton, however, that after that, she left him on the floor, and washed her dishes, leaving them to dry in the strainer, just as she’d done every day of her married life. She’d showered, watching the blood swirl down the drain, then packed a bag to head out of town.
Braxton sat motionless, her face long drained of all color. “I’m going to be sick,” she whispered, running out of her bedroom and slamming into the bathroom she and Becca shared. She barely got the toilet seat up before she lost her dinner. With moments she felt a warm, soothing hand rubbing her back.
“Are you okay, honey?” Margot asked softly, grabbing a wash cloth and wetting it with warm water. She helped Braxton to her feet and gently wiped her face.
Braxton nodded, seriously contemplating vomiting again. “I need time to think. To process this. Okay?” She met concerned eyes, and Margot’s nod. “I’ll be back a little later.”
“Alright, Braxton. If that’s what you need.”
Braxton headed toward the door, but stopped when a hand grabbed her own, stopping her. She turned to face Margot.
“I love you, honey. No matter what.”
After a long moment, Braxton was able to say honestly, “I love you, too.”
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