Disclaimers: Story mine, characters mine.

"Has the jury reached a verdict?"

"We have, your honor. We find the defendant, William Allen - Guilty."

The defendant flinched. At the prosecution table, District Attorney Alice Rawlins concealed a wistful smile; if only he were the last. She headed towards the door; she had a plane to catch.


Alice couldn't recall when the tradition of traveling back had begun; she remembered feeling low, once, and impulsively booking a trip. If there'd been more to it, it didn't matter now. Plenty of people went home for the holidays.


As she nosed the SUV into a parking space, Alice smiled; nothing had changed. All these years, nothing really had. Bev was in the paddock with the horses; peace descended at the sight. She didn't hold back her grin; no need to hide her feelings here.

Bev was the only person in town who knew a thing about Alice's other life. Knew she specialized in domestic violence cases; knew she refused to give up, no matter how awful the circumstance. Knew the tremendous toll the work exacted. In fact, Bev knew just about everything that mattered about Alice.

As the attorney drew near, Bev strode over to meet her. "It's good to see you; I was starting to worry."

"It's good to be here; I can't tell you how much I need this."

"Well, then, daylight's wasting. Your horse is ready to saddle - let's wear you out, in a good way."


As the miles fell away, Alice's mind wandered. The land looked as harsh as ever; if you were dependant on ready rain, and predictable dry, this was the wrong place to be. It was wild and fickle, this place: unforgiving in the extreme. Lull you to sleep, then stab you in the back - it took hard people to succeed on this land.

In spite of that, it was the last place Alice had called home, and the only place she could recall being truly happy. That it hadn't lasted grew less important as the years passed; what mattered now was that she'd felt it at all. This was where she'd left the best part of herself; she came back now to dust it off, and remember.


The barn.

If there was a more rundown place, Alice'd never seen it.

In the childhood years she'd lived along this road, no one had ever lived here, at the end. Abandoned then, just like now: dilapidated, neglected, a collection of beams and boards perpetually poised to fall down. That it hadn't was a mystery; that it remained, more puzzling still.

Except to Alice; Alice knew it survived because this was their place.

Hideaway and refuge, it was their place to dream. A place where two young girls pledged undying love. Yes, it had been their place. And if it was still a wreck, at least now it was her wreck; the same place she ran to, even after all these years.

Rural Colorado, when she'd lived here, was a throwback kind of place. Lean men eked out meager livings, pitting themselves against the elements. It was a place where neighbors kept to themselves; a place where girl-children were largely ignored.

Every day, chores complete, she and Sarah would run to their haven. From adjoining farms, they'd race; no one missed them. In those days, gone was as good as forgotten. They'd climb to the loft, and imagine their future - where they'd go, what they'd do; where they'd live.

Alice said she'd build them a house; Sarah wasn't sure. Could she build it strong, with locks? Alice said of course, if that's what Sarah wanted. Strong house, many locks. Anything for Sarah.

Looking back now, of course, it was so clear. Locks? That wasn't right. But then? She hadn't noticed. The wrist, either. They lived on farms; things got broken. By the collarbone, though, Alice was noticing. Sarah said everything was fine, but it wasn't. And Alice knew it.

She tried her mother. "Hush," she'd said. Hush. Alice was messing in matters that didn't concern her. Besides, if he was to hear, it would make things worse. Then where would Sarah be?

From her father it was simpler still - butt out; or maybe he'd just separate them anyway. That threat sent Alice flying; overwhelmed and confused, she ran back to the barn - to Sarah.

Things changed after that. There was less time for dreaming. Most days, Sarah would curl up in her lap, and Alice would tell stories. About their house. About doors, and windows, and locks. About a world no one but them could enter.

The year they turned fourteen, it happened; he beat his wife, too badly to ignore. Two days before Thanksgiving, while Alice waited, oblivious, at the barn, he dragged her from her hospital bed, threw the kids in the car, and left. Just like that.

Gone. Sarah, her Sarah, was gone.

When they disappeared, everyone but Alice breathed a sigh of relief. Most allowed how it was for the best; they could go somewhere, now, and start over. Together. It would be better, someplace else; it was just too hard here for some folks.

Alice, though, Alice was inconsolable. She made herself sick, crying, then turned the tears off for good. It was bus fare that saved her; she left at fifteen, and never looked back. She never found Sarah, but somewhere along the way, she found herself.

And now, she did every day what she couldn't do then; she saved them. One woman, one child at a time. She worked, she mourned, she dreamed, and once a year, she returned. Never to the family place, midway down the road. Always to the end, the very end, to the rickety barn. Home.

Their place.

And there, she remembered.


Please read Part 2: Again


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