Chapter One

The house was silent except for the sound of the trees brushing against the glass as tey swayed back and forth in the gentle summer breeze. Judy Bernly watched as the limbs swayed back and forth, the action lit only by the bright moon casting a golden ray of light against the living room floor. She didn't know how long she'd been lying on her couch staring out the window but she didn't want to move. Didn't want to wake up from this dream. It had to be a dream. He couldn't really be gone for good. She hadn't really kicked him out of the house had she?

Judy slowly arched her neck until she was facing the door, watching it intently, her brown eyes searching the room as if afraid he was going to pop out of the shadows at any moment. She could still hear his voice in her ear, telling her she was a nobody. Worthless. Judy closed her eyes as the memories resurfaced, pressing in on her as if someone was holding her down. Judy sat up, digging her nails into the soft material on the back of the couch as she closed her eyes, taking slow deep breaths. She could still hear her own screams as she'd screamed at him to get out and stay out and when she'd heard that door clicked closed she'd known she was finally free. Free of the abuse. Verbal and physical. The pain was finally over and she could move on.

Or so that's what she kept telling herself as she sat on the couch anxiously staring at the backdoor. She wasn't sure what she was waiting for. He was gone and hopefully never coming back. Still though, Judy couldn't shake that feeling that she wasn't totally free yet. He had come back before. Why wouldn't tonight be any different? He was probably out getting drunk right now and would come in as he always did, staggering all over the place, using her as a punching bag.

Judy let her gaze shift toward the phone, which sat just within reach. She could call Doralee or Violet. They would come right over. But she didn't want to seem like a wimp. After all, there was nothing to be afraid of. Releasing her fingers from their firm hold, Judy wrapped up tightly in the quilt that had been lying on the couch and padded across the carpet toward her bedroom. The room was dark except for the dim light on in the hall and Judy flipped off the light as she headed into the bedroom. The room was pitch black and she felt her breathing increase as she fumbled for the light switch. Before she could reach it, however, she felt a hand grab her by the throat. She choked as the shock and fear sped down her spine. He was back. His face only inches from hers. She could feel his breath against her neck. He reeked of alcohol and possibly something else, though in her haze of fear and confusion she couldn't identify the smell.

"You think you can get rid of me that easy, woman?" Dick hissed in her ear.

Judy felt his hand release from her throat and she tried to get away. "stop it," she screamed as large tears worked their way down her cheeks. She could feel her knees locking up as her body tensed with paralyzing fear but somehow she managed to stay clear headed enough to try and fight him off. She tried desperately to free herself from his grip, only to realize he was much too strong for her.

"SHUT UP," Dick shouted and threw her against the wall as he flipped on the light with his chin, pinning her down with his hands. She knew that he could feel her trying to wiggle free and he slapped her twice across the mouth, drawing blood. "You think you could get rid of me that easily?" he asked again, his voice as cold as ice.

Judy could only nod. "Please," she choked out through a sob that was threatening to overtake her. "I'm sorry."

Dick pushed her to the floor. He then kicked her in the leg. "You're not sorry," he hissed through gritted teeth. Pulling her by the arm, he dragged her to her feet, holding her so tight Judy knew his hands were probably cramping. "You try and smart mouth me again and you will pay," he said threateningly. "You do not own this house. You own nothing."

Judy could do nothing but spit in his face. "Let me GO," she screamed and as soon as the words were out of her mouth, she wished she hadn't done that, for a second later she felt herself being pushed down again and she prepared herself for another blow. It came a moment later as she felt his foot stomp hard on her wrist. She bit her lip, trying to keep back a scream. But the pain was too great and she couldn't take it anymore. She let out an ear-shattering scream as tears ran freely down her cheeks.

"That's right," Dick snarled as he continued to stand on her arm. "Scream all you want. No one will hear you." He got down on the floor and dragged her upright, holding her by her hair. "You tell anyone and I swear I will find you and make sure you never tell another soul." He slapped her again, pushing her to the ground.

Judy stayed still as her stomach began to churn and her head throb and she listened with bated breath as Dick's footsteps receded. He was leaving but that didn't mean he wouldn't be back. He always came back. And as she had seen tonight she couldn't stop him. Trying to lie very still, Judy let the sobs shake her mangled body. It hurt to move. It even hurt to breathe. But Judy couldn't just lie here on the floor all night. Who knew how many injuries she had now and how many of them were life threatening.

Pushing the thought from her mind as she moved slightly, the pain in her arm was so great she could hardly see straight. Closing her eyes, Judy pushed herself toward the phone and as the light from the ceiling nearly blinded her, she inched her way toward the bedside table, where in a fog of pain and confusion, she pulled the phone down to the floor, the cradle nearly falling on her leg. The sound of it crashing to the ground made her want to scream but she held her tongue as a shaking hand pressed the familiar number. She was too weak to lift the phone to her ear so she got as close to the mouthpiece as she could, wondering if she had the strength to even speak. The ringing began and she closed her eyes, praying Doralee would answer.

"Hello?" Doralee's southern accent came through the line a moment later, her voice lined with sleep. "Hello?" she asked again, urgency now shadowing her tone. "Listen if this is some joke this isn't funny. You call here again and I am calling the police," she said threateningly

Judy let out a loud moan, listening as Doralee spoke again.

"Hello?" She paused and then said, "Judy? Judy is that you, honey?"

Judy moaned again, feeling tears of relief and pain slide down her cheeks. "H…he…came…back," she gasped through her tears. She felt sore all over but the pain in her arm was enough to override any other feelings she was feeling.

Fear crept into Doralee's voice. "Judy, is he there now? Are you alone?"

"No," Judy choked out as a sob slid from deep within her. "…pl…please come. Please…" she felt her fingers slip from the phone and she let it fall to the floor as the darkness surrounded her….


Doralee Rhodes felt tears of fear and anger form in her eyes as she replaced the phone in its cradle and feeling as though she were on autopilot, she leaped out of bed and threw on clothes, not even bothering to turn on the light. Slipping on her shoes, she raced out of the house and to the front door, where she grabbed her purse and keys. Her hands shook as she opened the door and she was relieved she'd left her gun in the car. She'd have it handy just in case Judy's husband decided to make himself known. She'd be ready.

Doralee barely noticed the soft breeze that prickled her skin as she hurried from the house and down the front drive to the car. She didn't even remember getting in the car, much less driving the ten minutes to Judy's house. But suddenly she found herself running through Judy's house, finding her way in the dark as she called out her friend's name. Her throat felt dry as her heart sped up with fear and she kept her eyes and ears open as she searched for her friend. "Judy!" Doralee stood still, listening and finally heard a faint sound coming from the bedroom. Sprinting forward, she ran into the bedroom and nearly fainted at the sight of Judy on the floor, hardly moving. Doralee rushed forward and immediately saw the blood stain on the carpet. She felt her heart leap into her throat as she rushed to her friend's side. "Judy, honey? I'm here."

Judy could only groan as the familiar voice met her ears, for she was hardly conscious enough to recognize it much less say anything. All she could do was listen as Doralee fussed about the room, finally hearing her pick up the phone and speak into it.

"It's all right now," Doralee said softly as she stroked Judy's hair. "The paramedics are on their way."

It was a moment before Judy spoke but finally she said in a hoarse whisper, "C…ca…" she was cut off.

"Shhh," Doralee hushed her. "Lie still. Just lie still." Doralee glanced around the room, looking for anything to put over Judy. A blanket or something. Judy was a private and modest person and would not like leaving the house without looking decent. Standing, Doralee grabbed a blanket off the end of the bed and placed it around Judy's shaking body, wincing at the blood forming around her mouth and the bruise that had already began forming over her eye. She let her eyes travel to Judy's right hand, where a large purple bruise had begun to form. "I'll get that gun of mine and I'll make sure he never see another day," she said, her voice soft and thick with anger. "I promise you that. You won't have to worry about him anymore." Doralee glanced toward the door and was relieved to hear the sirens getting closer. "I'll be right back." Running out of the room, Doralee ran down the hall and to the front door, throwing it open. "In here," she called as the paramedics hurried up the walk. "She's been beaten really bad. I think her arm may be broken."

The paramedic nodded his thanks as he and his partner followed Doralee into the bedroom where the woman lay. "What's her name?"

"Judy," Doralee answered. She watched as the paramedics crouched down beside Judy's bruised and battered body and turned away, trying to suppress a sob.

"Judy?" the paramedic called, "Can you hear me?"

Judy could only nod, her face etched with pain and her voice was hardly audible as she spoke,"…H….he…" she swallowed and tried again. "I…I think he broke my arm."

"It's all right," the second paramedic said calmly, "Just relax." He looked to Doralee. "Does she have any other family?"

Doralee shook her head. "No. My friend Violet and I are her only family. Please. Please let me ride with her. Her husband did this to her. She needs me." Doralee looked pleadingly at the man, knowing that her pretty blonde hair and clothes weren't gong to work with this one. She'd always been able to persuade guys in the past with her looks but tonight it was different. Tonight she'd have to use her brains.

The paramedic sighed but nodded. "All right but you'll need to stay back and not get in the way."

Doralee watched in silence as Judy was lifted onto a backboard and carried carefully out of the room, through the living room and finally out the front door. She could hear her friend's screams of pain as they headed down the sidewalk. Doralee felt tears pool in her eyes as she climbed into the ambulance with her friend. "I'm here, Judy."

Judy didn't answer but simply closed her eyes.

Doralee sighed as she glanced out the window anxiously, counting the seconds in her head as the ambulance sped toward the hospital.


"Doralee !"

Doralee turned at the sound of her name and found her friend and co-worker Karen running toward her. Leaping from the seat, Doralee ran to her. "Oh thank goodness you're here. It's bad, Violet. He really did a number on her."

Concern and panic etched its way onto Violet face, followed by a hint of anger. "Jerk," she muttered.

Doralee nodded in agreement and sighed heavily. "They took her to x-ray and gave her something for the pain." She shook her head as tears came to her eyes again. "It was awful, Violet. She just looked so….broken. I really wish that jerk would come around so I could shoot him."

"There she is," Violet pointed to a bed that was being wheeled down the hall and she ran toward it, her heels clicking against the tile floor. "Judy? We're here. He isn't going to hurt you anymore."

Doralee looked toward the nurse that had come into the room. "Can't you see she's in pain? Can't you give her something?"

The nurse looked at Doralee skeptically. "Are you family?"

"No. I'm her best friend and I am not leaving," Doralee said sharply, taking Judy's hand. She shot a glare at the nurse. "Now either you give her something or I'll do it myself."

"Doralee ," Judy said quietly, feeling a blush rise to her cheeks, "I'll be all right." She let her gaze travel down to her arm, which was lying still against a pillow and she swallowed.

"But you're not all right," Doralee insisted, staring down at her friend. She could tell that Judy was trying hard not to cry. "And I'm not going to sit here and watch you suffer."

Judy managed a small smile before she moaned again, closing her eyes against the blinding bright lights. Putting a hand over her eyes. "Please," she said pleadingly, her words low and overwrought, "Please do something. I….can't let him hurt me again." She gripped the edge of the bed with her good hand as the tears rolled down her cheeks. "I…I thought he would leave. I thought if I told him to leave and never come back that he would. But he didn't. He didn't listen. Just like always. He came back and he hurt me."

"He's not going to hurt you anymore," Karen said and looked at Doralee as if she were asking for help. "We'll go to the police. We'll call them right now."

Judy shook her head. "It won't do any good," she said, her words still mixed with tears, "He will lie and he will find me. He always does."

"He won't this time," Doralee said, determination filling her voice, "We will make sure of it. Now, you rest and I'm going to go hunt down a doctor and have them release you or at least give you some pain meds."

Judy nodded as tears slid down her cheeks and she cut her gaze to her arm. "Oh sweet lemons," she said through clenched teeth. "Isn't my husband abusing me torture enough?" she whined.

Doralee rested a hand on Judy's shoulder. "It's to give you medication, honey," Doralee said gently, stroking her friend's hand. "And you'll feel better in no time."

Judy shook her head. "No I won't," she said through her tears, "I will never feel better. I will always live in fear that he's going to find me and hurt me again." she let another sob escape her throat but she didn't try to hide it. "He said…he said if I told anyone he'd….he'd kill me."

Doralee tried her best to suppress her shock but she could hear a gasp from Karen and hear her growling low in her throat. She knew that Karen wanted to say something but was keeping silent for Judy as to not embarrass her or make a scene. "He's not going to get near you," Doralee told her friend, running a hand over Judy's forehead. She felt Judy relax and close her eyes. Good. The pain medication was working. Doralee quietly walked out of the room, motioning for Karen to follow her. "I want to go hunt him down and kill him," she said, the fury once again returning to her tone.

Violet sighed, her face already contorted into rage. "I will gladly go with you." She cut her gaze over to where Judy was sleeping and said, "She's been through so much. She doesn't need this."

"We all have," Doralee said faintly and let out a sigh. She looked to her friend. "Listen, go be with your son. I can stay here with her." Doralee gently pushed her. "Go. I've got this. I'll call you as soon as the doctor clears her to go home."

Violet hesitated and but nodded, letting out a small quiet sigh. "All right," she finally agreed after Doralee fixed her with an intense stare, "I'll go but call me the minute you get home. She's going to need help getting around for the next few days and she'll need to stay with you. Her house is the first place that jerk would come looking for her."

Doralee nodded in agreement. "I'll keep her safe, Karen. Remember I know how to use a gun." She grinned impishly and pushed her friend gently. "Now go. Your son needs you. I will call you. I promise."

Violet sighed but nodded and after bidding Doralee a goodbye, she headed for the entrance, the sound of her heels clicking against the tile getting fading away as she headed out the of the hospital.

Doralee watched her friend go and once Karen had disappeared down the hall, Doralee walked back over to the bed where Judy was sleeping. "I promise I will kill him," she said, running a hand through her friend's matted down hair. "He won't ever hurt you again. I can promise you that." Sighing softly, she sank down into the chair that had been placed by the bed and closed her eyes as she waited for Judy to awake.


Judy felt as though she were floating and she tried to open her eyes. Tried to see past the haze as the room began to spin. Her mouth felt dry and she felt as if the rest of her body was detached from her head. Slowly turning her head she could just make out a figure sitting beside her but she couldn't tell who the person was through the fog that had settled over her eyes. Maybe it was Karen or Doralee .

Judy swallowed as unexpected tears filled her eyes. How had she let herself get into this mess? Why hadn't she tried harder to fight him off? Why hadn't she done what Doralee would've done and shot him? Judy found herself getting more upset as each question presented herself through her hazy mind and she wished she could rewind time and go back to that moment when he'd come back. She wished she could've been braver. Could've told him off like she'd done before. But he'd been too strong for her and she'd been too weak to fight him off.

"Judy, honey?" It was Dora's voice and from the sound of it she was standing right next to the bed. Judy could feel Dora's cool hand against her forehead and she felt herself relax as Doralee began wiping away the mysterious tears on Judy's cheeks. "It's going to be all right," she whispered soothingly, which made Judy want to gag. She was not a child and did not need to be spoken to as one. But she kept the comment to herself. Doralee was doing the best she could with what she knew.

"Dizzy," Judy said softly and her words sounded slurred. Almost foreign. "My head feels funny."

"I know," Doralee said as she pulled the blanket further up. "It's the medication. It'll wear off soon. Just sleep, okay?"

Judy didn't answer as she closed her eyes, letting the haze finally consume her. When she awoke next she could hear voices, and as she opened her eyes she realized that the dizziness was gone as was the haziness. Judy blinked in the bright lights and let her gaze finally settle on Dora's face. "Can I go home?" she asked sleepily.

"Soon," Doralee said, stifling a yawn.

Judy looked at her friend, noticing the exhaustion etched onto her friend's face. She also noticed something else: a piece of paper in Dora's left hand. She looked as though she was clenching it for dear life. But a voice interrupted her thoughts before she could inquire about the paper.

"How's the pain?" the nurse asked, leaning over Judy's bed.

"It came back." Judy's voice was barely a whisper as she stared up at the nurse. "When can I go home?"

The nurse sighed ruefully. "Normally I would say in an hour but we take abuse cases very seriously. I've called several shelters…."

"No," Judy said as she tried to sit up, only to be forced back down again as a bout of soreness ran through her body. She felt sore all over. "I don't want a shelter." The thought of going to a place with a million other women and exposing herself and her emotions sent a shiver of dread and shame through her. She was not going to be humiliated like that. Not when she could just go to Dora's house and deal with this privately.

"She's coming home with me," Doralee chimed in stridently, resting a comforting hand on Judy's shoulder. "She'll be fine with me."

The young nurse looked dubious. "Are you sure?" She looked at Judy as she spoke, directing the question more to her then to Doralee .

Judy nodded as she gripped Doralee hand. "Yes. I'll be fine. Please. I want to go home. Please." She looked at the nurse pleadingly. "I just want to go home." Her words came out twisted with tears and she turned her head away from the nurse as more tears spilled down her cheeks. She wiped them away, running her finger across the cut that had formed on her lip. Judy felt her chest grow heavy as another sob threatened to release and she swallowed, squeezing Dora's hand with all her might. She was not about to start crying right here in the hospital. But no matter how hard she tried the sobs came anyway, shaking her body so hard she could feel the bed shaking. "I hate him," she found herself shouting through her tears. "I wish he were dead." Judy looked up at her friend and could tell that Doralee didn't know what to say. Part of her was glad. She didn't need her friend to be all heroic, she needed a shoulder to cry on.

"Shh," Doralee said as she carefully wrapped her arms around Judy. Pulling down the bed railing, she laid down on the bed. "But he's never going to hurt you again."

Judy snuggled against Dora's embrace. "But he has hurt me," Judy sobbed, not lifting her head from Doralee's shoulder. She felt so embarrassed and so ashamed. She couldn't believe she'd let herself get this out of control. She was usually so level headed and calm. "He has damaged me. On the inside. I will never be the same again." Judy let the sobs return as the pain overtook her again and not just the physical pain but the emotions she'd had stored for so long. The anger and frustration and hurt. It was as if all those emotions were coming out all at once and Judy didn't know how to stop them. Didn't know if she wanted to stop them. She couldn't remember the last time she'd let herself really cry and that scared her most of all. She didn't think she would be able to cry again. Didn't think she'd ever be able to set her emotions free. Yet here she was, crying her eyes out in the middle of the ER. Quiet reserved Judy was quickly losing control. "Please make it stop," she cried, "I don't want to cry anymore. I don't want to feel this pain anymore." She took a staggering breath, trying to control her tears. Her chest felt heavy, like someone was stomping on it with a large boot. Judy felt a sharp pain in her abdomen and she winced, pulling away from Dora's embrace. "I am so ashamed," she muttered once she'd calmed down enough to speak without sounding if she were going hysterical.

"Don't," Doralee said, relief filling her tone. "You don't have to hide your feelings. You're hurt and you've been through a lot."

Judy ignored Doralee's relief. She knew her friend was having a hard time keeping her angry retorts to herself. "But I hate getting emotional," Judy protested. She gestured around with her uninjured hand. "Especially in public. You know this, Dory. I don't ever want to show my face here again." She buried her head against Dora's shoulder as her chest tightened again, threatening more sobs. But she swallowed, forcing them back. Sitting here sobbing wasn't going to help her get through this. It wasn't going to take away the pain. She didn't know what would but she knew that she needed to be out of here. To be somewhere where she could just let her emotions loose without worrying about who knew or who would talk behind her back. Rumors in this town spread quickly and Judy was certain that her outburst tonight would be all over town by morning. And Judy would never be able to walk outside again. "Please. I just want to go home. I want to have some of my dignity left when I return to work."

Doralee squeezed Judy's hand reassuringly. "We'll be home soon. I promise. Just rest. We can deal with the other stuff later."

Judy could only nod as the exhaustion began to fog her mind and she closed her eyes, letting her body go limp. And maybe when she awoke she would be in Dora's apartment, free from the embarrassment and shame of feeling as though she were an animal in the zoo. She could grieve in peace and finally start to heal and put together a normal life, free from this bondage she'd been in for so long.