A/N: This is really my first attempt at a chaptered story and I'm kind of kicking myself for how heavy it starts off. But if you read it, please know I do have a plan and everything needs to happen. Also, any colloquialism in this are not meant in disrespect for any culture or country. Anything I use in here, I have actually used in my own life.
Please note: This chapter contains sensitive topics and scenes of abuse. If you don't handle these type of things well, please feel free to PM me and I will summarize it for you.
Okay...going to hide under a rock now.
Disclaimer: SM owns all. I was the proud owner of the swine flu while writing this, which may explain a lot.
Why is it so ungodly hot? I mean it's only the end of July…in Chicago. You know, the windy city. Where was that blessed wind that everyone raves about now?
The thermometers were bursting their bubbles at 92 degrees without even considering the humidity. My hair was a frizzed-out mess of curls from the heat and my legs were sticking to the leather seat under me despite the air conditioning creating an automotive igloo. So this is what they call global warming?
Out of habit, my eyes flashed to the rearview mirror and trained in on the empty green and brown booster seat nestled safely in the backseat. But only the little frogs on the fabric silently stared back. I had only been away from my baby for a few hours, but I already missed her. I always missed her. No doubt, she was my world and I was the typical, self-sacrificing Mommy that loved her more than life itself.
Soon baby, soon. I kept repeating those words over and over as each mile passed by. Somehow the silly little mantra helped because, before I knew it, the tires were crunching over gravel as I pulled up into Angela's driveway, the long ride over and only some stairs and a door away from my baby. I couldn't wipe the smile off my face if I tried. That little girl had me wrapped so tightly around her little finger that it was quite ridiculous. Yes, I'm Bella Hunter and I really am that pathetic.
The heavy air hit hard when I opened my car door, sweat already trickling down my forehead in gloriously disgusting rivers. Angela's postmodern house was nestled in a quiet suburb among cookie-cutter ranch architecture and overly manicured lawns. It was a rose among the thorns if you asked me. Unique, just like the best friend housed quietly away inside with my daughter.
I closed the front door over quietly, simply letting myself in as always and listening to the tinkling of piano keys in a happy melody from inside the house. I knew the path well as I wandered through the front room and kitchen until I reached Angela's converted sunroom. The now music room was open and bright, holding a comforting warmth. Carlie and Angela were perched together on the piano bench near the window, Angela's feet commanding the pedals while Carlie's little fingers flew over the ivory keys. I couldn't help the smile. Carlie looked so happy—carefree and alive. I wish I could freeze this moment. Instead, I did what any proud Mom would do and quietly snapped a few pictures with my phone.
The sounds came to rest and I applauded my attendance. Before I knew it, Carlie launched her tiny body off the bench and around my legs, crying, "Hi Mommy!"
"Hi baby girl. You did fantastic. I wish I could play as good as you." My fingers ran through her silky hair as we stood there, Angela watching with a soft smile. Carlie pulled back, smiling a sweet, toothy grin that would be the death of me. "Go pack up your bag, okay? We need to go home and make Daddy dinner."
Carlie ran off towards the corner of the room where her backpack lay as Angela wandered over to my side. "She's a natural Bella. I never thought those chubby little fingers of hers could manage what they do." A smile and an awestruck glint shown from Angela as we stood watching Carlie pack up her stuff for the night.
I was more proud of my little girl than I could ever express. She had a talent at 5 years old that I only wish I possessed at 29. "I know right. She has my grace to trip over her own feet, but can run her hands over piano keys like a seasoned pro. Who would have guessed?"
"Momma, can you zip my backpack? I stuck it."
"You stuck it huh? You mean it's stuck?" Carlie's little head nodded quickly, her blonde curls bouncing gently against her cheek. "Bring it over here."
She was the most unique combination of two people I've ever seen. She had James's blond hair and slender nose. Then she had my curls, round cheeks and lips too big for her face. Her graceless nature and easy blush mirrored my own as well. However, her jade eyes left us all stumped. Genetic dominance my ass. Those eyes carried a hint to my Great Grandmother's muted green gaze from what I remember, but held a vibrancy and life unmatched. Carlie was nothing less than a one of a kind.
Handing the backpack back to Carlie's awaiting hands I couldn't help but smile. "There you go. Do you have everything?"
"Um, I think." She swiveled her head, surveying the room while chewing on her little lip. She worried on that thing just as bad as me, which made me both smile and cringe at the realization.
"Alright Carlie. Time to go home. Say goodbye to Miss Angela."
Jumping into Angela's awaiting embrace, Carlie said her farewells. "Bye Miss Angela! Thank you for my lesson today."
"You're very welcome Miss Carlie. You did wonderful." Angela kissed Carlie's soft curls before letting her go with a peaceful smile.
Looking around once more, Carlie and I made our way out the front door. Her tiny body ran down the stairs and out to the car, wrenching the door open with all her might. She was a big girl through and through and liked to prove it to everyone. Angela's gentle laughter came from the doorway as she watched my daughter's antics. "Have a good night Bella."
I turned, smiling. "You too Angela."
The air was still heavy and sticky as I walked toward the car, stopping to finish buckling Carlie into her seat and kissing her head again. I got in, turning the key as the engine revved to life. "What do you want to listen to today Carlie?"
In the rearview mirror, I watched as she tapped her chin, biting again on her poor little lip. She 'hmmm-ed' and 'ummm-ed' and scrunched up her eyes in thought. I had to catch myself from laughing out loud at her simple antics. She had no clue she was so entertaining to watch. "Debussy," she finally said, with a giant smile. Changing the CD, I couldn't help but shake my head. Somehow I ended up with the daughter that would rather listen to Mozart, Debussy or Tchaikovsky instead of the little girls of today that are overly obsessed with Hannah Montana. Not that I'm complaining though. I much prefer this. And watching her little fingers play over an imaginary keyboard to the music was a plus as well.
The drive home went by quickly, between concentrating on traffic and slyly watching Carlie get lost in the music in my mirror. Soon, I was parked and freeing my daughter from her seat before heading inside. James wouldn't be home for another two hours, so I had plenty of time to clean up and get dinner finished. "Carlie, can you go put your bag away and then come help me with dinner?" I called after her retreating form as I turned into the kitchen. A muffled but excited 'yes' echoed back through the halls.
"What we making Momma?" Carlie asked, wandering through the kitchen arch, her bare feet padding against the tile.
"How does meatloaf sound?"
"Good! Do I get to help squish it?" Carlie was excitedly bouncing next to the stool she had pulled over to the counter. I nodded, saying she can do it all, as I turned to preheat the oven and then started to pull all the ingredients from the fridge. Hamburger—check. Ketchup—check. Eggs—check. Carlie ran over to the pantry, grabbing the breadcrumbs, while I finished pulling out all the spices and miscellaneous other necessities. We worked as a perfect team in the kitchen. It didn't matter that she was only five. Carlie had some mad skills at wielding a spatula already.
We set to work opening, dumping, cracking and pouring this and that into the big green bowl. "Okay, work your magic baby," I said, motioning to the pilled mess in the bowl as I went to find the loaf pan. I swear I put it away in the bottom cupboard last time…
"Done!" Carlie called just as I managed to dig out pan from the mountain of bake ware. I let her scoop the goopy mess out, squishing it into the corners. She loved the sticky feel of the burger, which I was more than happy to let her be the one to get dirty.
"Thanks honey. It looks wonderful. Now go wash your hands and then you can help me set the table. Daddy should be home really soon." All I saw was a blur of blonde leave the kitchen as I set the meatloaf in the oven. As I was reshelving the seasonings, a heavy weight attached itself to my left leg. "What do you think you're doing silly girl?" I asked, laughing and looking down at the child sitting on my foot.
"Waiting to help," was her simple response. Leave it to a child to give the most obvious answer.
"Is that so? Well how about I get the plates and glasses out of the cupboard and then you can put them on the table. Does that sound like a plan?" She nodded her head eagerly, her curls bouncing wildly. "Okay, here you go."
Twenty minutes later, the table was set, a salad was made and Carlie and I were in a fierce battle of tic-tac-toe. The sound of the front door opening echoed through the hallway and Carlie was out of her seat before I could comprehend the action. "Daddy!" was all I heard as Carlie ran from the room. James wandered into the kitchen a few minutes later with a tired smile and Carlie in his arms, just as I was pulling the meatloaf out of the oven. I kissed his cheek quickly as I brought the food to the table.
Dinner was a quite affair, filled with simple small talk and a lot of clinking utensils. It usually was as James wound down from his day at the office. "Daddy, Miss Angela gave me two gold stars on my lesson book today!" Carlie spoke up, finally breaking the heavy silence.
"She did? That's great," James said with a tired and forced smile. Something wasn't right. I would have to remember to ask him later. Right now was not the time. Soon, I was clearing the dishes, shooing Carlie to go play and watching James grab a beer to retreat into the living room with. Life was seemed to actually be all right for a change I had to think while the soapy water warmed my fingers. My daughter was intelligent and happy and healthy. My husband had a good job and came home every night. I mean, things weren't always a bed of roses between us, but really whose marriage is perfect? Things have been good recently. I don't know. Maybe I'd just like to think that. It's those damn rose-tinted glasses again.
The night passed much the same as dinner, a slow and quiet few hours. James was perched in front of the television, Carlie was reading the last time I checked and I hid myself away at the kitchen table with my laptop. The untitled document of jumbled words sat open on the screen, mocking my inability to find perfect start. I wouldn't claim to be a poet or an author, but since I was a little girl younger than Carlie, I had wanted to see my name printed in that glossy text on the cover of a book. I have to start somewhere I thought as I started at the blinking cursor.
"Momma?" a sleep voice broke through my clouded thoughts.
Rubbing her half-lidded eyes, she asked, "Can you tuck me in?"
"Of course," I said with a gentle smile. Carlie's curls were already in disarray, so I had to assume she already fell asleep once with her nose in a book. "Did you already brush your teeth?" Her head did a weak little bob. We walked down the hall hand-in-hand, until reaching her room. The soft light of the bedside lamp glowed against the green walls, creating a peaceful scene. "What pajamas do you want to wear tonight baby?"
"Um," she mumbled, rubbing her eyes again. "The blue froggies please."
I pulled the requested pajamas from the dresser and then kneeled down to Carlie's level to help my sleepy daughter change. Her little body was swaying on the spot with exhaustion and her arms were flopping around like a rag doll's as I got her clothing switched. Finally, after an epic battle of putting a leg in each leg hole of the shorts, Carlie was finally ready. With a big yawn, she flopped face first into her pillow and snuggled with her teddy bear, her tired eyes already closed.
She looked so beautiful that I couldn't look away. Her soft curls covered her forehead and her back rose and fell with each gentle breath. It was times like these that I think back to before Carlie was born and wondered how I ever existed. It's as if my life before her had little meaning because she was everything. She was in my every thought, my every hope, my every dream and my every action. This little girl sleeping in front of me was truly my world. A quiet voice mumbled out, "Momma, can you say the story?" and I smiled, knowing exactly what she wanted. Brushing my fingers through her hair, I began.
The night, she said
It's time for bed
Today is done
We had our fun
So count the sheep
It's time to sleep
Dream so sweet
Of the stars you'll meet
I'll see you in the morning
Her soft breaths evened out into the quiet hush of sleep. I stood as silently as I could manage, bending over to kiss her hair, before quietly making my escape. I closed the door over as I left, letting the nightlight glow in the darkness.
"James, I just got Carlie to sleep. I think I'm going to head to bed," I quietly called down the hallway, but didn't hear any response or signal of life from the living room. "James?" I peaked my head around the doorway, but the room was empty aside from the flicker of the fish tank in the corner. Something really wasn't right, but I simply couldn't put my finger on it. Instead, I shrugged my shoulders, turned off the light and headed towards the bedroom, hoping I was just imagining everything.
The bedroom light was on and the door was open, but I didn't think anything of it. Maybe James decided he'd go to bed as well, though it was rare that he wasn't passed out in his recliner right now. My thoughts, however, were trained on a cool pair of pajamas and the book sitting beside the bed.
Walking in the room, I didn't see James, but I could feel him. This should have been my first real indication that things really weren't as they seemed tonight. The bedroom door closed with a thud behind me, leaving a swaying and deadly looking man in its place. "James, are you alri…" I started, but his rageful stare cut off all train of thought. He moved forward until he had his entire body pressed flush against my own. I could feel his muscles quivering under his clothes, ready to spring or break and unleash the fury in his eyes. One of his hands roughly grabbed onto my upper arm and pushed me backwards until I fell hard into the wall.
"James! James stop! Let go of…" Before I could finish, a hand clamped down hard against my mouth, pressing my head harder against the wall. I kept trying to talk—to scream—but James was having none of it. His eyes were glazed with an angry fire dancing in their depths and I knew this wouldn't be like every other time before.
"Fucking shut it babe," he hissed, his breath reeking of stale alcohol. "You know I don't like it when you struggle." James ran his free hand over my cheek and across the line of my jaw, slurring words that I was trying to tune out. His path moved over my lips before his hand snapped back, connecting fiercely with my cheek just below my eye.
I fought back the tears that were waiting to fall from the sting. I wouldn't dare though. The tears only spurred James's thirst for dominance. That was one lesson I was taught too many times.
In my mind, I was thinking of Carlie and her bright eyes and gentle innocence. I concentrated on everything to take me from where I was, pinned against my bedroom wall. James roamed his abusive hand over my shoulders and chest, roughly squeezing at my breasts while his lips and tongue left a slimy trail across my neck. There was nothing gentle about his actions. There hadn't been for a long time, since I became his favorite punching bag.
"Mmmm…Bella. Such a sweet little whore," he slurred out as he removed his hand from my mouth before ramming his tongue down my throat in a violent kiss. James' hand was roughly pinching and pulling at the denim covering my crotch in a painful motion. "Who else have you been fucking? Huh?"
I stood there, motionless and silent. It wouldn't change the outcome if I spoke or not. So I just simply stood there with my limbs were frozen in place because this wasn't like any time before. And for the first time since I became a walking bruise, I was scared.
"Answer me!" His voice reverberated off the walls as his eye grew impossibly darker. I was both petrified and hopeful that he'd wake up Carlie—wanting someone to save me, but not wanting to Carlie to ever know of my pain and scars. "I said, who've you been FUCKING?"
"No one James." My voice was quiet and weak, reserved to what was to come next. "I swear, no one. Only you."
No words. Just hell-fire burning in black eyes. "You fucking whore!" James spat and before I knew what was happening, the room spun and danced in a jolting manner. James threw my body like a ragdoll, backhanding my stomach and back and every fleshy surface in between before slamming me down into the mattress. Stubby fingers clawed at my clothing, ripping it from my body in a painful manner. All too soon, I was bare and exposed and praying for the end of the night.
James kneeled on the bed, predatory in expression and stance. His lanky body haphazardly crawled over to my frozen form. He leaned down, sucking hard on the flesh of my chest and hell, did it hurt. The pain throbbed and burned and coursed through my veins. "Undress me ba…babe," he slurred, pulling away to sit on his knees with black, angry eyes. "I meant fucking NOW!"
His angry words spurred trembling hands to move down the buttons of his work shirt, exposing his bare chest. Still trembling, my hands drug the fabric over his shoulders until it fell completely to the bed. Next, my fingers searched out the button to his jeans, fumbling in my haste and earning me a vice grip on my upper arm that was sure to bruise like everything else. "What the FUCK is your problem babe? You don't like me anymore?" he sneered. "Think you're too good of a whore for me? Too good to want me to fuck you! Is that why you're taking your sweet ass time down there? GET MY FUCKING PANTS OFF NOW!"
I found a new resolve in the terror coursing through my veins and making my heartbeat thunder in my ears. The sooner I did this, the sooner this nightmare was over. For tonight. My fingers worked at the denim, undoing the button and pushing the heavy fabric along with James' boxers down his thighs. He awkwardly stumbled off the bed to kick the clothes the rest of the way off his body, never letting those deadly eyes leave my naked form. If it were only for his physical looks, James was beautiful and muscular and hell, perfect. I was young when we met and I fell hard and fast for mask of a man and the sweetest lies. But his soul was black and deadly and found pleasure in my pain and suffering and sexual belittlement.
"Oh Bell-aaa," he cooed, venom laced through every syllable, "come here." But before I could move, James had stumbled to the bed, grabbing a handful of hair and yanked me towards him to stand. I yelped in pain before my mind told me not to—told me not to egg the sick bastard on. "I told you to come HERE baby! Why don't you ever fucking listen?" His voice was still slurred but with a quiet, deadly rage hidden just under the surface of his words. My hair was pulled again, curving my neck backwards at a painful angle. Part of me wished he'd just snap my neck now so I could finally escape this hell. Instead, his lips and teeth were at my neck, biting against the flesh and then down to the thin skin covering my collarbone. I could feel the pressure and pain as his teeth broke skin. His tongue licked up the trickle of blood as he hummed a sick, sadistic melody to himself.
"You know what baby?" he whispered into my ear. "Do you know what I'm going to do to you?" He paused, waiting for me to respond even though he knew I wouldn't say a word. I never did anymore. It was better this way. His voice was still a bone-chilling whisper as he continued, "I'm going to fuck you. I'm going to fuck you like a dog—fuck you like the fucking BITCH you are!" And with those last words uttered, he flung me against the bed without releasing his hold of my hair, forcing my body to turn until I was leaning against the mattress with my ass exposed. My body was screaming in pain from my scalp to the balls of my feet and my legs were shaking uncontrollably, trying to hold up my body because the bed was too high for my knees to touch the floor. And we hadn't even made it to James's favorite part yet.
This was like never before.
Please God, let this be over soon.
I dared to poke the bastard that was passed out next to me. Even that simple movement had my muscles protesting, but I couldn't rest them. There was too much at stake to let the pain control me now. Now I needed to be comfortably numb.
Painstakingly slow I raised my body up and off the bed, dragging it to the bathroom to inspect the damage. Each step was excruciating and too slow with the searing pain throbbing between my legs. Even the balls of my feet were raw and sore from the savage hands and movements of an hour before.
If I didn't know better, I wouldn't even recognize the reflection staring back. The image was a testament to the broken woman and a broken past. My eyes were puffy from tears unshed and a deep blue welt was forming against my cheek where James' abusive hand fell. My lips were red from assault and cracked with blood dried in the corners. I didn't dare smile to inspect the damage there further. The bite marks over my neck were something out of a horror movie with blood dried in tiny rivers down my chest. My eyes roamed the reflection more, outlining the deep bruises already forming over my torso and limbs. A set of already gruesome bruises were evident against the bone and flesh of my hips, a ghost of the bastard's hands mocking me. I allowed my fingers to press against the tender flesh and winced back in pain.
But in that moment staring at my dead eyes and battered body, I knew what I needed—what Carlie need. For once, I was liberated in the numbing pain.
My body moved as quickly as my screaming muscles allowed, which wasn't very speedy if I were to be honest. Padding to the closet and grabbing a duffel bag, I dressed myself simply and started throwing the remains of my life into the fabric confines. Clothes. Necessities from the bathroom. Mementos that meant just about the world to me as I passed through the living room. My laptop. In final, staggering steps, I reached Carlie's door and pushed into the darkness. She was there in the pale light, innocent—a sleeping angel. I couldn't take my eyes off of her or convince my body to move in that moment. I wanted to be as carefree and clueless to the pain and hate and abuse that I knew too well as she was. However, I wasn't. But she never had to lose that part of her innocence. I would protect that.
Those thoughts pushed my muscles forward, quietly moving about her tiny room, packing up the clothes I could carry. Her little backpack was lying open on the floor. I picked it up, stuffing it with a few books, toys and her favorite games. This way, Carlie at least had something. I left her room as silently as I could, picking up the two other bags I laid in the hallway and took them out to my car.
As I shut the trunk over, I wanted nothing more than to crumble to the gravel. This was it. Our entire life packed into four bags, two broken people and a little blue car that was escaping in the darkness. But I couldn't crumble; I couldn't stop; I couldn't give up. So I pushed my protesting body back into the house, tiptoeing across the creaky floorboards until I reached my baby's room again. Carlie was sleeping as peacefully as she had been when I walked out the first time, a soft smile playing on her sleeping lips. My trembling fingers pushed a curl out of her eye and trailed softly down her cheek before I leaned in to kiss her sweet forehead. "I love you baby," I barely whispered out.
Just like every other movement, my aching muscles screamed as I bent down and scooped Carlie into my arms, cradling her head against my shoulder. I grabbed her tattered blankie, wrapping it tightly around her little body as best I could. Carlie nuzzled her face into my neck in sleep and I couldn't fight the tear that escaped my eye. I had no clue how I'd make her understand why we could never go home and why Daddy would never be Daddy again. She was too pure and innocent to have to have this life.
But I couldn't waste my energy here. It was time to go before we lost the opportunity. Carlie's little hand moved in sleep, closing her arm around air and something missing from her usual nighttime grasp. Addy. I looked back to her bed, gently search through the blankets until my fingers grasped the worn fabric of her teddy bear, tucking it to her chest. With one final look around the room, I made my feet move toward the night.
Carlie was cradled in my arms and I wanted nothing more than to run. Run from the house. Run from the pain. Run from the man I thought I loved a lifetime before. But I could only walk not fast enough. I was shaking; my body numb to the abused flesh and deep ache that had settled in.
"Momma?" Carlie's voice was so tiny and distant in disturbed sleep.
"Ssh baby, go back to sleep."
Her little head rolled back slightly, her little eyes hooded in sleep. "Where are we going Momma?"
"We're going to visit Auntie Alice for a while. You get to play with Corbin and maybe she'll let you ride Indigo again. Remember Indigo? You'll have so much fun baby."
"Oh," she mumbled, her voice holding a bit of sleepy excitement at the possibilities. "Is daddy coming too?"
My world nearly shattered at that—such a simple and innocent question. "No baby. It's just us."