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“Jen! Come back honey! It’s not what you think it is!”
I blinked tears away as the rows and rows of corn flashed by me, and I vaulted over the hard, damp furrows in the dirt. He wouldn’t find me back here. He couldn’t tell the corn apart, didn’t know which direction was west. Here I could get away from him.
“Jen!” His voice was farther away now, mixed with faint sounds of rustling corn as he entered the field with me, “Jen! Come back here right now!”
My toes caught on the upraised corner of a rock, and I stumbled, took a couple steps, then tumbled into the dirt, landing hard on the heels of both hands. The tiny pebbles that were in the dirt dug into my hands for a moment, then I was up and running again, dodging the six foot tall stalks as well as I was able. They swayed and sprang in my wake, snapping back to upright after I shoved them from my way.
“Honey, it’s almost dark! Jen!”
His voice was a little menacing now. I’d heard that tone just before he’d gotten into that fight with his old wrestling coach. I’d heard it whenever I asked him where he was so late at night. The only difference between me and his coach is that I know when not to argue.
I vaulted over another score of furrows, then crouched silently in the corn, hugging my bare arms to my chest, trying to settle my panicky breathing.
“Jen!” He was mad; I could hear the anger in his voice, coloring his tone with darkness. I’d gone too far. “It’s almost dark out!”
It was. The sunset was fading from the sky, and it was the time of day where night seems so far away, but comes so quickly that blinking would make you miss it.
“The only warmth for miles is in the house, or in my truck. It’s gonna be cold tonight, and unless you wanna apologize right now-”
I wasn’t gonna apologize. Not unless he told that s**t Mary Thomas down at the inn that he was marrying me. He should apologize to me.
“-then you ain’t getting any warmth. I wont leave, Jen, I’ll wait you out, and I’m gonna kick your a**.”
I fought my panting, and clutched my swinging brown hair in both hands, crouched over on the dirt. He couldn’t be serious. But he was. He would hit me. He had before. Not real hard, I’d had older brothers, but I’d bruised. My mama always said that I bruised like a peach.
The chill of darkness cooled the curves of my arm, barely cooling my skin, but making me shiver. How in hell did I run out without my jacket?
Course, it was a miracle I’d run out with any clothes on at all. My jeans had been halfway off, and my shirt had been on the floor when I’d pulled his shirt off to see the love-bites that Mary Thomas had left on him. On my man. That s**t had no right.
I bit my lip as my eyes filled with tears. It wasn’t her fault, I reminded myself, it was his. He’d taken me for a ride too. I’d been kissing someone else’s man too.
I was lucky my shirt had been in my path on my way out the door, that I’d gotten it on before I sprinted barefoot across the road into our corn field.
The wind threaded through the corn, making the leaves rustle, chilling me, and carrying the faintest sound of his whistle. He was whistling. I heard a zip, and I knew he’d just shrugged on his padded, Carhart work jacket. That jacket was warm, and comfortable. I rubbed the skin on my arms.
There had to be another way out of the field. I’d come in through the gate, which was across the road from our house, and our field, the one we used for local produce, was surrounded by a barbed wire fence. I’d cut myself once on barbed wire.
The doctors had given me a shot and kept me in the hospital for a shallow graze through denim. Did I dare try to cross the fence with bare arms?
He couldn’t wait that long, could he?
Night fell then, almost immediately cycling from dusk to dark. Cautiously, I stood, my bare toes pressing with a kind of urgency into the moist dirt, and I straightened to a half crouch, then wove down the corn, headed for the east end of the field.
There had been a hole in the barbed wire there last year. Maybe Jeff, our farmhand, hadn’t fixed it. Maybe he hadn’t noticed the break.
I tensed at how close his voice sounded.
“Jen Gardener.” He singsonged my name, elongating it so it stung like a taunt.
I picked up the pace, chills wracking my spine. The menace of his voice was sharp in my chest.
Again with the singsong, and the corn rustled from the breeze, causing a thousand tiny ripples to fan out from his voice to chase me down the row.
I ran now, and my bare foot hit the sharp edge of a broken rock. The tear in my sole stung, but I ran further, pressing chill mud into the heat of my flesh.
The moon rose then, spreading its silver light just in time for me to see the fence.
Damn, Jeff was too good at his job. The newer section of barbed wire was a lighter shade of rust, and I eyed the distance between the two strung skeins of wire.
I had to get out of the field.
“You ain’t gonna get away, Jenny. Now or later, your choice.”
I had to get out.
The wire had already cooled in the dark, and I gripped the top wire in my hand, avoiding the barbs. My left hand gripped the lower, and pushed it down. The wire felt dangerous in my hands; as if it would cut me even thought I gripped no spikes. Gingerly I eased one leg through the gap, so I straddled it, and then I ducked to move my torso through. On my right arm, I felt the exquisite pain of the sharp points piercing my flesh, and in surprise, I let the wire go.
A line of fire trailed on my back, blood welling in a connect-the-dots line parallel to my spine, and I flinched, and clamped my mouth shut. I couldn’t scream, he’d find me.
I felt a drip of hot liquid on my skin, and nearly drew blood on my lip, trying not to cry out with the pain.
I dragged my other leg through the gap, ripping my jeans free from the little spikes when in caught.
I was out of the field.
“Ten miles on bare feet back to town, Gardener.”
His voice was clearer now that I wasn’t up to my eyes in corn, and I ran to the squared edge of the corn field, and peeked around.
He was leaning up against his truck, parked in front of the house, arms crossed, open jacket revealing his bare and bruised chest.
Blood trickled down the furrow of my spine, and I pulled back to invisibility.
“Getting cold, Jen?”
The house lights lit up the entire road, the one I’d need to cross to get to said safe haven, and telephone.
He’d see me.
I’d have to run fast.
“You dead yet?”
I bolted across the road, like a flushed jackrabbit, dripping blood onto my jeans, cut foot smarting against the asphalt.
I heard his boots clomp on the ground, and ran faster as the sounds of his pursuit reached me. The ground was clear around the house, and I vaulted over our little picket fence, hitting the ground at a lurching sprint.
“Come here Jen!”
He was catching up, and I flew around the house and at the back door, scrabbling for the knob.
It was locked!
Two huge hands grabbed me from behind and hoisted me into the air. I screamed, flailing in his grasp, and he threw me from him.
My shoulder cracked when I hit the ground. His booted foot flew at my face, and I threw my hands up and rolled away.
His face was purple with rage, and I screamed again as his foot hit my ribcage with a resounding thunk.
Four a few seconds I couldn’t breathe. I rolled to my back and caught him in the groin with my heel, gasping desperately, until finally air came back, and I was up again, sprinting for the back door.
We had a dog door installed, for our big sheepdog, dead two years now. I dove for it and pulled myself through the flap, nails bending against the plastic frame, and my breaths turning into panicked whimpers.
His hand closed around my ankle, and I slid backwards, held only by my elbows angled against the door.
The whimpers coming from me were quickly turning into screams, and through sheer force of will, I kicked his hands away and pulled myself into the house, then scrambled to my feet, running for the phone even as I heard the window breaking.
The kitchen door latched from the outside, and I locked it behind me, hoping to slow him down.
My bloodied hands snatched at the phone, and fingers trembling, I punched in the numbers, breathing panicky at the brief silence.
“911, what is your emergency?”
“Help me! Help me! My boyfriend, he’s after me, he’s gonna kill me! I’m bleeding, he’s in the house!”
I felt his booted steps shake the floor as he strode to the kitchen door, and I carried the phone with me out the front door. The house shook as he kicked the door in.
A dirty shovel leaned against the side of the house, and I crouched with my arms around it just around the side of the house, breaths tearful.
I’d thought I loved him, despite the occasional bump or bruise.
“Miss, calm down. Stay on the line. What is your address?”
“59 Swallowtail. Help me! He’s gonna kill me”
He cheated on me, that b******, he’d said sweet nothings to me when he’d stay out late and f*** other girls, and come home smelling of their perfume. I never could bring it up, because of that look on his face when I brought up his flowery smell, one I recognized from Jeanne from down the road, and then Polly, then Sue.
“Ma’am just stay on the line. We’re sending a squad car, but just stay on the line”
The window I was curled under cast a rectangle of light in front of me, and I saw his shadow go by, heading for the stairs, searching the house for me.
“I can’t, he’s looking for me.”
I hung up, and hugged the shovel.
He told me he loved me, and I’d seen those other girls around, with rings of bruises on their wrists, wearing heavy makeup over one eye, getting bangs to hide a cut on their forehead. I’d thought I was different. How could he do this? How could he not?
The front door slammed open, and I pulled myself to standing using the side of the house and the shovel to get vertical.
I hoisted the shovel over my shoulder, and stood in a bad imitation of a batter’s stance. It couldn’t happen anymore. Not the kisses, or the hurts.
“Jen! Where are you?”
I whimpered, and his bulk headed my way.
He rounded the corner of the house, and I swung at his head with all my strength, watching in awe as the metal hit his head, and he went spinning, as if in a ballet. He crumpled to the ground, unmoving.
His chest rose and fell with shallow breaths, and I sunk to my knees next to him, still holding the shaft of the shovel in limp hands, crying tears of mixed horror and relief.
Sirens made themselves known, blaring in the distance, and I sobbed over my unconscious boyfriend in the dirt.
I hoped he was okay.