The Price of Freedom

September 5, 2008
"Here, let me get that," Jared said, taking my tray.

"Thanks," I said softly. He always did little things like that. Sometimes it annoyed me, but I let him do it. God knows, no one else ever had.

"How about over there?" Jared asked, gesturing with one tray in hand. I just nodded and followed him through the sea of people across to the other side of the cafeteria. He set down the trays and pulled a chair out for me before sitting down. I smiled my thanks to him and scooted up to the table. I watched as Jared tore into his hamburger and fries with enthusiasm. I, on the other hand, detested cafeteria food, so I opened my bag of chips and ate slowly. I savored each bite, because there were no treats at home. The cafeteria buzzed with student activity. The cheerleaders discussed new routines and cheers at the next able. Go team, I thought glumly. Laughter erupted everywhere around us, and I always wondered about happiness. Happy people were lucky, indeed.

"Sienna, you there?" Jared asked, waving his hands in my face.

"Yeah, sorry." I was always apologizing, it seemed. To him, to my parents, my teachers. Jared looked at me, concern seeping into his eyes.

"You okay?" He asked me this question nearly every day. His worry was genuine, if not always appreciated.

"Yeah, fine. I'm just sore," I answered noncommittally.

"What happened this time?" Jared asked, anger already surfacing. I could see it in his face as it turned red and in the way he polished off his fries.

"Supper wasn't ready when he got home last night," I said matter-of-factly. Not that reasons were always necessary; sometimes there was just nothing else to do. My father has abused me as far back as I can remember, probably even before. There were always reasons to hit me: I hadn't cooked supper, I hadn't taken out the garbage, I hadn't cleaned the house. I never stood up for myself, always trusting that if I had, it would only lead to more painful beatings. Most days, it didn't matter that I hadn't done anything wrong. I was the only one home during the evenings, so I took the fall for my mother. Though, I will say that mom took her fair share of beatings when she was home. By my side through all of this was my best friend, Jared. He never said anything against my father; though I'm sure he wanted to. Jared had been the one I could talk to about everything. Jared had talked me out of committing suicide the only time I'd ever considered it. He had pulled the old "if you jump, I jump" thing on me. How was I supposed to refuse that?

My and Jared's mother had met years before when the hippies were dying out and democracy began to take its hold in the world. Jared and his family live just down the street from us, though his parents are drastically different from mine. His parents are in love, and love their son dearly. My parents don't even bother to pretend they love each other anymore and they certainly don't love me. To this day, I still remember the night when the best and the worst things happened to me.

It was raining that night, as it often is in stories like this. I was lying on my bed, listening to the rain hit the roof. I loved that sound. My father had gone out, so I was alone, since my mom was at work. He had gone to Talbot's, the biggest bar in our hometown. I lay there, dreaming of a life that didn't include bruises and silly explanations about how I had gotten the last bruise, or where that burn had come from. I was tired of those sympathetic glances and worried eyes that I often received from my teachers and other adults. I couldn't really explain any of my markings because I was afraid that my father would be taken in, and then I would be in deeper trouble than I had started out in.

On the night in question, I had been lying on my bed, praying that my father hadn't gotten too deep into his cups. If he had, bruises might be the least of my worries. My father had always been worse when drunk as opposed to sober. I prayed fervently and quickly, hoping that my father would not walk in on me. He did not like religion being practiced in his house. For all concerned, he was God. I wasn't sure why I bothered to pray anymore, as it seemed that God had given up on me. My faith had dwindled until there was nothing but the hope that my father wasn't dead drunk. As the last words left my lips, I heard the door open and close. I fooled myself for a second into thinking that it was my mother, but no such luck. I heard him stumble over the coffee table and silently cursed myself for allowing it to be that close to the door. What had I been thinking?

"Sienna!" my father roared in a drunken commanding voice. I jumped to my feet, and thought of ways to get out of a beating, and then thought better of it. It was always better to face your fears head on. Crap.

"Get in here! Now!" My father's voice rang out against the quiet rain that was barely coming down now. I never answered him vocally, because he had told me that I was not to speak unless spoken to. I walked as fast I could make my legs move, even though I wanted to do nothing but turn tail and run. I stopped before him, rigid and frightened.

"Bring me my beer," he barked. I didn't have to ask which one, though my mother consistently bought three kinds. In my head, I wondered how it was that he needed more alcohol when he was plastered already. I never voiced my opinion because I had learned from watching him abuse my mother that a woman's opinion means less than dirt and that men were always going to be superior, no matter what. I opened the refrigerator to get a beer for my father, only to find that there was none of his favorite. I moved other cans and old food out of the way in a wild search for his favorite kind. I grabbed one of the others that he liked but rarely drank, and hoped like hell that he was too sunk to care. I walked back to his chair and handed him the beer. He took one swig, and then another. I breathed a sigh of relief. I moved to sit on the floor, since women were not worthy to sit at the same level as men. As I bent down to sit, my father's fist flew into my face and I was thrown backward. I hit my head on the floor and finally fell down. I bit my lip to keep from screaming. He liked it when I screamed. I touched a hand to my face, and it came away with blood. I knew a bruise was forming at the back of my head, and I was already coming up with a story for this. I had become a very good liar and I knew how to make almost anything believable. I heard his feet hit the floor and I knew, without a doubt, that I was in for it. I tried not to cringe, but the thought of more hits, more bruises, more anything just scares a person senseless. I turned over to my stomach, moving to my hands and knees. I got a swift kick to my ribs for my trouble and felt one crack. My breathing became ragged from trying not to cry out. My arms buckled under me and I fell onto my already bruised stomach. I made a tiny whimper against my best efforts. I heard him laugh- a sick, evil laugh that is reserved only for people that have no conscience and no fear of recrimination. Tears slid down my face and I swiped at them, aggravating the rib I'd just cracked. He kicked one of my legs hard enough to roll me over. I was forced to look up at his face. A twisted smile curved his face into something that I couldn't repeat in my worst nightmares. He got down to his knees and punched my face again and again. I was helpless to do much more than scream as my face was knocked back and forth. I tasted blood as it trickled from my wounds. Every time I tried to put up my hands, he slapped them away and then hit me twice as hard because I had tried to defend myself. His theory was like that old "two for flinching" adage. When he was finally done, I crawled my way toward my room. Pain surged and ebbed with each movement, until I was basically a nerve ending that quivered nonstop. I was halfway in the door when I could not go any further. I saw my cell phone lying on my bed, and bit down harder on my lip. I dragged my worn and bloody body across the carpeted floor, leaving tiny red drops in my wake. Mom was going to be pissed. I didn't care. I reached out for the cell phone and moaned at the pain it caused in my ribs. I tried tugging the sheets and was rewarded when the phone fell an inch in front of me. I grabbed it and dialed the only number that I saved in my contacts, Jared.

"Hello?" came Jared's clearly tired voice.

"Jared?" I rasped.

"Sienna? Is that you? What's wrong?" His voice became more concerned with each word.

"Can you please come over?" I whispered.

"Sienna, it's one o'clock in the morning. My mom would kill me and so would yours." Not bloody likely.

"Mom's at work and Dad's here."

"Sienna, are you okay?" Jared asked. Unfortunately, I never got to answer, because my father walked into my room and yanked the phone away from me. He backhanded me so hard that I flew nearly to the other side of the room and hit the tiny dresser. He threw the phone at me, which crashed into the wall behind me and shattered. My only hope of being saved had just gone out the window. I saw the candle that was my life about to be snuffed out. Strangely, I wasn't afraid. Instead, I was nearly relieved at the idea that I might not have to suffer anymore. My only regret was that I'd be leaving mom to get all the beatings. I resigned myself to my fate, as my father accused me of sleeping with every boy in town and was it even a wonder, given who my mother was? He wondered aloud where he had gone wrong with me. I wanted so badly to tell him that he was wrong. I wanted to say that it was his fault that I was this way, but I didn't dare. He slapped my face, and my head snapped back. I was nearly delirious with pain and smiled wide. I admit, it was a big mistake, but it felt so good to do it. He sucker punched me once more and my head hit the wall. I sank down to the floor, hoping he'd think I was knocked out. He took the bait, and I was grateful. I took slow breaths, careful to make it seem like I was really unconscious. Apparently, I was no fun to hit if I wasn't conscious and in pain as he did it. My father walked out of the room and into the kitchen. He didn't want the wife to see the blood on his hands, though we all knew it was there.

I heard the screen door open and the big door creak open after that. My father had apparently not heard this and I worked my way into a sitting position. My chest hurt and my face ached like it was going out of style. I heard footsteps coming closer and immediately resumed my position on the floor. I closed my eyes just as shoes came into my vision.

"Sienna? Oh my God, Sienna!" It was Jared. Hope filled me even as stark terror threatened to take over. I jackknifed into a sitting position, then immediately was reminded that moving fast was not a good idea.

"Jared, what- what- what are you d-doing here?" I managed between gasps of pain.

"I got worried when the phone was disconnected. What happened to you?" Concern colored his eyes to a warm chocolate brown.

"Daddy dearest." I spat the words out, purging some of the venom I'd always carried with me.

"Your father did this to you?" I could hear rage in his tone. I merely nodded at his words.

"How bad are you hurt?" I didn't know how to answer him, so I just pulled my shirt over my head, and let him see my body. His eyes roamed to each bruise and scar that covered nearly every inch of me. He had never seen the full extent of my injuries before. I wanted to feel ashamed with him staring at me, but I couldn't, because I knew that Jared would help me. I knew that he wanted to. Jared had been the only one with whom I'd shared my secrets about how I'd really ended up like this. He, of course, wanted to go to the police, but I'd begged him not to. My fear of father's retribution had been worth the collection of injuries that I now sported. Jared finished examining me and helped me put my shirt back on. He then helped me to my feet and picked me up. There was no sign of my father. Jared carried me out of the bedroom, down the hall and to the front door. In order to open the door, he would have to put me down. Jared set me on my feet gently as you please, and then my father's hand shot out to imprison my arm.

"You ain't goin' nowhere with him! He's trash and if you run off with him, I'll come after you and kill him!"

"Let go of her." With one sentence, Jared conveyed a hostility that I hoped I never saw in him again. I was scared of him in that single moment.

"What are you goin' to do about it, boy?" my father sneered.

"I will break your arm with that bat over there and then I'll break both of your legs," he said quite calmly.

"And I'll break her neck before you ever get there." There was so much hatred on my father's face, I felt I was drowning in it.

"No, daddy." I sounded weak, even to my own ears.

"What did you say?!" he roared.

"I said no, daddy. You can't hurt him. He's a good man. He doesn't deserve to be hit by you."

"The little witch finally speaks up for her lover," he sneered at me. In his shock, my father let go of my arm. When Jared would have protested, I said:

"Yes, daddy. You're right. But to be anything with him is better than to be nothing to you." I moved closer to Jared and ran my hands along the front of his jacket. Jared seemed to get the message and he grabbed my hands and kissed them. My father's eyes widened in shock and his jaw dropped to somewhere in the vicinity of his overlarge gut.

"Then get the hell out of here! I don't need you in this house! And you," he said, turning to look at Jared, "when she ends up pregnant, don't you come crying to me! I ain't helpin' you out." Jared and I ran out of that house and stopped at the end of my driveway. I gasped for air and Jared came to his senses and called an ambulance. I don't really remember much of the following hours, because I was immediately put on morphine and knocked unconscious.

When I finally came to, I saw that I was hooked up to nearly every machine in the hospital. My face hurt something awful and I was pretty sure I'd die if I had to take another breath. I looked to my left, and there was Jared. He was asleep in the chair next to my bed. It didn't look very comfortable, so I tried to wake him.

"Jared!" Nothing came out of my mouth but a small squeak. But, it seemed enough, because Jared's head came off the table and he looked right at me.

"Don't try to talk. They had a tube in your throat, so you could breathe during surgery." I nodded at this and made motions for a pen and paper. He granted my request and I asked what I'd had surgery for. It turns out that I'd had a lot of internal bleeding and was very lucky to have lived at all. I'd flat lined twice and had been given three transfusions because they had a lot of trouble stopping the bleeding. I was in stable condition now and had broken a rib, fractured the back of my skull and broken my wrist.

"Well, I've got to be heading to school now, but I'll be back to check on you," he said, and leaned down to kiss my forehead. As he was leaving, a nurse came in.

"Mornin' miss. Time to eat your breakfast and get that healing moving faster," she said cheerfully. I wanted to slap her. I looked down at the tray she'd set in front of me, and wondered how I was supposed to swallow when my throat was so sore. I took a few small bites and choked. After that, I made no more attempts to eat, but drank lots of water. The nurse came back at twelve sharp to feed me lunch.

"How long have I been here?" I wrote down on my paper.

"About three days, miss." Shock flooded me. I had missed three whole days? I finished the rest of lunch in silence as I tried to recall the past three days. When the nurse finally left, I decided to sleep until Jared came back.


"Sienna?" I heard Jared's voice calling to me in my dream, pulling me back to consciousness.

"Jared?" I croaked, forgetting that I couldn't talk.

"They took your father in this morning." I tried to keep my face passive.

"How mad was he?" Jared's face fell and he crossed and uncrossed his fingers nervously.

"Very. He's going down for attempted murder, Sienna." I was almost certain he'd be home within a week.

"They'll never make it stick," I said.

"Why do you say that?" Jared sounded unconvinced. More, he seemed upset that I doubted him.

"Because men like him always win. He's a man and therefore, he'll find a way to pay someone off or at least not go to jail."

"You don't know that, Sienna," he asserted. He just didn't understand how powerfully persuasive my father could be when sober.

"He's my father, Jared. He's always got a plan."

"Anyway, I have better things to talk about."

"Enlighten me."

"Well, I don't know exactly how to say this…" Jared refused to meet my gaze. He seemed unsure about what he was going to say.

"Jared, don't beat around the bush. I'm not in the best shape here."

"Sienna, I came so close to losing you three days ago. If you had died, I don't know what I would have done. I'd have killed your father; that much I'm sure of. I don't ever want to be that scared of losing you again." His hands clenched into fists and slowly turned white at the knuckles.

"Are you trying to tell me that you love me, Jared?" I joked. Though, in truth, I was slightly afraid of his answer. I didn't really know how to handle love, since I had never experienced it first hand.

"Well you've gone and ruined the moment. I'm not going to tell you now," he said.

"Oh come on! Out with it!" I begged. It wasn't like Jared to withhold anything.

"No. No, you've ruined the moment; it's gone. Pfft!" Jared gestured widely with his arm. I rolled my eyes at him.

"Just tell me while I'm still here for you to tell," I said seriously.

"Do you promise not to laugh or make any more fun of my feelings?" he said in mock hurt.

"No. Now come on."

"All right. I love you, Sienna Parigi. I have since we were little, I think." His gaze finally met mine and I knew he was completely sincere.

"You know, Jared, I love you, too. I'm not sure how it started or when, but it's there and I've never felt this way about anyone else." Jared sat down on my bed and leaned in to kiss me, which wasn't as romantic as it sounds. My lips were bruised and one was split where I'd been punched. But I did try to kiss him back. Badly.

"Ow," I muttered, putting a hand to my lip.

"Sorry. Did I hurt you?" Worry filled his face, with the love fading into the background only slightly.

"No, I'm pretty sure 'ow' signifies that I'm perfectly fine, you idiot."

"Gotta love that mouth." He leaned up a little bit to kiss my forehead. Then he slid me over, and laid down beside me. I settled into his arms and hoped that we could just stay like this forever.

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