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A girl cowers in the corner of the darkest place she can find. Clothes brush up against her cheeks, hiding her from the bitter world outside her closet. Tears escape from her swollen eye, blood trickles down her chin but she doesn’t dare whimper. How can she? If she makes a single noise he will find her. She can hear him yelling for her, telling her to get her ass back there right or he will smack her so hard her she’ll see lights.
She squeezes her eyes shut even though it stings her eye. Arms warped around her small body tightly she sings a song in her head, waiting for her dad to get drunk so he passes out.
“Don’t worry, bout a thing. Cause every little thing is gonna be alright”. it’s the only part of the song she knows, but it doesn’t matter. She has to believe things will get better. Life can’t always be this bad, can it? She knew it didn’t use to be. Dad didn’t use to hate her so much. Life was much, much better when Mom was alive. Sure, sometimes Dad got mad then, but when Mom talked to him he would calm down. She could remember those times. Her mind brought the memories forward with the force of a wave and she was swept away on happiness and laughter.
She was 10, running through the forest by her old house. She could hear her mom laughing, calling out to her, playing their favorite game.
“Ready or not, here I come!”
The girl darted behind a tree, breathing hard. She feels the rough bark under her hands, against her back. It had been such a nice day. The dirt was warm, the sun flittered down through the tree, random spots of light and dark turned the woods into places to hide and places to be found.
She could hear her mom moving through the woods, cracking branches and leaves. Calling out to her
“Come out, come out wherever you are!”
Her mother moved farther away and she giggled. She could hide so well. Her mother wouldn’t find her for a good long while. She peeked around the tree, spied her mom’s green dress disappearing through the woods. The girl slipped away from her tree. She would find a new spot, her mother wouldn’t find her.
She walked, jumping into the light patches the shone off the ground. Arms spread out wide she danced, loving the warmth on her skin. Twirling in a circle till she was dizzy she fell to the forest floor laughing. She shushed herself. Mommy couldn’t find her. She giggled softly to herself as she got up, pressing on.
She walked for a few minutes before she heard leaves crunching under feet. She froze. Who else was in the woods? She quickly hid behind the nearest tree. She looked up and saw the branches were too high for her to climb. More footsteps, closer than before. Her little heart beat faster under her rib cage. Her fist clenched open, close, open. Then, a whisper
“Amberlynn? Honey, is that you?’
At the sound of her mom’s voice Amberlynn jumped out from her hiding place and leapt into her mother’s arms.
“Mom! You scared me!”
Her mom laughed, she had such a wonderful laugh. So rich and so full. Mom hugged her back tightly. She kissed her hair.
“I found you!” then she pulled away and help her hand to Amberlynn. “Look what else I found honey”.
In her hand was a worn out brown teddy bear. His fur seemed to be darker than it really was because of the dirt, his eyes a soft brown that looked warm even in the shadows. He was small, cute for such a dirty bear.
“Do you like him? He looks like he needs a home”. Mom handed her the bear.
Amberlynn took into her arms. It felt comfortable there. The small bear snuggled with her, as though please to feel some affection at last. “What should we name him, Mommy?”
“Why don’t you name him?”
The little girl looked at the bears face. The eyes smiled back, it whispered its name to her.
“Luke.” Amberlynn said.
“Luke? What a fine name for a bear” Mom took Amberlynn hand in hers and led her out of the darkening woods while Amberlynn clutched Luke to her chest.
Luke. That beloved bear was the strongest link she had to her mother. In a way, Luke was all that was left of her. Dad hid all the pictures, got rid of all moms things, the only thing that had survived was her bear.
Where was he? In panic she looked around her little space but he wasn’t there.
Dad wouldn’t have taken him now, would he? He wouldn’t have used him to draw her out, would he?
She wasn’t certain the answer was no. Fear high in her throat she leaned forward to look out the small crack in the door. She couldn’t see anything. Just a sliver of light. Holding her breath she listened hard for any noise to indicate where Dad was.
Silence. Though that meant little, her dad could still be awake, could still be hunting her.
She waited a few more moments till she could no longer stand it. She had to find Luke. How could she have not grabbed him? She always grabbed him when she went to hide. How could she have left him?
Using her one good eye Amberlynn quietly opened the door and peeked out. Luke wasn’t on the bed. Nor was he on the floor that she could see. Where was he? Being as quite as she could manage she lifted herself off the floor, leaning into a crouch. Still no sign of him. Poor Luke, where was he? Standing all the way up she eased herself out of the closet entering her room. Beams of ruby red sunlight were streaming in from her small window.
Almost night, she thought. Night was the best time for her. Dad had drifted off into his drunken peace, she was free to leave the house as she wished, and night was quite. No shouting, no yelling, the animals quieted down, everything was much more serene. Light shone down to her floor, glistening off a frightened eye peering out from under the bed.
“Luke!” She whispered. Exalted she bent down and snatched up the small bear, crushing him to her chest. In her mind he hugged her back eagerly; happy to be back in her arms once more.
“It’s okay, it’s okay” she crooned “Mommy’s here”. She kissed the top of his head which smelled of lavender and dust. Cuddling Luke she walked to the window and looked out. Street lamps had come on for the night. Their yellowish glow spread pools on the black asphalt leaving cool shadows where their light neglected to reach. Places to hide, places to be found. It was so much easier to hide in the dark. A person could truly exist there. In the light everything was exposed, flaws, pain, anything a person may want to hide comes to light in the day. In the night, in the dark, people could be whoever they wanted to be with none the wiser. No matter who they were in the light, they could become who they truly were, who was on the inside. Like the polar opposites of night and day, a person turned inside out.
Who was she in the night? A brave girl. Or at least that’s what she liked to think. She didn’t fear much outside her home. That thought struck her funny. Most people ran to home for comfort, for love. She had to run away from home even to feel safe. The exposed streets felt more like home then where she really came from. Her home had died and disappeared a long time ago.
Amberlynn closed her eyes against the setting sun. Her home now was in the graveyard next to her mother’s tombstone. Her only comfort was a silent bear and a graying cold headstone that was equally as silent. No matter how she had begged, or cried or even screamed that stubborn tombstone was as quiet as the grave. No help came to aid her when she was bleeding. No help came when she was on the floor, hurting and broken inside. Cold words of comfort came only from her mind. No one to offer advice anymore but her. Luke looked at her with a slightly baleful expression. If a bear could wear such an expression. It made Amberlynn feel small. Fresh tears slipped out of her eyes, treading slowly down her cheeks onto her full lips. She walked to the mirror to assess the damage Dad had done this time.
Amberlynn recoiled against the sight of the girl looking back at her. Her left eye was red, swollen, with a slight blue hue to the edges. There was a bruise on her cheek colored purple and blue already. It was in the shape of her Dads’ hand. Placing her own hand over it she watched how the finger tips fell short of matching up, how much bigger his hand was compared to hers. Shuddering her eyes trailed over the rest of her. Black locks of hair stuck to the light sheen of sweat on her forehead, random tuffs sticking up all over from when he had dragged her. Her bottom lip was cracked and covered in blood having been split open. She looked at her face as a whole. She’d had worse. She was still pale as her mother, she still had her mother’s beautiful deep blue eyes, still had the delicate bone structure that was so like her mother’s. The only part of her father that had made it into the mix of her genetic makeup was her hair. Black as night, thick and soft. It was good she had so much of it. Her dad didn’t like her hair, he always pulled it out when he got angry. She thought it was because every other part of her was so much like her mother that her father wished she looked hundred percent like her. But her mother had had red hair. Beautiful red hair that her mother never cut. It swung down to her hips the day they buried her, though great chunks had been torn out when she…
Amberlynn cut that thought short frightened of where it might take her. She mustn’t think of that now. She had to distract herself. Wrenching herself away the mirror she gently set Luke on the bed, opening the closet doors wider, but this time not too hide, but to dress. Stripping out of her shirt, which she noticed had been torn. Pity, it had been a nice shirt. Throwing it in the trash she reached for a simple black long sleeve one, pulling it over her bruised, aching body. She tried not to wince. A pair of black sweat pants finished the outfit. Dimly she noted that most of her closet was filled with black clothes. It didn’t matter. Black covered the purple, blue and yellow spots that covered her skin, long sleeves and long pants were her common wardrobe. She picked Luke back up who welcomed her back with a soft hug. She was too burnt out to go walking tonight.
Climbing into bed with Luke warped securely in her arms Amberlynn prepared to sleep. But she remembered something. She got up as quickly as her broken body would allow to go check her lock on her door. It was locked as always. But once shed forgotten to lock it, her father had barged in at 3 in the morning and promptly beat her so badly that he caused three broken ribs, a broken arm and multiple bruises to her face arms and legs. It had been one of the worst beatings he had ever given to her. Since then she double checked her lock every night, any time she went to sleep or just when in the house. Feeling slightly better with the door locked Amberlynn crawled back into bed with her bear pressed to her chest. More tears fell from her cheeks to his furry head. But silently they fell. The bears’ soft weight and reassuring presence allowed her to finally drift off into an uneasy sleep.