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Authors: Kelly Mooney

Beautiful Innocence

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Beautiful Innocence

by Kelly Mooney

Copyright 2014 by Kelly Mooney

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any form or by any means electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval systems, without prior written permission of the author except where permitted by law. This book is a work of fiction, and any resemblance to any person living, or dead, any place, events, or occurrences is purely coincidental. The characters and story lines are created from the author’s imagination.

To all the readers out there that asked me to write Josh’s story. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. Y’all are the best!

Table of Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Epilogue

Acknowledgments

Chapter 1

AVA

“Where to?”

Tucking the loose strand of hair behind my ear, I step up to the counter, my insides tied in knots. With a shaky hand I grasp the cash that I’d counted out so I wouldn’t be caught without enough money. “One ticket to Charleston, please?” I hand over the cost of riding on a Greyhound to escape this sad ass town. When the clerk pushed a ticket toward me, I study it for several seconds, my ticket to freedom¸ a single piece of paper, barely the size of a bookmark, and hopefully a better life. Anything would be better than the way we’ve been living, or I guess I should say how I’ve been living. I glimpse all around, making sure that I haven’t been followed, before squinting back up to the lady with a nametag that reads Wendy. She looks like a Wendy.

“Hopefully the weather is nice and warm down there. This winter has been too long.”

Hesitant, I smile back, unsure of why she decides all of a sudden to talk to me. I start to wonder if she knows me, Roger, David or Alex. No, I shake it off, she can’t. I’m four towns over and hopeful that David hasn’t come out of his long nap yet to find me gone.

“Yes, thank you. I’m sure it will be.” A huge part of me can’t believe I’m finally going down there. I’ve heard all my life about it and how my mother’s big sister lives down south and how great it would be for all of us to be a family again. She disappeared one day, didn’t even return from work, and left me under the protection of boyfriend number six and his horribly mean son Alex and his best friend David, all monsters for the last four weeks. My mother left me with monsters. I have no idea where she went or if she’s ever coming back, but from the note she sent me, it doesn’t look good. But somehow I forced myself to keep that faith those weeks she was gone. Keeping that belief alive is really hard when the one person I trusted abandoned me in a time of need. But, she promised, so I hung on.

I hurry over to the rows of blue chairs nailed down to the floor and drop onto a seat. I pull the small bag of peanuts I bought from the vending machine when I arrived and shake them into my mouth. I am absolutely starving and these are barely making a difference to the rumbling in my stomach. “Oh, shut up,” I mumble to my belly.

An hour later, someone announces my bus is loading and I high-tail it onto my ride. Seeing that the back two rows are unoccupied, I hurry until I sink into the blue and grey cushioned back seat, clutching my backpack and breathing a sigh of relief. My heart hammers inside my chest as people load onto the bus. One by one I take in every face to be certain he isn’t tailing me. I am really doing it, escaping, instead of just hoping to find the strength. I found the strength.

The bus roars to life just as I close my eyes, welcoming the thought of the unknown. At least I’ll be safe. Alex, David and Roger will never find me. Charleston is a special secret only my mom and I share. Not one of them knows about where my mom grew up and her sister who lives down there. I can start over. Feeling safe, and thinking of having a family I close my eyes.

The fuzzy voice of a man on a loud speaker stirs me awake. “Welcome to Charleston. The weather is currently sixty-five degrees and it’s approximately eleven thirty p.m. local time. Thank you for choosing Greyhound. We hope you enjoyed the ride. Have a pleasant stay.”

The dim overhead dimmers provide enough light until the doors of the bus open, instantly they change from a darkened tone to a bright hue. I rub my eyes and watch as the bus comes to life with passengers grabbing their belongings to make their way off. I patiently wait, tying my hair up into a ponytail, until everyone clears. The bus driver smiles, but he looks tired and ragged as I approach. He tips his hat. “Thank you so much for the ride. It was very smooth for a bus.”

He chuckles. “You’re very welcome, sweetheart.”

People mill about gathering their luggage from the storage area underneath, but everything that I own is stowed in my backpack. I throw it over my one shoulder and head for the line of cabs waiting by the curb.

“Where to?”

I shoot off the last known address of my mother’s sister, whom I’ve never met, but heard of many times when I was younger. My mother was only nineteen when she had me, same as I am now. She left her home a long time ago, never to look back. But I am changing all that. I’ve never had a family and it’s time for me to have one. It always bothered me that we didn’t escape south sooner, but mom barely made enough to feed us and shelter us without the help of a man, so men always took priority over her happiness.

It’s after midnight by the time we pull up in front of a bar. A bar? They’re a few cars parked out front on the graveled lot and a neon sign blinking every few seconds that lets patrons know it’s indeed open. “Are you sure this is the right address?”

‘Yes, ma’am. Are you sure I can’t take you somewhere else?”

“Oh, no, it’s okay. My aunt lives here, I think,” I mumble the last part.

He huffs out what I owe. I pay him his ridiculous charge to drive me maybe fifteen miles and thank him. When I tally the money left in my bag, I swallow hard. I only have seventy-five dollars left to my name. It’s just going to have to do. Standing in the parking lot, I hoist my bag back onto my shoulder and straighten. I can do this. I repeat that mantra all the way to the front door before swinging it open.

Stepping inside, I glance all around, taking in my surroundings, looking for an escape route if I need one. Music blasts from a retro jukebox in a corner, but no one is dancing. A few scruffy looking men are playing pool off to the side, while two girls lean against the scarred wooden bar. Four very loud, very drunk boys are shooting darts. I take a few deep breaths before making my way slowly to the bar. A rather nice looking guy pours a few beers and hands them off to the girls sitting. I clear my throat to get his attention.

When he looks up at me with a raised eyebrow, I know he doesn’t think I belong here. “I.D?”

“Oh. No.” I shake my head. “I’m not here to drink. I’m looking for Angela Scott.”

“She ain’t here.”

“Oh,” I whisper. My bag slides from my shoulder to the floor as I huff and take a seat.

“Darlin’, as cute as you are, unless you provide some sort of identification you can’t sit there.” He’s washing glasses but keeping his eyes on me.

“Do you know where I can find her? Her number…anything at all?”

He studies me for a solid minute. “What do you want Angie for?”

I lick my suddenly parched lips, thinking I should just tell him and be done with it, because I am not in the mood to play games. “She’s my Aunt. I’ve kind of come a long way. She doesn’t know I’m coming.” Or, possibly, that I even exist, but I leave that part out.

He sighs and throws the bar rag over his shoulder before placing a glass of soda in front of me. “Stay here. I’ll try to reach her for you.” He disappears behind a door marked office, but sticks his head out two minutes later. “What’s your name?” he yells out.

“Ava. Ava Barry. My mom and Angela are sisters.”

He looks shocked, but doesn’t say anything. He shuts the door behind him.

I suck down the entire soda and start to nibble on the ice as I wait for him to reemerge. When he finally does step back out, he approaches the two girls at the other end first and gives them a refill before they even ask. He looks up as he comes closer. “You want the bad news or the good news first?”

Well, that doesn’t sound positive. He grimaces as he eyes me, and leans down on the bar, coming real close to my face, so close I can see the stubble growing on his chin and the pores on his nose.

I instantly sit back as his eyes roam over my face like he’s taking every single thing about me in.

“Um, give the good first, I guess.” I am so tired and desperately in need of a good shower right now that I don’t care and don’t want any bad news to come my way. All the bad is behind me. At least I hope it is.

“You can stay the night in the back office on the cot. It’s late and I convinced her you’re not some criminal or something. If you don’t feel comfortable you are more than welcome to come home with me, but that probably isn’t a good idea since I find you rather cute.”

“And the bad?” I ask uncomfortably.

He refills my soda and sighs. “She says she doesn’t have any niece named Ava, at least any she knows of. And I quote,” he makes little air quotes, rolling his eyes. “I haven’t seen my deadbeat loser sister in over twenty years, so who knows. Give her the cot.”

I should be thankful for the warm room and somewhere to sleep, but it doesn’t stop the tears from coming.

“Hey, none of that now.” He places his big, strong hand over mine and squeezes it. “I’m a sucker for a woman and tears,” he mumbles.

I pull my hand away and swipe them with the back of my hand.

“She’ll be in tomorrow...first thing. She won’t say no to that face of yours, trust me.” He looks back at the office door. “Why don’t you go on in and make yourself comfortable for the night. You’ll be safe in there, I promise. I’ll make sure everything is locked up tight tonight. You have my word, Ava.”

I think back to my measly seventy-five bucks and nod. I’m out of options. “Thanks.”

“No problem.”

I start to walk, but turn when I realize how rude I’m being. “I didn’t catch your name.”

“Sam. My name’s Sam.”

I smile at his kindness. “Thanks, Sam.”

When he stares into my eyes I see a flash of pity or maybe something else, but I’m too tired to figure it all out right now.

“You’re very welcome.”

After I open the door, the small office comes into view. There is one metal desk and a beat up chair off to the side. I can barely see the top of the desk it’s so covered in paperwork and old mugs full of something that looks like sludge. Is sleeping here such a good idea? Then I look to the back and notice a cot with a nice blanket, a hand-made one from the looks of it, folded on top of a fluffy pillow. A small bathroom has a lacy curtain as a door that I guess is an attempt to provide some sort of privacy. I can do this. It’s only for one night. After the past month I’ve had, I can manage one damn night.
Tomorrow she’ll take me under her wing, provide me a nice home, and warm meals and a chance to wait for my mom to find me, for all of us to start over and become the family I’ve been yearning for.

For the first time in two years I feel safe as I lie under that hand made blanket, like if I wrap it around tight enough it’ll swallow me up, and allow me to hide from the bad. I finally close my eyes and drift off to the jukebox playing in the bar and remembering the sweet smile of Sam, wondering how old he is and if he can help me with my problem.

The screech of a chair on the floor startles me so much that I jump up. A woman in her mid-forties or so is staring at me. I can see my own mother in her eyes. I smile with relief.

“Well, I’ll be,” she says adding another mug of coffee to her collection on the desk. It smells so good, that I inwardly sigh, hoping she’ll offer me some. “You must be Ava Barry.” She doesn’t offer her hand or that cup of coffee. Instead, she slumps into her chair and crosses her arms and begins to study me from head to toe.

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