Authors: Sarah Dosher
Before he could regain his footing, I balled up my fist and squared a right hook to the side of his face. He stumbled back several paces, but immediately came back at me with a straight punch. He misjudged the distance between us and his jab didn’t connect. I blocked his left hand with my right and threw a jab over his arm to the center of his face. His head whipped back as blood began to spill from his nose and he stepped toward me, attempting to swing at me again, but stumbled to the ground instead. I grabbed him by his hair, forcing him to look at me. “Give it up old man, you can’t win this fight.” I let go of his hair and his head fell as I backed away from him.
“I will kill you, you worthless piece of shit! I don’t know who you think you’re dealing with, but you will pay for ever stepping foot back in this town. Why don’t you just leave before anything bad happens,” he said between heavy breaths.
I grabbed him again by the face, forcing his eyes back to mine. “I’m not going anywhere and you won’t run me away. I’ll be here every day if I have to. You will
hit Lily again, are we clear?”
He pushed my hand away and slowly stood. He put both hands on my chest to push me away, but I refused to move. Instead I leaned closer into him, staring right into his eyes. What I saw was a man filled with anger and determination; it sent chills up my spine. I realized he wasn’t just a bully, he was intent on inflicting pain on anyone that came near him.
“Just stop! Both of you, stop!” I heard Lily shout as she walked closer to us. “You aren’t solving anything.” She placed her hand on my arm and tried to push me away from her father.
I turned to look at her. “Lily, how can you say that? I saw what he did to you! What else has he done? I can’t just pretend I don’t know about it.”
“Dean, just leave. I’m fine, go. You’ll only make things worse. I don’t want your help. You don’t belong here.” She turned and disappeared through the door leading into the house. That time her father let her leave, so I willingly moved away from him.
“Don’t you ever touch her again, do you hear me? If I hear that you’ve laid a hand on her, I will come back and I will stop you.”
“Get back in your truck and leave. You won’t change anything here. You heard her yourself, she doesn’t want your help,” he said before walking away.
I went back to my truck feeling completely defeated. Even though I’d just won the fight, I’d obviously lost the battle, but I wasn’t even sure what the battle was. What had happened? Does he hit her all the time? Obviously Michael had changed. I didn’t remember him as a loving man, but I also didn’t remember him ever hitting Easton or Lily.
I knew I had hurt Lily, but I didn’t expect her words to be so harsh. I was only trying to help her, to stop her from being physically hurt. Why would she say she doesn’t want my help?
The sun set hours ago, but I was still sitting in front of Lily’s house. I couldn’t leave. I couldn’t drive away and leave her in that house with him. I knew I should have been doing something, but I didn’t know what the right action was so I just sat and waited. Her father left not long ago; he drove right past my truck and never even looked at me. I effectively suppressed the urge to flip him off.
I decided to get out of my truck and go to the house to try and talk to her, if she was willing to listen. I approached the side door of the house where we had been earlier today and could hear Lily talking.
“Where were you today, hmm?” She paused, but I couldn’t hear a reply. “So you’re not even going to try and come up with an excuse?” Who was she talking to? I prayed it wasn’t some guy. Oh hell, what if it was her boyfriend?
“So did you see Dean finally showed up? Yeah, I was surprised too. No, I don’t know what he’s doing here.” I peeked around the corner of the house so I could see her without being seen. She wasn’t on the phone and I didn’t see anyone with her. She stood up from the porch steps and walked toward a red-tailed hawk sitting on the fence straight across from her. The hawk didn’t fly away; it just sat there, staring at her like it understood every word she was saying. I tried to move closer, but tripped and fell from my hiding spot out into the open.
“Who’s there?” I heard Lily shout as the hawk shrieked, then landed right in front of me. “Adley? If that’s you, quit playing. You scared me and Red.”
I watched as the hawk looked me over, then quickly flew back to the fence post. “No, Lily. It’s me, Dean. Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you. I heard you and came over here to talk.”
“Dean? What are you doing here? I told you to go home.”
“Yeah, I know you did, but I couldn’t leave. I’m sorry if you don’t want me here, but I’ve already left you once and I’m not doing it again, especially after what I saw this afternoon.” I tried to move closer, but the hawk started flapping its wings.
“No, it’s okay,” Lily said to the hawk as she held her hands up trying to calm it. The hawk stopped flapping its wings and looked at me with what I swore was a pissed off expression. “Dean, I don’t know what to say. I never expected you to come back here and truthfully, I don’t want your help. You had your chance four years ago and you chose to screw me over…twice. Please, just leave.”
I let out a long, shaky breath, trying to find the courage to tell her my true feelings. “I know. I can’t begin to tell you how sorry I am, but I can tell you I’m not going to give up this time. I love you, Sunflower, and I’m not going anywhere, no matter how long it takes. I’m here,” I promised her.
“Dean, none of this was meant for you,” she said, gesturing to her house then back to herself. “Don’t interfere with what’s already been set in motion and can’t be stopped.”
“Why not? You don’t deserve this. No one deserves to live like this, especially someone that’s already lost so much. Why do you stay here when you could just leave? You’re eighteen now, Lily. Why don’t you get away from him? Hell, move in with Violet if you have to.” I moved toward her, but she held up her hands to stop me.
“This is my home. I’ll leave when I’m ready, but not until after graduation. Things aren’t as bad as you think. Most days I don’t even see him. Today is the first day I’ve seen him face to face since before I turned eighteen, five months ago.”
“Is it ever worse than what I saw today? Does he abuse you a lot?” I saw her slightly flinch at the word.
“Dean, this isn’t your business. I’m fine. See, look.” She turned in a circle putting herself on display. “No marks, no bodily harm. So leave it alone, now!”
“You don’t deserve to be hurt anymore, not even a little.”
“You’re wrong, Dean. You don’t know what I deserve-”
I cut her off quickly. “There are many things in this world I don’t know, but I’m positive you don’t deserve to be hit or tormented by someone that’s supposed to protect you.” She looked to the ground and shook her head. “You think you deserve this, don’t you? You think you somehow deserve this fate. What happened to you, Lily? You know better than this.”
When she looked up I saw the tears streaking her perfect skin, but there was only anger in her eyes. “Today is the first time you’ve seen me in four years. You don’t have a clue what I deserve, so don’t you dare fool yourself into thinking that you do. You dealt with your loss by abandoning people who loved you and we all got hurt, so don’t you dare judge the way I cope with my even bigger loss. I don’t know what you expected or who you think you are to me anymore, but you have no rights here so just do us all a favor and leave!”
I didn’t know what I could possibly say to make things better, so I retreated to my truck and pulled away.
But this time I had no intention of leaving her for long.
Morning came too soon. Sleep wasn’t an easy task last night. Even when I could sleep my dreams were haunted by my father and Dean- dreams that were flashes of my father’s abuse then quickly switched to images of Dean leaving me at Easton’s funeral. I’d wake up panting, covered in sweat, and then they’d start again the minute I fell back asleep. I finally gave up and decided that staring at my cracked ceiling was a less traumatic experience.
I was forced to drag myself out of bed and hurriedly get ready for my first day back at school. Christmas break might have been merry for my fellow classmates, but it was nothing but one long weekend for me. There were no celebrations or activities to mark it as anything special.
My physical appearance accurately portrayed how I felt on the inside, and it wasn’t a pretty sight. At least my less than cheerful attitude had always made me invisible to everyone I encountered on a regular basis. This was actually a benefit and meant there were less people to judge the hand life had dealt me, which is why I liked my solitude.
My first stop each and every morning was to pick up Adley. She was the only human I voluntarily talked to most days and luckily she was willing to talk enough for the both of us. Adley had been living with Violet since the summer. She was a product of the foster care system and had lost track of her family years ago. Although her childhood before she went into foster care sounded pretty traumatic, she didn’t appear to have issues discussing it with anyone willing to listen. Her past was something I could easily relate to which is why I think we seemed to fit together. We had a shared knowledge of loss and abandonment.
I arrived at Violet’s house and I couldn’t stop myself from looking for a vehicle that could be Dean’s, but I didn’t see anything other than Violet’s 1990-something Buick LaSabre, otherwise known as “The Old Lady Car”. Violet was generous enough to loan me her Chevy Impala when I turned sixteen in exchange for taking her to the grocery store once a week and occasionally joining her for dinner. I knew this was her attempt at keeping tabs on me and I was okay with that arrangement. Now that Adley was here Violet didn’t need me to function as her driver, but it was an arrangement that we’d both grown to appreciate.
I honked and Adley came bouncing out of the house dressed in her puffy, hot pink coat. She was never without pink somewhere on her body. I, on the other hand, was not a pink person.
“Hey, Ms. Night-Of-The-Living-Dead. You stay out drinking and partying all night or what?” she asked, as if she didn’t already know I barely left the house.
“No, I just didn’t sleep well. And it’s nice to see your smiling face today too, Adley,” I replied dryly.
“Well you could have at least tried to cover that luggage you’re carrying under your beautiful, blue eyes and added some color to your wardrobe choice.” She cleverly added an innocent smile to her insult.
“Why does it matter? I’m going to school to help check off the days until I can leave this place, not to impress anyone. I’m sorry I don’t share your love of pink.”
“At least my wardrobe includes more than varying shades of black. Plus, don’t tell me you aren’t planning to rub your hot self in Dean’s face today and make him see what he’s been missing?” I gave her my best ‘you better back off’ glare, but she just laughed. “I live with a woman that knows more about your business than you do. So trust me, I know all about you and Dean, even if you’re never willing to share it with me.” She placed her hand over her heart and pushed her mouth out into her best pout.
I rolled my eyes at her. “Why would I see Dean today? And even if I did, there’s no history between us. Our history was erased four years ago and there will be no future for you to worry your nosy ass with,” I snapped at my one and only friend.
She turned her head to try and hide her face as her smile widened. “Oh, I understand. But you know, Dean’s going to be at our school for the rest of the school year doing something for college.”