Julie sunk down in her seat, trying to make herself as small and inconspicuous as possible.  She peeped out the window, willing the man who had just stepped out of the terminal door, to turn and face her.  She had to know if it was Derrick or was she just being paranoid.  If it was him, how did he know where she was?  Did money grease some palms at the hospital to tell him where she went and then have her followed?  She knew that he had told her many, many times that she was his property, that he was not going to give her a divorce.  She watched the man talk to the driver, keeping his face from her view.

Finally, he turned to look at the bus before going back inside. Julie let out a huge sigh of relief.  It was not Derrick, just someone that had the same build as he did.  Looking more closely now as he walked away, Julie realized that if she had not panicked and looked at the man closer, she would have known immediately it was not Derrick.  The man who had given her such a fright was dressed in jeans and a tee-shirt, not an outfit Derrick would be caught dead in.  Even at home, Derrick wore nice trousers and a button-down shirt.

Scooting back up in the seat, she glanced across the aisle and caught an older woman looking at her with a quizzical look on her face.  The woman sort of reminded her of her best friend’s grandmother…as tall as she was wide. Grey hair pulled back into a bun with wisps of it sneaking out of the bun to trail down her neck and cheek.  When she had looked over at Julie, her wire-rimmed glasses had slid down and were perched on the edge of her nose.  Julie watched her push them back up and then smiled at her, wrinkles appearing below her eyes when she did so.

She gave her a quick smile back and went back to staring out the window, not wanting to encourage any conversation from anyone.  Julie wanted to remain as nondescript as possible. After another ten minutes and no more passengers boarded the bus, the driver stepped back into the bus.  Once he was settled in the driver’s seat, he shut the door, put the bus in gear, and started to back out of the terminal.

“Welcome ladies and gentlemen.  We are now headed to Tucson, Arizona.  If you are not on the right bus, say so now before we pull out of the terminal,”

Once the bus was out of the terminal and headed for the interstate, Julie let herself relax. I made it away from that bastard. I am on my way to a new life. But then it hit her.  She had no markable skills or job training.  She had gone from being a spoiled princess by her daddy straight into marriage to Derrick.  Julie had never had to work a day in her life.  I am so screwed.  I guess I will have to bullshit my way into a job and hope I can catch on before they notice I lied and fire me.  Well, time enough to think about that later, as she looped her arm through her backpack and leaned her head against the window.  She closed her eyes and drifted off into a restless sleep.

Julie was awakened suddenly when the bus hit a rough patch of road and her head thumped against the window.  She sat up, rubbing the side of her head, her eyes trying to focus.  At first, a wave of panic rolled over her as she thought she was back with Derrick and waking up from a beating.  Blinking her eyes rapidly Julie managed to get her thoughts together, her breathing evening out when she realized where she was.  Looking around, she noticed that same older woman glancing over at her with a slight smile on her face. Not wanting to appear rude, Julie smiled back.

Leaning toward Julie, the older woman said, “My name is Emily.  Is everything okay?  You looked a bit confused.”

“Yes, everything is fine,” she assured her, hoping that was the end of the conversation, but it was not.

“May I ask where you are heading?” Emily asked.  “I am heading home to Tucson, where my sons live.  I have been here in Maine visiting my daughter and new granddaughter.  Her husband is a commercial fisherman,”

Realizing that she was not going to get out of the conversation without being rude, Julie politely asked, “How old is your granddaughter?”

“Abby is two weeks old,” Emily told her.  “I hated to leave but it is the start of the busy season and I needed to get home.  My sons own a dude ranch.   I help with the office work.  I keep telling them they need to hire someone to do that so I can enjoy my retirement,”

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“I can imagine it was hard leaving her,” Julie agreed, wondering why Emily did not fly instead of taking the bus but was too polite to ask.

“So, where are you headed?” Emily asked again.  “Off to college or on vacation?”

Thinking a minute, Julie said, “I am heading off to college but first visiting some friends in Tucson,”

“What are you studying?”

Julie fought the urge to roll her eyes and tell Emily to quit being so nosy, that it was none of her business.  “I am studying psychology,”

“That is nice,”

Before Emily could ask any more questions, the bus driver said, “Ten-minute rest stop,”

When the bus stopped in front of a small convenience store, Emily stood up and made her way to the front of the bus.  Julie decided that she would pretend to be napping when the bus rolled out to get Emily to quit being so nosy.

As the bus pulled out, Julie felt someone invading her space and a voice say, “I have been in your shoes,”

Julie sat up, wondering if her mind was playing tricks on her.  She looked across the aisle, watching Emily pull knitting from the bag on the seat beside her.

No, it is a figment of my imagination.  A sweet little old lady like her could never have been in my shoes. I need to relax and put all of this out of my mind.  I am free, or as free as I can be, of Derrick.  He is not going to control or beat me ever again.

As she pulled her backpack onto her lap to grab a candy bar out of it, Emily took the opportunity to slip into the seat beside her.  “What is your name child?  Who are you running from?”

Julie’s head snapped around; the candy bar forgotten.  “La…Julie and I am not a child nor am I running from anything.”

Ignoring what she said about not running from anything, Emily reached out and took Julie’s hand in hers, saying, “I was twenty-two when I left my abusive boyfriend with three-year-old twins and a one-year-old daughter. I had a small suitcase with a few outfits for all of us and three hundred dollars to my name.  Believe me, it was hard crossing country with three little ones and trying to remain anonymous so he couldn’t track us.  It all started when I was eighteen and pregnant, so we moved in together.  I could handle him beating me, so I stayed because I thought the kids needed a father but when his rage turned to the kids, I left during one of his road trips.”

Julie turned in her seat, looking at her, never in her wildest dreams thinking Emily had been in her shoes, but how did Emily know what she had gone through otherwise.

“Why do you think I am running from someone abusive?” she asked curiously.

“I saw the way you ducked down and peeped out the window as if there was someone you didn’t want to see you.  I think you also changed your identity and are not quite used to it yet because you almost said another name,” Emily explained.  “Am I right?”

Julie wanted to say no, that she was wrong but then another part of her wanted to say yes. She wanted someone to talk to that had done what she was doing.  Yes, there were the women at the shelter and the counselors, but they were not changing identities and running.  Emily sat quietly, letting her come to her own conclusions if she wanted to share or not.

Finally, Julie lowered her head and mumbled, “I am running away from an abusive husband who almost killed me and left me for dead in the ER parking lot.”

**********

DERRICK

Two days after he had dumped her broken and beaten body in the ER parking lot, Derrick decided it was time to play the worried and devoted husband and filed a missing person’s report on Lacy.  He also started to make the rounds of the different hospitals, showing her picture, and asking if anyone had been admitted that looked like her.  To his surprise, the hospital where he dumped her did not have any records of her being brought in.  There was no Jane Doe’s in the morgue either when he checked. With each passing day, he became more and more frustrated.

Derrick paced around the living room, a glass of whiskey in one hand and the phone clenched in the other.  He had just gotten off the phone with the police and there was still no progress on finding Lacy. Two months since he dropped her in the parking lot of the ER with no ID.  It was like she had vanished into thin air.

Inept police.  They couldn’t find their ass if it was in their hands.  This is not a big town so someone should have seen her or know something. Guess I am going to have to find her myself.  Time to get a private detective involved.

Where are you, Lacy?  I know that damn hospital has done something to erase the fact that you were there, but I cannot call them a liar without giving myself away.  I will find you, Lacy.  You are mine until death do us part…and next time it will be death. You won’t get off so lucky next time.  I will leave your body where no one will ever find it.  I can promise you this, as he threw the glass against the wall, glass falling over the floor, whiskey running down the wall as it shattered into pieces.   I just wish that was your body I had thrown against the wall instead of a glass of fine whiskey.  That was a waste of good whiskey, but you wouldn’t be a waste.

“Maria!” he bellowed for the housekeeper.  “There is a mess in here that you need to clean up.  Hurry up before it stains the wall,”

“Yes sir,” she answered timidly as she brought in a damp cloth, broom, and dustpan.  She had heard the glass hit the wall, which was not the first time he had done it, so she knew immediately what she had to clean up.

Derrick sat down in a wing-back leather chair, watching the way Maria’s ass looked and wiggled as she bent over to wipe up the wall. Although she was a bit curvier than he like them, he loved her ass and could only imagine how her breasts, which he figured was about a 38, would feel in his hands.  His mind went into overdrive as he pictured himself taking her from behind, her long braid wrapped tightly around his hand, as he pulled her head back until Maria thought her neck would snap.

He could start to feel the stirrings in his trousers.  He had not had sex since he took his wife’s unconscious, battered body two months ago.  For a man of forty-two years of age, he had an unusually high sex drive and the need for sex was almost unbearable.  His erection pushed against the front of his trousers.  Then and there he decided he was going to have Maria…with or without her permission.

“Are you a virgin Maria?”

Maria felt her face growing hot at his personal question.  She did not want to answer him as she felt it was none of his business, so she continued to work, pretending she had not heard him.  Suddenly she felt a hand on her butt, caressing it.  Maria quickly stood up and moved away from him.

“It is all clean sir,” she told him as she made her way to the kitchen, his maniacal laughter following her.

Once Maria was in the kitchen away from Derrick’s lustful gaze and roaming hands, she sunk down on the kitchen chair, sighing deeply.  That lecherous bastard.  I feel so dirty.  Looking up at the ceiling, Maria thought, I don’t know where you are Lacy, but I hope it is not in a ditch somewhere.  I wanted to help you that night but was too scared to. I still hear your screams sometimes in my dreams.  Although I am working on getting my citizenship, I am still considered illegal and did not want to be deported.  I can only hope you understand.  I saw him carrying you out of the house when he hollered for me to clean up the mess he had made.  I was so scared, especially when he came back alone.

Maria wiped her eyes and put the cleaning supplies away and made her way to her room, making sure to not only lock the door but to barricade a chair under the knob.  She knew that it was time to start looking for another job.  If he tried anything, she knew she would not be strong enough to fight him off.  Maria also knew no one would believe her if she did report it.

**********

JULIE

As she quietly sat there pouring her heart out to Emily, tears streaming down her face, Julie felt like a weight was being lifted off her chest.  The entire time, Emily just sat there, holding her hand and listening. Although she was a battered wife, Emily had not suffered as badly as Julie had.  At least she was not thrown into an ER parking lot like yesterday’s trash.

Thank goodness he was decent enough to drop her there and not in a ditch on a country road,Emily thought.

“You poor child,” Emily said softly.  “But you are a survivor, and you had enough sense to get out and not go back to him thank goodness.”

Julie looked up at Emily with tear-filled eyes, then glanced around the almost empty bus to see if any of the other passengers appeared to be listening to their conversation even though she had kept her voice low.  She was debating whether to tell Emily her real name but then decided against it.  The fewer people who knew her real identity the better.

“Thank you for listening,” Julie said, digging some tissues out of her backpack to wipe her eyes and nose.  “I am just so scared he will find me.  He always said that he would never let me go,”

“You did the smart thing changing your identity and I assume your looks,”

“I did both,”

“I will let you get some rest, and I will return to my knitting.  I am making a blanket for my granddaughter but if you want to talk, just let me know,”

“I will, and thanks again,”

Once Emily moved back to her seat, Julie turned her head, staring out at the passing countryside. She had never been out of Maine and was looking forward to seeing the scenery change.  Soon her eyes became heavy, so she leaned her head against the window and drifted off into a light sleep.

Hearing Julie’s story brought memories rushing back like a runaway freight train…memories that Emily had pushed far back in her mind and did not want to ever revisit. Even her children did not know of all the horrors she had been through before she ran.  Thankfully, the children’s father had died three years after she had left him.

She decided that when Julie woke up, she would share her whole story, something that she had never shared with anyone else.  Emily hoped that it would help give Julie strength in her journey.

After what seemed like only minutes, but had been a couple of hours, she felt someone lightly shaking her shoulder.  Julie immediately sat up, her body in fight or flight mode, her heart beating rapidly.

“Sorry,” Emily apologized, realizing that she had been wrong to touch her.  “There is a thirty-minute supper break and thought you might want to get something to eat,”

“Ah thanks, but I am fine,”

“My treat and don’t say no.  If you do, you will hurt my feelings,”

Julie smiled and followed her off the bus into a small café.  After a good supper, they got back on the bus.  Emily sat down beside Julie, asking, “May I share my story with you? I think it will help you see that you can do this and be free to make a new life for yourself?”

Julie nodded her head, waiting for Emily to start.

When I left my boyfriend forty years ago, there was no one to help me as I was an orphan. I know now that is why I latched onto Phil, my ex, and stayed with him because I just wanted someone to love me.  Maybe he did love me and the children, but he showed it all in the wrong ways. I know now that I should have left him the minute he hit me when I told him I was pregnant, but he promised not to do it again. He kept his word until the twins were a few months old and had the colic.

They seemed to cry all the time, which got on his nerves.  That was the time he knocked me down the steps with one of the twins in my arms.  Soon after that he quit his warehouse job and went to work as a truck driver.  As much as I hate to admit it, my daughter was a product of rape.  I had twins and did not want any more children at that time, but Phil did.  He had the misconception if I were pregnant or had little ones to take care of, I would not have time to run around and cheat on him when he was on the road.

The twins were not quite two when my daughter was born.  Phil wanted to give her up for adoption because he didn’t want girls, all he wanted was boys.  He told me I could keep her but if she became too whiney, he was going to drop her off in front of the hospital.  When he would come in off the road after two weeks, all he wanted was peace and quiet but with three children under the age of three, it was hard to keep them quiet, especially my daughter.  I think she sensed that Phil did not like her because she was good until he walked in the door.

The final straw came when he knocked the highchair over with one of the twins in it because he was making a mess with his food.  Luckily, I was fast enough to catch the highchair before it hit the floor, but that night Phil beat me because he said I was not being strict enough with the twins. He also told me that the next time he was home, my daughter was going to be disposed of.

When he left the next day to go on the road, I packed a bag, took the grocery money, and left.  When he got back off the road and found me gone, he went immediately to the bus terminal because he knew I did not have enough money to fly anywhere.  Someone at the ticket counter remembered me, or rather a woman with three little ones.

Phil bought a ticket and at every stop, he asked if anyone had seen us.  He had also quit his trucking job.  Finally, he found us, and he would come around, threatening me and the children.  He threatened to kidnap the twins because I was making pansies out of them, but I could keep her.

I took a protective order out, but it was nothing but a piece of paper. I even told the police about the kidnapping threats but until he attempted to do so, they were just hearsay threats. Phil even broke into the house late one night and attempted to rape me, but the neighbors heard me screaming and called the police.  I pressed charges and he spent two months in jail.

As a result of going to jail, he lost the job he had taken to be near us so when he got out of jail, he came back, broke in, and beat me for costing his job. This time he was smart and put duct tape over my mouth so I could not scream.  After that, he disappeared.  I found out a year later that he was dead.  The police in Arkansas had contacted me about what to do with his body. They found a piece of paper in his wallet listing me as next of kin with my phone number and address.

Apparently, he had gotten drunk and drove off a bridge.  At the time, the twins were five and my daughter was three.  It was not easy being there for your children and trying to work but we made it.  I met a nice man when I was thirty and when we married five years later, he adopted my children.  I lost him a year ago.  He was the one who owned the dude ranch, and it was left to my children when he died.

When Emily finished her story, both women had tears in their eyes and hugged each other.

“If I can do it with three small children, you can do it, Julie.  Keep reminding yourself that you are a strong woman,” Emily told her.

They hugged once more and then Emily moved back to her seat.  Julie sat there, staring out at the darkness, her mind going in many different directions.  All her thoughts kept coming back to one point.  That if Emily could make a new life for herself with three little ones, then so could she.  Now the next big question was where to get off the bus and begin her new journey.

I used to dabble in the kitchen and help Maria sometimes so maybe I can get a job as a cook in a fast-food place.  I also played host to dinners for my father and then for Derrick so maybe a hostess job. I know with my weight gain I could not be a stripper but then I am not sure I want to take my clothes off and have men ogling me.  The thought of her working as a stripper and what Derrick would think if that was her new profession made her giggle.

Fighting back a yawn, Julie put her backpack down for a pillow and attempted to curl up on the seat. It was not very comfortable but was better than her head bouncing against the window.  Tomorrow is another day so I will worry about where I am going then.  During the night, Julie could feel the bus stopping several times and the sound of other passengers getting on and off.

She was dragged out of a fitful sleep when the bus pulled into a terminal and the lights from it lit up the entire bus.  Julie slowly sat up and stretched the kinks out of her limbs. Looking across the aisle, she noticed that Emily was not sitting across from her.

Damn, she must have gotten off at one of the nighttime stops and I didn’t even have the chance to properly thank her for her kindness. In her befuddled state of mind, Julie forgot that Emily had said she was going to Tucson.  She watched some of the other passengers getting off the bus and then more got on. She heard the door to the small bathroom open.

“Good morning,” a familiar voice said.  “How are you feeling?”

Turning her head, Julie saw Emily settling into her seat.  “Good morning.  I am doing good. I thought you had gotten off the bus in the middle of the night since I didn’t see you there.  I was feeling bad I had not properly thanked you for yesterday,”

“It was nothing but sharing my story, which I have never done before, even with my children. If it helped, that is all the thanks I need,” Emily said.  “And we still have a little over a day and a half before we reach our destination, unless you are getting off sooner,”

“No, still heading to Tucson,” Julie assured her as she got up and went into the small bathroom.

Emily sat there, deep in thought.  I wonder if my boys would be interested in helping her out and giving her a job on the dude ranch?  The question is, what type of skills does she have, if any?  Not sure if she grew up like me or with a silver spoon in her mouth and pampered all the time.  I guess the best thing to do is think about it before I say anything.  Maybe I will call the boys and run my idea past them but then I may have to reveal my past to them so they can understand why I want to help her.  That is something I should do in person, not over the phone.  Well, I still have some time to think on it.

**********

DERRICK

When he awoke the next morning, his first thought was on finding Lacy.  He did not like the fact that she had disappeared from under his thumb.  Should not have taken her to the ER parking lot and dumped her.  I should have left her body on the floor because she would have been awake the next morning and I would not be going through this shit.  Hell, she always bounced back before without an ER visit, completely forgetting the time that he had broken her arm.  At that time, he had placated her by dropping her off at the ER.

“Maria, I need my coffee now!” he yelled sitting down on the couch.

A few minutes later she brought him his coffee, placing it on the coffee table in front of him.

“Anything for breakfast?” she asked, making sure she stayed in front of the coffee table, away from his roaming hands.

Derrick smirked at her, asking, “What are you offering my little Mexican sunflower?”

Trying not to blush as she caught his meaning, Maria said, “I can make you eggs and bacon or sausage, and toast,”

Derrick laughed, saying, “And you for dessert?”

“No sir,” Maria told him, anger tinging her voice.

He just laughed and motioned for her to leave while he picked up the phone.  Taking a card from his shirt pocket, he made a call.

“Good morning, Linstrom and Associates,” a soft voice with a southern twang to it said.

“Put Jackson on the phone now.  I don’t have all day,” he barked.

“I am sorry, but Mr. Linstrom is out of the office and will be in later this afternoon.  Can I take a message?”

“Tell him to get his ass over to Derrick Hatfield’s house as soon as he gets in,” as he slammed the phone down.

Derrick grabbed his cup of coffee and disappeared into his study, figuring to do some work at home while he waited for Jackson to arrive. He had called the office three times and got the same answer that he would be in later that afternoon.  It was now three o’clock and he still was not here. As he grabbed his phone to call the office again, he heard the doorbell peal.  Derrick stomped out of the study, almost colliding with Maria as she was rushing to answer the door before she got yelled at.

“Get the hell back into the kitchen where you belong,” he snapped.

She quickly turned on her heel and fled back to the kitchen to put on a fresh pot of coffee in case they wanted some.

Derrick threw open the door and said, “About time you got here.”

Jackson was a man in his sixties, bald head with a white goatee and eyes the color of dark chocolate.  He was used to Derrick’s anger outbursts so he just walked inside, not saying a word. Jackson had been their attorney since he and Lacy’s father had started the company.  He was the one that had investigated Derrick’s allegations of possible embezzlement by Lacy’s father after the books had been audited at the end of the year.  He was also the one that found out about the gambling issue.

“Now, what is the problem Derrick?” he asked calmly, taking a seat in the wingback chair, his briefcase beside him as he took a handkerchief from his pocket, wiping the sweat from his bald head.  “Damn hot out there today,”

“Glad you finally found time for me.” Derrick said angrily.  “I have an emergency on my hands,”

Jackson sat there calmly, waiting for Derrick to continue, figuring that what he considered an emergency probably wasn’t to other people.

Walking over to the mantle over the fireplace, Derrick grabbed a picture, taking it over to Jackson. “She left me after our Memorial Day picnic, and I want you to find her.  I have filed a missing person’s report, but that inept police department have not done anything to find her. I even checked all the hospitals and the morgue. Nothing,” as he finally handed Jackson the picture of Lacy.