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TITLE: Beauty for Ashes Ch5
By Michelle Massaro

The narrator is no longer John, but the new character I am introducing here. Please be hard on me. Thank you!
CH 5

I jumped in my sleep at the sound of the front door rattling. Holding my breath, I strained to listen closer. The clock on the wall said it was just after two a.m.

“Dang keys!” I heard Robert mumbling angrily, trying to open the front door. I let out my breath- it wasn’t a crazed thief. I sat up and rubbed my eyes.

Robert stumbled in, leaving the door open. When he noticed me, he stopped and rolled his eyes before plopping onto the sofa. He reeked of booze.

Again? I thought.

“Hey” I said flatly.

“Hey, is there any dinner left?” He didn’t even look at me.

“There’s lasagna in the fridge… I’m going back to bed.”

“Something the matter?” Robert demanded. He stood and stared at me defiantly, as if he expected me to lay into him about the late nights and the booze the way I often did.

“I’m not doing this tonight, Robert.”

“Oh, of course you aren’t ‘doing this tonight Robert’” he mocked. “You’re too high and mighty for me and my low-life ways, is that it? And now you can’t be bothered to waste your breath on me right? Why don’t you just come out and say what you’re gonna say April!”

I felt my cheeks grow hot and my heartbeat grow stronger. I narrowed my eyes and took a deep breath trying to control my emotions. I really did not want to fight. He was too drunk to carry on a rational conversation anyway. “There’s nothing to say. I’m just going to go to bed.”

“You mean you’re not going to tell me what a loser I am? How “immature” it is for me to stay out late like this? I know you’re mad so you can stop pretending you don’t care. Either that or go heat me up some dinner.”

“Make it yourself!” I shot back before I could stop myself. I couldn’t stand the way he spoke to me when he was drunk. I knew this meant a fight but I couldn’t listen to him talk to me like that.

“Oh, so you ARE mad?”

I felt the words form in my mouth before my mind had time to stop them- “Fine! Yes, I’m mad. OK? I hate it when I have to go to bed not knowing where you are. I hate the stench of alcohol you carry on you all the time now. I hate the way you’re looking at me and talking to me right now. I hate nights like these and sometimes I think I hate you!”

Anger flashed in his eyes and immediately I wished I’d kept quiet. “Is that right? Well what are you gonna do about it? Are you going to threaten to leave? Are you going to tell me to ‘get help’? Please, spare me.”

“No. I- I’m just tired.” I crossed the room and closed the front door. When I turned back toward the bedroom, Robert grabbed my wrist, pulled me toward him, and leaned up from the couch to kiss me. I kissed him and smiled sweetly before innocently pulling my arm away and heading back toward the bedroom.

“Where are you going?” he said sharply.

“I told you, I’m really tired. I have to work tomorrow so I’m gonna go to bed. I’ll see you in the morning.” I didn’t want to argue, I was tired of all the drama lately and just wanted to end the conversation.

Robert looked me up and down suspiciously and my heartbeat quickened. I felt a mixture of dread and indignation at the way he eyed me.

“Well, I’m starving. The least you could do is heat me up some dinner.” He demanded.

I must have rolled my eyes or something because he stood up then and said, “Hey, I don’t ask for much from you! I work hard and I take care of you and you can’t even make me something to eat? What good are you? I swear sometimes I don’t know why I’m even with you. I deserve a lot better, April. A lot better.”

I knew he was drunk but the words stung. I headed into the kitchen while Robert took a seat at the dining table. I took the lasagna out of the fridge and got down a clean plate from the cupboard. I cut a large piece and started the microwave.

“Do you have to make so much noise in there?” Robert bellowed. My trepidation grew. I was getting familiar with his moods, and I knew that I had to be careful tonight or else I’d set him off. I wasn’t in the mood to fight. I removed the warmed food from the microwave and quietly pulled a fork from the drawer, trying not to rattle the silverware. Walking into the dining room, I placed the food on the table in front of Robert.

“Here, Robbie. Do you want something to drink?”

“What do you think?” he asked sarcastically. “Ya know April, you are so lucky I stick around. No one else would put up with you.” He said through mouthfuls of lasagna. I returned with a glass of milk from the fridge. “I mean, seriously, look at you.” He shook his head. I sat down at the table with him, knowing enough not to leave the room while he was speaking.

“You gotta admit you’re pretty pathetic. You’re not even that good lookin’. I could do a whole lot better, I’m sure you know that. You know that, right?” He looked straight at me, waiting for an answer.

“Yeah,” I whispered, “sure.”

I knew that he’d apologize in the morning once he’d slept it off. He would feel terrible and take it all back. Then he might even spend the whole day showering me with attention. And I would pretend that I was okay. I wouldn’t let him know that even though I loved him, even though I might forgive him, the pain of his words never left me. But oh, there were times when I wanted to really lay into him when he got like this. Times when I wanted to say that he was the lucky one, not me. That he was the one acting pathetic. Tonight was one of those times and I had to bite my tongue to keep myself quiet. Robert was making it especially difficult to do; he seemed to be itching for a fight. He eyed me suspiciously as he ate, looking for some sign that I was angry, upset, or defiant- something he could pounce on.

He leveled an icy glare at me as he spoke his next words. “What are you thinking? You think I don’t mean it?”

Tears stung my eyes. Hurt and angry tears mixed together.

“Oh lord, are you CRYING? You’re going to stoop to that now? You’re trying to make me feel guilty?”

“No! I want you to just shut up for once! If you’re going to do this to yourself, could you at least leave me out of it? When you’re plastered like this it’s you who is pathetic!”

Robert’s hand came down hard on the table.

“Watch it April!” he hollered at me.

“I try to be patient and understanding, Robert, but you act like such a jerk sometimes.”

Without warning, he reached up and slapped me across the face. “Shut up!” he shouted, lifting a finger in front of my face.

My hand flew up to my cheek, my eyes wide. I opened my mouth to speak, but there were no words.

My cheek stung. I was shocked. Robert had never hit me before. He’d come home saying the meanest things I’d ever heard, but he’d never raised a hand to me. I should have let it go. I shouldn’t have escalated things further. But instead, my temper got control of me and I pulled my hand back to slap him in return. He caught me by the wrist. He held on tight and laughed. Then he narrowed his eyes and glared at me. “Don’t even try April.” He was mocking me and that infuriated me more.

I tried to wrench my hand away but he had a firm grip on my wrist. He stood up from the table, tipping his chair over in the process, and pulling me up with him. He had both my wrists now and pushed me up against the living room wall. Uncertainty played across my fluttering heart. What was he doing? I glanced around the room searching for help. There was a vase on the other side of the room if I could get to it. But my wrists were pinned against the wall above my head and he was squeezing hard. I winced as he brought his face down to mine.

“Don’t you know that you can’t do anything to me?” He moved his head and whispered in my ear, “You’re powerless, April. You’re nothing. I only keep you around for one reason.” He brought his lips to the nape of my neck.

Instinct took over then, and I used my knee to hit him as hard I could. He let go and stumbled back a few steps.

“You’re a jerk, Robert.” I said, glad the whole thing was over. His experiment in physical intimidation was ended.

He was dumbfounded for a moment- a deer caught in the headlights. But then he erupted, like a volcano. He spewed the most vile names at me, the most hideous hurtful things. He grabbed his plate from the table and threw it at me, cursing. I ducked to avoid it and it crashed into the wall behind me. Then he flew at me, with complete and total rage in his eyes. And for the first time, I was truly terrified.

He rammed me and shoved me to the ground. He kicked me in the stomach and I curled around myself. I couldn’t suck in enough air. I gasped and tried to pull myself up but then he was on top of me. He used his fists on my face and I raised my arms as cover. We struggled on the floor as I tried to get away but it was no use. I was crying now, certain that he meant to actually kill me.

“Robert, please!” I screamed. “Stop! Don’t do this!” but he wouldn’t listen. He was hitting me upside the head with his fists while I tried in vain to find shelter behind my arms. He grew frustrated with my flailing and grabbed my wrists pinning them down above me. At least it kept his hands busy so he couldn’t hit me anymore. He squeezed my wrists so tight that my hands started to tingle. I was helpless there. He didn’t mind my crying.

He was breathing hard, staring down at me. Then something changed in his expression and he got off of me abruptly.

“Get up” he said.

On shaky limbs I scrambled to my feet, feeling every bruise. I tasted blood in my mouth, and I was sure I had a cracked rib. Robert was still agitated but I kept silent.

“Come on.” He said, pulling me toward the bedroom. “Sit.” He thrust me onto the bed. I didn’t know what to do. I was scared. My heart was beating out an unfamiliar rhythm but I sat stone-still, staring down at my hands. He sat down next to me on the edge of the bed and roughly tilted my chin up to study my face. Then he pressed his lips into mine and kissed me hard. When I tried to resist, he pulled me closer and kissed me even more intently. “Knock it off, April. Don’t fight me.” He said. So I didn’t.

An hour later, with Robert passed out on the bed, I began throwing clothes into a suitcase. I swiped furiously at the hot tears on my cheeks. I was not going to be a statistic. I took the cash from his wallet and tiptoed out of the apartment. I was breathing fast, terrified what would happen if he caught me. The bedroom window was right above the car-port. I got in my car and closed my eyes as I turned the key, afraid the sound would wake him. But it didn’t. I drove slowly out the apartment complex gates and then full speed toward the highway.

I didn’t know where I was going but I knew I wouldn’t be back. Nobody could know where I was. The first chance I got I would have to buy one of those pre-paid phones and ditch my Motorola before it could be traced. I didn’t have a lot of money, but it was enough. It would have to be.
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