The howling wind banged the storm shelter door against its frame jolting Belle awake with her heart pounding. As creepy and dark as the storm shelter was, it was a palace next to where she had come from. Oh, it wasn’t the living conditions she was escaping from; she had been very comfortable. No, what she couldn’t take any longer was the abuse from her mother’s latest husband.
The scrawny little twelve-year old pulled the fragmented curtain up over her shoulders she used for a blanket. She formed the book bag of clothes she had escaped with into a make-shift pillow. Some day she was going to live in a real house again but where people didn’t hurt her.
Up until Hank had arrived on the scene, it was just Belle and her mother. They did everything together from packing Belle’s school lunch to making nightly dinners. Her mother was a great cook and had taught Belle to appreciate every aspect of a meal. Belle set a table that would please the likes of kings and queens.
Belle’s frail mother had also taught her daughter to savor the taste of her food. She always told Belle the first thing about cooking was to learn to not only please the palate, but to please the eye.
“If you don’t have a pleasin’ dish to look at, it ain’t gonna taste as good,” Belle’s mother would say. Belle anxiously waited to help her mother cook her next creation; scrubbing vegetables, peeling potatoes, even doing the dishes was okay by Belle, just so long as she could learn. She stored those creations and memories into her memory bank so she could one day re-live those days with her mother.
Belle shook her head to get those memories out of her head. Yes, she was hungry and the thought of her mama’s cooking was torture. But her anger toward her mother was stronger than her need for food. Why hadn’t she protected her from the monster she called a husband?
Hank had crept into Belle’s bedroom since she was ten years old. Three days before when he came into her room she had refused to do as he asked. He kicked her in the back with such force that it still hurt. That was the day she started planning her escape.
As she lay on the cold foundation of the storm cellar, she set out a plan for the next morning. When she had left the house, she knew Hank would be looking for her. She remembered the storm shelter in the old Lambert home. Anything was better than her bedroom which held nothing but bad memories. She hated even entering the room she and her mother had so lovingly decorated in her favorite color…pink. Now she despised the color and the room because of what it represented.
She noticed a ray of sunlight coming from a crack in the storm cellar door. It was time to make her move. She gathered her book bag full of clothes and she followed the sunlight to the outside.
Belle devised a course that would keep her away from the route her step-dad took to work. The steep hill up to the main road would become her demise if she wasn’t careful. As she readied her eyes for the brightness of a new day, she made her way out of the shelter.
It took Belle some time to maneuver the hill. With each cautious step, she watched for the familiar car with her step-dad behind the wheel. Each time a car passed, she hid until finally, she climbed the last few feet.
Belle had passed the Fire Station across the street for years while walking to school. But today, it had a different look. She checked both directions and when there was a clear path, she made a beeline across the busy road directly to the Fire Station.
Belle ran up the flight of stairs. She instinctively knew that behind that door would be someone to help her. As she stood there with heart pounding, the aroma of food cooking brought instant memories of her mother’s kitchen. ‘Enough,’ she thought. Suddenly, the steel door flung open with great force.
Without thinking and in almost a whisper, the frightened little girl said… “I’m here to tell on my daddy.” Belle could tell by the kindness in the firefighter’s face that she had come to the right place… she felt safe for the first time in two years.
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