Author's note: WARNING
Contains mature content. May be disturbing to some readers.
Jolene held the newspaper in her shaking hands, and read the circled ad again:
Room/Board/ small $ for
#8877 Marble Sands
Apply in person
She patted her swollen cheek as her eyes traveled towards Nash —a drunken lump of a man napping on the couch. Jolene twisted the engagement ring off her finger. Quickly gathering her bag of clothes, stash of money and identification —she ran out of the house.
Jolene tried to push away fear as she bought her ticket and boarded the bus.
Every noise made her nerves vibrate—in every face she saw him.
Two hours later, Jolene exited the bus, crossed the street to a police car sitting at the curb and blurted in the window, “Do you know where 'Ruth's Place' is?”
“Moss Mountain,” said the police officer. “Come along. I'm going there now to drop off three bags of wool, if you can believe it.” He grinned.
“I'm Rod Hart. Ruth's my aunt,” he said, looking at Jolene from the rear-view-mirror. “She's crusty on the outside, as folks say, but pudding in the middle. You'll see.”
Jolene nodded and stared out the window.
“Show me your hands,” said Ruth by way of introduction.
“Pfffft. Soft as butter,” she sniffed. “What kind of work have you done?”
“I did book-keeping for my .....” she let the sentence fall. “But, I did grow up on a farm.”
“Take your sunglasses off.”
The woman studied Jolene for a minute, then nodded.
Following Ruth into the farmhouse, Jolene noted the bold lettering on the back of her t-shirt. “Don't grow a wishbone where your backbone oughta be.”
“This is your room,” Ruth gestured. Soft breezes blew open the eyelet curtains and ruffled the pages of the open bible on the nightstand. A billowy blanket covered the bed and a shepherd dog stretched out right on top. “That's Velvet, and in the corner there, is her husband, Flint,” Ruth said matter-of-factly.
Over the weeks, the two women fell into an easy rhythm working side-by-side. One afternoon when Jolene was bringing in some produce from the garden, Ruth handed her a container of meat scraps. Shaking her thumb towards the door she said, “Git goin'. Take that down to the new mother,” she beamed. Jolene ran to the barn to see Velvet and her litter of pups. She entered the barn and walked towards the pen, smiling at the sight of the doughy fur balls.
Jolene spun around, fear gripping her. “Nash!”
He stood, leaning against the wall and threw her marked newspaper on the barn floor. “Here's something else you forgot.” He held up the engagement ring. “Time to come home, Baby.” His words felt oily and suffocating. “Never again! You're a hard-hearted, hateful man, Nash!”
He laughed. Swaggering towards her—“Come on, Baby ...you know you're soft enough for the both of us.”
Panic roared through Jolene and she bolted for the door, screaming —trying to be heard above Velvet's barking.
"Shut-Up!" Nash grabbed her by the pony tail, yanking hard. “Where do you think you're going, you little tramp?” He threw her to the floor. “You got a boyfriend in town? Huh?” He was on top of her, pressing his mouth hard on hers, and ripping at her blouse. Jolene grimaced...turning away from his hot breath of beer and smoke...pushing and struggling with both legs pinned underneath him.
“Get off of me!” she sobbed.
“Get off of her or I'll shoot your cotton-filled head clean off your shoulders!” It was Ruth —rifle held high against her shoulder —aimed and ready.
Nash froze. Jolene rolled over to the corner, sucking in air.
“Honey?” Ruth's voice shook. “The police are on their way, dear. Shhhh.”
Eight Months Later
Ruth stood beside Jolene in the kitchen, tapping the front page of the newspaper.
“That scoundrel got ten years, thanks to your brave testimony."
“And look at this.” She took one of Jolene's hands and massaged it.
“Tough as cow hide!” Ruth chuckled.
But Jolene wasn't listening. She was looking out the window —a soft glow of pink on her cheeks. Ruth followed her gaze to Rod... standing on the patio with a bouquet of autumn leaves —and a large leather bible.
Ruth smiled tenderly. “Well. Get your behind in here, Rod!” she bellowed.
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