As soon as my cousin Brad begins to help Momma with her coat I excuse myself to go to my bedroom.
Homework, I say and try to smile. Brad gives me a cold stare, one which says everything he wants me to know.
I understand that look. My stomach convulses with the thought. I slip into my room and shut the door. With my back to the wall, I gulp in breaths to keep myself from vomiting.
Move. Now, before Momma leaves.
Shivering, I tiptoe on rubbery legs to my window and tug at it. The frame slides upward with a shuddering sound. I grate my teeth at the noise.
Please, God, don’t let him hear.
I swing one leg over the sill into the dusk-filled yard. Squeezing my body through the window, I drop to the ground in a crouch. I scan my surroundings before hurrying along the wall of the house to the crawlspace under the lattice skirting of the deck.
I scurry mouse-like into the recesses of the crawlspace. Spider webs catch at my hair and shroud my face. I hug my legs to my chest and listen to the sounds around me.
Lord, if you love me, don’t let him find me. Please.
A few days before, Momma told me she would be cleaning up after a late night reception at the hotel. As usual, Brad would be called to stay and babysit. I begged her to let me stay alone. She would not listen.
But then, what could I tell her? What Brad did in the hours we were left alone did not leave any marks. At least none on my body.
That changed the last time he babysat. He told me we were going to play a new game, something which would make the experience less frightening for me. He called it the Choking Game. As the thick noose tightened around my neck, black spots danced around the hallway. I clawed at the rope and stared wide-eyed at Brad until the black spots completely filled in and hid him from my sight.
When I woke, I was sweaty and sticky. Just like all the other times, I clutched a blanket around me and padded to the bathroom. This time there were marks. A line of bruises circled my throat.
“Our secret, okay,” he murmured in my ear as he came into the room behind me and wrapped one arm around my waist. “Wear a turtleneck. No one will be the wiser.”
The next time Brad was asked to babysit, I knew I might die. I devised this escape plan a few days later.
I huddle in the chilled dark, breathing in odors of cat urine and mold. From inside the house I hear knocking and Brad’s voice. The floorboards creak above my head. The footsteps fade away. Seconds later, a door slams. I shudder.
The crawlspace is darker than I thought it would be. A tentative squeak sounds close by and I bite my tongue to prevent fright from exploding from my mouth. I hate mice but I dread the evil which stalks me even more.
I force myself to keep my eyes open, not to squeeze them tightly shut in fear.
A verse learned in church comes unbidden to my memory: I will lift up my eyes to the hills___From whence comes my help? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
From the periphery of my vision, tiny yellow eyes gleam at me.
My help comes . . .
“Sharon.” His calls get louder. He has paused somewhere near. Does he sense where I am? I coil myself into a tight little ball.
. . . from the Lord.
Every muscle in my body tightens as a shadow crosses the crawlspace opening. The words resound in my head, my heart. I know what I must do.
“There you are.”
I glare at Brad and my lips move. When my voice catches up, I am surprised at the authority it possesses.
“This will end now.”
He flinches backward, then surges forward, arms outstretched. His face is a mask of rage.
“You will never touch me again.”
Desperation replaces rage. Brad’s eyes widen when he finds his pudgy frame wedged tightly in the opening with no wiggle room.
I settle back to wait for my mother, to show her my bruises. My words are a whisper.
“You will never touch me again.”
Psalm 121: 1-2 (NKJV)
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