Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: RESOLUTION (01/07/16)
TITLE: That's A Promise
By Rachel Barrett
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I scoot toward the patchy light spilling through the double glass doors to my left. If I try, I can pretend it makes me warmer. Must be after midnight. I've lost track of how far I've come—walking, trudging, plodding until I couldn't hold my thumb up any longer.
Inside, the night clerk leans on the counter, sparkly fingernails tapping her blue-lit phone screen. Scents of instant coffee and hot dogs drift out past me. Morning, and the bagel I had, was awfully long ago.
Circling the pumps, a flashy hot rod swerves into the front-row spot marked “handicapped”. The blasting radio silences, and two guys jump out. Their leather jackets ward off the blustery weather as they hustle past. Warm air escapes through the swinging doors, along with odors of food that make my stomach want to crawl right out my throat.
In a minute they're back, carrying sodas and snacks for the road. The taller one, flipping away his cigarette, sees me just as the smoldering butt hits my shoe.
He studies me, hard. I duck to cover the bruises and black eye. Stupid. Like anybody cares.
“Tramp,” he says, and slides into his car. Dirty mist showers me as they speed away.
I hug my knees close, teeth chattering. Didn't even think to grab a coat when I ran out of the house. Danny's house.
If I'd waited to get punched again, I wouldn't have gotten away. At least he hasn't followed me. Yet.
“Hey, lady.” The night clerk frowns in the doorway, arms folded. “We're closing. Go home, okay?”
Before I can answer—beg, plead, anything—she huffs back inside. A tumbleweed skitters across the asphalt, spiny and flopping in a puddle.
Maybe if I hide behind the dumpster, she'll think I . . . Oh, give up. It's too cold to stay here. Wet clothes, wet hair, damp concrete chilling through my jeans. But there's nowhere to go. Nothing but oil pads, pumpjacks, and coyotes, for a hundred miles.
I'm too tired to cry, just too tired. Thought I'd be strong enough to leave this time, and mean it. Please, God. I got this far. What now?
The rumble of a pickup intrudes in this lonely night. As fluorescent lights inside flicker dark one by one, it rolls up to the pumps. Horses crowd together in the open stock trailer behind, heads lowered against the billowing wind. The driver hops down and strides toward the doors.
I hide my face. No need to watch. She'll see me, then get that vacant look, blinking everywhere else to act like she doesn't—
I startle into focus. The clerk stands over me. “I said beat it!”
Scrambling, I dodge her glare and run. My knees give out by the pumps, and I stagger against the horse trailer as blinding headlights cut through the parking lot.
He brakes, leaning out the window. “Sue! I've been worried sick about you! Been looking everywhere!” He cracks the door open before I can answer. “Listen, I . . . I'm sorry about this morning. Come home and let's talk about it.”
He's so apologetic. Like he's serious this time.
He'll say the same old words. “I didn't mean it. It won't happen again. That's a promise.”
I waver at his piercing eyes. It's warm in his car. Warm in his arms . . . until I make him angry again.
The driver sloshes around the truck, looking like business in her jean jacket and cowboy boots. I cringe for another barrage from her, just like the clerk. Just like Danny.
She stares at him, then at me. “Sweetie, do you need help?”
Danny waves me over, impatient. All I want is to go home.
Tiny drops patter the truck, running stained-glass rivulets across the decal stamped on the bumper. The words Mesa City Cowboy Church encircle an etched cross shape.
I meet the woman's kind gaze and muster a nod.
“My name's Angie.” She holds out her hand to help me into the front seat.
Danny leaps from his car. “Sue, where the heck are you going?”
His rage can't reach me anymore. The truck door slams between us, and my guardian angel pulls away, leaving his dumbfounded face in the rain.
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