Authors: Amanda King
-a Novel by Amanda Sue King-
Copyright © 2015 by Amanda Sue King
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All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording, or any other—except for brief quotations in printed reviews and articles, without the prior written consent of the author.
Cover Design by Alexandre Rito of Design Project
Edited by Brilliant Cut Editing
Interior Design and Formatting by Polgarus Studio
Scripture within the text is taken from the King James Version
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, entities, events, incidents, or locales are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any similarity to actual people and/or events is purely coincidental.
To my husband
Dad’s expression spoke volumes—lips pressed tight, eyes narrowed, nostrils flared. He reminded me of a volcano ready to blow.
“Get out, Morgan,” his words spewed forth, thick with venom.
My heartbeat leapt into my throat as I obediently scrambled to leave the bedroom my older sister Marsha and I shared. A wave of nausea rolled over me after I escaped into the hall.
please don’t let Marsha say anything to provoke him further.
The door slammed. Then popped back open, leaving just enough space for me to press my right eye to and scan most of the room.
I heard my sister’s voice, “You want to fight, then you’ll have to fight me like a man.”
Dad’s cursing and threats intensified. Marsha’s voice matched his in volume. Blood raced through my veins. I wanted to run, cover my ears, block out reality, but concern for my seventeen-year-old sister wouldn’t allow it.
I choked down an anguished cry as Marsha landed across the bed. She jumped back up and whirled toward him with her fist clenched. He threw her onto the bed again. The metal end of his belt dangled from his right hand, but Marsha refused to lie and wait for the promised beating. Grabbing her by the hair, Dad tossed her to the floor.
Tears streamed down my face as she used the bedpost to pull herself to her feet. I glanced past her, to my mom. She stood against the wall with her arms folded, the always-present instigator of every act of punishment.
A thud snapped my gaze to Marsha. She rubbed the back of her head, her face contorted.
Dad snatched her off her feet and threw her against the wall. Her legs buckled. She slid down the wall. Then as though finding the most remarkable strength, she pushed herself off the floor and stood in front of him, braced and ready to fight.
She pointed to her face. “Hit me.”
His eyes narrowed, and his jaw jutted out. He gnawed at his lower lip before grabbing a fistful of blouse and shoving her against the wall again.
“Stop it!” A voice screamed. An unfamiliar voice. Mine. I rushed in the room as if thrust by an unknown force. I’d never stood up to my parents, never talked back, and never raised my voice. “Let go of my sister.”
Dad lowered his hands and turned toward me.
With a strength I’d never known, I pushed him away from Marsha.
He fell heavily against the louvered closet doors. They collapsed inward as he lost his balance and landed inside. As if in slow motion, Dad got to his feet. He grabbed me and threw me out of the room. The door banged shut, muffling their screams and scuffles. Pulling my knees to my chest, I tucked my head into my arms and begged, “Please, don’t let him hurt her any more. Please, God, help my sister.”
The door jerked open, and Dad walked past me, Mom close on his heels. I hurried to the room and found Marsha sweating, tugging at her ripped shirt. Shaking all over, I asked, “Are you okay?”
She rattled off a string of profanity then took a deep breath. “No, I’m not okay. But now he knows I’m through being his whipping post. If he ever lays a hand on me again, he’ll have to hit me where it’ll show. Then everybody in this Podunk Mississippi town will see and know about our father, the good deacon. If you’ve got any sense at all, you’ll do the same.”
“I’m not like you,” my voice quivered.
She held me by the shoulders and drew so close a mist of saliva sprinkled my face. “Then you better change, because no one is going to save you—not our big brother, who I’m sure has busied himself doing something in hopes of escaping their wrath. Not even God.”
I never knew what triggered that particular event. My brother, my sister, and I seldom understood what set our parents off. We lived our life waiting, dreading, wondering which one of us would be next. One thing I knew for sure though. My life wasn’t going to get any easier in the coming years.
Bright sunshine streamed through the bedroom window, its warmth welcoming me to the day I’d longed for…prayed for. All was quiet. Too quiet. I lingered in bed and listen. Nothing. Only the constant tick of the bedside clock. Seven thirty. Too early for Mom to have left for work. I tossed the covers, tiptoed to the family room, and checked under the carport. Neither Dad’s truck, nor Mom’s new 1968 Buick, was there. To be sure, I peeked into their bedroom. The bed was made, the light off. They were gone.
Excitement had me swirling in circles into the kitchen, dizzy with happiness. I’d made it. Today meant leaving for college, leaving home with no intention of returning. A new life for me. A life free from abuse. I didn’t know what paths lay ahead, but I welcomed the change.
A car door slammed. My heart raced. It had to be Mom. I ran into my room, tripped over the braided throw rug beside the bed, and bumped against the nightstand. My gaze fell on a burn mark a cigarette etched on the cherry finish when Dad placed it there to free his hands. The wall beside it still showed where he’d slammed a fist, leaving a hole in the Sheetrock. A shiver ran down my spine. Plaster could never repair the damage done.
The side door opened. “Morgan, where are you?” my friend Janet called out.
I spun and headed for the family room, laughing, to greet her. We hugged briefly before I stepped back. “Hey, last night you didn’t say anything about coming over. And why aren’t you in school?”
“I wanted to surprise you, and give you this.” Janet handed me a beautifully wrapped box. “Mom and I made it for you.”
I perched on the couch and tore away the big white bow and pastel wrapping. After discarding the lid, I folded back white tissue paper and held up a stunning black sheath dress and matching jacket. “It’s beautiful. Come help me try it on.” I jumped up and led her down the hall to my room. The dress fit perfectly. Tears trickled down my cheeks as I ran my fingers over the detailed handiwork. “I love it.”
She passed me a Kleenex. “No crying. Not today. This is a happy day for you. Let’s get you packed.”
I took off the dress and placed it in the largest of a three-piece luggage set Gram gave me for graduation. We then began some serious packing.
The phone rang. Janet clutched the blouse she’d been folding to her chest and remained quiet just in case. I swallowed hard and raced to answer before it rang a third time.
“I’ll be home in fifteen minutes. Have everything ready to go.”
I winced at Mom’s agitated tone and turned away from Janet. “Yes, ma’am. I’m almost—”
She hung up.
My high school friends Becky and Mimi Clair were also attending Midway Mississippi Junior college. Two weeks ago, they invited me to ride with them in Mimi’s new car—a graduation gift. Mom refused. She planned on taking me personally.
Janet and I said good-bye without ceremony. We knew my leaving didn’t mean the end of our friendship. “Hey, I’ll call you after I get settled and give you the dorm phone number.” I waved as she drove away.
Five minutes later Mom’s car sped into the driveway. Within minutes, she entered my bedroom, opened all three suitcases, and began going through everything. “You’re not taking all these clothes.” She removed the top layer of dresses and hung them in the closet. “It’s not like you’re leaving for good.”
“But with my band scholarship, a lot of my weekends will be busy.” I’d been chosen as one of five baton twirlers for the college band. But unlike high school, all Midway’s games would be played on Thursday nights. A fact I hoped my mother didn’t remember.
“Busy or not, you will come home, and you can get your clothing as you need it.” She stormed out to dress for the trip.
For the past two years, I worked all winter at a local dollar store and all summer as a lifeguard. I paid for every one of the dresses. Determined more than ever not to return home, I placed each dress back in the luggage. Her footsteps marched toward me through the kitchen. With hands trembling, I snapped the cases shut and set them on the floor.
She swung the door wide. “Get this stuff loaded. This isn’t a holiday for me.”
When all my belongings were in the car, I waited for her in the den, fidgeting with the straps of my purse.
“Get in the car,” Mom demanded as she headed for the carport door.
I followed her.
She hesitated. One hand gripped the doorknob, the other one rested by her side. My steps slowed until I stopped beside her. I’d seen that sly look too many times.
“Was Janet Barnes over here today?”
Before I could answer, she slapped me across the face. “Don’t you lie, I can smell her perfume. You know how I feel about anyone being here while I’m at work.” She raised her hand to slap me again. “Don’t give me that look.”
What look did I have other than fear?
Lord, please let her calm down.
“You know, if it weren’t for those two scholarships and the work program, you wouldn’t be staying in the dorm, young lady. You’d be riding the bus home every day. One mess up and that’s exactly where you’ll find yourself. Do you understand me?”
My throat clogged. I struggled to hold back the tears. “Yes, ma’am.”
Just a few more hours.
Once on campus, we found my dorm and checked in. The place swarmed with girls, their arms loaded with clothes, boxes, and electronics. Laughter, chatter, and blaring music coursed through the lobby, and no one seemed to mind.
“Why don’t you go unpack while I locate your dorm mother.” Mom scanned the vestibule. “She must be around here somewhere.”
What was she up to?
“Go on,” she demanded. “I’ll be up later.”
An attractive, well-dressed lady, my mom kept up with the latest fashions and styled her blonde hair in a popular French twist, like a model from
. She wore a two-karat diamond ring on one hand and a slightly smaller one on the other.
In public, she cultivated her appearance of a good mom as carefully as she selected her clothes. I felt sure all the adults in our hometown thought of her as the perfect mother. Why would the dorm mother be any different?
Mom walked into my room as I hung up the last dress. I held my breath and hoped she wouldn’t check the closet.
Her steel-blue eyes fixed on mine. There wouldn’t be any good-byes. Ours wasn’t an affectionate family. The words
I love you
came from my Gram. Hugs came from her also.
“I spoke with your dorm mother, and I’ll stay in touch with her.” She fired her parting shot. “Any problems and you’ll find yourself back home.” She didn’t wait for a response. She didn’t need one. Outside my door, her heels clicked on the tile floor. All other sounds diminished as her steps echoed in the hallway.
My whole body jolted when the stairway door slammed shut. With trembling legs, I dropped to the bed. Hugging my knees against my chest, I began rocking back and forth in a desperate attempt to calm myself. A steady stream of tears ran down my face, and pure fear ran through my body. Would I ever be free of their suffocating presence? Their punishments? The memories?
Their voices never stilled in the darkest depths of my mind. “You will tell us the truth! We know you had sex.”
The images rolled unchecked—the two of them slapping my face.
Their promises still made my stomach clench. “Next time you’ll end up in the county hospital.”
My father’s shouts, “Sit down. Stand up. When I get through with you, you’ll ask how high.”
The belt. “Put it in your dresser drawer so you don’t forget.”
And the stench of oil and metal. The gun barrel shoved in my face.
“God, please keep me safe.”
I sniffled and tried to force aside the fearful memories. “There.” I placed the last of my personal items on the nightstand and stood back to admire my new home. The only splash of color was the Dutch-doll quilt from my great-aunt. The walls, floor, ceiling, and desk were stark white. Each end of the room mirrored the other. It wasn’t much, but I liked it. This was my safe place for the next three months.