Authors: Geof Johnson
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons (living or dead), events or locations is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2014 by Geof Johnson
Cover Art by Dan Johnson
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages in a review.
Thanks to Valerie Johnson for her helpful suggestions and editing expertise.
Sammi’s breath caught in her throat when she heard the shower faucet handles squeak and the sound of water running in the bathroom. The familiar feeling of dread rushed through her in an unwelcome wave as she thought about what would happen next.
She clicked off the overhead light and dove into the bed, pulled the covers all the way up, and curled into a tight ball, facing away from the door.
Please don’t come in. Please don’t come in. Please don’t come in
. She chanted her desperate nightly prayer in hopes that this time it would work.
The door creaked open and she squeezed her eyes shut.
No, no, no!
Footsteps, and then the edge of the bed sagged when Mr. Gundy sat on it, though he was not a large man. “I’m here, Sweetness,” he said. “Mrs. Gundy’s finally in the shower.”
Sammi cringed when she felt his rough hand pull the covers back and caress her shoulder. She jammed her forearm firmly against her lower body to protect her private parts and pressed her other arm across her chest.
“You’re tighter’n a mouse trap,” he murmured. “And why you still got your regular clothes on?”
“I sleep better with them on,” she said into her pillow.
“Why ain’t you wearin’ that nightgown Mrs. Gundy bought you?”
“It’s dirty,” she lied. She’d hidden it under her bed because she hated it. It was flimsy and smelled like the thrift store.
He wrapped his arm around her and pushed his face against the nape of her neck, his short, scraggly beard scratching her skin while her stomach twisted painfully. His breath reeked of cigarettes and beer, sour and heavy. “Well, no matter,” he said. “I’ll get Mrs. Gundy to wash it tomorrow ’fore she leaves on her trip, then you can wear it. I’ll be stayin’ with you all night, then.”
Not if I can help it
, Sammi thought with grim determination.
They lay in stiff silence until the faucet handles squeaked again and he said, “Damn, she takes short showers.” He let go of her and stood up. “But that’s okay. Tomorrow night she won’t be here, so I can stay as long as I like. That’ll be nice won’t it?”
She didn’t answer, and he growled, “I said,
“Yes sir,” she said forcefully.
“All right, then.” The door creaked again and he paused and said softly, “Night night, Sweetness. I’ll be dreamin’ about you.”
The door closed and Sammi didn’t move for a long time, lying in the gloom, quivering, listening. She could hear just about everything through the thin walls of her tiny bedroom, and she waited until long after the last sound faded before she sat up.
They must be asleep by now
. She had no clock, but guessed that it had to be late, probably after midnight.
She threw back the covers, swung her legs over the edge of the bed, and took a deep breath while she sat there in the darkness, gathering her courage.
. An electric shiver of anticipation raced down her spine, all the way down her legs to her toes.
It’s now or never
She sat on the floor, slipped on her shoes, and pushed one hand under the mattress until she found the Dollar Store flashlight her best friend Libby had given her. Sammi pulled it out, pressed the switch, and a reassuring gleam burst from it. She quickly turned it off and nodded to herself, thenput it into her pants pocket.
She crawled on her hands and knees, quiet as a mouse, to the small closet and felt around in the darkness until she located her backpack, hidden under an old blanket.
If Mr. Gundy found this, he’d know what I was doing. He’d whip me for sure
. She fought the urge to check its contents again — the change of clothes, her toothbrush, a comb, her birth certificate, her social security card — the most important of her few possessions.
She slung the pack over one shoulder and crept across the room to the window. She felt for the latch, flipped it, and gritted her teeth as she eased the window up, slow as an afternoon shadow, so that it wouldn’t make any noise. Once she had it all the way open, she clenched her fists and closed her eyes while she said another silent prayer.
Please, God, let this work. I’ll be good always and forever. I promise
She pulled the flashlight from her pocket and aimed it out of the window. There was no screen, so she had a clear view of the front yard. She tapped the switch twice and blinked at the sudden brightness, then waited, eyes fixed on the far end of the dirt driveway, and saw two response flashes.
she almost said aloud.
She leaned out and eased her backpack to the ground, then cautiously slipped out of the window, flinching as she made the short drop into the thick weeds below.
Hope nobody heard that
. She grabbed her pack and rushed across the yard to the car that waited just beyond.
I guess it’s a good thing that Scruffy is dead
, she thought sadly.
He can’t bark at me and wake everybody up
The back door was already open for her and the motor idling with the headlights off when she reached the car, and she hurried inside. Libby turned from the passenger seat and whispered, “Don’t close the door all the way yet. It’ll make too much noise.”
Sammi set her pack beside her and the car crept away. Behind the steering wheel was Libby’s thirteen-year-old brother, Luke. He looked all grown up in the glow of the dash lights. “I took the bulb out of the inside light,” he said with a nod toward the ceiling. “That way, nobody will see us when the door’s open.”
“Thanks,” Sammi said as the car rolled on. “I’m glad you’re smart.”
“Don’t take no genius to think of that, just common sense, is all.” They reached the end of the rutted dirt road, and Luke switched on the headlights as they pulled onto the asphalt highway. “You can close the door, now, I think.”
Sammi did and sucked in her breath, a tingle of excitement vibrating through her.
I’m going to do it! I’m on my way
“Do you think they heard you?” Libby said.
“No. Mr. Gundy would be coming after us already if he did.”
Libby handed Sammi an envelope. “Here. It’s all the money we could scrape up. It’s just enough for a ticket. Luke checked.”
“One way, though,” Luke added with a glance in his rearview mirror.
Sammi nodded her thanks. “That’s all I need.”
“We’ve been sneakin’ a little at a time from Daddy’s wallet for two months now,” Libby said. “Been savin’ our allowance, too, ever since we first started talkin’ about doin’ this.”
“We’d get our butts beat for sure if he knew.” Luke nodded. “Hope he don’t wake up and see that we took his car. I’d
get a whuppin’ for that.”
Sammi felt a thick lump form in her throat when she thought about what her friends were risking for her. “Thanks,” she managed to say, though it came out more like a croak. “I’ll get your money back to you, I promise.”
Luke shook his head. “Don’t worry about it.”
“No, I mean it. I’ll save up somehow...and...I don’t know...it might take a while. But I will.”
Libby turned in her seat again, and in the dim light, Sammi could see tears in her eyes. “Sammi....” Libby’s lips trembled and her face looked so pitiful. “I’m gonna have to get a new best friend, now.”
“We’re always gonna be friends,” Sammi said firmly and felt her eyes turn wet, too. “I mean it.”
There was long stretch of awkward silence that Luke finally broke. “Make sure you’re buckled up. It’s fifteen miles to Haynesville. That’s the nearest bus station, though the next bus don’t come ’till two-thirty. We’ll get there plenty early, so you’ll probably have to wait around for a while.”
“We’re gonna wait with you,” Libby said.
“No,” Sammi said. “I’ll be fine.”
Luke looked at her in the rearview mirror again, his eyes narrow. “There’s no way we’re lettin’ you wait in the bus station by yourself in the middle of the night. No dang way.”
“But you could get in big trouble.”
“So?” He shrugged. “It’s just a whuppin’. No big deal.”
But it was a big deal. Sammi knew that his father beat him almost as hard as Mr. Gundy beat her, and almost as often.
“We’ve got to stay with you,” Libby said. “Something bad could happen to you otherwise, and then all this would be for nothin’.”
Sammi took a deep breath, trying to think of an argument to talk them out of it, but knew she couldn’t. “You don’t know how much I appreciate this. If it weren’t for you, I’d be stuck with the Gundys forever.”
“No you wouldn’t,” Libby said. “You’d find another way.”
“I doubt it.”
“Quit worrying about it,” Luke said. “Now y’all quit yakkin’ so I can pay attention to my drivin’. Don’t want to get pulled over by a cop.”
“Are you sure you can drive that far?” Sammi said.
“Sure.” He shrugged again. “I’ve driven lots of times.”
Sammi knew that was probably a lie, but he was doing all right so far. They hadn’t swerved into a ditch, at least. She leaned her head back against the seat and repeated her little prayer.
Please let this work
* * *
Rachel turned and faced Lisa’s front door when she heard the doorbell ring. “Should I get it?” Rachel asked, though no one heard her. Lisa, holding an empty bag of Doritos, was sharing a laugh with Adele at the far end of the big table near the kitchen. Jamie, Fred, Rollie, Bryce, and Melanie stood around it, stuffing their faces with potato chips and other snacks that Lisa had put into big bowls.
Jamie and Rollie were playing some kind of game, where Jamie levitated chips with his magic and flew them past Rollie’s face, while Rollie tried to bite them out of mid-air.
Rachel could see Carl, Larry, and Garrett through the back window, standing around the grill on the patio, grinning as if one of them had just told a joke, each of them holding a bottle of beer.
Rachel opened the front door to find her mother standing there with a large container of Tupperware in her hand. “Hi, Mom.”
Evelyn stepped inside and said, “I went to your house first, but no one was home. I saw all the cars over here and knew something was up.”
“We’re having an impromptu last-day-of-school party. We didn’t plan it, it just sorta happened, because the kids ended up over here, and then Carl and Larry got home, and Garrett and —”
“You don’t need to explain. My feelings aren’t hurt.” She offered the rectangular plastic box to Rachel. “I made brownies.”
“I know Rollie will be happy. I’ll put them on the table with the other stuff.”
They approached Jamie and his friends, and Rollie spied the Tupperware and said, “Is that what I think it is?” Evelyn smiled and nodded, and Rollie wagged his head. “Mrs. Wallace, you must have some magical powers, ’cause I think you’re a psychic. I was just wishing for brownies a little while ago.”
“You’re always wishing for brownies,” Jamie said, and all of his friends laughed.
“True. Let’s have one or two, just to make sure they turned out okay.” Rollie winked.
“Aren’t you worried about ruining your appetite?” Evelyn said.
“Is that a real question?” Fred said. “Rollie
has an appetite.”
“Melanie,” Evelyn said, “I saw the old Buick in the driveway. How do you like driving it?”
Melanie’s face lit up and dimples formed on each cheek. “It’s wonderful, Mrs. Wallace, just wonderful. It runs so well and it looks so much nicer than my old piece of junk. Thank you for talking Jamie into selling it to me.”
“I didn’t do anything. I think he was ready for a new car, anyway. Weren’t you, Jamie?”