Isabel pulled her four year old daughter tightly to her side as the bus bounced down the narrow road.
Elia snuggled closer, whimpering in her sleep. Isabel hated what their past had done to her baby girl. The nightmares that terrorized the child, as well as her overwhelming fear of men, were just some of the reasons Isabel knew she had done the right thing in leaving.
She had to protect her daughter first and foremost, and she had to protect herself.
Isabel sighed running her fingers through her long greasy and tangled chestnut brown hair. She looked at her reflection in the window flinching away from the stranger staring back at her.
The sun peeked over the edge of the long expanse of desert making her reflection as clear as a mirror would be. Bruised and starved, the shadow of a lady looked back with dead, terrified green eyes. Her fair skin contradicted severely with the black bags under her eyes and the four long thin bruises that stretched across her neck.
Swallowing hard she could still feel the fingers as they squeezed tighter, cutting off her air supply. She reached up wincing slightly as she ran her hand over the marks.
“Mommy, where are we going?” Elia yawned, rubbing the sleep out of her vibrant green eyes.
She had long dark blonde hair that was pulled tightly back into two french braids. Her fair skin was accented by the pink flush in her rounded cheeks.
Isabel reached down brushing her daughter's cheek. “I don’t know yet baby, somewhere beautiful.”
When Elia woke up again, her mom was picking her up and carrying her out into the brisk night air.
“Mommy it’s cold.” She shivered as Isabel took a long shaky breath. “And I’m hungry.”
Isabel set Elia down on the bus stop bench before shrugging off her jacket and wrapping it around her daughter.
“Here baby.” Elia accepted the peanut butter crackers with a frown, but she wanted to make her mom happy so she ate the stale crackers slowly.
She missed good food and a real bed, but she never wanted to go back home. The mixed emotions confused the little girl.
Isabel counted her money frowning, then sighed deeply. Fifty-two dollars and thirty-five cents.
“Well first things first mommy needs a job.” Isabel smiled trying to hide her fear from the child.
She looked around trying to get a lay of the land. They were on a bench at a bus stop in downtown Las Angeles California in the middle of January. It was chilly, which conflicted with the palm trees but the sun was starting to rise and she knew it would get warmer.
Across the street was a small strip mall with a dollar store. She reached up tracing the bruises across her neck again and she realized she had to cover them.
Isabel reached down taking Elias' hand leading her across the busy street and into the store.
As they walked down the makeup aisle Isabel grabbed a foundation that she hoped wouldn’t look too bad against her unnaturally pale skin.
“Mommy! Look it’s a doggy, can we get one please?” Elia bounced up and down holding the stuffed dog she had found on the end cap.
“I’m sorry baby, I can’t afford anything extra right now…” Isabel hung her head looking as beaten and defeated as she felt.
She eyed the snacks. She hadn’t eaten since the morning before and her stomach ached. She had to take care of Elia first though and she had been hungrier, it wasn’t anything new.
“Let's go job hunting, okay baby?” Isabel forced a smile.
Elia nodded and sadly laid the toy back down before following her mother up to the register.
They walked up and down the streets of downtown LA all day. They stopped anywhere there was a help wanted sign or a daycare, but got turned away again and again.
As the sun set over the valley Isabel felt more hopeless than ever as she carried her sleeping daughter down the street.
Finally, she stopped at another bus stop and alone in a strange town she cried herself to sleep.
Just down the street Susan tucked her bleach blonde hair behind her ear and sighed into the telephone.
“Mark having to take a week off isn’t all that bad. You have PTO, they just want you to use it.”
She rolled her eyes pulling a hair brush through Melody’s long brown hair.
“What am I supposed to do with a week off? I love my job and don’t understand why I can’t just do it.” Mark grumbled into the phone.
Susan loved her older brother but sometimes he made no sense to her.
“Oh I don’t know, how about you help out with the restaurant, you know it’s as much yours as it is mine, more so actually. Since it was your dads.”
She could see him in her mind brushing his shaggy black hair out of his eyes as he always did when he was stressed.
“Mommy, that hurts.” Melody whined.
“It wouldn’t if you would stop moving.” Susan sighed. “Come on Mark I know you love your job but it’s not like it’s the only thing in your life. I would kill to have somebody give me even just the night off from everything.”
“I could pick up Melody for the night, you and Dalton can have a date night if you want.” Mark offered.
“Another night for sure, it’s actually her bed time now.” Susan said, smiling.
“Mom!” Melody whined.
“Tomorrow you have a father daughter date. You need your sleep.”
“Okay well tell my princess that I love her.” Mark said, sounding much happier now. “I’ll plan on spending next week with both of you.”
“We look forward to it.” Susan smiled.
Mark hung up the phone, he had one more thing he had to do before he could take the time off his boss wanted. It was late though and it would have to wait until tomorrow.