I’ve been running for days. I’m cold, hungry, and tired. There’s a small town up ahead but I don’t have enough money for a hotel. I head to the woods with the small tent I bought at the previous town. If I need to sleep in the woods for a few days, it’s better than where I came from. I came across a beautiful frozen lake. As I walk the perimeter of the lake I find a small hunting cabin. There’s no heat or electricity, but I can make this work until I have enough money to get another bus ticket. This is better than the tent.
Running on my birthday seems to be a pattern in my life. On my 17th birthday, I ran from my dad. He was mad because the house wasn’t cleaned to his standards by the time he came home from work. I had been beaten for less and barely got away. The last time he was displeased with my cleaning, I ended up with a dislocated shoulder. I ran that day and ended up in a foster home. One year later I ran from my foster family. My “brother” thought it would be funny to tie me up and put me in a trunk of a car. I managed to get out and ran again. This time my boyfriend thought it would be fun if him and 5 of his buddies shared me as a birthday party. Rape is not my idea of fun. When I was finally able to get away from them, I ran. I didn’t look back. I’m not even sure what state I’m in. I was living with my boyfriend in a small town west of Dayton, Ohio. I got a ride from a stranger to Indiana where I bought a bus ticket to Illinois. I haven’t stopped walking West. I just want to get as far away from the last three years as I can. I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve what has happened to me, but I don’t want that life. No more. I deserve better.
I managed to grab my “go bag” before I left Ohio. I had a feeling I would need a quick getaway. I’ve been saving my tip money for months, stashing away as much as possible, taking extra shifts when I could. I hid my backpack under a loose board in the closet. When the men were finally asleep I took my chance. The cabin has a cot and a cabinet with a few canned goods. There’s a small charcoal grill on the porch. This isn’t so bad. I found ice fishing gear and decide grilled fish sounds like a perfect meal. I have no idea how to go ice fishing, but it can’t be that hard. I grab the gear and head to the lake.
I find a spot relatively close to the shore and start to drill a hole. The ice auger is manual and it takes me a few minutes to get the hang of it. Once I get the hole made, I bait my hook, lower the rod, and wait. I think back to the last time I went fishing. My grandpa took me. He bought me a barbie fishing rod for Easter and I was so excited to go fishing I begged him to take me that day. I caught my first fish, with his help. He was the best, I can feel the warm tears running down my cold cheeks. He died later that same year, I was 8 years old. I’m dragged from my memories when I feel a tug on my line. Slowly, I reel in my catch. I have no idea what kind of fish this is, but it’s a meal. Its silver skin wiggles on the line and I quickly put it in the bucket. I bait the hook again and lower it back into the hole.
I managed to catch three fish and decide it’s a good start. I grab my gear and head back to the shore. I’m a few steps from the shore when I feel a crack. I stop and listen. I hear another crack. Carefully I throw the gear onto the shore before gingerly taking another step. I feel the ice crack below my foot. I think I can jump to the shore. Slowly I brace myself and bend my knees. I can feel the ice below me giving way and I know I can’t wait any longer. Quickly, I jump and land on my hands and knees in the snow. I made it. Brushing the snow off my hands and legs, I gather my gear and head back to the cabin.
After I ate and I cleaned up the cabin, and myself, to head into town. There’s a little local diner on the main strip. When I walk in I see a sign that says “Seat Yourself”. I take a seat at the counter and cross my fingers they’ll hire me. An older gentleman approaches me with a menu.
“Here you go. I’ll be right back to take your order.” He disappears to the kitchen and I take a quick look at the menu. A guy, a few years older than me, comes over and takes the empty stool beside me. I shift away from him in my seat.
“Hi there.” He says, smiling at me. “I haven’t seen you around here before. You visiting family?” I take a deep breath before turning towards him.
“Hi. I’m staying here for a short while. Just until I get enough money for my next bus ticket.” He furrowed his brow and looked away.
“You know miss, it’s not bad here.” He turns to look at me. “It’s a quiet small town and everyone is pretty accepting. In case you’re looking for a place to settle in.” He shrugs his shoulders and inspects the menu.
“Maybe.” It’s something to think about I guess. The older gentleman returns with pen and paper in hand.
“What can I get for you today miss?” He asks smiling at me.
“Actually I was wondering if you were hiring servers.”
“Yes, we are. We had few kids leave for college and we’re a little short. Do you have any experience?”
“Yes, I do. I was a server for a little over a year at a busy steakhouse before coming here. I also helped out bartending when they were short-handed.”
“There’s a bar a few doors down that might need help too. When can you start?” He asks, putting his pen and paper in his apron pocket.
“I can start right away.” I tell him.
“Great! Can you come back at 4? We can get you started on the dinner rush.”
“I can be here at 4. Thank you so much, sir. I’m Maggie Burns, by the way.” He extends his hand to shake mine.
“Nice to meet you, Maggie. I’m John, I own this place.” He nods to the young man sitting next to me. “This is my nephew and owner of the bar I mentioned. Kane O’Brien.”
“Maggie, it’s nice to meet you. I would love for you to come by the bar. Since you’ll be busy tonight, why don’t you come by tomorrow evening. Say... 5?” He says, smiling.
“I can be there tomorrow at 5. Thank you both. I really appreciate your help.” I get up to leave and I feel a hand on my arm. I pull away quickly and when I turn around I see Kane holding both hands up.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you. I was just curious to know if you have a place to stay. I have an extra room at my house. You’re welcome to it.” Both men are looking at me sympathetically. I probably look a mess. The hunting cabin doesn’t have a mirror or running water. I stopped at a gas station to freshen up before coming to the diner.
“I appreciate the offer. I may take you up on that. For the time being, I’m ok.” I reassure them both. John glances at Kane then back to me.
“I’ll see you later today Maggie.” He disappears back to the kitchen and I head back to the cabin. I know I won’t be able to stay here for long. The owners could come back at any time. I gather my few belongings and put everything back in its place. Then I hear it... footsteps. I look out the dirty cabin window and see Kane. He must have followed me. I grab my things and head outside to talk to him.
“Hi again. Is this your place?” I ask, of course, that would be my luck.
“I guess you could say that. This was my dad’s hunting cabin. I haven’t been here since he died two years ago.” I walk towards him and we head to the lake. “It’s beautiful here, isn’t it? I used to love coming here with my dad. Sometimes my uncle, John, would join us.” Kane closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He opened his eyes and looked at me smiling. “So... want to tell me what or who you’re running from.” I froze in place. “It’s ok, you don’t have to say anything. I know you don’t know me, I just want to help. Come stay at my place. You’ll have a nice warm bed and your own bathroom. It’s right there in town so you can walk to everything.” A warm bed would be a nice change. The cot I’ve been sleeping on isn’t exactly 5-star accommodations.
“Ok, Kane. I’ll take you up on your offer, but I can’t pay you yet.” He holds up his hands.
“No rent required. It will be nice just to have company. I don’t know if you’ve noticed or not, but this town isn’t exactly abuzz with entertainment.” We laugh and I take in the scene in front of us. The snow-covered trees surrounding the frozen lake create a serene environment. I feel like I should whisper so I don’t disturb my surroundings. Kane leans to whisper in my ear.
“Have you been... ice fishing?” I cover my mouth to stop myself from laughing. “You are very resourceful Maggie. Were you successful?” I nod my head.
“You’re lake here was exactly what I needed, when I needed it. I caught 3 fish on my first try at ice fishing. I have one fish left if you’re interested.” I point to the bucket on the front porch.
“Well, we can’t let your hard work go to waste.” Kane grabs the bucket and I walk with him back into town.
His house is enormous. When his parents lived here they ran a bed and breakfast. After they died in a car accident and Kane moved in, he hasn’t done anything with the place.
“Why don’t you open it back up as a B&B? I can help out if you need me to.
“I don’t know. That was my parents thing. Plus, I have the bar.” Kane says, shrugging his shoulders.
“Ok Kane.” I think this place has real potential and wouldn’t need much work to open back up. Maybe If I show him that, he’ll reconsider.