Leigh sat in front of the long glass window, staring blankly at her dim reflection. Her eyes roamed from her dead eyes to the empty space behind the window. The row of chairs beside her was not full, but there were people lingering, pressing black phones to their ears as they spoke to someone behind the glass. Leigh sat patiently, awaiting the face she dreaded seeing after so long.
Had it truly been three years already? She had hoped it would be longer than that. Yet here she sat in the last place she should have been, waiting with sweating palms and a raging headache.
It didn’t take long for the guards to appear with a figure in tow, jumpsuit stained with dirt. When the woman sat down she stared at Leigh for an eternity, the same dead eyes watching her reactions too. As if mirroring one another they both reached for the black phones chorded to the walls separating their conversations with other inmates. Leigh could hear the clicking of the cuffs around the woman’s wrists when she pressed the phone to her ear.
“Leigh,” the woman in orange breathed. She seemed relieved, a feeling Leigh herself couldn’t share.
Her lips parted and she let out a long sigh. “Mum.”
The woman’s shaky lips cracked when she smiled. Leigh wished she had brought chapstick. Perhaps it would do the old woman some good. Then she remembered the glass wall separating them and mentally berated herself. The woman was in prison, and she doubted they allowed people from outside the barbed wire to bring in something as meaningless as chapstick.
“I thought you’d stay away,” she said. “I’m glad you didn’t.”
“I nearly did,” Leigh mumbled, looking away from her mother. Her eyes lacked any form of shame in her words. “I told you not to call.”
Her mother’s smile faltered, and she worried her lip between her teeth. That would explain the cracking at least. Any nervous habit would be amplified by a thousand in a place like this. Perhaps the prison would allow just one stick of chapstick for the woman, just to help with the habit.
Leigh shook her head and leaned away from the glass. “Why did you call, mum?”
The woman didn’t answer, giving Leigh the opportunity to scrutinize her appearance. Tired, she decided, was the best way to describe the scrawny woman before her. Her cheek bones looked like sharp ledges under her hollow eyes, her body hardly fitting into the baggy material of her jumpsuit. If Leigh didn’t know any better she would have though they were starving her. But it was something else.
The lack of food wouldn't account for the ratted mess tied at the nape of her neck nor would it explain the bruises she could spot on her arms. Leigh rubbed at her own smooth ponytail in hopes of reminding herself she wasn't looking in the mirror.
Nearly fourteen years of running had worn her mother out far sooner than it had caught up to Leigh.
"He found you, didn't he?" she whispered.
The old woman's eyes widened and darted to glance at the guards behind her. This was confirmation enough for Leigh, and she leaned closer so her breath fogged the glass.
"Look at me," she hissed into the receiver.
The woman did so, and Leigh blinked at the fear hiding behind the storm like eyes. They used to look so much alike at one time, but she knew she would never allow her eyes to become so void of anything resembling feeling.
This wasn't a good idea. She knew that now.
“I shouldn’t have come,” she murmured, making to hang up the phone.
"Wait!" her mother shouted, and the delay in her actions was enough for her to blurt out the first thing that made sense to Leigh. "He came looking for you."
The girl swallowed, shaking her head. Soft curls fell over her shoulders, and she quickly pushed the locks back behind her ears. They stuck out slightly from her head just like her mother's.
"No, he wouldn't come for me," Leigh insisted. "It's been too long."
"Not long enough," her mother whispered.
Leigh shuddered, and her fingers clamped tight to the receiver. She didn't have a response to the woman's words. She knew well enough that they were true and not a delusion brought on by the gloomy surroundings. Receiving the call from the prison only two days before had caused her to drop everything and drive day and night to the penitentiary. She had been certain then that something had happened, especially when the man on the phone claimed her mother had turned herself in.
Her claim made sense. How else could she protect herself? Being in this place was the perfect escape from the tortures of a mad man. Leigh knew there was nothing to be done. She envied her mother for having the option to escape.
"What do I do?" she asked. "I can't just drop everything and leave now. Not when I've finally found the right location for my shop--"
"Then don't go anywhere," her mother insisted. "But if you stay, it won't be long."
The girl hesitated. "Mum, why put me at risk by having me come here?"
The woman's brow furrowed, and she shook her head. "Leigh, you came here on your own. I only wanted to warn you."
"But you still hoped I would come," Leigh insisted.
Her mother appeared almost guilty, looking down at her bruised arms while biting at her swollen lips. The look was enough for Leigh.
"I will have to change plans then," she huffed, brushing her hair from her eyes. "He could have someone here waiting for me now."
"He wouldn't risk showing himself. Not yet." Her mother sighed and closed her eyes. "You have time. I have a number for you to call."
Leigh's eyes narrowed suspiciously. Her mother shook her head, insisting it wouldn't be like the last time.
"It's safe, Leigh, I promise. You can trust me this time."
Leigh wondered if she could ever trust the woman. She may have looked like her at one point in their lives, but the shell of a human being that sat on the other side of the glass was not the woman Leigh remembered. Then again, it had been more than a few years since their last parting. She hadn't remembered much about her appearance for quite some time now.
Trusting her was a beast she didn't think she would ever have to consider. Living with her for so long proved how truly mad she had become. Running for so many years showed Leigh what sort of life awaited her if she didn't escape now. That was why she left.
"Fine, who's number?"
Her mother frowned frowned. "Your sister's."