THERE COMES A TIME
EMERY, THERE COMES A TIME
I have been driving for what feels like years, but in reality has been six days. Six long days. I haven’t stopped for longer than a few hours here and there to nap in my car, because I don’t dare stay in one place for too long and I can’t afford a motel. I’ve been lucky so far with meeting the right waitresses who have taken enough pity on me to let me use their staff washrooms so at least I don’t smell like I’ve been living in my car. At least, I hope I don’t. I could be immune to myself by now, so who the hell knows. I only stop to eat in diners when I need to bathe, otherwise I’m reliant on vending machine snacks because they’re cheap. I doubt I’ll ever feel safe, but I know I’m not done running yet so I need every penny I have for gas.
When I first met Stephen, I instantly fell for him. He was charming, handsome and successful. He was generous with gifts, and I lapped up his attention greedily – not receiving that growing up. The only positive from my childhood is my best friend and foster sister Nia. We kept each other safe, and alive until we both finally aged out. Now she works as a secretary in an office for a man who can’t stop staring at her breasts. So far, he is keeping his hands to himself and the job pays her bills. She knows I’ve bolted but has no idea where. I’ll contact her when I can, but only when I’m sure it is safe. Stephen doesn’t know about her, and I worked hard to keep it that way. Our relationship has always been our secret, and it is going to save my life. Stephen not knowing anything about her is going to save her too, because I have no doubt he’d hurt her to find me.
Within weeks of moving into his place, everything about him changed. The man I thought I knew and loved didn’t exist. He never had. Stephen Brown was not a stockbroker like he told me, but actually a member of a well-known gang. To call them a gang makes them sound almost trivial when in actuality they sure as hell aren’t. Human-trafficking, drugs, guns and murder are just the bits I was able to pick up when I wasn’t supposed to be listening. Every day I grew more and more terrified of the life I suddenly found myself living, and of the man I had committed myself to.
A thoroughly fucked Stephen is a happy Stephen, and I kept him happy as much as I could. An unhappy Stephen is a violent Stephen, and those were really bad days. The first few times he slapped me, then he would push me or shove me. The first time I woke up at the bottom of the stairs, after being knocked unconscious from when he pushed me down them, I knew I had to escape or die trying. When we ate out, I would secretly steal the cash he left behind as a tip. I felt terrible about it – those poor waiters and waitresses put up with a lot from him, but it is my life on the line, not theirs. When he was showering, I would sneak a few bills from his wallet – not enough for him to miss but over time my stash slowly started to build. Every opportunity I had to grab more money; I took it. I don’t have a lot, but I’ll make it stretch until it fucking screams.
Then it became a waiting game. Waiting for my chance to break away and make a run for it. It took fucking weeks before an opportunity presented itself. He wanted to take me to some club to show me off, so I pleaded with him to let me buy a new dress so I could impress everyone for him. I was careful not to overplay it, but he gave me his credit card and a curfew. I also had two bodyguards for company, but I wasn’t overly worried about them. I knew this was it, my chance. I could and would make it work.
I waited for Stephen to leave the house, heading out to do whatever it is he does during the day. Kill people, destroy lives – sounds about right. I tell Grump and Lump or whatever their names are I’ll be down in a few minutes; I need to get ready. They both grunt at me, and I walk as calm as I can to our bedroom. I close the door behind me and start moving my ass.
Nothing I own is off-limits to Stephen, so I have nowhere to hide anything, or keep something safe. So I was forced to become creative, and the fact that the bastard never found my stash proves I was successful. Quietly I open the bathroom window and lean out. I look every direction I can to ensure no one is looking at me, and not surprisingly, no one is. Leaning dangerously far to the side, I reach into the downpipe on the eavestrough, and retrieve a plastic bag. It is about eight inches long, and four inches thick. Inside is all of the money I have saved, and the secret burner phone that Nia got for me. Only she knows about it and only she has the number. She has never used it, neither has I. It has been in reserve for just this moment. My fingers are shaking violently as I text her, but I am confident she gets the message – pun intended.
“Leaving now. Daphnes” She’ll know what I mean, and what I need. My phone indicates the message has been received and read. I turn it off again and slide it into my panties to hide it. I do the same with the cash, securing it in different spots on my body. I’m short, with an average build but with enough boobs for three women so it is quite amazing how much I can hide underneath them. The two idiots who will be accompanying me won’t be body searching me at any point, so I just need to be discreet.
I scrutinize myself carefully, turning around and around in front of the mirror to make sure nothing looks out of place. Once when I’m satisfied I’ll do, I grab my purse with Stephen’s credit card in it, and head downstairs. Idiot 1 and Idiot 2 put me in the backseat of the SUV while they both sit in front. I tell them I which shop I want to go to, after which they proceed to argue sports and ignore me completely. I bet they love babysitting the boss’ girlfriend. They’re really going to love it when he finds out they’ve lost me.
I’m so nervous, my entire body is sweating. I need to calm the hell down. They park the car nearby in a loading zone, and both follow me to the store. One stands outside in front while the other follows me inside. He continues to haunt me step for step as I make my way around the store, pretending to browse and pull out a few dresses that I want to try on. The clerk is watching us nervously, and while I’m sure she wants the commission she’s clearly terrified of the jerk stalking me. I approach her with a fake smile and tell her I’d like to try the dresses I’m holding on.
She hastily nods, and turns towards the back of the store, behind a curtain where the changing rooms are. When the pervert moves to follow me, I put my hand up to stop him. Acting outraged, I snort at his boldness.
“Where the fuck do you think you’re going, buddy? If you think you’re following me into the change room, you have got another thing coming.” He shrugs his shoulder, as if to say if I don’t like it, too bad for me.
“The boss told me to keep an eye on you,” he sneers lecherously. Ewwww. Such a pig. I cross my arms haughtily, taking this bull by his horn.
“Oh really? Stephen wants you to watch me undress? Let’s give him a call, shall we? Clarify his orders?” I’m playing the part of petulant girlfriend to the best of my ability, and it seems to work. The ass backs off, and says he’ll wait in the main area. I smugly smirk at him and go through the curtain to try on my dresses. As if.
I approach the clerk, and whisper to her as quietly as I can. Her eyes open widely, so I know the urgency of my voice is reaching her, as is my desperation.
“I need you to go back out there and pretend to get me a different size. Take a really long time before you come back.” Her face is full of confusion, and she’s shaking her head. I need her to keep it together, I can’t have some fucking junior miss twit blowing this for me now.
“Listen! I’m going out your back door and I need a head start. These men will kill me if they find me. They will kill you if you help me. Go out there so you’re not a part of this!” It takes her several seconds to come around, but when she does, I know she’s with me. Woman to woman, she has my back. Thank Christ.
She starts talking ‘to me’ about the dresses as she walks through the curtain, back into the main part of the store. As soon as the curtain closes, I ease myself through the back door and into the alley. Once it closes behind me, I take off my heels and fucking run for my life. Three blocks down, four blocks over. Three blocks down, four blocks over. I hide in bushes, and behind trees but still move as fast as I can. I use the alleys whenever I can or run between people’s houses. I need to get away.
When I get to my destination, Nia has left a small blue hatchback for me. I don’t know where she got it, and I don’t care. When I texted her to tell her my plan was in motion, she got this car here for me, with the keys hidden under the back bumper. I jump in, start it up and race away to my new future. Away from Stephen and his abuse. Hopefully, every mile puts me another inch beyond his reach, which is why I won’t stop driving until I run out of money, or land.
Winter in California where I start has little effect on the environment – it is still hot and sunny. Winter in Michigan, where I am currently driving, is a whole other matter. The last road sign told me there is a diner coming up in forty miles, where I’ll find a corner of the parking lot and catch some sleep. I’m approaching my seventh day of zigzagging across half of the fucking country, trying to make my trail as difficult to follow as possible and the exhaustion is catching up to me.
I think ultimately if I make it as far as Maine, that’d be great. Then I’ll see about a boat and head to Canada. Stephen isn’t very high-ranking, but his gang has a lot of reach, and I don’t know how much effort they’ll make looking for me, if any. His pride is going to be hurt so I know he’ll want to, but that doesn’t mean he’ll be allowed to. He still has people he answers to, and he does what he’s told. My hope is they’re not going to care about me and let me go. They also know how close I was to Stephen, and so I may have been privilege to damaging information – in which case they won’t stop until they find me and kill me. Shit. Maybe a few more miles tonight aren’t a bad idea.
I turn up my radio even louder and start dancing in my seat to the music. I need to keep myself alert – sleepy driving is as bad as drunk driving. Especially with the roads covered in ice and snow falling at an alarming rate – at least, alarming to me. I’ve never seen snow before, let alone driven in it. The car I’m driving has tiny tires that are definitely not equipped for this weather. I’ll be glad to park and rest for a few hours, and hopefully by morning this shit will have passed. If I hate driving in this shit so much, maybe Canada is not the best choice…
I don’t have the chance to explore that thought further before two deer run across the road in front of me. In my panic, I slam my foot on the brake in an attempt to avoid hitting them. I’m successful and they run away safely, meanwhile me and my car are now spinning in circles, completely out of control. I scream when I feel the car change direction, and I know I’ve left the road. Jesus Christ, I’m fucking crashing! The headlights are showing me the way I’ve come as the car races down a steep embankment backwards. The noises are horrendous; crunching metal, trees snapping, and God knows what else breaking. I feel glass hit my face as my side window shatters, and the back end of my car gets hooked on something, slowing my momentum. Thank God, it’s over.
Except it isn’t. The car keeps going, the back end is stuck so the front end rises up, eventually flipping the entire vehicle onto its’ roof. I scream as the roof crunches, forcing me down in my seat and shattering all remaining windows. Oh no. With a grinding screech of metal, the car continues to slide down the hill, this time on its’ roof. With no windshield, there are all kinds of rocks and shit being thrown into my face as my ride down seems to get faster and faster. I’m going to die here. I’m going to die in this fucking car in the middle of nowhere. They probably won’t find my body until the spring when the snow melts if they find me at all. Shit.
Still better than dying at Stephen’s hand.
I’m sure it only takes seconds, but it feels like hours before the car finally comes to a stop with a final crash into something that refuses to give way. I’m hanging upside down, suspended in my seat by my seatbelt. The car engine is ticking, and I wonder if it is going to explode. Isn’t that what always happens in movies? As I look up at my hands dangling above me, I’m horrified to see they’re covered in blood. There is blood on the roof of the car, with more dripping by the minute. Dripping from me. Oh fuck, that can’t be good. I don’t know where the blood is coming from, and I’m unable to figure it out for sure. Everything hurts but at the same time, I can’t feel my body. I know I should get out of the car but lowering my arms to undo my seatbelt seems like a feat beyond my abilities. I can’t believe I survived Stephen only to bleed out in the woods from a car crash. Unbelievable.
I’m losing the fight against darkness and start to cry as I feel sorry for myself. I don’t want to die. I don’t want to die alone. What did I do to deserve the life I have been given? I wanted a fresh start, a new life. I guess I’m getting a fresh start in a way – as long as there’s a Heaven or something after this life. Otherwise, what a fucking joke. I’ve never been overly religious, but I’m praying now. I’m also wondering why the hell God has forgotten about me and left me to die. Fuck.
As I close my eyes, surrendering to a final dark embrace I can hear an animal crying in the distance. A wolf maybe? I’m not sure – if it is a wolf, the poor beast must be in pain from the agonizing sound it is making. For a brief moment, I forget about the nightmare I’m in as I focus on what I’m hearing. It’s a beautiful sound but at the same time, tears my heart in two. Whatever is happening in the woods, it sounds fucking awful and I’m no longer crying for myself.
As selfish as it sounds, I’m grateful for the distraction as the coldness seeps into the core of my body. Hypothermia? I remember learning about that in school… you fall asleep and never wake up. Just freeze to death while you’re unconscious. In my case, I’ll probably bleed to death. Sounds perfect. I don’t have long anyways, based on the amount of blood I’m repainting the car interior with. Life sucks but here I am.
With one final deep sigh, I let myself go.