A narrow escape... and refuge.
Mrs. Robertson was working in her kitchen when she heard a faint tapping at the back door.
It was repeated more strongly before she got to it.
No one ever came to the back door; the one that faced across the lake, and it was almost impossible to get to, around the house in the dark, from the front.
She opened it to see a slip of a girl standing there in the light streaming out of the kitchen.
She was standing, shivering in just her bra and panties, exhausted, teeth chattering, looking up at her pathetically. Her arms were covering her upper body in a reflexive action to try and get warm, rather than out of shyness or modesty, and covering her breasts.
Mrs. Robertson knew her. She opened the door wider, and invited her in by that welcoming gesture.
“Cassie. What happened to you? You’re wringing wet. Come in before you catch your death of cold.”
She hadn’t really needed to ask what had happened. She knew. So, it had got that bad again at her home, once more. She should have done something about it before now. What had the girl been thinking, to swim across the lake like that in the dark? It must have been really bad to have had her do that.
“I left. I couldn’t stay over there. There were…” her voice trailed off. She didn’t have to say any more. Cassie’s sister and her friends were having another one of their wild parties; orgies, more like.
“You’re wringing wet.” She repeated herself. Cassie’s hair was still dripping.
Her longish hair was plastered across her forehead and shoulders, and she was stumbling with fatigue as she walked up the steps and into the house. She was barefoot. Most of her clothes had been lost on that swim, or she’d left them on the dock. She was hanging onto her panties, holding them up on her once she began to move. She’d somehow managed to save them on that swim.
“You swam across?” She asked, as though it hadn’t been obvious.
“Yes.” She nodded, sending a cascade of lake-water droplets to the floor.
Mrs. Robertson looked across the lake before she closed the door.
The lights were all on in the Sinclair house, opposite, and she could hear the loud music even at that distance in the still air; almost a mile.
She’d call the police, but only after she’d seen to Cassie.
She was already helping her into the house and reaching for a towel from the laundry basket. She’d been folding clean clothes out of the dryer. She threw it over Cassie’s head and around her shoulders, drying what she could, off her.
“Let’s get you into the shower. That will warm you up faster than anything, and then I’ll make you something to eat, and a hot chocolate. I’m the only one home for a few hours, so don’t worry. No one will see you like this.”
She would also dig some clothes out for her. Cassie would be staying for the night, even the whole weekend, if not longer.
“You can stay here just as long as you like or you need to, my dear.” It had been an open offer for the last year.
“Thank you.” Her welcome had always been obvious.
Mrs. Robertson had looked after her before, when things got tough at home, and tonight they’d become especially challenging for a thirteen-year-old.
She led her to the bathroom and started the shower, seeing her strip off without hesitation in front of her, and then step into the shower. The lake water was clean enough, but she needed to get warm.
“There’s a bath robe for when you finish; soap”—she pointed— “and shampoo.
“When did you last eat?”
Cassie shrugged. She didn’t remember.
“I’ll prepare a plate for you. My husband is usually late at the hospital on a Friday, so there’s always food on the go. Take your time, get warmed up and cleaned off. I’ll get these things of yours into a wash, and get them dried for you, but I’ll give you other things to wear for the moment.”
She closed the door to within an inch of being closed so she could hear what was going on, and being alerted about when to put a plate onto the table for her.
While Cassie was showering, Mrs. Robertson called the police and then dug out some clothes for her. She’d had her stay here before, so she knew what was needed.
The police would be too late, of course, they always were, but they’d be in time to stop it getting much worse. The sheriff usually handled such things with dispatch.
Family services would also be involved.
The other girl, over there, Cassie’s twin sister, Megan, couldn’t have been more different from Cassie.
After Cassie had eaten and had been put to bed in the guest room, Mrs. Robertson noticed that the police cars, lights flashing, were still on the other side of the lake. They’d been there for an hour now, rounding up people, confiscating booze and drugs, and impounding vehicles. There’d be charges laid after tonight, and a lot of unhappy youths in jail, facing charges of statutory rape, and with other charges to follow them all of their lives; and 'that', would just be the start of their troubles.
“Good.” She said that one word under her breath.
A night in jail would sober them up, and then appearing in front of a magistrate would help even more.
Early the next morning she got a few calls. One from the sheriff, filling her in on what they’d done, and the other from Toller Sinclair, Cassie’s uncle who lived a mile down the lake.
“She can’t come back here, Bessie.”
“I know that, Toller. I won’t let her anyway. She’ll be staying with me for the next week or two, and maybe a lot longer.” A lot longer, if she had her way, and she would.
He approved. “I hoped it would be that way. I went through the house and placed all of her things, everything I can find of hers, on the end of the jetty in plastic bags, after the police left, taking those other characters with them, and Megan too.” Megan was the other twin. “The house will be empty for a few hours, so I decided to do it now before her parents get back to interfere.
“I don’t think Cassie took anything with her. She was lucky to get out in time from what I gathered from the police. They said Cassie was over with you. How did she get over there? The boat’s still here.”
She heard him swear.
“That girl has guts and gumption, I’ll give her that.”
“I’ll look after her now, Toller. Thanks. This will be her home now.” He wouldn’t say anything to her parents. Cassie was much better off and safer, where she was now.
Mrs. Robertson would have to send someone over to pick up those clothes from the dock. Her son, Malcolm, hadn’t come back yet after a day of studying at the high school. He could go and get them first thing in the morning. She wouldn’t send him out in the dark, and she wasn’t going to leave Cassie alone in the house.